retrospective of Walker Evans at the Pompidou

Poverty. The Great Depression. Coca-Cola signs. Roadside buildings, street and subway scenes. Faces. 20th-century American landscape and culture. 

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Walker Evans (1903-1975) was an important twentieth-century American photographer. His photographs of the Depression years of the 1930s, his assignments for Fortune magazine in the 1940s and 1950s, and his “documentary style” influenced generations of photographers and artists. His attention to everyday details and the commonplace urban scene did much to define the visual image of 20th-century American culture. Some of his photographs have become iconic.

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The exhibition at the Pompidou is the first major museum retrospective of Evans’s work in France. Unprecedented in its ambition, it retraces the whole of his career, from his earliest photographs in the 1920s to the Polaroids of the 1970s, through more than 300 vintage prints drawn from the most important American institutions (among them the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) and also more than a dozen private collections. It also features a hundred or so other exhibits drawn from the post cards, enamel signs, print images and other graphic ephemera that Evans collected his whole life long.

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26 April 2017 – 14 August 2017

Centre Pompidou, Paris

Macron in the lead!

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Standing in front of my television set and watching the 8 pm evening news as today’s election results were announced: Emmanuel Macron in the lead at 23.7% and Marine Le Pen at 21.7%, I shouted a loud and resounding whoop of joy. Impulsively, I then ran to the window, flung it wide open, and uttered a second whoop into the street (I’ve never done that before in my life.) Passers-by looked up in surprise. “Macron!!” I shouted gleefully, and two people gave a thumbs-up sign. So exultant I am that Macron is in the lead, I couldn’t help myself.

Centrist, pragmatic, pro-European Union, young (39 years old), economically liberal and pro-business, he is not a socialist but on the left on social issues. France desperately needs new blood. France desperately needs to rid herself of those stale, corrupt, arrogant, last-century, political dinosaurs of the past. Hopefully Macron will personify the new France of the 21st century.

Unless something goes terribly, horribly wrong in the run-off May election (and it won’t because I have faith), Macron will be the next president of France, and for this I am glad.

VIVE LA FRANCE !!

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hopefuls in the French presidential election, 2017

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Yesterday, while walking around my neighborhood, I passed this row of posters on the street. It’s the whole motley crew. Let’s go through them, one by one. (The first round of voting for the next president of France takes place this Sunday April 23rd.) 

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FILLON – ex-prime minister in Sarkozy’s government. Right-wing neoliberal whose political hero is Margaret Thatcher. A favorite among Catholic conservatives. Vows to preserve traditional family values, respect France’s Christian roots, and reverse adoption rights for gay couples. Supports hardline groups that oppose France’s same-sex marriage law. As a Catholic, he says he is personally opposed to abortion, but would not try to change the 1975 law that legalized it in France. Une Volonté Pour La France (A Willingness for France) is his slogan. Well, many were willing, but he blew it. Caught with his fingers in the honey pot. Instead of finding himself in the Elysée (the presidential office), he might find himself in jail.

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LASSALLE – born in a tiny village high in the Pyrenees mountains, comes from a humble family of shepherds. In the late 1970s he became mayor of his region. A decade ago, he went on a hunger strike when a Japanese firm threatened to close a paint factory in his mountain constituency where 150 people were employed. Honest, hard-working and dedicated to his region. Problem is, his regional accent is so thick, no-one can understand him when he speaks. And that nose? It could run on its own independent ticket.

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MELENCHON – Left-wing, very left. Cozied up to Castro and Chavez. Once a member of the Socialist Party, he broke away to create his own political platform called La France insoumise (Unsubmissive France), a platform endorsed by the Left Party and the French Communist Party. Acid-tongued and frequently aggressive, he is anti-EU (European Union), anti-globalization and anti-NATO. What he does support is the expansion of French welfare programs, the mass redistribution of wealth to rectify socio-economic inequalities, a 100 per cent income tax on all French nationals earning over 360,000 Euros a year, full state reimbursement for healthcare costs, and the easing of immigration laws. He also supports the legalization of cannabis. According to the NGOs for Action Against Hunger, Action World Health, CARE France and ONE Campaign, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the one presidential candidate the most engaged regarding international solidarity. He’s also known as the best orator for the French people.

