February 9, 2016

Letter from Paris: Marmottan Monet Museum Offers Rare Glimpse of Villa Flora’s ‘Enchanting Times’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is a well kept secret that Switzerland’s private foundations own a wealth of  art works.  Swiss law does not require them to be registered commercially and offers them favorable tax and legal conditions, creating thus a “paradise” for art collectors.  The Villa Flora, in Winterthur near Zurich, is one of the richest of these family foundations.  Since the museum is under renovation this winter, its contents found a temporary home at the Marmottan Monet museum in Paris and currently form the Villa Flora exhibition subtitled, “A Time of Enchantment.”

In 1898  Hedy Hahnloser inherited from her father, a well-to-do textile  industrialist, a large house and moved in with Arthur, her husband.  For a short time, Arthur practiced ophthalmology in the clinic he installed on the property but soon the couple became fully engaged in the passion of their life, which was to create long-lasting friendships with painters and to collect their works.

Over the years, the rambling house was turned into a studio and an art gallery — every available space was used to place the paintings.  Hedy had always been interested in arts and crafts and in the English movement by that name.  She decorated her house’s parquets and wainscots with the geometric designs characteristic  of the 1897 “Viennese Recession” led by Gustav Klimt.

A trip to Paris in 1908 was for the couple a total immersion into the frantic artistic scene of the French capital.  Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubism, while the Fauvist movement was at its pinnacle.  The natural flair of the Hahnlosers in selecting art work was sharpened by their contacts with art merchants like Ambroise Vollard and Gaston Bernheim.

During that trip they met and struck up a friendship with Felix Valloton (1865-1925), who became a close friend, spent much time at the Villa Flora and also introduced them to the artistic circles of Paris.  They remained friends until his death.  For the Swiss couple to welcome artists and hold Tuesday coffees became a way of life.

One can compare their creative and welcoming home with the boarding house in Old Lyme, Conn., where Florence Griswold invited American Impressionists.  Or consider Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo who, like Arthur and Hedy, opened their “salon” on 27 rue de Fleurus to artists and writers.  And in yet another example, in the late 19th century, Russia also had its own artist colonies, which grew around enlightened members of the nobility.  The best known was Abramtsevo, near Moscow, created by  the industrialist Savva Mamontov.

Pierre Bonnard, Débarcadère (or L’Embarcadère) de Cannes, 1928-1934

Pierre Bonnard, Débarcadère (or L’Embarcadère)
de Cannes, 1928-1934

The Hahnlosers’ collection contained works by Cezanne, Van Gogh,  Manet, Renoir, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, the symbolist Odilon Redon and many others. But it is the abundance of  Nabis’ art, which made  it quite unique.

It was a post-impressionist movement in the mid 1890s.  “Nabi” means prophet in Hebrew and Arabic.  The leading members of this group — Maurice Denis, Felix Vallotton , Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard — considered themselves as the prophets of a new era in the arts.  Each one had his distinctive style, but there was always a message behind their way of depicting reality, whether it was religious, intellectual or emotional.  They were versatile artists, working in oil, and also lithography, wood cuts, satirical drawings, and book or poster illustration.

Vallotton stylized his subjects and used the technique of  “aplats” or flat areas of contrasting colors with sharp outlines.  There is a feeling of enigmatic  emptiness in his works. “La Charette” or cart drives away on a deserted dirt road, two slender umbrella pines contrast with the darker mass of trees bordering the road.

man&woman
Le provincial,” pictured above, shows a couple in a cafe.  One barely sees  the profile of the elegant woman wearing a huge hat.  The feather on the hat and the ruffled blouse are the only bright notes in this scene of a non-communicating couple in the male chauvinistic society at the turn of the 20th century.

Vallotton’ masterpiece is “La Blanche et la Noire”  (The White and the Black).  A white woman is lying, unabashedly naked, on a bed while a black woman is staring at her with insolence and a sort of inappropriate familiarity, a cigarette is sticking out of  her mouth. The painting is reminiscent of  the “Olympia” by Manet but with a different underlying story.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Bonnard’s paintings have an effusive and warm quality.  His colors are luminous, his brush strokes seem unbridled, full of life.  He is inspired by the intimacy of domestic scenes — “Le Tub” is a picture within a picture thanks to the mirror placed at the center of the composition.   A plunging angle reveals Marthe, his wife and beloved model, near the tub.

Pierre Bonnard, Le Thé, 1917

Pierre Bonnard, Le Thé, 1917

Bonnard cherished his villa in the Var, not far from Cannes.  “Le Thé” is a peaceful scene of young women having tea . He plays with an array of hat colors.  The vegetation seems to overflow into the porch.  On “Le Debarcadère” or pier,  young people lean over a railing, as if frozen in the contemplation of the rough Mediterranean waters.

This is indeed a rare opportunity to see an exceptional private art collection created by two extraordinary citizens, who according to the exhibition’s guide, lived their lives by following a simple mantra, “Living for art. Collecting. Such was the raison d’être of [this] couple.”

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Exhibition Explores the Elegance, History of Louis Vuitton’s Luggage

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The exhibit “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” (Fly, Sail, Travel) at the Grand Palais takes the visitor to the elegant world of travel in the early 20th century. It is a retrospective of the luggage, which created the Vuitton dynasty’s fame. Every item is beautifully crafted of wood, cloth and leather, such as the famous “sac Noé” created in 1932.

caroussel_grandpalais_460x550_v02These luxurious objects make travel by air, train or sea glamorous and modern. The visitor rides an old-fashioned, wood-paneled train and feels transported into the “Out of Africa” world of Karen Blixen, as the Kenya savannah speeds outside the windows. Several pieces of the Vuitton family’s private luggage — first seen by the public at the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World Fair) — are scattered on sand dunes, evoking the beautifully photographed scene of a couple riding in the desert near the Pyramids in the 1978 Agatha Christy’s movie “Death on the Nile.”

A huge sail reaches all the way to the ceiling. On the deck of a yacht are displayed a wooden trunk, fragrant with camphor wood and rosewood; a “wardrobe” trunk whose drawers and hangers contain an elegant passenger’s apparel; a gentleman’s personal case complete with crystal flasks; and fancy hair brushes.

Luxury goods – labeled as “consumer discretionary” in Wall Street jargon – are an important sector of the French economy. They combine traditional savoir-faire acquired over many generations (the Maison Vuitton has existed since 1835; the Maison Hermes since 1837) with the creative talent of artists and decorators along with the highly complex robotic machinery used to fabricate, clothes, bags, shoes and more.

At Hermes, silk screen scarves are made from raw silk spun under the constant scrutiny of a worker; artists, assisted by colorists, create the designs.

For decades, not a single famous woman – from Jacqueline Kennedy to French actress Catherine Deneuve – has been seen without the iconic Chanel purse. The making of the little black purse, with its gold chain, and its distinctive padded outer shell stitched in lozenges, requires the skilled delicate work of 17 people.

The world of fashion and luxury objects could not exist without money — lots of money. In 1987, the merger of Louis Vuitton fashion house with Moët et Chandon and Hennessy champagne – produced the LVMH multinational conglomerate. It brought together 90 of the most famous brands of wines and spirits, fashion and luxury goods, as well as perfume and cosmetics. Dior is the major shareholder with 40 percent of the shares.

Bernard Arnault is CEO of both Dior and LVMH. He is the richest man of France and holds the fifth largest fortune in the world — his worth is about 30 billion dollars. When Arnault arrived in Shanghai for the opening of a new Vuitton boutique, he was received like a head of state.

It is not uncommon for a tycoon to be a philantropist and an art collector. In the late 19th century, two Russian businessmen were instrumental in bringing French art to their home country — Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin introduced Impressionist art to Russia after a trip to Paris, and similarly, Ivan Morozov was a major collector of French avant-garde art.

Arnault won a resounding victory over his rival Francois Pinault when he was able to build his art museum on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. (Pinault “only” owns a few islands of Venice.) In order to promote artistic creation, Arnault built a museum, which he called the Fondation LVMH — it was designed by the American architect Frank Gehry. At the time of its inauguration in 2014, it was met with a mixed reaction but gradually it has become part of the landscape. It did help rejuvenate the dilapidated Jardin d’Acclimatation, a 100-year-old zoo and children’s attraction park, beloved by the Parisians.

Gehry created a wild structure of huge, curved glass panels flying in all directions, like spinnakers blowing in the wind. To create an area of 125,000 square feet of molded glass, 100 engineers were employed who were supported by Dassault Systèmes, the leading French company specializing in aeronautics and space.

The inside structure, called the “iceberg,” is erratic and disorients visitors. Several intricate levels and vertiginous staircases lead to the upper terrace offering a view over the Bois in which the skyscrapers of La Défense district appear to be framed by the glass panels.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Welcome ‘Le Grand Paris!’ New Geographical Region Becomes a Reality

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On January 1st, 2016 the “Metropole du Grand Paris” became official .  This new territorial organization, named Etablissement Public de Cooperation Intercommunale (EPCI),  includes Paris plus parts of three departements Hauts de Seine, Seine St Denis and Val de Marne– with seven millions inhabitants.

