Friday, June 14, 2024

Returning to France - liberté, égalité, fraternité

As we prepare to visit France yet again later this year, I had to ask myself why I find it so fascinating. Part of the reason is the influence French culture has had in so many areas. Part of the reason concerns a story told about Zhou Enlai, the former Premier of China. Asked by Kissinger what he thought were the long term effects of the French Revolution, he replied ‘it’s too soon to tell’. Even though it seems he was referring to the student uprising of May 1968, the truth is his answer could more accurately be a reference to the original French Revolution. I am very fond of a long term view – which seems particularly Chinese.

As we prepare to visit Europe again later this year, after a hiatus of over four years due to the pandemic, I was thinking about why I enjoy going to France so much. It’s not just because the buildings are so old and the food and wine is fabulous and you’re surrounded by a sense of the importance of culture. It’s not even because of some of the historic connections between Australia and France, amongst which is the story of Villers-Bretonneux, a small French village, which after being protected by Australian soldiers during World War I, put a sign up in the village school, saying ‘Never forget Australia’ and which still celebrates ANZAC day every year.

Surrounded by a sense of the importance of culture - Societe des Poetes Francais

It also helps that I spent six years at high school in Tasmania learning French. I can still say 'J’ai étudié le Francais pendant six ans a l’ecole', even if I can't say much else. What I can do quite well is read French, so I get by with signs and labels in museums. I was very pleased when once, staying in Vaison-la-Romaine, destination of choice of many Parisian holidaymakers, I managed to ask for directions in French at the local Mairie (town hall) when we had to move our car early the next morning because a large market that blocked all roads was about to take place.

Part of the reason concerns an apocryphal story told about Zhou Enlai, the notable former Premier of China. He was asked by Kissinger what he thought were the long term effects of the French Revolution and he replied ‘it’s too soon to tell’. In fact it seems he was referring to the student uprising of May 1968, but the truth is his answer could more accurately be a reference to the original French Revolution. Just like the suffragettes, the long term effects of the French Revolution are still reverberating. The French certainly don’t do things by halves – on my first visit to Paris I tried to find the notorious prison, the Bastille, which housed so many enemies of the ancien regime. There is a Place de la Bastille, but there is no longer a Bastille.

While she was still alive my mother-in-law talked about when Napoleon came to Tilsit in East Prussia, even though she obviously wasn't there at the time – though, given her advanced age, she could well have been. While I don't have a lot of time for Napoleon – too much of the capricious strong man for my liking – and we've seen enough of those, he certainly made a mark.  

The looming return to France has also pushed me to go back and review a range of travel books I had started to write after major trips to the UK and Scotland (2017), France (2018), Cornwall, Norway, Denmark and Germany (2019). It also included other, shorter trips, some much-loved regional road tours in Australia. The disruption of the pandemic had put them all on hold – strangely because that would have been the best time to write anything – though moving home, the greatest disruptor of them all short of death, wouldn’t have helped.

© Stephen Cassidy 2024

See also

Travelling light – Into Northern seas: UK, Norway, Denmark and Germany 2019
‘Neither I nor my fellow traveller had been on a cruise before, but suddenly we were sailing from London to Bergen, retracing the steps of the ancient Vikings. When we were in Scotland in 2017, we became entranced by the centuries of exchange and movement between Northern England and Scotland and Norway. We saw a cruise that travelled from Edinburgh to Bergen and became quite excited about the idea. Before you knew it, we were booked to sail from London to Edinburgh, then across the Norwegian Sea far above the Arctic Circle to the Northern-most tip of Norway before working out way down through the fjords and passages of the Norway coast to Bergen, the second largest city in Norway. We hadn’t even been discouraged by the fact that earlier that year another Viking cruise ship was nearly wrecked when one of its engines failed in a huge storm and passengers had to be lifted off by helicopter above raging seas’, Travelling light – Into Northern seas: UK, Norway, Denmark and Germany 2019.

Travelling light – Journey to the North Country: Scotland and Northern England 2017
‘Our trip to Scotland and Northern England in 2017 was our first serious international foray in eleven years – trips in our own backyard, to New Zealand and Tahiti, don’t really count. We flew to Singapore – my first night ever in an Asian city – and then to mega airline hub Frankfurt and on to Manchester, followed by a drive through the Scottish Midlands – Glasgow and Edinburgh – and then Durham and York and back through Manchester to Singapore. Somewhere in there we ended up in a stone cottage for a week on a peninsula with the Isle of Islay on one side and the Isle of Arran on the other. Of course it all involved more Roman ruins than you could count because my fellow traveller is both a complete Anglophile and a Roman tragic – possibly, though inexplicably, due to her Austrian and German ancestry. All in all, it was a recipe for lots of fun’, Travelling light – Journey to the North Country: Scotland and Northern England 2017.

Travelling light – Island on fire: Tasmania 2019
‘On an island you’re never far from the sea – that is unless the island is huge, like Australia. In tiny Tasmania, perched like an afterthought at the foot of Australia, even the mountains in the centre are not far from the ocean raging around them – just as in the distant homeland from which those who settled it came. On the main island, though, everywhere is a long way from everywhere else. Two islands, very different in size, in many ways with both similar and different histories. Both on fire. But this not just about the fires – it’s about what happened in front of the fire, the life lived in a time of warming and burning, even if it sometimes felt like a rehearsal for the end of the world’, Island on fire.

