Monday, 17 September 2012

Fete de Humanite

I realised very quickly the difference between a working meal with a French publisher and a British publisher - the French order wild boar to eat, whereas we spend our life avoiding wild bores at publishing parties. The meal in question was with Francis Combes of Le Temps des Cerises and the Five Leaves writer, and fellow publisher Andy Croft of Smokestack Books. Francis is also a writer and his Common Cause was one of my books of the year when published by Smokestack. More on Francis here:
There were many things to be jealous of Francis - his press has the most wonderful name, four staff and a turnover four times ours for starters. His books include poetry, fiction and politics and his writers include Aragon, Rimbaud and John Berger. But the one thing to be most jealous of is that he can sell 5% of his annual turnover over a couple of days at the Fete de Humanite where we met. The Fete is like a very cheap, very political Glastonbury. 200,000 or so people pay 20 euros for a weekend of music (Patti Smith, Pete Doherty on the line up), with hundreds of meetings and debates running late into the night with stalls, cafes and full scale restaurants run by Communist Party branches. We ate at the restaurant run by the CP of La Drome, whereas we'd bought our lunch at the Iraqi cafe, but sat down in the Tunisian restaurant because the Iraqis had run out of seats. The book area itself was an entire "village" with hundreds of publishers represented, and, as far as I could tell, all doing good trade.
It was humbling to be at a Festival which, apart from the odd popular beat combo, English was irrelevant, with all the stalls and debates being either French or mother tongue. We did see an Irish tent in the distance (it is hard to imagine the scale of this event) but heard no English anywhere other than on the main music stage.
For the record, Pete Doherty's performance was rather phoned in and Patti Smith was on after our bedtime. The real musical stars were the full scale symphony orchestra on the main stage (who preceded a God-awful Tunisian rapper) and some of the smaller acts performing in impromptu stages in the marquees of the regional or national Parties. I did not see enough of the woman singer from Finistere or the neighbouring piper from Brittany, or the singer from Morocco who handed out tiny cups of tea to her audience before singing.
It's impossible, on financial and logistical grounds, but would be wonderful if Five Leaves and Smokestack could put together a British marquee next year!

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