English Coffee – Mondays at 12h00-13h00
Conversation Débutants – Tuesdays at 19h00-20h30
Conversation Avancée – Wednesdays 19h00-20h30
Book Club – Wednesday 25 November at 20h30 (incl. apéro) (Last Wednesday of every month)
House Concert – Stay tuned – next one will be March/April where at 19h00 we open bottles, at 20h00 the music starts!
So what’s new at Cosmopolitans Bordeaux?
It is that time upon us: The US Elections. And what a treat it has been so far. The next debate or people-talking-over-each-other is scheduled for Thursday. It is high time you refresh your knowledge how elections work in the US. I have found some videos that explain this different approach and walk you through the mystery of the Electoral College. My favorite explanation is this video but I also have two more options in case you prefer a different accent or a different angle of explanation.
Then there is the confounding invention of Electoral College: What is it, Why do they need it, How does it work? Once you watched one, test yourself on the other ones…. Now, we know what they do across the Big Pond!
Ahem! Well… now that we’ve seen what a debate is NOT, I’d love to explore with you what a debate should be! 🙂
A debate is an organized argument or contest of ideas in which the participants discuss a topic from two opposing sides. You also listen respectfully to your opponent. Oh yes, you do! Aristotle had a lot to observe about debates. I’ll cover this briefly in class too 😉
How does one debate? It’s outlined here. We’ll do role plays in class to show how eloquent and constructive and downright civilised we all are!!
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an American jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 until her death in 2020. She was the second woman to be appointed to the position. Learn more about her life in this article. In part because of her increasing outspokenness, Ginsburg became, during the Obama administration (2009–17), a progressive and feminist folk hero. Here is a CNN documentary on her life at the Supreme Court. And a short interview where she comments on our times….
This week it’s all about Gustav Klimt and the fabulous exhibition at the Bassins de Lumières. Best buy your tickets online though and masks are mandatory. It is a gorgeous collection of images projected on the walls, reflected on the water and succulent music to complete the effect. It is totally worth the hype – so, go!!
Klimt was part of the Art Nouveau movement at the end of the 19th century. Artists wanted things to not only be functional but also beautiful! A longing we still share I believe. They started to experiment with colours, compositions and moving away from the three-dimensional. Here is the best article I could find that summarises the movement and gives some insightful historical context. We know Klimt’s painting from his famous gold period. But he was a remarkable draftsman too! Have a look at his complete collection of paintings. Or indulge in the list of the most famous artists of the Art Nouveau.
There is a special adventure around the famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and you can follow the exciting story in these two videos. Adele’s Wish is the controversial story behind the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt. The film recounts the struggle of 92 year old Los Angeles resident Maria Altmann, who sued Austria to recover five Klimt paintings stolen from her family in Vienna by the Nazi’s in 1938. There was even a movie about this several years ago. Who really owns art anyway…..?
The topic that you all gravitated to was Byzantium! So here it goes…. I’ll introduce you to some powerful women from Byzantium, empresses, circus artists, princesses, saints(!), adulteresses, harlots, rulers, conquerors, diplomats, politicians… and I’m talking about the SAME THREE women!
Upper class women in Byzantium had privileges their western counterpart often lacked: Byzantine women had certain rights regarding property: a) a wife could not be separated from her dowry, b) daughters could inherit an equal portion of the family estate with their brothers if no specific will was made, and c) if a husband died, his wife became the official guardian of the children. Women could, then, become landowners in their own right, head a household and be subject to taxes like any landowning male. This gave them power. Equality, my dears, is always achieved through financial independence.
Another important fact was the emperors would only claim their throne with the support of the military. Being born a prince gave you a head start but it was the military that had the final say and could depose and replace an emperor. This explains the frequent changes in dynasties as opposed to the Western rulers. Have a look at this short timeline of all Byzantine rulers – just focus on the change in Dynasties to get an idea of the turbulence. Some more background on Byzantine history. Are you curious how Byzantine music sounded??
