Saturday, 31 December 2022
Treason, Netflix, review: rollicking spy drama doesn't stop to check if it makes sense
Russian spies, double-crossing British spooks, a baby-faced head of MI6 - this 100mph thriller is loopy, self-serious and a lot of fun
22 December 2022 • 6:00am
In recent years, thrillers about the British state have asked us to swallow some totteringly tall stories. The Home Secretary who has a hot affair with her bodyguard. The secret agency that frames its victims with faked-up video footage. How about this from Treason (Netflix): the newly installed head of MI6, the one in charge of that big ugly building by Vauxhall Bridge in London, is a double agent working for the Russians and nobody seems to have noticed.
Too far-fetched? What makes Adam Lawrence (Charlie Cox) even more wildly implausible is his über-youth. The nation’s new chief spy is easily young enough to be his own protégé. He’s also handsome in a stubbly yet somehow clean-cut way. You can see him as one of a superannuated boyband, reuniting in their late 30s to rake it on the road. The Spooky Boys, perhaps. It’s easy to imagine him at a photoshoot. A shoot-out, less so.
Anyway, Lawrence has been elevated to his new role after his boss, Sir Martin Angelis (Ciarán Hinds in full dastard mode), is poisoned at his club by a rogue Russian operative, Kara Yerzov (Olga Kurylenko, who first did this sort of thing wearing a gown in Quantum of Solace). Sir Martin is a dealer in kompromat, a bulging cache of intel on the peccadilloes of the higher-ups that enables him to bend them to his will: a Supreme Court judge here, a Foreign Secretary (Alex Kingston) there. So we know he’s a rotten apple from the off. But who else is?
Lawrence has his own skeletons which date back 15 years to five deaths in Baku. Before you can blurt “why on earth are the Russians and, hello, the Americans so interested in, if you will, his Baku story?”, that’s exactly what is playing out. No one on screen seems to believe anyone else: friendships and marriages and political alliances are all part of a complex and shifting cat’s cradle of every-which-way distrust.
This isn’t good news on the domestic front. Lawrence’s teenage daughter, Ella (Beau Gadsdon), manages to slip away from her (evidently crap) security detail and soon finds herself kidnapped. “Everything is alright,” Lawrence keeps reassuring his second wife, Mattie (Oona Chaplin). Fortunately his missus is a veteran of Afghanistan, which may just come in handy a few episodes down the pipe.
The script, which plays out in five craftily plotted episodes, is by Matt Charman. You may recall him as the young playwright who was edging into TV before a screenplay of his about swapping spies in the Cold War reached Steven Spielberg, who asked the Coen brothers to sprinkle further fairy dust on it. In this, Charman’s first significant work since Bridge of Spies, it’s possible to guess what the Coens may have brought to the party: an indefinable charm, a seductive wit that, on his own among spies, Charman has no time for.
Instead he has plenty to say about Russian meddling in the British body politic – in particular a Lebedev-like figure who is bankrolling a would-be prime minister. This would have looked more searingly up-to-date before the invasion of Ukraine, mention of which has been parachuted into the script.
But the business of making this story look like it belongs in the here and now on the whole plays second fiddle to pace. Nor does the story hang around worrying about drag-anchor stuff like feelings. People look scared or worried or brave as and when required. But never for long. When a big death happens, there isn’t even time to mourn. This is a plot in a hurry to deliver, which – if you can accept a Pop Idol contestant as head of MI6 – it pretty much does.
Treason is available to watch on Netflix from Boxing Day
Treason review – say hello to TV’s cuddliest spy
Gripping as this fun, frenetic espionage thriller is, its lead isn’t exactly a hard nut. Think cheerful lectures to schoolkids and channelling the personality of a lovely labrador …
Mon 26 Dec 2022 06.00 GMT
Although just about every actor on the face of the Earth has enjoyed a stint as the frontrunner to play the next Bond, Charlie Cox seems to be the sole exception.
Despite sharing an age, a gender and a race with every screen Bond so far – not to mention a handy sideline as a superhero given that he plays Daredevil in the Marvel cinematic universe – for some reason he hasn’t quite made the cut.
The reason, it seems, is Treason (Netflix). A big part of the Potential 007 audition sequence is to play someone slightly Bondy on the small screen, as Tom Hiddleston did with The Night Manager and James Norton did with McMafia.
It’s an opportunity for them to dress the part, brood in a variety of opulent locations and occasionally mess around with guns. Treason – a spy thriller written by the Oscar-nominated co-writer of Bridge of Spies – sounds as if it should have been cut from the exact same cloth.
And yet our first meaningful introduction to Cox’s spy comes during a scene in a school library where he cheerfully tells a bunch of primary-age kids what it’s like to be a spy. Which, however you cut it, isn’t something you can imagine Daniel Craig doing.
