(Image source) Things can't really get much worse for French president, François Hollande: the economy is limping, his new government is already in the firing line, Nicolas Sarkozy may be launching a political comeback at any time, unemployment is over 10% and now, well, his private life is splattered all over the press. When it comes to being unpopular (he is at a record all-time low of 13%) and looking an idiot, he doesn't need much help from Valérie Trierweiler. He is managing very well all by himself.
Do I want to read 'Merci pour ce moment'? Of course I do! Hell hath no fury and all that - and besides anything else, the French deserve to know just who they voted in to power and who they're stuck with until the next elections in 2017 (though most have a pretty good idea by now).
There is a saying here: l’information s’arrête à la porte de la chambre à coucher. Huh! Had people known what DSK (and others besides) was up to behind a LOT of closed doors, it would have saved many women a great deal of humiliation and suffering. Nuff said.
Kim Willsher writing for The Guardian says, 'Valérie Trierweiler’s score-settling book about her life with François Hollande, published this week, does not stop at the presidential bedroom door. It does not even knock politely, but kicks it off its hinges, trampling taboos, totems, rules and privacy in its muckraking wake. Merci pour ce Moment (Thanks for the Moment) has no racy sex scenes, unless readers find the image of a besuited Hollande kneeling on a bed with his head in his hands a turn-on, but is still a torrid read, described by one French commentator as “sentimental pornography”. It is also deeply disturbing on many levels.'
(Image source) What has really rocked France is not the news of Hollande's infidelities (nobody is even remotely taken aback) - Gayet won her case against the gossip magazine who revealed the affair just six days ago - but the revelations of his condescension and antipathy where the poor are concerned. Punct. According to Trierweiler, he mocks them unmercifully, labelling them (amongst other insults) "les sans dents", because they can't afford dental treatment, reports The Guardian. Oops. Not at all good for a left-wing leader who won his election in 2012 on promises of social justice. But isn't it better that truth will out?
The surprise launching of Trierweiler's book has caused stuff worthy of a soap opera script. One of the strongest voices to defend him comes from none other than Ecology Minister Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children and his partner of 25 years - the very woman he dumped for Trierweiler.
(Image source) Imagine for a moment the mind-boggling scenario of a British PM with one lover at Number 10 threatening to do herself in whilst another is round the corner waiting to replace her. Can you? No. Impossible. There'd be immediate resignation as we have witnessed with MPs caught in cars with dubiously long-legged ladies who aren't their wives and sowing wild oats beyond their own yards, see HERE, HERE and HERE for example - and they weren't Prime Ministers. They were MPs. In the UK, we call such scandals 'sleaze' and we definitely do NOT appreciate them. Au contraire this side of the puddle: whenever a president of the Vè Republique has been caught en flagrant délit so to speak, his approval ratings have improved.
Interestingly enough, my ex-pat friends are dying to read it. For we Brits, Hollande's antics are fascinating because they are so utterly UNTHINKABLE. How can he possibly behave as shamefully as he does and retain his seat as the President of France? It's an enigma.
Trierweiler is loathed in France today and getting a battering from all sides. Did she expect it? Probably. And why? Because she has broken a cardinal rule: 'the private life of a public figure must remain inviolable'.
But it is not this book that will damage Hollande. 'Trierweiler merely goes to confirm the general sense of government that took power with noble intentions, but rides a moped to a lover’s den at night, while during the day acts not out of evil or deceit, but in a way that is incorrigibly shabby,' says Ivan Briscoe for The Herald. Correct.
(Photo source) As certain bookshops refuse to stock such a torchon and TV channels loudly omit to mention it, it makes Trierweiler's kiss-and-tell all the more enticing. Haven't the French learned that the more one tries to cover something up, the more tempting it becomes?
Gérard Collard, a bookseller in Saint-Maur des Fossés, near Paris, told The Telegraph he expected sales to reach half a million. He said the book was "a huge success of the kind you only see once a decade" and that it had "displeased the politicians" but sold well to "the middle classes who feel under attack by President Hollande" and have seen their taxes rise since he came to power. I bet!
Interestingly enough, there are quite a lot of scathing books out by former French politicians that are likely to embarrass and make not only waves but veritable tsunamis. According to the NYT, we have 'I Will No Longer Stay Silent,' by Claude Bartolone, president of the National Assembly (out Oct. 15th) which sounds ominous; 'The Parties Will Die ... and They Don’t Know It,' by Robert Hue, former Communist Party leader (fun all the way in that one, me thinks); and even more depressingly, 'To Future Generations Who Will Have to Pay for Our Mistakes,' by 84-year-old former prime minister, Michel Rocard to look forward to. And that's not all.
Already on the shelves is 'From the Inside: A Voyage to the Land of Disillusion,' by Cécile Duflot, once leader of the Greens who resigned as Hollande’s housing minister, describing her two years in Hollande's cabinet (and none too flatteringly either). "His main fault is that he doesn’t say what he means," she writes. She criticises him for abandoning his Socialist Party base and by extension, herself. 'Her disappointment with a president who failed to follow her advice jumps off almost every page,' says the informative article 'Raw Politics on French Bookshelves' in the NYT.
There's a biography of Arnaud Montebourg due out this week, too. Oh blimey. Remember him? Economy minister, he was fired after unsuccessfully challenging Hollande’s policies last month, which wreaked havoc and triggered a cabinet reshuffle. The book, 'Montebourg: I, President,' (sounds like a spoof on I, Claudius!) is probably proof that Montebourg's exit was nothing short of a relief. But still. More scandal, more dirt-dishing, grubby laundry, lots of the smelly stuff and not enough shovels - none of it anything for which le palais de l’Elysée should be proud.
In the meantime, the first 200,000 copies of Trierweiler's book have sold out. More are being printed, and expected to be on the shelves by Wednesday. I for one shall be waiting and perhaps I shall pick up a copy of Duflot's book too while I'm at it....
This latest French farce hot off the boards of a théâtre de boulevard could close with a particularly tragic final scene, for Marine Le Pen (far-right FN) is waiting in the wings looking horribly smug. She is now heading the polls for 2015 and it is estimated that she would beat Hollande in a second round. What an odious thought. Is that the real reason Trierweiler is so hated? For putting France in danger? Surely, one needs look no further than the President for that.
(Photo source) You're probably wondering why these last two posts are all about such grizzly stuff... Well, because one of my classes this morning was on famous murder cases in France. My student came up with a handful I had never heard of and thought that La Cérémonie by Chabrol may have been based on this story. Perhaps it influenced it, who knows, but the film (see previous post) was adapted from a book by Ruth Rendall rather than this appalling crime. In any case, all that was more than enough to tweak my curiosity and send me off for more info as to what happened that terrible night on rue Bruyère, Le Mans, in 1933 - a crime that still haunts many and is subject for controversy even today.
Having scoured the web for more, by far the best info comes from Christine and Léa Papin and other studies in crime by Neil Paton. Please click on the link for more. I hope Mr Paton won't mind if I copy and paste his analysis to share with you, for, as I said, I have found no better insight anywhere else in cyberspace (neither in French nor English).
"In February, 1933, the whole of France was horrified to learn of an unspeakably savage double murder that had taken place in the town of Le Mans. Two respectable, middle-class women, mother and daughter, had been murdered by their maids (pictured right), two sisters who lived in the house. The maids had not simply killed the women, but had gouged their eyes out with their fingers while they were alive and had then used a hammer and knife to reduce both women to a bloody pulp. In both cases, there were no wounds to the body. Apart from some gashes to the daughter's legs, the full force of the attack was directed at the heads and the victims were left literally unrecognisable.
Adding the bizarre to the horrifying, the maids made no attempt to escape and were found together in bed, naked and in each other's arms. This naturally added a dimension of scandal and titillation to the case. Were the maids having a sexual relationship? If so, it was both homosexual and incestuous. Overnight, the two sisters, aged 21 and 27, became infamous. The public was inflamed in a way that rarely happens unless a particularly brutal and large-scale massacre takes place. The tabloids went berserk, calling the sisters colourful names like the Monsters of Le Mans, the Lambs Who Became Wolves and the Raging Sheep. Suddenly the names of Christine and Lea (pronounced Lay-ah) Papin were known throughout the land. Almost as striking as the horrifying murders was the contrast between the violence and the reserved demeanour of the sisters. They had worked for their employers for seven years and had always been quiet, hard-working and well behaved. Their work references described them as honest, industrious and proper. Needless to say, they had no criminal record. They had always spent their spare time together, appeared to have no vices and were regular church-goers. Yet suddenly, and without the slightest warning, these two quiet maids had turned into monsters.
(Photo: The sisters on their way to court, 1933) While most of the French population simply wanted to lynch the sisters, others were intrigued and wanted to understand what had happened. The latter had plenty of grist for their intellectual mill. Theories abounded, focusing mainly on the idea that the murders had been an example of class warfare. The psychoanalysts also weighed in, finding fertile material in the eye-gouging and the apparent sexual relationship between the sisters. Almost eight months elapsed between the murders and the trial, providing ample time for fevered imaginations to dream up theories. Even while in prison awaiting their trial, the sisters managed to provide more food for thought. The elder sister, Christine, spent much of her time crying out for Lea and begging to be reunited with her. She rolled around on the floor in apparent paroxysms of sexual agony and sometimes expressed herself in sexually explicit language. When not crying for Lea, she experienced apparent hallucinations and visions. During one such attack, in July 1933, she attempted to gouge her own eyes out and had to be put in a straightjacket.
On the day after this attack, Christine called for the investigating magistrate and gave him a new statement in which she said that she had not told him the whole truth before; that she had killed the two women, Madame and Madamoiselle Lancelin, on her own as a result of a kind of "fit" coming over her; and that Lea had not taken part in the murders. The investigating judge dismissed this statement as merely a spurious way of trying to set Lea free, and the jury at the trial treated it with equal contempt. Moreover, Lea persisted in saying that she had taken part in the murders.
(Photo source) The trial, in September, 1933, was a national event, attended by vast numbers of public and press. Police had to be called in to control the crowds outside the packed courthouse. There were moments during the trial when the judge had to threaten to clear the court in order to control the emotional reactions of the people in the public gallery, particularly when the eye-gouging was described. Naturally enough, the girls denied having had a sexual relationship, but never made any attempt to deny the murders.
Not surprisingly, they were found guilty of murder and Christine was sentenced to death on the guillotine. As the sentence was pronounced, she fell to her knees and had to be assisted by her solicitor. Lea, for her part, was found guilty of the murder of Madame Lancelin but had not been charged with the murder of the daughter, Genevieve, because doctors concluded that Genevieve had died before Lea had joined in the murders. The younger sister was sentenced to ten years' hard labour.The jury had found some extenuating circumstances in her case because she had been completely dominated by the overweening Christine.
(Photo source: the Papin sisters during the trial) Christine's sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, the normal procedure in the the case of women. However, her condition deteriorated rapidly in prison. Profoundly depressed over being separated from her beloved Lea, she refused to eat and became progressively worse. Transferred to the asylum in the town of Rennes, she never showed the slightest sign of improving as time went by and died in 1937. The official cause of death was "cachexie", ie wasting away.