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LE PEN – France’s extreme right-wing leader and president of the National Front; daughter of NF founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, racist and convicted holocaust denier. Her goal is to transform the NF into a “big popular party that addresses itself not only to the electorate on the right, but to all the French people.” Good luck with that. Problem is, the stink of thuggism, racism, xenophophia, protectionism, nationalism and corruption still (and always will) hovers over this party.  A common characteristic of extreme right-wing political parties the world over is to prey on the insecurities of certain people and stoke two of their base emotions: hate and fear. Le Pen shamelessly promotes the fear and hatred of immigrants, Islam, globalization, élitism, the Euro and the EU. Like Brexit, she wants to pull out of the European Union and return to the currency of the French Franc. Her support base is largely white working class, unemployed and  non-college educated. On a personal note, a person to fear more than Marine Le Pen is her 27 year old niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. Scary.

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HAMON – Earnest, sincere and likeable, Brittany-born Hamon is a member of the Socialist Party. Appointed Junior Minister for the Social Economy in 2012, he went on to become, in President Hollande’s government, Minister of National Education in 2014. Hamon represents the green and left-wing side of the Socialist Party. Concerned for the future of his children and grandchildren, he pushes a hard line in favor of environmental policies. All was going well for Hamon until he introduced a measure that turned off, including me, a lot of people. He wants to give all French citizens a basic income in which all citizens and residents regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from the government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere. This radical idea has contributed to his downfall. From where would this money come? From those who work and already pay astronomically high taxes, contributions and compulsory payments? Bye-bye, Benoît.

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POUTOU – Trade unionist, car factory worker and presidential candidate representing the far left, the country thrilled to see this unknown man show up on national television wearing jeans and a t-shirt while copiously insulting François Fillon and Marine Le Pen. He became a national hero overnight. It was during the April 4 debate session of the eleven candidates. He didn’t mince words. Speaking directly to Fillon, he said this – “The more we dig, the more we smell the corruption and cheating. These are the men who explain to us the necessity of rigor and austerity, and all the while they’re stealing from the public cash boxes.” Fillon scowled and muttered words to the effect of: “I’ll fucking sue you.” He is under investigation for misuse of public funds to the tune of nearly one million euros.

And to Marine Le Pen, he triumphed again. “And then there’s Madame Le Pen who also steals from the public cash boxes. For someone who’s anti-European, it doesn’t bother her to steal from the cash boxes of Europe.” For the first time in her life, Le Pen stood dumbfounded, lost for words. He was referring to her current allegations of fraud (misuse of funds) from the European Union budget. Poutou went on to say “ The National Front claims to be anti-system but in fact protects itself, thanks to the laws of the system, with its parliamentary immunity and refusal to go to the precinct for questioning when summoned by the police.” The audience cheered when he continued – “Us, when we’re summoned by the police, we don’t have factory worker immunity; off we go.”

Le Pen was ordered to appear before a judge, but refused to turn up. She has argued she did not use the money for personal enrichment and claimed she was being victimized.

Poutou’s slogan is “Nos vies, pas leurs profits” (Our lives, not their profits). Militant Poutou of the New Anti-capitalist party also refused to pose with the others for the official group photograph, saying “These people are not my colleagues.”

The son of a postman, Poutou, aged 50, left school without qualifications after failing his baccalaureate in mechanics. He currently works at a Ford factory repairing the production line machines. He arrived at the TV studio wearing a beige T-shirt – in stark contrast to the other male candidates all in suits and ties. Asked to introduce himself, he said: “I’m a factory worker and apart from Nathalie Arthaud, I believe I’m the only one here who has a normal job.”

TO BE CONTINUED …

For info – Candidates are pitted against each other twice – the first round of voting takes place on April 23. Then, the two top candidates face each other in a second run-off, on May 7. 

French elections always take place on a Sunday.

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This year, everyone’s talking about Lady Sir, a duo composed of actress-filmmaker, Rachida Brakni (married to Eric Cantona, French actor and ex-professional footballer) and singer Gaëtan Roussel. I like their video, Le temps passe, which displays nostalgic images of what the French do best: street protest!

