To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account
And that includes the Saudi kings whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism.
By Laila Lalami (November 15, 2015; The Nation)
What happened in Paris on November 13 has happened before in a shopping district of Beirut on November 12, in the skies over Egypt on October 31, at a cultural center in Turkey on July 20, a beach resort in Tunisia on June 26—and nearly every day in Syria for the last four years.
The scenario is by now familiar to all of us. News of the killings will appear on television and radio. There will be cries of horror and sorrow, a few hashtags on Twitter, perhaps even a change of avatars on Facebook. Our leaders will make staunch promises to bring the terrorists to justice, while also claiming greater power of surveillance over their citizens. And then life will resume exactly as before.
Except for the victims’ families. For them, time will split into a Before and After.
We owe these families, of every race, creed, and nationality, more than sorrow, more than anger. We owe them justice.
We must call to account ISIS, a nihilistic cult of death that sees the world in black and white, with no shades of gray in between.
We must call to account Bashar al-Assad, whose response to peaceful protesters in the spring of 2011 was to send water cannons and military tanks to meet them.
We must call to account the governments of the United States, France, Britain, Russia, Iran, and many others, who lent support and succor to tyrant after tyrant in the Middle East and North Africa, and whose interventions appear to create 10 terrorists for every one they kill.
We must call to account George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, whose disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent disbanding of the Iraqi army destabilized the entire region.
We must call to account the Saudi kings—Salman, Abdullah, and Fahd—whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism.
When I was a child in Morocco, no clerics told me what to do, what to read or not read, what to believe, what to wear. And if they did, I was free not to listen. Faith was more than its conspicuous manifestations. But things began to change in the 1980s. It was the height of the Cold War and Arab tyrants saw an opportunity: They could hold on to power indefinitely by repressing the dissidents in their midst—most of them secular leftists—and by encouraging the religious right wing, with tacit or overt approval from the United States and other Western allies. Into the void created by the decimation of the Arab world’s secular left, the Wahhabis stepped in, with almost unlimited financial resources. Wahhabi ideas spread throughout the region not because they have any merit—they don’t—but because they were and remain well funded. We cannot defeat ISIS without defeating the Wahhabi theology that birthed it. And to do so would require spending as much effort and money in defending liberal ideas.
I am a novelist. Every year, I spend a great deal of my time giving readings or lectures at which, almost unfailingly, I am asked about Islam and Muslims and the wars now consuming the Middle East. I try to explain and contextualize, remind people about history and politics, bring in some culture and art into the mix. But every few months, when another terrorist attack happens, the work I do seems to be for nothing. What chance does someone like me have when compared with the power of well-funded networks?
The beheadings, the crucifixions, the destruction of cultural heritage that ISIS practices—none of these are new. They all happened, and continue to happen, in Saudi Arabia too. The government of Saudi Arabia has beheaded more people this year than ISIS. It persecutes Shias and atheists. It has slowly destroyed sites of cultural and religious significance around Mecca and Medina. To almost universal indifference, it has been bombing Yemen for seven months. Yet whenever terror strikes, it escapes notice and evades responsibility. In this, it is aided and abetted by Western governments, who buy oil from tyrants and sell them weapons, while paying lip service to human rights.
I have no patience anymore for people who claim that Muslims do not speak out. They do, every day. Muslims are the primary victims of ISIS, and its primary resisters. It is an insult to every one of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim victims of terrorism to lump them with the lunatics who commit terror. The truth is that ISIS unleashes its nihilistic violence on anyone—Muslim, Christian or Jew; believer or unbeliever—who doesn’t subscribe to their cult.
I wish I could do something for the victims of terrorist violence. But I am a writer; words are all I have. And all I know is that I want, with all my heart, to preserve and celebrate what ISIS wishes to destroy: a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural life.
S'il se trouve que vous êtes en France pendant les festivités de Pâques, vous verrez dans le chocolateries, pâtisseries et supermarchés, à côté des œufs de Pâques, des poules et lapins de Pâques en chocolat ainsi que des cloches en chocolat ! Pourquoi des cloches ? L'épisode de Karambolage (une émission formidable diffusée sur la chaine franco-allemande Arte) de cette semaine nous explique l'origine de cette tradition des cloches de Pâques en chocolat et sa bataille vouée à l'échec contre le redoutable et redouté lapin de Pâques.
