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Zaï Zaï Zaï Zaï by Fabcaro – Many a true word is said in jest

April 14, 2019 11 comments

Zaï Zaï Zaï Zaï. A roadmovie. by Fabcaro (2015) Not available in English

At the Bron Literary Festival I attended the interview of Fabrice Caro (Fabcaro is his nom de plume as a BD author) and laughed so much when I saw excerpts of his BD album Zaï Zaï Zaï Zaï that I rushed to buy it. I kept giggling, laughing, chuckling all along this short little gem.

A man –Fabcaro’s doppelgangler—is at the checkout in a supermarket when the cashier requests his loyalty card. He doesn’t have it. He tries to explain that he left it in his other pants but he’s taken by security as if he were a thief. He bolts out of the store and is now on the run. The reader sees both his travels and how society responds to this news.

We see him hitchhike, call home to tell his wife and daughters where he is…He decides to go and hide in Lozère because he imagines that it’s so isolated that they don’t have TV or radio. It’s a reference to American road movies and it become ridiculous in France because we don’t have the American wilderness as a dramatic effect. No. We only have country roads and small villages.

In parallel to the man’s run, we see the circus in the country and how society is carried away by such a tiny event. Perfectly coiffed reporters are sent on location and have nothing to report to their news channel and still talk endlessly. The authorities have to deploy police forces or they’d be considered as inefficient. Artists have their say and create a temporary group to write and sing a charity single. TV channels organize talk shows to discuss the pros and cons of having one’s loyalty card.

We also see the reaction of the man in the street: hasty condemnations in what we call “conversation de bistrot”, which would probably be “bar talk” in English. Mothers who won’t let their kid go out because a criminal is on the run…People who want to deport this BD author to where he belongs…Brussels.

The root of the whole thing is absurd and the absurdity of it all is hilarious. Of course, in real life, forgetting one’s loyalty card doesn’t engender all these extreme reactions. Fabcaro said it was an image for identity papers. It’s a way to show the life of a clandestine and how easy a regular person can become one. See what happened in the UK in the last two years with migrants from the 1950s who were in the Empire at the time and didn’t need papers, who settled in Britain, never knew they needed papers and were suddenly denied a passport and swept away in all kinds of administrative nightmares.

Choosing a loyalty card is also spot on because our Western societies try to make us believe that we are what we consume and that if we are not a consumer, we do not exist. Loyalty cards are your ID as a consumer. And identity papers define you and prove your existence.

This is why Zaï Zaï Zaï Zaï is the perfect illustration of the saying Many a true word is said in jest.

The absurd and hilarious ending explains the title of the album. Zaï Zaï Zaï is a gimmick in the popular oldy song Siffler sur la colline by Joe Dassin. It’s available on Youtube for curious readers. It’s also the lyrics told by Jean-Pierre Bacri in the film On connaît la chanson.

Now, I can’t wait to read Caro’s novel, Le discours. I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun too.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

January 28, 2017 22 comments

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. (1938) French title: Cette sacrée vertu.

watson_englishI bought Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson after reading Jacqui’s enthusiastic review confirmed by Max’s review, both excellent, as always.

I was drawn to this story of a mousy spinster who gets shaken up in her life after a serendipitous mix up. Miss Pettigrew works as a governess not by choice but out of obligation. She needs to work for a living and it’s the only profession she knows. It’s not a calling and she’s not very skilled at it. With the years, the family she works for are getting worse and she’s been ill-treated by her employers. Miss Pettigrew is poor, she’s lonely and she doesn’t have any other option than taking another job as a governess. The last family you hired her bullied her and she dreads starting anew somewhere else. Her resistance to harship is getting low and her work agency has sent her to an address to start a new position. She feels like she’s going to the gallows.

Outside on the pavement Miss Pettigrew shivered slightly. It was a cold, grey, foggy November day with a drizzle of rain in the air. Her coat, of a nondescript, ugly brown, was not very thick. It was five years old. London traffic roared about her. Pedestrians hastened to reach their destinations and get out of the depressing atmosphere as quickly as possible. Miss Pettigrew joined the throng, a middle-aged, rather angular lady, of medium height, thin through lack of good food, with a timid, defeated expression and terror quite discernible in her eyes, if any one cared to look. But there was no personal friend or relation in the whole world who knew or cared whether Miss Pettigrew was alive or dead.

watson_frenchShe musters the courage to knock at the door of her new employer and she’s immediately welcomed by Miss LaFosse who thinks that Miss Pettigrew is her new maid. They don’t have time to exchange a word before Miss Lafosse begs for Miss Pettigrew’s help. Indeed, Miss Lafosse has a lover at home (Nick) and her other lover (Michael) is coming soon. She wants Miss Pettigrew to make Nick leave before Michael arrives. Without thinking, Miss Pettigrew obeys and successfully pushes Nick out the door. Miss LaFosse is convinced she’s got a new best friend and takes Miss Pettigrew under her wing.

Miss LaFosse is young and pretty. She’s an actress and a flirt. She runs in totally different circles than the ones Miss Pettigrew is used to. Worse than that, she lives a life Miss Pettigrew has been taught to consider sinful and dissipated. But Miss Pettigrew is at the end of her rope, she decides she’s not in a position to judge Miss LaFosse and she quite enjoys the attention she gets from her.

Miss Pettigrew now forgot all about her original errand. For the first time for twenty years some one really wanted her for herself alone, not for her meagre scholarly qualifications. For the first time for twenty years she was herself, a woman, not a paid automaton. She was so intoxicated with pride she would have condoned far worse sins than Miss LaFosse having two young men in love with her. She put it like that. She became at once judicial, admonitory and questioning.

