Tag Archives: France

Yann Tiersen!

Bah! I love my job!! About three weeks ago, my boss called me to ask if I could conduct a phone interview in French. I said yes, to which she replied, “Wonderful! I just gave Yann Tiersen your cell phone number. He’ll be calling you at 7pm.”

Me – In my head: WHAT?!? Yann Tiersen?? The Yann Tiersen?? Who composed the music for Amelie and Goodbye Lenin?? The Yann Tiersen who’s music I used to listen to to keep my mood up when I was studying for exams in university? The Yann Tiersen who’s music I play whenever I move into a new apartment, because it fills up every corner with this warm, wonderful feeling??

Me – Out loud: Oh, wow! Great! I’ll write up some questions while I’m waiting for his call and email you a transcript of the interview tomorrow.

Me – In my head after hanging up the phone: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

I rushed home, typed up some interview questions and sat nervously on my bed (which doubles as my desk) waiting for the phone to ring. He called at 7:22pm and I swear, those were 22 of the longest minutes…

And then, my ringtone started to play, my stomach did a somersault and I started sweating profusely.

“Allo? C’est Yann Tiersen.”

And then I said something along the lines of “Gobbedly gobbeldy goo..” feigned a bad connection and somehow got my brain working again.

In the end, it turned out that Yann Tiersen is actually a really nice, down to earth guy, and the rest of the interview ended up going really well. He was patient with me, friendly and gave thorough answers to my questions. I felt like a real journalist for the first time – such a rush!! Success!!

So here you go! The un-cut version of my first feature article in Time Out Beirut!


Yann+Tiersen“Music and life are the same…I’m always thinking about music.” Words spoken by a man who has clearly found his calling in life, French musician and composer, Yann Tiersen, who will be performing at the Forum de Beirut on November 12.  Tiersen was propelled into the international spotlight after the success of the film, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, for which he composed the award winning score. But as any devoted Tiersen fan will tell you, the 39-year old musician’s work extends long before and far beyond Amélie.

Born in the city of Brest and raised in the nearby city of Rennes in Brittany, France, Tiersen began to study piano and violin at the age of 12, discovering his passion for music early in life. During our interview he revealed, “I always knew I wanted to be a composer – since I was a young child. I love music.”  Tiersen would go on to receive formal music training, but as a free spirit who could not be contained by the restrictions of classical protocol, he made the sharp turn from classic to rock.  Jamming with several different rock bands in the 1980s, he began to develop a style of music all his own.

CON-20051228143402-SIn 1995, at the age of 25, he released his first album, La Valse de Monstres (The Monsters’ Waltz), a compilation of music he had composed for two French plays, Le Tambourin de Soie (The Silk Tambourine) and Freaks. The minimalist, instrumental music showcased influences of classical compositions, the old French crooners of the 1950s, and Tiersen’s beloved rock.

underwood5smallIn addition, true to the composer’s now trademark style, the album featured the beautifully bizarre combination of such varied instruments as the violin, piano, accordion, toy piano, melodica, and xylophone.  Tiersen explains, “I really love working with sound…looking for things to use and instruments that aren’t really traditional.” Obviously not one to be limited by the conventional, the ever-curious Tiersen has continuously experimented with different melodic tools, utilizing the noises produced by things as abstract as typewriters and bicycle wheels in his compositions.

goodbyeLeninDomestic fame came in 1998, with the release of his third album, Le Phare. A few years later, this eccentric, suddenly in-demand musician was graced with the international praise he had long deserved when his compositions for Amélie (2001) and the German film Goodbye Lenin! (2003) surprised and impressed the world.

amelieComposing a score for a film tends to be different than composing for an album, but not for Tiersen. Whereas many composers take their inspirational cues from the visual rhythm of the film and the style of editing, or try to synchronize their music with actions and dialogue, Tiersen takes a different approach: “I don’t work with the images. I don’t look at them while I compose.”  While this may be an unconventional modus operandi, you can’t argue with success. He was given the French national film award, the César, in 2002 for Best Music Written for a Film, for his score in Amélie.

Although he enjoys composing for films, and cannot deny the international success such work has brought him, Tiersen professed that he prefers composing independently, “There’s more freedom. When you’re working on the score for a film there are limitations and obligations.  You have to have a certain result by a certain time…it’s a bit stressful. I prefer to compose on my own time, when inspiration comes.”