If you happen to be in France during the Easter festivities you'll see, in the chocolate shops, cake shops and supermarkets, next to the chocolate Easter eggs, chocolate hens and Easter bunnies as well as chocolate bells! Why bells? This weeks episode of Karambolage (a wonderful programme screened on the Franco-German channel Arte) explains the origin of the Easter bell tradition and its loosing battle against the dreaded and all conquering Easter Bunny! If you don't quite understand the video, what are you waiting for? Learn French in Sydney at the French Centre!!!
Le Lapin Or
Dimanche prochain, c’est Pâques. Les enfants se lêchent déjà les babines. Mais Elsa Clairon, elle, en Française qu’elle est, nous raconte pourquoi elle craint pour nos bonnes vieilles traditions...
Il y a quelques années, nous faisions à Karambolage un sujet sur la fête de Pâques en France. Vous savez qu’à partir du jeudi saint - le jeudi qui précède Pâques et qui marque le début de la passion de Jésus-Christ, les cloches, en signe de deuil, se taisent dans les églises. Il est d’usage en France de raconter aux enfants que les cloches partent à Rome où elles se font bénir et que, lors de leur retour le dimanche de Pâques, elles jettent dans les jardins des œufs, des poules, des cloches que les enfants se font une joie de chercher et de ramasser. Ainsi, nous avions besoin de moult poules, cloches et autres friandises pour pouvoir tourner notre sujet. Une jeune stagiaire allemande crut bon d’appeler le siège français d’une grande marque de chocolat suisse afin de leur demander s’ils pouvaient nous aider. Le chocolatier obtempéra aussitôt, un immense carton arriva à la rédaction et certains se léchaient déjà les babines en déballant le colis, mais qu’il y avait-il à l’intérieur ? Je vous le donne en mille : cette marque bien connue nous avait envoyé bien sûr des lapins de Pâques. Des petits, des moyens, des grands, de quoi remplir un clapier géant.
Mais enfin, avons-nous tous hurlé : comment faire un sujet sur Pâques en France avec des lapins, le symbole de Pâques pour les petits Allemands ? Nous, on veut des cloches, des poules, on veut du Pâques français. Et notre pauvre stagiaire de rappeler le chocolatier qui lui répondit par mail ceci : "Mademoiselle, Suite à notre échange téléphonique, nous nous permettons de vous faire parvenir un focus sur les ventes des chocolats de Pâques en France, en grandes et moyennes surfaces. Depuis 10 ans, nous constatons que les Français offrent des lapins en chocolat à l’instar des cloches et poules qui sont de moins en moins achetées. Je me suis donc permis de vous joindre quelques chiffres attestant de la place prépondérante du lapin dans les habitudes d’achat des français. Lapins : 44% ; œufs : 28% ; cloches : 5% ; poules : 12% ; autres : 11%." Et l’entreprise que vous aurez reconnue entretemps de poursuivre : "Lancé il y a seulement dix ans en France, le Lapin Or a su s’imposer comme un incontournable de Pâques. Lindt vend plus de 6 millions de Lapin Or par an. Sans vouloir contrarier et orienter le synopsis de votre émission, je souhaitais juste vous faire part de cette nouvelle donne, qui par ailleurs atteste du rapprochement en matière de goût entre l’Allemagne et la France."
"Le rapprochement en matière de goût entre l’Allemagne et la France !" Adieu poules, cloches, friture ! Ainsi donc, vous mes compatriotes, vous vous laissez guider dans vos choix par la force de frappe d’un groupe international, oui, vous le laissez en l’espace de 10 ans abolir vos coutumes les plus ancestrales ! Non, à Karambolage, nous ne pouvions pas laisser passer comme ça sous nos yeux cet exemple de globalisation brutale dont s’enorgueillit carrément un industriel ! Un industriel par ailleurs très gentil qui s’est montré fort généreux avec nous mais qui n’a peut-être pas saisi qu’il est en train de saper les bases mêmes de notre émission.
