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Culture News Blog Posting 11 - French Culture: January 16, 2008

Culture News Blog posts insightful comments on the latest international news that render us taken-aback in the domain of the culture facet of life.

Culture-News Blog: French-Culture News

The death of French culture? I say 'boules':

January 12, 2008 by dave robbins

French Culture

There is a little French village I have grown fond of over the past few years. It's called Montaigu-de-Quercy and it lies at the very northern edge of the nebulous region they call the Languedoc. It's between Cahors and Agen, about an hour-and-a-half's drive west and slightly north of Toulouse. In other words, it's in the middle of nowhere.

It has 11 churches, but only two bars, an inversion of the usual Irish arrangement. It has a market on Saturday, a thriving rugby club and a host of activities listed every week in the Salle des Fêtes, the town hall.

The old men play boules in the square in the hot afternoons. There is the obligatory statue to the locals who fought in the Great War and who fell, 'Mort pour la Patrie'. There are old soldiers, still, who wear the tricolour sash at high Mass and holidays.

Every summer, there is the town fête, when great trestle tables are laid out, food is served and there's dancing. French boys meet bored-seeming English girls there for the summer, and the entente cordiale is renewed once more.

Culture News Blog: French Culture News (Continued)

Montaigu is very, well, French. Yes, some of the locals have left to work in the cities, and yes, the Brits are buying up the lovely, square, stone-cut Quercy farmhouses. Yes, there are sometimes more English voices than French at the market, and the local Ecomarché sells Twinings tea.

Yet it remains resolutely French, from the grizzled farmers you see at church to the slightly brittle politesse of the lady who runs the boulangerie. They drink Cahors wines there; anything else, even wine from Gaillac, which is maybe 50km distant, is regarded as dangerously exotic. In Montaigu, things close just when you want them to be open. Banks, shops and restaurants have a habit of pulling down the shutters as you arrive. And they don't make an exception. Restaurants serve lunch up to 2pm. Arrive at 2.01pm, and you're goosed.

After a while, you get to know this. You plan and you make sure to turn up on time. You accept that the balance between rampant commercialism and the long French lunch is still tilted in favour of the latter.

I was thinking of dear old Monty this week as the debate over the future of French culture raged. The place has been hopping mad ever since Time magazine ran a cover story entitled 'The Death of French Culture'.

France, says the magazine, is a "wilting power" when it comes to culture. Over 30pc of fiction sold in France is translated from English; French film is not the power it was in the New Wave of the 1960s; the centre of the art world has moved to London and New York.

Culture News Blog: French Culture News (Continued)

The French system of protectionism and subsidy for cultural activity is "fostering mediocrity", says the magazine. The country spends 1.5pc of GDP on culture (compared to 0.3pc in the US), yet it does not produce world-class art.

In Paris, the chattering classes talk of le déclinisme, the erosion of France's standing in the world. President Sarkozy has promised to restore French prestige and culture to its former eminence, and has increased the budget of the Ministry of Culture to €7.5bn.

In Montaigu, I suspect they regard this as intellectual nonsense. For them, their culture is all around them, in the very stone of those 11 churches, in the soil they till and in the wine they drink.

The culture of France, it seems to me, is only partly to be found in clever Parisian novels or slick subtitled films. It is more properly present in the way French people live, the sense of community they have preserved, the balance between working to live and living to work, which they continue to get right and we seem to have got wrong.

Furthermore, any country that can beat the All Blacks in two successive Rugby World Cups is doing OK in my book.

Culture News Blog Comment:

French Culture
French Culture

The culture of France and of the French has been shaped by its geography, by profound historical events, and by foreign and internal forces and groups.

France, and in particular Paris, has played an important role as a center of high culture and of decorative arts since the seventeenth century, first in Europe, and from the nineteenth century on, world wide.

From the late nineteenth century, France has also played an important role in modern art, cinema, fashion and cuisine.

The importance of French culture has waned and waxed over the centuries, depending on its economic, political and military importance.

French culture today is marked both by great regional and socioeconomic differences and by strong unifying tendencies.

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