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Playlist: Sarah Elzas's Portfolio

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Kinshasa orchestra

From Sarah Elzas | 08:12

Classical music in the Congo

Kinshasa_small The Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra has weathered the ups and downs of life in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from wars and coups and the daily struggle of life in a country with one of the largest social divides in the world. Founded in 1994, the orchestra consists of about 80 instrumentalists and a chorus of about 60, and is committed to spreading classical music in DRC. Sarah Elzas meets conductor Armand Diagenda and some of the musicians in conductor as they rehearse for a concert.

Jobs Made in France: Cheese aeger

From Sarah Elzas | Part of the Jobs Made in France series | 03:55

What’s more French than cheese? Some French cheese shops have a 'cave d’affinage', a maturing cellar, so their cheeses ripen in the best possible conditions.

Cheese_photo-emmanuel-and-christophe_small “It's about keeping our patrimony,” says Christophe Lesoin, owner of the Beaufils cheese shop in Paris, about the chees aeging process.

“We need to keep doing this kind of maturing in our shops; otherwise we'll end up with only big companies making things that taste the same.”

Store manager Emmanuel Carbonne says that working with cheese producers gives a sense of the entire food chain: "You can understand the whole global system with cheese. It gives you a picture of what’s happening, about globalisation and everything. For me it’s a way of resisting by working with traditional, real things."

Remembering WWI by recreating the trenches

From Sarah Elzas | 03:55

Le Tommy, in the heart of the Somme battlefields, is more than a restaurant. It has a museum of WWI objects and life-sized replicas of trenches outside.

Le_tommy_small Dominique Zanardi has been bathed in the First World War his whole life. As a boy he collected objects he found in the fields around his village, Pozières. Today he has runs a Le Tommy, a restaraunt for the village's mostly Australian visitors, who to remember the battle there with the most Australian casualties of the war. Inside he's created a museum, with objects farmers and residents have found in the nearby fields. And he's put some of them on display in trenches out back.

Jobs Made in France: French (not German!) bassoonist

From Sarah Elzas | Part of the Jobs Made in France series | 04:45

The bassoon, the largest woodwind instrument, has a split identity: most bassoonists play German instruments but France has its own. The instruments are made with different woods and they are played differently. So the result is a different sound.

Pecqueur-basson_small “With the French bassoon you have a clearer, more precise sound. With the German system you have a bigger, more intense sound,” says musician Antoine Pecqueur.

“I think it’s important to keep the French bassoon, because there is a bit of a risk for the world of classical music: it's the standardisation of the sound. It's like globalisation in politics. I think it's better if they are specific sounds in each country.”

The split came in the 19th century when Germany woodwind makers started making instruments that could play louder, to be heard in bigger concert halls. Today French bassoonists tend to play their own but some musicians play both, choosing the right instrument for the right piece of music.

Jobs Made in France: Scribe

From Sarah Elzas | Part of the Jobs Made in France series | 03:56

Scribes have been around for as long as writing has existed. Although France has a nearly 100 percent literacy rate, the practice of 'ecrivain public' has been coming back: a professional license was established 10 years ago.

Dsc09435_-_agnes_navalho_small Agnès Navalho has a unique set-up: she writes administrative documents for people with very low incomes, in the MobilÔScribe , a mobile office set up in a minivan that she parks near her clients.

“It seems paradoxical, but you need to listen," she says. "They know their own problems, but I don’t. So I listen and ask questions. And then I get to the writing. The content comes from the person and I take care of the form."

"Most of my clients are illiterate. Many are foreigners but many are French. I also have literate, educated people who recognise their inability to properly structure an argument. I do the same job as a ghost-writer, who writes for someone else. But I chose to write for the most disadvantaged people. Others have made a completely different choice."

Jobs Made in France: Notaire

From Sarah Elzas | Part of the Jobs Made in France series | 03:47

If you buy or sell property in France, get divorced or inherit something, you will have to spend time with a notary. Unlike a notary public, who takes oaths and authenticates signatures, a French notaire is a civil notary, who can draft legally binding documents.


French notaries have a monopoly on property transactions, which notary Jérôme Le Breton says keeps a lot of disagreements out of court.

“Unless they have to face litigation, we don’t go to court," he explains. "Notaries are trying to prevent that sort of thing. And it's quite efficient. If you ask judges, they would probably say that there is a large reduction of court cases in France, as compared to a country such as England.”

Notaries are lawyers by training but they must take over a licence from someone else. This used to be done unofficially from father to son, though things are changing. More women are joining the profession, which has been open to women since 1948, although Paris’ first female notary was only licensed in 1977.

Fusion music, 17th-century style

From Sarah Elzas | 07:38

Music has been crossing continents for centuries. French ensemble Baroque Nomade explores the interaction between European Baroque music and the cultures in countries that it was exported to.

Baroque_nomade_small “From the start of colonisation by Europeans, European music went all over the world,” explains Jean-Christophe Frisch, the conductor of Baroque Nomade (Nomadic Baroque), a musical ensembke that looks into connections between European and non-European music from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

All their projects start with historical sources - documentation of the presence of Europeans in a certain country during the 17th century.

