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History

Christiane Taubira,  « On n’y échappera pas »

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Taubira… Ce nom porte des consonances différentes pour chaque personne vivant en France, mais il est rarement inconnu. Il évoque souvent une loi, celle de 2013, qui a valu à son auteure les insultes les plus féroces d’une grande part de la population et du personnel politique mais aussi le sincère respect d’une autre part de la population, probablement plus nombreuse encore. Mais pourquoi une personnalité aussi importante dans le paysage politique français vient-elle ici, à Chicago, dans un pays dans lequel son nom ne suscite le plus souvent ni la colère ni le respect tant il n’est que rarement prononcé ?

Ma question peut paraitre naïve. Il suffit de se rendre sur le site de l’Alliance pour connaitre le motif de sa visite : parler du livre de Ta-Nehisi Coates – Le procès de l’Amérique – et de la préface qu’elle a rédigée. Pour elle, un tel livre est nécessaire afin de revenir sur les traumatismes de nos sociétés, en l’occurrence le crime de l’esclavage, et d’en parler pour espérer les guérir. Elle l’écrit : « Nous savons que nous n’avons pas d’autre choix que de rester ensemble, qu’il faut pour cela nous mettre ensemble, et la condition est de porter ensemble [ce passé]». Mais je me suis encore demandé en quoi son regard d’ancienne ministre de la justice et de femme engagée dans la société française peut nous intéresser lorsqu’il s’agit de l’Amérique ?

Si je lui posais directement la question, sa réponse serait plus simple et surement meilleure. Mais pour cela, il faudra attendre le 26 octobre…Pour patienter, voici quelques pistes :

D’abord, Christiane Taubira, ce n’est pas l’homme politique classique à la française, né en région parisienne, sortie des grandes écoles et ayant milité dans un des partis politiques « traditionnels ».  Comme vous ne manquerez pas de le remarquer, elle est une femme. Ensuite, son intérêt pour ce qui se passe de ce côté-ci de l’Atlantique n’a rien de mystérieux : elle est née à Cayenne, en Guyane et a milité au sein de mouvements demandant l’indépendance de ce territoire – ancienne colonie – vis-à-vis de la métropole avant de fonder son propre parti, le mouvement Walwari. Mme Taubira a ainsi porté et partagé une des ambitions fondatrices des Etats-Unis, la volonté de rompre un lien de dépendance entre un pays européen et un territoire américain.

Ensuite, outre sa candidature à l’élection présidentielle de 2002, Christiane Taubira est connue pour deux lois et un refus… trois éléments de son parcours qui font largement écho aux débats ayant agités les Etats-Unis durant les 20 dernières années. Commençons par ce dernier élément. De quel refus parle-t-on ? Je parle ici du refus de cautionner certaines mesures ayant fait suite aux attentats qui ont secoué la France en 2015. Le 27 janvier 2016, alors ministre de la Justice depuis 2012, Christiane Taubira démissionne du gouvernement en grande partie par opposition à la volonté du chef de l’Etat de déchoir de la nationalité française les individus accusés d’avoir participé à des attentats terroristes. Selon elle – elle l’explique dans Murmures à la jeunesse –, « un pays doit être capable de se débrouiller avec ses nationaux ».

Venons-en aux deux lois Taubira. Celle de 2013, dont je parlais au début de ce petit article, ouvre le mariage et l’adoption aux couples de personnes de même sexe. La vigueur des débats et des manifestations de soutien ou d’opposition à ce texte fait écho à ceux ayant traversé la plupart des Etats des Etats-Unis, et en particulier l’Illinois, à la même période. Mais la première loi Taubira, celle de 2001, a, à mes yeux, encore plus de résonnance dans le contexte américain. Il s’agit de la loi tendant à la reconnaissance de la traite et de l’esclavage comme des crimes contre l’humanité. La place de l’esclavage dans l’histoire de la France est peut-être, en apparence, moins sensible que dans l’histoire des États-Unis. Mais une des personnes les plus aptes à évoquer ces blessures encore vives dans nos deux pays est sans doute celle qui, le 18 février 1999 à l’Assemblée Nationale, a prononcé ces mots :

« Nous sommes là pour dire que si l’Afrique s’enlise dans le non-développement, c’est aussi parce que des générations de ses fils et de ses filles lui ont été arrachées (…). Nous sommes là pour dire que la traite et l’esclavage furent et sont un crime contre l’humanité (…). ».