French classes in Sydney at the French Centre
for Language & Cultural Studies
Salut tout le monde ! Nous avons été très occupés ces deux dernières semaines mais nous avons tout de même trouvé le temps pour prendre des photos d'Anaïs se moquant de « la petite Sophie ». Certains d'entre vous se rappellent d'Anaïs de l'année dernière, mais pour les autres, Anaïs possède une licence LEA (Langues Étrangères Appliquées - l'équivalent d'un Bachelor Degree in Languages) en anglais, espagnol et français, obtenue à l'Université d'Aix-Marseille I, et un Master de Traduction en anglais, espagnol et français de l'Université Paul-Valery Montpellier III. Elle a travaillé en tant que traductrice et professeur de français en France, Irlande, Angleterre, Espagne et Canada, et nous sommes très chanceux de l'avoir ici parmi nous en Australie. Merci Anaïs !!!
Salut tout le monde ! We've been very busy these last two weeks however we still managed to take a few photos of Anaïs poking fun at "la petite Sophie". Some of you know Anaïs from last year but, for those of you who don't, Anaïs holds a licence LEA (Langues Étrangères Appliquées - the equivalent of a Bachelor Degree in Languages) in English, Spanish and French, from l'Université d'Aix-Marseille I, and a Master's Degree in Translation in English, Spanish and French from l'Université Paul-Valery Montpellier III. She has worked as a translator and French teacher in France, Ireland, England, Spain and Canada and we are very lucky to have here here with us in Australia. Merci Anaïs !!!
Deux autres articles intéressants, l'un directement et l'autre indirectement, en rapport avec les attentats de la semaine dernière à Paris. Le premier est un reportage diffusé dans l'émission de la chaîne ABC, 7.30, dédié aux marches qui ont eu lieu en France en hommage aux victimes des attentats. Ce reportage comprends également une entrevue très intéressante avec l'Ambassadeur Français en Australie, Christophe Lecourtier, qui, de manière surprenante pour un ambassadeur, n'a pas peur de pointer du doigt ce qu'il faudrait faire pour stopper la montée des mouvements radicaux en France. Le second article est un chapitre appelé Is France an egalitarian society?, issu du livre affreusement intitulé mais extrêmement intéressant de Piu Marie Eatwell, They Eat Horses, Don't They?: The Truth about the French. Dans ce chapitre, Madame Eatwell fait l'analyse (du mythe ?) de l'égalitarisme en France.
Two more interesting items: one directly and the other indirectly related to last week's attacks in Paris. The first is a report dedicated to the marches which took place in France in honour of the victims broadcast by the ABC programme 7.30, which also includes a very interesting interview with the French Ambassador to Australia, Christophe Lecourtier, who, oddly enough for an ambassador, does not shy away from stating what needs to be done in order to curb the rise of radicalist movements in France. The second item is a chapter by the title Is France an egalitarian society?, from the horrendously titled but very very interesting book by Piu Marie Eatwell, They Eat Horses, Don't They?: The Truth About the French. In this chapter, Madame Eatwell analyses (the myth of?) egalitarianism in France.
Is France is an egalitarian society?
We are used to thinking of the French as the ultimate egalitarian nation. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité was the motto of the French Revolution of 1789: principles that had already been articulated by French thinkers who led the world in championing the freedom of the individual as the basis for running a state. Most famously, the Francophone Swiss Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, in his 1762 treatise The Social Contract:
'If we ask in what precisely consists the greatest good of all, which should be the end of every system of legislation, we shall find it reduces itself to two main objects, liberty and equality liberty, because all particular dependence means so much force taken from the body of the State and equality, because liberty cannot exist without it.'
Equality, for thinkers such as Rousseau and the leaders of the Revolution, was a counteracting force in the form of levelling laws imposed by the state to control the naturally selfish instincts of man; and ever since, the French have prided themselves on being (unlike the snobbish English) the nation of freethinking, banner-waving, street-marching brothers-in-arms. Although, looking at the enormous upheavals of recent French history, one could be forgiven for thinking that the path to equality has been far from clear-cut. In fact, it's hard to see why people have problems understanding modern French history. Monarchy, Revolution, Republic, Empire, Monarchy, Revolution, Monarchy, Revolution, Republic, Empire, Republic. Dead easy, really. Few are the European countries that have had as many changes of regime, in as short a time, as the French. And yet, if you look behind the ostensibly breathtaking transformations in the French political landscape, one feature remains constant as the northern star. And that is the centrality of the state.
