was successfully added to your cart.

Category

History

Superfluous: An Architectural Project

By | Events, French Community, History, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

 

J’ai rencontré dans la rue un jeune homme très pauvre qui aimait : son chapeau était vieux, son habit était usé ; il avait les coudes troués ; l’eau passait à travers ses souliers, et les astres à travers son âme.
(I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed through his shoes and the stars through his soul)
-Victor Hugo ; Les Misérables (1862)

If you were to walk in the alley behind the Alliance Française, you would notice an odd amount of moss on the ground and red dots painted on the wall without explanation. If you were to be curious, like myself, you might find yourself talking to one of the many people watering the moss or painting these red circles. And if you aren’t the talking to strangers type, you’re in luck because I already did all of the detective work and will let you know what is happening. Free of charge.

The buzz in the alleyway has to do with the upcoming vernissage of Superfluous: An Architectural Project. This project is an effort to use “architects as social agents” and to “trigger [people] to think about shelter”, as Odile Compagnon, a professor of architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago, describes it. Odile encourages her students to use their skills and talents as architects to make social change and this has brought her and her students to the Alliance Française de Chicago.

Pretty cool, right? But you’re still a little confused as to what the project is, aren’t you? Don’t worry, not even some of my coworkers knew what this project entailed and that is why I put pen to paper (well, rather finger to keyboard) to open their and your eyes to the magic that is happening in the alley of the Alliance.

Let me key you in to some connections as this story unravels. Odile points out, that this project is both a way to “open the Alliance to the community” as well as to “make French more accessible”. You know, French doesn’t always scream “language of the people” (insert pretentious French stereotype here), but it truly is. Odile and her students are helping to highlight that.

Well, okay, that is cool, but what does that have to do with architecture and the students at the Art Institute of Chicago? Let’s travel back in time to the famous Victor Hugo for our answer. (That Hugo quote at the beginning of this post is now making sense, huh?)

Hugo, infamous writer, inspiring leader, speaker for the people wrote Les Misérables and tore down the barrier between poverty and luxury by illuminating homelessness, wealth and the disparity in between. Many French writers, not just Hugo, and artists have been captivated by the superfluous and consequently what it means to have nothing but still be someone, an individual. Odile is simply keeping this conversation alive through architecture. Eleven of her students created models for projects that could be built in our courtyeard and her student Nicolas Dessotel’s project, named Clairvoyance, was chosen. Nicolas is the blonde student in the photo below cheesin’ hard because he gets to see his project come to fruition.

Clairvoyance was chosen because it breaks down the wall between the private and public spheres, the wanted and the unwanted and spills out into the ally of the Alliance. I mean, literally there is a hole in our courtyard wall. “His project is transporting you into a world that you may not be comfortable with,” says Odile as she admires the installation go up. While I am very excited for you to experience this world growing in and challenging our alley, I won’t tell you more about the physical nature of the project because a) I can’t spoil it for you and b) Nick and Odile can give an explanation more justice than I could.

So, please, I implore you to come and experience Superfluous: An Architectural Project for yourself on September 14th (register here). Engage in the conversation about homelessness and the superfluous, see the other contestant project models, learn how French literature inspires architecture, and enjoy the exhibit. The exhibit will run during our business hours until October 16.

A bientôt!

Jane Eagleton

French woman, science, wit and “bonheur”

By | Events, French Community, History | No Comments

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

By | History | No Comments

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

Verlan your French! How can your French sound more like a native speaker?

By | French Community, History, Uncategorized | One Comment

If you have ever learned a second language you probably have had the experience realizing that the language you are working so hard to learn might be very different from the way that language is actually spoken. Think of how in the English language, numerous words become trendy and other words fall out of fashion. Sometimes rather than a few single words changing, an entire separate grammar structure is born within a language. You may be familiar with pig-latin or cockney rhyming slang but did you know that there is a secret language that has become a big part of everyday spoken French? It’s called verlan!

