Lewes Speakers Festival: Jonathan Meades, Jonathan Fenby and Theodore Dalrymple In Discussion (From The Argus)
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Lewes Speakers Festival: Jonathan Meades, Jonathan Fenby and Theodore Dalrymple In Discussion
There can be few better places to discuss what the future holds for France than in one of the most significant pieces of French design by one of the country’s most important architects.
Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse, the Radiant City, in Marseille, is a landmark of modernist architecture. Underlying its design ethos was a spirit to build decent housing for the city’s working classes.
Le Corbusier, a Swiss-born French citizen, drew on his study of the Soviet Communal housing project, the Narkomfin Building, for the block based on principals set out in his Unité d’Habitation ideal.
The locals didn’t take to the idea, however.
Known colloquially as La Maison du Fada, or the Mad House, it’s where writer and broadcaster and French expert Jonathan Meades now lives.
Sadly, the day we speak the fall-out from a fire means he’s been evacuated. A crisis, but not as terrible as when the place went over-budget.
By the time Cité Radieuse was finished in 1952, thanks to Le Corbusier’s insistence that all the details be as upscale as possible, the other 17 buildings that were originally planned for Marseille were never realised.
The place has been gentrified since then.
Meades says his neighbours are professionals.
In a way the structure is a symbol for France, with its deep-rooted communal utopian thinking never quite functioning as intended.
It is a conundrum that Francois Hollande, newly-elected French president and leader of the Socialist Party, faces in his first term.
“The standard of French housing is absolutely terrible,” explains Meades, as we discuss the many challenges Hollande must tackle.
“Because people want to escape the big HLMs [habitation à loyer modéré, low-income habitations], they built these things called pavillons all over the place, which are effectively little bungalows of no architectural merit whatsoever done by builders out of copybook plans.
“In a typical understatement, Sarkozy said they are spreading a gangrène across the nation.
"He was going to do something about it but he didn’t. He was good at identifying problems but never did anything about solving them.”
Gangrène is a more colloquial termin France.
Nonetheless, adds Meades, there is chaos in the French planning system. All-powerful local commune mayors can guide planning law and their stipends increase with population.
Not only does this mean the same small pavillons are springing up all over the country with only a façade colour to distinguish them, but in one extreme case 30 people died in their beds because their pavillons had been built on land beneath sea-level under an inadequate sea wall.
“They had been built by the guy who was the chairman of the planning committee on the local council who had given himself permission.”
Meades, whose recent three-part polemic Jonathan Meades On France was aired on BBC4 and is the sort of programming one pays the licence fee for, calls the pavillons a cancer across France.
He made his name with “heavy entertainment”, polemics which mix high culture and low culture with forthright opinion. While some might be left cold by his style, Meades is always informed and thorough and takes his favoured topics – architecture, food, culture – on adventures.
He believes François Hollande is former French president François Mitterrand mark two.
Among the signs is the fact Hollande is already talking about creating more functionaries – just as Mitterrand did 30 years ago.
“He is Mitterrand mark two but without the charisma, without a wife, but a lady friend who I think is a lady in drag.
“He isn’t confrontational in the way Mitterrand was. He doesn’t have the audacity of Mitterrand. He goes on about being Mr Normal but I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘normal’ politician.
“As Auberon Waugh said, the only people who entered politics were social and emotional cripples.”
The French media, the vast majority of which is centre-left to far-left with a Guardian world view, can’t find anyone to hate now they have Hollande.
It’s given the incumbent an easy ride thus far compared with Sarkozy, thinks Meades.
Though it won’t last because Hollande filled a void in the mess left by Dominique Strauss- Kahn and profiteered purely by not being called Sarkozy.
If the anti-austerity measures Hollande has promised arrive, Meades sees more bureaucracy and a situation many already call anti-entrepreneurial, especially in non-productive business, worsening.
“Hollande’s win was sort of a weird reaction to Sarzoky’s hyperactivity and lassitude. He was rather like Kevin Keegan: he would run around all the time and achieve nothing.”
