Wednesday, May 16, 2007

French Comings and Goings

SarkozyI've got a lot of time for France and the French. You have to where I live since the Village is knee deep in them. Perhaps it's the fact that the ones I meet every day are likely to be the more entrepreneurial type, given that they are in London, not France, but I don't think there really is the great a gulf between the English and the French that the tabloids would have us believe.

There is though a distinct bilateral distrust by both people and government of each of the government of the other, which is often well justified, especially in the EU state. Hopefully the inauguration of M. Sarkozy as 23rd President of France might put some of this to rest, even if his little jaunt to see Frau Merkel does raise worries about a right Royal shafting over EU constitutional arrangements.

It was quite interesting listening to Sarko on TF1. I got a reasonable 'A' level in French and worked in Paris for a while. It was however, a traditional English 'A' level in languages and the Paris office was pretty cosmopolitan so of course everyone spoke English, which means my ability to actually speak the language is pretty minimal and my understanding of spoken French not too much better. The only time the French 'A' level has been useful while in France was one conversation when I could explain (in English) why Molière was not in the same league as Shakespeare, and catching the odd snide remark from my French colleagues when they thought the use of their native tongue would offer a sufficient level of encryption to disguise it from English ears.

What I realised was just how powerful some skills in political oratory can be. When I listened to Sarko I didn't just get the gist of it, I'm pretty sure I got every word, every sentiment and every nuance in what he said. I'm not even sure I was understanding it via an English translation, an experience I've never had before except when I've drunk several bottles of red when my assessment of my language skills may have been suspect. OK, he would obviously be speaking clearly and more slowly than he would in general conversation, but I've listened to other speeches by French politicians and never become quite so immersed in the same way. Ségolène may have been easy on the eye, but was a damn sight harder on the ear on several levels.

So a cautious welcome for a new French arrival, but there have been a couple of sad French departures recently too.

Firstly, the (Mercurial) Thomas Castaignède, great servant of French and Saracens rugby. He'll be missed by all the supporters as a fantastic player and an all-round great bloke. His last game was probably the worst he had for the club, but that will be soon forgotten and only the many, many good games will remain. All the best for his retirement once he gets the little matter of the next world cup out of the way.

Secondly, closer to home Josquin, waiter and barman extraordinaire, first at the Mother Ship then later at Base Camp in the Village leaves for pastures new today. After extended leaving drinks last night he couldn't remember the name of his new venture, but if you live in Eastbourne and a new French Restaurant is opening near you soon, give it ago. I don't know the chef, but I know their new front of house man knows his stuff, he's a great bloke, and I doubt it any establishment he's fronting up would let you down.

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