25 September 2012

Henri IV and the Promised Chicken

Henri IV: Monarch, ladies man, infalible chicken spotter.
Image: Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology 
via Wikimedia Commons

No, the above headline is not the title of the next long-awaited J.K. Rowling novel but an oblique historical reference to the democratic process and the pre-democratic popularity contest it rode in on. Those recalling the bygone days of American President Herbert Hoover (a pastime only marginally less interesting than recalling the bygone nights of Herbert Hoover) may recognize the 1928 electoral slogan "A chicken in every pot and a car in every backyard, to boot!". And lo, though the halcyon pleasures of booting cars in the backyard have gone the way of car companies being owned by their originating nationality, the merits of the potted chicken may still well be understood. And this undying appeal of freshly-deceased poultry is probably the motor behind the survival of a strangely robust electoral promise with origins not in the early 20th Century but the early 17th.*


French king Henri IV may or may not have been the grand gaillard and vert gallant handed down by the orthodoxy of French history, as the devil-may-care, skirt-chasing, garlic-chomping, goat-stink-radiating originator of such immortal dictums as "I rule with a weapon in hand and my arse in the saddle"** may have been tactically over-machismoed by his P.R. people in order to better contrast him with his daintily fastidious, handkerchief-sous-le-nez predecessor Henri III; this to better settle an until-recently Protestant upstart on the Catholic throne of France in a time when such things mattered***. What is certain is that notre gallant Henri said, at one point or another;

« Si Dieu me donne encore de la vie je ferai qu’il n’y aura point de laboureur en mon Royaume qui n’ait moyen d’avoir une poule dans son pot »
"Should God grant me more life I will make it so there will be no laborer in my realm who does not have the means to put a chicken in his pot."

Or, he may have simply said,

« Je veux que chaque laboureur de mon royaume puisse mettre la poule au pot le dimanche »
"I will that each laborer in my realm may put a chicken in his pot on Sunday."

Which has the merit of brevity and being the version retained for future political use.

Either way, the slogan has become an electoral perennial on both sides of the Atlantic, which is somewhat odd considering Henri IV became king through pedigree, high-level politicking, warfare and religion-swapping; the vote of the everyman factored in to his ascension about as much as said medieval chicken participated in the last Mars probe.

Post by Monsieur Ouestbrouq

*  Only Japanese chickens have motors.

**  A phrase which may or may not be more correctly sourced to a contemporary, Charles Dupuy de Montbrun; « lorsqu'on a le bras armé et le cul sur la selle, tout le monde est compagnon. » or "When you've a weapon in hand and your arse in the saddle, everyone's your friend."

***  For more on this and other fascinatingly unorthodox renditions of French historical events, see François Reynaert's excellent Nos ancêtres les Gaulois et autres fadaises (sadly unavailable in English).

20 September 2012

English Chard with Baked Bonaparte

And now for some unjustifiable linkage. Somewhat recently we presented our recipe for Swiss Chard Tart with Crottins de Chavignol. Here then as inedible accompaniment is a recipe of another sort:

Colonel John Rouse Merriot Chard, VC 
(no, not Viet Cong).
Image: Wikimedia Commons


Firstly, we require one John Rouse Merriot Chard, circa 1879. Although an officer of the Royal Engineers by trade, Chard is best known for engineering the successful defense of Rourke's Drift, a miniscule mission settlement near Natal Province's Buffalo River, in an engagement that pitted some 150 British soldiers and assorted colonial troops against an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Zulus. This arguably miraculous defense also acted as a sorely needed consolation prize after the morning's match in which over 1,000 Imperial troops found themselves somewhat massacred by the main contingent ( 22,000 strong) of the same Zulu force. The Empire nevertheless recovered and went on to play the Boers in the quarterfinals.

Oui, oui, mais what ze sacre bleu does this have to do with France ?

The Napoléon IV who wasn't.
Image: Wikimedia Commons


Add second ingredient; one Prince Imperial Napoléon Eugène Bonaparte, titular head of the Bonaparte dynasty and British Army officer.

Comment ça ?

In 1870, Eugène's father, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, better known at the office as Napoléon III, was forced to relocate his empire to Chislehurst after nearly two decades in the Tuileries. The why of it is a longer story that can be summed up by the ancient proverb "He who would bluff the Prussians would do best to have most excellent battlefield mojo". He didn't. Ergo downfall, exile, Chislehurst and exeunt.

Alors, the now-dislocated heir apparent, in a somewhat surreal mirroring of his omnivorous great-uncle*, joined the British Royal Artillery and, after a lengthy nagging campaign, the 23 year-old last direct heir of the Bonaparte Dynasty was sent into active duty in Southern Africa some few months after the battle of Rourke's Drift. Before long, Lieutenant Bonaparte's patrol encountered a Zulu patrol, Bonaparte was killed**, the Zulus went on to be absorbed by South Africa in the semifinals and, in a splendid display of DIY gumption, the now headless Bonapartists set about finding a new "Man on Horseback" who would set things aright.

