In Sickness & In Health (Venezia 254)

Another of those little additions made to shop windows as part of the Visual Public Service art installation around Via Garibaldi in Castello, the closest thing you will find to a normal street, though it is in actual fact a canal that was filled in when Napoleon captured the city.

Like so many of the others the caption could easily be missed or its significance overlooked, particularly as its in English.  I wonder if Dottore Baldisserotto speaks the language?

It amused me anyway.

Venezia-5

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La petite anglaise et la petite francaise

On the day that Anders Behring Breivik is put on trial in Norway for “self defence” against multi-culturalism, I find myself writing once more about the multitude of cultures that make up British society, an inevitable consequence of our days of Empire, and one that makes it far less likely that we will see such an atrocity on our soil.  Whilst I am not so complacent as to believe that violent racism cannot happen here, the very fact that we are daily exposed to the different faces, views, beliefs and religions that make up our society must be an aid to mutual understanding.

(Norway has none of these advantages, it’s remote position and lack of historic acquisitiveness contributing perhaps to more right-wing views.  I’m not categorising the Norwegians as fascists, but there were many who sympathised and collaborated with German forces in WWII.  The word quisling, meaning a traitor, has its origins with the Norwegian politician of that name.)

One of those “different” faces that I have been enjoying recently is that of Rachel Khoo, the British food writer who achieved recognition when to finance the ingredients she needed to write a French cookbook for the British market, she opened up her apartment as a restaurant.  To be fair it was a very small restaurant, serving only two covers, but nevertheless it proved to be a popular move.

I referred to Rachel as British, which she is having grown up in Croydon, but her surname and looks point to a more exotic heritage.  Her mother is Austrian and her father Chinese Malaysian, yet despite this genetic cocktail, her love of red lipstick and vintage clothes does give her a very French aura on-screen.

It might seem strange to think that our nearest neighbours are so different that we can identify “Frenchness”, particularly when you think that amongst the waves of invaders that have come to these shores over the centuries, the last successful cross-channel raid was that carried out by William of Normandy.  Many of us must be able to trace our ancestry back to Gallic roots, yet we often refer to ourselves as Anglo Saxons in preference.

This is doubtless the result of centuries of anti-French propaganda; we did fight the Hundred Years War against them, they aided the fledgling American forces in their fight for independence, and then came the French Revolution leading to further differences in constitution and politics.

So despite our common ancestry we have kept each other at arms length for centuries, until the early 1900’s when a mutual interest in each others’ cultures created what became known as the Entente cordiale.

Britannia and Marianne dancing together on a 1...
Britannia and Marianne dancing together on a 1904 French postcard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now if you’re resilient enough to have followed this blog all year, you’ll know that I’ve already photographed a French subject when I met Justine in Darlington, but just as Rachel Khoo is so much more than British, so Justine clearly had more than just French genes.  In contrast today when I saw Rose Elisa I was almost certain of her origins, yet I couldn’t tell you why; her hairstyle, her complexion, her glasses?!?!?!  She told me she was from Tours, a city in central France renowned apparently for the perfection of its spoken French (her accent beat me when she introduced herself), so perhaps she was archetypally Gallic.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad she agreed to be photographed. Merci encore.