Dawn service – revisiting a long and personal story
‘Waking before dawn on ANZAC Day I suddenly thought I’d take part in my own one-person Dawn Service by thinking quietly about those in my own extended family who had been to war. That’s my five uncles all of whom fought in World War 2 – and survived – with a sense of humour and a string of medals. It’s also my family-in-law – my father-in-law and mother-in-law who were both conscripted into the German Army. My father-in-law once said to me ‘I’d had enough of armies’. My under-age father tried in vain to join up to be with the brothers he adored, but his father refused to sign the necessary papers – luckily, otherwise I might not be here, part of a later generation, remembering them all with great sadness’, Dawn service – revisiting a long and personal story.

Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity
‘When I was visiting Paris last year, there was one thing I wanted to do before I returned home – visit the renowned French bakery that had trained a Melbourne woman who had abandoned the high stakes of Formula One racing to become a top croissant maker. She had decided that being an engineer in the world of elite car racing was not for her, but rather that her future lay in the malleable universe of pastry. Crossing boundaries of many kinds and traversing the borders of differing countries and cultures, she built a radically different future to the one she first envisaged’, Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity.

Talent time – Australian creativity in a global world
‘In an increasingly globalised world, Australian creative talent has been playing a leading international role for decades. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Australian presence in the global film-making machine of Hollywood. Now one of Australia’s leading national cultural institutions has captured that phenomenon in a new exhibition about the role of Australians in Hollywood, celebrating iconic moments in contemporary Australian film and the people and stories that brought them to life’, Talent time – Australian creativity in a global world.
 
Flight of the wild geese – Australia’s place in the world of global talent
‘As the global pandemic has unfolded, I have been struck by how out of touch a large number of Australians are with Australia’s place in the world. Before the pandemic many Australians had become used to travelling overseas regularly – and spending large amounts of money while there – but we seem to think that our interaction with the global world is all about discretionary leisure travel. In contrast, increasingly many Australians were travelling – and living – overseas because their jobs required it. Whether working for multinational companies that have branches in Australia or Australian companies trying to break into global markets, Australian talent often needs to be somewhere else than here to make the most of opportunities for Australia. Not only technology, but even more importantly, talent, will be crucial to the economy of the future’, Flight of the wild geese – Australia’s place in the world of global talent

Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles
‘After three weeks travelling round the North Island of New Zealand, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of the clean and clever industries of the future and the skilled knowledge workers who make them. In the capital, Wellington, instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta. It’s clear that the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. These skills which Weta depends on for its livelihood are also being used to tell important stories from the past’, Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles.
 
My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.

The Asian Century was underway long before the British arrived
‘We are all used to being astounded as we see growing evidence of how widespread contact and trade was across the breadth of the ancient European world and with worlds far beyond. The Romans and the Vikings and many after them all roamed far and wide. This is the stuff of a hundred television documentaries that show just how interconnected the ancient world was. Connection, not isolation, has always been the norm. Seaways were bridges, not barriers – a way to bring people together, not divide them. Now important archaeological work confirms just how widespread that cross-cultural, international network was across the whole of Northern Australia, long before the British arrived’, The Asian Century was underway long before the British arrived.

Travelling light – a cultural journey through the Shaky Isles
‘I’ve been to Aotearoa New Zealand only twice before – once on a brief stop in Auckland on the way to Tahiti in 2014 and then on a longer trip around the North Island at the end of 2016. On the first trip my fellow traveller was in New Zealand because she wanted to visit Tahiti, whereas I was in Tahiti because I wanted to visit New Zealand. On the second visit in 2016, we had planned to continue on to the South Island – till it became clear this would be biting off more than we could chew. A driving journey on two islands was one island too many. Then, almost seven years later, including three years of global pandemic, ducking and weaving to avoid the virus, our 2016 trip was finally about to resume’, Travelling light – a cultural journey through the Shaky Isles.

Absent without leave – ocean crossing in an (almost) post-pandemic world
‘I’ve been a little out of touch with what’s been happening in the world of Australian creativity and culture because for all of February and early March this year I was visiting Aotearoa New Zealand, on a journey that originally started in November 2016 and was then resumed over six years later. While I was away the Labor Government announced its new National Cultural Policy and soon after I arrived back I received bad news of a loss from the tight group of friends and colleagues who had helped form my cultural world-view so many decades earlier – when we spoke the language of community, the language of culture and the language of changing the world for the better’, Absent without leave – ocean crossing in an (almost) post-pandemic world.

Ignoring the neighbours – why our backyard matters
'My trip to Tahiti last year reminded me of the large issues swirling around the Pacific and of how uneven the relationship between Australia and the region has been. It threw up lots of issues about how local cultures adapt to the globalised economy. Producing artwork and performances for the tourist market is problematical. Yet it's also the fate of Australian culture generally. Is it swimming against the tide for all of us?' Ignoring the neighbours - why our backyard matters.

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