paid public holidays and book readings at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore

Wednesday’s a paid statutory holiday (youpi !!) and so is the following Wednesday May 8th, the 30th of May, and the 10th of June.


Yes, here in France, the country that ardently defends secularism (separation of the church and state) still observes Catholic holidays: May 30th is Ascension of the Lord, June 10th is Pentecost, and August 15th is Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But who’s complaining? Nobody. You don’t see gilets jaunes storming the Champs-Elysées and clamouring the end of religious vacation days.

As for me, I’ve opened a bottle of Saumur-Champigny and plan to stay up late watching a Swedish thriller on Netflix, knowing I can sleep in tomorrow morning.

There are book readings at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in the Latin Quarter: Tommy Orange will be reading from his best-selling book, There There, on May 29th. This ‘stunning debut novel’ was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize 2019. The place will be packed solid.

An intriguing new novel called Walking on the Ceiling is out. The author, Ayşegül Savaş, will be reading and speaking on May 28th. “A mesmerizing novel set in Paris and a changing Istanbul, about a young Turkish woman grappling with her past – her country’s and her own.”

And many more events. See the links below.

Art as an antidote to crass

I don’t know about you, but I need (and sometimes crave) Art. I see it as an antidote to all that is coarse and vulgar in this world. I mean, imagine a world without art. It might resemble the inside of Donald Trump’s head: hollow, amoral, meaningless. And how fitting to compare an Art-less world to Trump’s cerebrum, because since 2017 he’s been threatening to cut funding to the National Endowment of the Arts, Humanities and a half dozen other beloved institutions relating to music, literature, theater, dance, public radio, and the like.

But getting back to Art, a far more illuminating subject than the inside of DT’s head. As I sat at my desk yesterday reading my favorite on-line newspaper, The Guardian, I saw this image and it took my breath away. It’s the most beautiful Ophelia I’ve ever seen … and it’s a photograph! (Julia Fullerton Batten)


The original is in London’s Tate Gallery, of course, which reminds me that the next time I visit that fine city, I must pop in and revisit her. I remember seeing her for the first time when I was a teenager. In front of the large painting I stood enchanted, gazing at it for a long time.

Ophelia 1851-2 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Here’s the original above, painted by John Everett Millais (1829 – 1896). The depicted scene is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vii, in which Ophelia, driven out of her mind when her father is murdered by her lover Hamlet, falls into a stream and drowns. The flowers she holds are symbolic: the poppy signifies death, daisies innocence, and pansies thoughts.

Millais’s model was a young woman aged nineteen called Elizabeth Siddall. She was discovered by his friend, Walter Deverell, working in a hat shop. She later married one of Millais’s friends, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in 1860. To get the full story on Ophelia and to see these images in a larger format, click on the links below –

fuck Facebook

I’ve never had a Facebook account, and I wonder how people who haven’t yet cancelled theirs can still affiliate themselves with such a loathsome and immoral organization. Because it’s just been one scandal after the next. The video below went viral last week when award-winning British investigative journalist, Carole Cadwalladr, gave a 15-minute TED Talk just a few weeks ago. Carole Cadwalladr rose to international prominence in 2018 when she exposed the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

She delivered the talk directly to the people she described as “the Gods of Silicon Valley”: Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey as well as the founders of Facebook and Google – who were sponsoring the conference – and the co-founder of Twitter – who was speaking at it. The speech was applauded. Some of the “tech giants” complained about “factual inaccuracies”, but when invited to specify they did not respond.

In her TED Talk, Cadwalladr explains the direct link between Brexit and the nomination of Trump. Same people, same slimy tactics. On a personal note, I am directly affected by the outcome of Brexit (along with a million other people.) The idea that it was manipulated by corrupt, self-serving, millionaire gangsters and paid for with dark and dirty money makes me see RED.

Watch the video because the subject matter is not just about Brexit, but about disinformation and the dishonest practices of the Facebook people. You know, Facebook isn’t a faceless corporate behemoth, it’s a bunch of people, up until now not held accountable for their actions.

I don’t use Google anymore, I use Qwant, a European rival search engine that allegedly respects your data and doesn’t use cookies crap to profit from you (like parasites) with advertising.

Update, April 24: Facebook is expected to be fined up to $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations. The penalty would be a record by the agency against a technology company and a sign that the United States was willing to punish big tech companies.

Facebook’s role in Brexit — and the threat to democracy



today, at precisely 6:50 pm, bells rang out across the country

Rouen. Strasbourg. Bordeaux. Versailles. Dijon. Marseille. Toulouse. Amiens, to name a few. All across the nation and in solidarity with their wounded sister in Paris, the majestic cathedrals of France rang their bells simultaneously at precisely 6:50 pm, the time that fire broke out on Monday. What a beautiful idea.



Filmed a few years ago and featuring a dishy Englishman, here’s an interesting 10-minute guided tour inside Notre-Dame cathedral.


the burning of Notre-Dame


good pic notre dame burning

AFP-Getty Images

One thing I’ve always liked about the French is their discretion vis-à-vis their (Catholic) faith. I appreciate this because religion is a deeply personal matter and should, in my opinion, remain private and unobtrusive in the public sphere.