She’s swept off her feet and dizzy with the whirlwind of Miss LaFosse’s love life. And as the day goes on, Miss Pettigrew questions the values she was taught and that she respected all her life. The French title of the book is Cette sacrée vertu, or in English This bloody virtue and it sums it all. What good did it bring her to be good and virtuous? What joy did it bring in her life?

In a dull, miserable existence her one wild extravagance was her weekly orgy at the cinema, where for over two hours she lived in an enchanted world peopled by beautiful women, handsome heroes, fascinating villains, charming employers, and there were no bullying parents, no appalling offspring, to tease, torment, terrify, harry her every waking hour.

Is that all that she can hope for? A life where her only happy place is a two-hour visit to the cinema? She starts thinking that she might deserve more than being a bullied and poor governess. As the story unfolds, we see a character coming out of her safety shell to dare living. This kind of plot could be mawkish but it’s not. It’s served by Watson’s witty prose and she turns this late blooming into a light and bittersweet comedy. Her sense of humour is fantastic, as you can see in these passing lines:

Miss LaFosse sat in front of the mirror in preparation for the greatest rite of all, the face decoration.

Miss Pettigrew, completely submerged in unknown waters, did her best to surmount the waves.

It is also vivid thanks to energetic dialogues that reminded me of vaudeville and comics.

‘???…!!!…???…!!!’exploded Nick again.

Totally Captain Haddock, no?

Reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was a real delight. It’s funny as hell, lovely and still thought-provoking. Of course, there’s the condition of women and the difficulty to work for a living. Miss Pettigrew also shows that living as a saint might be commendable but not that enjoyable and Miss LaFosse demonstrates that living as she wants, duty be damned, is a lot more pleasant and that in the end, it doesn’t hurt anybody.

Kim at Reader Matters, listed Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in her list of five uplifting reads. I think she’s onto something there.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Mafalda and me

July 3, 2012 26 comments

July is Spanish Literature Month at Caravana de Recuerdos and Winston’s Dad Blog. It’s an opportunity for me to write a billet about Mafalda. I’m not sure comics qualify as literature for this event but I suppose Richard and Stu will forgive me. Mafalda is the little girl you see on my gravatar and some of my personal posts.

She’s very famous in France and her albums are available in most bookshops. Her father is Quino, an Argentinean cartoonist. Quino’s comics were published from 1964 to 1973 in three different magazines or newspapers. (Primera Plan, El Mundo and Siete Dias Illustrados). Then Quino decided to put an end to it, thinking his concept was worn out.

Mafalda is a Charlie Brown with a strong political awareness. It’s a flavour of Argentina and the world in the 1960s. As a character, Mafalda is both a child and an adult. As a child, she goes to school, plays with friends and asks endless questions to her parents. She hates soup and Quino uses it as comical material. Once you see Mafalda sitting at the dinner table and when her mother brings her a plate full of soup, she tells her: “Perhaps it’s sad, Rachel, but in such cases Mom is barely a pseudonym”. This is Mafalda and her brother Guille:  

Mafalda:What are you doing with the phone, Guille?Guille:Me El CordobesMafalda: El Cordobes? Where’s the bull?

Her adult side tends to ask tricky questions to her poor father, make sarcastic remarks about the news and point out the adults’ inconsistencies and flaws. Living in the 1960s, she worries about the Cold War, the Vietnam War, peace in general and the state of the world in particular. 

Mother:What are you doing, Mafalda?Mafalda:Nothing, Mom. Just contemplating Humanity.Mother: Humanity?

Mafalda also shows a certain side of the Argentinean society and its evolution. Mafalda’s father buys a car (a 2CV) and the whole neighbourhood raves about it. Mafalda eventually gets a telly but soon criticizes the programs. She dances on the Beatles’ songs. Mafalda’s mother rants about price increases and her daughter pities her for being a stay-at-home mother, spending her days doing chores. (a nice touch of feminism) The family turtle is named Bureaucracy.

Mafalda’s friends are stereotypes: Susanita is obsessed with getting married, having children and settling down. She’s the conservative side, representing the bourgeoisie. Manolito’s goal in life is to make money and expand his father’s grocery store into a chain of supermarket. His model is American capitalism. Miguelito and Felipe are typical children. I have a fondness for Felipe. He’s a dreamer, reading comics with superheroes. He hates school and he’s the one to bring Mafalda back to childhood when she’s too absorbed by politics. Her games are tainted with political themes, like here:

Miguelito:What are you playing at?Mafalda: I’m Freedom, lightening the world with her light of … 15 Watts.

 All in all, with his regular pictures of the society he lives in, Quino managed to capture the essence of a time and spiced it with universal, poetic and philosophical comments. Like here: 

Mafalda:Good morning Sir. I would like you to make me the key of happiness.Old man:Of course, dear. Give me your template.Mafalda, leaving:Clever, the old man. 

I absolutely love Mafala for her sharp tongue, her cynicism, her lucidity. And did I mention it? It is FUNNY. Not stretch-a-smile funny but laughing-out-loud funny. So I was a bit puzzled when a friend asked me why I chose a chubby girl as an avatar. He thought I should have put the photo of a gorgeous model, since I didn’t put mine. But I’d rather be represented by this smart and funny little girl than by a living skeleton doing the cat walk on a stage for a living.

If you want to hear more about her, here is an article by Umberto Eco (sorry, it’s in French).

PS: I hope everything looks fine on your computer. It does on mine. I did my best

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