Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 17/12/12
So long, Peter!
Peter Avis is gone. The Municipality regrets the loss of a great friend, a great man, who had been made Honorary Citizen of the City of Dieppe.
The blog which he held with so much talent during these last years will remain open as a tribute to the one who was doubtless the best ambassador of Dieppe with the British.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 09/12/12
The British living or staying in Dieppe are taking sides in acontroversy as divisive as the issue that beset their ancestors just a century ago. Then the question was "should women have the right to vote"; today it is "should we produce and eat foie gras", the bloated livers of ducks and geese.
The contemporary debate has been hotting up in Britain (where the production of foie gras, meaning "fatty liver", is now illegal), although it makes few waves in France, where the pressure of unrestrained taste buds is perhaps more influential in shaping public policy.
My British friends in Dieppe are far from unanimous on the issue: some are taking advantage of the foie gras bargains at nearby superstores, while others are declared abolitionists. Two French intellectual friends who are devoted to defending human rights told me in Dieppe this week that they saw no reason to campaign also for the rights of ducks and geese not to be pumped with excessive food to make their livers expand up to ten times the normal size. So foie gras may be on the Christmas or New Year menu this year.
Those French friends were surprised that in Britain people are protesting in increasing numbers against the sale of foie gras in such prestigious shops as Harrods, and Fortnum and Mason - it is already banned at Selfridges - and that more than 150 MPs of all parties have put down early day motions calling for an end to what actor Roger Moore (of "Bond - James Bond" fame) has called the "torture in a tin" trade. Brighton's Green MP Caroline Lucas this month called on the Queen and Prince Charles to withdraw their royal warrants from Fortnum's while the shop still sells foie gras.
The RSPCA has stated: "Force-feeding begins when the birds are around 12 weeks of age and occurs for around 12 to 15 days before slaughter. During this time the birds are usually force-fed two or three times each day. For force-feeding to occur, the birds have first to be restrained. During the force-feeding period, most ducks (around 80 per cent) are therefore kept individually in small, wire or plastic cages with their head protruding through an opening in the front, so that the neck is easy to grasp.
During the force-feeding, a person grasps the bird by the neck and inserts the feeding pipe into the birds mouth and down its oesophagus (a process known as ‘gavage’). A large quantity of mashed maize and fat is then delivered directly into the lower oesophagus over a period of around 45 to 60 seconds using either a motorised or hand-operated auger, or for 2 to 3 seconds using an automatic pump.” (You can see the process depicted on a video with Roger Moore's mellifluous but biting commentary).
A non-foie gras eating Frenchwoman I met on the cross-Channel ferry (a place for unexpected encounters) the other day told me that her farmer neighbour in the hinterland of Dieppe had tried producing the prized gastronomic product. But the process of "gavage" so stressed the farmer that her hair fell out and she renounced this peculiar farming procedure after a year. Of course, not all foie gras producers lose their hair and this is not recognised as an industrial disease, but it's wise to avoid stress if you can.
Anyway, Happy Christmas to all blog readers. And maybe you will find other dishes to excite your festive appetites than diseased livers. Visiting Dieppe's open-air Saturday market on Saturday I noticed a lot of less problematic treats on offer.
PS. If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 20/11/12
Danger lurks round every corner
You just have to be terribly alert. Whoever you are. I read of the railway crossing guard in southern Egypt, who nodded off the other day when he was supposed to be controlling the level crossing. He controlled nothing. A train came along the tracks, hit a nursery school bus and KILLED FIFTY CHILDREN. A terrible consequence. No terrorist involved. Just a sleepy man at a country level crossing. And, being a Muslim, he is unlikely to have been drunk.
The event made world news. Understandably so. And yet, in the Seine Maritime department, which includes Dieppe, the figure for mortal accidents on the road has SURPASSED FIFTY so far this year (it reached 48 in September). When you stretch a big number over time, it ceases to shock: it is accepted as a normal part of life. So it was "normal" to have last year 3,970 road fatalities in France and 1,901 in Britain. And if you are interested, the annual world total is estimated at 1.2 million. In France and Britain, excessive speed and drink are pinpointed as major factors in accidents.
I sometimes have a dreamy recollection of a balmy afternoon on the island of Hvar in a Yugoslavia that no longer exists, when we had a lot of drinks with a Yugoslav couple, during a lunch that lasted two or three hours, Then I had to push my son Sean back in his pushchair to the hotel, along a stony path that skirted the beach below.
I cannot remember ever being so anxious in all my life. Had I stumbled and turfed Sean onto the beach or into the sea, what would have happened? But, with an intensity that I have never had to repeat, I concentrated on the task and got the buggy (and its contents) back to the hotel, safe and sound. And then I collapsed on the hotel bed, with the world swimming around in my head.
You always have to be alert. I realise now it should be forbidden to get led into long vinous lunches, even with friendly Balkan folk, when in charge of small children near roads, shoreland paths, level crossings, or the cliffs near Dieppe or Seaford.
I now drive around Dieppe at 20mph (30kph) (occasionally, but not often, being hooted by a chap in a hurry behind me). And every time I drive gingerly round the corner by the Chamber of Commerce I think of the pedestrian who was killed on the crossing at that particular point. I find it incomprehensible that the accident could have been unavoidable.
All places where people, individually or collectively, take insufficient care can create horror as stark as that created by politicians who claim to care so much. So go carefully. And let us make the politicians go carefully, too. They drink, as well: but most dangerously they do so at the font of power. And they launch wars all over the place, wars that kill mostly innocent civilians, wars that are mostly launched "in defence of Western values". (But, by the way, what are these Western values in the hands of warmongers and oppressors? What marks them off as being eternally superior to values that emanate from East or North or South?)
So let's be alert. Don't nod off when you are in charge of people's lives. Keep off the excessive booze. Drive slowly. And close off the fonts of excessive power that turn politicians into killers.
PS. If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 13/11/12
Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!
Slogans pepper the French calendar. This is one of them: "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" ("The new Beaujolais has arrived!").
It happens in Dieppe this Thursday 15 November, as it does in every town across France. Go into any bar over the next few weeks and you will be encouraged to partake of a glass (or several) of the new young wine from the region of Beaujolais in the upper valley of the River Rhône.
Of course, it is part of a vast publicity exercise. The wine on sale may well be agreable to quaff, but it is unlikely to be memorable. Enjoy a glass or two in good company, but don't be taken to the cleaners over the price.
The new wine at its best has a fresh and peppery taste, best quaffed slightly chilled. Its days are numbered; it won't be worth drinking for many weeks. So be sure to give up the addiction well before the spring buds show on the trees.
There are other iconic dates in the gastronomic calendar. For instance, last month, on 1 October, the cry went up in Dieppe: "La coquille est arrivée!". This referred to the date allowed in these parts for opening the sale of coquilles St Jacques, the scallops for which Dieppe is famed above any port in Europe. (A lot of them will be consumed from barbecue stalls along the Quai Henri IV during the annual Herring and Scallop festival this weekend of 17-18 November.)
Of course, the French also have Christmas and New Year, and happily these events don't get celebrated so outrageously early as they do (for commercial reasons) in Britain, where Christmas begins in October because sales have to triumph over all other considerations.
While not a member of any church or temple, I wonder why the faithful old C of E never complains about hot cross buns (belonging to a specifically Easter celebration) are now on sale throughout the year. I buy them only before Easter, out of respect for believers, of which I am not one. Just as I take off my shoes before entering a Hindu temple in India.
I raise a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau to you, dear reader. And I hope a good Beaujolais will make you feel well disposed to our fragile world. Have the next drink on me (if we meet). Donc, je l'espère, à bientôt!
PS. If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'.
[photo : Hajime Nakano / Creative Commons]
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 19/10/12
When it's not all gloom
We are not living in easy times. Neither in Dieppe nor across the watery road that divides us from Sussex. Public services and expenditure on social needs are under attack. Bankers had a spree (in fact they are managing still to have one) and the rest of us are called on to pay the bill.
And yet, and yet, it is not all gloom. The Dieppe council's budget is under severe pressure, but even now there is evidence in the streets of how the environment of the town is being improved.
One of the dingiest streets in Dieppe was the Rue d'Écosse, stretching from Les Tribunaux, the tavern at the heart of town, back towards the port and parallel to the Grande Rue. Well, the bumpy roadway has been relaid and the pavement is now a pleasure to walk on. Similar treatment on a larger scale is now being given to the Avenue Gambetta, to the delight of the folk living along the main road into town from Rouen and Paris, and to the Place Nationale, overlooked by the great pile of St Jacques's Church.
Another plus for the improvement to the pedestrianised Grande Rue, where some genius found a new material, pleasing to the sight and pleasing to the walk, that has stuck down the exploding stone blocks that were posed inefficiently by a cost-cutting entrepreneur a few years ago.
And, up at the top end of the Rue de la Barre, where the Sarajevo restaurant and other premises have had their carpets soaked by every heavy rainfall sweeping down the hill from Pourville, the council has this month raised the pavement to keep the floodwater off the carpets. Jeannot and Vesna are pleased.
All praise again to the inventive folk of the parks and gardens department who have surpassed themselves this year in decorating the streets and squares with magnificent floral displays, notably at the Canadian memorial garden beneath the Château. I confess only, as I have done before, that I am not wowed by the French excessive taste for topiary, which includes in Dieppe turning the trees aligning the Quai Duquesne into a line of lavatory brushes, extending from the station to the Quai Henri IV.