Indeed, throughout the course of Treason, Cox is less an international man of mystery and more a lovely labrador who has somehow gained the skill to operate a humanoid robot.
But Cox is no mere spy. Despite looking like a particularly meek supply teacher, he is in fact second in command at MI6. And when his boss (Ciarán Hinds, thankfully given slightly more to do than he was in The English) is incapacitated during an errant whisky-poisoning accident, it falls to Cox to run the ship. This is plainly ridiculous, since the man looks like his natural calling is to host a CBeebies series about the importance of cuddles, but let’s go with it.
It is extremely difficult to mention anything specific about the plot from this point onwards because that would unravel the entire series, but it is safe to say that things don’t go well. Hinds’s poisoner is Olga Kurylenko, who has a past with Cox, and things get knottier and knottier until his whole family ends up involved in the mess.
I can tell you that the plot involves a full English of contemporary references – kompromat, shady Russian lords, a Conservative leadership campaign – and that the show is set in London, because this is one of those shows where scenes don’t count unless there is an immediately recognisable central London landmark in the middle of the screen. Any more than that would destroy the ride.
It’s a pretty good ride, too. Treason manages that brilliant television trick of sucking you in with its labyrinthine plot so effectively that you don’t realise quite how stupid it is until long after the credits roll, at which point it hits you like a ton of bricks. But, still, it has the air of unfulfilled promise.
It’s weird, in this age of Far Too Much Television, to wish that a show went on for longer, but this is the case with Treason. It’s a five-part, fairly finite limited series, but it feels as if it was set up to be something far more substantial.
What it feels like, in fact, is one of those big old-fashioned American network shows that ran for half a year at a time. One of those pacy, inexplicable spy thrillers like 24 or Homeland that never managed to run out of complicated conspiracies that went all ... the … way … to … the … top.
I dare say I would have enjoyed Treason a lot more if this had been the case. Instead, with less than four hours total running time, Treason hits all of its requisite beats in nothing less than a blind panic.
Someone gets abducted, but then they’re found before anyone has the chance to start worrying. There’s a government mole, but that’s all sorted out with the wave of a hand. If anyone seems in any way suspicious or mysterious, their true motives are usually explained within a scene or two, so that the show doesn’t have to drop its mad clatter to the finish line.
It’s fun, but frustrating. A few more episodes spent with Labrador Bond and all his stupid problems, and Treason could have been a belter.
Friday, 30 December 2022
Thursday, 29 December 2022
Jacksons of Piccadilly was a London tea house, tea wholesaler and retailer, grocer, wine merchant, and deluxe department store, founded by Robert Jackson in Piccadilly in 1700. It is now a brand owned by R. Twinings and Company Limited, a former tea business rival.
By 1815, Jacksons had earned a reputation for selling pre-blended teas direct to customers, which was uncommon at that time because people blended different teas themselves at home. The Jacksons trade empire expanded and earned several Royal Warrants for tea from numerous royals through the 19th and 20th centuries. By 1905, Jacksons had moved to 171-172 Piccadilly.
An example of Jacksons' blending ability was its "The Lady Londonderry Mixture Tea". It was a blend of teas from the foothills of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the hills of Darjeeling district (in West Bengal state in India), and the tea gardens of Formosa (now the island of Taiwan, Republic of China). The blend was originally prepared for the Marchioness of Londonderry, Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart (1878-1959), and in 1932 she gave her permission for the blend to be registered in her name.
Under Twinings, the Jacksons of Piccadilly brand offers six tea varieties, three of which are actually tisanes (herbal teas).
The company also claims (although this is contested) to have invented the "original" recipe for Earl Grey tea, Grey having given the recipe to Robert Jackson & Co. partner, George Charlton, in 1830.
Wednesday, 28 December 2022
Our House kept its original residence since birth and never swayed from its mission statement, a credo of classical elegance.
While all the connaisseurs were to pay a visit and tribute to Battistoni’s talent in perfecting a suits’ cut and shirts collars (the inimitable reverse-stitched rim), quite a few artists, writers and actors unconsciously, by the frequency of their visits, became “adopted” by Battistoni. So much so that Guglielmo yesterday – and Gianni and Simonetta today – undersigned ‘certificates of friendship’, with well targeted generosity. They consist of a sort of chivalric order, with no emblems or decorations, but behind which only talent and personal qualities count. It is so that when Mr. and Mrs. Chaplin chose their neckties and shirts, they would just add onto their tab at the shop; when Steinbeck was to take notes for his ‘East of Eden’, he would do so at his favourite Battistoni desk, wearing his famed Battistoni check shirt.
