Simone Veil dead at 89 years

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Feminist icon. Auschwitz survivor. Distinguished career as a magistrate. Health minister under President Mitterrand. Responsible for legalizing abortion in France in 1974. Her law became known as “la loi Veil” (the Veil law.) 

Mother of three boys and wife of Antoine Veil, former civil servant and business leader, to whom she was married 67 years. Antoine Veil passed away in 2013 at the age of 86.

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On November 26, 1974, Simone Veil delivered a speech of forty-five minutes to legalize abortion. An act of bravery at the time when the Assembly was predominantly composed of men, most of whom were hostile to the project.

Beautiful woman and role model to many. Years ago, I read her memoir simply titled, A Life. Years ago, I worked in the law firm of her youngest son. Simone Veil is arguably the one person most responsible for advancing women’s legal rights in France during the twentieth century.

Here in France, the news of her death this morning is dominating radio, TV screens and headlining newspapers. A state funeral will be held for her on Wednesday afternoon at Les Invalides. Flags will be flown at half mast.

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Born Simone Jacob in Nice in July 1927, Veil was deported first to Drancy and then Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps at 17 with her entire family. Her father and brother were last seen on a train to Lithuania and her mother, Yvonne, died in Bergen-Belsen just before that camp was liberated in 1945.

Veil and her two sisters, one of whom later died in a car crash, were among only 11 survivors of 400 Jewish children deported from her region.

She later said it was her experiences in the Nazi concentration camps that made her a firm believer in the unification of Europe.

“Sixty years later I am still haunted by the images, the odours, the cries, the humiliation, the blows and the sky filled with the smoke of the crematoriums,” Veil said in a TV interview broadcast in 2005.

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In 2010, Veil entered the Académie Française and sat in the thirteenth armchair, that of Racine, the favorite author of her father. Never had so many presidents been gathered under the dome to attend the ceremony. On her Academician sword, engraved, is her deportation number: 78651.

 

Paix à son âme.

Stephen Fry

As a youngster, I wasn’t interested at all in family history, my own or anyone else’s. Now that I’m a lot older and my parents dead, I find the subject fascinating. I wonder why that is? Mortality, I guess, as well as humanity, curiosity and, most important of all, connection.

Have you traced your family history?

Stephen Fry (born 24 August 1957) is an English comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist. In this brilliant British TV series, “Who Do You Think You Are“, we learn that his ancestry is far from English.

Take a look. There’s also an American version of this TV program.

a church, Richard Ford’s new memoir, and East West Street

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This is one of my favorite churches in London. It’s called the Parish Church of St. Luke, it’s Anglican, and it’s located on Sydney Street, just off the King’s Road. Charles Dickens married here in 1836.

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I love to sit in the adjoining garden, as well as in the café on the church porch. On my way from the Fulham Road to the King’s Road, this is the route I take while walking through Chelsea. I like looking at the different architectural styles. And the foliage. As I mentioned in another post, London is an amazingly green city.

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On the Fulham Road I popped into Daunt Books. I wanted to buy Richard Ford’s new memoir, Between Them: Remembering My Parents. It’s a gentle and tender read, a slim volume, and full of love for his mother and father. An only child, he was raised in Arkansas throughout the late 1940s and 50s. Ford has a slow, measured cadence to his writing. I wonder if growing up in the South has something to do with that.

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I had a long chat with the woman in the photo below. She works at Daunt and she gave me lots of recommendations. As we moved around the tables, she picked up books and asked if I had read them or knew the author. At one point she asked if I liked Rachel Cusk. “Yes,” I said. “I read Transit and another book she wrote about the end of her marriage, I can’t remember its title.”

“I’m the cousin of Cusk’s ex-husband,” said the Daunt bookseller.

“Oh,” I said. And then after an awkward pause I added, somewhat feebly, “Well, the book was very good.”

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And now I’ll give you a book recommendation. I purchased many books in London, but the best one of all, which I found on my own at the Eurostar terminal just minutes before boarding the train for Paris, is this: East West Street by Philippe Sands. Throughout the entire train journey and afterwards, I didn’t put it down for a second. It’s a compelling read, and masterly written.

The first few pages reminded me of that other excellent book, The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn.

the King’s Road, shopping and strolling – London, June 2017

For one year I lived at the foot of the King’s Road, called the New King’s Road, in the district of Fulham. The best bit for shopping along the King’s Road, however, runs through the posh district of Chelsea. It’s one of London’s best shopping streets.

