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Political unrest and a culinary fantasy

harrietstignerillustrationfranceiscollage

I really enjoyed illustrating this gripping feature by Modern Salt’s Penny Averill about how Britain’s love affair with French cuisine in the 1960s glossed over a country of huge political un-rest, where many families were struggling to put food on the table.

Collage felt like an appropriate way to reference Penny’s description of long-fostered cliché images – oozing cheeses and Bridgette Bardot fashion, that Brits celebrated as an alternative to the American fast food that was dominating post-war Britain. I wanted photographs of the riots to grow out of this rich, colourful foundation, bubbling out of an idealistic, picture-postcard fantasy, and capped off with an image of Napoleonic patriotism.

Here’s an inspiring extract from Penny’s article –

“And so we skim, taking what we want, what is good and feeds our fantasy. And, hurtling south, whether on the TGV, the A7 or by air, the excited convert avoids the northern suburbs of Paris. You catch a glimpse of Font-Vert and Clos-de-la Rose as you drive north from Marseille airport, but they are distant and, in the glaring summer light, looking quickly, can almost be mistaken for a 19th century orientalist painting, sun-bleached buildings thrown up a cliffside, washing hanging everywhere. But these are streets where 40% of the population live below the poverty level and drug-related murders are the same, proportionally, as in New York. But France is big (twice the size of Britain, with the same population) and, between towns, empty and vast in a way that Britain simply is not. If you don’t want to see it, you won’t.

In Paris, on 17 October 1961 huge numbers of Algerians gathered to protest about the chaotic war in Algeria and, locally, their treatment at the hands of the police. (The Head of Police in Paris at the time was Maurice Papon. In their haste to move on from the seismic fracture of the war the French establishment had overlooked Papon’s role in the Nazi occupation, when, as Head of Po-lice in Bordeaux, he had overseen the deportation of Jews.) Papon, as enthusiastically anti-Alge-rian as he was anti-Semitic ordered his men to open fire on the large crowd. Estimates put the numbers dead between 100 and 300, many of the bodies were thrown into the Seine, to be fished out over the intervening days, by horrified civilians.

French Provincial Cooking had appeared in the UK the year before and , Julia Child and Simone Beck published Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the same year as this “Battle for Paris” as the French media referred to it. While the Seine yielded its strange fruit to horrified civilians over the days following 17 October, in the middle class kitchens of Britain and North America, a collec-tive coup de foudre.”

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