Salman Rushdie

Years ago, I attended a reading at the University of Toronto. The reader was Mr. Rushdie whose publicist had organized a literary event for his new book. Afterwards, I bought a copy of the book and he signed it. I didn’t notice if there was security detail (or not.)

In 2015, twenty-six years after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa upon Rushdie’s head for alleged blasphemy in The Satanic Verses – (imagine calling for the execution of a novelist!) – Rushdie said this to the French newspaper, L’Express: “We are living in the darkest time I have ever known.”

France’s nightmare year of 2015 needs to be put into context, because the subjects of blasphemy and the French terrorist attacks are linked –

On January 7, 2015, a dozen staff members of Charlie Hebdo were murdered by two terrorists in their offices. Armed with assault rifles, the Islamist militants burst into the magazine’s Paris offices and shot their victims in cold blood as they sat around a large table during their weekly staff meeting. Over the following 48 hours, six more people were killed in attacks in and around Paris. The terrorists were a pair of radicalized French-Algerian brothers who pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, across town, Amedy Coulibaly killed a police officer before murdering four Jewish hostages in a kosher supermarket. He pledged allegiance to ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIS.)

Ten months later, in November 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place in Paris on the evening of November 13th. 130 innocent civilians were killed and more than 350 were injured by nine Islamic extremists. Calling the attacks “an act of war”, the then President Hollande declared three days of national mourning and a state of emergency for all of France.

Dark days, indeed, but that’s not exactly what Rushdie was referring to when he said “We are living in the darkest time I have ever known.”

Cancel culture?

America’s literary group, PEN, had decided, months earlier, to honor the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, with an award after the murder of a dozen of its staff members.

But 145 writers opposed the free speech award – Joyce Carol Oates, Lorrie Moore, Michael Cunningham, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Peter Carey and Junot Díaz among them. In their letter, they accused the French satirical magazine of mocking a “section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized”.

To this day, and for a number of reasons, that declaration deeply shocks me. Firstly, the illustrators of Charlie Hebdo were inclusive and all-embracing in their satirization: they satirized the Catholic church and the Pope too (just like Monty Python satirized Jesus and the Bible in their movie, Life of Brian.) No one from the Vatican ordered a decree to have John Cleese and his team executed. Secondly, the issue isn’t about “differing” views, it’s about mass murder: people getting shot and killed by radical Islamists because they drew pictures. And, thirdly, rather than express horror/outrage over the issuance of a fatwa towards an author who wrote an allegedly blasphemous dream sequence in a fictional novel, these privileged, pampered, protected authors – none of who lives in France and who, I’m sure of it, didn’t even know of the existence of Charlie Hebdo before the killings – went on to say that for certain segments of French society – “a population shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage of devout Muslims” – Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the prophet “must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering”.

Further humiliation and suffering? Embattled and victimized? If anyone causes suffering to the million migrants/refugees/asylum seekers desperate to come to Europe (often in extremely perilous conditions), it’s the governmental-religious-cultural practices of the dysfunctional countries they left behind (or are wishing to escape.) Furthermore, if France is such a terrible place to live for certain groups, why do they clamor to come here? When members of the “colonial” population go home during summer vacation (those who can) – laden with gifts, flaunting their “French privilege”, and happy to return to France at the end of vacation, coveted resident cards in hand – one could hardly call that suffering, embattled or victimized.

What is “French privilege”? Important things they didn’t have (and would never have) back in their homelands. Subsidized housing where a large 3-bedroom apartment costs them only 300 euros a month. Free healthcare. Generous family benefits (as of April 1st, 2022, a baby bonus of 965,34 euros is accorded (awarded?) to every new mother just for having a baby. I’m not aware of such a benefit existing in Sudan, Libya, etc.) If they work, 16 weeks maternity leave, increased to 26 weeks if it’s the third child. Civil liberties. Human rights. Freedom of speech, sexual orientation and religion where death is not mandatory in cases of blasphemy. Where forced marriages, forced FGM (female genital mutilation) and honor killings are outlawed. And so much more.

More than 25,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year (2022), government figures show. In small boats. (The Guardian, August 2022)

One in three migrants in the world relocate to Europe. That’s a staggering statistic considering there were more than 250 million migrants globally in 2017. But it also highlights the desire of millions of people for a higher quality of life – in pursuit of better education, jobs, healthcare, or simply a safer place to live. (

France remains one of the most generous countries in the world committed to social benefits, with almost a third of French GDP spent on social services. I know this because I pay high taxes and contribute (and benefit) from those services.

And yet those 145 authors signed a letter of protest and chose to boycott the PEN gala. If anyone needs to be boycotted, it’s those authors.

Rushdie responded in this way: “This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organized, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.” What he saw was the weakening of the very Western values—the ferocious commitment to free thought and free speech—that had saved his life.