What is the Grand Paris ?  Why is it a necessity?  Is it a decisive step forward? Does it have models in other countries?  What are the  problems it is facing ?  Anyone curious to learn how France works and what lies in the future might be interested in having a look at this new concept.

The project was born in 2007 under President Sarkozy’s mandate.  When the Socialists came to power in 2012, they immediately modified the initial proposal.  But the authors of the project kept plodding away.  Its official status represents a progress toward the long term objective, which is to be ready for the Olympic Games in 2024 and the 2025 World Fair, in the event Paris is chosen.

The French capital is choking inside the beltway and something had to be done:  the town of Paris is too small and too expensive even to accommodate the middle class; suburbia, which used to provide a labor force in the former industrial economy, is hit today by unemployment ; this same suburbia feels isolated because of inadequate public transport (if you drive into work you might spend hours in bouchons or traffic jams on the highway).  The RERs (Regional Rapid Transit) are overcrowded and often unsafe.

reseau-de-transport-grand-paris-1

In the new project (see map above), the backbone of public transport will be the Grand Paris Express, six new lines of totally automated trains circling the Paris agglomeration  and connecting, for the first time, the suburbs.  For instance it will be possible to go directly from Boulogne at the west of Paris to Marne la Vallée  (the location of Euro-Disney) in the east.

Until now any change has been hampered by administrative complexity – layer upon layer of  authorities, like a millefeuille  – (a well known and sinful pastry).

The Grand Paris will  include 132 communes.  Mayors wield enormous power in France.  That power is particularly obvious at election time when building permits seem to multiply.  The mayors will have to learn how to live together and adapt to the new administrative structure, which now includes other layers of the bureaucratic millefeuille, namely the departements and the regions (this year they have been reduced from 22 to 13), piled on top.

France is essentially a centralized state.  Culture, finance, education of the elite,  research and development, luxury shops,  are heavily concentrated in Paris and the Ile de France.  Napoleon, Baron Haussmann, General De Gaulle are the great historical figures who left their imprint in the centralization process.  What we are witnessing today is an explosion of the center.  It is even likely that the boundaries of the Grand Paris may expand.

The Grand Paris will be made of ‘clusters’ (in English in the French text) to bring Paris to par with New York , London or Tokyo.  According to the official description of the project, “Greater Paris relies on seven thematic competitive clusters.”  The list includes : Air Space, Trade, Sustainable City, Digital Creation, International Trade, and Life Sciences.  A financial center already exists in the Defense district, which looks like a mini-Manhattan. ,

Saclay, 20 kilometers south of Paris, is the most impressive and modernistic of these clusters.  Until recently an agricultural land, it is now the hub of Research and Development.  Many élite Grandes Ecoles, like Polytechnique,  have  moved there, as well as 23 universities and the headquarters of major companies.  Its emblematic building, spreading over the fields like a giant flying saucer, is the Synchroton Soleil with its accelerators to study light.  Pierre Veltz, an engineer and former head of Saclay, is confident that it will become an European Silicon Valley.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: COP 21, Part II — Reaching Consensus was a “Tour de Force,” But Much Work Still To Do

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

cop21-logoAt 7.26 p.m. precisely on Saturday, Dec. 12, Laurent Fabius, president of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 21 , choking with emotion, announced that an universal accord had been reached. The several thousand people in the audience rose in a standing ovation and started congratulating each other.

After two sleepless nights, the “facilitators” wrenched out an agreement by consensus from the 195 Convention’s members. The suspense lasted until the absolute final minute when Nicaragua tried to interrupt. It was too late — the president had already snapped down his gavel. The conference could very well have been a failure – it had to overcome a block from the oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia – but on that last day, there were no grim faces, as had been seen in Copenhagen, only a general enthusiasm.

Credit should be given to the involvement of the French organizers. For two years they traveled several times around the world to meet every leader. President François Hollande was talking to president Xi Jinping just one month before the start of the Convention. All paid homage to the professionalism of Fabius who seemed on a mission throughout the process. “You did an amazing job,” commented John Kerry, while Al Gore added, “This is the finest diplomatic performance I have seen in two decades.”

In a nutshell, the agreement reads as follows:

  • its main objective is to limit the increase in temperature to “well below” two degrees by the end of this century
  • developed countries should reduce their emissions of greenhouse gas and the developing countries should “mitigate” them
  • Article 9 stipulates that “developed country parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries”
  • the agreement, which will be ratified in April 2016, requires an annual payment of 100 billion Euros, with a revision every five years

President Barrack Obama is expected to use an Executive Order to avoid the likely opposition of the Republican majority in the Congress; in the absence of coercion and sanctions — a mechanism of control by satellite (France is financing the “MicroCarb” satellite) — provides an attempt at transparency and ongoing verification by a committee of experts thus making the agreement de facto binding.

Never before has there been such an awareness of the threat caused by global warming. The vagaries of the climate and the fact that 2015 is the warmest year in recorded history contributed to this sense of urgency. Today any debate about climate skepticism has become obsolete.

What makes the Paris conference different from all the ones before is a groundswell of positive intentions. For the first time the main polluters of the planet – China, the US and India – are on board and are determined to make the agreement work. Already 187 out of the 195 countries have announced their voluntary contributions.

Today the action of society as a whole is crucial. It is important to note that, at the Bourget, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), private associations and a number of organizations were working just a few steps from the UN “Blue Zone” for government officials (at the Lima, Peru, COP, they had been “exiled” 15 kilometers away). Giant screens in the hallways made it possible for the general public to follow the proceedings, breaking away from the closed door policy of the past.

After the initial euphoria felt on Dec. 12, a number of questions remains unanswered, some of the objectives are unclear – no date was set as to when to reach the greenhouse gas neutrality nor when to end the use of fossil energy, no price was put on carbon – and the unfairness of many decisions has become apparent – such as the financing and the sharing of responsibilities between the “North” or rich countries and the developing countries — or to put it another way, who pays whom and for what? Until now Europe, and France in particular, have been paying a great deal. A country such as Russia has not paid one cent so far. Are China and India – the big polluters of the planet – still considered as part of the developing world and expected to be on the receiving end of hundreds of billions of Euros?

Nicolas Hulot, militant environmentalist and an icon in France, deemed the agreement very positive even though it was not perfect. “Such a movement of solidarity around the planet has never been seen before,” he stated, adding, “There is a momentum, which needs to be seized and followed by action.”

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Letter from Paris: COP 21 Tackles Climate Change in Challenging Times

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

All eyes are on the COP21 United Nations conference on climate change taking place in Paris from Nov. 29 to Dec. 12. The “Conference of Parties” or COP, have been held every year since COP 1 in Berlin, in 1995.

In the middle of nowhere, in an industrial and non-descript vacant lot – a preview of what our world will become if the conference does not bring concrete results – the Bourget site has been turned into an ephemeral city of tents, movable partitions and kilometers of carpets. The recyclable constructions will all disappear at the end of the conference. More than 3,000 journalists are covering the event.

The circumstances were exceptional, barely two weeks after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. France is living under emergency rules and the danger is still present. More than 120,000 police, army and special forces are deployed throughout the country. Terrorism and global warming were on a collision course. It was a huge challenge for France to organize the conference. The highways and part of the beltway were closed to facilitate the arrival of the thousands of visitors. The Parisians had braced themselves for total chaos … but it turned out to be the most peaceful two days in a long time.

The inaugural day was quite a show of protocol. There was first the greetings of the 150 leaders, followed by photo-ops and smiles. Elham Aminzadeh, the vice-president of Iran, dressed in her long robes, walked past the French president and prime minister to shake hands only with Segolène Royal, French minister of the environment. Then everyone scrambled to find his or her place for the giant “family pnoto.” Leaders of Israel and Palestine or of Russia and Turkey had to stand apart to avoid a diplomatic incident.

This year the heads of States spoke at the outset of the COP. It was believed that their declarations of intent — powerful but brief (three minutes each) — would galvanize the public and give a boost to the working sessions to follow. One sensed a definite will to reach the objective of limiting the global warming to below two degrees by 2100. “Greenpeace could have signed Francois Hollande’s speech,” commented Jean Francois Julliard, the director of Greenpeace France. Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi announced his country’s support of an ” International Solar Alliance.” China is becoming the world first producer of renewable energy. The liberal new prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is changing his country’s attitude about the environment.

Early in the conference, 11 developed countries, including the US, France, England, Germany and Sweden, made the solemn commitment to contribute 250 million Euros for a transfer of renewable technology to the poorest countries.

In the 1970s, the advocates of ecology were not taken seriously and pretty much disregarded. Things have now come a long way from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which so few countries ratified or from the 2009 COP 15 of Copenhagen, which ended up with a weak and non-binding text.

At the midpoint of COP 21, its president, French minister of foreign affairs Laurent Fabius, exhorted the participants to seize the momentum. He urged delegates not to wait until global warming becomes irreversible.

