Events afford insight into French culture

The cultural affinity between France and the United States remains robust despite political tempests, as will be demonstrated with an upcoming play, a theatrical workshop and an author’s discussion of his book about life in a French village.
Maine writer Michael Sanders, author of the acclaimed first-hand account From Here You Can’t See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant (HarperCollins, 2002), discusses his book at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 27, in Skelton Lounge, Chase Hall, 56 Campus Avenue.

A husband-wife team known for their work in French cinema and theater, Pierre-Olivier Scotto and Martine Feldmann come to campus to present an original play and workshop March 31-April 1. Scotto performs his one-man play Voyage au Pays de Molière (Voyage to the Country of Molière), directed by Feldmann, at 8 p.m. Monday, March 31. The pair offers a three-hour theater workshop at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 1. Both events will be held in Gannett Theater, Pettigrew Hall, Andrews Road.

All three presentations are open to the public at no charge.

Although his talk, like his book, focuses on “the inner workings of a very small place in the middle of nowhere” where politics enters “only peripherally,” Michael Sanders will address the current relationship of France and the United States.
“I recently returned from two weeks in rural France,” Sanders says, “and all people wanted to talk about was Bush, the war, Iraq, Chirac and how Americans really feel about the French.”

Sanders’ The Yard: Building a Destroyer at the Bath Iron Works (HarperCollins, 1999) received high critical praise upon its publication. Sanders decided for his second outing to research something closer to his heart. The resulting book he will be discussing chronicles a year in the life of a remote French village that boasts an unforgettable restaurant.

Fascinated by France and intensely curious about restaurant life, Sanders sought a project to marry those interests. France had been a “special place” for the author from adolescence, as he visited frequently and spoke French fluently. A lover of food, Sanders focused on the cuisine of southwest France and found an intimate village with a chef-owned restaurant at its center. Sanders moved his wife and young daughter there for a year to uncover the secrets of such a setting.

Chef Jacques Ratier and his wife, Noelle, own the bustling restaurant La Récréation, the heart of the village Les Arques — population 124. Their energy and enthusiasm greatly appealed to the author. Working closely with Jacques, Sanders got to experience restaurant life first-hand, visiting nearby markets, hunting for truffles and learning centuries-old techniques of wine-making from seasoned vintners.

From Here, You Can’t See Paris is also the discovery of a hilltop village untouched by modernity. It is the story, seen through the eyes of an American writer and his family, of a community’s will to survive, of a dead artist whose legacy began the rebirth of Les Arques and a place where traditions of food and rural life live on among its colorful inhabitants.

Pierre-Olivier Scotto and Martine Feldmann are co-directors of the Théâtre de l’Escalier d’Or, in Paris, and are well-respected in the worlds of French theater and screen. Feldmann is a theatrical writer, producer and director. Scotto has appeared in more than 20 films and television programs, with principal roles and screenplay credits in such films as The Beate Klarsfeld Story, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and Stan et Achille, directed by Philippe Setbon.

Scotto’s comedy is not a “best bits from Molière” compilation nor a biographical piece about the great French playwright. Instead, it seeks to reimagine Molière’s theatrical vision for our time. With Scotto performing all characters, the play’s leading role is that of the actor Pierrot (from Molière’s Don Juan), who is subject to delusions that Molière is alive, hiding in a theater and awaiting Pierrot’s questions. “The play is a tribute to theater,” says Scotto.

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