Lea, on the other hand, continued to be her usual quiet, mild-mannered self while in prison and was released after eight years, gaining remissions for good behaviour. She was then joined by her mother, Clemence, and they settled in the town of Nantes, south of Rennes. Lea worked as a hotel chambermaid, going under the false name of Marie. In 1966 the French writer Paulette Houdyer produced a book, L'Affaire Papin, which told the story of the Papin sisters in an unfortunately novelish format. Apparently as a result of this book, Lea was interviewed by a journalist from France-Soir. In this interview we learn that she experienced vivid visions of Christine appearing before her in spirit form and was certain that her sister was in paradise. She still kept old photos of Christine, as well as an old trunk crammed with beautiful dresses that the girls had made for themselves before the murders. She also stated that she was saving to return to Le Mans and rejoin her other sister, Emilia, who had become a nun at the age of sixteen, but there is no evidence that she did so. The interview in France-Soir is the last record of the lives of the Papin sisters.It was thought for many years that Lea had died in 1982 at the age of seventy, but the French film-maker Claude Ventura recently repudiated this idea. In the course of making his documentary film, En Quete des Soeurs Papin, Ventura found various inconsistencies and anomalies in the official records. As a result, he made the astonishing discovery that Lea had not died in 1982, as everyone had thought, but was still alive at the time he was making his film.
(Photo source: from a weekly detective paper) Although not widely known outside France, the Papin sisters have, as the years have gone by, had an impact that few people, criminal or otherwise, have had. At the time of writing, there have been something like three plays, three films and a number of books based on these benighted girls, plus numerous articles. Even most celebrities, French or otherwise, cannot boast of a record like that. The Papin sisters have a remarkable capacity for intriguing people, fascinating them and provoking them to intellectual and creative efforts. Probably only Jack the Ripper has provoked a greater outpouring.
The Papin case is a psychological one as much as a criminal one, and it has already been noted that the psychoanalysts had a field day with the sisters. Looking at them from a modern perspective, however, it is clear that Christine Papin would nowadays be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. In the 1930s there was no effective treatment for her malady, but these days she would be treated with major tranquilisers and would probably have a longer life, if not a happy one. Her sister Lea, on the other hand, never showed signs of being psychotic and there is no reason to believe that she was. She appears to have been very timid, anxious and prone to panic states when under stress, and probably suffered from anxiety disorders. She also had rather low intelligence and was dominated by her older sister. During the trial, doctors testified that Lea's personality seemed to have disappeared completely into Christine's personality. Lea was, by all accounts, a shy, good-natured and gentle person. Employers never had a bad word to say about her, whereas Christine had a "difficult" personality and had sometimes been dismissed for insolence. Lea's tragedy was that she was so dominated by Christine. If she had been separated from Christine at an earlier stage, she certainly would have led a blameless life and never would have passed through a prison gate. One perceptive employer had, in fact, suggested to Lea's mother that she should place the girls in separate jobs because Christine was a bad influence on Lea but, unfortunately for Lea, the suggestion was ignored.
(Photo source: Papin Sisters) That the sisters had severe problems is not surprising in view of the family history. Their paternal grandfather had been given to violent attacks of temper and epileptic fits. Some relatives had died in asylums or committed suicide. Their father, Gustave Papin, had had a drinking problem and had also raped their sister Emilia when she was nine years old. This attack had precipitated their parents' divorce, after which Christine and Emilia had lived in an orphanage at Le Mans for several years. Lea had been looked after by an uncle until he had died, then she too had been placed in an orphanage until she was old enough to work. Their mother had visited them regularly during this time but there was always a certain degree of friction between her and Christine. Approximately two years before the murders, there was a complete rift between the girls and their mother, apparently caused by disagreements over money. Their mother wrote to them on occasion after this rift, but was ignored.
(Photo source: Christine Papin still wearing the dressing gown in which she'd been arrested) The one constant in the lives of the sisters, and their only enduring emotional tie, was their devotion to each other. They worked together whenever they could and it was thus that they ended up in the Lancelin household in 1926. Christine started working there first and within a few months had persuaded the Lancelins to take on Lea as well. Christine worked as the cook and Lea as the chambermaid. It seems that their contact with the family was minimal and their employers rarely bothered to talk to them. They shared a room on the top floor of the Lancelins' three-storey terrace and kept largely to themselves. They went to Mass every Sunday, but appeared to have no interests apart from each other.
Psychologically, the girls in fact became enmeshed in a condition known to the French as folie a deux: literally, madness in pairs, otherwise known as shared paranoid disorder. Characteristically, this condition occurs in small groups or pairs who become isolated from the world at large and lead an intense, inward-looking existence with a paranoid view of the outside world. Most couples who commit murders together in fact have this kind of insular, inward-looking relationship. It is also typical of shared paranoid disorder that one partner dominates the other, and the Papin sisters were the perfect example.
(Photo source: 'The Papin Sisters' by Keith Reader and Rachel Edwards) According to statements made by some witnesses, Christine became increasingly agitated and manic in the months leading up to the murders. Her condition was obviously worsening, and on the evening of February 2nd, 1933, her madness finally came to a head. She attacked first the mother and then the daughter, gouging with her fingers. At some stage she was joined by Lea and the attack was continued with a hammer and knife, plus a pewter pot that stood in the hallway. It seems to have lasted for approximately thirty minutes, after which the victims were literally beyond recognition. The sisters then washed the blood from themselves, went to their room, disrobed, climbed into bed and waited for the police to arrive. They made no attempt to escape and no attempt to disguise their deeds.
As has already been noted, the Papin sisters have had a remarkable impact, giving rise to a string of works about them or otherwise related to them. The first was the play The Maids, by Jean Genet, which was first produced in 1947, while Lea was still alive and probably when she was working in the hotel. Genet's play was followed eventually by other plays and films, plus a never-ending stream of articles and books. It is a remarkable record for two benighted maids whose lives would have remained dark and obscure if not for two hideous murders committed on a winter's night in Le Mans."
Here are trailers for two of the films made of the Papin Sisters: Sister my sister and Murderous Maids (2000), a French film ("Les blessures assassines") with Sylvie Testud as Christine and Julie-Marie Parmentier as Léa.
So there you have it... a terrible (and perhaps avoidable?) human tragedy on oh, so many levels... As Kimit Muston writes, "It highlights a world now long gone, and the life of two bourgeoisie peasant girls, born into a universe that seems to have had little use for them until they achieved fame by doing something despicable. And the instant they did it no longer mattered who the Papin sisters really were. At that point they became merely characters in someone else’s play."
(Photo source) La Cérémonie (1995) by the great Claude Chabrol, known as the 'French Hitchcock', and Caroline Eliacheff was based on and adapted from Ruth Rendell’s Judgment in Stone. Chabrol's interest in thrillers was not particularly in the source of the plot itself nor in the suspense but in exploring the psychology of murder. He was motivated by what he called "the confrontation between character and story". The focus was on personality and how the camera could best express the inner attitudes of his leads. Chabrol was a 'woman’s director' and Isabelle Huppert, his most regular partner, was at her very best in La Cérémonie - definitely one of his most disturbing and unforgettable masterpieces which won numerous international awards.
What could have been a juicy thriller in the hands of any other director is a truly haunting masterpiece of observant social commentary on the eternal confrontation between rich and poor in the hands of Chabrol. It was his 49th film and labelled jokingly by Chabrol as France's 'last Marxist film'.
The site Strictly Film School gives this synopsis:
A young woman named Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) is interviewed for a housekeeping position at the country estate of Catherine Lelievre (Jacqueline Bisset) and her family. Sophie is enigmatically succinct in her answers, but her references are highly complimentary, and she is immediately offered the job. However, from the onset, it is evident that there is something odd about Sophie's behavior. She has an instinctive, patent response of "I don't know" to most questions, even when the answer does not apply. She refuses to dust the books in the library, despite keeping the rest of the house impeccably clean. She prefers to wash the dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher. When she is given the opportunity to take driving lessons, she claims to have poor vision and declines the offer. Georges Lelievre (Jean-Pierre Cassel) sends her to an optometrist for an eye examination, but she avoids the appointment, and spends the afternoon shopping around town. One day, she is left a note on the kitchen table, and the truth becomes evident - Sophie cannot read. In an attempt to conceal her illiteracy from everyone, she becomes increasingly withdrawn from her employers, and the deception and lies compound. Inevitably, her friendship with an eccentric, interfering postal worker named Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), a woman of dubious character, grows unnaturally close, and the relationship leads to an incomprehensible act.
Claude Chabrol explores the themes of isolation and loneliness in La Ceremonie. The film's opening credits roll against the landscape shot of Madame Lelievre's car traversing the empty road leading to the remote estate. In essence, the geographic location is a reflection of Sophie's alienation from the Lelievre family, as she attempts to keep her illiteracy a secret. Sophie's long walks to town and her affinity for watching television serve, not as pleasant diversions from the emptiness and boredom of the house, but as a means of distraction and evasion. Her relationship with the disreputable Jeanne stems from a mutual sense of maladjustment and disaffection. La Ceremonie is an elegant, haunting, and tragic tale of a woman driven by personal insecurity down a path of destruction and despair. It is the road to ruin.
Why was it called La Cérémonie? Well, because this was the name given by the French to events leading up to an execution by guillotine. "Although," says Roger Ebert, "there are no guillotines in this film, there is a relentless feeling to it, as if the characters are engaged in a performance that can have only one outcome." You can read Ebert's superb review/analysis HERE, along with another take on it HERE from The New York Times and yet another HERE in The Guardian.
Isabelle Huppert (Jeanne), Sandrine Bonnaire (Sophie), Jacqueline Bisset (Catherine Lelievre), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Georges Lelievre), Virginie Ledoyen (Melinda Lelievre) and Valentin Merlet (Gilles Lelievre)
Director of photography: Bernard Zitzermann; Edited by Monique Fardoulis; Music by Mathieu Chabrol; Produced by Marin Karmitz
(Photo source) As I cleaned my teeth this morning listening to the news on my bathroom radio waiting to learn when the next strike would be, the announcement that Marie Dedieu was dead caused me to burst into tears. Why? Because she was a good woman and she was sick, she probably died in the most terrible fear and pain, the victim of gratuitous brutality and indescribable cruelty. That's why.
Marie Dedieu, aged 66, was wheelchair-bound and on regular medication for cancer and heart problems. When she was kidnapped, those scumbags left her wheelchair behind them along with her medicines without which, her friends say she would have been in dreadful pain and in danger of rapid deterioration.
She had lived part-time in Kenya since the 1990's, was grabbed from her beach-hut home on the island of Manda in the Lamu archipelago by an armed gang on 1st October and taken by sea to Somalia.
The Kenyan-government's finger today is pointing at the al-Shahab militant Islamic group powerful in the south and central Somalia. In a country where a war has been raging between a variety of groups for over two decades, arms are easy to come by, thus leading to the conclusion that any one of these armed groups could be responsible. If it is indeed al-Shahab, then it will be the first time the group has kidnapped a foreigner this far from its own zone. Pirates working in this area typically hold ships and their crew for ransom rather than operating on land. Al-Shahab has denied any part in the kidnapping and murder. The only attack it ever carried out far from Somalia was a 2010 suicide bombing in Uganda where dozens fell victim.
