mardi 24 septembre 2013

Another American in Paris

This is a painting I've known for decades now since it hangs in the Gare de l'Est in Paris, a railway station close to where I live.

This station was the departing point to the front in eastern France for hundreds of thousands young French soldiers from 1914 up to 1918.

Just, little did I know that the painter was an American one who had lost one of his sons some months before the end of this nameless massacre.

The young man we see wearing a white shirt in the middle of the painting is holding a bouquet of flowers in his rifle which reminds of the French expression "partir fleur au fusil" which indicates how light-heartedly people at the time thought the war would be a matter of few weeks before the Germans would be flatly defeated.

There is a strong temptation to imagine this young man is actually Albert Herter's own son since this painting is made in remembrance of him and how could possibly his father not want to represent his beloved deceased in a painting dedicated to the dead of WWI?

This is another piece of information I've learned about the links that tie Americans and Paris. Guess there are still many others that I'm not aware of.

mercredi 4 septembre 2013

Punishment and rehabilitation

So Ariel Castro has been found dead by hanging in his cell.

Ever since I was a young man, I've always opposed the death penalty for many reasons, the least being that at the very moment the so-called penalty applies there's no penalty any longer. But the imbecile crowd is pleased and convinced "justice" has been made.

The State, through its officials, knows this isn't a question of "justice" but the ultimate goal of the death penalty is to frighten the masses and asserts its power in the name of protecting the citizens.

But sometimes the ones who've been convicted to death commit suicide and the State isn't at all pleased with this last act of rebellion of individuals.

This is another question I've been asking to myself when I was young (I no longer do since I know the answer): Why aren't death convicts given the possibility at any moment to put an end to their life the way Erwin Rommel was?

The belief is widely propagated that justice is all about punishment and rehabilitation, just that in the case of the death penalty there's no rehabilitation prospect and what is left is the notion of punisment which -precisely- is not a punishment as we've seen above. Talk about "justice" then when there's neither rehabilitation nor punisment.

For the State, death as final outcome of trials isn't the point of course since the whole affair has nothing to do with "justice" but all to do with asserting its terrifying power. For the masses on the contrary, death epitomizes the strictest punishment "justice" can deliver, the one considered the best and most adequate outcome of any judiciary process whereas it is the very opposite, just another tragical farce based on sheer sadism for barbarians.

Most of us believe death is deliverance and in the same time, all those who support the death penalty (many of them believers) consider it to be the most terrible punishment. So which is which then?

(The film is Death by hanging by Japanese flm maker Nagisa Oshima)

lundi 2 septembre 2013

Déjà vu

Whenever I peruse the cartoons in the international press, it‘s always a sure bet that, when it comes to portray France and the French, I will meet 5 permanent fixtures cartoonists all over the world resort to:

1°) The Eiffel Tower.
Well, nothing wrong here, it helps to settle the setting. A bit repetitive but, well, no doubt, we’re in Paris, France.

2°) The béret.
Well, why not? Although it’s meanly worn on the country but I can see some in Paris too. Spaniards also wear the beret and much more than the French.

3°) The baguette.
It’s one among many other products bakers make and sell and one that is essentially to be found in Paris. But then again, it’s OK.
Now, this is really much more surprising. Where does that cliché come from? No French that I know of or see in the streets, on flicks or ad posters never wear striped jersey.

I once thought that it was a souvenir of Auguste Renoir’s painting at the time of Guy de Maupassant, but after I checked, the jersey wasn’t striped.

It eventually dawned on me that it had to do with le Mime Marceau (the upper part of his costume) who apparently made a smashing impact on the perception some Americans seem to have regarding the French. 

Because I’m positive on this: Next to no French ever wears a striped jersey, even on the beaches in July/August. But never mind…

5°) Napoléon.
There seems to be a real obsession with this historical figure, and not only among American cartoonists. You can be sure to find him in cartoons from Germany as well as Norway or India, Brazil or wherever.

Whichever French politician is portrayed, he’s entitled to his caricature as Napoleon. Be it De Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac and now Sarkozy, all French leaders are would-be Napoleon. Like every new Russian leader is the new Tsar of all Russias...

Let me tell you, if there’s something the French don’t exactly mull over it has to be Napoléon.

Of course 2 or 3 of these clichés are often to be found in the same cartoon.

My feeling is that cartoonists the world over haven’t much idea of what modern France and the French are and they all have to use again and again worn out clichés. On the other hand that’s what caricatures are made of: clichés and prejudice. 

