Tag Archives: French

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

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!

Advertisements

WELCOME! Dinner at ‘Le Chef’

Exterior of Le Chef

Exterior of Le Chef

So with Rue Gouraud in my mind, when Ozge invited me out to dinner tonight at the popular restaurant on Gouraud, ‘Le Chef,’ I couldn’t resist. Well, that and I heard that the food was fantastic and I am NEVER one to turn down good food.

Charles joined us and as we arrived outside the restaurant, I realized that I had actually passed this place many times, always wanting to go in, but for some reason or another never quite making it. So now was my chance!! As we walked into the always packed, but charmingly petit restaurant, a booming ‘Welcome!’ from the owner was our hearty greeting – and as we soon discovered, the greeting of every visitor coming or going.

As we squeezed our way through the tables, I took a peek and a whiff of the local specialties being served (apparently the menu changes daily – Brilliant!). My stomach started rumbling immediately as irresistible cravings for moujuddra (lentils, rice, grilled onions and delicious spices – usually served with yogurt), kousa (stuffed zuchinni), kibbeh (ground lamb or beef with bulgur wheat, pine nuts, and other savory ingredients) and moutabal (also known as baba ganoj – basically eggplant hummus) consumed my thoughts.  Our waiter tossed handwritten menus atop our paper table cloth and I grabbed mine greedily wanting to waste not a single second and….shit. The menu was written in Arabic.

Interior of 'Le Chef' - so wish I could post the delicious smells!

Interior of 'Le Chef' - so wish I could post the delicious smells!

Okay, now after a month of Arabic classes, you’re probably thinking ‘Come on, Colette. What the heck? You should be able to read and write easily!’ But no. Alas and alack, I read like a 3-year-old and write like a 5-year-old – okay maybe a talented 6-year-old. But either way, you get the idea. Even after the 10 minutes it takes me to sound out a word, I hardly ever know what the word actually means. I’m useless. Luckily, they also have a menu written in French. Score! I thought I’d show off my mad French skills, but in the end I had such a hard time deciphering the scribbled French script that it might as well have been written in Arabic. Ah well – we glanced around at the food on other people’s tables and ended up ordering a mix of everything. YUM!

As we sipped our Almazas and waited for our food, I took a good look around Le Chef. The decorations inside are pretty sparse and the table settings simple, but if anything, it all just adds to the homey charm of the place.  We had a table to ourselves, but they often seat you alongside complete strangers who in true Lebanese hospitable style are more than happy to start up a conversation. It’s fantastic. Meeting new people, surrounded by fragrant and delicious Lebanese cuisine – which by the way, is reasonably cheap – who could ask for anything more?

Charles and I, after enjoying our delicious Lebanese mezze

Charles and I, after enjoying our delicious Lebanese mezze

We savored every bite of our meal and when we couldn’t eat anymore, we asked for the check and walked over to a large Moroccan market set up alongside the nearby Martyr Square.  We browsed the bags, shoes, furniture, scarves, fabrics, pillows and jewelry while listening to the evening call to prayer echoing from the Al-Amin Mosque, its blue dome visible over the tents of the market. A perfect evening in Beirut!

Moroccan Market in downtown Beirut

Moroccan Market in downtown Beirut

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.

Mezze and Wine in the Bekaa Valley

Lebanese Mini-Bus

Lebanese Mini-Bus

This morning, my Turkish friend Ozge (she’s in my Arabic class at ALPS) and I decided to meet up for a quick coffee before hopping on a mini-bus to the town of Zahlé in the Bekaa Valley. Mini-buses aren’t actually buses, but rather, large, white mini-vans.  If you get on the bus at a transport hub, like we did, the driver will wait until the van is full before leaving – otherwise, you’ll make random stops along the way to pick up additional passengers. Once the bus is filled, there’s not really a set route per-say. Instead, there is generally defined final destination and as long as you want to go somewhere that’s more or less on the way to that final destination, the driver will drop you there. 