But this morning at the office you could feel the raw emotion and désarroi in the air. Many of my French Catholic colleagues were visibly very upset. Clusters of them gathered in corners and around espresso machines to speak of last night’s tragedy, quietly at first and then louder. Not a Catholic, I respectfully stayed at my desk and did not encroach on their space. But I listened (the office is open plan.) Here’s what I heard (translated):

But I was there, just the day before at the same hour! I had gone to evening Mass with my mother to celebrate Palm Sunday.

Were you shaken? Mais, évidemment, c’est une catastrophe !

I watched the spire fall, and it was as if an arrow had pierced my heart.

I was coming out of the boulangerie at around 6:50 pm and I saw smoke at the end of the street. I stood paralyzed with shock. Notre Dame is in my parish, you know.

Well, I don’t believe for a second it was accidental. During the week of Easter? No, it’s too coincidental. Notre Dame? It’s a symbol of France and of Christianity. One minute it’s there, and then – poof ! – tout en flammes (up in flames.)

What are you saying, that it was a conspiracy? Yes, I think it was the Freemasons.

Have you read Naomi Klein’s book, La Stratégie du Choc? (The Shock Doctrine). She writes about conspiracies.

Who’s Naomi Klein? She’s an American author. (“No she isn’t, she’s Canadian!” I wanted to shout. But I kept my mouth shut.)

Mais c’est Victor Hugo qui l’a sauvé avec son roman! (But it was Victor Hugo who saved the cathedral with his novel!)


Later, over coffee, I asked Jean-Philippe what he meant about Victor Hugo’s novel saving Notre Dame. He explained that when Haussmann was busy transforming Paris from the mid to late 1800s, he wanted to raze Notre Dame to make room for his famous boulevards. In protestation, Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Haven’t you read the book?” J-P asked me. I replied that I hadn’t. “Well, maybe you’ve seen the musical somewhere?” he insisted. “No, I hate musicals.” I replied.

And then another of my colleagues, originally from Lebanon and of Christian faith, came in wearing his habitual suit and tie. He’s a jokester by nature, and usually keeps us laughing all day. But this morning something was different. His tie was entirely black.

Je suis en deuil.’ (I’m in mourning), he said solemnly, and no one laughed.

As for me, I was sitting in a pizzeria last night while sirens wailed across the city. “I wonder what’s going on?” I said to my two friends. We were completely unaware of the catastrophe unfolding a mere mile away. We had earlier gone to an exhibition at the Grand Palais called La Lune (The Moon.) A disappointment.

IF YOU WISH TO MAKE A DONATION TO REBUILD NOTRE-DAME, the website is below. It is a government site from the Ministry of Culture as well as the Center of National Monuments. In the space of 24 hours, France has already received 750 million Euros in donations.

fire two

Notre-Dame stained glass intact after the fire


Rome, anyone?

To roam in Rome

In anticipation of my trip to Rome next month, I’m starting to compile lists and addresses of ‘best pizza in Rome’, ‘best gelato and pastries’, ‘best markets, museums’, etc. (The last time I was in Rome was about 15 years ago.) And then I stumbled across this New York Times travel vid and thought it was pretty cool. See for yourself!

Here’s another one, more pedantic, but beautifully filmed –

city noises of Lille

SUNDAY – I slept until 10 this morning. Earlier, around 6 am, I was awakened by a chattering congregation of birds, predominant amongst them a cooing sound. ‘Doves?’ I remember thinking before falling asleep again. What kind of bird, other than a dove, makes a cooing sound?

The sound of church bells awakened me again at 10 am. 

In my Paris apartment all I hear are scooters, motorcycles, drunkards, people talking loudly on their cell phones, people sitting in their cars talking through amplified speaker systems (my apartment overlooks a dusty noisy street.)

My nerves are frazzled, and I constantly crave quiet. At the office I work in an open space, a noisy one. I don’t know whose idea it was to place the Legal Department in the middle of the Sales Department, but that’s where I am.

This morning in Lille I walked the 20 minutes to the large Sunday market called Wazemmes. It’s a huge outdoor market, principally Arab. “Can I take Soso with me?” I asked his mother. “No,” she replied, “Too many people.” And she’s right. If you don’t like crowds, you should avoid Wazemmes on a Sunday morning. But I like it because there are bargains to be had, and it’s lively and convivial. I bought a large bottle of orange flower water for 1 euro (in Paris it costs 7 euros), a bunch of socks made from bamboo fiber, two boxes of Turkish Delight, and some pastries.

“How was it?” my friends asked when I returned to the apartment. “Like taking a trip to Morocco.” I said.

Just before leaving to catch my 5 pm train back to Paris, I was sitting on the bed in one of the children’s bedrooms. Soso was standing in front of the mirror making faces at himself. “I”m leaving now,” I said to him, “The next time I see you, you’ll be seven years old.” After a pause, I added, “You’ll never be six ever again.”

He thought about this for a few seconds, then said – “I’ll miss being six.”

His idol of the moment is Kamil Majestic, child rap singer and winner of The Voice Kids.