What I would really like to see is an avenue of free-growing tamarisk trees tossing their feathery heads along the seafront, between the magnificent (but bleak) lawns and the pebbled beach. Tamarisk trees flourish in the salt-laiden air and need little upkeep. Please support me in my campaign. And if you would like to see what a seafront avenue of tamarisk looks like, pop along to San Sebastian in Spain. I hope nobody has chopped them down since I was there.
PS: If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 27/09/12
"Vous" or "tu", but don't let's drop the "tu"
How do you say "you" in English? There's no choice in this century: you just say - or write - "you". But you have a choice - an intriguing and sometimes embarrassing choice - in French, as well as in a host of other languages: you must choose (in French) between "vous" and "tu".
No problem if you are addressing a number of people: more than one. In that case you are bound to employ the second-person plural pronoun. And that's "vous".
It's the second-person singular that poses the problems, and may require you to cudgel your brains. And your emotions. Basically, "vous" is more formal and "tu" is more intimate. So you will expect to say "vous" to the bank manager, to the ticket collector, to the head teacher and to the Prime Minister (unless he's your dad or uncle). And you will say "tu" in addressing your children, your school mates, your girl or boy friend, and a member of the same club or political party.
It is customary, too, to address animals - or, at least, small and cuddly animals - as "tu". So say "tu" to cats, dogs, hamsters, ferrets and budgerigars. I'm not so sure what you say if you meet an elephant, a lion or an angry rhinoceros on your path. Maybe you just run.
And here is another complication - which also brings this question into contemporary debate. The "tu" is often employed by a person in authority in addressing somebody he wishes to stigmatise as an inferior (as, in olden times, lords would say "tu" to their peasants). In the same way, policemen are wont today to "tutoyer" citizens they wish to chastise on the public highway. France's new Interior Minister, Manuel Vals, has now decreed that this pseudo-mateyness should cease and politeness should henceforth prevail.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, voted out of office this year, was much given to using the second-person singular pronoun in public, either to show what a jovial chap he was or to dismiss people he found unpleasant or insufficiently subservient. His famous reprimand to a citizen who refused to shake the proferred presidential hand is famous: "Casse-toi, pauv' con".
It's a subtle moment in a relationship to graduate from using "vous" to "tu". It happened to me the other day when retired Dieppe restaurateur Pierrot (at the end of a vinous repast under a blazing sun) said to me in a large company: "I'm going to call you 'tu' now, Peter; after all, we've known each other for twenty years."
But in other circumstances the jump from"vous" to "tu" can be much quicker. If you listen carefully to a French film in the original language, notice how a couple start off using "vous" and then lapse comfortably into "tu" when they've been to bed together.
My kids, being of a less formal generation than mine, tend to use "tu" rather freely when expressing themselves in their faltering French. In their case, they are certainly being friendly, not contemptuous. As Agnès Poitier has pointed out, young people find it easier to say "Salut" than "Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur"; and the Twitter generation, rationed to 140 characters a tweet, naturally prefers "tu" to "vous".
Lastly, in this rambling contemplation of manners, we might recall that a few centuries ago, some English people always addressed each other as "thou" (our form of "tu"). They were the Quakers, members of a friendly Protestant sect who wished the world well and often achieved much in improving it. Today, you may hear "thou" used in conversation in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but otherwise you will encounter it only in the Bible.
We lost "thou" from our everyday speech. Don't let us lose "tu".
[image : Alliance Française de Phuket]
PS: If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 10/09/12
There's magic in the sky above Dieppe
It happens every two years in the sky above Dieppe. For two weeks in September, the view above the wide seafront lawns is painted in all the colours of our planet. The event: Dieppe's International Kite Festival, a festival that is unique in Europe and perhaps in the world.
It's worth recording here (because it doesn't seem to be recorded elsewhere) that the Dieppe kite festival was the invention two decades ago of Max Gaillard (un bon gaillard), the first director of the Centre Jean Renoir, the now prestigious cultural centre of this innovative Normandy city.
The great show in the sky began on 8 September and continues until 16 September. During that time, kite flyers from forty countries of every continent will be gathered in the seafront kite village, displaying their machines and their skills to an admiring public. And, in 2012, the kite-flyers of Great Britain are the guests of honour. The theme of this festival is: "The Five Elements: Treasures of Humanity" (the French, with their long philosophical tradition, just love big themes).
The 2012 festival will include the World Cup competition for Kites of Combat (those seemingly peaceful machines can cut each other down cruelly in the sky). And there will be kite ballets, and kite acrobatics: a whole new universe, mixing sight and sound, is revealed. Each national delegation has a stand in the village, exhibiting its own creations (where you can buy an exotic kite to take home and hang from the ceiling).
Real kite freaks will be introduced this year to the Flygen Kite, an invention of the Frenchman Pierre Benhalem, billed as a synergy between the machine and high altitude winds. Wow!
Visit the Dieppe kite universe if you can. The Newhaven-Dieppe ferry will take you there. And you will find more information on the internet.
PS: If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 13/08/12
Remember the Dieppe Raid of 1942
It is not often that Dieppe is at the centre of a major international occasion. It is this month. Seventy years ago, on the morning of 19 August 1942, a flotilla sailed across the Channel from four English ports between Southampton and Newhaven, to take part in one of the bloodiest operations of the Second World War.
On 19 August this year, the event is being commemorated with unprecedented ceremony in and around Dieppe, the Normandy port that was the target of a dubious military venture that led to the loss of nearly 1,500 lives, most of them young soldiers from the towns and prairies of Canada.
A score of temporary commemorative pillars has been erected by Dieppe council along a dozen kilometres of the coast, with an account at each point of what happened there on the day of the raid. The prince Michael of Kent and the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, will be present among the dignitaries representing nations of the wartime anti-nazi alliance at ceremonies continuing over three days. Some of the few remaining veterans of the raid will be present in Dieppe on to receive anniversary medals.
The Dieppe Raid has been the subject of controversy since the summer of 1942 when, for many weeks, the authorities of different countries dissembled over the losses and avoided discussion of responsibilities for a major fiasco.
On that fatal misty morning, more than 8,000 men were aboard 250 Royal Navy craft on the way to Dieppe, occupied by the German army since the fall of France in 1940. After five hours of bitter combat around the beaches of the Côte d'Albâtre (the Albaster Coast), a total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were killed, wounded, or captured. On the German side, 345 were killed; 50 French citizens died in the accompanying bombardments.
The RAF lost 96 aircraft, compared to 48 lost by the Luftwaffe. Eight Royal Navy vessels, including the destroyer Berkeley, were lost. Men from the US, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and Free France took part in the operation, together with the British and Canadians.
The raid was plagued by bad luck, military indecision, and inadequate preparation and communication.
But there were more than purely military considerations involved in launching Operation Jubilee, as it was named. In that summer of 1942, a lot of lively, but bored, young Canadians, many of them from French-speaking Quebec, were holed up in the wealthy and often inhospitable shires of southern England. Many of them were the rejects of economic recession at home; some joined the army having been offered that choice instead of a jail sentence for minor crimes. Their sudden presence in the plush villages and cosy pubs of Surrey and Sussex was not always a recipe for harmony between the people of two allied nations. There was a need to find something for the frustrated young Canadians to do. Dieppe offered a useful occasion.
Half a million Canadian troops were stationed in Britain during the 1939-45 war. They gained a reputation for boisterousness and the British press neglected no occasion to report instances of Canadian bad behaviour: the News of the World was a specialist in the subject in 1942.
Jacques Nadeau - at the age of 90 one of the few survivors of the raid - will receive from mayor Sébastien Jumel the Medal of Honour of the town of Dieppe. But Nadeau, from Montreal, Quebec, who was taken prisoner in 1942, does not cast himself in the role of hero. He recalls, in a recent memoir of his war experiences, how his step-mother said to him in 1939: "You haven't got a job; you'd better join up." Nadeau joined the Fusiliers Mont-Royal, at the age of 17.
Historian Martin Chaput, who edited the memoir, says: "Officially, those soldiers had gone to combat the nazi hydra. But fundamentally many of them, including Nadeau, wanted a job and three square meals a day, while discovering new horizons. After the years of the Great Depression, for many the war represented a salvation."
For Jacques Nadeau himself, the most awful experience was seeing his best friend, Robert Boulanger, die on the beach beside him. The two men had agreed that if only one friend survived the war, he would visit the family of the other. "People you love," he writes, "merit more than the cold condolences of the Canadian government. This promise I had given was difficult to keep. I wanted to see Robert's family, but at first I couldn't face it. I was incapable of reliving the sadness linked to his death and the horror of the combat on the beach. Finally, I overcame the blockage and went to see his family; It was a painful moment that took all my courage. But I had to keep this promise, because I know he would have done the same for me."
When over the years, away from recurring anniversary ceremonies, you talk to people who took part in these events, then you hear telling accounts of what war really meant to them. As with the sailor who remembered the horror of the return journey from Dieppe to Newhaven, when the bodies of dead soldiers were strapped to torpedo tubes. And then there was the recall of a former Wren, who had told a military planning meeting in 1942 that the tanks would get stuck on the shore: she remembered when, as a child, she had tried unsuccessfully to push her doll's pram across that same pebbled beach.