When it comes to composing his music, to finding that inspiration, Tiersen likes to be alone – “I have a house on a small island west of Brittany and I have less pressure there. I can just work.” He adds laughing, “And if I don’t find any ideas there, I go into town to the bar for awhile.”  This gifted composer seems to live and breathe the music he writes, issuing the impassioned statement, “When you are a musician you can enjoy life and life can be material for your inspiration. I’m always thinking about music. It’s always with you.  When I compose, I think about life, and when I’m not working, I’m thinking about music.”

yann_tiersen_11And now, Yann Tiersen will be gracing the stage in our beloved Beirut, performing songs from his yet to be released album, Dust Lane as well as compositions from his last studio album, Les Retrouvailles (2005). Dust Lane, an album that his fans are anticipating with baited breath, is the combined effort of French indie/pop-rock musician Syd Matters, British dark-folk artist Matt Elliott, and Orka, a musical group hailing from the Faroe Islands. Tiersen is enjoying his current tour and is looking forward to his visit here, stating, “I’m happy to being going back to Beirut – it’s a beautiful city.” Well, Mr. Tiersen, ahlan wa sahlan! We’re thrilled to have you!


Burqini Fever!


In my post on Sour, I included a photo of a young Muslim girl going swimming, covered and veiled – a concept completely foreign and interesting to me.  And you know how sometimes when you learn something new, it somehow seems to pop up everywhere??? So here’s what I’ve found out about Muslim swimwear, which now seems to pop up everywhere:

At the beach in Sour, as far as I could tell, these women and children were going swimming in their clothing – a naïve but understandable assumption. But, as it turns out, there’s actually a relatively large market for full-body swimsuits for Muslim women that allow them to swim without exposing themselves. And better yet, they call the swimsuits ‘burqinis.’ (burq – from ‘burqa,’ the Arabic word meaning the full Muslim veil, and ‘-ini’ is taken from ‘bikini’) I love it!

One of Ahiida's designer burqinis weighing in at a whopping 160 Australian dollars = abt. 135 American dollars, 95 Euros, or 203,000 Lebanese Lira . Design "SF20-1243 BLACK/TEAK - ARBIAN DOTS"

One of Ahiida's designer burqinis weighing in at a whopping 160 Australian dollars = abt. 135 American dollars, 95 Euros, or 203,000 Lebanese Lira

If you google ‘burqini,’ one of the first sights to pop up is Ahiida Burqini Swimwear, a company founded in 2004 and based in Australia that specializes in “dynamic swimwear and sportswear for today’s Muslim female.”  The company was actually started by a Lebanese woman named Aheda Zanetti, who moved to Australia as a child, and frustrated by her inability to participate in prevalent Australian water sports, decided to design a swimsuit specifically tailored to the modern Muslim woman.  The resultant burqini allows Muslim women to easily and flexibly swim and compete in water sports, while still remaining completely covered. Clever, huh?

While this trendy Muslim swimsuit is all the rage in Lebanon and Australia, the burqini and the Muslim burqa in general have, unfortunately, been topics of controversy in France for a few years now. Why France? They have the largest Muslim minority population in the EU, and there are those that believe that discrimination against Muslims will decrease if they become less visibly Muslim and more visibly French. Plus, there are entire lobbies of French women (well, and men for that matter) who see the veil as an infringement upon women’s rights. I’ve summed it up in an insanely brief way, but needless to say, it’s a sticky situation.

Anyway, the reason I bring all this up, is that there was actually an article today (see – burqinis everywhere!) in the Daily Star – ‘Paris Pool Bans Woman in Burqini Swimsuit’– discussing the controversy that has arisen over the use of the burqini in France:

“A Paris swimming pool has refused entry to a young Muslim woman wearing a ‘burqini,’ a swimsuit that covers most of the body, officials said Wednesday.  The pool ban came as French lawmakers conduct hearings on whether to ban the burqa after President Nicolas Sarkozy said the head-to-toe veil was ‘not welcome’ in secular France.   Officials in the Paris suburb of Emerainville said they let the woman swim in the pool in July wearing the burqini, designed for Muslim women who want to swim without revealing their bodies.  But when she returned in August they decided to apply hygiene rules and told her she could not swim if she insisted on wearing the garment, which resembles a wetsuit with a built-in hood.  France, home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, has set up a special panel of 32 lawmakers to consider whether a law should be enacted to bar Muslim women from wearing the full veil, known as a burqa or niqab.” – AFP

Amazing that a glorified wetsuit could stir up so much controversy. I for one have always been a proponent of the belief that respect for differences rather than forced assimilation is a better way to create a peaceful society, but I can respect that this is a complicated issue.