Paris fire brigade remains a man's world

From Sarah Elzas | Part of the Wo/men's work series | 04:08

For most of its history, the Paris fire brigade has been all male. One of the force's 400 women talks about the physical challenges, and the need to adapt.

Firefighter_small A branch of the French armed forces, the Paris Fire Brigade started accepting women in 2002. Today the 8,500-member brigade counts 400 active-duty female firefighters, including Lucille Morel. She does the same jobs as her male counterparts. She is up for the physical challenges, but is aware that she needs to adapt herself to what remains a very male world.

Should immigrants to France make their names more French?

From Sarah Elzas | 04:07

France's civil code makes it very difficult to change your name. The one exception is for foreigners at the moment they become French.

Id_card_small In France, the name you receive at birth is the one you are stuck with all your life. The country's civil code makes it very difficult to change. The one exception is for foreigners at the moment they become French. They have the option of 'Frenchifying' their names. But not everyone chooses to do so.

From the archive

Samuel L. Jackson en francais

From Sarah Elzas | 05:05

The French voice behind the image onscreen

Dubber_small The capital of the movie industry is Hollywood. Its language is English. But the rest of the world doesn't necessarily understand the language of that capital, and they don't always want to read subtitles. Enter: voiceover actors. France has one of the most advanced voiceover dubbing industries in the world. And when a Hollywood actor gets famous enough, he or she begins to be dubbed by the same person each time. This piece is a portrait of Thierry Desroses, the French voice of Samuel L. Jackson (among others).

Cathy, 16, Mom

From Sarah Elzas | 06:06

Enter Cathy's world of toddlers, diapers and high school parenting classes...

Cathyradio_small "If I could still have the same kids, I would have waited. But- I love my kids.I wouldn't give 'em up for the world. No matter how hard it is." Cathy is 16. She loves listening to Outkast. She wanted to be a lawyer, but now she thinks she wants to be an accountant. Cathy is also still a freshman in high school because she is the mother of two little boys, the oldest, James, is two years old. She attends a high school for teen mothers which is where she gets the most support from anyone all day. This is a non-narrated, first-person glimpse into the chaotic life of a very young mother. It is not a story of regret and moralizing about early sexuality. Instead, Cathy reflects on her need to be grown-up, as a mother to her two boys, while also wanting to be just a teenager. This piece was produced at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

My Rwanda: The Mighty Popo

From Sarah Elzas | 06:13

Singing about the reconstruction of Rwanda

Poposquare_small Guitarist Popo Murigande, known as the Mighty Popo, came to Canada as a refugee from Rwanda when he was 19 years old. He?s been making music ever since, writing songs about Rwanda and the rebuilding of the country after the 1994 genocide. He?s won two Juno Awards, the Canadian version of the Grammys, with his group the African Guitar Summit.

Baking Christmas in August

From Sarah Elzas | 03:39

In the heat of the summer, pastry chefs look ahead to the busy Christmas season

Christmaspastries_square_small Walk into any pastry shop in Paris in August (if you can find one open!), and you will see fresh summer fruit tarts. But behind the scenes, the chefs are thinking ahead to the busy Christmas season. This piece explores the pastry kitchens of the Grande Epicerie de Paris in August, where - with the help of giant industrial freezers - pastry chefs prepare Christmas pastries in the heat of summer.

To Catch the Past: La Machine

From Sarah Elzas | 04:44

Old tunes for new audiences.

Machinesquare_small Like the growth in popularity of alt-country and the resurgence of roots music in the United States, France is experiencing its own revival of traditional music. Groups are playing old tunes for new audiences. It's called "trad" music, but it sometimes brings new twists on tradition. La Machine mixes the old and the new to "catch the past" as band leader Julien Barbances eloquently puts it.

Carving Music: Oboists and their reeds

From Sarah Elzas | 04:46

Oboe players spend as much time carving reeds for their instruments as they do practicing them.

Oboes_small Most professional oboe players (and bassoonists, and English horn players) carve their own reeds. This is a fact that few people realize, even musicians. The process is never-ending. A single reed takes days to make and perfect. An amazing reed might last several weeks; most are at their peak for about two weeks. Oboists carve their reeds by hand out of pieces of cane, because no one has come up with a plastic reed or a reed-making machine. This piece explores the process of making oboe reeds and delves into the minds of the tenacious musicians who spend hours and hours carving away at pieces of wood that are smaller than their pinky fingers.

FROM THE ARCHIVE: American Purgatory: Political asylum in the age of terrorism

From Sarah Elzas | 53:59

Each year thousands of people arrive in the US seeking refuge from violence and persecution in their home countries. American Purgatory, an audio documentary produced in 2008, portrays the experiences of applying for asylum, a process that is necessarily rigorous. But for those going through it, the process can seem like a contradiction to their vision of the United States: more hell than heaven—a purgatory of sorts.

Americanpurgatory_small Each year thousands of people arrive in the US seeking refuge from violence and persecution in their home countries. American Purgatory, an audio documentary produced in 2008, portrays the experiences of applying for asylum, a process that is necessarily rigorous. But for those going through it, the process can seem like a contradiction to their vision of the United States: more hell than heaven—a purgatory of sorts.