In the higher strata of world politics, Churchill was being urged by his Soviet ally, Stalin, to open a Second Front in Western Europe, to relieve the pressure of the Wehrmacht on the Russian front. The Dieppe Raid was a way of telling Stalin, "We've had a go: there will be a proper invasion later."
In fact, the plan in 1942 had been to take temporary control of an occupied port, to destroy the enemy installations, to capture prisoners and obtain information, and to return home proclaiming a minor triumph.
It wasn't going to happen like that, from the moment a German convoy sailing down the coast from Boulogne came up against the allied fleet approaching Dieppe. A sea battle ensued; the German positions ashore were alerted and the allied soldiers reaching the Dieppe and adjacent beaches were met with a massive barrage of fire. The Churchill tanks that got ashore were stuck in the bank of large shifting pebbles, and communications between those ashore and the ships at sea didn't work.
The operation was called off before midday, and those who could escape did so. Most didn't. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief, announced the allies had suffered a disastrous defeat. And he praised the people of Dieppe who had - it was claimed - backed the German side.
In fact, although Normandy had its collaborators as well as active resistants (more of the former than of the latter), the RAF had dropped leaflets on Dieppe, and the BBC had made broadcasts, telling the population to stay indoors, as this was not the liberation.
The Germans did their best to transform the situation to their advantage: they proposed awarding the Iron Cross to the collaborating mayor, René Levasseur, and donating a million francs to compensate the inhabitants for losses suffered. The mayor's reputation would have been eternally tarnished among his own people had he accepted the occupier's medal, and he negotiated a different deal: to obtain compensation for damaged property and to be granted the liberation of hundreds of French war prisoners, with homes in the Dieppe area.
This was a neat idea, supported by Marshal Pétain, the head of Vichy France and the first collaborator in the land. Over the following months, 581 prisoners were released, the first batch with "Vive Pétain" chalked on the side of their train. Villages in which people had shown sympathy to allied troops - by handing them food or putting flowers on their graves - were excluded from having their sons and husbands returned.
In defence of the Dieppe Raid, it has been often stated that the lessons learnt on that bloodied beach enabled the allies to prepare for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Critics say those lessons could have been learnt on the drawing board and in exercises.
In the outcome, the raid provided a convenient massacre for those ruling the conflicting nations involved. A social problem in the south of England was addressed. And everybody among the big actors in this theatre got something out of the performance: Churchill, Hitler and Pétain could all find some reward. But not the thousand who fell that morning on the beaches of the Alabaster Coast.
PS: If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 30/07/12
A tale of two beaches
You may have noticed: it's been rather hot this past week. In Normandy and also in Sussex, at the other end of the Dieppe-Newhaven ferry route.
We were sitting a few evenings ago at a table at the Bar-O-Métre, one of my favourite meeting places during Dieppe summers, sipping a glass or three of excellent rosé wine and watching the sun sinking towards the Western horizon. There were a lot of people on the pebbled beach below, a few of them flopping around in the sea and some completing a reading session at the beach library.
And what was remarkable about this diverse collection of humanity? Simply, that none of these people, young or old, had felt the need to befoul the idyllic scene with their rubbish. No paper wrappers, no plastic bags, no beer bottles were in view.
A few days later, in Brighton, the Argus had a headline in capital letters spread across its front page: WHAT A MESS, it declared. And, below the headline, a picture of Brighton beach adjacent to the pier, with the whole vista carpeted with the detritus that defines our contemporary consumer society.
How can two beaches, sixty miles apart, be so different? Or, rather, how can the people who sit on them be so different? I am opposed to criminalising whole nations - there are good and bad in all - but, in the matter of depositing rubbish on beaches, the French do seem to be better educated than the British. As do the Germans and the Scandinavians. If people in one place can learn, people in another place can learn also. But who is educating them? And what are we going to do about it?
But let me not exaggerate. There are other and bigger pollutions to worry about, too. Like industrial pollutions of the air we breathe and of the water we drink. And military pollutions that lay waste to great tracts of our planet.
There are a lot of cleaning-up jobs to be done.
PS. And it will be a significant progress when Dieppe dog-owners can learn to deal with the litter of their hounds on town pavements with the same responsibility as parents have in controlling the litter of their families on the seashore.
PS: If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 05/07/12
That was the Tour that was
There we were. At our windows. Ranged in hundreds along the pavements. Forbidden to cross the road. Waiting for the great moment: the lightning passage of the Tour de France. And it was all happening in Dieppe on 4 July 2012. And in our own street to boot. For many, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Going strong since 1903 (with gaps for wars and occupation), the iconic annual cyclists' race takes the competitors, preceded by the famous "caravane publicitaire", on a trip this year of 2,173 miles lasting 23 days (including two rest days). Up to 15 million people will be on the streets across France to cheer the cyclists on.
Originally, the whole journey took place within French frontiers. Nowadays, there is generally a trip into neighbouring countries, to boost international interest. I remember when the Tour did a Dover to Brighton stage, followed by a stage around Portsmouth, in 1994.
Dieppe, a mere blip on the fourth day of the 2012 Tour, a 133-mile run from Abbeville to Rouen, had been gearing up for weeks for the friendly invasion. Roadways were smoothed, potholes were filled, and everything was spick and span for the great day.
A noisy street-cleaning lorry was busy trundling up and down our street for an hour or two during the night before, leaving roadway and pavement in an impeccable state, with (for a brief cleansed moment) no signs of the dogs' unsavoury visiting cards that habitually foul our innocent pathways.
We dashed out to get supplies for the siege before 10am: We were told Dieppe would be cut into two for five hours, to prevent any imprudent pedestrian from crossing the route of the invading army and becoming an accident statistic.
In fact, taking advantage of intervals in the traffic, many people dashed back and forth across la rue du Faubourg de la Barre to greet their friends. My neighbour across the road, François Garraud, a sharp lawyer with a touch of what the French call "espièglerie", came over to hand me a glass of wine.
The atmosphere became electric after midday, when the advertising caravan was awaited. And then it arrived: a noisy column of all sorts of vehicles, decorated with model horses, dogs and all sorts of funny constructions promoting every kind of consumer product.
Colourfully dressed passengers on the vehicles threw out trinkets to the eagerly grabbing bystanders. I captured an offer of a 10% reduction on a room in an Ibis hotel, a plastic wallet that opens out into a shopping bag and - most useful of all - a bottle of Vittel mineral water (chilled).
This was the warm-up act before the arrival of the cyclists. We then took our place on the balcony of artist Lawrence Mynott's decorous and richly decorated flat to see the real action. First, three advance cyclists zipped up the road from the town centre (we couldn't recognise them, but they were Arashiro of Japan, and Frenchmen Mancoutié and Delaplace).
Then, nearly ten minutes later, came the "peloton", a close bunch of 200-odd lithesome competitors taking part in the biggest event of its kind in the world. Everybody cheered; somebody waved a vast Norwegian flag; a funny chap called out "Go on Bradley" (Bradley Wiggins wasn't discernible, but it has been forecast he could become the first Brit ever to win the overall race).
In the sky above, a photographer in a helicopter zoomed in on the scene to transfer a brief shot of our street to the television screens of the nation.
Looking at the telly at the end of the day, we learnt that the stalwart heroes had completed the day's stage to Rouen at an average speed of 25 miles per hour. A general tumble of competitors towards the end of the run took Britain's Mark Cavendish ("fastest man in the world") out of the running to win a second sprint of this year's Tour: the honour this day went to Germany's André Greipel.
And the best thing about the Tour de France 2012? Surely it must be that - so far - there are neither discoveries or suspicions regarding doping, the shame of the event over recent years. A clean Tour, with Dieppe on its honoured and honourable path, is a rather good thing. And it was a fun day for all.
And the next act will be.... ? Competitors in le Tour de France à la Voile, the annual round-France yachting race, will be harboured in Dieppe from 5 to 8 July. More fun days follow for us in this town. Despite that awful, depleting, recession.
Vivent les Tours de France! Et vive Dieppe!
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 26/06/12
Handicapped have their rights, too
We live in troublesome times. Austerity is the name of the game. Governments tell us it is good for the economy and good for us. But that's not a universal view and France's new president, Monsieur Hollande, says that austerity is bad and counter-productive. We wait to see what he will actually do about it.
In the meantime, the people who are most disadvantaged - by lack of income or training, and by disabilities of various kinds - can be those who suffer most when public expenditure is cut. It is remarkable then, in this time of recession and deprivation, that Dieppe manages to pursue with greater effort than ever, programmes to help handicapped people fulfil their lives.
In these cash-strapped times, Dieppe council has set up a commission dedicated to providing greater accessibility to handicapped people in their daily lives. Parents of handicapped children will be among those invited to join the commission.
Initiatives already taken include the publication of an edition in braille of the municipal journal, Journal de Bord, and the purchase of specially adapted games for nursery schools. Mayor Sébastien Jumel announced last week that all social housing must be accessible to those with reduced mobility, to avoid the shock of tenants being moved from the surroundings they know.
"Giving autonomy to people of reduced mobility has been the object of many initiative over the past four years," said the Mayor. These have included lowering pavement levels, increasing disabled parking places, adapting bus stops and installing voice messages at a some pedestrian crossings. Jumel regretted only that the the law promoting equality of opportunities to the handicapped was not supported by an additional national budget.
There is progress, too, on the beach, made accessible to all between 30 June and 2 September, with a carpet laid over the forbidding pebbles right to the edge of the water. A beach cabin has been allotted to accommodate wheelchairs, where staff will be on duty to offer also the use of two special pedal chairs for use in the sea.