Verlan, basically, involves taking a word, isolating the syllables, and switching those syllables. Sometimes it is necessary to drop or add letters to the verlaned version of a word so that you can still pronounce it. There isn’t really any hard and fast rule with this but the more you verlan, the more you will be able to figure it out. The word “verlan” itself has a couple of possible origins. The main theory is that it is itself a verlan of the word l’envers which means reverse.

If you want to listen to some live verlan, La Haine (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz) is the movie to watch.

 

You may ask, “why would anyone want to do that?” In general, you verlan a word to emphasize or downplay it. The first time someone decided to verlan seems to be unknown. This isn’t surprising since, while there are many verlan words in mainstream French now, the practice’s start was as a way for young people to speak in code in front of police or other authority figures.

 

Here are some examples of verlan:

  • laisse tomber becomes laisse béton (never mind)
  • bizarre becomes zarbi (weird)
  • honte becomes tehon (shame)
  • dingue becomes geudin (crazy)
  • fête becomes teuf (party)

There are some verlaned words that have been part of the common vocabulary for so long that they have been re-verlanged. For example the verlaned version of femme was meuf and then that was re-verlaned to feumeu.

Verlan is fun and is easiest when you have a good baseline of French. So to build up you French, register for a class at the Alliance Française de Chicago!

Verlan Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verlan
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ambigramme_Verlan_fond_noir_rotationnel.jpg
http://www.academicroom.com/article/verlan-talking-backwards-french
https://www.thoughtco.com/verlan-vocabulary-1371433

 

Francophone behind the scenes

By | Events, French Community, History, Uncategorized | No Comments

During the entire month of March, we at the Alliance Française de Chicago have hosted a variety of events as part of our Festival de Francophonie. By the end of the month you’ll have had the opportunity to learn about Russian and French cultures influencing each other, hear about books from around the world, eat amazing food, and see films that explore a variety of Francophonie experiences. While we have a lot of fun presenting you with these events and we hope you have fun attending, we thought it would be good to also give you a little bit of background on why exactly we celebrate Francophone cultures and International Francophone day beyond just the fun of experiencing new cultures.

This past Monday, March 20 was the annual International Francophonie Day. It’s observed in the 80 member states of the Organization of La Francophonie (By the way, that’s 274 million people) and is meant as a day to celebrate the French Language and the cultures of those who speak French.

Logo of Organisation Internationale de la francophonie

Why March 20th though? It turns out that beyond just

being the first day in Spring, this date also commemorates the signing of the Niamey Convention on March 20 1970. This established the Agence de Coopération Culturalle et Technique which later became the International Organization de La Francophonie. On the website of the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie their mission is said to be “to embody the active solidarity between its 80 member states.” To accomplish this the organization “organizes political activities and actions to promote the French language, peace and sustainable development.”

We like to do our little part to expose people to different francophone cultures with our events. Our aim is for people to learn more about cultures that they might not know very much about. We hope that this exposure can kindle previously unexplored interests and deepen understandings of what we can learn from cultures that are different than our own.

Karel, a twelve year old attendee of soirée commune had the following to say about the event:

“I think that the Soirée Commune was a very fun event because it brought a lot of people together to share their country’s culture and get a glimpse of the culture of other countries. This was very important to me because at school they teach kids about the country they live in. Like what happened in the past, what is happening now, or what might occur in the near or distant future. Because of this, kids are often ignorant about what is going on in other smaller countries and what the culture  their is like. This event showed that there is more to Switzerland, France, Haiti and other countries, then the shocking news that is broadcasted worldwide and the general perspective that foreigners have on this countries. Overall, the whole experience was wonderful. I think the way they set it up was really brilliant. I enjoyed walking around to each booth or “country” and getting a taste of their food. I also think the passport idea made it a lot more fun too”

https://www.francophonie.org/Sites-specialises.html

https://www.francophonie.org/Welcome-to-the-International.html

Turning sour grapes into Champagne

By | Cooking and Food, Events, French Community, History | No Comments

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.