Stephen Clarke life as an expat in Paris

PUBLISHED: 16:20 16 September 2021 | UPDATED: 16:20 16 September 2021

Author Stephen Clarke shares his musings on life in Paris © Tim Wesson

Creator Stephen Clarke shares his musings on life in Paris © Tim Wesson

Tim Wesson

FRANCE Journal’s Paris-based columnist on work, picnics and politics



One in all France’s best-known Impressionist work – and there are loads of them – is Edouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, wherein a few nattily dressed artist varieties are sitting on a garden with an inexplicably bare girl. Neither of the lads appear within the woman (they’re in all probability arguing about artwork), so she is popping her consideration to us, the spectators. Possibly she’s hoping somebody will give her a bathrobe.

Anyway, after I was a scholar at Oxford this portray prompted an argument about methods to translate the title. The French translation class break up into three factions. The literalists mentioned it needed to be “Lunch, or Luncheon, on the Grass”; the poets insisted on decoding it as “Picnic on the Garden” and the realists (of whom I used to be one) mentioned why translate in any respect? It’s well-known by its French title. Nobody calls a well known wine “The Pope’s New Fortress”, do they? I can’t bear in mind who gained that argument, if anybody, however the picture got here to thoughts just lately after I was having a picnic, on some grass because it occurs.

Similar to translation at Oxford, lunchtime picnicking in Paris appears to divide individuals into three faculties. Some go to the boulangerie and get a “formule” (often a sandwich or quiche, plus a non-alcoholic drink and a cake); some desire a restaurant or fast-food place (however can that be known as a picnic, or is it simply consuming your takeaway meal earlier than you get residence?); whereas others, like me, deliver their very own meals – I’m a veggie and loads of Parisian boulangeries nonetheless appear to suppose that tuna comes from a plant.

I’m fortunate – I reside close to an enormous park, La Villette, that enables individuals on the grass, although in fact it’s a must to watch out the place you sit in case dog-owners have been there earlier than you. And I used to be having fun with a déjeuner sur l’herbe close to the canal just lately when dialog turned to Manet’s portray. Had the 2 males been consuming when a nude girl all of the sudden sat beside them uninvited? Or was she a fellow picnicker who bought so tired of their dialog that she took her garments off to see in the event that they’d discover?

We couldn’t determine, so we went on to debate a French actress who had revealed all at a film awards ceremony, on prime-time TV. She was protesting in regards to the authorities’s neglect of the humanities throughout Covid (though in reality France is paying its actors a full 12 months’s unemployment cash). Politics apart, this nude protest felt extremely Parisian. Again in 1863, Manet needed to shake up the artwork institution, so he plonked a unadorned woman in the course of a picnic by the Seine. Nearly 160 years later, an actress did the identical factor at an awards ceremony. Plus ça change

Anyway, again on the La Villette picnic, my buddy revealed that Manet’s portray was initially known as Le Bain (“The Bathtub”, or “Bathing”) – there’s a second girl within the background, rinsing herself within the river. At the moment, Paris’s swimming swimming pools had been shut, so we puzzled whether or not any bare canal bathers may come and demand to share our sandwiches. (This was the form of factor your mind did throughout lockdown.)

Nevertheless, it was unlikely, we determined. Parisians are rather more delicate about water air pollution now than they had been within the 1860s. And in addition to, regardless of France’s erotic repute, full-on public nudity is punishable by as much as a 12 months in jail and a fantastic of €15,000. That will be one costly Parisian picnic.

Stephen Clarke writes a bi-monthly column for FRANCE Magazine. His newest novel is The Spy Who Impressed Me, a spoof thriller set in Occupied France.

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