All through the year, handicapped people can access the warmed-water swimming pool on the seafront, with the aid of a contraption for the purpose. Rather like the harness that cavalry officers of old had to carry them aloft and plant them on the backs of their steeds.
On the cultural front, Dieppe Ville d'Art et d'Histoire - which organises visits of historical places in the town - is geared up to provide for handicapped visitors, and the mediathèque, in the Centre Jean Renoir near the station, is well equipped. Also, there is a lift between floors at the Cité de la Mer, where, in addition, handicapped visitors pay 6 euros instead of 7 euros for admission.
Unfortunately, the Château Musée, which houses so many treasures, has only a ramp to allow access to the ground floor with its maritime exhibits. When the magnificent castle was built half a millennium ago, nobody was thinking about access for those who are not handy on their pins.
On the employment front today, Dieppe wins good marks. The law states that councils should provide 6% of municipal posts to handicapped employees - or be fined. Dieppe achieves 6.8%, and therefore no fine. The previous council paid the fine for non-observance of the law. So virtue now rewarded, and a bit of saving there.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 29/05/12
That was a nice day
Saturday in Dieppe. It's always lively, but this last weekend it was livelier than usual. Of course, we started with the market, the street theatre that plays to the world here every weekend.
We began by buying our litre of "lait cru", the unpasteurised milk that - according to our clued-up friend Brian - makes us healthy (it certainly makes us feel good). Then we moved on to our favourite goat cheese stall, and later to the stall selling the new crop of garlic. On the way, we bought (to simplify lunch) a box of newly cooked paella from the lady opposite Les Tribunaux, the busy café at the heart of the town.
On the market trail, we bumped into various friends who were about their own purchases. First, there was Marie-Pierre, the barrister, who said she was happy with the appointment of feisty Christiane Taubira from Guyana as President Hollande's Minister of Justice. Then hello to the ever loquacious Jean-Pierre, who lingered to speak of plans for his 2012 Bandes Dessinées festival (the French are mad about what we call graphic novels). Next was Anne-Sophie, the joyful and anglophone reporter from Paris-Normandie who was, as usual, busy about her tasks and had no time for idle chat.
The market round ended as usual with a rest (and a vinous refreshment) at the Brazza café, beneath the trees at the back end of St Rémy Church. The market closes with dramatic suddenness at one o'clock, when a vigorous army of road sweepers descends on the high street. With brushes, and hoses and great cleansing vehicles, they transform the rubbish-piled streets into a spick-and-span area where you could almost eat a lunch served without plates on the pristine pavement.
Last Saturday, the fun was renewed at the end of the afternoon, when the annual carnival took over the town centre. In the parade, there were floats carrying giant papier-mâché monsters, a wandering red-hatted clown with a rucksack, a man dressed like Donald Duck, singers on stilts and troupes of dancing majorettes. Naturally, Mayor Sébastien Jumel was there, shaking a lot of hands (a lot of hands get offered to this particular mayor).
A good time was had by all. As it will be on Sunday 10 June in Brighton, just across the sea from Dieppe. That will be the day of Brighton's now annual naked bike ride ("As bare as you dare"), an innocent occasion when hundreds of good folk of all ages celebrate the acceptability of the unclothed human body and advance the cause of friendship, peace and the environment. An unusual celebration that has yet to make its way in Dieppe. Maybe it will cross the Channel, as the entente cordiale is enriched. But it can be hard on the bottom.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 22/05/12
When words get out of date
I must be ancient. I still talk about going to the railway station, while all around me people refer to the train station. I don't know how the change came about, but I'm trying to adapt to it.
It's the same thing in French. I used to say "Au revoir"; now I hear "Ciao" or, more often, "Salut", as a farewell greeting. And, when signing off a message, it has become customary to write "@+", which is shorthand for "À plus" or "À plus tard", meaning "See you later". And, on postcards from the seaside, we used to sign off with "Grosses bises"; now we write "Bisous". And we say "Bisous", too, indicating a somewhat casual intimacy.
It's funny how quickly, in our fast moving world, words and expressions come into and out of fashion. It was six years ago that John Reid, then British Home Secretary, said the Immigration Service was "not fit for purpose". Immediately, the phrase was adopted by anybody making a speech and wishing to describe something functioning inadequately. There is still plenty of inadequacy around, but the phrase "unfit for purpose" has gone out of usage.
Have you noticed that projects going "pear-shaped" - meaning they are collapsing - are mentioned much less frequently today than they were a few years ago? And yet collapses are just as common. In fact, the pear-shaped analogy has been around in the English language for many decades; we just get tired of using it from time to time.
What is amazing is how some expressions, particularly if they were first recorded by William Shakespeare, have a shelf life that endures for many centuries. How about this little collection: "All that glitters is not gold" (Merchant of Venice), "Bag and Baggage" (As You Like it), "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" (Hamlet), "Brave new world" (The Tempest), "Fancy free" (Midsummer Night's Dream), "For goodness' sake" (Henry VIII), "Lean and hungry look" (Julius Caesar), "More in sorrow than in anger" (Hamlet), "Sea change" (The Tempest), "The world's my oyster" (Merry Wives of Windsor). "Too much of a good thing" (As You Like It), "Tower of strength" (Richard III), "What's done is done" (Macbeth)....
Wow! And that's just for starters, as examples of ever resounding quotes from the Bard. What a guy!
If I say "railway station", I am signalling that I am a has-been. If I stick to quoting Shakespeare, I am the very model of modernity.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 15/05/12
Wifi revolution in Dieppe
You want to connect your computer or iPhone to the internet? You may be lucky and find the facility is available in your hotel, but Dieppe council has also been busy creating a network of free wifi connections, in an initiative to benefit both inhabitants and visitors to the town.
You can now connect with the world from within and in the vicinity of the Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville); of the public library and media centre adjacent to the railway station; and of the swimming pool complex on the seafront (go surfing on the pebbles now!). Or you should be able to get a connection while sitting with a refreshment at the Minigolf and knowing the kids are safe going round the course.
To connect with wifi, turn on your computer and look for "Ville de Dieppe". You will be invited to register by giving your name, first name and email address. This registration will remain valid for a year, after which it can be renewed, and you will be directed to the site "dieppe.fr", where all sorts of useful things are stored. Explore other sites as you wish, but a filter blocks access to illegal, violent and pornographic sites.
So get surfing in Dieppe!
What we who regularly use the ferry service between Newhaven and Dieppe want now is a similar free wifi facility aboard ship during the four-hour crossing. And that would also be a useful promotion for Transmanche Ferries. TUG/Horizon, the ferry users' association, is pressing for it.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 20/04/12
When helping hands are needed
We had a bit of a panic this morning in the rue du Faubourg de la Barre. Nobody could raise our neighbour upstairs, a valiant lady who has been living in this house for the past 64 years. The fire brigade was called by an ever watchful neighbour (that's what you do in France to get emergency help) and, within minutes the firemen were on the spot, ready to break down the door, and with the resuscitation equipment that might be required.
In fact, the lady upstairs - who is half way through her nineties and will merit a bunch of flowers from the market on Saturday - did not need help. Firemen knock more loudly than ordinary folk and our lads succeeded in waking her from her slumber. No need to fuss, she let us all know.
I tell the story as an indication of the sense of solidarity that is still alive in this town of Dieppe, in an age when looking after Number One is thought to be everybody's priority. Here, in fact, there are a lot of people who are ready to help others in need. And that help is certainly required in this austerity era, when an increasing number of people are finding they don't qualify for bankers' bonuses.
A total of 425 families and 972 adults in Dieppe were given nourishing meals during the winter of 2011-2012 by the charity organisation Les Restaurants du Coeur, whose local branch was established in 1994. Last winter's call on its services represented a 10% increase on previous figures. Another charity, la Soupe des Bénévoles, distributed 7972 takeaway meals between 17 October and 29 February.
Catherine Schwartz, who runs the local "Restos du Coeur" - a national organisation set up by the late comedian Coluche in 1985 - says: "We help people who are at the end of their tether." And: "Even people who support us, say: 'Tomorrow, it could be our turn to need help'."
The solidarity spirit is expressed locally, too, in Dieppe branches of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, le Secours Catholique and le Secours Populaire. The services of all of them will still be required, whatever the results of the elections, for president and for parliament, that are taking place in France over the next two months.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 19/04/12
Reflections on that Diamond Jubilee
So we are coming up for another Diamond Jubilee (we haven't had one for 115 years): Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne since 1953, and her subjects are invited to have fun on the weekend of 2-5 June, in order to celebrate the occasion.
Undoubtedly, many will take the opportunity to do so. After all, a gift horse, or a gift holiday, is not to be looked in the mouth. Royalists and republicans alike can be given to discovering occasions for having fun.
I don't know of any specific celebration being organised among the rather discreet Anglo-Saxon community of Dieppe. But I do know English people who say they are quitting the home country for the weekend, to be free of the flummery in royal-free Dieppe. Just as I know many who are planning to escape from Britain this summer, in order to avoid the crush of the Olympic Games (best followed on the telly, in any case).