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If you go, I suggest that you start at Sloane Square. Pop into the department store, Peter Jones, located right on the square. There’s nothing fancy or trendy about Peter Jones, but it’s well-loved by Londoners. There’s something comforting about this store, like a nice cup of tea. There’s a restaurant on the top floor and I always enjoy their kitchenware department (in the basement) and glassware department (main floor). Each time I visit, I bring something back with me to Paris. This year it was Royal Doulton mugs and matching cereal bowls.

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this collection is called Pacific Splash

Located across the road from Peter Jones is COS, part of the Swedish H&M Group. I love COS clothes; great for the office and otherwise. Clean lines, modern and functional. And here’s a tip: if you walk out the back door of COS, you’ll find yourself in a pedestrian-only area called the Duke of York Square. It’s filled with eating places, more shops, and the Saatchi Gallery of Contemporary Art.

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And here’s Reebok, located at number 37 King’s Road, where I purchased my extraordinary walking shoes last year. Thank you, thank you, Reebok! Thanks to your fabulous CLOUDRIDE DMX shoes, for which I paid only £59, I am able to walk eight hours a day in total comfort.

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the best!! you can purchase them via the internet

Conveniently located right beside this Reebok store is PRET A MANGER, an amazing fast food place. Years ago, PRET was just your average, run of the mill sandwich shop chain. And then a new CEO took over and revolutionized the brand. Today, PRET shops are scattered all over. At very reasonable prices, they serve up delicious natural food, beverages and organic coffee.

As I moved around the city, I found myself popping into the nearest PRET at different times of the day, picking up a yogurt-berry-granola bowl, a juice or coffee and a sarny (sandwich).

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This vegetarian cheese sandwich and the berry-yogurt cost me less than a fiver (five pounds). The King’s Road store has a pleasant, air-conditioned seating area downstairs where you can sit and refuel in comfort. They also do wraps, salads, and lots of other things.

Located much further down King’s Road, well, a lot further down, is Chelsea Quarter, another favorite fuel stop of mine. If you don’t want to walk, then simply jump onto the number 22 bus and get off at number 219 King’s Road. Then take the number 22 back in the other direction.

I like to sit at Chelsea Quarter’s large communal table strewn with a selection of the daily newspapers. I invariably end up talking with someone sharing the table. There are also smaller, individual tables.

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There’s a reason why I come this far down along the King’s Road. Here it is –

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I’ve only just recently discovered this shop (a smaller one is on the Marylebone High Street). What can I say, other than it’s fabulous. Design ideas galore. A home and lifestyle company, Designers Guild designs and sells fabrics, bedlinen, wall coverings, furniture, upholstery, bed and bath collections, etc. A huge selection of gorgeous sheets …

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random photos of London – June 2017

I’m back in Paris and there’s a heatwave raging. After work today, I went to three different stores looking to buy a fan. All sold out, nothing but empty shelves. I’m making do with my ROWENTA air purifier which isn’t really a fan and doesn’t diffuse cold air, but at least it moves the (hot) air around. Today’s forecast is 37°C (98.6°F) and tomorrow 36°C (96.8°F).

Here are some random photos of my London trip. You might snicker, but I enjoyed walking behind these shapely women. All you see in Paris are skinny women.

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Shaftesbury Avenue near Covent Garden. The Odeon 4-screen cinema house below has an interesting history. It used to be an important West End theater called The Saville where it staged small musicals, revues and dramatic plays. Designed in an Art Deco style, it opened in 1931. During the London Blitz of 1941 it closed temporarily due to bomb damage. And then things changed dramatically in the 1960s when Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles, leased the place and presented rock and roll shows. The venue became notorious for its Sunday night concerts and big names like Chuck Berry appeared on stage as well as Jimi Hendrix, Procol Harum, The Bee Gees, The Beatles, of course, and The Rolling Stones. In 1970, The Saville was taken over by ABC Theatres and converted to a two screen cinema house. In 2001, the building was taken over by the Odeon cinema group and is now the four screen Odeon Covent Garden cinema.

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My favorite coffee place called Monmouth Coffee Company, located at 27 Monmouth Street (behind Covent Garden). There’s another Monmouth Coffee Company that I always go to in Borough Market underneath London Bridge, but this year – because of the depraved Islamist terrorists who savagely murdered eight people in Borough Market and on the London Bridge on the night of June 3rd – I didn’t have the heart to go near the place. I just couldn’t.