If only they could be funny…

vendredi 30 août 2013

Does Goldie know?

I've just discovered this segment of another film by Woody Allen with Goldie Hawn dancing with him on the quais next to the Pont de la Tournelle south of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Some visitors (and most Parisians) may not know that on the bridge stands a statue of Sainte Geneviève (yes, 1500 years ago) that was realised by a French sculptor best known for this other world known piece:

Did they tell Goldie?

jeudi 29 août 2013

SemperFidelis needed here

At the end of his resignation speech Tricky Dicky famously says "au revoir" and tells there's no correct word in English to convey what he meant. Why weren't "We'll meet again" or "See you someday" for example appropriate to what Nixon wanted to say? "We'll see you again" does he eventually says.

And weren't American voters somewhat flummoxed by the use of a foreign word (and a French one at that!) in such a circumstance by an American president? 

mardi 20 août 2013

Which future for America?

There was this article in the NYT some days ago and I was musing about the perception of American identity by current white American citizens.

I explain: What do Latinos care about the history of the US or Native Indians who have nothing to do with England and the British colonies except that their arrival meant the beginning of their downfall?

And colored people as well as Americans with Asian ancestry, I guess they couldn't care less about the Indian wars, the Siege of Yorktown or the Civil War (except for Black people of course since that battle marked the beginning of the end of their plight).

Europe also knows a great influx of immigrants mostly from Africa and Arabic countries and the process of integration is far from being an easy one.

My guess is that Turks in Germany don't care a fig about former kings, princes or dukes and that they hardly know who Bach, Goethe or Kafka are or that a German monk named Martin Luther was at the origin of the most major split within the Christian Church, a split which eventually caused the migration of thousands and thousands believers to the New World. On the other hand they’re free from any guilt regarding Auschwitz or Edith Cavell (don’t mention her name when you’re having an Englishman and a German as guests in your house).

The difference between our two continents being that, according to all demographic projections, white Americans will be the minority in America about 30 years from now whereas native Europeans will remain a strong majority.

How do white Americans feel about this trend which tends to illustrate that a nation of colonists eventually is submerged by other immigrants because in a world where all nations have at least hundreds and hundreds of centuries - if not millenaries - of History, new comers just arrive too late and will always lack what lays at the core of all nations.

vendredi 16 août 2013

Marie-Antoinette in Hollywood

Seven years ago the American director Sofia Coppola directed a movie dedicated to the life of Marie-Antoinette, and it wasn't the first one coming from Hollywood, far from it. Remember Norma Shearer among others?

And I was wondering, why does this unfortunate French queen raise such interest in America?

One may expect an English queen to be the subject of an equally attentive curiosity. But which one, save Anne Boleyn? And past English Royalties probably don't sound too sympathetic to Americans.

- A very dramatic story, good script for Hollywood, yes but what else?
- Nostalgia for a time when the Ancient Régime looked like a Disney fairy tale?
- She was the wife of the French king who was on the throne when Lafayette went to the help of the American revolutionaries?

I can't see any other reason for this apparent American fondness for Marie Antoinette, something you won't find in the UK.

A former Austrian princess who became queen and who was the very image of luxury and abandon with eventually an infamous death, and all this somehow related to the very first days of the American Republic, that must be it...

samedi 10 août 2013

Henri le Chat noir

When Maureen Dowd wrote her unwillingly funny piece in the NYT the other day, she quoted A. Camus and a line I have never heard before: "Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?" 

The existential trend of post-war France and Sartre as well as Camus have apparently left an enduring imprint on the image many Americans have of France and the French. It is not the first time -by far- that I read a text which indeed indicates how in America France is often associated with philosophy and deep thinking an essential element of everyday living.

As a funny illustration of this perception here are the thoughts of an American French speaking cat.

mercredi 7 août 2013

Three Americans in Paris

A feel-good film which also reminds how depressively sooty the monuments were in Paris at that time. At 3:10 Audrey Hepburn is standing on a terrace at Montmatre and the second after we see the Hôtel de ville and the river Seine. Just the camera has moved in between since this view is impossible from Montmartre. The second segment was shot on top of the left tower of the Notre-Dame cathedral. And the same goes at 3:23 where the camera now is situated on the roof of the Grand Palais. The reason is that each of the three stands at different locations as we soon discover.