The exact date and how Marie actually died remain unknown, but her poor health and the supposition that her medication was denied lead to fears that "this tragic outcome was highly likely".
Scouring the French press this morning for as much info as I could gauge, I was disgusted by some of the comments which just go to underline how foul some people can be - long live Islam!, yelled one of them. Well what did she expect living there anyway? said another. And one more: She left France and wanted our help? Little mention of how this poor woman must have suffered. Her physical pain and terror. What her last moments must have been. I felt sick to the stomach. is this what humanity has come to? So little compassion from the average Jean Dupont in the street? There were of course also cries of great distress and grief.
Who was Marie Dedieu? The BBC describes her as, "A journalist and feminist activist in France, she worked at a feminist magazine in the 1970s and campaigned for the liberalisation of abortion laws.
About seven years ago, Mrs Dedieu rented a patch of land on the island of Manda, opposite Lamu island. She built a small house there, in a traditional Swahili style, with a turf roof.
She called it her "little corner of paradise"."
An activist. A humanitarian. Someone who lived and gave for others. That's who Marie Dedieu was.
French officials have been far more compassionate than some of her compatriots. In a statement, the French foreign ministry expressed its "indignation at the total lack of humanity and the cruelty shown by the kidnappers of our compatriot" and Alain Juppé said "it was an act of barbarity, violence and immeasurable cruelty."
Will Ross, East African correspondent says in his analysis for the BBC,
"Sadly this news has not come as a great surprise to people who knew Marie Dedieu in Lamu. She had been spending the European winters there for several years and her friends say she was in very poor health with cancer and a heart condition making daily medicine a necessity.
If as the French foreign ministry suggests she was denied access to the life saving medicine, her death was tantamount to murder. If the pursuit of a hefty ransom payment was the motive for the kidnapping then taking somebody in poor health who was also severely disabled seems a strange choice. It is not clear who was holding her.
In lawless Somalia, al-Shabab, pirate gangs and bandits are all possible candidates. When money is the goal the groups also co-operate with each other. The Kenyan government is likely to portray Mrs Dedieu's death as another reason to justify the incursion into Somalia to fight al-Shabab. But analysts say there is no concrete proof that al-Shabab was behind the recent kidnappings and the group has denied any involvement in them."
May Marie Dedieu now rest in peace and may those who say she deserved what she got because she left France and went to live in a troubled area be truly and profoundly ashamed of themselves. I, for one, am bouleversée...
(Photo: Marcel Petiot in court: Source: Libération de Paris) On March 11th, 1944 when Commissaire Massu went to investigate a putrid smell and thick, acrid smoke emanating from the basement of 21, rue Le Sueur in the 16è arrondissement in Paris, he had no idea of the shock that lay ahead....a pit of quicklime still filled with human remains, a system of pulleys, ropes and chains over a deep trench, a 'blind' wall hiding comings and goings from potentially curious eyes of neighbours, a strange, small, sound-proofed outbuilding, a coal stove evidently for burning body parts as bones were clearly visible, bits of human debris strewn all over the place - arms, legs, skulls, bones and...not far from where he stood, a body slit from head to toe clearly awaiting disposal. The search was on in Paris for a serial killer.
Identifying the owner of the basement as a Dr Petiot, it soon became painfully obvious he was nowhere to be found. Massu wondered whether Petiot was a member of some Gestapo death squad for there were far too many bodies for one man to deal with alone, but a rapid telegramme from Massu's hierarchy put pains to that lead: "Order from the German authorities: procede with Petiot's arrest. Dangerous madman." If Petiot had been working for the Gestapo (whose HQ were also in the 16è, rue Laureston), they would have protected him. They didn't. A massive man-hunt began.
(Photo: 21, rue Le Sueur: Source: Guillotine) The newspapers had a field day, reporting on the "abominable Dr Petiot" and "le vampire de l'Etoile". They were also very quick to report the embarrassing fact that he had simply vanished into thin air.
However, a scandalous article soon appeared in the newspaper, Résistance, in September '44 aimed at bringing Petiot out of his hole. The journalist Jacques Yonnet told readers that Petiot was a weasel. Not an admirable doctor at all but a cocaine trafficker, a spy, a double-crosser and informer for the Gestapo in Marseilles.
The article had the desired effect. Megalomania pricked, Petiot was beside himself with rage. A man who considered himself digne of the utmost respect and admiration, he liked to be taken seriously. Very seriously indeed. Through a lawyer, he addressed the journalist in a letter of protest in which he swore he had acted for the resistance. His one vital error was to hand-write the letter. A rumour had spread that Petiot was a member of the militia and was serving in the 'treatment/purification' sector under the assumed name of 'Valéry'. The hand-writing of the letter was compared to several specimens belonging to high-ranking members...
(Photo:Carte d'Identité found on Petiot in the name of 'Wettervald': Source: Guillotine)31st October, 1944, almost 67 years to the day, a Captain Wettervald was stopped by four men on the steps of the St Mandé Tourelle metro near Vincennes. Wettervald was taken to Reuilly where he was found in possession of a revolver, patriotic militia cards, an ID card for membership to the French Communist Association, a communist party membership card, 31,000FF in cash and a sizeable number of papers and documents in the names of Valéry, Wettervald, Gilbert, de Frutos and Cacheux. On 20th August, documents proved that Petiot had indeed joined the militia under the pseudonym Valéry.
Now for a little background on Marcel Petiot before we go any further, for there were signs of psychopathy from a very early age. Things don't change, it seems, for although he was interned in several psychiatric hospitals and even served jail-time, he was set free, and, criminal insanity notwithstanding, he became a physician. Judging by all that you will learn, it will come as no surprise that Petiot did what he did. The writing had been on the wall for decades.. well, read on:
Since early childhood, Petiot had shown signs of cruelty and violence from strangling a cat after having thrust its paws into boiling water, to shooting live animals, watching them die in agony. When he was 8, he distributed obscene images to his classmates at school leading to a spell in St Anne's psychiatric hospital. His mother died when he was 12 and from that point on, he was moved from correctional institution to correctional institution. None of them did any good. At 17, he was arrested for theft but was never sentenced as a psychiatrist declared him inapt for judgement, diagnosing bi-polar disorder.
In 1916, he was wounded in WW1 by grenade shrapnel. Accused of stealing a blanket at the hospital where he was treated, he was sent to the military prison in Orléans before being transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Fleury-les-Aubrais where psychiatrists declared him a neurasthenic, mentally unstable paranoid depressive with tendancy to phobias. Quite a list. Despite all that, he was sent back to the front in 1918, wounded again and sent back to the psychiatric hospital.
Because ex-war veterans were entitled to easy access to studies, he obtained his medical diploma on 15th December, 1921 at the Paris Fac. (although THIS article states that the diploma obtention was highly unlikely due to the time factor and Petiot's mental history, which leads one to believe he was never a doctor at all) and opened his own surgery at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne in 1922 where he became very popular largely due to giving free consultations and vaccines to immigrants, curing all gynaecological ills with abortion and treating drug addicts' withdrawal symptoms by prescribing them any drug they wanted. The 'good doctor' was remarked early on, though, to having a certain tendancy to cleptomania...
In 1926, the villagers of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne became aware of a 'liaison' between the 'good' doctor and the daughter of one of his patients. A short time later, the girl's house was burned to the ground and she disappeared without trace. A decomposed, unidentifiable body was found over the following months leading the investigators to believe that, logically, it must have belonged to the missing girl. However, no link could ever be tied to Petiot despite numerous pain-staking efforts on the part of the local police who were convinced of his guilt. Another 'incident' concerned Louise Delaveau, another of Petiot's girlfriends. Louise had the misfortune to become pregnant and told a friend in the village that Petiot wanted to perform an abortion. Louise vanished mysteriously and when the headless corpse of a woman turned up in the River Yonne, the villagers insisted it was that of Louise and Petiot had 'done her in'.The police did not investigate, claiming insufficient evidence. For yet more info (do you need more?) on Petiot's grizzly crimes at this time, see HERE.
He was elected mayor in a very dubious election in 1926. Very quickly, he was brought in front of a tribunal for a long list of misdemeanours: fraudulent social security declarations, money-laundering, electricity theft to name just a few. His position as mayor was revoked in 1931 but he was elected conseiller général that same year. Three years later, he was definitively fired for further illegal dealings and barred from any kind of electoral mandate. It was at this time that stories of unexplained disappearances began to surface. In 1933, Petiot signed the death certificate of an important witness in a murder trial where he, himself was implicated since the victim had vanished after a consultation with Petiot. Futher pursued by the courts for diverse petty crimes, Petiot moved to Paris. You now know what happened next.
(Photo: Commissaire Massu at 21 rue Le Sueur: Source: Guillotine) Petio insisted he had only killed Germans and collaborators. His 63 victims identified from the 72 suitcases and 655 kg of belongings (including a pair of child's pyjamas belonging to little René Kneller who had disappeared along with his parents) he had imprudently (and arrogantly) kept as trophies, were, however, candidates for escape plans to freedom. Head of a fictitious resistance network, he lured them to rue Le Sueur, then, after having derobed them of money, jewellery and all other belongings, he killed them most horribly (it was later proven that the sound-proofed outhouse was the 'surgery' where he had injected his 'clients' with lethal substances. He used a peep-hole in the door to watch as they died in agony), disposing of their bodies either in the quicklime pit, a water-boiler or the coal stove.
In an article "Dr Petiot will see you now", Marilyn Z. Tomlins writes for Crime Magazine: "It was May 25th, 1946: a Saturday morning. Dr. Petiot, 49, had stood trial at the Assize Court at the Palais de Justice for the murder of 27 people. He had been found guilty of the murder of 26. The police had thought, though, that he had murdered many more: 200 was the number they suggested. "To be on the safe side, I'll settle for 150," one of the police investigators had said. As required by French law, on the opening morning of the trial, the judge who was to preside over the proceedings (Marcel Leser) had confronted Petiot in an ante-chamber. "You are going to be tried for the premeditated assassination of 27 people. If you are found guilty you will be executed by guillotine," he had warned. "Not 27," Petiot had replied, arrogance in his voice. "I liquidated 63 persons, but all were enemies of France!" "
Dr Marcel Petiot was guillotined on May 25th, 1946 at Prison La Santé in Paris.
Horribly fascinating? Well, if I hadn't received THIS article from NYT this morning, I'd never have known and you'd never have known either (unless you already did). For more on this grizzly tale, a new book has just been launched entitled 'Death In The City Of Light' by David King.
The first impact made by Sartre on his French audience came from his play “Mosaic” on what it is to tell a story. It was the tale of a man sitting in a library writing documents. It is cleverly constructed, both acting as a biography and diary simultaneously where Sartre speaks of a systematic failure to grasp what life is and the evidence that we, as humanity, are condemned to misunderstand ourselves. We tell stories with the purpose of trying to make sense of things. There is a beginning, a middle and an end. But since, according to Sartre, there is no such thing as a true story because truth itself does not exist, then there is no sense that can ever be made. We try to imagine an end to a story or a situation to throw light on the present, but it never actually works. How can it?
