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Les restos du coeur: an anniversary


Coluche (Michel Colucci, Paris 1944 - Opio 1986)

I can’t quite believe it, but it’s 25 years since the organisation les restos du coeur was founded by Coluche – that absurdist gadfly of a comedian.  Coluche – Michel Colucci – was born in Paris in 1944.  Although he died in 1986, he remains a vivid presence imprinted on the national psyche and last year’s excellent biopic directed by Antoine de Caunes was a huge success.  As for the restos these are not restaurants in the true sense, more centres where those in need can go every week between December and March each year to obtain a weeks’ worth of basic foodstuffs.  Registration is straightforward and brief, clients have merely to show basic evidence of income/outgoings.  Much emphasis is placed on treating all comers with respect and kindness, and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.

From relatively modest beginnings les restos du coeur grew rapidly, and there are now 2,000 centres throughout France.  This year the organisation expects to hand out 100 million free meals between December and 19 March.  Last year 800,000 people were helped in this way –  an increase of 14 percent on the previous year, with even more expected to present themselves at the organisation’s centres this year.

Despite its réputation bling-bling (sic) the département where I live (the Alpes-Maritimes) is especially hard hit by poverty – and especially this year, with unemployment at around 14 percent according to some estimates.  Stratospheric rents ensure that homelessness is a growing problem. However, government and EU funding for les restos du coeur has been reduced and next year a drop of about 15 percent is anticipated. A series of fundraising concerts are being held in Nice at the end of January to attempt to redress the balance.

What a pity Coluche himself couldn’t be there: it would be just the kind of event – and battle – that most feisty of clowns would have relished.  He died 23 years ago in a banal motorcycle accident in the hills not far from here – but what a legacy he left behind him.  And how much comedic savagery he would have derived from what would surely have been an uneasy emotional combo of pride in the organisation he founded and disgust at the extent of its growth.  I have a fanciful suspicion that Coluche can’t possibly be resting in peace …

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  1. 01/12/2009 11:41

    Hi, this is such an interesting and informative post, about Coluche and his achievements… Sorry to hear about the cut in funding for this much needed organisation, but great to hear of the fundraising concerts stepping in, at least.

  2. Minnie permalink
    01/12/2009 11:58

    Karen: thank you. Yes, the cuts are worrying (not to mention scandalous in the face of increases in ministerial salaries etc., etc.). France has a long tradition of artists ‘militants’ (activists), and those involved are certainly crowd-pullers – so it’s hopeful, anyway.

  3. 01/12/2009 14:05

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, Minnie.

    Great post on Coluche – that man had a superb way with words.

  4. Minnie permalink
    01/12/2009 15:45

    Sarah: my pleasure. Thank you – yes, absolutely: Coluche was an extremely gifted man.

  5. 02/12/2009 01:29

    I just wonder if the fact he died tragically early caused his memory to live on and continue to make a difference.

  6. Minnie permalink
    02/12/2009 09:31

    Cherie: Coluche was already a big star by the time he died; death didn’t automatically grant him cult status (France is traditionally more demanding of its celebs than the UK/US). But by any standards les restos du coeur constitute a wonderful achievement, so whether their founder’s dead or alive seems irrelevant.

  7. 05/12/2009 10:15

    What a lovely man he must have been. Thanks you Minnie. I am glad his lagacy lives on, even if it is not exactly how he would have envisaged. And big ‘hear hear’ to the poster who points out the uncomfortable juxtaposition of a drop in funding in the area, a rise in homelessness… and an increase in ministerial salaries. That drives me bananas, even more than usual! Let the ministers involved spend a few nights on the streets. After all, it is necessary to appreciate the lot of the populace who elects you.

  8. 05/12/2009 10:16

    oops. sorry about typing. a bit early…

  9. Minnie permalink
    05/12/2009 10:38

    Vanessa Gebbie: thank you. And I especially appreciate your picking up those vile consequences and contrasts: I am enraged by them, too. Typ … tap … type … feeling decidedly bleary myself this am!

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