Rushdie, an Indian Muslim, was born into a secular Muslim household, and grew up open-minded, immersed in books.

“If the attacks against Satanic Verses had taken place in 2015 rather than 1989,” Rushdie said to L’Express, “those writers would not have defended me. I would have been accused of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.”

That’s a chilling statement. Cancel culture. A form of boycott.

France abolished the offence of blasphemy in 1791. Canada ended its blasphemy law in 2018. Blasphemy and blasphemous libel were formally abolished in England and Wales in 2008 and Scotland in 2021. In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the New York State blasphemy law was an unconstitutional restraint on freedom of speech. The court stated “It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures.”

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO JEALOUSY GUARD OUR COMMITMENT TO FREE SPEECH? Because if we don’t, the people you see in this photo and in the opening scene of the documentary film below will win.

Photo by Mohsen Shandiz/Sygma via Getty Images

A new DW documentary that came out ten days ago after Rushdie was stabbed multiple times on stage at a literary event in western New York  –


London, part two

London is lush with foliage. These photos were taken behind the British Museum in Bloomsbury.

The best way to see London, someone said, is from the top of a bus … a double-decker bus! So I took the number 14 bus from Russell Square to the V&A (Victoria & Albert) museum in South Kensington.

Afterwards (it was a blistering hot day), I took another bus to Sloane Square where I sought refuge from the heat in Peter Jones department store. My plan was to walk down the King’s Road and visit my favorite shops, but it was too hot. So I hopped onto the tube and headed back to Bloomsbury, stopping off at a health food store for a Fatigue Fighter pressed juice and some red licorice. The heat saps me of all energy.

I’ll tell you what I miss about living in an Anglophone country, be it the U.K., the U.S.A., Canada, New Zealand or Australia: chatting with strangers. In the street, in shops, at a bus stop, in a coffee shop. Parisians don’t engage easily. Oh, sure, they might exchange a few words with you for a minute or two before quickly scurrying away, as if chatting with a stranger was something eccentric. Whereas Anglophones are friendly and easygoing. I remember I once had a fascinating conversation with a fascinating woman on a New York bus. In London, during this trip, I struck up a conversation with a friendly woman in a clothing store called Toast. We ended up discussing the merits of home-made jam; I’m not sure how we arrived at that topic, but there you have it.

Evenings, I met up with friends for dinner. Thai food one night, Indian another night.

And then I moved across town to another hotel in Notting Hill. It has a lush and gorgeous garden and the neighborhood is fab. Early mornings, I sat at this table below with a mug of coffee before going in for a full English breakfast. It was heaven to sit surrounded by nature while listening to the birdsong.

The hotel is a stone’s throw from the famous Portobello Road street market (antiques, bric-a-brac and vintage clothing.) But I thought there was a lot of “tat” (British for cheap, tacky stuff), so I continued onwards to Westbourne Grove which is a street filled with stylish stores, coffee shops and restaurants.

On the Thursday there was torrential rain and several of the tube (metro) lines were flooded. I waited all afternoon in the hotel lobby for a friend who was trying to get to my hotel from North London. But she couldn’t make it (because of the flooding), and we never did meet up. Oh well, another reason to return to London.

I highly recommend this hotel and will definitely return. A full English breakfast is included in the price of the room.

London: hot, expensive and still fabulous

Amid a national rail strike in England and consequent delays and cancellations of the Eurostar, my train miraculously left on time and arrived on time at London’s magnificent St. Pancras International railway station. I love arriving at St. Pancras where descending from the high-speed train that transported me there, I sally forth into the great heaving historical city of London.

A week is never enough, ten days would be perfect, but I managed to do most of the things on my To Do list. This included walking. A lot of walking which was difficult on the first two days because of the unexpected heatwave. 35°C it was, with glaring sunshine, unrelenting heat and no breeze. Monday was cooler, and became cooler still as the week progressed.

I choose to stay in Bloomsbury for three reasons: it’s within walking distance from St. Pancras, it’s very central, and it’s a fab neighborhood filled with great shops, restaurants, leafy squares, parks, the British Museum and splendid architecture.

Lamb’s Conduit Street is a happening place with up-to-the-minute shops and eating-drinking places:

I’d cross half of London to get myself to Gail’s. Fortunately, I don’t have to because there are Gail’s dotted around the city. I went here for my cheddar-chive scone and morning coffee. £6.30 it cost me. London was always expensive, but since Covid and Brexit it’s become even more so.

MORE TO COME, stay tuned for Part 2.

off to London

Fingers crossed that my Eurostar train won’t be affected by the current rail strikes in England.