Humphrey Bogart kept a bottle of his preferred whiskey in a cabinet at the shop, as if he had joined a club, while Gentilini and his circle of friends would keep long tabs, indirectly having the House of Battistoni sponsoring their trips and their art. Roman style pouring down from Trinita’ dei Monti and the Spanish steps, to the heart of the city, like a river touching Piazza di Spagna and streaming down Via Condotti, the Caffe’ Greco, the silversmiths’ shops, and in front of Palazzo Torlonia, designed by Bernini, by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, by the old Alinari shop, dwelling of Roman iconography. Arrived so far, facing the seraphine in the limpid courtyard’s fountain, and near the unique works of art adorning the Battistoni atelier, here they come. Princes and queens, tycoons, aristocrats, the actor of the moment, the writer, the celebrity, the poet and the entire Beau Monde! One after the other, the most charming (possibly Kirk Douglas) along with the shyest (almost certainly Ben Kingsley), all equally treated by Guglielmo Battistoni, with that spontaneity and disenchantment that makes the true Roman perfectly at ease in front of a head of state or a peasant.
The list would be endless: Luchino Visconti and John Ford, Gianni Agnelli and Rockefeller, Moravia, Malaparte and Jean Cocteau, Tyrone Power and De Sica, Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn, Josephine Baker and Anna Magnani, Hermes and Lagerfeld, Dado Ruspoli, Prince Torlonia, Prince Orsini, and the list carries on. Today these stories, at times narrated by old clerks or Mr. Battistoni, are silently reflected into the walls and mirrors, and they charmingly permeate Battistoni’s Rome store with their subliminal tales.
In the distant year of 1946, only a handful of people knew of 61A, Via Condotti. It was at this address, tucked away from the sight of passers-by, that Guglielmo Battistoni started out as a shirt maker. He was first and foremost a dreamer. A creator at heart, whose passion for details and style mingled his form of art, with many other fields. His atelier was, and still is, the mirror image of its owner.
Battistoni never believed in following trends. Instead he believed that “to try to set the trends and dictate the norms, albeit for one single season, in something as fickle and fanciful as fashion, is like forcing a swallow to fly in a straight line instead of letting it follow its arabesques.” Perhaps hidden in these words we can find hints of the creativity that fueled Guglielmo Battistoni and his friends to infuse into Via Condotti an alternative way of being. They are credited with transforming this stretch of land into the destination for its infamous habitués.
It was a gradual and natural procession for this street to be transformed into a place to be, and the Battistoni store became a much sought-after club-house scene. A haven for monarchs past and present, for magnates of industry and finance, for aristocrats, artists, writers, actors, and directors. But, with all due respect to Federico Fellini, it should immediately be said, that Via Condotti never wanted the fame of the Via Veneto of “La Dolce Vita”. They were two different streets with two different ethos. Via Condotti’s public was quite different and far from the impulsive crowds of Via Veneto. Battistoni’s acolytes were focused on turning their (Battistoni clad) backs on the exhibitionism and advertising found on Via Veneto. Because of this, the daily salons of Via Condotti became the natural home for the hard core of Café society and the workshop at No. 61A kept a record of all its illustrious customers, jealously protected, of course.
Tuesday, 27 December 2022
‘Glass Onion’ Is Actually About Living in the Age of Musk, Ye and Trump / Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery | Official Trailer | Netflix
‘Glass Onion’ Is Actually About Living in the Age of Musk, Ye and Trump
The new movie is a murder mystery — but it’s also about why we all willingly submit to the rules of billionaires.
By CALDER MCHUGH
12/24/2022 07:00 AM EST
If you’re interested in “eating the rich,” the past few years have provided a veritable big-screen buffet.
This year alone, there have been films that satirize influencer culture (Triangle of Sadness), phony relationships among rich kids (Bodies, Bodies, Bodies) and fine dining itself (The Menu).
The wealthy people depicted in these films are awful in all of the by-now-expected ways: They’re selfish; they mistreat anyone outside of their milieu without a second thought; they wreak havoc on everything and everyone in their vicinity.
The other significant entrant into this quickly growing canon came this year in the form of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Rian Johnson’s sequel to 2019’s Knives Out. In the original movie, the crafty detective with a flair for the dramatic, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), solves the murder of wealthy mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).
In Glass Onion, Blanc is back when a murder mystery game on an island quickly turns deadly. Johnson also adds a new dynamic to the satire: The rich are not only evil; many of them are preternaturally stupid, their legitimacy propped up only by the deference of those around them. The result is an allegory for all of us living with the omnipresent Elon Musk, Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos. (Warning: spoilers ahead).
The film begins with a group of old friends — a politician (Claire Debella; played by Kathryn Hahn), a half-canceled model (Birdie Jay; Kate Hudson) and her assistant (Peg; Jessica Henwick), a men’s rights internet personality (Duke Cody; Dave Bautista) and his girlfriend (Whiskey; Madelyn Cline), a scientist (Lionel Touissaint; Leslie Odom Jr.) who works for a tech billionaire (Miles Bron; Edward Norton) and Bron’s former business partner (Andi Brand; Janelle Monáe) — receiving a mysterious, beautifully designed package from Bron at each of their homes. The package also comes to Blanc, who’s never met the group.
