burkini brouhaha


AFP Photo / Valery Hache

cannes twoaustralian-burkini

I’m going to wade in here (pardon the pun) and offer my opinion on this thorny issue. Thorny because it’s not straightforward, there’s more to the subject than meets the eye. The burkini, in and of itself, is a side issue. It’s what the French call ‘du maquillage‘ which means a cover, a scapegoat even, for a much larger and pernicious issue.

It’s all very well for other countries to snicker and ridicule the French for their treatment of the burkini. Go ahead and laugh. But it’s not you who, starting from March 2012 to today, have buried 244 innocents and seen 727 injured due to horrific terrorist attacks – slaughters, really, as if we were living under 7th century caliphate rule. All committed on French soil by radicalized French Muslims as they beheaded their victims, slit throats, stabbed, gunned down or mowed down with a truck while shouting “Allah Akbar”.

And outside of France, just next door in Belgium, three suicide bombings took place in March 2016: two at Brussels Airport, and one at Maalbeek metro station in central Brussels. Thirty-two dead and more than 300 injured. The three perpetrators, Muslim Belgian nationals of Moroccan descent, belonged to a terrorist cell, the same cell involved in the November 2015 Paris massacre at the Bataclan theatre.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, between 5 to 6 million or 10% of the total population. They come mainly from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (former French colonies.)  As a secular (non-religious) republic – secularism is seen today as one of the cornerstones of the identity of France – many French view the burkini swimming costume as not only incompatible with Western liberal values, but as a defiant expression of Islam and I’m referring to an ideology. They view the burkini in the same light as the niqab, which is banned here. And therein lies the real problem, the larger and pernicious issue that rattles the French and makes them not only fearful, but jittery and on high alert. (If past events haven’t been horrible enough, we’ve been told that more attacks are on the horizon.)

Islamic resurgence. Islamic reawakening. Islamic revival or fundamentalism, call it what you want. It’s the phenomenon that concerns us today – us in the West – and it entails a significant change or groundswell that engulfs the entire Muslim ummah (the global Muslim community.) The change is not of the Islamic religion, but of how Muslims view, practice, and implement the requirements of Islam as they perceive it.

For resurgent Muslims, it’s imperative that their lives be governed by the Sharia (Islamic law derived from the religious precepts of the Quran dating back to the 6th century.) How does this fit in to our modern secular democracies?

It doesn’t. Which is why the burka-niqab is banned here. Because it’s medieval and abhorrent, an affront to French values and way of life. (Many moderate, modern Muslims share this point of view.) Medieval Middle Eastern garb has no place in today’s modern, Western world.

Why is the onus on the West to ‘tolerate’ a culture that fetishizes the woman’s body?

But it’s just clothing, some people say, what’s the big deal? It’s true that prohibiting the burkini makes French authorities look like fascist fashion police, just like the hardliners in Iran or Saudi Arabia. But many people view the burkini as a symbol, or the tip, of radical Islam. And that’s unwelcome here. Best to nip it in the bud, is the majority view.  (Tuer dans loeuf, which means ‘kill it in the egg’).

Mathieu Bock-Côté, Doctor of Sociology and commentator at the Journal de Montréal and Radio-Canada wrote “L’islamisme s’approprie le corps des femmes pour marquer sa présence physique et symbolique…” The word “s’approprie” means “to take ownership”. “Islamism takes ownership of women’s bodies to mark its physical and symbolic presence.”

Plus les hommes seront éclairés, et plus ils seront libres. The more enlightened men (and women) are, the more they will be free.


French writer and philosopher, 1694-1778

four art exhibitions to see in London

William Eggleston at the National Portrait Gallery

Self-taught and never having to work for a living, Eggleston was born into a family of wealthy cotton planters in Memphis, Tennessee in 1939. He is a pioneering American photographer renowned for his vivid, poetic and mysterious images. This exhibition of 100 works surveys Eggleston’s full career from the 1960s to the present day and is the most comprehensive display of his portrait photography ever. 


Kids sitting on the bumper, idling in the backyard, hanging on to their beer bottles in the nightclub; the hippy chick and the Updike housewife, the rheumy-eyed pastor and the southern belle at 80, still swinging girlishly on her porch. Eggleston is the Thornton Wilder of the lens, his portraits a growing community of figures as familiar, almost, as the cast of Wilder’s Our Town except that their story will never be resolved.

Etel Adnan at The Serpentine Galleries


Located in Kensington Gardens, Central London, The Serpentine Galleries presents the works of painter, essayist and poet Etel Adnan, who was born in 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon. In her first solo exhibition in a UK public institution, the Serpentine shows work from across her career and including paintings, drawings, poetry, film and tapestry.


Adnan is a prolific author and politically engaged artist who addresses issues of identity, displacement and memory, working across different continents and languages. She wrote a novel about the Lebanese Civil War and a book of poems about The Arab Apocalypse. She has also addressed the more recent conflicts and aggressions in the Arab world. In her visual art, central themes range from alienation and war to poetic expression and imaginary landscapes.


David Hockney at The Royal Academy

Though Hockney’s mastery and energy are never in doubt, his show of portraits sees likeness and personality often sacrificed to surface detail.


The wild beauty of Georgia O’Keeffe at The Tate Modern

O’Keeffe’s paintings are often seen as displays of flamboyant female sexuality. But a broader reading of her art suggests that it came from the life of a new kind of woman.


The School of Life

Whenever I walk down Marchmont Street in London’s Bloomsbury district, I pass a storefront with the words The School of Life written on the window. What is that, exactly?

In their own words – Designed to give useful insights around the big themes in life, you’ll be challenged to think deeply about the issues that matter most. Provided with a space to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences with other curious, open-minded individuals, we offer a variety of programmes and services concerned with how to live wisely and well.