In his autobiography, “Les Mots”, we read once again of the big question: is there any sense in anything? The same illusion is traced. Traditional philosophy teaches that we have a sense of who we are and from that, we build out towards the world and others. Sartre, however, considered things to be quite the reverse – that we get a sense of ourselves through the world and those around us rather than the contrary.
Jean-Paul Sartre came from a bourgeois family. His mother, an Alsacian, was a cousin of Albert Schweizer and was rather a comical character who profoundly irritated her son. She liked to read trashy, romantic novels and tittered at the racey bits as she shared them with her daughter. Poulu (Sartre’s affectionate family nickname) was fascinated by books and was inducted at an early age into the world of culture via his grandfather, who had an extensive library. His father died when he was only fifteen months old.
When Sartre met Simone de Beauvois at the Ecole Normal Superieur, she had an immediate and crucial affect on him. Not only did she act as competition – she came first in her exam results at the ENS whilst Sartre came a sultry second in 1929, but she also stuck by him through thick and thin. She was a key figure in his life and nursed him to his death.
When Paris was occupied under German rule, Sartre was taken prisoner. During his incarceration in Stalag 12, he spent much of his time writing plays. He wrote, directed and even starred in a nativity play which was veiled as an appeal for resistance. When released, he fell back into Parisian life and seemed to be allowed quite a large amount of freedom. He was not, apart from being a prisoner for a short time, unduly affected by the enemy occupation and for this, he was bitterly criticised by Eugene Ionescu.
His teaching post in Paris had belonged to a deported jew and this was also much held against him despite the fact that he didn’t ask for nor accept the job personally. Though he has also been accused of not fighting against the occupying forces and taking a bigger part in resistance, he did write resistance plays. “Les Mouches” encouraged rejection of the enemy on French territory and he felt he had presented a grey situation in stark black and white. Looking back, he said, “The French were never so free as when under Nazi occupation,” which of course created an uproar. Provocative and paradoxal, what he seemed to mean was that people were never so aware of freedom as when they were not free. He didn’t mean freedom to do what one wanted, the lack of freedom from being imprisoned or persecuted, but the freedom of consciousness. With practical freedom so restricted, one therefore reflected on it far more. There was a choice. You either sided with the occupier or you didn’t.
“Man is condemned to be free”, he said. Not the freedom of will or action, but the freedom of thinking and interpreting, for central to all thought was the very nature of consciousness. Reality was only, to Sartre, a small part of the whole picture. One is aware of what is taking place around oneself, but, he said, one also had to be aware of what wasn’t. Absences are not imposed by the world, but are of individual and personal construction. This leads to the freedom of judgement. Freedom is inescapable and terrifies us for it is a huge and massive responsibility.
It is important to note that Sartre was far from a nihilist. Though his writings are often tinged with despair, Sartre himself was a tireless advocate of social change and, in a sense, a great optimist. A firm believer in human dignity, he remained a high school teacher for years and refused to wear a tie while on the job. He detailed his concept of social responsibility in Existentialism and Humanism, and became deeply involved in leftist politics.
Sartre entered the political world with the creation of a wide-ranging literary magazine, Les Temps Modernes. To Sartre, his form of resistance was through writing. Writing meant thinking and this was a challenging and political act. Sartre wrote against everything – the bourgeoisie, the social situation, the economy, etc… he called his readers to use their skills in a political uprising.
His life with Simone de Beauvois was an odd one. They never married, for Sartre did not believe in such a bourgeois institution. She was a powerful intellectual with strong feminist beliefs who was highly interactive in the works of Sartre, for they read each others oeuvres and gave constructive criticism. Her book on ethics was published while he never managed to even finish his. Their lives were closely intertwined not only thorugh their love for one another but through their thought processes. There was also a contingent love, however, for they agreed to have a ‘free’ relationship, allowing for secondary affairs. That would have been fine, except that they then seedily told each other about them in letters with a high degree of physical detail that could make a nun’s hair curl under her wimple. This was painful for Simone de Beauvois. Her book, “The Second Sex” is a Sartrian book and one can see why. It explains that women are born into a set of expectations. Her aim was to force home the fact that women could make up their own stories and thus their own paths in life. Her famous quote ‘you are not born a woman, you become one’ sums it up in a nutshell.
The situation in Paris after the liberation was ambiguous to say the least. There was less food in France two years after the war than there had been during it, and although Sartre knew about the injustices and terrible suffering in Russia at the time, he sided with the USSR against the USA.
Sartre met Albert Camus, a pied noir from Algeria of working class origins at one of his rehearsals of Les Mouches. They were friends, though not close, and eventually fell out over a political dispute. Sartre considered Camus to be of the soft line when it came to politics. While Camus was pro-America, sartre definitely was not. They also fought over Algeria.
When Camus published “The Rebel”, Sartre wrote a damning review of it in “Les Temps Modernes”. He accused Camus of not reading the philosphers he had quoted (this was true) and talking drivel. It was a brutal attack.
They were complete opposites in every way, but they also greatly admired each other. Camus had played a very active role in the resistance and even had a false ID. Sartre never had, taking his political positions in his writing, and had regretted it. He had wanted to be more politically active and there was Camus like a muskateer, a genuine political animal. Sartre envied him. As for the USSR, Camus considered it a force for great evil. Sartre did not. He also would have been an Islamophobic in today’s measures, believing that the world was in danger of Islamic political forces and indoctrinations. Of course, Camus disagreed. He campaigned in 1954 for the French to install a secular democracy in Algeria. When Sartre decided he had been wrong about the USSR and communism on the day Russian tanks entered Budapest, he jumped ship to advocate anti-colonial liberation. In "Le Fantome de Staline", an article he wrote for Les Temps Modernes, Sartre condemned the intervention, as well as the French Communist Party's submission to the Soviets. “Critique of Dialectical Reason”, published in 1960, proposed what is now known as Sartrian Socialism, a model by which Sartre demanded that Marxism recognise differences between one society and another and respect human freedom. With that and the rapping over “The Rebel”, he and Camus, who was so disgusted with this decision of Sartre’s, never spoke again. Camus died soon after.
Sartre wanted to take over the conditioning and background of Marxism to marry it to the idea of freedom of existentialism. He wasn’t interested in the Marxist buzzword ‘economy’. His Marxism was in fact, very ‘loose’. He could only see human freedom working through human curcumstances and saw it as his task to teach marxists what they should be thinking. He wanted to redefine it, to purify it, and lead it away from the inexorable economic laws. He didn’t even like Marx and had never read a single one of his writings. He liked, however, the idea of collective experience: we are who we are by the stories we tell ourselves… His Marxism was not Marx’s Marxism but Sartre’s Marxism. A whole different kettle of fish.
The Vietnam War provided another arena for Sartre's political convictions. He actively opposed the war, just as he had opposed France's war in Algeria, and in 1967 he headed the International War Crimes Tribunal, which had been established by Bertrand Russell to judge American military conduct in Indochina.
The theatre world was changing with the arrival of the likes of Beckett and ‘Waiting for Godot’. It was late post-modernism and was beyond Sartre. He realised his plays could no longer have the effect he wanted on his audiences for the trend had changed and the collage had taken over. He bowed out and wrote his books instead. He would, apparently, have loved to have written for cinema and indeed did write a screen play for John Houston on Freud.
“We are what we make of what others make of us”… Sartre, a creative philosopher, took fundamental thoughts of freedom and consciousness and proved they had a bearing…
Sartre died in 1980 of pulmonary oedema, leaving his last work, L'idiot, incomplete.
(Essay written for BA Eng.Lit., Feb 2011)
The ruby-cheeked cupid overlooking the silver drawing room in the Elysée Palace has witnessed history - some of it recorded, some of it not. In 1809, he saw a beaten and tired Napoleon sit down and sign his abdication. Almost a century later, he heard President Felix Faure die in the arms of his mistress Marguerite Steinheil and only he knows in exactly what circumstances the president breathed his last.
He travelled in grand style, collected mistresses and changed attire several times a day.
“He took great care of his figure, changed his clothes three times a day,” says author and retired museum curator Georges Poisson.“He even wanted a presidential costume to be invented, with lots of embroidery, but as everybody made fun of him, it was never made.”
A handsome man, Faure also had a soft spot for the ladies
In her memoirs, Steinheil recalls her secret rendezvous with the president in the silver drawing room to exercise her functions as his "psychological advisor", as she put it.
"A private detective dispatched by the president would accompany me to the Elysée Palace. I always entered through a little door overlooking the gardens [see map]. I crossed the
On that fateful day on 16 February 1899, Steinheil and Faure were alone in the drawing room, when the president’s aides heard screams. They rushed to the president’s rescue and found Steinheil shrieking as the president lay suffocating on the sofa.
Faure, who was later diagnosed with having suffered a cerebral haemorrhage, died that same evening. It was only a matter of hours before the whole of France was awash with rumours of the president dying in the arms of his mistress.
The left-wing political press at the time had a ball, explains French historian Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu, with accounts of Faure’s death full of cheeky innuendos.
“Felix Faure passed away in good health, indeed from the excess of good health,” wrote the French daily Gil Blas in February 1899.
“He was sacrificed on Venus’s altar, oat the limits of that official morality of which he was supposed to be the highest representative,” writes the libertarian Journal du Peuple.
The similarity in the French language between the word for undertakers and a sland word for oral sex was also a source of many jokes about Faure and his mistress. After his death, Steinheil was nicknamed la pompe funèbre(look it up!).
Historians today have yet to reach a definitive version of Faure’s final moments.
Poisson says it is clear that Faure and Steinheil, who was found half naked, were involved in some of sort of embrace.
“We have witness accounts from the general secretary of the Elysée at the time and the valet,” says Poisson. “The president was found with his hand clenched in her hair and the president’s aides hacked her hair with such clumsiness that her skull was cut.”
But historian Pierre Darmon thinks it’s unlikely he died while having sex with his mistress.
“It is almost certain that she was at the Elysée," he says. "But is very unlikely that his first convulsions were spasms of satisfaction.”
Eyewitness accounts indicate that the president was tired and nervous.
According to Darmon, if there was anyone on Faure’s mind at the time it wasn’t Steinheil, it was Dreyfus.
French artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully accused of treason and imprisoned on Devil’s Island, a notorious case of anti-Semitism in the army that had blown up into a political storm that threatened to bring down the government.
The far-right press later suggested Dreyfus's supporters assassinated Faure because he refused to review the Dreyfus case. In January 1899, he signed a bill that would take the case out of the responsibility of a top French court which appeared to favour review.
But Steinheil was accused in some quarters of poisoning Faure. Accusations which gained pace when she came under suspicion of killing her own husband in 1908, acquiring the nickname of "the Red Widow".
Stenheil's mother, Emilie Japy, died of a heart attack and Adolphe Steinheil was strangled. Marguerite Steinheil was found tied to a bed. She told police that three men and one woman dressed in black attacked her during the night.
Far-right newspaper Action Française insisted that Faure had been murdered.
"At that time, newspapers Action Francaise and l’Intransigeant know they have lost the battle. Dreyfus has been pardoned, and will soon reintegrate the army. Clearly at the time they wanted revenge,” says Ambroise-Rendu.