The pollution of the atmosphere is measured in particles per million or “ppm.” To-day it is 400 as compared to 250 in the pre-industrial era. In Peiping, pollution is 25 times higher than that of Paris on it worst day.

In 1990, the developed countries (also labeled as the “North”) produced 14,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the emerging countries 7,500. In 2012, the North had slightly reduced its emissions to 13,000 and the “emerging countries “, called G77 + China , ( actually numbering 134 now), almost tripled their emissions to 20,000. It is ironic that the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is still included among the “emerging” countries.

The main stumbling block at the COP 21 is whether the developed world will have to pay 100 billion Euros per year to the other countries even though they are profiting from the technology it created. Besides, if one has to wait for the “big emergents,” headed by China and India, in the name of “climate justice,” to catch up, the planet will be gone by then.

In the early evening of the inaugural day, I saw a convoy with blue strobe lights, going against traffic in a one-way street in front of my windows. Who could that be, I wondered? It turned out it was President Barrack Obama driving toward the very secluded three-star Ambroisie restaurant on Place des Vosges. In the elegant dining room, under crystal chandeliers, the president, John Kerry and their party seemed to have a great time with Francois Hollande and his cabinet ministers.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: ‘Francofonia’ Explores German Attitude to Louvre Art During Occupation, But Gives Broader Message

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Like irritating mosquitoes on a hot summer afternoon, three fighter planes of the German Luftwaffe fly over a majestic and impregnable Louvre museum. This is the opening image of Francofonia, a documentary reflecting on art and the courage of men fighting to protect it against forces of destruction. A most appropriate and needed interlude at this particularly tense time for the humanity.

Although labeled a documentary, Francofonia – a Russian-German-French production – is part newsreels, part fiction, part poetic images. The film, directed by the well-known Alexander Sokurov, won an award at the September 2015 Venice Film Festival.

Count Wolff Metternich, a German officer of Prussian origin, walks down a vaulted hallway. He is there to meet Jacques Jaujard, the French director of the Louvre. The two men are stiff and on their respective guards. Metternich asks Jaujard, “Do you speak German?” “No,” responds Jaujard, “The answer is, I am very French.”

A scene from 'Francophonia.' Image courtesy of Films Boutique.

A scene from ‘Francophonia.’ Image courtesy of Films Boutique.

Ironically both men are on an identical mission. In 1939, most of the Louvre’s art work, including the “Victory of Samothrace” – the museum’s most illustrious treasure – was removed by the staff and hidden in the cellars of French castles. Metternich had done precisely the same thing with the collections of the Cologne cathedral before the start of the war.

With an element of pathos, Sokurov imagines the visit of German military to the Louvre. Did they realize it was an empty place except for Assyrian winged bulls and other monumental sculptures, which might have been left on purpose to act as the watchdogs of an idea?

Two iconic guides take us through the deserted Grande Gallery. A fat-bellied Napoleon, behaving like the host, points at the David’s painting of his coronation. “This is me,” he says proudly. But it is with irony that Sukurov shows “Napoleon crossing the Alps” by Delaroche as an undignified and tired man riding a mule rather than the dashing rider imagined by David. Our other guide, Marianne, wearing the distinctive Phrygian bonnet, repeats over and over “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

Sukorov accompanies us through an empty museum filled with the memory of treasures now gone. A hand touches the diaphanous finger tips of a statue; Clouet’s delicate portraits come alive; and so do Millet’s peasants, sitting by the fire, their deeply-lined faces showing their exhaustion. The greyish, almost sepia, quality of the photographs adds to the eerie feeling.

The camera moves in and out of the Louvre and depicts difficult scenes, which demand pause for thought. A tanker is struggling in the fury of the Baltic. Will the works of art it carries in its containers survive or be crushed by the waves? The frozen body of a well-dressed little girl lying on a street during the siege of Leningrad evokes the human suffering caused by war.

Francofonia is a complex film, which can be read on several levels. It came on the Paris screens not long after the blasting of Palmyra and other archaeological sites by Daesh (ISIS). The message is crystal clear — art, which is the legacy of our civilization, is too precious to die.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on the Aftermath of Friday the 13th

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.10.55 PMThe Nov. 13 attack was not the end of it.

The Parisians lived through a first somber weekend listening to the non-stop sirens of police cars.  On Nov. 18, RAID (Recherche-Assistance-Intervention-Dissuasion), assisted by hundreds of special police forces launched a massive assault  in St Denis, barely one kilometer from the Stade de France and next to the 12th century basilica of the kings of France.  At four in the morning and for seven hours the tiny street became a war scene of incredible violence.  Explosions shook the shabby buildings so much that walls and floors collapsed.

Two suspects, a woman and a man, unidentified for almost two days, were found in the rubble. Terrorist Salah Abdelslam was still on the run.  Every day the police uncovered new details about the terrorists — in Montreuil and in the 18th arrondissement.  On Nov. 23, a belt with explosives was found on a sidewalk in Montrouge, south of Paris.  The Belgium connection intensified, particularly in Melenbeek, a town with a mostly Moslem population and 85 mosques.  One week after the French attack, a major terrorist threat forced the Belgian capital to shut down for several days.

How are the French coping?  They feel “80 percent anger and 15 percent pain,” commented Thierry Pech, head of the Terra Nova Fondation.  One feels outraged that petty delinquents, often on drugs, would commit such atrocities.  A mood of mourning and solidarity spread throughout France.

We are now in another era, prime minister Manuel Valls declared,  and we will have to learn how to live with terror but must not give in to it.  The French people have heard this sobering message and are behaving with great dignity, albeit with nervousness.  At no point did the citizens feel an infringement on their personal freedom. Public debates , such as the Friday night TV show “Ce soir ou Jamais”, are more heated than ever.

There was a temporary disconnect between the politicians and the general public.  During a stormy session at the Assemblée NationaleLes Republicains (LR) (new name of UMP) gave a hard time to the prime minister.  Catcalls and jeers made his speeches barely audible.  The right wing daily Le Figaro explained how Christian Jacob, leader of the LR parliamentary group, instructed his party to calm down.  On the following day, the behavior of the deputés was exemplary as they voted unanimously to prolong the Etat d’urgence (state of emergency) for three months.

To reassure the population, the government took several security measures including the creation of 10,000 posts in the police and border control personnel.  A major change in the Code Pénal was put in place to facilitate searches of private homes and house arrests, as well as preventive arrests without the intervention of a judge.  Close to one thousand searches were carried out last week, which is more than during a full year under normal circumstances.  To enhance the efficiency of the police, the definition of legitimate defence is being altered.

The Patriot Act, signed into law by the US Congress on Oct. 21 2001, developed surveillance on the whole nation and the gathering of “metadata.”  It is very different in France,  since the new administrative and judiciary steps, taken by the Executive, are targeted at a concrete enemy of about 11,000 dangerous individuals, registered on the “S” form, living in the midst of the population, practically next door.   In the US, the task of protecting the country is shared between the Justice Department, the Homeland Security, the FBI and the 50 states.  In France, overall responsibility lies with the Ministre de l’Interieur – at present Bernard Cazeneuve.

When it became known that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was finally identified in the St. Denis assault, a co-author of the terrorist attack of Nov. 13,  had been on the loose for several months, it literally infuriated public opinion.  Flaws in the surveillance system became obvious.  That man was well known by the Intelligence officials, had taken part in four out of six recent aborted attacks, and, at one time, was convicted to 20 years in prison.  He made several round trips to Syria and apparently passed easily through porous airports, including Istanbul.

Close to one million migrants have entered Europe since the beginning of the year and there is no end in sight.  Should the Schengen principle of free circulation of people and goods within the European Union (EU) be suspended?  The Paris correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung thinks that, to abandon Schengen, would be a very serious threat to the survival of Europe.

But many disagree with that opinion.

The  “Schengen Space” was created in 1985 for six countries and intended to function in peaceful and normal times when the external frontiers were real.  That is not the case any more.  How can Greece, financially broke, stop or at least control 80 percent of the migrants who have landed on their shores?

The European Commission is trying to alleviate the situation somewhat.  One decision is to apply the PNR (passenger name record) even on EU nationals entering the continent.  The other is to intensify the controls of arms and assault weapons’ spare parts coming mainly from the Balkans.  The idea of depriving bi-national  jihadists of one of their nationalities is also being considered.

On the diplomatic and military scenes, the repercussions of Nov. 13 have been huge.  It seems to have caused a major turn- around in the main powers’ policy – a 180 degree shift, one might say.  No one wanted to admit they were making concessions, but they did.  Suddenly Putin recognized that the Russian plane had indeed been blown up over the Sinai desert. He changed course and started limiting his air strikes to Daesch (ISIS) and no longer to Syrian rebels.   In a recent interview in the courtyard of the Elysée Palace, John Kerry did not mention the ousting of Bachar al-Assad as a preliminary condition to negotiations. The French, who had been the most hawkish among the warring countries prior to 2012, skipped Assad’s removal as well.  It is concentrating the action of its Rafales on Rakka, the self-proclaimed capital of Daech. At this point, none of the main powers are willing to put “boots on the ground.”  The only boots one has seen so far are Kurdish boots.