I love London. In fact, I’ve loved London my whole life (and have lived and worked there on two separate occasions.) I often wonder how my life would be different had I chosen to settle there instead of here. For sure, London is HUGE, and far more expensive. Because of its size (population 9,541,000, wow!!), compared to puny Paris (2.14 million), it seems more international and multi-ethnic. Had I decided to settle in London instead of Paris, I guess I wouldn’t be the bilingual woman I am today. And I wouldn’t have experienced all my ‘French adventures’, but English ones instead. Somehow ‘English adventures’ don’t sound as titillating as ‘French adventures’.

Having said that, it’s a fantastic city to visit. From Paris, the high-speed Eurostar gets you there in two hours and 17 minutes (35 of those minutes are in a tunnel which runs beneath the English Channel and connects northern France to southern England.)

Arriving at St. Pancras station, London.

As I said, I’ve loved London my whole life (my parents were English, and I’ve been going there since I was a child.)

London enthralled me. I felt as though I were standing at the intersection of great history, great literature and the great modern English language, a long line of writers, playwrights and poets stretching behind. I registered with a secretarial agency, and within a week was sent out on temporary assignments. Each mission presented new boroughs and districts, all different and thrillingly diverse. I worked in a literary agency in Clerkenwell, a college in the middle of Regent’s Park, an insurance company in Covent Garden, and an investment bank in The City. I loved the freedom and flexibility of temping. I found the English lovely and considerate, their customs quaint and charming, like the office tea lady who, twice a day, came round pushing a trolley with cakes, biscuits, currant buns, and a large urn filled with tea. The happiest sounds of the day were the clinking of chinaware and the rattle of metal wheels as the tea lady rolled the cart out the lift and down the corridor. It was our signal to stretch our legs and gather round for a chat and a mug of tea.

Sugar, luv? Nah, you’re sweet enough.

London was an odyssey, a string of euphoric discoveries, and I was a happy explorer, my curiosity insatiable. A map lover, I’d study the sprawl of the Underground, the vast train network that snakes beneath the nation’s capital. There are eleven multicolored lines, and some of the stations read like fictional destinations in a storybook: Maida Vale, Angel, Parsons Green, Piccadilly Circus, St John’s Wood, Seven Sisters, Shepherd’s Bush, Swiss Cottage, Tooting Bec, White City. To me, London was more than a geographical destination; it was the backdrop to my favorite children’s fantasy novels.

Long ago, while strolling down the Bayswater Road with my mother, we passed a stretch of Victorian terraced houses that overlooked Kensington Gardens. I was seven or eight.

“Look,” she said, stopping on the pavement, “One of these is the Darling house.”

Rapt and rooted to the sidewalk, I looked upwards towards the top-floor windows, trying to imagine which one Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and the pajama-clad Wendy, John and Michael had flown out of, on their way to Neverland. “Second star to the right, and straight on ′til morning.”

Oliver Twist. One Hundred and One Dalmations. A Bear called Paddington. Madeline in London. A Little Princess. They were all there, my imaginary childhood friends, roving the streets and squares, prancing in the parks and flying over rooftops. As for Mary Poppins, did Cherry Tree Lane really exist? Years later I looked it up in my A-Z street atlas, but couldn’t see it (which doesn’t mean it isn’t there.)

An excerpt from my memoir, An Accidental Parisian. Copyrighted material.

For those new to this blog, go up to the top and click on LONDON to read a collection of my previous posts on that city.


Simone de Beauvoir

Below is a rare television video of de Beauvoir being interviewed by journalist, Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber.

de Beauvoir died of pneumonia in 1986 at the age of 78. (Her full name was Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir.) You can visit her tombstone in Montparnasse Cemetery, next to her companion and intellectual equal, Jean-Paul Sartre.


de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is considered a foundational work in the history of feminism. The work has had a profound influence, opening the way for second-wave feminism in the USA, Canada, Australia, and around the world. Future feminist authors all acknowledged their profound debt to de Beauvoir, visiting her in France and consulting with her at crucial moments. Betty Friedan, author of the 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, said that she looked to de Beauvoir for philosophical and intellectual authority. (WIKI)

FROM MY BOOK (a short excerpt)

“Growing up in Canada, I took it for granted that Europe would be as enlightened as my home country with regard to gender parity and feminist activism. I was wrong. From the outside, France appeared to be an avant-garde society, but upon closer inspection I found it to be terribly traditional and conservative. The book that I had read when I was sixteen – Simone de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking opus in modern feminist theory, The Second Sex, written in 1949 – had done nothing to modify the archaic vision of society there. Madame de Beauvoir was decades ahead of her time.”

IT BEGGARS BELIEF that in this 1975 video, de Beauvoir talks about the importance of a woman’s right to abortion (and mentions the name of Simone Veil, Minister of Health, who pushed through the abortion bill in France, also in 1975) while – leap forward 47 years – the US Supreme Court overturned Roe and ended the constitutional right to abortion. The word “regression” barely describes this bombshell.

So pour yourself a glass of wine (or coffee if it’s morning) and sit back and listen to this edifying conversation.