It is at that point that the secrets surrounding Faure’s death grew into a full-blown scandal, known as L’affaire Steinheil in the French press. The outcry died down when Steinheil was finally acquitted of killing her husband after a tumultuous trial in Paris
“Scandals involving politician's private life and public life appear for the first time in the press,” says Ambroise, “they have two dimensions, the press draws attention to something that has been hidden by the authorities and at the same time denounces the commercial exploitation of the scandal it creates.”
The ingredients of a good scandal haven’t changed since the late 19th century, says Ambroise, and neither has the silver drawing room.
A century later, French President Nicolas Sarkozy briefly turned the drawing room into an office, before restoring it to its original state. Maybe it was not the right place for a known workaholic, where excesses of any kind could prove fatal.
I can't believe Tony Blair... he has declared Mubarak to be 'courageous and a force for good'. Obviously, Blair has never lived under an oppressive dictatorship. To think, he is Britain's envoy for the Middle East. Personally, I can only think he would say such a thing in order to protect Israel. Far better that he had kept his mouth formly zipped. Meanwhile this morning, I have BBC on as always, since the beginning of the uprising in Cairo - 836 injured in the last 24h, fighting continued overnight, the pro-government demonstrators have been reported by many journalists from both CNN and BBC to have been put there by Mubarak to discredit the pro-democracy supporters and reek havoc... It's a nightmare. Whatever the results are, the consequences are colossal. If Mubarak goes, in comes the Muslim Brotherhood bringing peace as we know it in the Middle East to an end, putting Israel in terrible danger and Jordan under tremendous pressure. However, if he stays, the people of Egypt are, in turn, also in terrible danger. The pro-democracy demonstrators have spoken to journalists, been photographed and filmed - the government know who they are. People are disappearing, demonstrators from the square reported yesterday. Mubarak is slimey, stubborn and has no intention of moving. This from Bucharest Herald:
Tony Blair has described Hosni Mubarak, the beleaguered Egyptian leader, as "immensely courageous and a force for good" and warned against a rush to elections that could bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, the Guardian writes.
The former prime minister, now an envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, praised Mubarak over his role in the negotiations and said the west was right to back him despite his authoritarian regime because he had maintained peace with Israel.
But that view is likely to anger many Egyptians who believe they have had to endure decades of dictatorship because the US put Israel's interests ahead of their freedom. Speaking to Piers Morgan on CNN, Blair defended his backing for Mubarak.
"Where you stand on him depends on whether you've worked with him from the outside or on the inside. I've worked with him on the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians so this is somebody I'm constantly in contact with and working with and on that issue, I have to say, he's been immensely courageous and a force for good," he said.
"Inside Egypt, and I have many Egyptian friends, it's clear that there's been a huge desire for change."
Asked if the west had not been an obstacle to change, Blair defended the policies of his and other governments.
"I don't think the west should be the slightest bit embarrassed about the fact that it's been working with Mubarak over the peace process but at the same time it's been urging change in Egypt," he said.
Blair argued that the region has unique problems that make political change different from the democratic revolutions in eastern Europe. He said the principal issue was the presence of Islamist parties that he fears will use democracy to gain power and then undermine the freedoms people seek.
"It's perfectly natural for those from the outside to want to support this movement for change at the same time as saying let's be careful about this and make sure that what happens in this process of change is something that ends in free and fair elections and a democratic system of government and it doesn't get taken over or channelled in to a different direction that is at odds with what the people of Egypt want," he said.
Exposition André Kertész au Jeu de Paume
du Dialogues France-Europecentrale - le site de référence des cultures centre-européennes
du 28 septembre 2010 au 06 février 2011
"L'appareil photo est mon outil. Grâce à lui, je justifie tout ce qui m'entoure."
André Kertész (Budapest, 1894 - New York, 1985) n’a jamais vu son œuvre faire l’objet d’une véritable rétrospective en Europe, bien qu’il ait fait don de tous ses négatifs à l’État français.
Nageur sous l’eau, Esztergom, 1917
Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine, Paris
L'exposition du Jeu de Paume qui ouvre le jour même du 25e anniversaire de sa disparition, propose, pour la première fois, une vision extensive et équilibrée de l'oeuvre de Kertész.
Le photographe a séjourné a Paris entre 1925 et 1936. Il y a fréquenté de nombreux artistes et s’est fait le chroniqueur du quotidien, des monuments parisiens et du bouillonement artistique de l’époque. Il fut l’un des premiers à utiliser un appareil Leica, ce qui lui a donné une grande liberté .
Il est considéré comme l’un des photographes majeurs du XXe siècle tant du point de vue de la richesse de son œuvre que de la longévité de sa carrière.
Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1928
Collection Robert Gurbo
Pour la première fois, une exposition monographique consacrée à André Kertész réunit un ensemble conséquent d’épreuves (300 photographies pour la plupart des originales ou réalisées du vivant de l'artiste) et de documents d'époque, magazines, livres, qui permettent d’explorer les différentes époques de sa vie et de son parcours d’auteur de plus de soixante-dix ans.
L’exposition montre comment, dans l’œuvre de Kertész, s’élabore une poétique de la photographie, "un véritable langage photographique" selon ses propres termes. Le parcours d’images proposé met en valeur l’autonomie de chaque photographie, tout en le ponctuant par des séries ou des thèmes récurrents (comme par exemple les distorsions, les buildings new-yorkais, les cheminées ou la solitude). (Source : Jeu de Paume)
"Nous devons tous quelque chose à Kertész." (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
Après la mort de son père en 1909, Kertész a passé de nombreux étés chez son oncle à la campagne, à Szigetbecse, séjours qui ont été, selon ses dires, déterminants pour lui grâce à la proximité de la nature et des habitants de cette région de la plaine.
"Plus tard, lorsque je photographiais des paysages et des hommes, en France ou à New York, c'étaient toujours des paysages de Becse et ses habitants qui renaissaient sur chaque image." André Kertész
A la fin de sa vie, il a offert 120 tirages originaux signés au village ainsi que du mobilier et un certain nombre d'objets personnels. Lire la suite en anglais...
Paysanne et oies, Tiszaszalka, 1924
Salgo Trust for Education, New York
C'est la proposition de Szigetbecse de construire une maison identique à celle que possédaient ses parents et d'y installer un musée consacré à son oeuvre qui est à l'origine de cette donation. Le musée a été inauguré en 1985. Lire la suite en hongrois... Le musée n'a pas de site web, hélas.
Le Musée André Kertész à Szigetbecse avec le vieil arbre et le puits à bascule
La Hongrie d'André Kertész (une dizaine de photos)
Commissaires : Michel Frizot et Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq
Exposition présentée dans le cadre du Mois de la Photo à Paris, novembre 2010, en partenariat avec : A Nous, Arte, Azart Photographie, Blast, Courrier International, de l’Air, evene.fr, Polka Magazine, La Tribune et France Info.
Jeu de Paume
1, place de la Concorde
tél : 01 47 03 12 50
Mardi (nocturne) : 12h à 21h
Mercredi à vendredi : 12h à 19h
Samedi et dimanche : 10h à 19h
Fermé le lundi
Le catalogue de l'exposition est en vente dans notre librairie hongroise. Merci de nous soutenir en achetant vos livres sur notre site.
Le parcours d'André Kertész
Diplômé de l’Académie de commerce de Budapest, il occupe un emploi à la Bourse à partir de 1912. Il achète son premier appareil photographique (ICA avec plaques 4,5 x 6 cm) et commence à prendre des scènes de rue, il photographie ses amis, sa famille et la campagne hongroise. En 1914, il est recruté dans l’armée austro-hongroise, il est blessé en 1915. Il photographie en amateur la vie quotidienne des soldats. Une partie de ses négatifs est détruite durant le régime communiste de Béla Kun.
La Lecture, Esztergom, 1915
Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine, Paris
En 1916, il reçoit pour un autoportrait un prix décerné par le magazine Borsszem Janko. En 1917 une douzaine de ses photographies est reproduite en cartes postales. Il publie des photographies dans le magazine Érdekes Újság. 1918-1925: Il reprend son emploi à la Bourse du commerce et photographie sa famille, ses amis et la campagne hongroise.
Nature morte dans la chambre d'hôtel d'Endre Ady, Paris, vers 1918
Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine, Paris
Après la guerre, il s’installe en 1925 à Paris où il découvre le plaisir d’arpenter les rues, de flâner le long des quais de la Seine et d’errer dans les jardins publics. A Montparnasse, il retrouve des artistes hongrois (Brassaï, Sándor Márai, Tihanyi, csaky, Blattner...) et rencontre de nombreuses personnalités littéraires et artistiques (Mondrian, Eisenstein, Chagall, Calder, Zadkine, Tzara, Colette). En 1928, il est l’un des premiers photographes à utiliser le Leica. Chroniqueur du quotidien, il décrit avec profondeur les moments les plus anodins de la vie. Ses photographies sont fréquemment publiées dans la presse française (Vu, Art et Médecine) et allemande (Frankfurter Illustrierte, Uhu...). En 1933, il réalise la célèbre série des Distorsions. Au sommet de son art, il décide de partir pour New York en 1936, ayant signé un contrat avec l’agence Keystone.
Day of Paris, conçu par Alexey Brodovitch, est publié en 1945. Employé par les éditions Condé Nast à partir de 1949, André Kertész devient le collaborateur régulier de House and Garden. Au début des années 1950, il commence à utiliser la couleur. Pour son travail personnel, il photographie son quartier, quittant progressivement la rue pour photographier de la fenêtre de son appartement donnant sur Washington Square.
En 1963, ses négatifs de Hongrie et de France sont retrouvés dans une propriété du sud de la France. Son talent est désormais reconnu à travers le monde et les expositions se multiplient. De nombreuses publications lui sont consacrées : Soixante ans de photographie 1912-1972, J’aime Paris (1974), Distorsions (1976), Hungarian Memories (1982). Il séjourne de plus en plus souvent en France avant de décéder en 1985 à New York.
Classique parmi les classiques, maître pour nombre de ses pairs (Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson...), André Kertész est une figure majeure de l’histoire de la photographie. Synthèse d’une éthique et d’une esthétique, son œuvre recoupe ou précède différents courants d’avant-garde tout en restant profondément attachée aux valeurs humanistes.
Donation à l’Etat français le 30 mars 1984.
100 000 négatifs, 15 000 diapositives en couleur, correspondance, divers documents.
Hongrie 1912-25 (vie rurale, Budapest, armée austro-hongroise), Paris 1925-1936 et 1963-1984 (Montparnasse, quais de Seine, jardins, vie artistique, nus, scènes de rue...), France (Lyon, Corse, Savoie, Dunkerque, Bretagne, Arles, Normandie, Bourgogne, Lorraine, Touraine, Châteaux de la Loire), New York 1936-1985 (Washington Square, A ma fenêtre...), Japon...
"Kertész est un photographe de la commémoration, de ceux qu'il a aimés, de la lumière, et de cette modernité qu'il n'a cessé de convoiter et de précéder pour communiquer avec les générations nouvelles, lançant des photos presque vides quand les autres les faisaient combles, et décidant de voir le monde depuis sa fenêtre quand les autres le parcouraient." (Hervé Guibert)
L'écrivain François Bon sur André Kertész. Lire la suite...
