Cultural Desert?

I’m sure that there are friends of ours – Londoners in particular – who think that we must live in a cultural desert. There have been times, I admit, when I’ve thought something similar. There were long winters, for example, during our sojourn among the hill people of the Corrèze, when the only posters in evidence seemed to be for concours de belotte – a popular card game, which never intrigued us quite enough to investigate.

So it’s nice when you can cock a snook at the culture-vultures back home. Only last week I sent an e-mail to a friend and fellow film-buff living in The Metropolis to ask him what he thought about Terrence Malick’s wonderful new film, The Tree of Life. Debs and I had callously left The Daughter to her final revision before her last exam of the year and drove the 20 or so kilometres to Souillac’s Le Paris cinema to see this year’s Palm d’Or winner at Cannes.

It’s an art et essai cinema, which means that it also shows the less commercial current offerings, often in version originale – with subtitles rather than the dreaded incongruous dubbed voices – usually to audiences so small that the cinema’s very existence depends on heavy subsidies from some regional or central government fund. There were maybe eight of us in an auditorium big enough to house a couple of hundred. You could have heard a pin drop throughout. Everyone sat spellbound in respectful, reverential silence until the last of the credits had been swallowed by the top edge of the screen.

No, came the reply. He hadn’t yet seen the film, because we were way ahead of them in England, where it hasn’t yet been released. Which made me feel a little smug. This Sunday, the three of us are going back to Souillac to see the restored version of Visconti’s The Leopard, a three-and-a-half hour costume epic starring Claudia Cardinale, when she was quite as beautiful as Sophia Loren and Monica Vitti, and the great Burt Lancaster, when he was wearing 19th century Sicilian garb rather than those dodgy swimming trunks he wore in From Here to Eternity (pictured) and again in The Swimmer.

Back in London, you’d probably have to go to the National Film Institute to see it. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it would likely involve an hour’s trip. It will take us about 20 minutes. And if it came to the Uxello in Vayrac, it would take us 10 minutes. The Rex in Brive shows nothing but V.O. films and it’s only 35 minutes from here. So we do pretty damn well really and friends from the mother country should understand that.

What’s more, we’ve entered July now. Anyone who’s been here for more than a season will know that during July and August there are more cultural events than you can shake a sizeable stick at. So many, of course, that things often clash and, by the time you reach the end of the summer, you’re probably bent double with cultural indigestion. (‘Take winters for express relief…’)

Being ahead of the folks back home by one hour and the occasional film sometimes works both ways. My wife and daughter are travelling back to Cumbria this month to see how my mother-in-law’s doing. Tilley was hoping to see the new and last Harry Potter film. It’s out already in France, I believe, but she has resolutely refused to see any of its predecessors dubbed into French and she’s not relenting now. Alas, it doesn’t come out in the UK until the very day they travel back home. There’s rough, as they say somewhere. Wales?

She can’t complain, though. It was mainly due to her subtle and not-so-subtle lobbying that we relented and installed a satellite TV system not long after moving away from dem dar Correzian hills. So now she can watch all those great cultural offerings on BBC Four. Or, more to the point, catch up with Coronation Street on ITV, or Radio 1 on her hand-me-down laptop.

No, we don’t live in a cultural desert here in rural France. Though sometimes, it’s true, we could do with just a little more rain in the barren seasons.

Possibly the outlandish!

Thanks, Jane. I never realised that about Westmorland. I must have been spelling it incorrectly for years - no doubt much to the ire of Westmorlandians, or would it be the Westmorlandish?

Hi Mark, back from our trip to UK. There is a concours de belotte annually held in Sivignon, our neighbouring village, in Saone-et-Loire. About 140 players arrive in the salle. My friend plays and she is 74! It has been held for this year, but it is rather a long way from you and I feel there must be one nearer. Westmorland does not have an “e” American spelling!!!

Do let me know if you ever do chance upon a concours de belotte, Jane. It does intrigue me for all my disparaging remarks. Westmoreland must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. Shame about the climate…

I think you have to be at least 70 to play belotte, so I’m safe for a few more years.
I’m not a film buff, but it is good that there are cultural offerings in the depths of rural france. Give my love to Cumbria, I come from the old Westmorland /Lancashire border, so have great affection for that part of the world.

Hi Rebekah. I’m glad to hear that you managed to find the final HP in VO. I’ll tell Tilley: it might encourage her to look at the listings. Murky buckets for your kind words of encouragement, too. I’m chuffed!

We were lucky to be able to see The Tree of life in our local cinema, about 15km for home. It’s fab that films are shown in the V.O so close to home-we thought for a while that Angers was the closest place and that’s at least an hour each way!
My boys feel the same way about HP- they saw one of the dubbed films but hated that the French voices were so different from the original. We caught the last one at Angers- painful for us but great for our three boys, they seem to show all films in the V.O.
Loving that your blog is on here now (SFN) it makes it super simple for more people to read it and it’s a great read.