All of these people have known Bron for years, and many of them quickly make reference to his brilliance while solving puzzles inside the package, which ultimately reveal an invitation to his private island in Greece for a murder mystery party. They travel to the island ostensibly to solve the (fake) murder of Bron himself. But after Blanc instantly figures out the game, a real murder happens on the island. Cody is poisoned and dies.
Then, a twist: In a flashback, we learn that Brand is already dead, and her murder will soon be reported. The “Andi Brand” on the island is her twin sister Helen, who has hired Blanc to solve the murder. After some running around the house and an attempt on Helen’s life, Blanc brings everyone together and declares his findings: It was Bron who murdered Andi and Cody, the former because she knew a new invention of his was dangerous and she had information that could allow her to take back his company; the latter because he’s the only one who saw Bron leaving Andi’s house after committing the murder. Sometimes, as Blanc’s character explains, the simplest answer is the truth.
Blanc admits that he began to suspect that Bron was not all that he seemed when the billionaire immediately began to misuse phrases, mispronounce words and farm out any creative or original tasks to someone else, both in devising the fake murder mystery (he hired Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn to write it) and coming up with a plan to confuse the guests by turning off the lights (Blanc himself references “turning out the lights” to Bron at another point in the film).
According to Blanc’s reveal, this lack of originality and smarts is proof of Bron’s motivation: to conceal the extent to which others, especially Andi, are responsible for his company’s successes.
For the viewer, Bron’s dimness comes as a legitimate surprise. The structure of the film holds up Bron from the start: He’s frequently referred to as a genius; not only has he designed the puzzles that determine how the friends spend their days, but they’re also on his island, in his domain. He has the money and the power. The more billionaire-skeptical among the audience might not like him, but on first viewing it’s unlikely that they catch all of his verbal stumbles because of the confidence with which he delivers them.
Under direct scrutiny from the clever Blanc, though, all of the myths that Bron’s friends and followers build up around him quickly vanish. For all of the artifice, Bron is not playing 4D chess. He doesn’t have a secret plan. He’s just bumbling along.
This point suggests there’s something more to billionaires’ power over all of us than just how they spend their money. It’s not only how they use their money to dictate modern work life or bankroll politicians. The ultra-wealthy are increasingly empowered to exert their influence on politics and culture at least partially thanks to many of the rest of us, who are convinced that, by dint of their riches and power, they must know something we don’t.
As a result, Americans often become legitimate fans of rich people, particularly ultra-wealthy entrepreneurs, and submit to their rules, mostly voluntarily. This fandom partly explains why efforts to rein in the political influence of wealthy people, for instance, have been weak, and it’s why people like Elon Musk can feel compelled not just by money but by popular goodwill to take over companies like Twitter, which only furthers their social influence.
In reality, rich people are no smarter than everyone else; their plans and even downfalls are simple. Peter Thiel is funding artists in New York City and politicians in Arizona because he thinks they’ll influence culture and politics toward his vision of a new right. Neither is going well for him. FTX founder and large political donor Sam Bankman-Fried at some point bought the boy-genius myth that he was selling to everyone else, lost a lot of money and landed himself in court. Musk made an offer for Twitter because he was addicted to the platform and thought it would be good to have an even bigger megaphone and now, his companies and his own brand seem to be in freefall. Donald Trump ran for president so that he could watch himself on cable television more, stumbled backwards into the job, tweeted through it and is now hawking NFTs while he tries to dodge prosecutions. Ye, better known as Kanye West, embraced shocking behavior until it lost him lucrative business deals and, reportedly, billionaire status.
At some point, all of these men accrued enough capital that they found themselves surrounded by people who fanned their egos in the hopes of a kickback. But as they settled into these carefully constructed worlds that were built to reinforce their supposed genius, any creative spark or understanding of business or American culture that helped them in their journey to the top is bound to dim.
Glass Onion is not particularly groundbreaking. It’s not really news that rich people can be stupid. But just like Benoit Blanc tells the audience, there’s no point in overthinking it. A simple explanation of a phenomenon (or a murder), stated out loud, is often the truest.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery review – Daniel Craig’s drawling detective is back
Benoit Blanc returns, with a cast of A-listers from Edward Norton to Janelle Monáe, in Rian Johnson’s ingenious new whodunnit romp
Wed 23 Nov 2022 13.00 GMT
The first one was good … this one is better: an ingenious, headspinningly preposterous and enjoyable new whodunnit romp featuring Daniel Craig as the legendary detective from the deep south, Benoit Blanc. Writer-director Rian Johnson has established his own murder-mystery working model, positioned equidistantly between the Agatha Christie approach, in which the culprit is revealed at the very end, and the Columbo approach, in which it happens at the very beginning. Here, as in the first film, the guilty party’s identity gradually emerges in the second half – not so much a twist as an unfurling pirouette. But Johnson and his enigmatic, drawling sleuth keep us guessing.
