Je suis Charlie or Am I?

The past week, here in France, has forced me to look at what it means to be a foreigner here. I love the country with a passion but am forced to reflect.

Do I really understand France?

No matter where one lives one gravitates towards people who have the same values as ourselves. People with whom we are comfortable.  Life slips by and our circle of friends and acquaintances expands. But the mosaic of their beliefs and values remains pretty consistent with our own.

In Africa our circle contained many Muslim people. Not surprising because 98% of the population of the area, where we lived, was Muslim. Here in France we can count only one Muslim among our acquaintance…..

What we read is also a reflection of who and what we are. When searching for something to read on a magazine stand I was never tempted to take up Charlie Hebdo. I often perused the cover but most times I either did not get the satire or I found it distasteful. But because I am in France I have the choice to spend my money on another magazine. The editors of Charlie Hebdo have the right to publish it.

For this reason I decided to participate in the Unity marches on Sunday.

It was a very dignified affair in our little adopted village. and in the afternoon I went to a neighbouring town where a bigger, less well organised, and less dignified, march took place.

Here are some images from these two marches.

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The press has reported that almost 4 million people participated in marches around the country. The population of France is 66.03 million (2013 census). Six percent of the people of France participated in these unity marches – where were the other 94%?

If a march was organised next Sunday to show solidarity  for the thousands of Nigerians kidnapped or killed by extremists in that country what percentage of any population would turn out?

Fête des Lumières 2015

Last night, 1 December, was the fête des lumières in our village. Each year this festival is celebrated with a fireworks display. Then because we have a water basin (etang) the children make boats and float them on the etang with a night light on top. Everyone then parades around the village with the children carrying lanterns. We have lived here now for fourteen years and I have missed very few fête des lumières. I remember them mostly for the biting dry cold but this year is memorable for the rain. It has been an exceptionally wet autumn and winter so far. Just as the children started their parade so did the rain. It didn’t last long and it didn’t dampen the spirits of the crowd.

I am not sure if the damp weather created more smoke from the fireworks than normal or if it was the type of fireworks used but it was a nightmare to photograph. I had a great spot from which to take the photographs but the result was really disappointing. However I will add a couple to give you some idea of the atmosphere.

The show started with the trees being illuminated in red


Then the children floated their boats on the etang:





The children set off round the village and returned for the wireworks:

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Cars and Châteaux

The annual Spring outing of the MG Club du Sud took place last Saturday.

MG outing Var plaque

Normally we are not around for the Spring club outings but this year we were. Together with ten other classic cars, ranging in age from 10 to 60 years, we set off in our 42 year old MGBGT, from a roundabout near Cavaillon in the Vaucluse.

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Our first destination was the Château Vignealaure in the Var.

chateau vignelaure

It was a beautiful day and the valley of the Durance was bathed in sunshine. A tour of the chateau cave had been arranged before our picnic in the grounds. Although vines have been grown in the area for 3000 years Chateau Vignealaure was first developed, by Monsiuer Brunet, in the late 1960s. In the beginning M. Brunet made only rosé but he then began to develop a good red wine. The original grape was Cabernet Sauvignon. Oother grapes have been added since those early days.


The chateau is situated at a height of 400m and has a late micro-climate suitable for ripening the grapes. The red wine is matured slowly making it a good “keeping wine”. In the 1990’s M Brunet sold the property to an Irishman David O’Brien of the Irish horse training family. The chateau was further developed and the wines won many prizes over the years. In 2007 Mr. O’Brien sold the property on to a Swedish/Danish couple who are not full time residents but who visit frequently.

As well as producing good wine the previous and present owners have been art collectors.

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The females in our party all decided we could manage a chateau of this size with just a little outside help. In fact the chateau employs thirty local people. After a wine tasting we settled around the huge garden tables in front of the chateau to consume our picnic and finish off the bottles of ‘tasting wine’… The owners were absent.

MG group

From the chateau we continued to drive east through some wonderful countryside arriving at the Cictercian Abbaye de Thoronet at the end of the afternoon. This abbey was built in the 11th centuary, originally to house one hundred monks. But thirty was the highest number who ever resided here. The architecture is simple and severe as one would expect of an abbey dedicated to silence and prayer. But the amazing feature is the chapel built with extraordinary acoustics. The chapel is still used for performances of Gregorian Chant.

Abbaye Thorenlet

We stayed the night in the nearby village of Thoronet but had to leave early the next morning as Barry had an important rendez-vous in the Velodrome de Marseille on Sunday afternoon. But that is another story.