L'état, cest moi ('I am the state'), the Roi Soleil ('Sun King') Louis XIV once famously said. Napoleon could have said as much. And in recent times, little has changed. The president of France - thanks to the powers conferred on him by the Fifth Republic established by General de Gaulle in October 1958 - is the most powerful political leader in the Western world. Unlike the parliamentary democracies of countries such as the UK - where a system of checks and balances, in theory at least, places some restraint on the untrammelled exercise of power by anyone individual - the French president reigns supreme. De Gaulle himself admitted as much, when he said to his minister of information, Alain Peyrefitte, that he had tried, in the constitution of the Fifth Republic, to create a 'synthesis between a monarchy and a republic'. 'What, a monarchic Republic?' Peyrefitte is said to have responded, astonished. 'No: replied de Gaulle, 'let's say rather a Republican monarchy'. Once every five years, the president of the French Republic is required to go out on the street and answer to the rabble. For the next 1,825 days, he can virtually do what he likes. (Although there is, occasionally, the inconvenience of cohabitation - that is, when the majority party in the French parliament is not the same party as the president's.) A French president in office is immune from legal or criminal proceedings: no Watergate can unseat him, nor Chappaquiddick submerge him. That this should be the case in a country famed for its Republican revolution, and of which the motto is Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, is profoundly ironic. It is as though the French people have never quite got over guillotining their royal family in 1793, and instead insist on appointing a walking and talking shadow to pay homage to the regal ghosts of the past.
Just as the Sun King surrounded himself with a tight circle of lackeys, spies and sycophants to impose his laws on the land, so the French president has an army of executives - the hautes fonctionnaires or top civil servants in the administrative, financial and legislative departments of government - to administer his will. The tripartite structure of top civil servants, captains of industry, and - increasingly - bosses in the worlds of banking and commerce, form the technocracy that rules France. This haute bourgeoisie, or ruling class, remains aloof and hidden from the lives of ordinary French citizens. Most have been born into families that for years have occupied high functions in the civil service, industry or banking. As one French social scientist has observed, 'Birth remains in France one of the principal conditions of access to power'. Hot on the heels of a silver spoon comes a sterling education. Many of the nation's elect bypass the French state schools, attending instead private, Catholic schools or top Parisian lycees known for taking the cream of the crop. And after school comes the most elitist institution of all: the grande école. Originally founded by Napoleon to train up a select cadre of officers to carry out his commands, the French grandes écoles are a league of super-graduate schools that exist over and above the normal French universities. Specializing in different disciplines, each has connections with the sector for which it trains up recruits. Thus HEC Paris (Hautes Études Commerciales de Paris), the leading business school, has close links with the world of banking and finance; ENA (École Nationale d'Administration), the élite school for civil servants, virtually guarantees its graduates the highest positions in the French administration; and the École Polytechnique, the top French maths and engineering school, trains hundreds of technocrats. (The École Polytechnique, known simply as X, is the crème de la crème, a quasi-military establishment under the control of the French Defence Ministry.) Entry to the grandes écoles is by a competitive entry examination or concours, for which entrants are hot-housed in top preparatory schools called prépas (the leading prépas, naturally, have close connections with the top lycées or secondary schools). Fees, except for the business schools, are virtually nil, and in fact in some grandes écoles (École Polytechnique, ENA and the École Normale Supérieure), students are actually paid a salary of €2,000 a month. The grandes écoles receive much higher government funding than the universities - they get 30 per cent of the national budget, with only 4 per cent of the students. A study in 2008 found that of the 27 French bosses of the CAC 40 companies (i.e. the top 40 companies in France), 20 had graduated from just three of the top grandes écoles: ENA, the École Polytechnique, and HEC Paris.
Contemporaries at the grandes écoles hang out with each other, at work and play, for the rest of their lives. Though private social clubs were a British invention, the French have taken to them with an enthusiasm somewhat unbecoming a nation of Revolutionaries. The foremost private club - Le Siècle - was founded at the end of the Second World War, and counts among its members France's elite civil servants, businessmen, politicians, intellectuals, journalists and academics (some 40 per cent of the French government from the 1990s onwards, whether Socialist or conservative, have belonged to Le Siècle). The club organizes an apéritif and dinner on the last Wednesday of the month at the Automobile Club of France in the Place de la Concorde, where the happy few can rub shoulders and discuss world affairs in confidence. Most of the mandarins of Le Siècle are male, middle-aged, the sons of industry bosses, civil servants or financiers, and many of them are énarques (that is, graduates of ENA; the powerful clique that runs France's civil service is known as the énarchie). More exclusive, but with less political clout, is the Jockey Club de Paris, with splendid rooms at rue Rabelais, a club for aristocrats presided over by the Duc de Brissac.