Hollande has just left England after meeting with David Cameron for the first time. The Prime Minister rolled out the red carpet for his fellow European leader.
Much was made of Cameron’s promise to roll out it out again for the French City boys who might not like Hollande channelling Mitterrand’s ideal that money buys, corrupts and crushes.
Still, tomorrow is Bastille Day, a commemoration of the French Revolution, and a perfect time to discuss what may lay ahead.
The future of French society after the May elections, chaired by Dr Françoise Boucek is on July 14, 3.15pm to 4.30pm, as part of the Lewes Speakers Festival at All Saints Centre, Friars Walk, Lewes,from July 13, to July 15.
There are 16 events over the weekend. Here, The Guide picks a few highlights. For the full programme, visit www.lewesspeakersfestival.com.
Various Pets Dead And Alive July 13, 6.30pm to 7.45pm
Lewycka penned the bestselling novel A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian and won the Bollinger Everyman Prize for comic fiction for her efforts. Her latest novel is a wry tale of modern values following former commune living lefties Marcus and Doro and their children: Serge, a City boy pretending to be an academic, and Clara, a control freak and primary school teacher.
The Arts and Crafts Country House: From The Archives Of Country Life July 14, 10am to 11.15am
The editor of Country Life is a leading authority on Britain’s major rural properties. He will give an illustrated talk, using archive photos from the magazine, to provide a survey of 25 major country houses and reveal the intricacies of a movement that emerged in response to the Industrial Revolution, when traditional building crafts and local materials were the key style choices for residences in the country.
Interviewed by Viva Lewes’s Emma Chaplin Orchards In The Oasis July 14, 13.30pm to 14.45pm
More than two million books filled with Josceline Dimbleby’s recipes have been bought by food fans and the writer has now published 16 cookery books. She explores the influences behind the creations – from her time in locations as diverse as Morocco and America to Burma and Laos, in part thanks to her diplomat father’s travels and her time as cookery correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph.
THEODORE DALRYMPLE AND POLLY TOYNBEE IN DEBATE
Chair: Norman Baker MP “The welfare state and liberal attitudes to morality are the principal causes of the breakdown of British society.” July 14, 6.45pm to 8pm
Writer and retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, Theodore Dalrympe, will be joined by Guardian journalist and former president of the British Humanist Association, Polly Toynbee, to debate the capitulation of British society. Dalrymple argues the liberal and progressive views in Western intellectual circles minimise the responsibility of individuals for their own actions and undermine traditional mores, while Toynbee is an avid supporter of the welfare state.
JONATHAN FENBY CBE
China’s Future – Tiger Head Snake Tails July 14, 8.30pm to 9.45pm
The former Observer editor is an expert on China and founded the China team at Trusted Sources, a research and consultancy firm. His latest book explores how the country has become home to 600 dollar billionaires while also having 300 million people without access to clean water. He will discuss what the future may hold for it, and the rest of us, if the growth continues.
The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made It Into The Twenty-First Century July 15, 3.15pm to 4.30pm
Sunday Times journalist Peter Conradi’s latest book inspired the screenplay which finally helped Colin Firth to win an Oscar, The King’s Speech. He will look into why, in an era of supposedly growing democracy and meritocracy, monarchies across Europe continue to survive and flourish by giving a glimpse into the secret worlds and lives. There will be talk of Wallis Simpson and Princess Diana, but expect to hear about lesser-known and slightly murkier aristocratic figures too.
The State Of Burma – The Lady And The Peacock July 15, 5pm to 6.15pm
Peter Popham is a foreign correspondent and feature writer for The Independent who has done long stretches in Japan, India and Italy. He also worked undercover in Burma in the late 1990s and met and interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi when she was released from house arrest in 2002. He met her again in 2011. She now finds herself head of the country in which she led the largest popular revolt in its history. Popham will assess the challenges and prospects.
Three-day festival pass, £70, one-day festival pass, £35. Single tickets for each individual talk, £12.50. Call 0844 8700887 to book or visit www.lewesspeakersfestival.com.
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