This will be a marathon week for François Hollande: Cameron on Monday,  Obama on Tuesday, Merkel on Wednesday and Putin on Thursday.  His objective is to build up a single coalition against Daech.

Intense soul-searching and analyses by experts are going on to try and understand a conflict to which we have never before been exposed.   Can we win a war against terrorism?  No, said former minister of foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin.  We cannot defeat this invisible enemy, which we have helped create.

What is Daesch really and what does it want?  To destabilize our society by increasing the divide between Moslems and our secular values, says Gilles Keppel, professor at Sciences Po and a specialist on Islam.  Philosopher Alain Finkelkraut believes that Daesch is not just reacting to the bombings.  He says that by nature it is a conquering culture and today it is on a crusade to destroy the West.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Je Suis en Terrasse — Reflections on Life in Paris After the Terrorist Attacks

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

For the second time in 2015, Paris was the target of  the terrorists.  But, in contrast to the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre, the attacks were not made in the name of an idea, like freedom of expression — especially of the press, or to single out the Jewish community, but aimed at French society as a whole. The blind rampage was intended to butcher the greatest number of normal Parisians having fun on a Friday night.

The killings took place almost simultaneously in five places obviously following a well prepared scenario acted by three  professional and heavily armed commandos.  Never before had the French been exposed to kamikazes.  The carnage left 129 dead, 355 injured including more than 99 in critical condition.

Logo_French_flag

It all started at 9.20 p.m. at the Stade de France, north of Paris, on Friday, Nov. 13, where the Bleus were playing against a German soccer team in front of 80,000 spectators.  President François Hollande was in the crowd.  He left discreetly at half time.  In spite of two explosions, the match went on uninterrupted to avoid the panic.  Afterwards the public lingered on the lawn, still dazed.   Spontaneously the crowd started singing the Marseillaise.  Outside the stadium, the double suicide had left a scene of destruction.  The social networks went to work.  Taxis offered free rides.  Twitter launched an operation “open doors” to disoriented people.

In rapid succession , the terrorists drove from one crowded place to another in the 10th and the 11th arrondissements to proceed with their slaughter: Le Petit Cambodge, the Carillon bar, the Cosa Nostra restaurant and finally La Belle Equipe on Rue Charonne,

An American rock group was on stage when four terrorists broke into the concert hall Bataclan packed with an audience of 1,500.  They started shooting blindly at people.  From the account of a seasoned policeman, the scene of horror  was apocalyptic.  Bodies were lying in pools of blood.  After holding a group of hostages for three hours and using them as ramparts against the assault of the special forces, the terrorists blew themselves up, using their belts padded with sophisticated explosives.

Why was the 11th arrondissement again the main target of the terrorist attack?  Since I live there, I have pondered over this question.  Ann Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, gave some of the answers during an interview on TV.  The 11th, she said with some pride, is a multi-ethnic, socially mixed population with large and visible religious communities.  It has a distinct personality, rebellious and rather impertinent.  The French call these types of people “bo-bo” (meaning bohemian-bourgeois.)  It is an unpalatable cocktail for the IS (Islamic State).

The other reason why terrorists seem to be attracted to the 11th might be the availability of good hiding places in this working class arrondissement – the largest of Paris.  Geographically the 11th is close to “difficult” suburbs.  Finally, It is near the highway leading to Brussels.  The inquiry has revealed connections between the authors of the Paris attack and the Molenbeek district, a hotbed of radical Islam in Belgium.

Eiffel_Tower_model_flowers

As it is often the case at time of crisis, people show their best side.  It certainly was true with the French who rose up above their usual attitude of self-disparagement.  Here are just a few examples — the police, the SAMU (ER), the Red Cross, the army, the BRI (brigade de Recherche et d’Investigation), the RAID (Recherche-Assistance-Intervention-Dissuasion) and other elite units could all be considered as heroes.   Doctors and surgeons happened to be on strike on Friday Nov. 13, but returned to work with news of the killings.  Some even volunteered in services other than their own.   At the Pompidou hospital,  dozens of volunteers waited three hours to donate blood.  People living near the attacks opened their apartments to wounded victims.

François Hollande acted as a compassionate and strong president during the crisis and announced immediate security measures to reassure the population.  He declared a etat d’urgence  or highest state of alert, suspending temporarily individual liberties and including the delay of all street manifestations, of public gatherings and the closing of monuments, etc.  It was a bleak sight for the tourists to see the Tour Eiffel lost in darkness.  To emphasize national unity, Hollande convened a Congress made up of the National Assembly and Senate in solemn Versailles.  It was the first time that had happened since the Algerian war in 1962.

The French colors appeared on monuments around the world in an amazing show of support.  President Obama was the first leader to make a declaration; Angela Merkel, who marched in the streets of Paris on Jan. 11, extended her message of friendship;  David Cameron declared – in French – Nous sommes tous solidaires.  The Moscovites laid flowers in front of the French embassy in Moscow.  In a different tone, Bashar al-Assad told the people of France: you suffered last night, but think of what the Syrian population has lived with during the past five years.

One detects an acceleration of terrorist attacks: Ankara in October, Lebanon and the crash of a Russian plane in November.   IS is now exporting its war to other countries.  It is an assymetric war since one side welcomes death.  Zero security is impossible to guarantee.  All one can do is to minimize the danger .

For the past 15 years, France has been on the front line of the war against radical Islam and acted alone in the Sahel, Mali, Nigeria, Chad.  For the past two and half months, France has taken part in the air strikes over Syria.  This is a brave but dangerous policy, probably untenable in the long term.

Bernard Guetta, specialist in geopolitics and commentator on France-Inter,  described the Nov. 13 tragedy as a shock  therapy, which might lead to a strong coalition able to defeat IS.

On Sunday, two days after the attack, the Parisions were still nervous.  I was walking on the Bastille square when  police cars suddenly cordoned off the avenue — rumor of an explosion spread.  In a panic, people started running.  I had to run also so as not to be caught in the stampede.  Thankfully, it was a false alarm!

It is your duty as a citizen, a comedian joked on the radio the other day, to sit on the terrace of a cafe and have a drink to show you are not afraid.  To-day, one does not say, “Je suis Charlie,” but rather, “Je suis en terrasse.”

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Legislative Elections Move Poland to Right

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Bringing bad news for Brussels, the block of Euro skeptics stretches now from Warsaw to Budapest.  For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a conservative right wing party has won the elections in Poland.  On Oct. 25, the Right and Justice party (or PiS) obtained 232 seats out of 460 and wiped out the Left with the liberal Civic Platform party (or PO) taking second place.  Donald Tusk, the former prime minister of Poland from 2007 and founder of the Civic Platform party, became president of the European Council on Dec. 1, 2014, and is therefore far away in Brussels.

Jaroslav Kaczynski

Right and Justice Party President Yaroslaw Kaczynski

Yaroslaw Kaczynski, president of the PiS, is today the strong man of Poland’s politics and overshadows even the president Andrej Duda. Since he is now pulling the strings, Kaczynski will favor the appointment of his protégé senator Beata Szydlo as prime minister to replace the current prime minister Ewa Kopacz, another woman who belongs to the the PO party.

Former Polish president Lech Kaczynski – Yaroslaw’s twin – died in a plane crash in 2010 with his wife and a high level delegation of government officials. To this day, many Poles still suspect an assassination and wonder why the plane has never been repatriated from Russia.

Economically, Poland can be considered as a success story. As the sixth largest country of the EU, unemployment is only 7.5 versus 9 percent for the rest of Europe. But these figures are somewhat misleading. For instance, out of the 115 billion Euro profit generated by foreign companies, only 75 percent came back to Poland and 63 percent of the banking sector is run by foreigners.  Moreover, the spectacular 4 percent growth of the Gross Domestic Product since 2004 is beginning to slow down.

Remnants of the “old economy” still exist, such as the reliance on coal as the main source of energy. The future prime minister Beata Szydlo was born in the south of Poland near Oswiecim (Auschwitz) from a family of  miners. It is likely that she will not close the coal mines as advocated by the PO opposition party. The economic program of Poland is a sort of a cocktail between the French right wing of Marine Le Pen and the French Parti de gauche headed by  Jean-Luc Melanchon.

Regarding the problem of refugees, Poland is aligned with the position of  the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary and also the UK. It is reluctant to accept the recent directives from Brussels to relocate 160,000 people between the 29 members of the EU.  In the same way as the UK, Poland is concerned with security and also, being a catholic country, it has somewhat of a fear of Islam. It tends to reject any decision, which it considers a breach of its sovereignty.