Gouraud: The Street and the General

If you tell a taxi to take you to the Beirut neighborhood of Gemmazeh, they’ll drop you at the start of the Rue Gouraud – the main bar, restaurant and club packed street running through this noisy neighborhood, which somehow manages to be grungy and upscale chic at the same time. I love it! You can spend entire nights hopping from cafe to bar, from bar to club, and never get bored or run out of new places to try.

General Gouraud

General Gouraud

But anyway, I’ve been curious for awhile now about the street’s namesake ‘Gouraud.’ I wikipedia-ed that shit and here’s what I found: Henri Joseph Eugene Gouraud was born in France in 1867.  For one of the plethora of reasons that inspire young men to take up arms for their country, he joined the French army and began to bump his way up the ranks.  He actually lost his right arm while he was commanding French forces during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. Like Cervantes in the Battle of Le Panto! Although, that was his left arm. Ha! History NERD in the house.

gallipoli_ver1_xlg You know the Battle of Gallipoli – World War I, fought on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. British and French trying to capture Istanbul from the Ottomans and failing miserably. Tons of people died on both sides – honestly doesn’t sound like it was worth it. Oh,  and they made a movie about it in 1981 – which in today’s pop culture world is probably more well known than the battle itself. The film was directed by Peter Weir and stars a very young Mel Gibson and Mark Lee as two hopeful, promising young Australians who join ANZAC (The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – a branch of the British Army during WWI) and then get butchered in Gallipoli. It’s a great film but obviously very depressing.

558px-The_Levant_3ANYWAY, I digress.  So the reason why they care about this General in Lebanon is that from 1919-1923 he was a commander of the French army of the Levant (Levant = the eastern Mediterranean countries in general – specifically, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Israel and sometimes Iraq and Saudi Arabia) and played an important role in the creation of the French Mandates of Syria and Lebanon.  From what I’ve read, the locals in the region had mixed opinions of Gouraud and the French presence, but apparently he had enough of an impact to merit a street being named after him!

I actually found an article in the archives of the the NY Times, written in 1922, entitled ‘Gouraud Doubts Turks Want Syria: French Policy, the General Says, Is Merely to Carry Out Mandate Helpfully.’ I love the internet 🙂

Some background info: So in 1916, you get the Sykes-Picot Agreement (s0 called because it was negotiated by François Georges-Picot of France and Mark Sykes of Britain) between France and the UK that defined who would get control of the different territories in the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire fell.  But this agreement was secret and didn’t become official (although it was enforced all the while) until after the end of WWI, in the 1920s by the League of Nations. So in 1920, in the Treaty of Sevres (peace treaty between the Ottomans and the Allied forces), France was official granted control of Syria. The Syrians were pissed, understandably and actually from 1919 (French presence already in Syria but yet to be officially granted power by the League of Nations) until 1921 you get the Franco-Syrian War, with the Syrians trying to oust the French. The Syrians lost and the French remained in control. Quelle surprise.

So when this NY Times article was written in 1922, the French presence in Syria (Lebanon had yet to be created as it’s own country and was just a state in Syria – in fact the article is written from Beirut, Syria not Beirut, Lebanon) was established but Gouraud and his troops were still facing small attacks from different groups in Syria who hadn’t given up on their goal of evicting the French.  Syrian grievances against the French included French suppression of Syrian newspapers, political activity, and civil rights and the division of Greater Syria into six different states (Gouraud actually headed this division of Syria, one of the states being that of Greater Lebanon, which eventually became the country).

In the article, the author interviewed Gouraud who was trying to set the record straight about the French influence in Syria, explaining that the French were trying to restore stability in the region, reduce their presence in Syria and were generally liked in the region despite the recent attacks – “He was sure the Syrian people were beginning to realize the generous motives behind the French mandate and the elevating influence of French efforts in Syria, and he was happy to be able to say that the French were now meeting with ready and cordial cooperation.”  He also explained that he felt the Ottoman’s would not try to retake Syria and insisted that the French were “…on excellent terms with the Turkish authorities.” So interesting. Wish I had a Syrian article written at the same time on their perspective, but given that the French were suppressing Syrian papers, that might be more difficult to come by.

Gouraud returned to Paris the year after this article was published, in 1923, where he worked as Military Governor until his retirement in 1937, and eventually died in 1946.

Well, anyway, there you go. A brief sum up of the man behind the street name in the party district of Beirut.