Général Georges Boulanger,
as photographed by Nadar
Image: Wikimedia Commons


Although General, War Minister and virulent anti-Prussian Georges Ernest Boulanger (Baker, en français) could claim nary a trace of Bonaparte blood, he was for a period acclaimed by fans of military-based autocratic rule as just the thing for a turbulent nation in need of a new strongman. By 1889, the General's support base was such that he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, but missed his opportunity for a successful coup d'état when he decided to spend the pivotal evening dining with his mistress instead of storming the Élysée and dissolving the Republic (ce qui est très français, quand même...). The moment was lost, public support waned and the unhappy couple absconded to Belgium where the mistress soon died***. As for the General, he lingered on in le plat pays a few months longer before smiting himself upon her grave in a romantic fit of tabloid headline. Waterloo bis.

See Ixelles and die?
Image: Wikimedia Commons

And as for Bonapartism; with the encroaching 20th Century shaping up as a more coldly mechanistic sort of terrain than the previous and finding themselves lacking not only a Bonaparte but a good armband and theme song, the movement went on to lose out to fascism in the finals.

Bon. In conclusion, let's go from Baker back to Chard, shall we? Tenez-vous bien, donc : The excellent 1964 feature film Zulu (featuring Michael Caine in his first major role) was brought to the screen largely through the efforts of one Stanley Baker.

... Who also plays John Chard in the film.

Post by Monsieur Ouestbrouq who told you from the start it was inedible.

*  Napoléon Bonaparte, a native of only recently-Frenchified Corsica, started his career in the French Artillery.

**  In another moment of cosmic mirroring, Chief Dinuzulu, accused by the British government of fomenting rebellion and being persistently and willfully not at all English, was exiled in 1909 to the island of Saint Helena, better known as the last bivouac of the aforementioned Napoléon. 

***  Said mistress being an actress of the Comédie Française going by the incredibly Ian Flemingesque name of Madame de Bonnemains.

01 September 2012

Paname: La Fête de la musique

Special Delivery via escargot-team drawn Galapagos turtle: Impressions of the annual Parisian music festival, recorded in the 4th, 5th and 6th arrondissements on the afternoon and evening of June 21st 2012. Featuring many and sundry local groups (the names of which were unfortunately for the most part not in evidence), from folk to rock to blues to chanson française and further afield. Farthest afield by far was (or were, if you're British) the irrepressibly chirpy and perhaps certifiable import* Sing 恵比寿 (or Sing! Ebisu, if you're not Japanese).

Sing! Ebisu. They come not more chipper.
Image: Ouestbrouq

For more information: http://www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr/en/International/presentation/

Post by Monsieur Ouestbrouq

*  "Perky" not usually being counted among the French cardinal virtues...

31 July 2012

Work and the Frenchman

In France, work is not a virtue. It is simply work, and is, moreover, of no particular interest unless one happens to like what one does for a living, at which point work ceases to be « le  travail » or « un boulot », a job,  and becomes « un métier »; a subtle distinction implicating the value of work by way of vocation, of personal satisfaction and involvement. The conspicuously workaholic ex-President Sarkozy admonished/promised the French that they should/could « Travailler plus pour gagner plus » ("Work more to earn more"). The popular response is perhaps best summed up by an urban graffiti pun visible around Paris during the époque, depicting Obama, with his "Yes we can", flanked by Sarkozy offering "No weekend".

Alors, on reprend. In France, work is not a virtue. Vacation, however, is a sacred animal and one is likely either a juilletiste or an aoûtien, meaning one prefers either the month of July or August for one's congés annuels. Here at ze Tao, we're doing a bit of both and will likely resume posting vers la rentrée, meaning September. Mais on ne sait jamais. We therefore take our temporary leave of the reader with the topical reflections of one Henri Salvador.*

{NOTE: The following translation is designed for clarity of meaning. Complaints regarding its artistic merits may be addressed to the Maritime Council of Franche-Comté in Besançon between 11:00 and 11:13am. Ask for Serge or his marmot, Surcouf.}

Le Travail, c'est la santé : Work is Health

Work is health 
To do nothing is to conserve it
The prisoners of their jobs
Won't live to be old

These people running at full gallop
In cars, the metro or by bike
Are they going to see an amusing film?
Nope, they're going their jobs

They work eleven months for their vacations
And they're beat by the time they start
One month later, they're strong
But it's time to go back to work

They say there are those in a mess
Who run without cease after work
Me, work runs after me
And it's not even close to catching up

Nowadays in the smallest village
People work like savages
In order to afford all the comforts
And by the time they get them, they're dead

AVERTISSEMENT:  Should one be tempted to snort, chortle or guffaw at the evidently untenable Latin buffoonery of Monsieur Salvador's philosophy, it might be of interest to note that he lived in good health and good spirits to the age of 90, largely, we suspect, from the merits of taking his own advice. 

And then of course there's that infuriating 2009 statistic from Business Insider indicating that, despite an evident lack of reverence for the Protestant work ethic, France leads the world in per-capita productivity...

Bonnes vacances à tous, alors.

Post by Monsieur Ouestbrouq

* Who nevertheless voiced his support for the then-candidate Sarkozy during the 2007 elections. Let it never be said that the French are uncomplicated.