The shift to a more conservative and nationalistic government in Poland therefore may increase the fragility of the European Union. Right now it contributes to a growing divide between western and eastern Europe, though Poland cannot afford to be too hostile to a federal Europe since it still needs its financial support.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Fabulous FIAC Celebrates Contemporary Art Throughout Paris

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

She’s back!  We’ve probably been asked more often about what has happened to Nicole Prévost Logan than any other of our wonderful writers.  You see, Nicole takes a break from writing for us in the summer when she is living in Essex, Conn.  But now she has returned to her house in Paris and (metaphorically) picked up her pen again … and we’re delighted … along with many of our readers!

fiac_2012_jardin_des_plantes

In late October every year, France attracts visitors from around the world to take part in the FIAC (Foire Internationale de l’Art Contemporain.) Multiple exhibits  open, not only in museums, but also hors murs (outdoors)  on the grounds of historical monuments like the Chateau de Versailles, or on public squares and parks like Place la Concorde or the Jardin des Tuileries .

For a few days, Paris becomes the capital of arts, fashion and design. The main event of the FIAC takes place in the Grand Palais and was attended this year by 75,000 professionals in the arts and owners of the 173 most prestigious galleries of the world. (not individual artists.) The high entrance fee was set at $40. The works exhibited were in all media –  paintings, sculptures, videos, installations.  Values of the objects varied from a few thousands euros to several millions.

What makes the specificity of the FIAC is that it expands every year and  becomes increasingly accessible to the general public.  The French minister of Culture and Communication Fleur Pellerin, who occupied the media center stage during the week, stressed the civic importance of the richness and diversity of culture open to all in the public space.

When walking around Paris it seemed impossible not to stumble over some work of art: on the banks of the Seine in the new Cité de la Mode et du Design, in the department stores or the elegant lobbies of five-star hotels palaces. In the historical districts of the Marais, or St Germain des Prés, unbridled art creations were the norm.  The “off” art found additional space under  white tents.  Digital art celebrated its tenth anniversary near the Alexandre III bridge.

The “Outsider Art Fair” (art brut) – made up of the works of mentally disturbed , marginal or self-taught artists –  placed its 38 stands in a private mansion.  It included the works of the well known American artist Henry Darger whose permanent collection is in the New York American Folk Art museum.

To  stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries was to be in for a great treat.  One could admire whimsical, mostly thought-provoking artistic creations on lawns, near the two pools,  along the tree-lined paths. Young and articulate art students from the Ecole du Louvre  described the works to the curious passers-by.

Just two examples.  Heimo Zobernig, who lives and works in Vienna, created a  tall androgynous statue. The body was made of three pieces from three different sculptures scanned in 3D. The head, legs, and torso were assembled digitally, raising the question of figurative sculpture.  On the Tuileries bassin rond, a transparent sphere, of about 10 feet in diameter was floating  under the motion of a crystal chandelier hanging inside and spinning around.  The artist’s intention was to show the hidden properties of objects by the incongruous mix of an inflatable toy, a scooter’s chain and a 24 volt rotating mechanism.

The visitor reaches the Place de la Concorde.  Four pavilions mesmerized the crowds. They had been erected by St Gobain – the French company specialized in construction material for the past 450  years (it built the Louvre pyramid.) The pavilions showed the company’s innovations for the future: how can sensorial modules create thermic and acoustic comfort or a 21st house being built entirely from materials created by 3D printers.

After an absence of a few months, what better way than the FIAC to reacquaint  oneself with the Paris scene?

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Letter from Paris: The Rise of Islam in Europe; Reactions and Results

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

As we were driving toward Baden Baden in Germany, our tour director pointed to the brand new mosque rising above the red-roofed houses. “This mosque was not there last year,” he commented.  On a recent river cruise through five European countries — Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland – it was impossible not to notice the increasing presence of Islam — or at least our perception of it.

In the tense international context of conflict with the Islamic State, there is a feeling in Europe of being caught in a two-pronged threat, both from within and abroad. This is why many believe that it is more important than ever for the Muslims living in Europe, moderate in the majority, to speak up with a loud voice against Daesch violence.

muslim_womenThere are more than 40 million Muslims in Europe, which translates to an average of 8 percent of the population.  France has the largest percentage with 10 percent versus 0.6 percent in the US.  The Muslim inhabitants are mostly concentrated in urban areas, where they can sometimes reach 20 percent and even 30 percent as in Basel, Switzerland.

For an American readership it is hard to grasp the impact of such a concentration on the urban landscape.  Living in Europe, one has to adjust to the changing profile of the Muslim community.  Take, for instance, the recent announcement made by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris that the number of mosques existing today — 2,000 — in France needs to be doubled.

In early April,  L’Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF — the Union of Muslim Organizations of France) held its 33rd annual gathering at Le Bourget, north of Paris.  For three days, thousands flocked to this event, bringing their families and looking forward to do some shopping or attending seminars.  French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed some concern that the Muslim Brotherhood, which conceived this event, might exert too much influence on the crowds.

One forum attracted many visitors and one, an older man, said, “At the mosque, I am a Muslim — in the street I am a lay person.  When I became French, I accepted the 1905 law of separation of Church and State and I respect the idea of a secular State.”  A young lawyer retorted, “I was born in France, which gave me some rights.  Today I demand that these rights be respected.”  This heated exchange epitomizes the contrast of attitudes between generations of immigrants.

A disturbing trend is the radicalization of the European Muslim community by the Salafists – a conservative Sunni sect.  They want Islam to return to its original form with a strict application of the Sharia.  A journalist describes how, 20 years ago, a suburb outside Montpellier had a theater and drama workshops, where young people loved to practice on the stage.  Today the theater is run down and empty. The Salafists have ordered the premises to be closed, and forbade the women to appear in public.  Le Monde published an article describing the growing number of Salafists in Dusseldorf, but also stressing the distinction between Salafist true believers and “pseudo Salafists,” who are potential jihadists.

Once more France is in the line of fire for its military interventions in several parts of the world.  Recently the screens of TV5 Monde, a television station broadcasting programs in the French language to 200 countries, turned black for 20 hours.  One viewer, in Zarhle, Lebanon, said, “I am not even French, but for me the programs offered by TV5 Monde represent culture, a window onto the free world.”

One can only hope that the ongoing destruction of archaeological sites, the attacks on journalists and the hacking of channels of communication with their social networks, are not going to be followed by further cyber attacks.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A Letter From Paris: Munich Museum Celebrates Tragically Truncated Careers of Two German Artists

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The promise of two young men to become among the most important German artists of the 20th century was cut short when Franz Marc (1880-1916) and August Macke (1887-1914) were both killed on the front at the outset of World War I.

Animals in a Landscape by Franz Marc, 1914.

Animals in a Landscape by Franz Marc, 1914.

The Lenbachhaus museum of Munich, built at the turn of the (20th) century when Munich was the capital of German art, will hold an exhibit in May entitled. “Two Friends.” It shows how Marc and Macke met in 1910, discovered their mutual works with enthusiasm and struck a friendship, which was to last until their death.

The eve of the “Great War” was a time of artistic explosion, not limited to the Impressionists, Cézanne and other great French masters. All of Europe, including the Russian giants like Malevich, or Tatlin, was set ablaze and the German schools of painting played an important role in the cross-pollinization of the art movements.

In 1905 Ernest Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) founded Die Brucke (the bridge) in Dresden. The human figures he painted are very distinctive with an angular and depraved look. The Nazis called him “degenerate.” Die Brucke was part of a larger German Expressionist movement based at the Sturm gallery in Berlin and characterized by the rejection of any form of academism, the acerbic satire of the bourgeois decadence, and the crude, almost perverted, representation of the bohemian life the artists led in their studios.

In 1909, Wassily Kandisky (1866-1944) wanted to distance himself from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM — the Munich New Artist’s Association) painters and settled in Murnau, a small village on the edge of Bavarian Alps with a group of artists including his companion Gabriele Munter and Alexej Jawlensky. For Marc and Macke, it was a pivotal moment to meet them there.

Even before knowing each other, Marc and Macke had shared a love for painting animals, particularly cats. Both were fascinated by the artistic developments taking place in France. In 1907, and again in 1908 Macke was in Paris and visited the galleries of Bernheim-Jeune, Ambroise Vollard and Durand Rueil, to see Pissaro, Monet, Dégas, Renoir and Seurat. Marc travelled several times to France from 1903 onwards, spending long hours at the Louvre, where he was particularly attracted to Van Gogh’s paintings.

Zoological garden by August Macke, 1912.

Zoological Garden by August Macke, 1912.

August Macke’s city scenes showed silhouettes of slim and elegant women, admiring the latest fashion at shop windows and a sophisticated urban population sitting at cafes or strolling leisurely in a park. Macke looked for harmony in humans and in nature. His colors were vibrant and the atmosphere serene in sharp contrast with the violent, even depressive paintings of the Expressionists like Otto Dix, George Grosz or Max Beckman.

Blue black fox by Franz Marc.

Blue black fox by Franz Marc.

Before becoming an artist, Marc had thought of becoming a theologian. In 1909, he left Munich for the wilderness of Bavarian Alps to paint animals and eventually moved closer to Murnau. He sought the essence and the purity of animal through a theosophical view of the cosmos. Instead of being naturalistic, his representation of deers or tigers was increasingly stylized. The young wild horses seemed to bask in their freedom. In 1911 Wassily Kandisky and Marc created Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, named after the themes of horses and cavaliers found in their paintings.

