Charles Bremner’s blog, at the Times Online is a sensible but witty view of an alien race. One, strangely, that many of us choose to live amongst.
I very very keen to interview Charles for A Taste of Garlic to find out the what Our Man in France (at least as far as the Times is concerned), thinks about this land that we have chosen to call our new home.
I didn’t want to obscure the issue with any meaningless references to Incest and Morris-Dancing so I made a mental note to totally avoid those two subjects. Besides, having recently been informed that my purile attempts to worm these two subjects (as well as all that toilet stuff) into my interviews indicates a rather juvenile and childish character, I felt that the time had come… “For me to grow up”
Thus I decided to forego my morning duties and get straight on the case…
I rushed down to the end of the lane and waited for a bus. Paris wouldn’t take too long, I hoped.
Three hours later I remembered that the bus has yet to be invented in rural Brittany and realised that I’d have to email the interview through, instead.
1). Your blog (at The Times Online) seems to touch on many of the more interesting parts of life in France (such as the Johnny Hallyday drama.) Do you prefer writing about this sort of stuff rather than “proper” politics?
Charles Bremner – France and the French have fascinated the “Anglo-Saxons” for about a thousand years, so you can always be sure of a good audience with the stories about the culture and way of life. The fascination goes with a certain amount of envy so British and US foreign correspondents tend to feed back two kinds of stories. One category shows how much better the French are at some things (food, fashion, wine, weather, conversation, sex and so on) while the other reinforces Anglo-Saxon prejudices… France is a country of bad drivers, addicted to tranquilizers, football cheats etc etc. Johnny Hallyday fits the second category. Carla Bruni is part of the first, though I suppose she’s related to politics. The politics have become much more fun since Sarkozy and his court took over.
2). Talking about Johnny Hallyday; He had his first number one in 1932 and still only looks about 50 years old. He’s got to be a clone, what do you think?
Charles Bremner – Hallyday is a remarkable showman and he has also had a lot of surgery — external as well as internal.
3). The French drink like fishes, smoke like chimneys and eat all the wrong sorts of food (I’m thinking pure fat here – whether it be Lard, Foie Gras or those absolutely delicious Chips cooked in Duck Fat), and yet they all live to a ripe old age. What’s their secret?
Charles Bremner – The secret is that they don’t eat and drink to anything like the excess of the modern British. They don’t snack much between meals and spend more time eating at a real table with othere people than most northern Europeans and Americans. But it’s true, you do have to wonder how a country that eats baguette with every meal and loves very fat cheese can stay so thin.
4). Jose Bové. Is he the new Che Guevara or just a Frenchman with a silly mustache?
Charles Bremner – Bové is very 1990s, which makes him four decades more modern than Guevara, but he’s still a decade out of date.
5). Emanuelle Béart or Carla Bruni – who is the fittest?
Charles Bremner – I’d guess Bruni, since I interviewed her personal coach, but both look pretty fit to me.
6). The French love affair with the mustache. What does it say about French culture and should French women be banned from growing them?
Charles Bremner - I haven’t seen many mustaches lately — apart from Bové. His mustache was way out of date when he became famous in the 1990s.
7). Ricard or Pernod?
Charles Bremner – Both are fine, provided the sun is out and it’s hot.
8). What do you say to the people who believe that Elvis isn’t dead but is living in Paris and is busy giving Nicolas Sarkozy singing lessons so that he can have a Christmas number one singing a duet with his new wife?
Charles Bremner – Elvis wouldn’t have to make the trip because France has its own version: Johnny. He’s a big friend of Sarko and sings with him in private (no kidding!)
9). Foie Gras – fastfood of the gods or fastlane to hell?
Charles Bremner - I love foie gras but disapprove of the way that it is made. Like most French people according to opinion polls.
10). Thierry Henry. Could an Englishman ever cheat like that (and would he do so)?
Charles Bremner – Don’t know, but the English get a lot of satisfaction from believing that.
11). In a rather old article published in October 2004 (you see, here at A Taste of Garlic we really do read the blogs we enthuse about – although in your case I do have to say, you do write rather a lot, don’t you?), you explain “How Britain rose from its sickbed and became the envy of Europe.” Is Britain now unenvied by the French and considered to be suffering from a bit of a relapse?
Charles Bremner – This is the other side of the Anglo-French rivalry. Since the crash of 2008, the French have been enjoying feeling superior to the poor Brits who had so recently been held up as a model for them. Last year, Sarkozy switched overnight from promoting Blair-style capitalism to denouncing the “financial follies that have their origin in the City of London”.
12). An evening spent as a guest of Brigitte Bardot or as a guest of Felicity Kendal. Which would you choose?
Charles Bremner – Who’s Felicity Kendal?
13). Morris Dancing – a particularly British affliction or could it ever catch on in Paris?
Charles Bremner – There are plenty of French folk dances but none quite as comic as the Morris lot, with their bells.
14). Do you want to answer any more questions or would you prefer to pop off down the bar for a quick dry martini and let me make up the rest of the answers?
Charles Bremner – The French don’t know how to make martinis unless you go to an American bar.
All the best