The French haute bourgeoisie - many of whom claim noble origins - are obsessed with distinguishing themselves from the newly and flashily rich. In fact, there is no greater social disgrace than being considered a parvenu. (Interestingly and perhaps not accidentally, the principal terms used in English to designate the newly and vulgarly rich are of French origin - parvenu, arriviste and nouveau riche.) It is as a result of this fanatical concern for demarcating old from new money, distinguishing the breadth of one's bank balance from the length of one's pedigree, that the bourgeois French obsession with the rules of politesse and savoir-vivre arises; and it is in the haute bourgeois desire to set themselves apart from the vulgar arriviste that the principles of discretion in dress, the choice of sober colours, the rejection of flashy designer labels and jewellery, take root. The big and vulgar noises in France - actors, celebrities and football stars - are listed in Who's Who in France (published since 1953), just as in the British version. The haute bourgeoisie, however, have their own directory - Le Bottin mondain - which lists precisely no French footballers, none of the best-paid French actors or singers, and only one top-selling French essayist. Instead, it features the handful of grandes familles françaises who form the inner circles of the Parisian élite.
To the average Frenchman, or indeed foreigner, nothing is more evocative of an aristocratic past than a name that includes the illustrious particule (i.e. the appellation de in a person's surname, as in Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais); and nowhere is the allure of the particule so strong as in the land of ardent Revolutionaries. There are, in fact, so many fausses particules adopted by members of the French bourgeoisie in a bid to ennoble themselves that there is a counter-directory of fake nobility to name and shame them: the hefty tome Le Similinobiliaire francais, by Pierre- Marie Dioudonnat, which lists all the faux noble particules and patronyms adopted by members of the bourgeoisie. The book caused a storm of protest on publication in 2002. Famous faux noble name-holders of bourgeois origin include: General Charles de Gaulle; the former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin; the one-time French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing; and even the great nineteenth-century novelist Honore (de) Balzac, whose humblyborn father added the particule to his name when he climbed the social ladder.
The paradoxical devotion of the French to two conflicting principles - equality and privilege - inevitably generates a vast amount of cant and hypocrisy. It is also another reason for the excessive tact and discretion of that secretive, low-lying and hunted animal – the French haute bourgeoisie. After all, heads once rolled in France as a result of the overweening display of wealth and privilege. The impossible predicament of the prosperous in France was aptly expressed by the Franco-Italian actor Fabrice Luchini, when he observed, shrugging his shoulders in despair: 'I don't have any gloating passion for money; at 58 years old, I am only beginning to learn how to profit from it. I am an insomniac, I don't derive pleasure from anything, but I don't have the right to complain because there are other people whose houses are being razed. So I shut my mouth. Either one keeps one's privileges and shuts up, or one gives it all to Emmaus.'
The latest round of bourgeois-bashing in France following the election of the Socialist François Hollande as president in 2012 triggered a flood of wealthy tax exiles from the country, most famously the noisy departure of former national treasure Gerard Depardieu, an exodus which has caused a certain amount of soul-searching. The agony of self-doubt was exacerbated by a particularly mordant attack on the Gallic attitude to wealth by another national hero, the French pop singer Johnny Hallyday, in his best-selling 2013 autobiography. (Halliday said: 'I have always asked myself why, in the USA, if you have a flashy car people smile and say "that's great", while in France they treat you like a thief. It's a sordid mentality.') Is it true, the French ask themselves, that they hate the well-oft? If so, does such venom against the privileged sit well with a nation that prides itself on being the world's self-appointed arbiter of luxury and refined taste, and which indeed lives in no small part off the trade in luxury goods? Right now, the French appear in grave danger of biting the very hand that feeds them.
Not that the French would ever openly admit that they were elitist, or money-grabbing, or insecure about wealth, or anything like that, of course. Discussing money is simply... well, too vulgar. Popular demagogues such as the left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon and even François Hollande have made a great show of denigrating the filthy rich and their 'dirty' money (although Hollande himself is an énarque, and Mélenchon owns both a Paris apartment and a country pad, so neither seem to have missed out entirely on the much-denigrated privileges in life). 'The French have a horror of "inequality': but they adore privilege. And often,"inequality" is the name you give to the privileges of another', the French comedienne and actress Anne Roumanoff has wisely said. But shhh, we are encroaching now on private matters. None of that is relevant. Let's return to the public mantra: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité... and, above all, the greatest Gallic virtue of them all: discretion.