Homework: Let me share with you the film about the power and glory of Byzantium or in a shorter overview if you prefer. Have a look at the timeline video on the frequent changes of dynasties to get a taste for this era. Now I encourage you to click on the links about HELENA, mother of Constantine the Great, also known as Saint Helena. The irresistible, intelligent and immoral THEODORA (she of the geese story reputation), wife of Justinian. Third in our group is the famous daughter of Constantin VIII, ZOE Porphyrogeniti, born in purple which was the imperial colour, the villainous, seductive and who possibly turned poisonous when her husbands displeased her.
Death and destruction on a grand scale! For those of you fatigued with the constant cautionary advice, I would like to offer some refreshing relief about a disaster that happened to other people a long, long, loooong time ago: POMPEII! Start off with a reconstruction of how the day unfolded when Vesuvius erupted. There is also a wonderful video on the 2013 exhibition at the British Museum on Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Famous historians guide you through the exhibition and share their knowledge and enthusiasm. There is also a film that covers the naughty images in one of the villas.
In AD 79 the legendary volcano Vesuvius erupted in one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions of all time, destroying the town of Pompeii. For 400 years archaeologists have studied the ancient bodies found buried beneath layers of ash and rock. The explanation for the victims’ deaths has always been that they were killed by flying rocks and boiling lava. But this documentary poses some interesting questions on the archeological findings. What do you think? Watch The Riddle Of Pompeii. If for this story however your heart craves an American accent, then I have this video for you.
Homework: This special gem that Eva brought to my attention is the short video on Anna Komnene, daughter of Byzantine emperor Alexios, who spent the last decade of her life creating a 500-page history of her father’s reign called “The Alexiad”. I highly recommend this one!
If you prefer more sedate topics, then I have an article on Yuja Wang for you who prefers to alter the sequence of the pieces she will play at concerts to keep the program fresh. And here is a short film about the History of Western Choral Music.
This week I want to introduce you to Aesop’s Fables. After the collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the Romantic era, we move back in time to Ancient Greece and have a look at another collection of short stories: Aesop’s Fables. Here is the complete set of Aesop’s Fables, click on a story that interests you! Aesop lived in the 6th century BC in Greece though it’s not certain that he wrote the entire collection of stories. he was supposed to be a slave, deformed some even said, gifted at story telling and rose to fame because of his ability to entertain and teach his audience moral lessons. So many of his proverbs became famous: sour grapes… don’t count your chicken before they hatch… pride comes before a fall… revenge is a double-edged sword… honesty is the best policy… Well, most of the time at least!
There is one particular fable that Socrates used to make some very sexy puns and I found some particularly naughty gossip from the philosophers’ love lives in connection to the fables. I will reveal this in class to a) motivate you to join and b) keep the website clean!
Homework: choose one of his popular expressions and read the connected story with it. To read the fable you have chosen, just click on the story you like, read it and then talk about it in class. Watch this short video for some background and this one for an overview. Try and browse the links above and find out as much as you can about the historical Aesop!
The coming weeks I want to focus on two of the most famous story collections of all times: Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Aesop’s Fables, that were also re-told by Fontaine of course! I’m always interested in the historical context which is very telling(!) by itself as well. When is it that people seek out certain kind of stories and what does it tell us about the time, the emotions, the imagination and the identify of those people and ultimately us?
Our first lesson in this cycle will be about the Brother’s Grimm. The brothers Grimm lived during the Romantic Era and I would like you to please read the following 3 articles: a quick overview about the context of romanticism in this story collection. Initially, they were not meant for children at all, did you know this? Finally, here is my favourite story in that collection: The Twelve Huntsmen_Brothers Grimm. I also encourage you to research on your own anything that interests you related to this topic!
The Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent had a marvellous exhibition planned on Jan van Eyck. Due to the pandemic this had to close so they filmed a guided visit of this exhibition: The Stay At Home Museum: Jan van Eyck (in English) and Bruegel (in French). Such a treat!!
Jan van Eyck is mostly famous for the Arnolfini Portrait which my mother loved greatly and taught me to observe all these details and explained their symbolism. There are many speculations, but of course we will never know the truth. Try and watch one of the documentaries because I will discuss the painting in class this week.
