February 19, 2017

Letter From Paris: A European in Washington

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Jan. 27,  Theresa May was the first foreign leader to visit the White House during Donald Trump’s era.  The prime minister’s red dress matched the US president’s red tie and they both seemed  determined to cheer each other for the wonderful things they were about to accomplish together.

On the eve of Brexit, it was crucial  for the British visitor to obtain US support. For Trump,  it was a chance to welcome the UK as a “privileged” partner, to stress how the latter will benefit from Brexit and become a model for Europe in freeing itself from the “Brussels consortium.”

Actually, at this point, the US is not in a position to be much help for England. It is a matter that will have to be worked out directly between the UK and the European Union (EU.)   Beyond the posturing, the British prime minister was trying to reconcile her vision of a “global England” open to the world with the protectionism policies launched by Trump.

The task for May is incredibly complex since she has made clear her intention not to sever all ties with the continent while implementing  the “hard Brexit”and also to avoid a “cliff edge” situation.  She will need all her political acumen to surmount the obstacles coming from all sides and negotiate the best deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May meets US President Donald Trump.

The “divorce” process has not even started and already dissenting opinions are being heard, even in her own camp.  On Jan. 3, Sir Ivan Rogers, the permanent British representative to the EU,  resigned after sending warning signals, and was immediately replaced  by “euro-skeptic” Tim Barrow, former ambassador to Moscow.  On Jan. 11, the Minister of Immigration, Robert Goodwill, proposed to impose a tax of 1,000 British pounds on EU workers. The business circles protested and the government backed down.  Andrea Leadson, Minister of Agriculture,  had to reassure farmers that the hiring of seasonal labor would not come to a stop.  Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer disagreed  with the minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson and proposed a departure “a la carte” from Europe. 

On Jan. 24, the British High Court voted by eight to three to route the Brexit process through parliament.  This decision created another hurdle for the prime minister. The House of Commons passed the text overwhelmingly.  The House of Lords will be next.    

The worst enemy of the UK in the Brexit process is the timetable.  Once triggered, Article 50 of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon will take two years to be implemented and, of course, will have to be approved by all the EU members.  After that, it will take five or possibly 10 years for Britain to be legally able to conclude free trade bilateral agreements with other countries.

On Jan. 17, May gave a major speech at Lancaster House in which she spelled out the main points of her program.  This was followed a few days later by the publication of a White Paper containing a road map.  Control of immigration is a central preoccupation for the UK government.  It is understandable,  given the fact that that, from 2015 to 2016, 650,000 immigrants entered the country  (including 284,000 coming from the EU).  Britain had opted out long ago of the Schengen Zone, which allows for free circulation of goods, people, services and capital .

Right now Britain is a member of the European Customs Union and of the European single market. * Being a member of a single market like the EU, created by the 1957 founding treaty of Rome, comes with many constraints such as the harmonization of regulations, compliance with certain standards and the required contributions to the EU budget (Britain has already  committed 40 billion euros for the period 2016-2020.)  The European Court of Justice (based in Luxembourg) enforces those regulations and this explains May’s particular dislike for that institution.

In case of the departure of Britain from the EU,  there are alternatives to its present trade arrangements such as the ones used by  Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, which are not part of the European Customs Union.  Three of them are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which puts them close to the single market. Another example is Turkey, which is not part of the EU single market, but benefits from a special free trade agreement with Europe.  After her visit to Washington, May met with President Erdogan in Ankara to discuss these matters as well as a post-Brexit trade and military partnership.

One  of the most contentious issues of the Brexit is the future of The City.  For 30 years, it has been the financial hub of activities for the huge European market of 500 million people.  By leaving the single market, The City will lose its  “European passport”  and its say over the new regulations issued by Brussels every year.

Guy Verhofstadt, called “Mr. Brexit” at the European parliament, denounced the “illusion that it is possible to leave the EU while retaining its advantages.”

Michel Barnier has been appointed by Jean Claude Yunker, president of the European Commission, to head the negotiations with Britain.  This was a good choice.  Barnier is a man of consensus, experienced and pragmatic, according to The Telegraph.   Economist by training, he has held several posts as European Commissioner of various departments including finance, banking and defense. Interestingly, it was Barnier who supported the adhesion of Britain into Europe in 1972.

*for more on Cameron’s negotiations with the EU, which led to the June 23 referendum, see Logan’s article published by VNN on March 5, 2016.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: How France Copes With Ongoing Terrorism Threat

Nicole Prévost Logan

Two years after the “Je suis Charlie” massacre, how does it feel to be in France today with the threat of terrorism?  

Numbers seem to speak for themselves: France, which is the most visited European country, saw a decrease last year of almost 50 percent in the number of tourists visiting – from 84 million to 42 million – while website commentaries lament empty hotels, restaurants and museums.

This observation is not quite accurate and, besides, does not take into account the complexity of the situation. In the first place, France has not become a dangerous war zone and people here still enjoy themselves: restaurants are full at lunch time, the new Paris Philarmonie orchestra is booked solid for months and there are more fantastic art exhibits – such as the Shchukin collection – than ever.