The drive up to Zahlé cost us 4000 Lira (about $2.50) each and took about an hour and a half. Driving rules and regulations don’t really seem to apply and the bus can get pretty cramped and sweaty, but luckily I got a seat near the window – yesss! Fresh air! Aside from the frequent swerves and break-slamming (I tried to take comfort in the fact that none of the other passengers seemed nervous), the ride up was really pleasant. The driver blasted Arabic music which set a fun mood as we drove up through the mountains and villages east of Beirut and into the Bekaa Valley.

View on the drive to the Bekaa Valley

View on the drive to the Bekaa Valley

valleymap The Bekaa Valley isn’t actually a valley, which is kind of weird. It’s actually a plateau between two mountain ranges in Lebanon. The plateau is this huge agricultural region here in Lebanon – it used to be one the ‘bread baskets’ of Rome.  Today it’s still one of Lebanon’s most important farming regions, and is famous for the delicious, locally produced wine.

images

There’s actually also a long history of cannabis production in Bekaa, and the sale of ‘Red Leb’ (nickname for the high quality pot produced there), has long provided a major source of income for producers living in the valley. The production is nowhere near as prolific as it once was, but nevertheless, the region has maintained its notorious reputation. Woot.

The bus dropped Ozge and I in the center of Zahlé around 1pm. Okay, not going to lie, it wasn’t exactly what we had expected. Lonely Planet writes:

“Known locally as Arousat al-Beqa’a (Bride of the Bekaa), [Zahlé] is set along the steep banks of the Birdawni River (locally known as ‘Bardouni’), which tumbles through a gorge, cutting a burbling channel through the centre of town.”

The Birdawni "river" of Zahlé

The Birdawni "river" of Zahlé

So, we get off the bus expecting to see this beautiful village with a huge river running through it’s center.  What we saw initially was more of a dusty intersection with no river in sight. Whatever, we’re up for anything, so we started  wandering down the main city road and off to our left we noticed this little babbling stream, about an inch, maybe an inch and half deep…the roaring Birdawni. Nice.

But, I have to say, Zahlé itself turned out to be a charming city after all, sprinkled with Ottoman era houses (that somehow survived the civil war – which destroyed most of the city), mixed in with more modern Lebanese architecture. It’s definitely not a must see on a tourist agenda, but apparently it acts more as a stop over town for visitors traveling through the Bekaa Valley or as a base for those who wish to spend a few days in the region, hopping back and forth from Zahlé, to nearby cities.

It’s a primarily Christian city, so most stuff was closed, given that it’s Sunday. But still, we had a really nice walk down the main street, Rue Brazil – named for the huge number of the town’s population that migrated to Brazil around the time of the 1860 massacre (communal fighting between Druze and Christians). The Zahlé Lebanese living in Brazil sent back money to their families still living in Lebanon and apparently that money really helped the town get back on its feet after the massacre – and so they named the main street after Brazil.

Random fact: Today, the greatest population of Lebanese outside of Lebanon is in Brazil. Who knew??? I want to go to Brazil!    

Downtown Zahlé

Downtown Zahlé

Hungry, we decided to break for lunch. Lonely Planet told us that the Zahlé is actually famous for its riverside, open-air cafés. Fantastic! Once our bellies started rumbling,  we stopped at the first place we saw, the Grand Hotel Kadri, where we enjoyed a delicious mezze, washed down with ice-cold Almazas. The hotel is beautiful, and actually served as an Ottoman hospital during World War I and was later home to the chief of the French Army during the French Mandate of Lebanon.

Ozge! Eating our mezze at the Grand Hotel Kadri

Ozge! Eating our mezze at the Grand Hotel Kadri

Lebanese Flag under the French Mandate

Lebanese Flag under the French Mandate

Quick history behind the French Mandate in Lebanon ;): So after World War I, in 1920, the Ottoman Empire is divvied up between the French and the British in the Treaty of Sèvres. The British get Palestine and Iraq (both of which they proceeded to seriously fuck over), and the French get Greater Syria which = modern day Syria + Lebanon. So that’s the beginning of the French Mandate. The French then separate Syria and Lebanon and Lebanon gets this funky new flag that’s a combo of the French and Lebanese flags. Anyway, I won’t go through the whole history of the French presence in Lebanon, but the country gets its independence in 1943 and the French finally leave in 1945. Oh yeah, you know you were dying to know all that info. 