I am grateful to the ferreting archivist Anthea Pender-Mynott - an occasional dieppoise, when she is not busy being an artistic expatriate in Morocco - for unearthing testimony of how Dieppe celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
The initiative belonged to Oscar Wilde, the witty Irish playwright who made Dieppe his first port of call on being released from prison in England for having committed (then illegal) homosexual acts. On release from Reading Gaol (famed for the powerful poem he wrote in Dieppe in recollection of the unsavoury place), he arrived here anonymously in May 1897 under the name of Sebastian Melmoth.
After a few days, the playwright established himself at the Hôtel de la Plage in Berneval. Always a generous man, he decided to fork out for a celebration of the royal event taking place then in the country that had cruelly incarcerated him.
And so, on 22 June 1897, Wilde invited fifteen small boys of the neighbourhood, along with the curé, the postman, the schoolmaster, and other local worthies.
The banqueting room at the Hôtel de la Plage was decorated with coloured lamps and English flags. The children were given strawberries and cream, apricots, chocolates, cakes, and grenadine syrup. A huge iced cake bore the words, Jubilé de la Reine Victoria, in pink sugar rosetted with green, encircled by a great wreath of red roses.
Each child was allowed to choose a present; six chose accordions, five trumpets, and four bugles. The postman got an accordion. They sang the Marseillaise, danced a rondo, and sang 'God save the Queen'.
Wilde proposed a toast to Queen Victoria, then to France as 'la mère de tous les artistes', and finally to the Président de la République, after which the children cried 'Vivent le Président de la République et Monsieur Melmoth'.
Since that time, most of us have forgotten (if, indeed, we ever knew) who was Président de la République in 1897. In fact it was Félix Faure, more famed in French history for dying, exhausted, at the Élysée Palace in the arms of his mistress 'Meg' Steinheil, than for anything he achieved in his lifetime.
Oscar Wilde is a great name to celebrate in connection with the Diamond Jubilee of 1897. Who should we propose to be similarly honoured vicariously in 2012?
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 08/03/12
A little lesson in politics
It's coming up for election time in Dieppe, and across the whole of France, too. The voters are about to elect a new president (or to stick by the old one) and to choose a new parliament.
The whole operation is rather complicated here, by comparison with British practice.
In Britain, we have ONE general election on ONE Thursday, when we are invited each to vote for ONE MP.
And then they add up all the MPs elected from all the parties, and the leader of the party (or, as at present, the coalition of parties) with most seats in the new House of Commons tells the Queen (in case she hasn't been watching telly), what's happened.
Then the leader of that winning party or coalition chooses the government to rule the country for another five years. And the Queen arrives in her carriage to open the new parliament.
It's much more complicated in France.
I can tell you now that the voters in Dieppe will be going to the polls on FOUR occasions in 2012 - on 22 April, 6 May, 10 June and 17 June - before we know what government France will have until 2017
In France, the big job goes to the president of the republic, under a constitution that was largely fashioned by and for General Charles de Gaulle, who presented himself as the father of the nation during most of the years between the 1940s and the 1960s.
The president is elected by universal suffrage. He (or she, but always hitherto he) is the head of state (fulfilling the role of the monarch in the United Kingdom), at the same time as exercising supreme executive power: the Queen and David Cameron wrapped into one.
To deal with the presidential election in 2012, we must expect two rounds before the choice is made. In the first round, on 22 April, the voters can choose from an array of candidates who have each managed to assemble 500 nominations from various elected office-holders (mayors and others).
If somebody gets 50% of the poll, that person is elected. But that certainly won't happen in 2012, and there will be a second round two weeks later, involving only the two candidates who topped the poll in the first round.
In 2O12, Nicolas Sarkozy - the only candidate known to some extent to the British public - is seeking to be elected for a second term. He leads the main right-wing party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement). He was elected in 2007, winning with his promise of putting the economy in order ("work longer to earn more"), to control bad behaviour and to create an ordered society.
Most (including in his own party) would agree Sarkozy hasn't succeeded in fulfilling all his proclaimed aims, though he has managed to economise on reducing pension rights. In 2O12, he has sharpened his message, including blaming immigrants for many of France's problems, and thereby seeking to seduce votes from the extreme-right Front National.
Sarkozy's main opponent in this election is indicated by the opinion polls to be François Hollande, candidate and former leader of the Socialist Party, which gained power with the election of François Mitterrand as president in 1981, but has been in the doldrums since 1995. For weeks past, Hollande has been approaching 30% in the opinion polls, with Sarkozy a few points behind.
The Parti socialiste bears some resemblance as a social democratic party to the Labour Party in Britain, but is historically less linked to the trade union movement. Both parties can produce liberating rhetoric, allied to conventional institutional practice.
François Hollande, whose policies include increasing expenditure on education and soaking the very rich, is at the same time intent on reassuring the bankers in the City of London and elsewhere that he doesn't want to upset the capitalist applecart.
An increasingly strong voice on the left of the Socialist Party is provided by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the recently constituted Front de Gauche, incorporating the Communists and others. Mélenchon, a great orator, calls boldly for a reconstitution of French society, with redistribution of wealth throughout. He won't be elected president, but, standing now at around 10% in the polls, he and his influence can be strong if Hollande is elected president.
Another big player in the presidential stakes is François Bayrou, a nice, comforting guy who comes from the country near the Pyrenees and likes horses as well as people. Bayrou, rated at around 12% in the polls, represents the Centre in politics. It's not too clear what that means, but Bayrou says he wants to take the best ideas from all sides.
Lastly, and not to be ignored among the big beasts, is Marine Le Pen, candidate of the Front National, who could be one of the top three in the first-round result, showing now at 15% or more in the polls. Her appeal to xenophobic opinion and to the dispossessed working class is a troubling and powerful factor.
Then we come to the parliamentary elections in June. They can be expected to mirror the main choice of the preceding presidential election. That's not a rule, but just the way people behave.
You might be surprised to learn that Dieppe, former playground of the very royalist Duchesse de Berry and of our own Prince of Wales (Queen Victoria's wayward son), has a popular young - or youngish - Communist mayor (effectively, leader of the council).
Indeed, Dieppe has chosen to have a Communist mayor for 34 of the last 41 years. And it has elected a Communist MP on two occasions, in 1978 and 1997.
The French Communist Party is much diminished in its electoral strength since the immediate post-war years, when it polled more than 25% of the national vote. The party has long since discarded the Stalinist practice and ideology that infected its French cultural roots, but the erosion of the traditional working class, accompanying the disappearance of the old industrial base of France, has contributed to its political decline. But the party still has 10,000 elected councillors across France.
In the parliamentary elections (first round on 10 June), the Communist mayor, Sébastien Jumel, will be the candidate of the Front de Gauche (the Left Front that includes the Communist Party), in this newly extended constituency, standing against the sitting MP, the Socialist Sandrine Hurel, and another sitting MP, Michel Lejeune, who represents in a somewhat individualistic way the UMP.
Nobody will get more than 50% of the votes in this constituency on 10 June, so there will be a second round on 17 June, when under the rule of "republican discipline" the second-placed left candidate (whether Socialist or Communist), can be expected to desist in favour of the one who got more votes in the first round. Hurel will say "Vote Jumel", or Jumel will say "Vote Hurel".
Communists and Socialists can scrap like ferrets in a sack (while running left-wing councils together), but "la discipline républicaine" still operates.
We'll see who comes top in this constituency on 10 June, and who gets elected to represent Dieppe on 17 June.
Out of the four rounds of national voting, a government will emerge. It will be designated by the president, but its colour will reflect the balance of political forces emerging from the parliamentary elections. The Green and Ecological Party may also have a significant representartion in the new national assembly, although its candidate, Eva Joly, seems to have minimum support (around 3%) in the presidential election.
Don't expect democratic perfection. France will still be dominated by the weight of the personalised presidency.
And don't expect democratic perfection in Britain either. We still have that peculiar "first-past-the-post" electoral system, which snuffs out many enriching voices in society.
We have a long way to go, in France and in Britain, before we get our voting systems right.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 01/03/12
When girls learn to play football...
When girls learn to play football, it can't be a bad thing. Apart from the fun they may be getting, it is another indication that the world is advancing along the long road to equality.
And so welcome to the news that Dieppe Football Club has decided to launch a feminine section. An invitation has gone out to girls between the ages of six and fifteen to get involved. The aim is to set up a local football school for girls in September.
At present, girls can play in mixed teams until they reach the age of sixteen, then they have to relinquish the game. So the creation of an all-female team is essential to allow them to carry on.
So, a little advance is promised on the football field. But Dieppe women continue to suffer the same inequalities as all French women in other spheres. It is estimated that 80% of domestic tasks are performed by women. And it was revealed recently that, on average, women's pay is 20% below that of men.
In times of economic recession, as now, women come out worst. They are more likely to lose their jobs, which are more often part-time and less protected by labour law.
The advances along the road to equality are slow in a country that did not grant women the right to vote until after the Second World War.
Now, another little breakthrough: the term "mademoiselle" is no longer to appear on administrative forms in France. Every "mademoiselle" in the land is henceforth designated "madame", and her marital status is her own business.
In Britain, we dealt with this problem by inventing the somewhat inelegant - and unprononceable - term Ms. It has to be agreed that to be addressed as "Madame" sounds more impressive.
Of course, women are still widely portrayed in the media as sex objects, and as subsidiaries in a male-dominated society. That's a problem that extends far beyond Dieppe and France.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 21/02/12
The Tour de France will pass through Dieppe
The rude winter will soon end. And it will be time to consider the places we may wish to travel to this year (domestic budgets permitting, in these recession-plagued days).