At a time when the abstraction was like a tidal wave – Picasso and Braque in France, Paul Klee in Switzerland, or Mikhail Larionov in Russia – it is not surprising that Marc and Macke were drawn to these new forms. Robert Delaunay and Italian Futurist Gino Severini became their inspiration.

But sadly this was to be a brief adventure, since both artists were killed prematurely in the war.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A Letter From Paris: A Look at Little (But Oh, So Powerful) Luxembourg

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Although Luxembourg is a minuscule country, with only 476,000 inhabitants, it is one of the world banking powerhouses occupying second place with 2.4 trillion euros under its management. It is one of the founding members of the European Union (EU) and has been an active participant at every step of its construction. How did this happen?

The capital occupies a spectacular site on a rocky ridge overlooking the precipitous ravines of the Petrusse and Alzette rivers. From the Roman streets (Cardo and Decumanus) intersecting in the Marchė aux Poissons (fish market) to the all-glass museum of contemporary art designed by I. M. Pei, a visitor to Luxembourg can admire many periods of architecture including the ducal palace built in a rare 15th century Spanish-Moorish style.

Luxembourg's Ville Haute has a stunning location

Luxembourg’s Ville Haute has a stunning location.

After centuries of domination by neighbors, including France, the Netherlands and Belgium, the 1839 Treaty of London granted the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg both its independence and definitive borders. Grand Duke Henri is the incumbent ruler of the reigning Nassau-Weilbourg dynasty .

The vocation of Luxembourg was at first to be an impregnable fortress. In 963, Count Sigefroi chose the rock of Bock to build a fort. When, in 1684, Napoleon laid siege to the town, he turned to his renowned military architect Vauban to expand the fortifications, which are still visible today, with ramparts, towers, tunnels, bastions and casemates (military blockhouses), all dug out of the cliffs.

Luxembourg has also enjoyed another vocation — to be chosen sometimes as the ruler of Europe. In 1308, Count Henry VII was elected King of Germany by the Prince Electors and soon afterward crowned as head of the German Holy Roman Empire. Since December 2014, the EU President – its highest executive – is Jean Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

Luxembourg has been closely associated with the process of unification of Europe. Robert Schuman, born of a French father and a Luxembourg mother, was among the founding fathers of Europe. In 1947, the BENELUX convention, which created a customs union, was signed between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In 1950, Schuman and Jean Monet from France created the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community). In 1957, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium signed the Treaty of Rome, creating the EEC (European Economic Community).

The 1985 “Schengen Space” agreement, abolishing borders within Europe, took its name from a small Luxembourg village. The ‘quartier européeen’ has sprung up as a small Manhattan on the Kirchberg plateau with the sky scrapers of the European institutions like the European Investment Bank, the European Court of Justice, and most of the 150 international banks emblematic of modern Luxembourg.

In the 19th century, the discovery of iron ore brought Luxembourg into the industrial age. On the eve of World War I, it was the sixth producer of steel in the world. But, with the decline of steel metallurgy after the 1970s, Luxembourg had to reinvent itself and turned toward financial activities, which today constitute more than 30 percent of the country’s GDP. In 2001 the “Clearstream” scandal raised the suspicion of tax evasion.

Currently the trend is toward increasing transparency in the banking business. In early March of this year, during an official visit to Luxembourg by French president Hollande, “tax optimization” was discussed. It was decided that, by 2017, the exchange of information will become automatic between the two countries.

The policy of Brussels, led by Juncker, is to launch a program of “quantitative easing” or QE (similar to the one carried by the Federal Reserve in the US), of 3,000 billion into the European economy. Countries are now scrambling to qualify for the bail-out funds by presenting their most innovative projects.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Greece Given Four Month Debt Deal Extension … But Then What?

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

During the last week of February 2015, intense negotiations took place between the Greek government and the three members of the “Troika” – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Central European Bank (CEB) and the Eurozone.  On Feb. 27, the Bundestag, by a massive majority, approved the four month extension of aid to Greece.

It looked very much like a “déjà vu”scenario: Greece deep in debt, Greece kept alive thanks to several rounds of loans, Greece repeating its promises to curb public spending, and put a stop to fraud, corruption and tax avoidance.  The creditors, however, wanted to give the new government of Alexis Tsipras. a chance to prove itself.  The objective was to strike a compromise between austerity reforms and measures granting some respite to the most vulnerable segment of the population.  The Greek government had five days left before running out of money.

Greek President Alexis Tsipras

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Greece joined the Eurozone on Jan. 1, 2001.  Before 2000, the Greek deficit was about 13 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP.)  By some miracle, in order to meet the criteria for joining the European Union (EU), the deficit was brought down to 3 percent, or more precisely to 3.07 percent.  Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other organizations, pondered over the figures.  The situation was confusing, especially after the Goldman Sachs experts helped Greece with some “creative accounting” by deducting currency swaps and derivatives amounting to 2.8 billion from the calculation of the deficit.

Before 2012, Greece’s creditors were mostly private banks, such as the Société Générale in France.  In March of that year, the banks agreed to cancel 70 percent of their loan or 107 billion.  In 2010 and 2012, the “Troika” granted two rounds of loans, amounting respectively to 110 and 141 billion.  Germany supports 30 percent of the Greek loan, France 23 percent (or 40 billion) and Italy 20 percent.  The participation of the Eurozone members is proportional to the size of their population.  The loans’s maturity is 30 years, 10 percent of the loan carries zero interest and the remainder has interest as low as 2 percent in 2015.  It is important to note these facts in order to counter a lot of disinformation available on the internet.

The discussions, held in Brussels, went well until the disastrous final press conference when the new Greek minister of finances Yanis Varoujakis posturing as a cool Bruce Willis, (to use the Le Monde expression) first demanded that the “Troika” change its name and then asked for a “restructuring” of the debt.  His tour of European capitals, ending in Berlin (where he should have started) was not much appreciated by the German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schauble, who commented, “We agreed not to agree.”  Varoujakis retorted, “We did not even agree not to agree.”

At a time when refugees and migrants try desperately to reach Europe, the immigration policy of the Tsipras’s recently-elected Syriza party is quite unsettling.  Their plan calls for the retention centers, where refugees and migrants have been held until now, to be turned into “open centers;” to grant citizenship to 150,000 second generation children born in Greece; and to provide housing, schooling and medical care.  How are these programs going to be financed?  The wall built to protect the border between Turkey and Greece fell into disrepair after recent floods.  Maintaining this wall is not a priority announced the government.

There is pretty much a consensus about Greece’s inability to ever pay back its debt.  The creation of the European Funds of Stability and Finances in 2013 to “mutualize” the debt will help Europe absorb the Greek default with more serenity.

But it is far from a done deal.  In four months, before your know it, there will be fierce opposition to write off the debt.  Countries like Portugal or Spain are struggling through austerity and are are not about to continue bailing out Greece.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: ‘Loi Macron’ Indicates a Sea Change in French Politics

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

In January 2015, in a forceful declaration, French president François Hollande officially announced a break with the Socialist program, which had been the basis of his 2012 presidential campaign.  It was a sharp turn toward a more liberal, market-oriented policy.  The Loi Macron, named after the young (33-year-old) Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron, was to embody the new trend.

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron

Expecting that the law would not pass, the government decided to use a joker – the article 49.3.  It was a gamble since, in the event that the motion de censure (vote of no confidence) of the opposition succeeded, the government of Manuel Valls would be disavowed and fall.  But the motion de censure received only 234 votes when it needed the absolute majority of 289.  The law passed.

The article 49.3 is included in the constitution of the Fifth Republic.  It allows the government to act in force to push a text through the Parliament without the need of a vote. It is a powerful but dangerous device.  It has been used 82 times since 1958.

The last time was in 2006 when Dominique de Villepin, under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, tried to promote the Contrat Premiere Embauche, or CPE (first hiring contract). The students demonstrated in the streets.  Shortly thereafter the CPE received national funerals.  The champion of article 49.3 was Michel Rocard who in the late 1980s used it 28 times.

After 200 hours of consultations and 1,500 amendments granted by the government, it looked as though each article had been accepted separately.  And yet, by the time of the final vote on Feb. 17, the far right (Front National), the far left (Front de Gauche), most of the right (UMP), and the 40 Frondeurs, or splinter group from within the Socialist party, joined in an alliance to put road blocks to stop the government’s proposal. Manuel Valls and Emmanuel Macron made their concluding speeches among jeers and interruptions.  On the face of many deputies could be seen a rather despicable sarcasm.

In fact, the manoeuvre of the government deserves to be applauded since, to push a text in force, was the only way for the Executive to succeed.  The Loi Macron reperesents an enormous task attempting to reform the fabric of French society.  It meant dismantling the century-old system of privileges and protected niches enjoyed by whole segments of the population, including the five million civil servants, known as notaires — in France, notaires are a specific type of French attorneys overseeing all legal transaction while collecting taxes on behalf of the government, doctors, veterinarians, taxi drivers, auction houses officials, etc.

