I couldn’t believe my eyes this week when I saw Air France managers who were forced to flee a meeting about mass job cuts while having their clothes ripped from their backs. Proposed cuts are believed to include 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots. Airline human resources and labour relations chief Xavier Brosetahe and and Air France Chief Executive Frederic Gageys had their shirts ripped off and had to battle their way through angry crowds. The airline said shortly afterwards that it planned to take legal action over ‘aggravated violence’ carried out against its managers.
The reaction from French politicians has been unequivocal; while the right to strike is sacrosanct in France, violence is pas acceptable. Former French President and hopeful for the next round of elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, referred to the incident as la chienlit (lah she-n-lee), or havoc, mayhem. Curiously enough, it literally means “dog bed.”
Sarkozy was borrowing a page from Charles de Gaulle who denounced social protests in May 1968 as “la chienlit.” Current Prime Minister Mauel Valls was left to walk the line between defending the right to strike and protest and condemning violence. He and other politicians objected to Sarkozy’s use of la chienlit pointed out that in 1968, the streets were full of violent student protests but that, although reprehensible, the Air France protesters represented an isolated group. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
The Last Great Frenchman: A Life of General De Gaulle
I finally finished Paris: The Novel, by Edward Rutherford – all 805 pages of it! It traces a small group of very diverse families from 1307 to 1968, looking at key events in French history through the lens of how they affected each of these families. On the one hand, I can’t say that it was my favorite book ever. The sprawl was a little too vast and the fact that it was not chronological made the story difficult to follow at times. The dialogue was sometimes a little stilted. Imagine something along the lines of, “This building that we are passing is historically significant because it was where Louis XIV bought his pipe tobacco.” I’m exaggerating, of course, but not much. On the other hand, I did learn a lot of details about events as diverse as the St. Bartholemew Day Massacre and wide-spread mutiny in the trenches of World War I.
Chevauchement (shuh-vowe-shuh-mahn) means overlapping. Drug dealers, madames, nobles, and members of the bourgeoisie could overlap in real life because, as we all know, the truth is often stranger than fiction.
I’m one of the least tanned people you could ever meet, even at the end of summer. I was an early adopter of self-tanners, and I’ve tried just about every brand and formulation on the market. I’m not going for an all-over St. Tropez deep golden brown, but just enough to take the gleaming whiteness from my bare legs in warm weather. Some products streak, some have an unnatural color, and all seem to have a strong odor.
I was intrigued by la dernière lubie (lah dare-knee-air loo-bee), or the latest craze, in self-tanners because it was by Clarins, a French company with a solid reputation for research and innovation. Addition Concentré Éclat (Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster) is different than other products I’ve tried. With this one, I add drops of the concentrate to whatever body lotion I like, blend them together, and slather it on. With a little experimenting, I am able to customize just as much believable color as I want. There is no weird aroma – just the scent of whatever body lotion I’m using. I still don’t look like I’m a St. Tropez regular, but I look less like Casper the Ghost!
A seldom-told story of bravery during the Holocaust was the decision of the rector of the Grand Mosquée de Paris to protect Jews. Si Kaddour Benghabrit provided refuge and certificates of Muslim identity to a small number of Jews to allow them to evade arrest and deportation. The Sephardic Jews of North Africa spoke Arabic and shared many of the same dietary traditions and everyday habits as the Arabs. Their names were often similar.
The huge mosque is a place of worship, but also a social place where people could meet. Benghabrit gave tours of the mosque to German officers and their wives even as he simultaneously used it to help Jews. Underneath, the mosque is honeycombed with tunnels. The cover that he created for Jews was so detailed that Benghabrit even had appropriate last names engraved on tombstones in the Muslim cemetery. No one knows for sure how many were helped because, for obvious reasons, records were sketchy. The occupying Germans suspected that the mosque was being used to hide Jews and the imam was threatened to stop any clandestine actions.
Benghabrit’s and the imam’s bravery during the holocaust makes me think of the expression la chance sourit aux audacieux (lah shahnse soo-ree oze owe-dass-yuh), which means “chance smiles on the bold,” or as we say, “fortune favors the bold.” I hope I’d have this kind of courage.
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of how Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust
Recently, we went to Rockport, MA to enjoy some lobster on one of the last summer weekends of the year. In addition to incredibly fresh seafood, Rockport has a couple of French-infused businesses. La Provence, 4 Main Street, has sun-soaked table linens, Roger & Gallet soaps, and French music CDs. I bought an ingenious pleated lampshade that slips over an existing plain shade to bring a little Provençal flair to our guest bedroom. Très chic!
The second shop was totally different. Découvert Fine Art, 73 Main Street, specializes in French and Italian drawings from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Un découvert (uhn day-koo-vert) means “a discovery” and this small shop is an absolute gem. The beautifully framed and meticulously researched drawings that adorn the walls would be completely at home in a château or museum. We noticed small illuminated capital letters like you would see in a medieval manuscript, but these weren’t antiques. The owners have a contact in Florence who restores rare manuscripts: she is currently working at the château de Chantilly. In her spare time she creates new illuminated letters using the original techniques and materials, such as real gold and ground lapis lazuli. We’ve ordered one for our daughter who has a deep interest in typography. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Illuminated Manuscripts: Masterpieces of Art
Starting on September 23, the Grand Palais in central Paris is hosting an exhibit about one of my favorite artists, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. She rose from modest origins to be the official portraitist of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Despite her importance and supreme talent, this is the first French retrospective that has ever been dedicated to her, but, to make up for it, the Grand Palais isn’t holding anything back. There are 130 paintings to see; an animated film about her; an excellent video to introduce the exhibit; you can download the exhibit brochure; or buy an App with a comprehensive look at Vigée Le Brun’s body of work. The exhibit runs until January 11, 2016. If you can’t make it to Paris, the exhibit moves to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from February to May 2016 and then to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from June to September 2016.
Although she was initially taught by her father, Vigée Le Brun was essentially self-made. The way to say this in French is to that she was a painter qui a réussi tout seul (key ah ray-oo-see toot suhl), which literally means “who succeeded all alone.” I won’t be able to get to the exhibit in Paris, but I’ll certainly be at the one in New York.
Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun: The Odyssey of an Artist in an Age of Revolution
Now open at the musée Marmottan Monet is an exhibit based on the personal collection of Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser. Between 1906 and 1936, this Swiss couple collected works by Cézanne, Manet, Matisse, Renoir, Vuillard and Van Gogh, among others. They displayed their remarkable collection at their home, Villa Flora, where they also hosted numerous artists who became their friends. These friends repaid their hosts by using their expertise to advise the couple on which contemporary artists to buy.
The exhibit is entitled Les temps enchantés (lay tehm ahn-shan-tay), or “the enchanted days.” The Hahnloser’s granddaughter, now in her 80s, was interviewed by France 2 when she came for the opening of the exhibit. She recounted that there were paintings everywhere in Villa Flora – even the bathroom. As a child, she did not find her days surrounded by all the art particularly enchanting because she and her sibs were never allowed to play with balls in the house in case they damaged a masterpiece. As adults, they realized the significance of what they had and never allowed the collection to be dispersed. This is the first time that these remarkable paintings have been exhibited in France. Eighty paintings will be on display until February 7, 2016.
The Marmottan Monet Museum