So anyway, after lunch, we caught a ‘service’ (fixed price taxi) to the Château Ksara, the oldest winery in Lebanon. ‘Ksar’ means fortress in Arabic, and the current winery stands over the site of a medieval Roman fortress, and the caves where the wine is now made were once the cellars of that original Roman fortress.  So now, flash forward to the mid-1800s – the Roman fortress is long gone, but the caves are still there, unbeknownst to the locals living in the village. Jesuit priests build a monastery over the caves and one day, a priest, chasing a fox that was threatening his chickens, discovers the caves beneath the monastery. He tells his fellow Jesuit priest buddies and they think ‘Score! Perfect place to store some alcohol!’ And so the winery is born in 1857 CE. The soil and weather in Ksara was perfect for growing grapes – vines were grown along with aniseed (a flowering plant that tastes like black licorice), to make Arak, and business started to boom for the Jesuit priests of Ksara. In 1972, the priests sold the land to several Lebanese families who further expanded the business…and that catches us up to today!

Château Ksara

Château Ksara

One thing about the Château Ksara that’s particularly fantastic is that you can take tours of the winery for FREE, complete with a complimentary wine tasting at the tour’s finish. YUM. Our guide took us through the chilly 2km of caves beneath the winery where the wine is stored in oak barrels and bottled wines are held until they’re ready to sell. The Arak is actually produced in a separate facility, above the caves, but the smell of the aniseed seeps down into the caves, mixing with the smell of oak and wine. Mmmm boy!

Inside the caves of Château Ksara

Inside the caves of Château Ksara

Arak produced in Château Ksara, called Ksarak

Arak produced in Château Ksara, called Ksarak

Okay, so in case you don’t know, Arak is clear, aniseed-flavored alcoholic drink that’s very popular here in Lebanon. It’s actually a brandy, made from grape leaves, the skins and seeds of red grapes, and aniseed for flavor. It’s exactly the same as Greek ouzo, Turkish raki and Italian sambuca – everyone claims it as their own. The Lebanese side of my family drinks Arak regularly and as a child I actually thought that all alcohol smelled like black licorice. Oh yeah. I was a bright kid.

According to Lonely Planet, “Experts say the best way to tell the difference [between good and bad arak], is by how you feel when you wake up the next morning: the better you feel, the better the arak the night before.” I love it! To drink it you usually add water or ice, which turns the drink to a milky white color. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the taste, but it’s served so often, I’ve learned to stomach it.

After our free tour, Ozge and I decided it was time to head back to Beirut and headed out to the main road in Ksara to hail a minibus. There are no bus stops. You just stand on the side of the road and passing taxis and minibuses honk as they approach you. If you proceed to wave at them, they’ll slow down. You tell them your final destination and if they happen to be headed there or at the very least in that general direction, they’ll barter a price with you and you hop in, sliding the door shut as the minibus speeds off.

Inside the mini-bus on the drive back to Beirut

Inside the mini-bus on the drive back to Beirut

Our drive back to Beirut was an adventure. Crammed in the back between your fellow sweaty passengers, you all share communal water bottles provided by the driver, which you drink the ‘Arab way’. Drinking the ‘Arab way’ means that you don’t let the bottle touch your mouth – you tilt your head back and pour water into your mouth. They’re all pro at this, so no one seems to miss or splash whereas I, the foreign idiot, usually end up splashing water all over my face and clothes, especially on a bumpy bus. Damn. Ah well.

Stops were made at wells to refill the water bottles, at one point the driver made an ice-cream stop, passengers share cigarettes and snacks – it’s a really welcoming atmosphere but totally confusing and hilarious for a first-timer like me. Our driver was especially reckless and more than once I found myself with my eyes squeezed shut and my hands tightly gripping the seat. He nearly hit every single person we stopped to pick up, and one man almost fell over as he jumped to avoid being pummeled by the oncoming van. And the driver would just laugh this maniacal laugh. He was insane. No really, I think he was.

Somehow, we made it back to Beirut alive around 6:30pm. We parted ways and I headed home for a home cooked dinner with Stephen and Shadee, before heading back out to meet Ozge at Café Younes, where we studied Arabic until 11pm. A full Lebanese day. Not bad, huh?