Albin de la Simone is a French singer-songwriter who renders the beautiful French language into a cadenced and gentle flow of poetry  –

The lovely Loire

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Two years ago I spent a long and lovely weekend in the Loire Valley, home of chateaux, vineyards, fruit orchards. From Paris I took the train to Amboise where my friend Andrew, an Englishman who lives in the region, met me. Amboise is a pretty riverside town with its own chateau. Here’s how UNESCO describes the Loire region: “an exceptional cultural landscape, of great beauty, comprised of historic cities, villages and great architectural monuments.” And it’s true. There’s a softness in the landscape: the rolling of its gentle hills, the meandering of its rivers and the richness of its fertile soil that all converges into one glorious package that’s called the garden of France. And home of Kings since the 10th century.

From Amboise we drove to the nearby village of Loches where Andrew knew the owners of a bed and breakfast establishment. It was an excellent recommendation.

I stayed in the Sforza room and had the whole upper floor to myself. There was a sloping roof and dormer window that opened onto the river and a park beyond. The clean air and nocturnal silence that pervades the village Loches was like manna from heaven. I couldn’t get enough of the fresh country air nor the gentle burbling sound of the stream that flowed beneath my window, stark contrast to the metallic whine of scooters and cars that flow beneath my window in Paris. Even though the nights were cold, I slept with the window wide open. It was the long weekend of November 1st. Here’s the view from the Sforza room –

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The two gentlemen who run the B&B couldn’t have been more charming and hospitable. Jean-Claude is originally from Paris and his business associate, Moha, from Morocco. Every morning I’d come downstairs and a smiling Moha would greet me with “Bonjour Mademoiselle!  Avez-vous bien dormi?”

“Did I sleep well?” I replied, “I think I died and went to heaven!” A generous continental breakfast was laid out on the table: yoghurts and jams home-made by Moha; croissants, breads and lots of good coffee. We were only three guests that weekend, so Jean-Claude and Moha (and their little black dog) joined us at the large table. We engaged in lively conversation. It’s rare that innkeepers in France sit down and join their guests at table, so I appreciated their warmth and company.

As you probably already know, the Loire Valley is known for several gorgeous wine regions: Muscadet, Sancerre, Vouvray and Pouilly-Fumé to name a few.  Loire wines tend to have a characteristic fruitiness with fresh, crisp flavours.  My favourite red wine from the Loire is Chinon, so Andrew drove me to the town of Chinon, an unassuming place located on the banks of the Vienne river. What a treat! I was determined to unearth some exceptional (but reasonably-priced) bottles of wine to take back to Paris with me. In the center of town we found a caviste, an independant wine merchant, with a tasting room. Sitting at a long, hand-hewed wooden table, we proceeded to sample glass after glass of Cabernet Franc, a black grape variety for which Chinon wines are known.

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Because there are so many chateaux in this region, it’s a good idea to do your research before going so as to not waste time wondering which one to visit. The weather being beautiful, we wanted to stay outdoors so decided on the Château de Villandry, famous for its gardens that comprise an ornamental garden, a water garden, a medieval herb garden, a vegetable garden and a maze. For two hours we wandered in the sunshine, marvelling at the landscape design and the history of the place. We’re talking 16th-century and this is what I love about France (and Europe in general): the commingling of past and present, modern and ancient.  

Here’s what the brochure blurb says – The Chateau of Villandry is the last of the great chateaux built during the Renaissance in the Loire Valley. The sober elegance of its architecture combined with the charm of its outstanding gardens illustrate the ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of the Enlightenment on western European thought and design.

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The next day we drove to Tours to lunch in a lively bistro named Le Chien Jaune (The Yellow Dog.) The food was decent, but nothing to rave about. This place is more for atmosphere and good wine. Tours, the principal city of the Loire Valley, makes a good base from which to visit the surrounding chateaux and vineyards. From Paris Montparnasse train station, the Loire region can be reached in only one hour and 12 minutes on the TGV fast train.

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All in all, a terrific weekend. I’m eager to return, but as always, other regions and other countries beckon.

random photos of Paris

While waiting for Karl Ove Knausgaard last week, I walked around and took some photos. To get to the 5th arrondissement, I took the metro to Hôtel de Ville station, strolled past the Town Hall and Notre Dame cathedral, crossed the river by way of one of the many bridges, then ambled over to Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

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