Edward Norton is an insufferable tech bro called Miles Bron who has become a multitrillionaire through his stake in Alpha, an online network fusing data, news and cryptocurrency. He invites a whole bunch of pals and fellow “disruptors” to his private island with its giant domed building called the Glass Onion for a murder-mystery themed party: these include politician Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), supermodel turned designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), YouTuber and men’s rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr) and – most uncomfortably of all – Cassandra Brand (Janelle Monáe), who had the original idea for Alpha but was ousted from the company by Miles and his lawyers with hardly a dollar.
But also among the guests is Benoit Blanc himself. Bron says he didn’t invite Blanc, but lets him in anyway, amused by whatever prank his guests are apparently playing on him. His idea is that someone will fictionally “kill” their host and the guests have to figure out who and why. Things turn deadly serious and of course the ashen-faced guests turn to Benoit to save them.
Glass Onion is never anything less than entertaining, with its succession of A-lister and A-plus-lister cameos popping up all over the place. And Johnson uncorks an absolute showstopper of a flashback a half-hour or so into the action, which then unspools back up to the present day, giving us all manner of cheeky POV-shift reveals. Craig’s outrageous leisure-themed outfits are a joy and Monáe gives a tremendously likable comic performance as the woman with more than one secret to reveal and more than one grievance to hold against Norton’s loathsome Musk-ish plutocrat. Are eccentric detectives the new superheroes?
Sunday, 25 December 2022
The King's Christmas Broadcast / King Charles highlights cost of living crisis in first Christmas broadcast
King Charles highlights cost of living crisis in first Christmas broadcast
Monarch pays tribute to the volunteers and charity workers helping those in financial difficulty
Sun 25 Dec 2022 15.10 GMT
King Charles has highlighted the cost of living crisis and the “great anxiety and hardship” of many struggling to “pay their bills and keep their families fed and warm” in his first Christmas broadcast.
In the message, with the nation in the grip of economic woes and against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the king dedicated a major part of his broadcast to those helping to ease the plight of others.
Footage of food banks and meals being distributed to the needy featured prominently as he praised “the wonderfully kind people” who had donated food or their time.
Delivered from the quire of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where the late Queen Elizabeth II had also broadcast her Christmas message in 1999, the monarch paid tribute to his mother, and recognised others who had lost loved ones.
Addressing those of all faiths and none, he said religious communities were among those helping others in financial difficulties. He also praised the volunteers, charity workers, healthcare workers and others who had stepped up to help in times of adversity.
On his central theme of “selfless dedication” he said, it could be seen “in our armed forces and emergency services who work tirelessly to keep us all safe.
“We see it in our health and social care professionals, our teachers and indeed all those working in public service, whose skill and commitment are at the heart of our communities.
“And at this time of great anxiety and hardship – be it for those around the world facing conflict, famine or natural disaster, or for those at home finding ways to pay their bills and keep their families fed and warm – we see it in the humanity of people throughout our nations and the Commonwealth who so readily respond to the plight of others.
“I particularly want to pay tribute to all those wonderfully kind people who so generously give food or donations, or that most precious commodity of all – their time – to support those around them in greatest need, together with the many charitable organisations which do such extraordinary work in the most difficult circumstances.”
Of his own Anglican faith, he shared the profound impact on him of visiting the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem some years ago, the place Christians celebrate as the birthplace of Jesus. “It meant more to me than I can possibly express to stand on that spot where, as the Bible tells us, ‘The light that has come into the world’ was born.”
The pre-recorded message began with him reflecting on standing “so close to where my beloved mother is laid to rest with my dear father” in the George VI Memorial Chapel as he thanked the public for the “love and sympathy” expressed in cards and messages of condolence.
Of his personal loss, he said: “Christmas is a particularly poignant time for all of us who have lost loved ones. We feel their absence at every familiar turn of the season and remember them in each cherished tradition.” He shared the late Queen’s “faith in people” , and the religious belief of the “power of light overcoming darkness”, he said.
The broadcast included footage of the armed forces and emergency services at work. It also showed the core of the royal family as it now is. The Prince and Princess of Wales were shown on a visit to Swansea. Other members of the royal family were shown at various events, including the Earl and Countess of Wessex. But there were no images or references to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Charles hosted Christmas Day at Sandringham with members of the royal family making their traditional Christmas Day walk to St Mary Magdalene church on the Norfolk estate.
The king and the queen consort led members of the royal family as they walked to St Mary Magdalene church, Sandringham, for a first Christmas Day service since the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The Duke of York walked with them as a family member, though he no longer has any public role and is no longer a working royal.
For the first time, the Prince and Princess of Wales brought their youngest son, Louis, four, who joined his siblings George, nine, and Charlotte, seven. Other royals who walked into the church past a small group of members of the public, included Andrew’s daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.
