Today in France everyone will be celebrating Bastille Day (or le quatorze julliet, as they would say there), which commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789, and is often considered to be the beginning of modern France. As a francophile and French literature major, I always try to celebrate Bastille Day myself (even if that only means eating a croissant for breakfast!) This year, I thought I’d celebrate by sharing some of my favorite books about French culture, French literature, film, and music.
- Comic Book, by Serge Gainsbourg: The “dirty old man” of French pop, Serge Gainsbourg has played around with lots of different musical genres, from pop to jazz to reggae. This album is a collection of his pop songs, and while I can never pick a favorite, his duets with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin are always classics.
- French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano: You won’t find any recipes for the heavy pastries or rich entrees that we’ve come to expect from French cooking, but Guiliano packs her first cookbook with lots of wonderful recipes, sandwiched between anecdotes about French culture and cuisine. The leek soup, fish en papillote, and homemade yogurt recipes have all worked their way into my regular rotation. While this is a diet book, it is less about deprivation than about healthy eating, and the recipes are all well-balanced, easy to make, and delicious.
- Short stories by Guy de Maupassant: Maupassant is a master of the modern short story, and is one of my favorite authors. His stories dwell on topics such as sex and power in society (as in one of his famous stories, Boule de Suif) or horror (as in Le Horla). As a short story writer he has never become as famous as some of his novel-writing contemporaries (such as Flaubert- who was also his mentor- or Zola), but his stories are well worth the read.
- Masculin Feminin: I hadn’t realized how much I love French film until I began trying to pick a film to write about for this blog post. I finally settled on Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Feminin, because, in addition to being one of my favorite films of all time, it really is a great peek into French culture in the 1960’s, and is also a landmark of the French New Wave film movement. The plot focuses on the relationship between a young man just out of the army, and a young woman with aspirations of becoming a pop star. And for you trivia geeks: Masculin Feminin also happens to be based on a couple of short stories by Maupassant.
- Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources: (Because I couldn’t pick just one French film!) In contrast to Godard’s urban 1960’s France, these two films take place in the earlier part of the 20th century, in rural France. The main character has dreams of becoming a florist, and when he discovers a hidden spring on his neighbor’s land he plots to get the water for himself. Jean de Florette tells the first part of the story, and Manon des Sources picks up where the first film leaves off. The movies are wonderfully paced stories of obsession, greed, and revenge. Set aside a chunk of time to watch both movies back to back; by the end of the first film you’ll be anxious to find out how the story ends.
If I hadn’t quit smoking, I would light up a Gauloise. Instead I’ll probably just eat another croissant and have a glass of wine. Do you have any plans for celebrating Bastille Day?