"Dear Polly-Vous Francais,
Some of my magazine-reading friends texted me to say that French culture is dead. My MySpace friends say 'Did you read that in Polly-Vous Francais? If you see it in Polly-Vous Francais, it's so.' So, tell me the truth, s’il vous plait: does French culture still exist?
And here is our response.
Your magazine-reading friends are wrong. They don't believe except what they see in headlines or hear in sound bites. They don't look beyond Time's cruel cover-page headline to see the essence of a fine, thoughtful article by Don Morrison, who so aptly lamented the decline of popularity of current French culture beyond the Hexagon. Magazines, Virginia, must write provocative articles and even more provocative headlines because they need to sell millions of copies to pay large staffs and to humor their owners and investors. Impoverished bloggers can give straight-up answers because no-one will fire us. No advertiser-pressured editors can put constraints on the truths and patently one-sided opinions that we lowly blogsters are so free to spout. We answer only to ego-gratifying daily stats.
Yes, Virginia, there is French culture. It exists as surely as the Louvre or le Mois de la Photo, Le Grand Corps Malade or Aznavour and the nostalgic sosngs of the troubadours of the 60s -- or of the middle ages. And you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no French culture. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias, no Polly-Vous Francais. There would be no Margaux-drinking, no haute couture, no Michelin stars, no Connaissance des Arts, no Prix Goncourt or Prévert poetry or, heaven forbid, no French romance to make tolerable this existence. We would have no refined enjoyment in sense and sight. The eternal light with which French culture, past and present, fills the world cannot be overestimated.
Not believe that French culture is alive! You might as well not believe in Babar or brie! The Big Guys might get their pollsters to analyze all the French culture being ignored in the world, but even if millions have not yet experienced French culture first-hand, what would that prove? The rest of the world may witness less French culture, but that is no sign that there is none. There are Alliances Françaises all over the United States, Virginia, whose hardworking, underpaid staffs and volunteers work their fingers to the bone, unsubsidized, in order to spread French culture to Americans just like you. But it's hard, Virginia. Silly Americans study French less nowadays. (Alas, too many otherwise intelligent students believe the unfounded urban myth that Spanish, albeit a lovely language, is much easier and more practical.) And French culture doesn’t mean just literature, museums, and music! There are excellent French films which the rest of the world (even non-French-speakers in France) never see because they get no subtitles. Even so, Virginia, the most beautiful things in the world are those that people who no longer study French can nevertheless see. Did you ever see a painting or even a poster of Monet's Water Lilies? A photo of the mur végétal at the new Musée Branly?
French culture is not to be measured by the same yardstick as American culture. Here in France, we have Brittany, not Britney; Paris, not Miss Hilton; our Madonnas are in stained glass or marble. So, even if you've never visited Paris or France and all the culture this country has to offer, that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are yet to be experienced in France.
Publications may look at statistics and judge French culture by numbers, but there is a strong contemporary cultural brewing in every quartier, every département, building on a rich cultural past. Others abroad might miss it because the language veil hides it from their view. But curiosity, creative thinking, poetry, love, French language, and romance (lots and lots of romance) can push aside that curtain and allow all to view and picture the supernal beauty and glory that is France. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia – or may I call you Virginie? -- in all this world there is nothing else so real and abiding. And so very pleasing and satisfying.
No French culture! Thank God! It lives, and it lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten thousand years from now, it will continue to make glad the hearts, minds, and souls of enlightened people the world over, if they will only study their passé composé and their subjonctif, and keep open their eyes and ears.