At the age of nineteen, in a desperate attempt to improve my French, I spent two months working as an admin assistant in a gas bottle factory on the outskirts of Strasbourg; capital of the Alsace-Lorraine region of Northern France.
Despite the pretty scenery you see to your left, times were tough. My French was too rusty to communicate properly with the Alsatian (the Germanic local language) speaking natives and my British approach to life (fairly free and liberal, partying into the early hours of the morning, etc …) clashed with the deeply traditional Alsatian attitudes.
However, like any self-respecting bookworm I found salvation at FNAC; a European bookchain that, although rather pricey, is so aesthetically pleasing, with a great selection of both French and foreign literature and deliciously effective air conditioning. It is here, and in the homes of my work colleagues, that I became acquainted with Les BDs or bandes-dessinées; comic strips of all shapes, sizes and genres that both young and old go crazy for over there and that has become a huge feature of French and Belgian cultural tradition, your typical comic section looking something like this:
It is in corners like these (being careful to avoid young 20-something geeky men reading the kinky adult comics in public..a w k w a r d) that my love of Hergé and his wonderful Tintin comics blossomed and, since then, I have made an effort wherever possible to expand on my collection of colourful, entertaining, sometimes slightly racist books (a sign of the times I assure you! – see Tintin in the Congo :-O); where promising young reporter Tintin, his dog Milou and a hilarious cast of characters and companions travel the globe in search of adventure, mystery and magic. Although his creator faced many obstacles throughout his career including the Nazi occupation of Belgium that severely restricted the scope of Tintin’s adventures and harsh criticism leveled at the overly political and colonial flavour of his earliest works, these stories and characters have endured and been translated into countless different languages for publication across the globe. With an international presence and now a Hollywood 3D extravaganza courtesy of Stephen Spielburg, Tintin’s stories are still very much alive and I love him. Beautifully crafted illustrations and an excellent way to practice French, I am determined to collect them all!