I will not make the argument that Columbus's arrival in the New World was insignificant merely because he was an absolutely awful person or because he didn't actually discover anything (which he himself maintained, claiming until his death that he'd merely found a different route to Asia). But think about this before you dismiss -- before Columbus, avocado, bell peppers, blueberries, cashews, cassava root, chili peppers, chocolate, cocaine, gourds, maize, peanuts, pecans pineapples, pumpkins, squash, tobacco, tomatoes, and vanilla were all unknown in the Old World and alcohol, apples, bananas, barley, cheese, coffee, mango, onions, rice, tea, and turnips, and wheat were unknown in the Americas. Imagine an existence without any of those and you can hopefully begin to get a taste of the importance of the Columbian Exchange. Imagine Italian cuisine without tomato sauce or gnocchi and you can't help but wonder if this is why Columbus is so dear to many Italians. Imagine, on the other hand, genocide, slavery, and old world diseases and you'll understand why he's even more hated by many others.
With that in mind, however, kindly allow me briefly add to the conversational clutter concerning mod, as its evolution is tied closely to that of the minet. Although today mod is often characterized as a mid-60s, working class subculture fueled by the holy trinity of amphetamines, scooters and soul music, it first appeared in the late 1950s when a largely middle class group of mostly Jewish teenagers with families in the clothing business and for whom the chosen drug was apparently coffee. Modernists, as they then to themselves referred, championed modern jazz over trad jazz (which was championed by the Acker Bilk-listening, bowler-hatted, beer-swilling, baggy sweater-and-duffle coated trads). Sharing their love of modern jazz were the beatniks, but their beardy, black, cultivated scruffiness was rejected in favor of the natty continental style associated with untouchable icons of French cool like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon.
When you work at Amoeba Music there’s certain questions you answer over and over again:
“Where’s the restroom?”
“Why’s this one this price and this one this price?”
“Where can I find Edith Piaf?”
That last question is occasionally (to my endless amusement) pronounced as, “Where can I find Edith Pilaf?” to which I always want (but never) answer:
“We file her in-between Condoleezza Rice and Tim Curry. They all go great together.”
My internalized snarkiness aside, I’m all for Edith Piaf. Who could hate La Môme Piaf (her French nickname, literally translated as “That short woman in the black dress with the amazing voice but tragic make-up which someone should seriously having a talking-to-her about”)?
But I think too many people stop with Piaf and don’t investigate the chanson française of her peers, which is a shame because there’s so much to love. Below I offer some performers I think are à l'opposé de terrible.
Legendary Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt was born 100 years ago today, the 23rd of January, 1910.
From the Gypsy camps where he learned to play to his Quintette du Hot Club de France fame in the Parisian jazz scene, the man’s style has probably been ripped off more times than any other guitarist of the 20th century. His playing was joyous, often wild, always expressive and lyrical. His legend was sealed way before his early death from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 43.
Today, July 14th, is Bastille Day 2009; the day that marked the storming of the oppressive Bastille prison and the beginning of the French Revolution 220 years ago. Over in France this morning there were parades and tonight they are having firework displays in recognition of the holiday. Actually, this has already taken place since they in France are 9 hours ahead of us here in Cali -- see video above of tonight's fireworks in Paris by the Eiffel Tower.
Over here in the States many folks are also celebrating -- some using it as a good excuse to get their swerve on and sip some French themed drinks. In San Francisco there are quite a few events scheduled. Click this link from the French Consulate for a listing of SF Bastille Day events.
But nothing Stateside comes close to the big event over in Paris, as witnessed from the videos above and also below of last year's Bastille Day, courtesy of the Associated Press, when thousands of people thronged the Champs-Elysee to watch a military parade and celebrate Bastille Day. French President Nicholas Sarkozy is among the many present.