They Eat Horses, Don't They?: The Truth About the French - Piu Marie Eatwell (Head of Zeus; 2013)
Nous pensions faire un post sur l'éclair, une célèbre pâtisserie française, en nous inspirant d'un article publié dans l'édition de Novembre-Décembre du magazine touristique Afar, mais cela semble complètement anodin dans les circonstances actuelles. Alors, commenter ou ne pas commenter la terrible attaque qui a eu lieu hier à Paris dans les bureaux de Charlie Hebdo ? Devrions-nous ignorer dans notre blog tout ce qui a un rapport avec la politique, la race, le sexe, et la religion ? Si nous décidions de commenter cette attaque, comment décrire un acte si horrible et que dire, mis à part le condamner ? La chose la plus facile à faire serait de simplement afficher sur le blog le slogan "Je suis Charlie", de manière à exprimer notre solidarité envers le journal Charlie Hebdo – même si l'on ne se soucit pas particulièrement du style satirique de Charlie Hebdo – et à exprimer notre soutien à la liberté de parole et d'expression, et voilà tout. Mais cette attaque a soulevé de nombreux problèmes qui bouillonaient en France depuis des années, et qui n'avaient pas été efficacement adressés. La plupart de ces problèmes ne sont pas spécifiques à la France seule. Nous avons pu voir sur internet ces dérivés du slogan "Je suis Charlie", qui capturent ce sentiment que les idées nourissant l'identité de la France en tant qu'État sont en train d'être profondément remises en question. Nous enseignons la langue et la culture française mais nous ne sommes pas en position de commenter ces problèmes bien trop complexes. Nous espérons cependant que la mort de ces pauvres gens entraînera un débat à l'échelle mondiale, gouverné par la Fraternité et la Raison, et qui mènera à une plus grande Égalité pour tous.
We were planning to publish a post on the classic French pastry, l'éclair, taking our cue from an article published in the November-December issue of the travel magazine Afar, but it seems completely trivial at this moment in time. So, to comment or not to comment on the horrific attack in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters which took place yesterday? Should we ignore in our blog anything which deals with politics, race, sex and religion? If we should comment, how to comment on such a horrific act and say what about it, apart from condemning it? The easiest thing to do would be to simply paste the "je suis Charlie" slogan on the blog to express solidarity towards the Charlie Hebdo newspaper – even though we don't particularly care for Charlie Hebdo's satirical style – and to express support for the freedom of speech and expression, and leave it at that. But the attack has raised a whole series of issues which have been simmering in France for years now, and have not been even remotely adequately addressed. Most of these issues however are not exclusive to France. We found on the net this variation of the "Je suis Charlie" slogan, which captures the feeling that the very key, and cherished, concepts which underpin France's self-identity as a State are being sorely tested. We teach French Language and Culture but we're not equipped to comment on these issues, they are far too complex. We do however hope that the death of these poor people will lead to a worldwide debate, governed by la Fraternité and la Raison, which will lead to a much greater Égalité for all.
Alors, plutôt que de commenter nous-mêmes, nous avons sélectionné quelques vidéos abordant les problèmes qui, nous pensons, émergent de cet événement tragique. Ces-derniers sont: l'État français et la laïcité; la liberté de parole et d'expression; les musulmans en France; les inégalités économiques, à travers les idées controversées de l'économiste français Thomas Piketty; et la Liberté, l'Egalité, et la Fraternité en France aujourd'hui.
So, rather than comment ourselves, we've selected a series of videos which deal with the issues which we think emerge from the tragic event. These are: the French State and secularism, or laïcité; Freedom of speech and expression; Muslims in France; economic inequality, through the thought provoking observations by the French economist Thomas Piketty; and Liberté, Egalité, et Fraternité in France today.
L'État français et la laïcité / The French State and secularism
La liberté de parole et d'expression / Freedom of speech and expression
Les musulmans en France / Muslims in France
Les inégalités économiques / Economic inequality: Thomas Piketty
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ?
