Monday, July 14, 2008

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #25

I believe Bastille Day is tomorrow (or depending on when this actually gets posted, it could be today), so that gives me a fantastic excuse to post a mix of music by French artists. I chose an image that means a lot to me to accompany this post - Monet's Les Roses. But more about that slightly later.

In my innate tendency towards all things British, I have never really been one to embrace France and all things French easily. Odd, since I'm Canadian, and the French language, at the very least, is something you grow up with even if you don't live in Quebec. Sesame Street in Canada inserts French-Canadian characters, teaching you French words and numbers before you likely encounter French in elementary school (for me, French was compulsory from age six to age eleven, but I continued to take it all the way up until high school graduation - the unfortunate and embarrassing result is that I can read French pretty fluently, but am a complete failure at speaking and understanding spoken French). Of course Canadian French is still notably different from French French, which any French French person will remind you.

I mentioned my European backpacking trip a couple weeks ago, and on this trip it was inevitable that we would visit France. The friend I was travelling with was as passionate and excited about France as I was about the UK, Germany and Italy. She speaks French fluently, so I'm sure that's part of it. When we visited the small town of Sarlat-la-Canèda in the Perigord region, and subsequently hitch-hiked to the nearby castles on the opposite sides of the Dordogne (Château de Castelnaud and Château de Beynac, which constantly changed hands between English and French, if you're interested), we mockingly took sides, she on the French side, I on the English. There was no doubt that I found France and French history interesting, especially because I love a lot of French art and literature, but I was just more relaxed and happier in other countries. Rather than some romantic city of lights, I found Paris to be, through no fault of its own, too touristy, too crowded, and too stifling. However, the Musée Marmottan Monet, a rather small museum by most standards, was an oasis amidst the frantic souvenir hawking and freak heat of that particular summer.

If there is one museum or gallery you visit while in Paris, I would definitely recommend Marmottan. Unlike in the overwhelming Louvre, you can get incredibly close to the paintings, which are of course primarily Monet but also include other impressionists, and you don't feel like you're part of some indifferent herd pushing through just to say you saw something. I was in awe of the fact that I could actually examine Monet's brushstrokes, and built as an exhibition hall based on that of the "Grandes Décorations" in the Orangery at the Tuileries Gardens, the intimate space in which the paintings are displayed gave them a deserved air of calm. While the waterlilies, Japanese bridges, and the burning orange sun of Impression, Sunrise all deeply impressed me (no pun intended), I stood rooted to the spot in front of a lesser known, and probably unlikelier piece. Les Roses is a rather large canvas which features, as you can see, a branch of pink roses spilling across a blue sky background. As I stood beneath it, I felt like I was outdoors, inhaling the summery, soft fragnance of roses - Impressionism is supposed to give you just enough visual information for your eyes and brain to complete the picture, but this particular painting was a conduit for a utopian place I could only get to through my mind's eye. I filled in far more than the flowers. Though others will always praise Monet for his waterlilies, I will remember him for his roses.

Up until that backpacking trip, my outlook on French music was rather grim and my knowledge of French bands/artists was pretty patchy. And my friend's off-key, but constant singing of some Champs D'Élysée song throughout our entire time in France put me off even further. But as my musical tastes grew, they ended up encompassing a fair bit of music from French artists, not always in the French language, mind. I discovered the bittersweetness of Jacques Brel and the playfulness of Serge Gainsbourg along with the twee beauty of Peppermoon and Emilie Simon and the heady stratospheric sounds of Air, M83, and Indochine. And of course all those English-singing French artists like the relaxed, retro Phoenix, the bouncy, poppy Rhesus, and the New Wave Mary Goes Round. With one of my all-time favourite films being Amélie, Yann Tiersen's romantic instrumentals also worked their way into my playlists. And all of these find their way on this mix. Also, as part of a joke to myself over French musical stereotypes, I'm including the excellent Foux Du Fafa by Flight of the Conchords (I still snort when Jemaine comes in with "baguette").