France is a minefield this summer—there are no easy answers to Mark’s hundreds of not-so-innocuous questions.
“What does merde mean? You say it a lot!” “Do you think mamie feels lonely since she doesn’t go out and papi is dead?” “Why do I have to say s’il vous plait but sometimes it’s s’il te plait?” “Why do you want to go visit a place named Angers?”
It means “shit,” please learn conjugations instead—yeah, sure, you can say it when you’re 16. I’m sure she does, can we not talk about it now since she’s literally in front of us? Because there’s polite and super polite. And it’s “An-GEE,” not “anger.”
The two toughest questions lately involved bananas and rings.
In Nantes, there’s a place called the “Hangar 21,” mostly known as the “hangar à bananes.” You can’t miss it, both because it’s huge and because the 1929 warehouse is now a trendy venue home to restaurants, bars and nightclubs on the Île de Nantes.
“That’s funny,” Mark noted. “I had no idea bananas grew in Nantes.”
“So why is it called the ‘banana warehouse’?”
That’s because not so long ago, the climate-controlled warehouse was used to store bananas from French colonies in Africa. Nothing too shady at first glance, except when you start unpeeling the banana trade, it’s hard not to mention economic imperialism and the colonial system.
And then, right in front of the former warehouse on the “quai des Antilles,” are “Les Anneaux de Buren,” 18 galvanized-steel rings with a diameter of four metres along the Loire River—it’s a permanent art installation by Daniel Buren and Patrick Bouchain.
Because the rings symbolize slave shackles and they are a reference to the triangular trade. Nantes played a major role in the European slave trade, central to its maritime economy. From the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century, France organized at least 4,220 slave trade expeditions, a large part of them led by ship owners in Nantes. The port has been covering up these chapters of history for decades. When I was in school, “they had relatives involved in the trade business” was the euphemism used to explain why some of my classmates had bedrooms bigger than our entire apartment.
Can I have an easy question, now? No, I don’t know when the pandemic will end, Mark…