Those who happen to dip into this occasional blog, but do not normally linger by the Normandy shore, might care to give Dieppe a look-in during the busy year of 2012. The town is open all days, but there are special events coming up this year that you might like to note in your diary.
Exceptionally, Dieppe will be on the route of the Tour de France, the world renowned annual cycling race that grabs the imagination of millions of fans for three weeks in July. Specifically, the "peloton" and the hundreds of people - managers, medicos, media hounds and the inevitable advertising army - will be passing through Dieppe, along the seafront (going from east to west), on Wednesday 4 July. If you are here, you can celebrate America's Independence Day at the same time.
Another Tour de France, but "à la voile" - with yachts instead of cyclists - will follow immediately after. Dieppe is the first stop on the round-France route and the yachts will gather in the Marina from 5 to 8 July.
In the same month, there will be a horse show on the seafront lawns from 20 to 22 July and a dog show there on the weekend of 28-29 July.
2012 marks the seventieth anniversary of the ill-fated Dieppe Raid of 12 August 1942, when 1,380 allied soldiers - most of them young Canadians - were mown down on nearby beaches, in a controversial operation to test the defences of the occupying German army. And 345 German conscripts died on that day, too. An anniversary of thoughtful commemoration, not of celebration.
In September 2012, as in every even-numbered year, Dieppe becomes an international kite capital. Some forty countries will be represented at the bienniel event, and kite-flyers from every continent will be demonstrating their colourful prowess, in symphonies of sight and sound, above the wide lawns of the seafront. The continuous show, from 8 to 16 September, is all free. The festival theme is the five elements: air, space, earth, water and fire.
Other events that might attract you to Dieppe include the Bandes Dessinées Festival (when hundreds of graphic novel fans come to meet their favourite authors) on 6-7 October, the same weekend as Dieppe's now annual film festival.
And then, on 17-18 November, comes the annual Herring and Scallop Festival, when the scent and smoke of barbecued herrings rises above the Quai Henri IV.
From October to March 2013, the Château Musée will be housing an exhibition of portraits and other works by Jacques-Emile Blanche, the Normandy painter who was a friend of Walter Sickert.
You can obtain a full list of events in 2012 from the Dieppe area tourist office (http://www.dieppetourisme.com). They include bric-a-brac sales, a granddads' rugby tournament on 25-27 May, an open-air art exhibition in July and the always rich baroque music performances of the Académie Bach at the end of August.
It's easy to get to Dieppe from England: there are ferries every day, sailing from Newhaven in Sussex, at 10am and 11pm (with adjustments sometimes to meet tidal restrictions). Return crossings from Dieppe are normally at 5.30am and 6pm. Ring Transmanche Ferries free on 0800 9171201 or consult www.transmanche.ferries.org
It's best to stay a night or two in Dieppe:
the inadequacy of ferry crossings makes day trips impossible, but you can find a decent town centre double room (for example, at the Etap) for around £45, and a return ferry ticket for a foot passenger costs at present £30 (£24 if you are an over-sixty). Prices for cars vary, according to season.
Expect heavy bookings this summer, with the Olympic Games stimulating a massive invasion of London. You could avoid those crowds by spending a few days in Dieppe, checking the Olympics from time to time on the television screen and competing in your own family water events in the magnificent swimming pool.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 07/01/12
Happy Newish Year!
Did you forget to wish somebody a Happy New Year - or "Bonne Année" if you offer greetings in French?
No problem. The French go on wishing Happy New Years to all and sundry, in writing and by word of mouth, until the last day of January. Mind you, in all politeness you should avoid wishing somebody "Bonne Année" twice: that smacks of nonchalance.
The New Year ritual began (if you were not short of celebratory funds) with the Réveillon meal on New Year's Eve, at home or in a restaurant such as the revelling Sarajevo in Dieppe.
Traditionally, the feast opens with a platter of oysters and may continue with the highly regarded foie gras; that is, it is highly regarded by the French (if they can afford it), but ever less tolerated by the British who - responding to pressure from Peta and other animal welfare organisations - no longer relish fatty livers obtained by the vigorous force-feeding of geese and ducks.
The repeatedly assaulted birds often can no longer stand, with their gloated sick livers dragging them down.
In Britain, foie gras is now banned from the shelves of Waitrose and Sainsbury and other supermarkets; and even the top people's emporium, Fortnum and Mason, admits embarassment at stocking the dubious delicacy. But in Dieppe, and everywhere else in France, this is a debate that hardly exists outside this little contemplative blog.
Leaving the guzzling aside, the French have another indulgence in the period of the Newish Year. It is the ritual of New Year greetings, followed by every one of the country's thirty thousand and more mayors.
The mayor invites the local citizens, or representatives of their various clubs and associations, to come to the town hall where they will hear a speech in which the mayor speaks of the achievements and aspirations of the local commune, and offers an opinion on the state of the nation, the world and perhaps the universe.
It's an agreable occasion in Dieppe, where the mayor, Sébastien Jumel, has a welcoming face and an elegant gift of the gab (though a gab not always appreciated by his political opponents). After the mayoral speech, come the canapés, the drinks, the chat and (in the case of Dieppe) the sweet tones of a jazz ensemble.
Not only mayors invite people to their New Year "voeux" ("wishes"): the presidents of regional and departmental councils; of chambers of commerce; of sports and cultural associations; and members of parliament are all pushing out the boat this month. If you have the right connections, you could spend the whole of January going from one session of "voeux" to another.
One of the most assiduous purveyors of New Year wishes this year is the President of the Republic, Monsieur Nicolas Sarkozy, who is criss-crossing France to deliver his "voeux" at local ceremonial occasions. Of course, the fact that 2012 is presidental election year, and that Monsieur Sarkozy is expected to be a candidate to his own succession, is merely coincidental to his busy January travelling schedule.
And when did this tradition of dispensing New Year greetings begin? Apparently, in the time of the Roman occupation of this Gallic land. The Roman rulers had the habit of handing out honey and figs, plus a few coins, for New Year. And New Year's Day was a festival dedicated to Janus, who had two faces: one facing the past year and the other looking to the year ahead.
At Dieppe Town Hall the other night, we reminded Mayor Jumel that we were fond of figs. Unfortunately, he hadn't brought any with him. "The wrong season," he said.
And, in any case, I suppose, handing out figs a few months before the parliamentary elections, in which Sébastien Jumel will be the local candidate of the Front de Gauche, could be seen as the venal buying of votes.
Bonne Année, tout le monde!
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 31/12/11
2011: What a year that was!
Well, it was, wasn't it? Think just what the world managed to pack in during those twelve months of 2011. Events from the hopeful to the horrific, and including every experience in between.
Sitting in Dieppe, it may have seemed that not a lot happened in our mini world to cause great disturbance. No devastating tsunami from the Channel; no "hacking" scandal to cause the closure of Paris-Normandie or Les Informations Dieppoises; nothing to equal the Arab Spring that washed away eternal-seeming dictatorial regimes in country after country; no equivalent to the massive Moscow demonstrations calling for democracy to replace the corrupt governance of the clay-footed Vladimir Putin; no London-style riots of the discards of a heartless consumerist society. Just, for Dieppe, the undramatic offspin from the global economic crisis.
2011 will surely go down in history as a momentous date for the world, to be compared with such a year of conflict as 1936. That was the year when France elected its innovative Popular Front government; when Adolf Hitler was angered by black American athletes winning gold at the Berlin Olympics as he prepared his holocaust to come; when General Franco launched a civil war presaging years of tyranny in Spain and Europe; when, in England, the onward march of the British Union of Fascists was halted at the Battle of Cable Street; and when, in the United States, New Dealer Franklin Roosevelt was overwhelmingly re-elected president, and Charles Chaplin commented on regimented capitalist society with his film "Modern Times".
No, we didn't have in Dieppe in 2011 a tsunami to trigger a catastrophe like that of Fukushima which caused politicians, businessmen and scientists across the world to hesitate before pursuing nuclear energy programmes (which produce 75% of electrical energy in France). And the Occupy protesters who have taken over streets, and cathedral steps, in New York and London have been almost absent in France, despite massive earlier demonstrations in defence of pension rights and education.
And yet, in Dieppe, budgets are tighter: the council has fewer resources with which to implement its environmentally improving programmes, and families have cut down on holidays and outings. Restaurants feel the pinch.
Organisations such as the Red Cross, les Restaurants du Coeur, le Secours Catholique and le Secours Populaire report heavier claims on their funds and services. And a new addition to the local community support system appeared in 2011 with the opening of Dieppe's first "épicerie solidaire": Chez Louisette in Le Pollet is a haven for those hit hard by the recession where they can buy groceries and pharmaceutical products at much reduced prices.
2012 is a big election year in France: the two rounds of the presidential election will take place in April and May, and the consequential national assembly election will follow in June. Incumbent rulers have not been impressive in tackling the crises to which their friends, the bankers and financial jugglers, have royally contributed. It is too early to forecast whether present rulers will be replaced and, if they are, whether a new lot will do better.
"Time" magazine felt obliged to name "The Protester" as its Person of the Year 2011. The Protester could be called into service again in 2012. Just as Stéphane Hessel, ex-Resistance fighter and former diplomat who largely drafted the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, felt himself called into service at the age of 93 to write the bestseller "Indignez-vous!" ("Get angry"), an inspiration in 2011 to those who believe we could organise our world in a more sensible and equitable way. Over a million copies of Hessel's book were sold within a few months and he's writing still. Things are moving.