For the French, the threat of terrorism is not measured primarily by the dollar amount lost through a decrease in mass tourism (which is not the country’s vocation in any case.) There are many other serious considerations relating to the effects of terrorism on French politics and society, or the measures taken by authorities to protect the citizens.    

The cover of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ two years after the horrific attack on the magazine’s office in Paris.

In recent years, the French have been deeply marked by terrorist attacks with 237 people killed between January 2015 and July 2016. These range tragically from the murder of cartoonists; the bombing of the Bataclan night club, several bistros and restaurants; a truck plowing through the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Bastille Day; to the gory assassination of 85-year-old  father Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit on the altar of his small Normandie church in front of two elderly nuns.

The impact on France’s national consciousness of the November 2015 terrorist attacks was enormous. As the two chambers of the parliament met in a joint session in Versailles, every single deputy stood up and sang the national anthem, La Marseillaise, a solemn event not seen since 1918.

François Hollande has been literally traumatized by the terrorist bombings. The president was immediately on the scenes of the attacks, even before the areas were made secure. For him, the defense against terrorism was a brutal awakening and a priority. The political price he had to pay was very high.

Under the intense pressure of the moment, he proposed a law on the déchéance de la nationalité (loss of nationality) for terrorists. This proposal caused havoc among the leftist segment of the French population. The president never recovered politically. Recently, when he announced his decision not to run again for another five years, Hollande declared, “I was wrong to make that proposal”.

The terrorist threat has become part of French people’s daily life. Alain Bauer, a professor of criminology, recently published a book titled, “How to Live in the Terrorist Era,” in which he gives practical advice on what to do in case of attack. Defense against terrorism is a major topic for the candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. .

France has come a long way since the affaire Merah in March 2012. The young Mohammed Merah had appeared all smiles on TV screens after killing seven civilians and military in the Toulouse area. At first believed to have acted as a “lone wolf,” he  turned out to be part of a whole network of siblings, relatives and friends. During the past five years, the French authorities – Intelligence, police,  judiciary and military both inside France and abroad – have made spectacular efforts to adjust to the terrorist threat, which is changing its modus operandi almost daily. 

Today the police wear bulletproof vests, carry attack weapons, and not only have the right, but also the duty, to intervene in the case of a terrorist threat.  The Direction Générale de Securiéte Interieure or DGSI (equivalent to the FBI) has stepped up its action, thwarting  90 percent of bombing attempts every year. In the past few months, it has dismantled sleeping terrorist cells in Marseille and Strasbourg.

France is the European country with the largest Moslem population. The latter is overwhelmingly considered to have nothing to do with radical Islam.  However, subjects which used to be taboo before, such as the relationship between extremism and religion, are now openly debated. Recent books also contribute to the change in thinking.

Gilles Kepel, an authority on the Arab world and Islam, demonstrates in his book, La Fracture, (‘The Divide’) that the only way to understand extreme Islamists is to analyze in depth their ideology. One should make an effort to understand  their strategy, which is to divide society, by teaching from a very young age, hatred against non-believers and the West, through brainwashing and conversion of an increasing number of people in both mosques and also in prisons. Keppel writes, “Prisons have become the ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration or French elite school ) for Jihadists.” 

In the fall, journalist David Thomson  published “Les Revenants” (those who returned) about the young men – and women – who joined ISIS or Islamist State in 2012 at the outset of the Syrian civil war. They would announce their plans openly on You Tube  and traveled freely through Turkey toward their final destination of Rakka. In 2013 -14 their number grew exponentially. With the loss of territory in The Levant , ISIS has changed its strategy and many of the “revenants” have gone underground and become “Jihadists of the keyboard,” to use Thomson’s expression.

Is it the end of the tunnel ? Probably not and the threat remains, the experts concur. We can be thankful, however, that the Intelligence services and police have become more successful in cracking down on radical Islam.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Extraordinary ‘Shchukin Collection’ Currently on View in Paris Attracts Massive Crowds

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is the first time ever that the masterpieces of the Russian art collector Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin have traveled abroad as a collection.  Until now only separate works have been seen in the West.  In the 1979 “Paris-Moscow” major retrospective at the Pompidou Center – a huge exhibition from Soviet state museums –  there was no mention anywhere of the origin of the art works.

It was not until  2010 at the “Matisse Malevich” exhibit held at the Hermitage Amsterdam that the French canvasses were identified as follows: “Origin: Museum of Modern  Western Art, formerly from the collection of Sergei Shchukin.”  So, it is a first to see more than half of the entire collection in Paris today.  Almost unnecessary to say that the astronomical insurance cost covering such important objects could only be afforded by Bernard Arnault, the 14th richest man in the world and CEO of LVMC (Louis Vuitton and Moët and Chandon).*

The Fondation Louis Art Museum in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris where the Shchukin exhibition is currently on display.

The thrill of seeing for the first time works from well-known artists – Monet, Derain, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and others – explains why the exhibit is attracting such huge crowds, happy to be in familiar territory.  The well-organized flow of people meanders through the Frank Gehry’s whimsical structure of glass panels seemingly billowing in the wind.  At each of the four levels, one catches spectacular vistas of the Eiffel Tower and Paris with its cluster of skyscrapers in the Defense business district or the vast wooded expanse of the Bois de Boulogne.