Francia lap: André Kertész a XX. század legkreatívabb fotóművésze
Robert Doisneau et André Kertész en 1975 durant les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d'Arles
Le 17 juillet 1942, au départ du convoi n° 6 en partance de Pithiviers (Loiret) pour Auschwitz, au côté des ménagères, coiffeuses, cultivatrices, vendeuses, figurait une femme de lettres au destin surprenant : Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942). Contaminée par le typhus, elle mourut un mois plus tard, le 19 août, dans l'enceinte du camp.
L'auteur de Suite française - succès phénoménal de librairie en France et à l'étranger depuis sa redécouverte en 2004 - laissait aux bons soins de ses enfants son manuscrit, "mon chef-d'oeuvre", comme elle l'appelait. Il fait partie des 250 documents de l'exposition qui lui est consacrée au Mémorial de la Shoah, et reprend, enrichie, la présentation faite, en 2009, au Museum of Jewish Heritage de New York.
Le commissaire de l'exposition, Olivier Philipponnat, a respecté la chronologie. Russe, française, apatride et juive, telles sont les identités successives de cet écrivain hors norme. Dans Suite française, Irène Némirovsky avait, elle aussi, établi les bornes chronologiques de son roman : 1940-1945. La dernière partie, intitulée "La Paix", s'achevait par la victoire des armées anglo-américaines, avec une formidable prescience.
La France, c'était la vie
Pourquoi Irène Némirovsky n'a-t-elle pas quitté la France ? Issue d'un milieu juif aisé, cosmopolite - elle est née à Kiev de parents banquiers d'origine russe -, la jeune femme, étudiante à la Sorbonne, épouse en 1926, à Paris, Michel Epstein, fils d'une famille de banquier. Son arrivée en France était récente : 1919, mais elle avait été élevée dans l'amour de la culture et de la langue françaises. La France, c'était la vie. Pourtant, dans sa brève existence, elle n'aura jamais réussi à obtenir la nationalité française ni le prix Goncourt.
L'écrivain n'ignorait rien de la menace nazie. A partir de 1940, les avanies se sont multipliées sur ses proches. Son mari est radié des cadres de la banque où il travaille. L'éditeur Jean Fayard casse un contrat d'édition pour se soumettre à la nouvelle législation sur les auteurs juifs. Malgré cela, elle installe sa famille dans un petit village de Bourgogne, Issy-l'Evêque, au nord de la zone de démarcation, plutôt qu'en zone sud. Elle ne voulait pas s'éloigner de Paris, la capitale des lettres, même si elle avait de plus en plus de mal à y être publiée.
Collaboratrice épisodique de l'hebdomadaire d'extrême droite Gringoire, auteur d'un portrait au vitriol d'un banquier juif dans David Golder, le roman paru en 1929 chez Grasset qui l'a rendue célèbre - un règlement de comptes familial -, Irène Némirovsky a paru peu sensible à la montée de l'antisémitisme en France, voire, par ses écrits, avoir contribué à son essor.
Auteur, avec Patrick Lienhardt, d'une biographie d'Irène Némirovsky (Grasset/Denoël, 2007), Olivier Philipponnat récuse cette interprétation. Pour lui, "la jeune femme a, au contraire, pris cruellement conscience de son identité juive". De même, Jacques Fredj, directeur du Mémorial de la Shoah, se dit très fier d'accueillir dans ses locaux "une exposition sur un grand écrivain juif et français qui fait débat". "Irène Némirovsky et son mari sont morts assassinés à Auschwitz. A ce titre, ils intéressent le Mémorial", ajoute-t-il.
"Il me semble parfois que je suis étrangère...", Irène Némirovsky. Mémorial de la Shoah. 17, rue Geoffroy-l'Asnier, Paris 4e. Jusqu'au 8 mars. De 10 heures à 18 heures, le jeudi jusqu'à 22 heures. Fermé le samedi. Entrée libre.
Catalogue. "Irène Némirovsky, un destin en images" (Denoël/IMEC, 144 p., 25 €).
For anyone's info who considers all 'gypsies' in France to be from Roumania, nah nah na nah naaaaaah! Take a look at this from RFI and think again:
French police dismantle European pickpocket ring
A girl begging in the Paris metro. Most petty crime in the metro is comitted by members of the Hamidovic network, say police.Troy Holden via Flickr
French police have arrested the presumed head of the so-called Hamidovic crime ring, which operates throughout the country and in Italy using teenage pickpockets. After a three-month investigation and raids in southern France and Italy on Tuesday, police believe they have dismantled the network.
Among 19 people arrested on Tuesday was Fehmi Hamidovic, 58, from former Yugoslavia and suspected head of a clan that sent adolescents, mostly girls, to beg and pick pockets in cities throughout Europe.
"It’s a family network, with a patriarchal organisation based around the head, Fehmi Hamidovic," a judicial source told the AFP news agency.
He was wanted under an international arrest warrant, and was arrested near Rome with two of his sons. Thirteen other people were arrested in France - in Montpellier, Perpignan, and Aix-en-Provence.
They are alleged to be the adult leaders of the Hamidovic criminal network that recruited dozens of adolescents, mostly girls, who were forced to steal and pick pockets, often under the threat of violence.
According to police investigators, each had to bring in 300 to 1,000 euros a day to the heads of the network and was punished if they did not bring in enough, often with rape.
When stopped by authorities, all the girls would give Hamidovic as their last name, as a kind of label instituted by the chief.
French authorities estimate that more than 70 per cent of petty crime and thievery in the Parisian metro is committed by Bosnian youths, members of the Hamidovic network.
The organisation brought in more than a million euros in 2009. The money was reportedly used to buy real estate and luxury cars, both in France and in Italy.
"They travelled a lot between France, Spain and Italy," an investigator told the AFP.
Fehmi Hamidovic has already been convicted in Austria for human trafficking.
Another wonderful article from the Hidden Paris series of RFI:
A revolutionary on the Paris map
He spent most of his adult life in French prisons; Lenin and Marx thought he was a bit extreme; and today he might well be labelled a “terrorist”. So why is an elegant Paris boulevard named after Auguste Blanqui?
The City of Light has made a habit of immortalising eminent figures from history through its street signs. Grab a plan de ville and you’ll be struck by the big guns such as Avenue Victor Hugo, Place Charles de Gaulle and Boulevard Haussmann.
Then there are the streets, squares, snickets and hidey-holes named after philosophers, scientists, writers, artists … and fiery revolutionaries.
One of them is Louis-Auguste Blanqui, one of French history’s most radical leftists, known for his conspiratorial strategies. He sought to implement socialism by mobilising secret armed groups to seize power and crush the bourgeoisie. Hence the prison terms – he spent a total of 33 years behind bars.
One of his prison spells came after he led a group of followers in an effort to spark the revolution by seizing a fire station in the La Villette area. Firefighters being part of the military in France, they hoped to grab a haul of weapons which were stored there and declare a republic to replace Emperor Napoleon III. That didn't work out.
Blanqui was elected president of the Paris Commune, which ruled Paris for two months in 1871 after a working-class uprising seized power following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. Even after his death, his “Blanquist” followers played an important role in the the workers’ movement, although to Marxists Blanquism became a byword for trying to cut corners to revolution without winning the support of the masses.
So what of his legacy today? The leafy Boulevard Auguste Blanqui lies in Paris’s 13th arrondissement and is home to the very respectable daily newspaper Le Monde. Just days ago left-wing demonstrators opposing Nicolas Sarkozy’s pensions reform marched its length en route to the city centre.
But how many of those united in the name of social justice thought about Monsier Blanqui?
Fewer than you would think, judging from a sampling of your average pedestrian. “Hidden Paris” headed down to the location in question to find out what people make of this hero of the 19th century French working class.
Despite his fancy boulevard, it seems Auguste Blanqui is not exactly in fashion today.
“Nope, never heard of him. Sorry,” was the most usual response, although retired university teacher Annie was able to pinpoint him as a left-wing politician who is now dead.
Not even a cluster of high school students spilling out of the Lycée Le Rebours, smack-bang on the boulevard, could shed light on the matter.
“We don’t learn this type of history; we aren’t yet in college,” chorused Fleuron, Philippe, Marian and Guillaume. “But we know that they name streets after famous people in Paris because this is an historic city, and it helps to remind us.”
Also scratching her head was American university exchange student, Sarah. But she says that Paris’s tradition of naming streets after important people reveals a country proud of its history.
“It creates a national identity, because the French can look around at all of these names and feel proud,” she says. “I love walking around the huge avenues and checking out the plaques that tell us who these people were, and why these places were given these names.”
Of course Paris didn’t always consist of a triangular maze of airy boulevards and open public squares. This was the work of Baron Haussmann, who was commissioned by Napoleon III to reconstruct the city and open up its narrow cluster of medieval streets.
Following this renovation, which sought to end the city’s history of insurrections and street barricades, the responsibility of street-naming fell to Paris’s City Council.
There were, of course, conventions to be followed, like giving the bigger streets more majestic names, and making sure that streets surrounding churches took on the names of saints and famous preachers.
Retaining the names of old streets “keep the memory of an ancient population”, journalist Charles Merrauu commented in 1862 when he worked for the Prefecture of the Seine. Naming new streets should “perpetuate the memory of great men, and of great actions that have made the nation proud”.
But Blanqui was nicknamed l'enfermé because of his jail time and took part in an armed uprising to seize the Palais de Justice and Hotel de Ville. Can we really say that his activities make the nation proud?
There’s no question that Blanqui would today be identified a terrorist, says Oleg Kobtzeff, a political geographer at the Amercian University in Paris.
“He would be on the hit list of numerous agencies throughout the world.” But, adds Kobtzeff, the names of socialist leaders, radical or otherwise, have been allowed to live on as Paris streets thanks to a spirit of political reconciliation following World War II.
“You did have a very important communist and socialist influence in those years during the liberation of French territory from the Nazi occupiers. And in some cases, streets were named this way because municipal councils leaned more towards the left,” Kobtzeff says.
“Also, the naming of these streets is a way of taming these radicals. By making them part of the institutions, by making them household names, you make them much less dangerous.
“It’s like when you build a huge bronze statue to someone, the minute the first pigeons come and leave their souvenirs on the shoulders or on the head, the great general or the great revolutionary whom you turned into a monument becomes part of the scenery.”
So why are French students so ill-informed about Auguste Blanqui, and figures of the past that were deemed important enough to be immortalised through the naming of Paris’s principal thoroughfares?
Kobtzeff laments that, as in other countries, historical education in France is becoming less and less important.
“And indeed Blanqui was very radical, so even socialist ministers of education aren’t very excited about letting children know everything about him.”
They prefer other figures, such as Jean Jaurès, the Socialist MP and famous orator who founded the paper l’Humanité and was assassinated by a right-winger on the eve of World War I. He has a street in pretty much every town in the country named after him, as well as a metro station in Paris.
“Jean Jaurès is much safer,” says Kobtzeff.