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I had dinner with a friend one evening at this Monmouth Street restaurant, Wildwood Kitchen. For simple, reasonably-priced fare I recommend it.

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Every year I pop into Fopp, located at the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Earlham Street in the “Seven Dials” area, the backstreets behind Covent Garden. Here’s what TIME OUT magazine says – Three floors of new releases and back-catalogue surprises, plus good selections of books and DVDs, make this a great place for bargains. Look out for world cinema, art house masterpieces and animated. Once a small national indie chain, Fopp is now owned by HMV – although prices and stock have remained poles apart.

Recommendation: Steps away from Fopp is the fabulous flagship bookstore, FOYLES, located at 107 Charing Cross Road. A cultural institution, it relocated to the Saint Martins School of Arts building and was entirely renovated. Coffee shop and restaurant on the premises.

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To the Underground (subway) back to my hotel.

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NEXT BLOG POST – shopping on the King’s Road.

Bloomsbury and Marylebone – June 2017

Back in central London, a mere 15-minute walk from St. Pancras train station, I checked into Goodenough College which opens up their student residences to the general public through the summer period. Alternatively, and for a more expensive option, there’s the Goodenough Club for more traditional hotel accommodation. Both club and college are located on the same beautiful square (Mecklenburgh Square) beside a large leafy park.

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This student room cost me £85 per night. A full English breakfast and dinner is served in the Great Hall (in another building on the other side of the square) for as little as £3. Mere steps from the college is the beautiful Brunswick Square Gardens (photo below) and an interesting museum.

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The tree in the top photograph is one of London’s “ten great trees”. I wonder where the other nine are. It’s called a Brunswick Plane, it’s over 200 years old, and is thought to be one of the original trees planted when the square was created in the 1790s. Here it is again, isn’t it magnificent?

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I have visited (and lived in) a lot of major world cities and London beats them all for the abundance of green spaces, public parks and gardens. Directly opposite this park, and beside the Goodenough College, is the Foundling Museum. Well worth a visit.

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Once I had toured my immediate surroundings, I hopped onto the tube (the subway) at Russell Square station and headed over to one of my favorite shopping areas, Marylebone High Street. I totally agree with an old copy of TIME OUT magazine which says – Avoid the mob on Oxford Street. Marylebone Village is where the smart (and posh) shoppers shop.

I like it for its village atmosphere and selection of great shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, as I was crossing the very busy and congested Marylebone Road, a piece of grit flew into my left eye. Temporarily blinded in one eye, I staggered into a Boots Pharmacy on the Marylebone High Street and asked for some eye wash. The kindly salesperson brought me a box of OPTREX eye wash with its own little eye bath. Standing in a corner, I rinsed my eye and the grit came out. Coming out of Boots, I spied an OXFAM charity shop a few doors down. I popped in and bought myself a gorgeous (second-hand) linen jacket for £14 and a pair of houndstooth linen wide trousers for £16. I then went into The Natural Kitchen for a take-out coffee. Clutching my £5 double caffè macchiato in one hand and my OXFAM shopping bag in the other, I joined the smart set and strolled down the High Street in the sunshine.

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Looking for the perfect gift? Pop into ORTIGIA, Italian soap and fragrance company, for the most exquisite selection of perfumes, creams, soaps, candles and textiles from Sicily. The little boxes alone are worth keeping.

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Scandi design (Scandinavian) at my favorite store, Skandium, where you can find items from Marimekko (Finnish), iittala (Finnish) and Georg Jensen (Danish).

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And then I came across a store I had never seen before. Designers Guild. I walked in and swooned. Bed linens and cushions, paint colors to complement the fabrics, wallpapers, home furnishings, tableware, rugs, stationery and other design-led accessories. The shop also stocks a great range of contemporary and vintage furniture. I’ve never seen such a collection of gorgeous things stocked under one roof.

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I purchased these soft 100% linen sheets. There’s another, bigger store on the King’s Road.

MORE TO COME …

London’s east end – June 2017

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Before the Eurostar, you had to take a slow train from Paris to Calais, a slower boat across the English Channel to Dover, and an even slower train up to London. It took an entire day. The fabulous Eurostar hurtles across northern France at 300 kilometres per hour (186 mph) then slows down to enter the “Chunnel” (the Channel Tunnel) at 160 kilometres per hour (100 mph) before bursting out the other end in the south of England and then up to London. Travel time is two hours, 22 minutes.

