Stephane Hessel is dead (1917 – 2013)

“To create is to resist, to resist is to create.”


Stéphane Hessel, German-born French diplomat, ambassador, writer, concentration camp survivor and former French Resistance fighter has died, aged 95.

Mr. Hessel was a huge inspiration and grandfatherly figure here in France. He was humanism personified. He was also a dissident and iconoclast. Two years ago he published a small manifesto entitled Indignez-vous!loosely translated as Time for Outrage. We all bought a copy. It sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide and inspired global protest and the Occupy Wall Street movement. At the age of 93, Hessel became a celebrity. We saw him frequently on television.

Born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1917, he was the son of a journalist and a writer. The family moved to France when Hessel was eight and he took French nationality. Refusing to adhere to the Vichy collaborationist government of Marshal Pétain, Hessel fled to London and became a member of the French resistance during World War II. After returning to France he was captured by the Gestapo and deported to Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps. At war’s end in 1948, Hessel was involved with Eleanor Roosevelt in editing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Hessel “leaves us with the invaluable heritage of fighting for universal human values and his inalienable sense of liberty.” said the mayor of Paris today.

A proud Socialist, Hessel said the aim of his political pamphlet, “Time for Outrage“, was to convince adrift or discouraged young people that they can change society for the better – even if they feel the world is controlled by entrenched and financially powerful interests. “The reasons for outrage today may be less clear than during Nazi times,” he said, “But look around and you will find them.” Among the causes for outrage he enumerated throughout his life and in his work were growing economic disparity, France’s treatment of illegal immigrants and the destruction of the natural environment.

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In a world of seemingly fewer heros, Stephane Hessel was the spirit of resistance incarnate. For every generation, but especially for young people, he was a source of inspiration and also a reference.  Tributes are pouring in for this man called an “éveilleur de consciences“, a conscience awakener.

Adieu, Monsieur Hessel. Et merci. The world is a poorer place without you.

4 p.m. on a wintry Sunday afternoon

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I usually resist the temptation to run down the street to the boulangerie at the end of my road to buy a French pastry.  Because I’m exercising something that’s called willpower. Juliet, you don’t need a pastry, my voice of conscience gently admonishes.  But I know that the boulangerie-patisserie at the end of my road is open on Sunday afternoons.  And this knowledge weakens my resolve.  And besides, this isn’t a question of need.  I want a French pastry at 4 p.m. on a dull, gray Sunday afternoon.  And why shouldn’t I have one?I’m a good girl.  I deserve it.

So out I ran, amidst gently falling snowflakes, clad in sweatpants and an old sweater, hair unkempt and no makeup (oh, the shame! Quelle honte !)  No time for lipstick.  OK, I made up for my negligence by throwing on at the last minute the woolly bonnet I bought last month in Brussels and my Montreal mink.  (Yes, all you fur haters, I unapologetically bought a long raincoat lined with mink ten years ago in Montreal when it was minus 30 degrees celsius outside.)  It has a mink-lined hood, called a capuche in French, that I particularly like.

I knew exactly what I wanted: a pistachio-flavoured mille-feuille.  I’d had one before from this place and it was divine.

“Bonjour, Madame”, I said, running into the shop as if on an urgent mission.  “Je voudrais une mille-feuille pistache, s’il vous plaît.”

“Il n’en reste plus !” she replied.

Huh?  None left?  I stood in my mink, my fluorescent pink and green running shoes, and my Tibetan hat feeling bereft.  Don’t you hate it when you’ve got your mind fixed on one thing and then you learn that it’s unavailable?? I gazed wildly at the other pastries in the display case. “Errrrr…..well, OK, I guess I’ll have a religieuse then. One chocolate and one coffee. Please.”  I was obsessed with these eclair-like cakes when studying French in Montpellier a hundred years ago.  The name means “nun” and is supposed to represent a tubby nun in a habit.

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The best accompaniment to French pastry, in my opinion, is jasmine or rose petal tea.

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Next week I’ll post a photo of a pistachio mille-feuille.

View from the top of London

The view from the top of the Shard: London panorama of sights and sounds

To mark the opening of the Shard, The Guardian newspaper has produced a 360-degree, augmented-reality panorama of London’s newest view, from the building’s public observation deck.

This is fantastic. (see link below). I particularly like the Day and Dusk features (upper right-hand corner). Use the arrows at bottom of screen.

I have lived and worked in London at different times of my life;  it’s truly a phenomenal city. Nowadays I visit London several times a year on the Eurostar, a high-speed train service connecting Paris with London (under the English Channel) in just over 2 hours.

Paris should do the same thing with a panoramic view from atop the Eiffel Tower.  Or New York from atop the Empire State Building…..the sky’s the limit!

Another great day in the Marais: photo exhibition

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It was only an afternoon but a full one. And very enjoyable. It’s still cold and gray here in Paris on Friday February the 8th. There’s a photography exhibition currently showing at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, so I jumped on the metro and got off at Saint Paul.

Here’s what’s great about France: the majority of museums and art galleries offer two admission fees – regular and reduced. The regular fee at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is 8 euros and the reduced fee is 4 euros. The French government believes that while you’re unemployed, you might as well get out and look at art. Reduced admission fees also apply to those over 60, students, large families, teachers, artists and welfare recipients. Free admission is offered to children under 8, journalists, civil servants and PWDs (Persons With Disabilities.)

There are also free days. The first Sunday of every month, for example, entry to all national museums is free. This is to encourage people to enjoy art and to cultivate their minds. The same policy applies in Great Britain. This is a marvellous example of what’s called the “democratization of culture” – to make it populist and not elitist.  But who pays in the end?  We do. Those who live, work and pay taxes in France. We all contribute to the financing of French museums (among other things) through taxes.

Joel Meyerowitz – A Retrospective 

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I love street photography. Especially from the 1960s and 70s, my two most favourite decades. I really enjoyed looking at these captivating, nostalgic images. Frozen in time. I look at the people in the photos and wonder “Where are they now?”

Here’s a brief bio of the artist: Born in 1938 in the Bronx, Joel Meyerowitz is the archetypal New Yorker, embracing the 21st-century with curiosity and empathy. It was in 1962, following his first meeting with Robert Frank, that he began to roam the streets of New York with his 35 mm camera and black and white film. A long trip to Europe marked a turning point in his career. Meyerowitz permanently adopted color in 1972. He also switched to large format photography, often using an 8×10 camera to produce photographs of places and people. This retrospective exhibition presents, for the first time, his earliest black and white photographs alongside a larger body of work in color.

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If you find yourself in this part of the Marais (the lower part), here are a few places that I can recommend, all near the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and Saint Paul metro station. La Perla is a good Mexican restaurant located on the rue du Pont Louis Philippe in the 4th arrondissement. A tad expensive, it offers a good selection of Mexican beers and a relaxed ambiance. (You’ll never get the quality and range of Mexican dishes in Europe that you do in the States.) This whole road is lined on either side with small, interesting boutiques.  It leads down to the Seine River and the bridges that cross over to the Left Bank.

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At the end of the rue du Pont Louis Philippe is this picturesque bistro called Chez Julien.  I cannot recommend it, though, because I’ve never eaten there.

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