Tuesday, November 9, 2010

they write murder n'est-ce pas?

On Thursday in Mulhouse, the Alsacation town bordering Germany and close to France, I visited Jen's literature class at the Universite de Haute Alsace. Most of Jen's students are in their second year taking an optional English course. Meaning they've got good English skills and want to stretch their English composition. Jen devoted two class sessions to crime writing giving them the assignment of writing a 'sequel' - in any creative way they wanted - to what Aimée would do after she discovers the body in Murder in the Latin Quarter. Two of the students are reporters on the local Alsace papers but it was fascinating to hear 12 different takes on Aimée's actions. And impressive to realized they wrote several page sequels after just hearing the beginning of a book and that a man's ear had been cut off and his body placed by a circle of salt. The writing piece that stuck out vividly in my mind dealt with Aimée's getting derailed and finding herself in an orgy then saved from being attacked by Bertolt Brecht. Yes, Bertolt Brecht and somehow time travel was involved.
Not to say these young Alsacations are provincial but two of them have never been to Paris. Many live on farms or villages in the surrounding area and the town Mulhouse closes up early. Even if one wanted to find night life, Jen said, people go to bed at 8:00 PM echoing what a woman told me on the tram. It's hard to even find a cafe open. But there's a different rhythm here, people talk to one another and driver's are courteous....never find that in Paris.
And then I chatted with this homeless man who walked by the bookstore after my reading - he was trilingual, switiching effortlessly between French German and English. When asked about the war he said 'which one 1877, or the quatorzieme guerre or la guerre de 1939?'
It struck me that this land which has gone from being French then German and back to French refers to the wars by years. I went to the incredible museum at the Hotel de Ville and got more confused after learning Mulhouse hadn't been part of France until Napoleon 'invited' Mulhouse to 'reunite' renaming the main square Place de la Reunion eh voila the explanations got more confusing after that. Here's the door of the Tour de Diable prison and medieval graffti circa 1577 maybe some of Jen's students can get more inspiration here.
Elan's wonderful English bookstore "The Book Corner" is right across from Jen's 17th century apartment and behind the synogogue on rue de la Synogogue near rue des Rabbin's of course. No one explained how this synogogue survived the German re-occupation

But I wonder what they'd think of this street art in Belleville the 20th arrondissement of Paris?

Done by these taggers who spent all morning tagging and are well known in the quartier

Somedays they attract crowds watching them work

At the top the figure's done by a famous tagger - so famous it's considered an honor if he tags your building

Cara - Tuesday


  1. The history of Alsace-Lorraine is interesting. It became German in 1871 when Germany won the Franco-Prussian war. It went back to France at the end of WW I. The Germans took it back when they invaded France in 1940. Then France got it again in 1945. So far, France has managed to keep it, and, God willing, there will never be a reason for more blood-shed over the provinces.

    Interestingly, the cause of the Franco-Prussian War had nothing to do with France. The queen of Spain had been deposed and Germany (still Prussia) wanted a ruler from one of the German states to get the job.

    Napoleon "invited" a lot of places to re-unite with France even if they hadn't been united in the first place. Napoleon took over most of Europe and named his relatives and loyal followers rulers. Their control ended when Napoleon was defeated.

    In only one place did Napoleon's plan work out. General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was given Sweden and was elected king of Sweden and Norway. Eventually Norway split off in the early 1900's (I think) but the House of Bernadotte still reigns in Sweden.


  2. Brecht, bravado, Belleville, and bagels, all together in one piece. "B" is also for brilliant job.


  3. Hi Cara,

    That was a very cool project for the students to write a sequel to Murder in the Latin Quarter.

    You find so many interesting things to blog about.