2012: it's not a time to fall asleep.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 19/12/11
A light goes out of the Dieppe night
Did you know Bernard Françoise ? Very likely not, unless you are an occasional or habitual night bird in Dieppe: such as my old colleague Ron Gillings, legendary sub-editor of The Times, the Guardian, the Observer and other illustrious London sheets.
On every one of his visits to this Normandy haven, Ron would try to allot a space for nocturnal attendance at La Boussole, the discreet and friendly bar in the rue du Bœuf, off the Quai Duquesne. Customers young and old took their modest refreshment in the unmarked premises, in an atmosphere in which chat and eclectic music filled the hours between midnight and dawn.
Bernard, a man of some wit and learning, opened La Boussole (which means The Compass in English) in 1985. The bar continued to thrive for 26 years while other night spots came and went, rarely leaving remarkable memories.
La Boussole, with its quaint collection of maritime artefacts, was special because Bernard was special. He had a reputation for never forgetting a face. I last met him a few weeks ago, in the street, when he assured me that my bottle of cognac, parked on the shelf behind the counter, was safe and sound, with my name stuck on it, although I hadn't visited it for a year or more.
Bernard died suddenly after a stroke on 8 December. He was 68. More than eight hundred mourners, many of them young, joined his family at the funeral held in the great church of St Jacques. What a send-off for a much loved citizen of Dieppe. Alain Caillet, who knew him well, described him as a man who recognised no barriers, of opinion or of class, to his friendships.
Yes, Bernard was special. La Boussole is unlikely to survive its creator.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 18/12/11
The old Entente not so Cordiale
There is an old fiction that the two neighbouring countries, France and Britain, have been great allies through the centuries. And we have the Entente Cordiale (signed in 1904) to prove it. Now we have an annoying spat between the powers-that-be in Paris and London (over the crisis in the eurozone) which spoils the pretty picture.
The British prime minister says he's not going to have the French (or anybody else) ride roughshod over the cherished City of London and its noble fast-pocketing bankers and traders. And the French president says the British prime minister is behaving like a spoilt schoolboy.
These differences are not so serious as the rivalries that brought about a pair of Hundred Years' Wars, and involved such unfriendfly acts as the bombardment of Dieppe by Admiral Berkeley in 1694.
In fact, the pretty picture of an Anglo-French idyll is an embellishment of a harsher reality. While individual, or groups of, British and French people may get on perfectly happily together, the state interests of the two countries have, over the centuries, been in conflict more often than in harmony.
Let's look at that Entente Cordiale. It wasn't the fruit of a cross-Channel love affair; it resulted from a self-serving carve-up of colonial interests in Africa. Essentially, the French agreed to lay off Egypt, which Britain regarded as its God-given sphere of interest, and in compensation France was given free rein to run Morocco. The Entente Cordiale brought to an end a long period of intermittent hostility between the two European powers, and put them in good shape to gang up against the German Kaiser in the First World War.
Even in times when Britain and France have been allies on the world chessboard, the spats have repeatedly recurred. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill (who found General de Gaulle a tricky customer to deal with) reputedly said: "Of all the crosses I have to bear, the heaviest is the Cross of Lorraine".
And yet, and yet, on the ground, friendship and co-operation have often prevailed. There are many brave tales of the collaboration between British agents and the French resistance movement between 1940 and 1945; the British loved Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaff (though they still haven't heard of Johnny Hallyday), and the French (with everybody else) have adored the Beatles. Eric Cantona, the poetic footballer, went down well with the Man U fans; and the French follow with amicable curiosity the changing hairstyles of David Beckham and of his wife Victoria, the anorexic former "Posh Spice".
But our greatest mutual enrichment is surely in the languages we speak: in that respect, English has benefited more: the Norman invasion after 1066 imported a larger number of words into English than the Anglo-Saxon expressions that successive conquerings of Gallic lands have bequeathed to the French. Even so, the French have picked up in latter times some useful expressions from their northern neighbours, such as "weekend" (or "week-end" in France) and "le fair-play".
The French may be unimpressed by English real ale, and the British will rarely order a Pernod or a Ricard. But that's not a reason for antipathy.
We can get over the present "froideur" between Messrs Cameron and Sarkozy. And the sooner we recognise our two peoples can have common interests and aspirations that small-minded politicians tend to brush aside, the happier we shall be.
Picture : Carving up the world in the time of Napoleon (James Gillray)
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 15/12/11
Good news for the Channel link
International summit meetings don't always go smoothly. The one this month in Brussels, called to sort out the crisis in the euro zone, had the British prime minister walking out in a huff at 4am. And the crisis, affecting economies across the world, just gets deeper.
Happily, nobody walked out in a huff from the Lewes summit meeting on 2 December. Indeed, it was probably one of the most friendly and consensual Anglo-French official meetings since Queen Victoria and King Louis Philippe signed the first entente cordiale at the Château d'Eu on 2 September 1843.
Gathered at the elegant headquarters of Lewes district council, representatives of local authorities in East Sussex and the Seine Maritime department of France, contemplated and approved a grand plan to revive the dilapidated port of Newhaven and to breathe new life into the historic Newhaven-Dieppe ferry service.
The plan has been drawn up by NPP, the company set up by the Seine Maritime department after buying Newhaven ferry port, to save it from the threat of closure ten years ago. It is a bold plan, involving the creation of an infrastructure to service a new wind farm off the coast of Sussex and to increase the transport of equipment for the growing renewable energy market. If all goes well, Newhaven will get improved berthing facilities for the ferries, a new terminal and better access to the port.
But it was agreed that, before all this happens, a strategy needs to be worked out to make the ferry service better known to potential users, both passengers and transporters. Today, there are many people in Brighton who ask "I there still a ferry at Newhaven?".
Sébastien Jumel, the mayor of Dieppe, was a participant at the Lewes summit, which was chaired by Lewes MP (and current transport minister) Norman Baker. Jumel characterised the meeting as a fruitful "union sacrée" ("united front"). Indeed it was: a Lib Dem MP and a Lib Dem who leads Newhaven town council; Conservative council leaders of Lewes and East Sussex; a French Communist mayor; and a French Socialist councillor who presides over the port property company.... all these people were gathered together in a common venture that might actually bring good fortune to a lot of people.
Big boys, and girls, in Brussels, please take note.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 29/11/11
Back in the summer, in the little town of Trvého Sviny (meaning Swines’ Market to you and me) I ordered fried fish with a half a litre of foaming Budvar, my favourite Czech beer.
The fish was not defined. What fish, I inquired? ‘Just fish,’ came the reply, ‘mořský ryba’ (‘sea fish’). That’s the way it is in south Bohemia, about the most land-locked territory in Europe. They know all about river and pond fish, and they love to eat carp (especially around Christmas time). But don’t ask them to distinguish between a plaice and a lemon sole, or between a turbot and a halibut. They just know ‘sea fish’.
How very different in Dieppe, where fish of every variety abound in the sea, in the markets and on the menus. This used to be the most important fishing port of France; it is still the first port for the import of scallops (coquilles St Jacques to the French).
We have just experienced the annual Foire aux Harengs which brings thousands to tuck into barbecued herrings from the stalls along the Quai Henri IV. The herring season will be over in early December but fresh scallops will continue to be on sale here until May. After that, in high summer, comes the season of the mackerel.
All these fish, and many more including the always coveted sole, are on sale as they have been for a couple of centuries, from the stalls of les Barrières, adjacent to the now spanking new tourist office by le Pont Ango.
‘Les Barrières’ indicates a level crossing gate: there was one there when the Paris train pulled up at the old ferry port. Since 1994, the ferry port, the train, the level crossing and the gate have all gone from this place, but the name ‘Les Barrières’ still remains, along with the fish market stalls and new generations of fishermen’s wives serving from them.
It is no secret in Dieppe that the Mayor is not best pals with the President of the Regional Council, who is also head of the public company running the the port of Dieppe.
So, since 21 November, we have two fish markets in Dieppe, one defended by the Mayor and one set up by the president of the Upper Normandy region. They can, as Lucien Lecanu, responsible member on the Dieppe council for the local economy, says, be seen as complementary: the stalls of les Barrières sell fresh fish caught by the little fishing boats that go out to sea every night and the new presidential market deals with the catch from larger boats that fish farther afield.
Of course, nobody must exceed the European quotas, laid down to preserve fishing stocks.
By the way, if you want another source of fresh fish, go along the coast to the east at Le Tréport or to the west at Quiberville, where my friend Michel with the eternal sailor’s black cap puts out his net every evening. And Michel will tell you a tale or two: about fishing and politics, and about the quality of local ciders, his constant refreshment.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 29/11/11
Traveller's tales and travellers' needs
How do you like to travel ? By horse must have been good, and refreshing, though your innards would have been well shaken up. And it can’t have been too much fun for the horse, unless you were a wraith poised on its back.
No horses today. Just buses and trains and ferries and planes. I hate planes, and especially I hate air terminals. Travelling to the Czech Republic this summer, I took the plane from Paris to Prague. I wanted to sit in the train and watch the changing scenery from my comfortable window seat. But rail was too expensive, and changing trains in Germany in the middle of the night added nothing to the attraction.
