Vive la France!

French flag

Today’s events in Paris have prompted me to write this post.

As the Irish writer, John de Courcy Ireland famously said: “every cultured person has two countries; France and their own”.

This rings so true to me, especially as my early childhood and youth are closely linked to France.

At the tender age of five, I started my education at the French lycée in Stockholm, run by French nuns. Thirteen years later, I graduated, having passed the baccalaureate with good results. Those years with the nuns taught me to speak flawless French with an accent that is as close to a native one as a foreigner can get. But it also taught me French history and literature and a love of everything French. I spent many a happy summer as the guest of a French family, who took me to their bosom and treated me as a daughter. I have heard that French people are generally considered to be unfriendly. I don’t have that experience at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

My first love affair was with a Frenchman (although I later married and Irishman). In France, I had my first taste of champagne, the first introduction to gourmet food, cheese and wine. Not to mention fashion and style. Later on, my husband was posted to the Irish embassy in Paris, where we spent the happiest years of our married life. My youngest child was born there during that time and I will never forget the experience.

Ever since, we have managed at least one holiday a year in France and every time we go there, I have a feeling of coming home.

Many of my books are set in France. But I will not post links to them here, as this is not about me.

It’s with great sadness that I read about what’s happening in Paris and my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.

France gave me so much.

charlie

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How Dan Brown Does what Others Can’t (or are not allowed to do).

danny

Less than a week after its publication, Dan Brown’s latest oeuvre is already a huge bestseller. It has, of course, attracted a lot of attention and an awful lot of criticism. Some reviewers sneer discreetly, others scorn it openly.

As a writer, I can only sympathize with the author. If I had received reviews such as: “as a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor.” (The Telegraph), or: “it’s all twaddle” (The Daily Mail), I would stick my head in the proverbial oven and decided to write no more.

In addition, it is said that Brown’s writing is poor, breaks many rules when it comes to plot and structure, his research is bad and his prose often long winded. Stuff that most other writers could never get away with.

Similar things have been said about other bestsellers, such as Fifty Shades of Grey and many more. Those books that just run away and sell and sell and sell, leaving other writers far behind, scratching their heads, wondering WHAT is the secret? How can such bad writing have such enormous popular appeal?

It’s all very well and oh-so-easy to say that the general reading public is stupid, that readers don’t actually know what good writing IS. But that is not really the crux of the dilemma. Or the real story about the story.

Writing is a little bit like cooking. Put in the right ingredients, make it taste really good, and you have a product people want. The cake might be a bit wobbly, fall apart in your hands or could be a little burnt at the edges but if it tastes delicious, you’ll want to eat more and more and more. It’s not in the way you cook it, it’s how  the ingredients appeal to the public that counts.

In this way, if you spin a good yarn, be it badly written and the historical facts a little off, people will still want to read it. In fact, generally,most  people have quite a sketchy idea about history, art and religion, so the nitty-gritty of historical accuracy is of no importance.

In Dan Brown’s case, he hit the jackpot with the Da Vinci Code.  He was very clever in creating a plot centered around they mystery of Christ, a very intriguing subject, throwing mystique and sorcery and alchemy and all kinds of taboo subjects into the story, which appeal to the masses.

Plus, setting Da Vinci in Paris and Inferno in Florence, among ancient buildings and artifacts  was another clever idea. Add a soap opera ingredient and, voilà; you have  everything that could possibly appeal to the millions.

My dad, a great intellectual and an avid reader, picked up The Da Vinci Code, read a bit of it and threw it against the wall. I picked it up and started reading. He then asked me to tell him what happened in the end.

Writers may scream and shout, point out all the flaws, laugh sarcastically and then cry in their beer about how another author writes a good story very badly and then rakes in millions.

The bottom line: Brown knows how to hook people with a story. And THAT’S the trick!

Brigitte Bardot and The Tart from St Tropez

 

Brigitte and the story of  THAT cake.

Having fought a very irate French lady for the last piece of ”Tarte Tropezienne’ in my local patisserie in Antibes, where I’m spending a  late summer holiday, I thought I would research the origin of what looks like just an ordinary sponge cake, filled with custard. But it’s not. Bite into it and you’ll discover it’s a piece of pure heaven. To die for. To fight with aggressive French females within an inch of your life for. To risk an additional spare tyre for. To… I could go on and on. But where did it come from? And what’s the secret ingredient that makes it so sublime? 

The story started in 1945, with a young Polish ‘parachutiste’, called Alexandre Micka, who took part in the liberation of the French Rivera at the end of WWII.  To cut a long story short, he liked the place so much, he stayed, married a French girl and opened a bakery in St Tropez. Once installed, our Alexandre used his mother’s recipes from his native Poland, one of which was for a cake with a vanilla flavoured filling (plus that secret ingredient) which  became a local speciality. Wind the film (literally) forward to 1952, when a young director called Roger Vadim was making a film entitled  ‘And God Created Woman’ with a young starlet by the name of- you guessed it- Brigitte Bardot. Alexandre Micka got the job of catering for the film crew and the soon-to-be- famous cake was served daily.

‘You should give a name to this dessert,’ said Brigitte (who, judging by her figure only indulged in the occasional nibble) and so, the ‘Tarte Tropezienne’ was born. And now it is served in every good patisserie on the  French Rivera. The secret ingredient? Nobody knows. Every time I taste it, I get a different flavour; sometimes  almond, or apple or rum.

But who cares? It’s gorgeous.

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