The School is also present in these cities – Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Istanbul, Melbourne, Paris, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Tel Aviv and Zurich. None in North America, unfortunately.

I’ve just looked at their website to see if there’s a workshop or special event that I could attend while in London. There’s a one-day intensive workshop entitled NETWORKING – EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW that looks interesting, albeit a tad expensive.

Or how about HOW TO BE CONFIDENT. No, I don’t need that. I could teach a class on how to be confident. (I’ve often been told that I’m overconfident to the point of cockiness.)


But here’s the one I’ll sign up for when I’m ready for it – HOW TO CHOOSE A PARTNER. Because it would be nice to have a mate again. Next year. Once my book project is done. Maybe towards the end of 2017. When I have more free time. Early 2018, maybe.

This class explores the key influences that affect the decisions we make about love. Placing partner choice in its cultural context, we trace our personal histories, and discover how our attachment styles determine who we’re attracted to – and who we attract. We also consider what we are looking for in a partner, the crucial steps we need to take to make our search more effective, and ways to move towards commitment – or not.


a perfect summer’s day, Sunday

The weather was so perfect today I wanted to preserve it in a bottle: hot, cobalt-blue sky, blazing sunshine, and a cool breeze blowing in from somewhere. Impossible to stay indoors!  So I met a friend in my most favorite large park in Paris.


I must really like this park because it’s on the other side of the city from where I live. I make one change on the metro, from the number one central line to the number 14 line. But the travel time to get there is worth it.


Bercy Village is located at the end of Bercy Park (metro stop Cour Saint-Émilion on the number 14 line.) Tastefully designed and spread out along a single pedestrian street, it houses an even number of shops and restaurants. It’s what I call a “feel good” place.


This is my most favorite shop. Gorgeous soaps, bath products, body creams as well as clothes, jewelry and a few home furnishings. If you’re looking for gifts – for yourself or for others – this is the place to go. It’s also beautifully air-conditioned.


Here are their signature glycerine soaps which cost 5 euros apiece. I bought a green one (Verveine which is lemon verbena). I also bought a gift box of four jasmine soaps for only 12 euros per box. The prices at Fragonard are reasonable, the quality excellent.


Towards 4 pm my friend had to leave, so we separated and I sought out a quiet, shaded place in which to sit and read my book. I spied a bench with two elderly ladies sitting at one end. “This looks nice and quiet,” I thought, “The perfect spot.” I said “Bonjour” to the ladies and asked if they’d mind if I shared the bench. “Not at all,” they replied.  So I sat at the other end and pulled out my book. But the two elderly ladies were far from quiet. They were giggling and taking selfies on their iPhone and jumping up and down to pose, first one and then the other. At one point one lady was even video-taping the other one. 

I imagined myself saying, “Hey, will you kids keep it down?! I’m trying to read a book here.”

Jeesh…old people today…they’re not like they used to be.



We learned today that the gigantic, annual, much-loved flea market of Lille will be cancelled this year. I saw the news on the TV screen this morning and stopped dead in my tracks. Then I ran to the phone to call my friends in Lille. They already knew. We’re all shattered by the news.

lille brad two

Because the Lille flea market, otherwise known as La Grande Braderie de Lille which takes place every year during the first weekend in September and welcomes between two to three million visitors, is a tradition dating back to the 12th century. I’ve been going every year for the past 5 years. I had already purchased my train tickets for this year.

The BBC says – One of Europe’s biggest flea markets, in the northern French city of Lille, has been cancelled because of security fears after recent Islamist violence.

Martine Aubry, Lille’s mayor, says – Cancelling the event has been a painful decision but there were “risks we cannot reduce”.

Juliet in Paris says – So I guess this means that the jihadists have won.


Here’s what saddens me the most – having to tell the kids why their favorite annual event has been cancelled. They, like everyone else, loved the flea market. Each year they staked out their own little spot, set up a stand and sold the wares they had collected over the year (old toys, outgrown clothes, games, books, etc.)  It was a good education. It taught them not only social skills, but how to sell, barter, make change and handle money. They also practiced their English because visitors came from all over: the U.K., Germany, Belgium, etc.

Thank goodness I’ve got archives of past flea markets, the links are below. Because who knows?  Maybe the Lille flea market will be no more. I said to my office colleagues today – we are witnessing the sad transformation of France right before our eyes.





a summery slice of life – the Atlantic coast of France

In August 2013 I went to Arcachon, a favourite seaside destination of mine. It’s located just south of Bordeaux on the Atlantic Coast. France is blessed with three marvellous coastlines: the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the English Channel.

Here’s a two-minute video of the jetty which stretches out over Arcachon Bay.  Just beyond is the island of Cap Ferret.  I can smell that fresh, ocean air and hear the gulls wheeling overhead right now. (I apologize for the amateurish video, I had just purchased that camera and was still figuring it out.)

Below is a post with photos of Arcachon and Cap Ferret, as well as a good hotel recommendation.


off with his head!

A revolution is in the air. The French are angry. And completely fed up with their politicians. Today, during the ceremony in Nice to pay homage to the 84 people mown down by Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, was booed at before and after a minute’s silence.

Démission!  Démission!” people chanted (Resignation! Resignation!)

There were also shouts of “Murderers!” as Valls and two other ministers left the seafront where an enormous crowd had gathered. Some held up placards calling for the resignation of French president, François Hollande.

Since the tragedy occurred, there has been intense debate about whether the government has done enough to respond to terrorism in this country. 

At the very end of this video below, you hear a woman yelling from her window down into the street as Valls walks by. 

Monsieur Valls…faites quelque chose ! Y’en a marre ! Nos enfants sont morts !

Mr. Valls…do something!  We’ve had enough!  Our children are dead!