I haven't the sligtest idea what are the structures we see at 3:50 framing the Eiffel Tower on the sides of the screen???

lundi 5 août 2013

I am so scared!

And now there is this joke of (fabricated) purported menaces from Al Qaeda that have been intercepted and have led to the temporary closure of some 20 American embassies in the Middle East.

This is the umpteenth time in the last 10 years that we're being told that there are impending acts of terrorism which require that special security measures be taken. Some cynical anti-American minds would be too happy to note how quickly the US recedes in front of imaginary threats as reliable as the grand story of the wmd in Iraq.

Better take it in a humorous light mood and watch delicious Jean Seberg in one of her very early movies, whose title is quite appropriate to the current situation. 

But wait! I'm told Jean Seberg too was taken care of by the infamous Ruskies.  

What a world of illusion and manipulation we live in! Once again I turn to Kant and his famous Sapere aude!

vendredi 2 août 2013

The Poor People of Paris

Just because I like it...

O.B.L.'s triumph

Who could ever have thought an American citizen would someday be granted political asylum in Russia? And even more stunning, that Putin would ever appear like a guarantee of freedom and human rights and the US of A. as the new evil empire in the eyes of the world?

Remember when any defector from former USSR was instantly granted political asylum in the US and hailed as a hero who had the courage to defy the forces of darkness and tyranny?

Someday Edward Snowden will be revered as an American hero for his courageous adherence to the values the Founding Fathers wanted to be the ultimate symbol of the United States of America. Just compare how M.L.K was treated in the 60's and his posthumous status in contemporary America. Or think of Nelson Mandela who after decades behind bars is now a world icon of honesty and humanity.

After it had to apologize to the natives Indians, the interned Japanese of 1942, the black community and innumerable single individuals, the American administration someday will pay tribute to the whistle blower whom half the current American population wants to be hung and the other half considers like another American hero.

After the whole world has been exposed the sinister truth that it was under surveillance by American secret services of all sorts, the US is again viewed the world over as the bad guy and the most dangerous player on the international scene.

Just that is the eventual triumph of Osama Ben laden who instilled fear and paranoia in the American psyche to the point that the US engaged in two senseless wars, has spent trillions of $ and going, killed dozens of thousands of people in the Middle east and Afghanistan/Pakistan, assassinates hundreds and hundreds innocent people with its drones, has its economy on its knees and thinks terrorism as soon as it hears a sparrow winging in the night.

After Charlie Chaplin had to leave into exile because of the anticommunist frenzy America was a victim of 60 years ago, it is now Russia which appears like a heaven of freedom against the tyrannical spying powers of the US.

Well done Osama!

mercredi 31 juillet 2013

No One Knows What it Means

I've just discovered that video featuring two niggas in Paris and I went wondering what the two of them were saying.

I tried to decipher their message with the help of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson but it just didn't fit. The video is interesting though...

vendredi 26 juillet 2013

mercredi 10 juillet 2013

The poor people of France

Maureen Dowd is currently in Paris (probably for the summer -or is it winter?- fashion week) and she already has two pieces published in the NYT. 

The first one is entitled Bonjour tristesse, while the second is called Agent saboteur?

Both pieces in my view belong to the infotainment department so they're funny to read.

Now, the most interesting part of the column is filled with the readers' comments and here I must say the overwhelmingly francophile bias of these Americans who are motivated enough to indignantly react to Mrs. Dowd's prose are on the verge of being embarrassing to me... 

Apparently, all Americans aren't of the opinion that life in the U.S surpasses any other one in any other country. 
But wait! in the meantime Roger Cohen apparently is also spending some time in the French capital (France's Glorious Malaise) and Paul Krugman as well has a word to say about our not so failing economy (Les Not so Miserables).

Dear friends, sometimes too much love is a bit too much but if the opportunity arises and we come accross each other in Paris, you can count on me to treat you with a bottle of red wine in the café you will have chosen.  

mercredi 30 janvier 2013

The end

For six years now I've enjoyed running this little blog which now comes to an end. And the reason is that I've just learned that we have been duped by an impostor who, from the begining, made himself pass for a woman whose name was supposed to be "Ned", whereas we were dealing with a 65 year old man.  

As you can imagine I'm upset, not only because I've been lied to for such a long time -and you along with me- but also because this event forces me to close down Shall We Talk  which has been so important to me since I published the first post Sept. 27th 2007. 