All the professions are regulated and benefit from a a special satus.  The right to work on Sundays, and allowing intercities busses were hard-won victories.  Only indirectly, the Loi Macron dealt with unemployment and ways to jump-start the economy.

The law is insufficient and has its defects, but is a step in the right direction. It represents a real effort to bring changes and to satisfy Brussels. Angela Merkel, in Paris for more discussions about the Ukraine, expressed her satisfaction.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Minsk 2 – Another Truce for Ukraine … Maybe

From left to right, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petroshenko.

From left to right, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petro Porosnhenko. Photo credit EPA/Maxim Shipenkov.

After a 16-hour long marathon of negotiations on Feb. 11, and a great deal of suspense, Angela Merkel and François Hollande wrenched out a hard-won agreement for a cease-fire in Ukraine from Petro Porosnhenko and Vladimir Putin starting on Saturday, Feb. 14 at midnight.  All parties to the agreement were extremely cautious and hoped that “Minsk 2” would last longer than “Minsk 1” signed in September 2014.

More than 5,500 people have died in the conflict during the past 10 months, which makes it the deadliest in Europe since World War II.  There was a sense of relief that the agreement went through and thus a disaster had been avoided.  In the morning, Putin joked that he had had better nights but felt satisfied.

To continue the negotiations rather than slamming more sanctions on Putin, as some Washington pundits advocate, was the objective of Minsk 2.  Sanctions have a cost for Europe (for example, the Russian government retaliated to earlier sanctions by blocking the import of produce from Western Europe.)  More dangerously, they exacerbate the nationalism of Putin and enhance his popularity in Russia.

In the face of a threatening strategy of Daesh* making well planned inroads to destabilise Europe by recent acts of terrorism, Russia and the European Union (EU) have a common enemy.  For decades, the extremist Moslem opposition in Chechnya and Central Asia has been a great fear for the Russian government..

The talks in Minsk started in a polar atmosphere.  Throughout the night, Petro Poroshenko’s and Vladimir Putin’s teams moved like a choreographed ballet.  Early in the morning, Putin left the room, slamming the door, only to reappear a few minutes later. The Franco-German duo is to be credited with an unflappable tenacity to reach an agreement.  The two worked perfectly together.  Merkel needed Hollande since she wants to avoid making foreign policy decisions alone and prefers,“Leading from the center,” to use a formula coined by the German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.37.33 AM

Minsk 2 includes modified provisions to make the process move forward.  The buffer zone – cleared from all heavy armaments – has been widened from 30 km to 70 kms.  The European Council for Stability and Security will be monitoring the application of the agreement.  Putin expressed his demands for the autonomy of the Luhansk and Donestk regions..

The EU widely considers that Ukraine is both a corrupt and failed state.  It cannot afford to help it financially nor envisages its adhesion to the EU any time soon.  Kiev does not want to lose the industrial and mining Donbas region, but its action is disorganized.  For many months, Putin has claimed that he never intervened in the conflict taking place in Eastern Ukraine.

One wonders whether he really controls the Russian separatists, so different from the sophisticated Maidan crowd.  The Donbass miners and blue collar workers are products of massive transfers of population forced by the Soviets at the time of the German offensive to compensate for the relocation of highly skilled workers to the Ural Mountains.  Another headache for Putin is the presence among the Russian separatists of clans whose leaders have political ambitions .

It is hard to understand Putin’s strategy.  Obviously he does not want NATO to choke him nor nuclear misssiles to be installed in the area.  He does not have the means to support the Donbas.  His priority should most likely be to allow a corridor from Rostov on Don, through Mariopol on the Sea of Azov and then leading to the Crimea.  At present his only access to the Crimea is through the Straits of Kerch, which is some distance away.

*The new nickname for ISIS widely used in France, Australia and some other countries because ISIS supposedly dislikes it intensely — it is a loose acronym of the Arabic description of ISIS, which does not acknowledge any statehood for the organization but rather can be roughly translated as, “One who crushes something underfoot,” or, “One who sows discord.”

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Patrick Modiano receives 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature

Nobel_prize_for_Literature_2014

…”all those wasted years during which one did not pay enough attention to trees, to flowers”…) says the main character  in Modiano’s latest novel ‘Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier’ (which translates roughly as, “To avoid getting yourself lost in the neighborhood”)

France had the distinctive honor of receiving two Nobel prizes in 2014:   Jean Tirole was the recipient of the Prize for Economics for his work on the financial crisis and the banking system while Patrick Modiano received the Prize for Literature.  He will join an illustrious pantheon of writers from Gunter Grass (Germany) ), Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Gabriel Garcia Marques (Columbia) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Soviet Union)  to Albert Camus (France) or Ernest Hemingway (USA).  Modiano is the 16th laureate from France, giving that country the largest number since beginning of the Nobel awards in 1900.

The press release issued by the Swedish Academy of Sciences selected the French writer, “For the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation.” The prize was a recognition of his abundant literary production (30 novels)  centered on the protagonists’ search of their own past, in the urban setting of Paris, going back to World War II.

He writes like a sleep walker, plodding through a mysterious, sometimes disjointed sequence of events looking for his lost childhood when he was tossed around from one home to another.  Since his first novel, ‘La Place de l’Etoile,’ published in 1968, he has created a world where autobiographic notes are interwoven with the “bad dream” of the Occupation.

Modiano is a tall (6′ 6” ) man of 69 with a kind face and fluttering hands as he speaks.  During a 45-minute acceptance speech in Stockholm, his modest personality must have made him endearing to the distinguished audience, particularly when he dedicated his award to his Swedish grandson.

A writer, he said, is usually a poor speaker, who leaves his sentences unfinished, because he is used to editing his text over and over again.

He explained that he belonged to a generation when children were not allowed to speak up and, if they were given a chance to speak, they expected to be interrupted at any time.

During an interview he gave in his study, surrounded by thousands of books, he asked, “Why would I write another book when so many have been already written?”  Then he added,  “It is probably at the sight of his own bookcases that a discouraged Scott Fitzgerald took up drinking.”

He claims, with incredible modesty, that “It is with bad poets that one obtains prose writers.”

According to Alice Kaplan, head of the French department at Yale University, Modiano can be labelled as the Marcel Proust of modern times.

Claire Duvarrieux, head of the ‘Books’ department of the daily newspaper, Liberation, describes the works of Modiano as a collective memory of France during the war, the German Occupation, collaboration, the persecution of the Jews and finally, the war in Algeria.

With Louis Malle, he co-wrote the scenario of Lacombe Lucien in 1974, one of the best French “New Wave” films.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Marcel Duchamp at the Pompidou Center

Marcel Duchamp i(1887-1965) is well known in America. Most people have heard of his readymades like the famous (or infamous) Fontaine, which is, in fact, a public urinal. Stiglitz immortilized the original in a 1917 photograph before it disappeared for ever. The bicycle wheel set on a kitchen stool is a familiar sight for MOMA vistors.

Nude descending a staircase No. 2

Nude going down a staircase No. 2

Since his first trip to the US in 1915, the artist made multiple visits to that country, avoiding the two World Wars. He acquired American nationality in 1955. It was at the 1913 Armory Show that his cubist painting ‘Nu Descendant un escalier No. 2′ (Nude going down a staircase No. 2) became a huge success.

Some critics have labelled Marcel Duchamp as the creator of modern art while others say he destroyed it when he advocated “non-retinal” painting. Volumes have been written about him. In an amazingly short time – since he abandoned art for chess at age 36 – he was able not only to produce art, but also to integrate into it the latest discoveries of science and modern technology.

The Marcel Duchamp exhibit at the Pompidou Center just closed its doors after several successful months. It was a monographic approach consisting of about 100 paintings and drawings little known in France (most of them are part of the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) covering the 1912 to 1923 period and leading to his main creation, ‘Le Grand Verre.’

Born in Normandy, Duchamp belonged to a talented family of six children. The mother was a distant figure, which may explain his alienation from women. ‘Sonate,’ 1911, represents the three sisters playing musical instruments. The mother stands stern and erect . Strangely enough she seems to be enjoying the concert, although she is deaf.

He had a deadpan sort of humor and provocation was his tool. He enjoyed playing tricks on the Regardeurs (viewers), giving wrong titles to his works. He relished plays on words, for example, he called himself Rose Selavy (Eros – that’s life) in the photograph Man Ray took of him. To put a moustache and a goatie on Mona Lisa was a virtual iconoclastic gesture and he made it even more outrageous by giving it the title of LHOOQ (if the letters are pronounced in French the meaning is shockingly vulgar) .

Duchamp joined his two brothers Jacques Villon and Raymond-Duchamp in the Puteaux group of Cubists. ‘Dulcinea’ and the ‘Joueurs d’échecs’ are among his superb cubist paintings. Borrowing the technique of chronophotography and cinema, he introduced time and movement in ‘Jeune Homme Triste dans Un Train 1911-12,’ where the real accomplishment was to show a person in a train in motion while also suggesting his sad mood.