Maël Ginsburger

French woman, science, wit and “bonheur”

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On June 8, the Alliance Française de Chicago will re-create a “Salon parisien” inspired by a significant woman of her time Émilie, Marquise du Châtelet. Zoé Moore tells us more about it;

 

American women love French women, so much that they try to become them and understand their attitudes and lifestyles through books and movies. Ladies like Josephine Baker and Jean Seberg serve as a golden standard of Americans turned French. I can attest: it’s hard to live in France and not get caught up in the expat life, making a haphazard attempt at fitting in, becoming French. But with influential female figures like Simone de Beauvoir, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Jeanne D’Arc, Catherine Deneuve, Simone Veil, and even Anne Hidalgo, it is easy to want to become une femme française. Their strength, knowledge, elegance, and wit make them remarkable role models that stand the test of time and have managed to travel all the way across the ocean to the United States. They all have remarkable stories and wisdom that has been passed down to my own modern American life.  So when I learned that we would be creating a Parisian Salon, a common social and intellectual gathering to inform and entertain in the 17th and 18th centuries, celebrating Emilie, la Marquise du Châtelet, I was definitely curious.

 

Science

Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise Du Châtelet (1706-1749), or as I shall refer to her, Emilie, was an amazing woman who I knew absolutely nothing about one week ago. As a girl, Emilie attended her father’s salons with elite men and women, rapidly learning through discussions on science, philosophy, and literature in lavish Parisian hôtels particuliers. This introduction to le salon and academic life put her on a path to becoming one of the greatest minds of her time. Emilie’s short biography refers to her as a major contributor to physics and mathematics, having promoted and participated in the debate on vis viva, known today as kinetic energy, and as the translator of Isaac Newton’s Principia (her French translation is still standard today). She also published the scientific book Institutions de Physique / Foundations of Physics in 1740, which reaffirmed her grasp of the domain, sparked conversation, and gained popularity during her life. Many of her ideas were published posthumously in Denis Diderot’s well known Encyclopédie.

She is widely known as Voltaire’s lover. Emilie invited him to live and work with her in her home, the Château de Cirey, where they stayed and influenced one another intellectually throughout the 1730s. Despite this mutually productive relationship, Emilie is often left in Voltaire’s shadow. She died at the age of 42 due to childbirth complications, her pregnancy the result of an ardent affair with the captain and poet Saint-Lambert. The large strokes of Emilie’s life are enticing enough, but there is surely more to the story. To do this well-bred woman of le siècle des lumières justice, it was up to me to uncover her true nature and spirit. What was she like? How did this woman manage to make a name for herself as a reputable scientist in the 18th century?

 

Words and wit

Luckily, Emilie loved to write letters. Even more luckily, many of Emilie’s letters and works were published and are now in the public domain. I dove into reading her letters to M. de Maupertuis, a great man of science and one of Emilie’s tutors (and possibly lovers),

Château de Cirey

that date from the mid to late 1730s, during Emilie’s academic prime living in the Château de Cirey with Voltaire. They detail her life, her thoughts, her passions, and get down to who she is as a woman and scientist. She has a voice that is serious and funny, surprisingly modern and accessible.  I have come to know a very witty, loving, and smart woman who teases and challenges her mentor amidst inviting him over to chat or keep her company.

 

Et le bonheur dans tout ça ?

Another one of Emilie’s publications is Discours sur le bonheur, or Discourse on Happiness. These kinds of ruminations were common for men of her era to publish, but not women. Emilie takes on what happiness means through female eyes (finally!). The takeaway is clear and much of it is still relevant today: be free of prejudices, be healthy, have tastes and passions, and be susceptible to illusions. It’s okay to have illusions? This last one jumped out at me, I didn’t quite understand where she was coming from, but I had to give some faith to my dear French sister.

