Polar Preparations

Preparations are afoot for a big international conference in the Chamber of Commerce nearby, the beautiful mid-nineteenth-century palais of creamy-beige stone with ornate clock and cupids and pointy bits on the roof, also known as La Bourse.  They've relaid the sidewalk in front, trucks are busy unloading, and signs around town point the way.

The conference is called Quais du Polar. A quai is of course a "quay," or a station platform, and polar is slang for a thriller or whodunit. Thriller writers and filmmakers are coming from around the world. Although I don't read the genre much, having grown up adoring Dorothy Sayers, Edmund Crispin, Ngaio Marsh, and now fearing the contemporary school is too brutal, this is exciting; apparently one novel out of every four sold in France is a polar. 

But what is the origin of this expression? Some dictionaries suggest it's simply a contraction of the word policier, as in roman policier, "detective story." Others give no derivation at all. Of course I've googled around a bit, and, in a 2004 interview on the website polarnoir, the writer Jean-Bernard Pouy says a journalist created the word, but he doesn't say who, or in what context.

Apparently polar first applied more to films, but is now used mainly of books; however, the conference will include books, films, and that big genre here, BD, bandes dessinées: comic strips and graphic novels.  There's also a contest inviting you to write a story; the instructions say they want a polar urbain but otherwise, "le polar est un genre généreux et le champ vous est libre de l'intrigue policière au fantastique, du gris au noir le plus noir, du populo le plus crasseux au bobo le plus snob."  *

I might go to an event or two; at least it would be a change from the activities that have punctuated the last two weeks, such as an MRI appointment, confirmation of a herniated disk, sessions with the kiné (kinésithérapeute, a French physical therapist), exercises I should be doing, core-strengthening postures I should be assuming, and all that non-thrilling stuff.

*The genre is a generous one and the field is open for anything from detective story to fantasy, from the slightly grey to the deepest noir, with the most gritty characters or the most up-market bourgeois bohemians.