I have shared a splendid time with you and thanks to you but now, who would still want to carry on exchanges with someone -whatever his intellectual qualities- who took advantage of the Internet to abuse the trust we commonly shared with each other over the past years?

So goodbye to you all

vendredi 25 janvier 2013

On the (relative) immorality of forgiveness


Every now and then, we meet the recommendation that the only way to find peace and quietness in our hearts and minds is to eventually forgive the offenders who have hurt us through their misdeeds.

I suppose one must have been through some nightmarish experience to tell first hand if the recommendation applies and if it works. Such isn't my case so I can not be assertive on that regard, yet I can imagine some victims finding peace only after they've killed themselves the murderer of their child for example.

As a matter of fact, there aren't that many cases where the issue arises but the rape or killing of children.

So I don't exactly discuss the veracity of the recommendation (let's call it a recommendation) but yet my attention was caught with a specific aspect of it and particularly in association with Kant's teaching re. morality.  

And then I was looking for an image to illustrate the post and I immediately found that one and I knew I was on  something.

I don't know who wrote the sentence in the frame (Ayn Rand?) but it seems indisputable that it posits a very selfish and egoistical basis to forgiveness. One may therefore question the morality of an action which is based solely on the pursuit of personal interest, whatever the circumstances.

Indeed, when we remember Kant' second formulation of the categorical imperative, we cannot but conclude that forgiving for the sake of our own peace of mind is contrary to the formula of humanity as exposed in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Moral.
Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

A maxim is considered immoral if:

  1. its subjective content is such that it treats the humanity in oneself or others solely as a vehicle towards one's ends.
Could he read the text in the frame, Kant would spin in his grave.

Now, it can be argued that the sentence isn't a maxim or the enunciation of a rule to follow, but merely the honest stating of the ultimate intent of forgiveness, that is treating the other as a means but not an end.

So, even if we forget Kant's theory of morality, I find it hard to deny that the end of forgiveness is basically selfish, selfish in the broadest sense of the word, yet selfish.

Finally, this little questioning may be an indication that morality isn't exactly easy to define nor are the criteria that can be useful in order to tell absolute right from absolute wrong in certain extreme circumstances.

Now, if you think all these meandrous Kantian talks about morality are irrelevant, just consider how it was discussed in an Israeli court 50 years ago.

dimanche 20 janvier 2013

Ayn and Arnie

Last week, this movie poster for Schwarzenegger's latest opus has appeared about everywhere in Parisian metro stations, in the streets of the city, in newspapers etc. And once again I wondered what was the origin of that specific Hollywood genre of cinema based on the notion of the last one, the survivor, the last cop, the last soldier, the last hero etc.

The Last Stand is translated into Le Dernier Rempart in French, but it has to be "the last" something yet.

As a matter of fact, I already had a post on this subject exactly 5 years to this day because of a flick with Will Smith that was just being shown in France by then. I am Legend was the title with the slogan : The last man on earth is not alone

I tentatively proposed an explanation which I knew was a partial answer to my questioning. Besides, I wasn't too assertive about it.

But now, I realise why I failed to fully understand this phenomena 5 years ago, when I still hadn't been introduced to Ayn Rand by Ned. 

For what I've understood, Rand's philosophy is a modernised version of Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch, an apology of individualism and self reliance as well as an overall distrust of the State and the collectivity. "Trust yourself and nobody else" seems to be the core of the teaching.

I still am flabbergasted to observe what a considerable influence the thesis of Rand have yielded among the American audience and then in America's psyche but apparently, this is a proven fact and all the American visitors I dealt with when I was a street hawker were familiar with Ayn Rand and many of them had read Atlas Shrugged which I had never heard of at that time.

I can't think of any national cinema with a similar genre based on the last something theme, be it in the French, Italian, German, or Korean  movie industries, but then it makes sense since only America has been exposed on an industrial scale to the message Rand brought to Americans. 

Ayn Rand, who apparently was a wise fox, told Americans what they wanted to hear and which, seemingly, was in line with the story of her country of adoption.

What I now realise is that all these last cop, last hero, last soldier, last commander, Last Stand whatever, are reiterated embodiments of John Galt and it certainly plays well with a certain segment of the American audience since Hollywood money makers keep on cashing in with this genre.

And they will until said genre will have ceased to garner money which apparently isn't to happen in the next future, so deep Ayn Rand's influence has penetrated into the American ways of thinking. 

jeudi 17 janvier 2013

Paris Passion Magazine

Some weeks ago, I mentioned my bohemian life-style to SemperFidelis when we were exchanging about our respective stays in London in the 80s.