1832 - The deadly epidemic that helped shape today's Paris
Hidden Paris -
Article published the Thursday 18 November 2010
The cholera epidemic as seen by Le Petit Journal illustrated paperPublic domain
At the end of March 1832, Paris’s Hôtel Dieu hospital began to receive a steady stream of patients. They had a wide range of symptoms – apoplexy, fever, chest pains, vomiting, headaches. Most of them were dead within a day or two. A six-month cholera epidemic, which was to claim 7,000 lives in the next two weeks and 19,000 in total, had begun.
A trawl through the Hôtel Dieu’s records, housed today in city’s medical archives, reveals death grimly marching through the disease-struck city. The rare modern-day reader must peer at microfilm records to find a glimpse of thousands of brief lives and agonising deaths.
The first victims came from outside the city walls – from Oise, Meaux and the north – but within a couple of days, the Hôtel Dieu was receiving patients from almost every arrondissement.
The 12th, the ninth and the seventh arrondissements are the first to enter the records; but by 29 March almost every admission is for cholera and almost no one is discharged.
A 49-year-old man from the fifth arrondissement with heart problems, a cobbler with a fever, a lacemaker from the ninth arrondissement all die soon after admission.
By April, the whole city exuded a sepulchral odour, and the streets were crawling with hearses.
Doctors were perplexed by the range of symptoms; cholera could come upon its victims by gradual degrees or very suddenly.
The disease even disrupted a society ball recorded by German poet Heinrich Heine. A group of harlequins was part of the entertainment.
"Suddenly the merriest of the harlequins felt a chill in his legs, took off his mask, and to the amazement of all revealed a violet-blue face,” Heine recorded in his diary.
At first the crowd thought the performance was part of the entertainment. But soon “several wagonloads were driven directly from the ball to the Hôtel-Dieu, where they arrived in their gaudy fancy dress and promptly died, too.”
The recognised cures for the disease seem a bit like clutching at straws – a hot bath infused with vinegar, salt and mustard, some lime tea and a sensible diet?
“With these precautions, we need not worry about an epidemic,” an official declared with wild optimism in August 1832.
While cholera swept through the city, there was little to be done, but afterwards Paris’s town planners did their best to make sure the disaster was not repeated.
Paris’s insalubrious housing and ancient public hygiene system, where people threw sewage into gutters running down the middle of the street, allowed the disease to rip through the city at an alarming rate.
The lessons of the outbreak shaped the city we know today.
“Cholera became an important factor in urban planning,” says historian Oleg Kobtzeff. “The idea of wider streets and sidewalks came as a result of cholera, as well as having a proper sewage system.”
Paris had an underground sewage system by the beginning of the 19th century.
Sidewalks were introduced and the gutters were moved to the side of the street. In most cases, at least - you can still see some streets in the Latin Quarter and the 13th arrondissement where the gutter runs down the middle of the road.
When Baron Haussmann became prefect in 1853, the hygienist movement had become the major element in town planning.
Getting rid of the labyrinths of slums was, of course, also useful for crowd control, especially in a city that had experienced 50 years of riots and revolts.
So Paris, like London, owes its drainage system and, in part, its broad and beautiful boulevards to a devastating outbreak of a deadly disease.
Forty-five years ago, French police officers abducted Moroccan opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka outside Paris's famous Brasserie Lipp. He is believed to have been killed and buried in the outskirts of Paris. But the French secret services still refuse to open their files on the case. The latest in our Hidden Paris series talks to his son, Bashir, who wants to know the truth.
Brasserie Lipp is an unlikely crime scene. All year round, all day long, distinguished Left Bank Parisians come here to wash down copious servings of choucroute with a good glass of house Riesling. Polticians of all persuasions rub shoulders in this lively and colourful brasserie, half way between the Senate and the National Assembly.
A safe place to enjoy a meal, one would think.
Unfortunately not for Mehdi Ben Barka. The Moroccan left-wing leader was abducted in front of Brasserie Lipp on 29 October 1965. Whisked off by the French police officers, never to be seen again.
Ben Barka, who was living in self-imposed exile, was in Paris to meet French writer Marguerite Duras and film director Georges Franju to discuss making a film on decolonisation. He was scheduled to chair an anti-colonial conference for non-aligned countries in Havana. Duras and Franju however never met Ben Barka and were left waiting at the Brasserie Lipp.
Against her will, Duras was used as bait to attract Ben Barka to Paris, in a trap set by Moroccan secret services and members of the French police, investigations show. Over the years, the popular Ben Barka had fought on many fronts and made many enemies.
Not only had he spearheaded Morocco’s fight for independence against French forces, he had also founded Morocco’s first left-wing opposition party. A supporter of anti-imperialist movements, he was nicknamed the travelling salesman of the revolution. His son says the self-exiled politician feared for his life and was very prudent when visiting Europe. But did he drop his guard in France.
“Absolutely,” says his son Bashir Ben Barka, “he thought he was safe with the French police, and that’s why the trap worked so well.”
His disappearance made the headlines and revealed an underworld rife with secret police officers, former Gestapo collaborators, and petty gangsters, with revelations about the scandal splashed across the front pages of French newspapers.
Israel’s secret services, the Mossad, and the US’s CIA may also have been involved.
“It was a time when people discovered the links between politicians and criminals,” says film director Serge Le Peron, who directed I saw Ben Barka get killed, “because we found out that the gangsters who abducted Ben Barka also belonged to [President Charles] De Gaulle’s security staff and that some of them had collaborated with the Nazis.”
De Gaulle ordered a full-scale inquiry, following which he famously denied allegations the French secret services and the police were involved in Ben Barka’s disappearance.
In 1967, French court sentenced in absentia the Moroccan Interior Minister General Mohammed Oufkir and four French gangsters to life in jail. Two French agents were handed down sentences of six and eight years in jail.
However, the Ben Barka case is still open, and investigations are still ongoing. His son, Bashir, believes there was high-level complicity in his father’s disappearance – but he is not sure how high.
“If you read the memoirs of French officials, it appears that some of them knew that my father was going to be kidnapped, but what we don’t know is how far up the hierarchy, officials knew about the preparations,” he says.
According to a former police superintendent, Lucien Aimé-Blanc, the police had gathered information on abduction preparations via wiretaps and had transmitted these to France’s Interior Ministry.
“Does this mean that in the higher strata of the French political system, officials turned a blind eye to these preparations? There is no categorical proof to say so,” says Bashir.
Only the declassification of key secret service files can answer Bashir’s questions about the death of his father. But this is something the French authorities are reluctant to do.
According to French investigative journalist Laurent Léger, France does not want to annoy its former colony and keeps its files on the opposition leader tightly under wraps.
“For years, it was difficult to investigate sensitive affairs in Morocco because France and its former colony maintained a special relationship,” Léger says. “The Ben Barka case is very touchy because it recalls the difficult years under former king Hassan II, 30 or 40 years of dictatorship, deportations, imprisonments and political arrests.”
In 2007, investigating magistrate Patrick Ramael signed five international arrest warrants against high-ranking Moroccan suspects. That very same day, French President Nicolas Sarkozy shook hands with one of them, Moroccan police chief Hosni Benslimane, during an official visit to Morocco.
“Incidents like that have deeply annoyed the French president,” says Léger. The French Justice Ministry suspended the warrants for two years but they are now valid again.
Lately the French authorities have shown some signs that they may allow the Ben Barka investigation to move forward again.
Two years ago, a French national defence committee agreed to declassify some key files about Ben Barka. But these documents are still pending declassification and not all of their contents will be made available to the investigators.
“It makes me so angry,” says Bashir, “that the truth about my father is not known because of state security concerns.”
For Ben Barka’s relatives, their fight is less about finding the culprits and more about getting closure.
“We are a family who simply wants to know what happened to their loved one, who wants to grieve,” says Bashir. “And 45 years is a long time to wait.”
Just back from Elisso's concert at Salle Pleyel. On the programme this morning, Camille Saint-Saëns' Concerto for piano n° 2 wth the Colonne Orchestra, conducted by Laurent Petitgirard.
Elisso (HERE Schubert's Impromptu) has been so busy with tours in Austria, Latvia, Switzerland etc that I haven't seen her for ages. It was wonderful to see her sitting at the Steinway on the familiar stage of Pleyel in Paris VIIIè. (See HERE for Chopin's study nr.12). She has an incredible style about her always, an elegance of self, of presence, of touch and of sound... Her Saint-Saens was simply marvellous, despite the rather noisy public.
Elisso's concert was a Sunday matinée, and thus the concert hall was filled with children. We heard the concerto and then left missing the second half (Schumann and without Elisso) as I am notably devoid of tolerance level for children who can't sit still, yell and kick the back of my seat in the middle of a pianissimo. I would dearly like to know why parents do not teach their children to sit quietly, to listen, to understand what they have been brought to hear... if they cannot find a babysitter and still want to attend a concert, I understand the difficulties, but for heavens sake, teach the child something of what they are about to experience so they don't get bored and fidgetty. It was almost impossible to concentrate on Elisso's superb concerto due to the noise in the concert hall - rustling sweet papers, talking, crying, fighting between siblings, parents hissing, annoyed non-parents hissing equally with 'sshhhhh!!' that made more noise still... Simply out of respect for the pianist, I would have hoped for a little more decorum... but perhaps I am simply a fussy, intolerant, childless woman who doesn't understand how hard it is to be a parent in this day and age...
The Saint Saens concerto was written for organ and is fun, with a great deal of swing. It is rhythmic, synchopated, light and filled with gymnastics. Elisso, bent over her Steinway keyboard, nose almost to the keys, was faultless (and I hope oblivious to the noise in the audience). What a joy to hear her once more!
Here's some info on her from Wikipedia:
A l'âge de quatre ans elle entre à l'école de prodiges de Tbilissi. À sept ans, elle donne son premier concert avec orchestre. Elle continue ensuite à étudier au conservatoire avec différents professeurs et suit parallèlement des master-classes avec Tatiana Nikolaeva, Lev Naoumov et Serge Milshtein.
Elisso Bolkvadze a également enregistré chez Cascavelle (Réf. Cascavelle : VEL 3129 / Distribution Abeille Musique) le Récital Festival Michel Sogny donné au Château de Coppet en août 2007. Au programme : Beethoven, Mozart, Ravel & Michel Sogny.
Elisso Bolkvadze se produit à travers l'Europe et les États-Unis dans des salles prestigieuses : Herkulesaal (Munich), Teatro Manzoni (Milan), Kennedy Center (Washington), Pasadena Auditorium (Californie), Schubert Saal (Vienne), Orchestra Halle (Chicago), Orange Cownty (Costa Messa), Broward Center (Miami Beach), Philharmonic Hall (Saint-Pétersbourg), Congress Hall (Innsbruck), la Salle Gaveau et le Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (Paris).