The Epiphany is approaching and with it the scrumptious galette des Rois (the cake, tart, or "wafer" of the Kings) makes its appearance on the tables of France and, ever more so, of Australia – we've spotted several pastry shops in Sydney which offer la galette des Rois at this time of the year and we purchase our galettes at la boulangerie Victoire, 660 Darling Street, Roselle.
But what is la galette des Rois? Sandra Haurant, from the Guardian, explains it to us:
A French epiphany: the king of sociable cakes
Below, Madame, from the wonderful blog Becoming Madame, talks about the porcelain charm, la fève (which is the French for "broad bean"):
Les fèves are an interesting tradition themselves. Over the years, my mother-in-law has accumulated quite a collection. This weekend she explained their history to me. At the beginning, the fève was a white kidney bean baked into the pastry. The tradition goes that whoever gets the trinket in their piece has to offer the galette the next year. Some rather parsimonious people used to swallow the bean so that they wouldn’t be responsible for returning the generosity. In later years, when my 97 year old great grand mother-in-law was young, the fèves were a small ceramic baby Jesus; for the next generation they turned into white porcelain figures of a grown Jesus. By the time my husband’s generation came along, the fèves had turned into religious trinkets of all kinds. Nowadays, for my little nieces and nephews, the religious symbolism is shared with tiny colorful porcelain trucks and trains and dolls.
Here are several videos relating to the galette des Rois: two in English, and three in French for the intermediate / advanced students who would like to practise their French comprehension. In the first video, the lovely Geraldine, from Comme une Française, introduces us to the galette des Rois; in the second and third videos, the ruggedly handsome Gaël Pollès provides us with a brief history of both l'Épiphanie and la galette des Rois; in the fourth video, the less ruggedly handsome but wonderful Raymond Blanc bakes for us his version of la galette des Rois, generously inserting two fèves rather than one; the final video is, of course, from our favourite programme, Karambolage.
Clara Wasser est journaliste. Elle vit à Hambourg, mais en fait, elle navigue entre la France et l’Allemagne. Aujourd’hui, elle nous présente une coutume française.
Wikipedia defines le marron glacé as "a confection, originating in southern France and northern Italy consisting of a chestnut candied in sugar syrup and glazed. Marrons glacés are an ingredient in many desserts and are also eaten on their own." What Wikipedia fails to tell us is that the taste of a quality marron glacé is absolutely heavenly and very much a Christmas season delicacy in France. Below is how Michael Paul, author of Sweet Paris: A Love Affair with Parisian Pastries, chocolates and Desserts, describes le marron glacé:
Who can resist these glazed crystallised chestnut confectioneries candied in sugar syrup when cavorting in the French capital?
Here are two videos regarding les maroons glacés: the first, with it's wonderful animation, is from Karambolage, a franco-german programme which screens on the Arte channel in France (beneath the video you'll find the transcript of the episode); in the second video, monsieur Corsiglia reveals les secrets de fabrication des marrons glacés:
Bon, Noël approche et Corinne Delvaux en profite pour présenter à nos amis allemands une confiserie qu'ils ne connaissent pas : les marrons glacés.
Having explored les marrons glacés, Karambolage looks at the actual use of the word marron (beneath the video you'll find the full transcript):
Bon, maintenant que vous savez tout sur les marrons glacés, Elsa Clairon se penche sur l'utilisation du mot marron, assez fréquent dans la langue française.
And to conclude our exploration of le marron glacé, there's a lovely blog, parisbreakfasts, which is always very interesting, and which, in December last year, featured a lovely post dedicated to le marron glacé. Le voilà!
Another festive season treat is le sauternes, a delectable sweet wine from the vignoble de Sauternais, the Sauternais wine region (which is a sub-region of the le vignoble de Bordeaux), to accompany your fois gras or roquefort cheese. Whenever we visit our local bottle shop we always take a moment to gaze adoringly at the honey-coloured bottles reposing in their lovely wooden crates. You can purchase a bottle of Château d'Yquem sauternes 2000 for a lavish $999.00 if you like, but the average price for a 375mL bottle of sauternes is $30 to $50 and it is well worth it. Below we have posted three videos for you: the first, of course, is from Karambolage (students are familiar with our obsession with the programme; remember, it's a Franco-German programme, thus the references to the German language) which explains just about everything there is to know about this nectar of the gods; the second video is a segment from the 1998 series, Floyd Uncorked, presented by the late, great, flamboyant, totally unbeknown to the French and most of our younger students, Keith Floyd, who, with the help of wine expert Jonathan Pedley, samples this famous wine; and the third video is an episode of a very interesting series by Wine Sense TV, which visits several wineries in the Sauternais - watch out for monsieur Lurton's wonderful pronunciation of the word "honey" at 20:35. Les voilà:
Nils Trede est un médecin allemand qui vit en France et apprécie tout particulièrement les bonnes choses...