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Riding the sleek, high-speed Eurostar is, in my opinion, the height of sophisticated travel. Arriving at London’s St. Pancras train station is always exciting. A new service from London to Bordeaux opens on July 2nd. Other Eurostar destinations are Amsterdam, Avignon, Brussels, Bruges, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Paris.

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At a staggering cost of £800 million and over a period of six years, from 2001 to 2007, St. Pancras train station was completely renovated and expanded. The end result is stunning. To be frank, it puts Paris’s Gare du Nord to shame. There are shops galore, a champagne bar and other bars, coffee shops and eateries and, of course, connections to other rail services and the London Underground. I took the Underground (the subway) to a place I’d never been before, a hotel retreat in East London called The Royal Foundation of St. Katharine. The place had been recommended to me by an office colleague. I went because of its garden and quietude.

Set in tranquil gardens in the East End, this charity-run bed-and-breakfast is a historic retreat dating from the 12th century. It’s a 3-minute walk from Limehouse station and a 30-minute walk from Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

Basic, TV-free rooms have en suite bathrooms, complimentary Wi-Fi, and tea and coffeemaking facilities.

A continental breakfast buffet is included, and there’s a bar and snack service throughout the day. Within the peaceful gardens, there’s a chapel, a lounge and a conservatory. Meeting rooms are available.

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Arriving mid-afternoon, I walked briskly round the neighborhood then returned to the hotel/retreat/conference center. “Would you like to have a drink in the garden?” the friendly receptionist asked. “That sounds like an excellent idea,” I replied. So I gathered up some reading material and carried a large G&T (gin and tonic) outside with a packet of potato chips. And there I sat, in total silence save for the chirping of birds, reading the papers and enjoying the grass under my feet until dusk. There are no televisions or computers at St. Katharine. No smoking either.

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This is the view from my bedroom window. I slept with the windows wide open and was lulled to sleep by the sound of the wind in the trees. Bliss.

Breakfast the next morning was a generous buffet spread of cheeses, cold cuts, smoked salmon, different kinds of healthy bread, cereals, yogurt, granola, fruit, juices, teas and coffee. All of the highest quality. I shared the breakfast room with a legion of Swedish teenagers, visiting for a conference.

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After breakfast I walked around and came across these gorgeous sitting rooms.

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Sunday morning I went for a walk and ended up near Canary Wharf overlooking the Thames River. Joggers and cyclists zipped past me.

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This area, called The Docklands, is very old and historic. This riverside pub called The Grapes, for example, dates from the 1720s and is on the site of a pub built in 1583. It was formerly a working-class tavern serving the dockers of the Limehouse Basin. It survived the intense bombing of the area in World War II.

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Here’s Limehouse Basin today. Real estate prices range from £375,000 to over £1,600,000. In 1865, ships and barges entered this area which used to be called Regent’s Canal Dock. And then in 1969 the docks closed and were abandoned. The redevelopment of the Isle of Dogs area started in the 1980s and the previously “no-go” zone of industrial wasteland became a desirable “go-to” location for offices, apartment complexes and visitor attractions.

In closing, here’s my personal opinion on London’s East End: away from the financial hub of Canary Wharf and the steel and glass buildings of the dockside development, most of the East End remains what it has always been: poor, immigrant-populated, gritty. Some areas I walked through were charmless and utterly unlovely (that’s polite for downright ugly.) I wouldn’t walk around here at night.

Like New York City’s Lower East Side, the East End has been home to successive waves of immigration ranging from the Huguenots (French Protestants) to Bengalis, Pakistanis, Chinese, Russian and an important Jewish community. From the late nineteenth century until the late 1970s, the East End of London was to all intents and purposes a Jewish enclave. The Jewish community came suddenly and in great waves from 1881 onwards, transforming the areas they settled in, building synagogues, setting up tailoring and cabinet making workshops, opening Yiddish theatre and Jewish schools.

Today, it seems to be the Muslim community that predominates here. There are niqab-clad women everywhere.

As much as I enjoyed my two-day retreat at The Royal Foundation of St. Katharine, I won’t return for two reasons: the area around it is unlovely, and to get there is complicated. From the subway line you have to switch to the DLR line (Docklands Light Railway). On the Monday, I checked out and moved into central London to one of my most favorite neighborhoods (Bloomsbury) and to a new hotel I hadn’t tried before.