That was then one of these episodes and it was to be followed by another, longer period of free wheeling when I was a street vendor in Paris for a certain number of magazines.

Last week I was cruising on the web and eventually landed on this page. Wow, Paris Passion magazine was just one of these magazines and specifically the one I started my street hawker career with in July 1985, three months after I've returned from London. 

Only in Wikipedia! Obviously the article has been written by an insider, possibly the founder of the magazine.

360 days per year, from 8:pm to 1:am (talk of lazy, subsidized French workers...) from July 1985 to July 1989 I would hit the streets of the Les Halles district which was one of the vibrant, trendy places where to spend an evening in Paris during the 80s.

Since making money never was my ultimate raison de vivre, I was cashing in enough to pay the rent and the bills but my reward was that my life style was immensely fun and free (*).

All in all, I've sold over 5,000 copies of that English speaking magazine which means that I've met and talked to something like 5,000 American customers (a certain number of Brits too but mainly American buyers), a number one can multiply roughly by two since I was also selling that fashion magazine which boasted to be the most expensive magazine in the world (that was the slogan).

Of course I wouldn't spend hours talking with each and every American visitor (I was making a living after all) but yet, every day I would exchange and discuss with a good many number of people from about every corner of the Great Nation (aka the Land of the Free).

So, even if I have never set foot in the US, I suppose I can say I am not totally unaware and ignorant of what people across the pond look like and how to communicate with them. Notwithstanding the daily visits to the staff at the offices of the magazine, rue du pont neuf (well, this is not the rue of course but the pont neuf where the rue comes from).

Oh! Did I mention the American innocent girls who were lost in Paris and looking for a nice and friendly Parisian to help them out but were too afraid to ask because they couldn't speak French? Oh, well, I just did my duty when the opportunity would arise sir.

So, looking back to my past,  my 30s weren't a complete waste of time after all and leading a Bohemian like life isn't deprived of some positive aspects.

(*) Recently asked whether he regretted not to be a millionaire, Jimmy Wales answered that his life was much more interesting that theirs.

dimanche 13 janvier 2013

Learning while having fun

Speaking of English expressions... this cartoon produced in 1951 was meant to illustrate colloquialisms, sayings and expressions in English. Some of them may be typically American though.

For what I know, Avery's idea was also to introduce outsiders to new expressions of that time that could be difficult for older generations to understand. But maybe some of these so-called new expressions ot the beginning of the 50s have now turned obsolete?

I remember an American girl telling me "Feeling groovy" was old fashioned (and that was 30 years ago!)

vendredi 4 janvier 2013


Working for the king of Prussia is one of these hundreds of sayings that exist in French like there are as many ones in about all human languages. That one isn't particularly uncommon, but Ned who's fluent in French may not have met it yet because it's not used that often and also isn't one that is known and understood by all French speakers.  

All these sayings and expressions - let alone proverbs - form some sort of meta-language that gives any society its pure cultural identity, beyond the sheer technicality of the vocabulary and grammar its language is constructed with.

Am I allowed to draw a comparison with the shibboleth of the Hebrews, a word whose pronunciation serves as a definitive marker to distinguish those who are in from those who are out? 

But where the mere pronunciation of the word "shibboleth" suffices to detect a foreigner, it is the very usage of those sayings by non native speakers of any particular language that indicates what could be termed as an illegitimate attempt to break the barriers.

Let me explain: Unless one is completely bilingual, everybody has a certain distinctive native accent when speaking in a foreign language. No need for a shibboleth test, the intonation is here to hear and tell the rest of the audience that a foreigner is speaking.

But when said foreigner employs sayings that are typically associated with a certain cultural group, there is an instant alarm that is set and informs that a foreigner is trying to penetrate the core of a group which cannot recognize him as a full fledged member. I guess it works the same in all societies, be it an Italian speaking Finnish and using specific Finnish expressions because we're all seduced by the mysteries of foreign languages, or a Chinese speaking Japanese (no wait, there are some other problems in that case...).

There must exist some specific Texan sayings (when the cows come home?)  that some one from Illinois (say) may want to use just to show h/h knows. And although it is spoken in English and with a different accent, wouldn't the Texans be tempted to say to the imprudent intruder: "Sir, will you please keep yourself to yourself and even return to where you belong while you're at it?