Elle a joué sous la direction de Petr Altrichter, Lior Shambadal, William Kirchke, Michel Tabachnik, Kiri Taki, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Djansug Kakhidze, Laurent Petitgirard, Saulius Sondeckis en compagnie des orchestres de Saint-Pétersbourg, Prague Symphony Orchestra, l'Orchestre du Gewandhaus de Leipzig, l'orchestre de la Fondation Gulbenkian, l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, le Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, le Dallas Symphony Orchestra, le Georgia National Symphony Orchestra, The Dublin Symphony Orchestra, et le Innsbruck Symphony Orchestra.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 by Camille Saint-Saëns, was composed in 1868 and is probably Saint-Saëns' most popular piano concerto. It was dedicated to Madame A. de Villers née de Haber. At the première, the composer was the soloist and Anton Rubinstein conducted the orchestra. Saint-Saëns wrote the concerto in three weeks, and had very little time to prepare for the première; consequently, the piece wasn't ant initial success. The capricious changes in style provoked Zygmunt Stojowski to quip that it "begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach." Ha!! It's quite true! It does! Hear a little of it here played by my beloved Rubinstein back in 1975 when the master was a sprightly 88!
Elisso's Saint Saens concerto isn't yet on the web to share with you, BUT you can go and buy the album instead!! Yeees!! Elisso has a marvellous new CD out: Saint Saens, Rachmaninov and Liszt, see HERE!
Bardot ponders challenging Sarkozy for presidency
Watch out Sarko. French film legend Brigitte Bardot says she is seriously considering a proposal by the Independent Ecological Alliance to run as its candidate in France’s 2012 presidential race.
The 76-year-old animal rights campaigner informed French President Nicolas Sarkozy of her intentions in a letter, which was then passed on to the media by the Bardot Foundation.
"Since you do the opposite of what you say, and since your ministers hide the truth from the French people, I am considering the proposal of the Independent Ecological Alliance to become their candidate for presidential elections in 2012,” Bardot wrote.
According to their website, officials from the Independent Ecological Alliance, Antoine Waechter and Jean-Marc Governatori, approached Bardot about the candidacy at the end of September, saying “we think of you as the best person who could represent us”.
Since Sarkozy took over the presidency, Bardot has written to him on numerous occasions, defending animal rights, and for various political concerns.
School's out as students dive into pensions fray
France's pension reforms have seen three national strikes, and an ongoing mobilisation in key sectors. Now students are joining the fray, after voting to go on strike at a general assembly Thursday night. While they'll surely fortify the resistance, some worry that youth are being manipulated by their elders. Should high school students really be worrying about retirement?
Guerlain heir in racism storm
French perfume-maker Jean-Paul Guerlain faces prosecution by anti-racist groups after telling a television interviewer that he “worked like a nigger” to produce one of his most successful scents.
Guerlain, who is a descendant of the parfumier’s founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, apologised for the remarks on Saturday.
But anti-racist campaigns, SOS Racisme and Le Cran, say they will press ahead with a court case, saying that they believe a trial will have great educational value. And they called on LVMH, the company which now owns Guerlain, to dissociate itself from the outburst.
Finance Minister Christine Lagarde on Saturday dubbed Guerlain’s remarks “pathetic”.
“I just hope that this is senile and crude and that the apology is really sincere and gracious,” she said on Saturday.
Guerlain’s used the N word – nègre in French - came during made a midday news bulletin on Thursday, when he described the creation of the Samsara perfume - blend of sandalwood and jasmin inspired by his first wife.
“For once, I worked like a nigger,” he told the interviewer. “I don’t know if niggers really worked that much.”
Guerlain’s apology, in the form of an email, expressed regret that his words might damage the company’s image and pointed out that he is no longer a shareholder or employee of the company.
He is, however, a consultant to the company’s chief olfactory technician, or “nose”, Thierry Wasser.
French protests jeopardise airport fuel supplies
As strikes over pension plans hit infrastructure, ministers warn of fuel shortage at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport
France's main airport has only a few days' worth of jet fuel left, it was announced today, as the strikes against government pension plans continued to disrupt infrastructure.
The transport ministry warned of the fuel shortage at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris as hundreds of thousands took part in another national protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's bill to raise the retirement age.
The country has already endured four days of strikes, affecting flights, rail services, hospitals and schools. Diesel supplies were running low in parts of France as unions announced that workers at all 12 fuel-producing refineries were now on strike, and many depots were being blockaded. Police yesterday forced three crucial fuel depots to reopen.
A ministry spokesman said officials were working to restore aviation fuel supplies, and the transport minister, Dominique Bussereau, said there was no reason to fear a general shortage.
The fuel supply into the Paris region and international airports was cut yesterday from a pipeline running south from Le Havre. Trapil, the company that operates the pipeline to the Paris airports, said Roissy-Charles de Gaulle could run out of fuel as early as next week.
A transport ministry spokesman said reserves would last until late on Monday or Tuesday. But he said the pipeline was now working intermittently, adding: "We are exploring possible solutions to supply the airport [at Roissy]. We are confident."
Bussereau authorised oil companies to use some reserves after trucking companies complained of difficulties finding fuel.
About 10% of petrol stations have run out of fuel and panic buying has broken out in some areas. A sign at a station in Feyzin, near Lyon, announced a fuel shortage at all pumps and frustrated motorists reported other problems.
"When the government says there will be no shortage, it means there will be a shortage," said Bernard Martin, a 60-year-old retiree who found no fuel at a Carrefour gas station in Ecully, near Lyon. "Since this morning, there is no more diesel fuel."
Strikers at oil refineries said their protest was about fighting recession-induced government spending cuts, such as Sarkozy's plan to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and from 65 to 67 for a full state pension.
"[These protests are] an attempt to say stop abusing the workers and citizens," Christian Coste, head of the CGT Union at Total's La Mede refinery, said. "We are not here to bring France to its knees and create a shortage, we are here to make ourselves heard." Workers have been striking for five days straight at the refinery in southern France.
In cities around France excluding Paris, some 340,000 protesters were out in protest by midday, according to the interior ministry. Union figures have been consistently far higher than official counts.
On the streets of Marseille, garbage was left uncollected for the fourth straight day and firefighters had to extinguish some rubbish piles set on fire.
The pension reforms are seen by unions as an attack on their near-sacred social protections. The government says that is the only way to stop a €32bn (£28bn) annual pension shortfall ballooning to €50bn by 2020 and insists people must work longer because they are living longer.
The reforms have already been approved by the national assembly, the lower house of the French parliament. The senate has endorsed the key articles on raising the retirement age, and is due to vote on the full text on Wednesday.
"The French understand that those who are blocking this country are at the head of the government," CFDT union leader Francois Chereque said.
The CGT union called for the strikes at the SNCF train authority to be strengthened. About one-third of fast trains were hobbled by strikes yesterday, though the Eurostar train to London was running normally today.
A sixth day of protest is set for Tuesday, a day before the senate vote. In another sign of growing protest, truck drivers – the heavyweights of French demonstrations because of their ability to block roads – have heeded a call to join the action.
Maxime Dumont, head of the CFDT union's trucking section, said drivers could block fuel depots, refineries and food warehouses and clog roads by driving slowly along them. "In the transport sector we can do a bit more to help the workers. We are going to join the movement to make the government give way," Dumont said.
More than a million people took to the streets on Tuesday, according to police. Trade unions organisers said 3.5m had taken part.
About 70% of people polled this week think the strikes will build into a national protest movement like the one in 1995, and more than half of those questioned said they would support it.
France has a long tradition of overpowering unpopular government proposals through militancy on the street, although analysts believe many French people are reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that raising the retirement age in line with other European countries is inevitable – though 62 would still be one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe.
Elsewhere, thousands of students and teachers across Italy demonstrated yesterday against planned cuts in education, while Portugal's minority government faced a battle in parliament over abrupt tax hikes and deep spending cuts.
In Greece, riot police used teargas on hundreds of culture ministry workers yesterday to end a labour dispute that shut down the country's top attraction, the Acropolis, for three days.
Throne, loo, WC, bathroom, latrine, bog, the good old toilet goes by many a name, its function remains the same. And in a world where some 38 per cent of the world’s population has no access to proper toilets, the Chiottissime photo exhibition shows us some differing approaches to this most pressing of occupations.
“Oh look Spiderman on the bog!” shouts Souleymane and a hoard of his classmates rush over to savour their superhero reduced to the state of common mortal. What’s more he’s reading a book: a frequent activity while on the throne.
The photograph, by German photographer Gerhard Westrich, is just one of 46 images from 31 countries on show in Chiottissme, a free outdoor exhibition along the Boulevard de la Bastille here in Paris.
It’s amusing, thought-provoking and a treat for unsuspecting passers-by.
Chiottissme, from the French slang word chiotte meaning bog, is the brainchild of the Parisian public sewage company Siaap and part of its 40th anniversary celebrations.
The photos range from floating wooden public toilets on the Mekong River in Vietnam where fish consume the excrement, Marton’s restaurant in Taiwan where diners actually sit on toilets and consume lavatory-inspired food, to the 24-carat gold loos found in shops owned by Hong Kong millionaire SW Lam.
“There’s great diversity in the photos,” says Martine Moëllic director of communications at Siaap, “Some are funny and off the wall, others sad or serious. In one way or another they explain the world we live in.”
And it’s a funny old world, full of disparity. Francois Cuel, who created the exhibition, hopes it will get people both smiling and pausing for thought.
“Toilets are important because let’s not forget 2.6 billion people don’t have access to proper loos,” he says. Indeed more than one billion people have no toilets at all.
“Gandhi made three speeches about toilets saying how important it was for everyone to have access. He’d immediately seen how they related to human dignity.”
A surreal photo of a dirty toilet and washbasin standing alone in the middle of the Sahara desert in Morocco draws our attention to the lack of water in the world, as well as the huge water reserves under the desert. Another, somewhere in China, shows a man pulling mobile toilets around the streets, attached to his bicycle.
While some pictures are taken by famous photographers like Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau or Eve Arnold, the majority are by lesser known photojournalists whose work is nonetheless essential says Cuel.
“All the problems of water and sanitation have moved up the agenda because of their work.”
Let’s face it, we generally prefer not to talk toilets.
While the Chinese are very open and relaxed in their lavatory habits, Cuel says, people in other parts of Asia and here in Europe tend to be more reserved. This is relatively recent, however, dating back to the French Revolution with British toilet technology reinforcing the trend.
“It all changed when the water closet was invented in Britain in the 19th century. People became more prudish.”
Since then the little closet, those few cubic metres, has become a kind of refuge.
“It’s an important room - a place where you can close the door, a place for battered wives and children. In the civil war in Lebanon, the toilet was a place you went to escape the bullets.”
In times of war, toilets can provide a sanctuary for things of value.
“It’s a dramatic room, too,” adds Cuel, “because you’re closed, locked in, so you can do a lot of things”. Such as read, reflect, or even get a fix. Cinema has seized on the dramatic possibilities of the smallest room: The Godfather and Trainspotting to mention just two well-known films.
Then there’s the act itself which can be very expressive. We do say “to relieve oneself” after all.
One photo taken in Iceland after the financial meltdown shows a man peeing on the photo of a banker which has been stuck on all the urinals.
“It’s a form of aggressivity, says Cuel, “a way of saying I piss on you. Their aggressivity against bankers was really high … and I think they’re right.”
The Icelanders were not the first to vent their anger this way Cuel adds.
“During WWII someone made a chamber pot with a picture of Hitler on it. A way of telling the Nazis what they thought.”
And a way of helping the male population to aim correctly, n’est ce pas?