If however you are more interested in beverages – what with all this rain and confinement craze makes you feel more drawn to drinking – then I’ve added some exciting discussions on these topics: on Coffee, Tea, Gin. I’m addicted to In Our Time from the BBC and always switch one episode on when I cook. If however, discussions are not your… cup of tea then you can simply watch a film on Coffee or on the History of Wine & Commerce. In fact, if you listen really closely to this video about Bordeaux wine, around 15min50sec you will catch a GLARING mistake which is Helene’s favourite pitfall to avoid 😉
Last week, I invited you to explore a painting, this week I’m presenting a composer: Chopin, who was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for solo piano. Here is a very short biography of him. But for a better understanding of Chopin, his life and work, I highly recommend Sir Andra Schiff’s portrait of him: clear and correct English, insightful. Garrick Ohlsson gives a wonderful and deeper introduction to Chopin’s music and technique at Berckly. I highly recommend it!
But for those of you seeking inspiration and distraction during this period, here is the famous School Of Athens by Raphael. Not only the Vatican museum presents this painting, but also the Metropolitan Museum has in insightful article. I include some simple talks by the Khan Academy and some very thought-provoking discussions from BBC In Our Time, my personal favorite cause I always learn A LOT!
Movies to catch up with on Netflix – or streaming if you prefer:
DAUGHTERS OF DESTINY, from India’s Untouchable cast, this documentary follows several girls that attend a boarding school in the poorest region to finish their education. I was glued to it! The film follows these girls over the years at the school, the necessary pressure on academic excellence, the message instilled in them about dignity and confidence, the inevitable estrangement from their origins and their dilemma between their dreams and their traditions. I had not appreciated the difficulties in maintaining such a school and keeping it funded. The one question at the end about the effects on the community. Your heart aches for each of the girls and I learnt so much about the cast system. It’s not a feel-good film, it is a think-from-different perspectives.
UNORTHODOX, a story of a young woman who escapes her ultra orthodox Jewish community in New York City to start a new life in Berlin. But just as she starts to find her own way, the past begins to catch up with her. The story gripped me from the start and the acting is superb.
A wonderful and harrowing film on Netflix i’ve seen recently is AMERICAN FACTORY. In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. Watch it – it explains so much in so many nuanced and unbiased ways.
Well, given the recent developments nothing less than the Il Decameron by Bocaccio spring to mind! In the 14th century the Black Death ravaged Europe and particularly Italy. The book contains 100 tales (erotic, funny, tragic, life lessons…) told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the Black Death, which was afflicting the city.
My favourite BBC podcast about History is In Our Time and here is one episode covers the events fo the Black Death in medieval Europe. I love listening to the talk while I’m cooking. Switch on your laptop and do the same – it’s escapism but also informative! Here’s also an article about the history of Pandemics, a read that puts these days into a healthy(!) perspective.
So what else is up in our Cosmo world?
Our Music and Apéro concert was a terrific success and we are fully determined to repeat the joy and frivolity in May 2020. We were one American, two French, a Romanian, and a Greek/German who performed enthusiastically music by a German composer, an Austrian, a Norwegian, several French, a Hungarian, a Russian, a Portuguese composer and whatever else came our way.
Our next weekend in London is set for November 2020. Our stays there are always filled with concerts, museums, picnics in the park, pub crawls, exotic restaurants, sightseeing, ice bars and sheer fun and exuberance! Click here for recommendations of affordable accommodation and flights. Remember, you are also welcome to bring your family and friends if you like. What to do once you’re there?! Well…. “who tires of London tires of life”, as Samuel Johnson rightly pointed out!
Interested in reading an English book or two this summer? Then look no further than our Cosmopolitans Book Selection to select the book right for you: Short novels, thick best-sellers, historical novels, romances, thrillers, thought-provoking, light-hearted, humour, drama, history or social science, it’s all there waiting for you!
How can you practice your English during the week?
Feel like keeping your English in top shape between classes? Look no further! Catch up with Past Topics, join our regular Book Club, find inspiration at our Love To Read section. Or feel like watching a Movie in English? You are interested in World News and enjoy reading the news in English or listening to interviews by business people or politicians?