Saturday, 24 December 2022
A Slice of France, the Baguette Is Granted World Heritage Status
More than six billion baguettes are sold every year in France. But the bread is under threat, with bakeries vanishing in rural areas.
By Catherine Porter and Constant Méheut
Nov. 30, 2022
PARIS — It is more French than, perhaps, the Eiffel Tower or the Seine. It is carried home by millions each day under arms or strapped to the back of bicycles. It is the baguette, the bread that has set the pace for life in France for decades and has become an essential part of French identity.
On Wednesday, UNESCO, the United Nations heritage agency, named the baguette something worthy of humanity’s preservation, adding it to its exalted “intangible cultural heritage” list.
The decision captured more than the craft knowledge of making bread — it also honored a way of life that the thin crusty loaf has long symbolized and that recent economic upheavals have put under threat. UNESCO’s choice came as boulangeries in rural areas are vanishing, hammered by economic forces like the slow hollowing out of France’s villages, and as the economic crisis gripping Europe has pushed the baguette’s price higher than ever.
“It’s a good news in a complicated environment,” said Dominique Anract, the president of the National Federation of French Bakeries and Patisseries, who led the effort to get the baguette on the UNESCO heritage list.
“When a baby cuts his teeth, his parents give him a stump of baguette to chew off,” Mr. Anract added. “When a child grows up, the first errand he runs on his own is to buy a baguette at the bakery.”
A French delegation celebrated the announcement, delivered on Wednesday in Rabat, Morocco, in classic French style — by waving baguettes and trading “la bise,” the traditional two kisses, one for each cheek.
President Emmanuel Macron of France reacted to the news by describing the baguette on Twitter as “250 grams of magic and perfection in our daily lives.” He attached a famous photo by the French photographer Willy Ronis of a beaming boy running with a baguette, almost as tall as he is, tucked under his arm.
Though just one of many breads that can be found in a typical boulangerie, the baguette is by far the most popular in France. More than six billion are sold every year in the country, according to the federation, for an average price of about 1 euro. (Until 1986, it had a fixed price.)
The baguette has set the pace for French life for as long as anyone can remember, from the smell of baking bread wafting through neighborhoods at dawn to people munching on the pointy nub of a hot “tradition” on their commute home at the end of the day.
The baguette’s creation is the source of many urban legends: Napoleon’s bakers supposedly created it as a lighter and more portable loaf for the troops; Parisian bakers were said to have made it a rippable consistency to stop knife fights between factions building the city’s subway system (who could rip the bread apart with their bare hands and did not need knives to cut it).
In truth, historians say, the bread developed gradually — elongated loaves were already being produced by French bakers in 1600. Originally considered a bread for better-off Parisians who could afford to buy a product that went stale quickly, unlike the peasant’s heavy, round miche that could last a week — the baguette became a staple in the French countryside only after World War II, said Bruno Laurioux, a French historian specializing in medieval food.
But it was not the French who initially tied the baguette to French identity.
“The first to talk about how the French were eating baguettes — this very strange and different bread — were tourists at the beginning of the 20th century who came to Paris,” said Mr. Laurioux, who led the academic committee overseeing the baguette’s pitch to UNESCO. “It was an outsiders’ view that tied the French identity to the baguette.”
Since then, the French have embraced it, hosting an annual competition outside the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris to judge the best baguette creator in the country. The winner, announced with flourish, wins not just prestige, but also a yearlong contract to serve the Élysée Palace, where the president resides and works.
The baguette’s ingredients are limited to four: flour, water, salt and yeast. But specialty yeasts were developed to inspire the bread’s long fermentation stage; special knives are used to score its surface, creating the trademark golden color; and long-handled wooden paddles are deployed to gently remove the bread from the ovens. The baguette is eaten fresh, so most boulangeries make more than one batch a day.
The American-French historian Steven Kaplan, perhaps the baguette’s most dedicated and famous chronicler, stunned the talk-show host Conan O’Brien on “The Late Show” in 2007 when he rhapsodized about the sensual experience of touching and eating a good baguette, with its “appealing line,” “geyser of aromas” and air pockets, and the “little sites of memories” that “testify to a sensuality.”
In comparison, he described Wonder Bread as “tasteless,” “insipid,” “charged with chemicals” and “without any interest.”
France submitted more than 200 endorsements for the baguette’s UNESCO bid, including letters from bakers and children’s drawings. One testimonial poem by Cécile Piot, a baker, read: “I am here / Warm, light, magical / Under your arm or in your basket / Let me give the rhythm / To your day of idleness or work.”
The list of fellow winners reads like a cultural tour of the world, including mansaf, the traditional dish of mutton and rice from Jordan; winter bear festivals in Pyrenean villages; and Kun Lbokator, traditional martial arts in Cambodia.