So the cheapo Easyjet won the competition for my custom. And that entailed onerous traipsing around the boring Paris Roissy terminal (a long way from Paris) and buying overpriced refreshments while awaiting the call to be wafted into the sky, while being locked into a cramped seat for a couple of hours until release in another boring airport terminal outside Prague.
Ferries are altogether a more civilised means of transport (though, unfortunately, there isn't one to Prague). Here, as I write thèse words, I sit in the spacious saloon of the Côte d’Albâtre, transporting me from Newhaven to Dieppe. I am sat next to the children’s bouncing area, sipping at my bottle of Georges Duboeuf’s Côtes du Rhône 2008, and penning these idle reflections. Tony Benn wouldn’t have had a more pleasurable experience when he launched Concorde in 1969 but then he doesn’t quaff Côtes du Rhône, or any other Côtes for that matter.
Our present need is to get more crossings on this historic Newhaven-Dieppe route, on which Oscar Wilde fled a censorious Victorian régime and Ho Chi Minh was a pastry cook. At present, you can sail from the Sussex shore only at 9.30am and at 10.30pm. A campaign has been launched to add another crossing, in both directions, especially in summer when this is a delightful way of travelling from England to the Continent. And you don’t get seasick any more: the stabilisers on the new ferries keep you from feeling queezy.
Of course, it’s all a matter of LSD, as we used to say in my parents’ time. LD Lines, who run the Newhaven-Dieppe service on behalf of the Seine Maritime council (which saved the line from closure by buying a couple of new ferries and Newhaven harbour a decade ago) say one ferry is enough to produce a decent profit. Yes, but this is a public service and well promoted extra crossings, using the idle ferry now stuck in the back of Dieppe port, could bring benefits all round: more jobs, more satisfied travellers and more sheckles in the till to balance the extra costs.
Go for it, Transmanche Ferries.
PS: If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: ajouter un commentaire'.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 19/10/11
So let Dieppe now celebrate Julian Barnes
Over the years, Julian Barnes, ever probing author and inveterate francophile, has celebrated Dieppe and Normandy with wit and sensitivity. So let Dieppe now celebrate the author who gave us ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’ and has deservedly landed that long elusive Man Booker prize.
The prize was awarded for his latest and eleventh novel, ‘The Sense of an Ending’, described by chief judge Stella Rimington as ‘a book that speaks to humankind in the twenty-first century’.
Fourth time lucky for Barnes. After three failed attempts at the prestigious award, it seemed he had got up the nose of the London literary establishment, uneasy perhaps in its failure to categorise a writer whose genius and wondrous insight is expressed along no conventional lines.
Julian Barnes is among those Anglo-Saxon and Celtish observers – most of them writers and artists - who have noticed and defined a special quality of life along this stretch of the Normandy coast.
Barnes has recorded the view that Henry James expressed to Jacques-Emile Blanche (‘Your Dieppe is a reduced Florence, every type of character for a novelist seems to gather there.’). And the new Booker laureate himself, with equal perspicacity in recalling the attraction of the luminous quality of the Dieppe light to generations of artists, opines that ‘it is an unpatriotic truth that looking north from Dieppe is more visually complex than looking south from Brighton’.
Julian Barnes, writer and defender of human rights, is a worthy disciple of Voltaire and a similar campaigner for the Age of Enlightenment virtues of freedom, toleration, justice and truth.
It is an honour to Dieppe to have such a friend. And an honour to our ferry to carry sometimes the author of ‘Cross Channel’ and of such a rich and diverse collection of works between the shores of Normandy and Sussex.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 26/09/11
Books and much more at the media centre
Libraries used to be fusty places, a real turn-off for allthose people who didn’t regard themselves as bookish and as a result were missing out on a lot of pleasure and enrichment in their lives.
Dieppe’s mediathèque municipale (public library and media centre) has never had this old-fashioned image since it was installed at the Centre Jean Renoir, opposite the railway station, over twenty years ago. Now, after a new facelift, the media centre has become a more welcoming place than ever before.
With a score of library staff and 140,000 volumes to peruse or borrow, it provides a service beyond what one might normally expect in a town of 35,000 population. But there are not only books available to visitors.
There is an area for lectures and exhibitions, and there are well-equipped rooms for internet connections and for listening in comfort to DVDs and CDs. Now you can also turn up with your own laptop and immediately connect to wifi (wifi is becoming increasingly available as a municipal service around town). Of much older vintage is the collection of ancient and historical tomes in the basement, to be consulted with care only on the premises.
Of course, the French are partial to revolutions, and the reorganisation of the médiathèque has included reclassifying the books: you will now find them in seven categories, including ‘Learning and Information’, ‘Wellbeing’, ‘Discovering the world’ and ‘Creating your environment’. Well, it’s something new.
To borrow a book or a recording, you will need to have an address in the locality. But you are welcome to come into the building at opening times between Tuesday and Sunday and benefit from all the facilities on offer in the building.
Downstairs from the médiathèque is the Dieppe Scène Nationale, the 580-seat theatre that offers a rich programme of films and live performances round the year.
It’s just a pity that the Centre Jean Renoir is once again without a restaurant, or even a bar, a useful facility to cheer the hundreds of people who visit the premises on their cultural quests.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 26/08/11
What a fantastic clean-up!
Around eight o’clock this morning, a distant noise came through the window from down the road in Dieppe’s rue du Faubourg de la Barre. It began as a whine. Then, growing louder, it became a scream. But no harm was being done. No person was being hurt.
I looked out of the window and saw a water truck crawling slowly up the road. From it was extended a rubber pipe, manipulated by one of Dieppe’s street cleaning staff, who was directing a powerful jet to scour our pavement, right up to the building line, of all its mess and stains.
I have never seen a pavement so well prepared to be used as a plate for eating your breakfast off. But I decided to keep to eating breakfast at a table indoors, in the conventional way, and I merely admired the work of the street cleaners, not forgetting to thank them for doing a fantastic job.
If only the local dog owners would be inspired by the sight of our newly cleansed pavement and always take away the unwelcome visiting cards they happily watch their pets deposit on their way. Usually, the well dressed owners don’t even bother to guide the little doggies to the gutter, where at least we would be less likely to pick up their crottes on our shoes and transfer the stinking matter to our carpets at home.
The communications department of Dieppe Council, which publishes the excellent Journal de Bord, is about to launch a new campaign to try to persuade dog owners of their civic responsibilities. Another way, I suggest, is for us to pick up a piece of chalk from the beach and to ring the offensive deposits, adding the message Honte! (Shame!). It won’t hurt the doggies, but might just stir the consciences of their guardians.
Brighton, across the watery road that divides Normandy from Sussex, has been more successful in recent years in cracking the dog defecation problem, partly by fining a few of the offenders. There is nothing intrinsically embedded in the human make-up that obliges us to encourage our pets to foul our pavements. After all, every one of us (apart from Monsieur Gérard Depardieu) has learnt from babyhood never to urinate in the aisle when travelling on airplanes. It is amazing what civic education, acquired at home and at school, can achieve.
Blogs / Dieppe seen by Peter Avis 01/08/11
Quaint, French and friendly. And that's Dieppe
"Quaint, French and friendly. A wonderful town." That was the judgment on Dieppe from the mouth of Alex Phillips at the end of her first ever visit to Normandy. She hailed originally, with her scouse accent, from Liverpool, and that's a long way from the Alabaster Coast.
As a member of the newly elected Green Party majority that administers the city of Brighton and Hove on the other side of the Channel, the energetic councillor was in town to attend la Fête du Transmanche, celebrating the ancient (and often fragile) ferry link between Newhaven and Dieppe.
In fact, it was more than an official visit for Brighton and Hove's representative on Arc Manche, a European Union network that promotes projects between towns on either side of the Channel. It was a human encounter that could enrich the contacts between people living in East Sussex and the Seine-Maritime department.
Alex Phillips is the only bilingual member of either the Brighton or Dieppe local councils (she studied in Paris and worked with the English Green European MEPs in Brussels). Her busy bilingual weekend in Dieppe included getting to know the people of the Val Druel suburb as well as tripping around the tourist spots along the seafront and in the centre of town.
An unusual tourist spot she visited was "Lire à la Plage" ("Read on the Beach"), the free public library, with its attendant deckchairs, installed on the pebbles during July and August. Maybe an idea that could be exported to Brighton (funding permitting in these hard recessionist times).
The high spot (in more senses than one) of the visit came with the Brighton councillor prancing between trees in the Rosendal wood, together with youngsters of the Val Druel (see her with appropriate hard hat in the photo above). Alex Phillips, "accrobrancheuse", was participating in one of the holidays-at-home activities organised by Dieppe council for those who may not be able to travel elsewhere during the summer break.
Hosting the cross-Channel guest on her peregrinations around Dieppe was Béatrice Delandre, the ever busy assistant mayor responsible for local participative democracy (i.e. giving people the means to have their wishes taken into account). And there's another idea that interests the innovative Green administration of Brighton and Hove.
After Alex Phillips's return to England, the Argus - the regional daily of Sussex - reported her as saying: "Dieppe is a wonderful town and we want to do more to develop links with them. In particular, I would like to see more exchanges between young people where they can stay for a few days - maybe with host families - and really benefit from both a cultural and a language learning experience."
Oh, and by the way, it was a problem persuading the French before they met her that the youngest member of Brighton and Hove council is not a bloke. All Alexes in France ARE blokes. So perhaps she should be called Alexandra in the land of Gaul.