Et pour finir, what is Christmas like in France? To tell us, voilà deux videos: the first is the delightful segment dedicated to France in Rick Steves' European Christmas; and the second, is by the charming Géraldine, from Comme une Française (you'll find the film which Géraldine refers to, Le père Noël est une ordure, ici). Merci tout le monde et joyeux Noël !!!
Following up on our Facebook posts regarding Emma Kidd and her fantastical monsters, beasts and sea creatures, meet "l'artiste" herself in this short video:
Emma Kidd's "hinged beasts" are so whimsical and nimble you can imagine them dancing on stage in a fantastical ballet at the court of Louis XIV who, in his youth, was an avid dancer and performed in ballets, and patronised the creation of classical ballet as it is known today. There's a famous drawing by Henri Gissey which portrays Louis XIV as Apollo the Sun King as he appeared in Le ballet de la nuit, performed in 1653. One day we will ask Emma - if she agrees - to make us a "hinged beast" in the guise of Louis' Apollo the Sun King!!!
For those interested in learning about the truly fascinating history of ballet, there's a wonderful book, recently published and now available in paperback, by Jennifer Homans, called Apollo's Angels. Here's the cover of the hardback edition:
In Apollo's Angels, this is how Jennifer Homans recounts Le ballet de la nuit:
"As a child Louis had been subjected to the gross indignity of being forced to flee Paris during the violent disturbances of the Fronde (1648 - 1653), in which princes and the ruling elite aggressively, and with considerable military presence, challenged the power of the increasingly absolutist French state. (…) When the Fronde died down and Mazarin returned to Paris in the early months of 1653, the first minister ordered a thirteen-hour-long ballet, with Louis (who was by then fifteen) in the starring role. It was a political and theatrical tour de force. Le Ballet de la Nuit - performed through the night - depicted disruption, nightmares, and darkness, but in the early hours of the morning, Louis appeared as the Sun. Dressed in gold, rubies, and pearls, with bright glittering rays of diamonds shooting from his head, wrists, elbows, and knees, and with rich ostrich plumes (a coveted symbol of nobility) piled high on his head, Louis vanquished the night."
Here's a scene from the film Le Roi danse (The King is Dancing), by Gérard Corbiau, recreating the final scene of Le ballet de nuit and Louis' spectacular stage entrance (minus the ostrich plumes!):
To learn more about Apollo's Angels, we've posted below a podcast interview with Jennifer Homans, by the New York Times Book Review, and a lecture held by Jennifer Homans at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2011:
One of the things you should absolutely do, if you happen to be visiting Paris during the ballet season, is to attend a ballet at the Palais Garnier, also referred to as the Opéra Garnier. In fact, the Palais Garnier is so lavish, and opulent, and sumptuous, and ornate, and so comes alive during a performance, that even if you are, or your partner is, the "blokiest of blokes", you, or/and he, will cherish every moment. It truly is an amazing experience.
To view what is on offer this season and to book, visit the excellent Opéra national de Paris site - ballet performances by the Opéra national de Paris are staged at both the Palais Garnier and, to a lesser extent, at the Opéra Bastille and the site clearly indicates which opera house is staging which ballet.
The history of the Palais Garnier is absolutely fascinating so we've included a link, below, to an excellent documentary - directed by Stan Neumann, produced by the Arte Channel, and part of the Architectures series - which examines the history of the building's creation:
One of the great pleasures of attending a performance at the Palais Garnier, apart from the beauty of the performance and Garnier's opulent surroundings, is that of being able to admire the wonderful ceiling painted by Marc Chagall, in 1964. So, pour finer, below, you'll find a link to an excellent documentary on Marc Chagall, first screened in 1985 by the South Bank Show, briefly introduced by the amazing Melvyn Bragg - the ceiling is explored at approx. 24':
It's been some time coming but the French Centre now has a Blog. Le voilà!