With the baguette’s new status, the French government said it planned to create a Bakehouse Open Day to “enhance the prestige of the artisanal know-how required for the production of baguettes” and support new scholarships and training programs for bakers.
Still, the baguette is under threat, with the country losing 400 artisanal bakeries a year since 1970 — a decline that is especially significant in France’s rural areas, where supermarkets and chains have overtaken traditional mom-and-pop bakeries.
To make matters worse — and in a sting to French pride — sales of hamburgers since 2017 have exceeded those of jambon-beurre, sandwiches made with ham on a buttered baguette.
Some Parisian bakers expressed skepticism that the news on Wednesday would do much to alleviate their most pressing fear that the high costs of wheat and flour would continue to rise because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, forcing them to raise the price of the beloved bread sticks even further.
“This UNESCO recognition is not what will help us get through the winter,” said Pascale Giuseppi, who was behind the counter of her bakery near the Champs-Élysées, serving a lunch rush for baguette sandwiches. “We still have bigger bills to pay.”
Nearby, another baker, Jean-Luc Aussant, said he was “not really in the mood to celebrate anything” and, brushing flour from his fingers, grumbled that the recognition would change “nothing.”
“Now that I think about it,” he added, “I might use this as an excuse to increase the price of my baguette.”
Tom Nouvian contributed reporting.
Catherine Porter is an international correspondent based in Paris. She was previously The Times’s Canada bureau chief. She is the author of “A Girl Named Lovely.” @porterthereport
Constant Méheut reports from France. He joined the Paris bureau in January 2020. @ConstantMeheut
Friday, 23 December 2022
What happened to the vintage showroom in London? / VIDEO: The Vintage Showroom - Archive Visit with Doug Gunn
The Vintage Showroom™ was formed in 2007 by long time collectors and dealers Roy Luckett and Doug Gunn. The appointment-only showroom in Buspace Studios, near Portobello Road in West London, remains one of the leading resources for vintage menswear globally with an extensive, curated archive that continues to develop and grow.
In September 2012 a selection of the collection was presented in the award-winning title ‘Vintage Menswear – A Collection from The Vintage Showroom’, published by Laurence King Publishing. The second title, 'The Vintage Showroom – An Archive of Menswear' followed in December 2015. Both books along with other publications from the company can be found here.
ABOUT THE SHOWROOM
Our West London showroom is available by appointment. The collection is available for hire, sale, or as digital high-resolution image packs. The company also offers a number of bespoke services to clients for creative and concept consultation, and archive acquisitions and management.
A full shipping service is available for our clients when required and payment is accepted by all major credit cards including American Express.
General Enquiries and Showroom Appointments:
ABOUT THE SHOP
The Vintage Showroom Earlham Street store operated from May 2009 to April 2021. The Store was located at 14 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, an area rich in history where we soon established ourselves as a much-loved London institution. Though we were sad to leave the property we look forward to future opportunities which we will be announced in due course.
14 Earlham Street was formerly FW Collins & Sons Ironmongers, a much-loved London institution since 1835. F.W.Collins™ is now the name of our in-house clothing line, and the legacy and association with the company will continue.
Thursday, 22 December 2022
A scandal in the 1920s was the sale by Maundy Gregory of honours and peerages to raise political funds for David Lloyd George.
In 1976, the Harold Wilson era was mired by controversy over the 1976 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours, which became known as the "Lavender List".
In 2006, The Sunday Times newspaper revealed that every donor who had given £1,000,000 or more to the Labour Party since 1997 was given a Knighthood or a Peerage (see Cash-for-Honours scandal). Moreover, the government had given honours to 12 of the 14 individuals who have donated more than £200,000 to Labour and of the 22 who donated more than £100,000, 17 received honours. An investigation by the Crown Prosecution Service did not lead to any charges being made.
The Times published an analysis of the recipients of honours in December 2015 which showed that 46% of those getting knighthoods and above in 2015 had been to fee-paying public schools. In 1955 it was 50%. Only 6.55% of the population attends such schools. 27% had been to Oxford or Cambridge universities (18% in 1955).
The lack of racial diversity continues to attract criticism, with 89.6% of all award recipients identified as white, and only 3.2% of higher award winners (inc Knighthood and Damehoods) identifying as BAME in 2019. Although the trend has been positive, with an increase in ethnic minority recipients between 2014 and 2019 from 6.5% to 10.4%, there continues to be a significant gap in the ethnic diversity of the honours recipients versus corresponding census data at any point in recent years.At the same time, 87.1% of the United Kingdom is composed of white people, according to the 2011 census. This would suggest that the racial diversity of the honours reflects the racial diversity of the United Kingdom.
How to get an OBE: the opaque process by which Britain chooses its honorees
February 10th, 2020
In the 20th century, the British Crown appointed around 100,000 people to honours and titles. Throughout the century, this system expanded to include different kinds of people. Toby Harper writes that the process nevertheless continues to be confusing and tells us little about who honorees really are.