“The Markets” and Kilkenomics

It was probably the strangest economics debate one could imagine. The debate took place in the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris around an exhibition by Mark Curran entitled “The Market”. This exhibition was part of the 1913 Lockout exhibition in Dublin  curated by Helen Carey , director of Limerick City Gallery of art. Ms Carey also took part in the debate. It was sponsored by Kilkenomics, a group of comedians and entertainers who put economists under the spotlight.

Mark Curran ©Nuala Mahon

I couldn’t really work out who was “for” the markets and who was against – economics were never my strong point. I know what I have to spend and I know I have to remain within those financial limits. I believe countries should do the same.

David McWilliams chaired the debate. The first three presenters were involved in the arts. Mark Curran, Helen Carey, Colm O’Regan, a comedian. O’Regan’s contribution had the audience rolling around with laughter. If we hadn’t laughed we would have cried. He described with pin sharp accuracy the frailties of the irish personality when it comes to envy of our neighbour’s financial success. Curran’s contribution was based on his on going project on the Markets and their influence on our everyday lives of which he seems to feel we are unaware. Carey discussed the 1913 lockout and how we seem to have ignored its influence on our economic development.

The second panel were the heavy financial guns. Gillian Edgeworth, economist for Unicredit, Alfred M’Sichili, a political economist in banking in Ireland and Marc Uzan, Executive Director of Reinventing the Bretton Woods committee. Other than Edgeworth this group did not want to be heard, too loudly, defending the Markets.

Why are the french not out in the streets manifesting?
David Mc Williams ©Nuala Mahon

McWilliams chaired well. He tried to tease out why the economic bubble happened and then why it burst. The simplistic conclusion seems to be “greed” superimposed on tricky, complicated market activities.  He did, however, get stuck on trying to find out how France survives when it’s economic situation is anything but stable. He wondered, out loud, why the ordinary people of France were not up in arms or at least out on the street manifesting about the situation. He should have been in Marseille yesterday when the streets were thronged with the “ordinary” people of France holding a peaceful manifestitation.

We did not see the whole of Mark Curran’s exhibition but the images along the walls of the room we were in did not do a lot for me. The images  were pin sharp, about a metre square, of individuals involved in the world of economics. Curran pointed to one of a young trader, the youngest trader in the youngest trading centre in Ethiopia. She was young, beautiful, dressed in a strange garment, but superimposed on a bland financial building. Her trade could have been anything, she coudl have been working on a production line adding trinkets to washing powder.  There was nothing to link her to the world of financial trading. A picture should replace a 1000 words….

Two photographers and a Chinese artist

A trip to Paris this weekend afforded the opportunity to see three wonderful exhibitions. The purpose of the trip was to hear a group of economists talk about the “Markets” and Ireland’s economy, but more about that in another blog.

Passage Joffrey, 9eme arrondissement
Passage Joffrey, 9eme arrondissement (© Nuala Mahon)


The photographers included Raymond Depardon (1942 – ), the very well known french photo journalist, Anders Petersen (1944 – ), Professor of Photography in the School of Photography and Film, University of Göteborg, Sweden and the artist Chu Teh-Chun (1922 – ) who became a french citizen.

The two photographers could not be more different. Depardon, as a photo journalist, visited most of the war torn areas from Beyrouth to Santiago. He is a Magnum photographer whose work has been published in most of the major magazines of the world. But the images in this exhibition are those he took for himself while on location or during re-visits when calm returned to a ravaged area.

Grand Palais exhibition, Raymond Depardon
Grand Palais exhibition, Raymond Depardon (© Nuala Mahon)

If you can’t visit this exhibition there is a short video on the Grand Palais site:

The Grand Palais Cupola
The Grand Palais Cupola ((© Nuala Mahon)

Of particular interest to us were his images of Chile. He had made two visits there first in 1971 and more recently in 2007. He photographed Puerto Eden, a place which had blown us away. (I am making a presentation of my images of Chile on 22nd February, at 17h, in the Biblioteque de Vaugines. All welcome. I will then put some images up here in a blog.)

The other exhibition on Anders Petersen is a much darker affair. His images are black and white, grainy, somber, tragic and often upsetting.

“To me, it’s encounters that matter, pictures are much less important.” (Petersen)

Some of his images were out of focus, I assume because of the circumstance under which they were taken. The people represented where those on the margins of society. Petersen has remained true to this genre throughout his life.

The third exhibition I visited was thanks to advice from an artist friend. Che Teh-Chun is a Chinese/French abstract painter. His canvases are huge, with a three dimensional quality, a sort of inner light. The outer layers are often dark which accentuates the inner light.  This exhibition is being held in the Pinacothequ de Paris until 16th March. If in Paris you should visit it.

You can always slip across to Fauchon for a couple of items or a coffee after the visit….

Fauchon, gare de Lyon
Th mysterious meringue to hit France… ((© Nuala Mahon)