Institutions de Physique, one of Emilie’s publications.

To understand this theory that one must be “susceptible d’illusions” to be happy, we must turn to Emilie the lover. Women are known so often as the lover, the extra, the emotional, but Emilie brings fresh air and meaning to love and being passionate. She stipulates that love is one of the greatest illusions and yet it provides some of the grandest happiness; it is important to trust and believe in love or you have no chance of experiencing this ultimate happiness, even if you know that it is an illusion that will eventually dissipate. Emilie remarks that even if you connect with someone on every level, the time comes to let them go and move on. She explains that this is an extremely painful experience, but you must not lose faith that you can and will love again. If I were to translate some of her sentiments to modern day language, she advises us that if someone doesn’t want you, you are better off without them! Emilie’s letters to her last lover, Saint-Lambert, illustrate her willingness to give herself to this illusion and be happy, even after her intimate relationship Voltaire, and even if it means enduring sadness or misery.

One of the most moving lines she writes while quite pregnant in 1749:

      « Quand je suis avec vous, je supporte mon état avec patience, je ne m’en aperçois souvent pas. Mais quand je vous ai perdu, je ne vois plus rien qu’en noir »

                “When I am with you, I endure my state with patience, I often do not notice it. But when I have lost you, I see only the dark side of things.”

 

I would like to personally thank la Marquise for her contributions to science, philosophy, and the female legacy and let her know that she remains a role model for people around the world in the 21st century. I am thrilled to have met another amazing French woman and can’t wait to bring her words and thoughts to life in our Salon on June 8. It is going to be a truly amazing evening where we discuss her philosophy with Irina Ruvinsky, hear excerpts of her letters by Melisha Mitchell, and enjoy an incredible cello performance by Titilayo Ayangade, an all-female cast to create a salon that I think Emilie herself would have appreciated.

I hope to see you all then!

A bientôt !

Zoé Moore

 

 

Fashion of the Belle Époque

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The Belle Époque period lasted from 1871 to 1914, the end of the Franco-Prussian war to the beginning of WWI. It is also known as the Edwardian era and the Gilded age. This period was known for luxury and excess for some people, and this was especially evident in the fashions of the time.

An example of mutton leg sleeves. 1896.

Some of the more extravagant components of previous dress were starting to be dropped in the interest of more functional clothing for women. After 1890 the bustle was no longer commonly worn and the silhouettes of dresses changed with giant “leg of mutton” sleeves and tiny waists coming into fashion. There were some different types of sleeves also during this period as designers experimented with different places to have tight or loose sleeve components.

Corsets were also evolving. While the hourglass figure had been all the rage in the Victorian era, changing times meant changing figures. S-bend corsets were worn so that the

October 1900 illustration from Ladies Home Journal showing The New Figure (aka the S-bend).

hips would be pushed back and the chest would be pushed forward, creating an S effect. The corset was worn along with a boned bodice.

Over this bodice there would be fabrics lighter than those worn during the Victorian era. Dresses frequently came in two pieces now : a blouse and a skirt. Over the Belle Époque period there were some variations in the skirts that were most popular. These ranged from hip-hugging skirts that flared at the hem, higher waistlines, lower waistlines, fuller skirts, and hobble skirts.

Meanwhile, the blouses paired with these skirts tended to be high necked during the day with a bit more variation in the evening with sweet heart, round and square necklines making an appearance.

Accessories were just as important as any other component of the outfit. Lace-up boots were the standard shoe of the time and could be made of a variety of materials depending on expense. Hats tended to be wide-brimmed and bedecked in feathers (and sometimes actual whole stuffed birds) – at least until women learned that the birds providing the feathers were becoming endangered as a result of hat demand.

Meanwhile, men’s fashion didn’t change very much at all during this period. There were some slight variations but nothing too extreme. In general, there were a lot of frock coats and three piece suits. Clothing was relatively standard and most of what men had to make sure of at this point was that they were wearing the right neutral jacket at the right time of day.