Suppose you meet a man on the train who introduces himself as ‘Sir James’. What does this mean? He could have done some distinguished professional or philanthropic service; he could be a famous artist; he could be a retired civil servant who won his title through long service; he could be a major political donor to one of a number of different governments in the Commonwealth; or he might not in fact be a knight but a baronet, and is thus entitled to call himself ‘Sir’ because he is the head of a male line whose ancestor won the title (probably through large donations to some government at some point in the last five hundred years). Alternatively, he could have changed his name so that his first name is “Sir” in the hope of getting respect, attention, more frequent upgrades to first class on flights, or some other rumored advantage to having a title. He could also simply be lying. Titles have many sources, few of which reflect anything on the personality or talents of its owner.
The knighthood, the damehood, and the baronetcy are three of the many different titles and honours that the British government gives to its citizens. The terminology and hierarchies of this system are confusing, with a deep, complicated history. The Order of the Garter, the oldest and one of the most exclusive of these honours, dates back to the 14th century, but most of the system’s components are more recent creations. For example, in the aftermath of the formation of the largest single order of chivalry – the Order of the British Empire – in 1917, many recipients were confused by the names of the medals they received. Working class recipients of the low-ranking Medal of the Order of the British Empire reasonably thought that they were entitled to use the letters OBE after their name. In fact, the medal granted no rank, no formal membership in an order of chivalry, and no precedence: it was for working-class heroes. The right to use the postnominals OBE fell to middle class ‘Officers of the British Empire’, which was the fourth rank of the order.
Many different factors shape the choices the British state makes in honouring people. Broad shifts of policy, individual political debts, and opaque personal preferences all play a part. Public nominations are and have been an important part of the system, but there is a long route from nomination to selection. Multiple different parties are involved, including politicians (especially whips), civil servants in various departments, and royal servants, even perhaps the monarch themselves. The greatest amount of control has traditionally rested in the hands of civil servants in the Treasury and, more recently, the Cabinet Office. There are usually far more nominees for honours than spots available. This shortage is artificial, with numbers kept low in order to maintain exclusivity.
Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century committees of civil servants have done the main part of the work of assessing nominations from government departments, processing public nominations, and integrating political priorities. The scale and rank of honours that they have worked with has been shaped by centralized policies that were only occasionally been subject to direct political scrutiny and change, although exceptions to this pattern created major shifts in who received what. From these committees honours lists go to the Prime Minister’s office, where a few names are added and subtracted, then successful nominees are invited to accept the honour, and finally the monarch signs off the lists for public proclamation, usually twice yearly, in the London Gazette. Although the monarchy’s role is limited, recipients and the wider public closely associate honours with royalty because of their symbolism and because of honours investitures, where recipients receive the medals from the hands of a royal.
Some people decline the opportunity to take on honours, out of principle, because of political objections to the current government, or for more obscure reasons. Reasons for rejecting honours have been almost as diverse as the reasons for giving them, and are secret: whether or not someone reveals they were offered an honour but declined is at their discretion because this is one of the many secrets about honours that the government defends vigorously. Some artists, musicians and anti-monarchists have declined them for political reasons. Poet Benjamin Zephaniah rejected an OBE in 2003 because of the imperial connotations of the order’s name, and because he disagreed with the government’s social policies.
Others rejected titles for more personal reasons. Physicist A.V. Hill rejected a knighthood in 1941 out of principle and aesthetics. He railed against the competition and enmity that he alleged knighthoods introduced among scientists. At the same time, had Hill, as he went by with friends and colleagues, been knighted he would have become known as ‘Sir Archibald’, and would have thus had a first name he disliked forcibly exposed to the public and to friends. P.G. Wodehouse made a similar joke in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954) about a character named Mr. Trotter, who dodged a knighthood because he did not want his embarrassing first name (Lemuel) exposed.
Jokes like these abound in the lives of honours recipients, their friends, and those who aspired to win honours. The system has been and continues to be a topic of fun and levity. But behind the jokes is a serious business. In modern, anonymous, fragmented societies these centralized systems are all the more important because they aim to bring people together under one set of rules and labels that have widespread currency. Contemporary societies readily confuse and conflate success, greatness, size, fame, and volume with rightness. In the last few years this confusion has had increasingly absurd results, but it has been around for a long time, in many different cultures and contexts. This is why it is so important to understand exactly how modern states celebrate their heroes, and especially to understand the limitations, omissions and other quirks of this process – to disenchant the mysticism of honours. The process by which Britain has chosen and continues to choose its honorees has been opaque, confusing, and poorly understood. Sir James may be a modern knight, but that tells you little about who he really is.
About the Author
Toby Harper is Assistant Professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. His forthcoming book, ‘From Servants of the Empire to Everyday Heroes: The British Honours System in the Twentieth Century‘ will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2020.