La Mariée mise a nu par ses célibataires,’ meme (also called Le Grand Verre) was his major work. It consists of two free-standing glass panels. In the lower register, nine Moules Maliques* (an officer, a gendarme, a priest, etc) stand beside a chocolate-crushing machine, which rotates non-stop. By means of sexually-related devices, gas travels up toward the mariée, who is hanging limply at the top, having gone from the virgin to the bride stage. The work alludes to the universal themes of erotic love and the inaccessible woman.

* I am not even attempting to translate these nonsensical words!

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

 

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Ten Days Later

US Foreign Secretary John Kerry pays his respects at the memorial to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

US Secretary of State John Kerry pays his respects at the makeshift memorial in Paris to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

Ten days after the assassination at the Charlie Hebdo office including the magazine’s editor and leading cartoonists, France is on high alert. Threats against persons and acts of vandalism are multiplying. The Jewish community is scared, the Muslims feel stigmatized, the Catholics are worried. It would be exaggerated however to describe – the way a Fox News journalist claimed – that certain areas of Paris, such as the 11th arrondissement, are dangerous and should be avoided. Incidentally, the journalist quickly withdrew his remark.

Prime minister Manuel Valls and minister of the Interior Bernard Caseneuve have launched maximum security measures: the Vigipirate alert system (at first created by president Giscard d’Estaing in 1978) now includes 10,000 troops from the Foreign Legion, the army and the police. They are positioned throughout France to protect monuments, schools and places of worship, as well as strategic points like airports or railroad stations. On Thursday, Francois Hollande was on the air force carrier Charles de Gaulle in Toulon to review the 2,000 troops before their departure for manoeuvers in the Indian Ocean. France has currently nine Rafales in Jordan and two Mirages in Saudi Arabia.

The criminal investigation has been fast and efficient. In lightning speed, they uncovered more ramifications of the jihadists’ organization, extended to their families, friends and acquaintances, with the “Buttes-Chaumont connection” at the center. The Belhoucine brothers are on the list of suspects. A large number of individuals have been taken for questioning and nine are currently in police custody . In the Paris region, five caches of weapons have been located and searched.

Reinforcement of the legal system to control the jihadists’ travels and activities is being studied by the government. Measures such as the creation of special files on terrorists similar to the ones kept on sexual offenders and withdrawing the French nationality of returning jihadists are being considered. Voting on a new law should take place as early as the beginning of February. Control of internet has become a priority. The social networks constitute a counter culture expressed in simple manichean terms to be accessible to the largest possible numbers. Calls for violence and hatred never stop.

The recent events have marked the French. On Wednesday, January 14, after a powerful speech by the prime minister at the National Assembly, all the deputies stood up to observe a minute of silence. Then one voice started singing the Marseillaise and soon everybody followed in unison. The last time this happened was on November 11, 1918! At the Institut du Monde Arabe and during all the official ceremonies, the president and the prime minister reiterated their basic point: the French government is not against Islam nor the Muslim population. Around the world, French diplomatic representations and economic interests are under attack. The TV news shows the fury of violent mobs shouting their hatred in the streets of Niger — quite a contrast from the calm of the people in the streets of Paris on January 11.

Laicite (secularism) is a specificity of France, and the outcome of a tumultuous history, starting with the 16th century wars of religions, opposing monarch and church. It took a whole century for the Catholic Church to accept the separation of church and state in 1904. That principle was enshrined in the first article of the 1958 constitution at the outset of the fifth Republic. It is alien to most of the other countries and should be “formatted” (to use a computer science term) in order to be understood beyond our borders.

US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit to Paris, saw the places where the violent attacks took place on January 7 and used warm words (in French) to express his support of France.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

Our French correspondent Nicole Prévost Logan was in Paris last Wednesday when the horrific shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office occurred and for the subsequent days of terror in the environs of Paris. This column reflects her thoughts on the tragedy.  She writes:

Je_suis_Charlie_v3

They were a talented, irreverent, friendly and humorous bunch of cartoonists and journalists.  They were like family.  We knew them by name.  Charb, Cabu, Wolinski (Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut,  Georges Wolinski) and the others were also incredibly courageous.  Round the clock they had to be protected by police and body guards.  In 2011, their office was blown up in an explosion.  Charb, leader and editor-in-chief of the Charlie Hebdo weekly satirical newspaper, was on the ‘Wanted’ list of Al-Qaeda as someone to be eliminated.

On Wednesday, January 7, at noon, I was walking by the Bastille, near my apartment, when police cars, ambulances, Red Cross vehicles, fire trucks – their sirens howling – seemed to be converging on the square.  Strange, I thought.  When I met my daughter for lunch, she told me that the entire editorial board of Charlie Hebdo had been shot.  Being “connected” with her smart phone, she was able to follow every minute of the crisis

The crisis lasted for three days with the pursuit of the two Kouachi brothers by tens of thousands of police and special forces.  Two more attacks (related, as it turned out later) occurred in Montrouge and Porte de Vincennes with the taking of hostages by a third terrorist Amedy Coulibaly.  Seventeen people died during the 72 hours, including four Jewish hostages  who had been held in a Kosher supermarket.

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb.

The emotion in France was intense.  The French have always relished Charlie Hebdo’s iconoclastic derision aimed at everyone … women, Jews, Moslems, blacks, no exceptions … and their making fun of politics, religion and other serious topics.

The tragic end of an entire editorial staff of a newspaper at the point of a gun in the name of a principle explains the incredible shock wave of sympathy with spread around the world in a few hours.  A journalist from Los Angeles said in his grief at the talent lost that, in one throw, more cartoonists were killed than the total number existing in the US.  The victims have become the heroes, for having pushed to the extreme the right to say, write or draw anything in a free democratic society.

One may quote Voltaire, “I may not agree with what you say but I will fight to death for your right to say it.” Humor rather than violence or a call to violence, this was their motto.  This weekend France became a libertarian banner and the world seemed grateful to France for doing what no one else dared to do.  This attack and the planet’s reaction that it triggered can be seen as a fight for a secular state threatened by obscurantist developments, both in the regions where ISIL is taking hold and against terrorism anywhere in the world.

The French opinion from all parties, (except the Front National) is that president François Hollande managed the crisis superbly.  He was on the front line at all times.  He scared the police forces beyond belief when he came to the Charlie Hebdo street barely one hour after the attack, even before the area was made secure.  Hollande was at the helm of the operations and gave the green light for the two final assaults  to be perfectly synchronized.  He addressed the nation several times, avoiding grandiloquence and photo-op opportunities.

Instead of being belligerent and declaring “at war” status, what he stressed was the national unity and the need of inclusion of the overwhelmingly moderate Moslem population (about four million or 6.8 percent of the population, by 2012 figures.)  He urged the leaders of that community – imams, clergy, intellectuals and associations – to speak up and to join the march organized on Sunday. Hassan Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque of Drancy, a neighborhood with a majority of immigrants, declared on television, “What they have done is not Islam, we strongly condemn their acts.”  This is important because the problem of “integration” in France (one remembers the hostility caused by the ban on the veil) is a difficult process.

For three days, men in black, super-equipped with helmets, bullet-proof vests, shields and heavy arms, occupied our television screens.  We learned more about the elite groups which carried out the assaults.  In Dammartin-en-Goële,  it was the GIGN  (Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale), part of a 400-strong military elite corps based in Versailles.  At the Kosher market of the Porte de Vincennes, RAID (Recherche pour Assistance Intervention Dissuasion) is part of the police.  It was the first time ever that GIGN and RAID collaborated.

A question was immediately raised: how was it possible that Cherif and Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, young French men with murky pasts of convictions, prisons terms, and, most of all, trips to Syria and several months training in Yemen with the most  dangerous groups of Al-Qaeda (AQPA) in the Arabian Peninsula, included on the US “no fly list,” could have been overlooked by the DGSE  (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure)?  Pierre Martinet, one of the heads of  the DGSE explained that the data about all these people has been collected, but they do not have the manpower to put several thousands potential terrorists under surveillance.

Gilles Keppel, a Middle East specialist and professor at Sciences Po) revealed that France has been designated as the prime enemy. There are about 1,200 French Jihadists, the largest group in Europe.  The era when terrorists learnt how to fly planes is over — today the social networks have created another situation when Al-Qaeda is less an organization than a system.  Private individuals make decisions, hence the difficulty in controlling them.

In an interview Monday morning, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, summarized the priorities:  control the calls for violence on the internet; in prison, separate radical islamists to prevent their radicalization of other prisoners; and intensify the coordination of intelligence agencies within Europe and around the world.  The Socialists are reluctant to introduce legislation comparable to the Patriot Act in the US at the expense of the rule of law.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand together in defense of the right to free speech.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand in solidarity in defence of the right to free speech.

Sunday, January 11, saw the march of the century.  Forty heads of state participated in the demonstration.  François Hollande led the march, accompanied by Angela Merkel and 40 other heads of state.  Some commentators wondered whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s presence was politically motivated or also to defend the principle of freedom of expression.

Four million people were on the streets, almost half of them in Paris.  The crowd, including many children, was calm and disciplined, sang La Marseillaise, and applauded the police – probably for the first time in French history.

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Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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