Eventually around the beginning of th

Designs by Paul Poiret, including a lampshade tunic.

e 1910s, the corset started to be

abandoned altogether in favor of utilizing “draping” to achieve the desired silhouette. This transition was spearheaded especially by French designer, Paul Poiret who also used Oriental influences to design the lampshade tunic, harem pants and hobble skirts. He also used a lot of beading and other embellishments that would take over the eventual post-war fashions.

When you attend our Belle Époque event on Tuesday, May 16 you don’t have to wear a corset or a bird on your head but we are excited to see you!

 

Sources:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bicycling;_The_Ladies_of_the_Wheel,_1896.jpg

http://www.mdc.edu/wolfson/academic/ArtsLetters/art_philosophy/Humanities/belleepoque.htm

https://bellatory.com/fashion-industry/FashionHistoryEdwardianFashionTrends1890s1914

http://www.fashion-era.com/la_belle_epoque_1890-1914_fashion.htm

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coronet_Corset_Co.jpg

http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/fashion/dressing-the-edwardian

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/poir/hd_poir.htm

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/Gervex_Cinq_Heures_Chez_Paquin.jpg

Turning sour grapes into Champagne

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If you clicked on this post, you probably have some idea of what champagne is. You might be able to recall the pleasant fizz of the bubbles or a particular sweet, light flavor. But do you know of the rich history and the unique details of production?

Region of Champagne is highlighted in red.

True champagne is produced only in the French region of Champagne in the Northeast. Since it is one of the north-most wine producing regions in france, the temperatures are often much lower than other wine-producing areas and so ripening of the grapes doesn’t occur as quickly and the grapes end up being a bit more acidic than their southern cousins. The wine-makers of history were not deterred by this challenge and simply made lemons into lemonade ( or, really, grapes into champagne.)

The metal muselet, used to keep the champagne from exploding.

The champagne we have today is a true result of centuries of collaboration, adjustment and refining. In 1662 Christopher Merrett discovered that adding sugar or molasses during a second fermentation could make it sparkling. Also in the mid-1600s glass-makers found a way to design bottles that could contain the pressure of the wine and the English found that using the traditional roman cork was more effective at holding in pressure than a cloth wrapped piece of wood that the French were using. In 1844 the muselet was invented to help contain the cork by Adolphe Jaquesson.

A portrait of Madame Clicquot and her grandchild.

 

In the early-1800s Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot made champagne a viable large-scale business possibility when she streamlined the process by inventing the riddling process and integrating it into the production process. She also was able to jump-start the marketing of her champagne when she managed to smuggle it to the Russian Court near the end of the Napoleanic wars when naval blockades were making commercial shipping almost impossible. Both her shrewd marketing and streamlining of the process caused the popularity of her product (and eventually all champagne) to sky-rocket.

 

Want a taste of what all that history has produced? Come to our Tastes and Toasts event at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 8! Tickets are $30 for members and $40 for non-members.

Apple of the earth

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The potato arrived in Europe at the end of the 16th century with very little fanfare, yet it soon found its way into the hearts and stomachs of many as a staple food.

This journey to fame was not without a bit of turmoil. The veggie was even illegal in France from 1748 to 1772 due to concerns about them being poisonous!

When Antoine-Augustin de Parmentier, a medical army officer, was forced to eat pommes de terre as a captive of the Prussians he found that potatoes were not only edible but might actually have great nutritional value and so he decided to study them. Parmentier’s researched them extensively and was eventually able to convince the Paris Faculty of Medicine to formally declare the potato edible in 1772.

Even after this declaration many people didn’t believe they were safe to eat so Parmentier made many efforts to change public opinions. To do this he got some very powerful friends to help; He gifted Marie Antoinette potato flowers and she and Louis XVI wore them as accessories. What a shame we don’t have any pictures!

Today, fear of potatoes is long gone and people have found countless ways to transform the seemingly humble root into countless amazing dishes. One such dish, hachis parmentier, is named after Parmentier himself!

Come to the Alliance Française on Saturday, January 21 from 11:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. to learn some amazing potato recipes with Chef Madelaine Bullwinkel.