Friday, July 14, 2017


Recently I've been reminded how much France and her freedoms have meant to me by reading Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café, a history of existentialist philosophy told in an effervescent, innovative style which is hinted at in the book's subtitle,  Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails. I felt as if I were "meeting" all the French authors who had so influenced my youth all over again and it brought back the excitement of encountering their thought for the first time.

A detail I'd forgotten but was reminded of in the book is that the lyrics of the song below were penned by none other than "Mr Existentialism" himself, Jean-Paul Sartre. Its subject matter, with its references to executions, is hardly cheery but I remember having great fun with it celebrating Bastille Day in 1989 (the bicentenary of the French Revolution) at the school where I was then head of modern languages. I don't think my noisy teenage students' renderings of it, interspersed by my playing of all nine verses of the Marseillaise, brought my colleagues in neighbouring classrooms much joy but I have fond memories of the day, even though at the end of it I was so tired that I was rather glad there was a century to go till the next such celebration. Vive la France!

Juliette Gréco -  La rue des Blancs-Manteaux

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