The wealthy textile merchant Shchukin was – with his friend and rival Ivan Morozov – the most illustrious Russian art collector at the turn of the 20th century.  He went into exile in France after the 1917 revolution and died there in 1936.  His collection was nationalized  and later divided between the Pushkin museum of Fine Art in Moscow and the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and then vanished into Siberian storage.  During the Cold War, the works were returned to Moscow, but remained in boxes.  By the 1960s, they gradually reappeared.

Shchukin was an avid and methodical collector.  Following the example of his older brothers (in a family of 10), he started collecting in the 1880s.  He acquired  paintings from the leading art merchants in Paris, such as Ambroise Vollard, Durand Rueil or the Swiss  Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.  He had an exceptional ability to detect talent.  For instance, by including the constructivist Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves, 1905, he revealed how well he understood the importance of Cezanne (26 paintings) as the spiritual father of modern art.

The organizers of the exhibit reproduced the way the canvasses were hung in Shchukin’s Moscow residence in a touhe touche fashion, that is touching each other all the way to the ceiling.

‘Pink Studio’ by Henri Matisse, 1911.

He had a special relationship with Henri Matisse and became his sponsor, commissioning  many of his 57 paintings, among them La Danse, the largest (8’6″x 12’10”) and most beautiful version of which is today on view at the Hermitage.  The painting had caused a scandal at the Salon d’Automne of 1910.  The Desserte dominates one of the rooms at the Vuitton exhibit with its decorative floral shapes and fruits scattered on a rich red background of a table dropping vertically and merging with the wall. 

‘Peasants picking apples’ by Natalian Goncharova, 1911.

His acquisition of Picasso’s works (54 canvasses) is particularly interesting.  At first  he was repelled by them, particularly by the cubist period.  Stephane Guegan, French art critic and curator at Orsay, wrote, “Shchukin compared the analytic cubism of Picasso to buckets of crushed glass.”  But gradually, he grew to appreciate the brutal forms,  such as Femme tenant an eventail (woman holding a fan) 1907.  He shared with Gertrude Stein the attraction for the preparatory studies to the seminal Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 .

‘Woman with a fan’ by Pablo Picasso, 1908.

Shchukin was eager to show his works and educate the public.  He turned his residence into a museum that was open several days a week.  Among the visitors were the members of the Russian avant garde. They were  stunned by what they saw.  In less than 10 years not only the talented young Russian artists assimilated Western  art but were able to grow from it and create suprematism, neo-primitivism, cubo-futurism, etc. 

The Vuitton exhibit offers a sampling of the works by the extraordinary generation of Russian artists on the eve of World War I : Casimir Malevich, Larionov, Tatlin, Klioune, Rodchenko and the acclaimed female artists: Goncharova, Popova, Rozanova, Exter, Popova, or Udaltsova. 

Shchukin heirs did not try to receive financial compensation for the art taken away by the Soviet government.   All they wanted was to restore their grandfather’s memory,  the recognition for his genius and avoid breaking up the collection among different owners. 

One century later they may have fulfilled their wish. 

Editor’s Notes:
i)   This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

ii) *See Nicole Logan’s previous article published  on ValleyNewsNow.com, Jan. 22, 2016.
iii) ‘Icons of Modern Art – The Shchukin Collection’ is on display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is housed in a Frank Gehry building in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France through Feb. 20, 2017.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Transition Like No Other … And a French Take on Trump

Nicole Prévost Logan

We Americans are always interested in knowing what the world is thinking of us.  From my listening post in Paris, I can say that for months the Europeans have followed the US presidential elections with fascination.

With only a few days left until Jan. 20, everyone here is watching the transition between a cerebral Democrat president and a “sanguine, non- principled” Republican president-elect, to quote professor Jean Louis Bourlanges during the popular Sunday morning radio talk show Esprit Public. The four participants in the discussion – all representative of the French intellectual elite and well-versed in American affairs – describe what is happening as totally unprecedented.

President Obama is cramming his last days in office with long interviews, articles in magazines, laying out policies to regulate the environment, drilling of oil, or family planning.  Furthermore he just made two important foreign policy decisions.

On Dec. 23, the US abstained in the UN Security Council vote on the 2334 resolution instructing Israel to stop any further settlements on the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  This represents a striking change from President Obama’s position during his eight-year mandate, especially when, on Sept. 15, he approved the largest ever military assistance package of 38 billion dollars and committed the US for the unusually long period of 10 years.

The reaction here was, why now?  Why so late?  French analysts suggest that Obama wanted to get even with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his repeated snubbing.

For instance, on both official visits of the American president to Israel, “by coincidence,” the Israeli government announced the building of more settlements.  But the real slap in the face took place in March 2015 when the Israeli prime minister gave a speech to the joint session of the US Congress, short-circuiting the White House.  The abstention at the Security Council  might be a way to express remorse for the failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an effort to set a garde-fou or safeguard for the future.

On Dec. 30,  President Obama announced the expulsion of 35 Russian “diplomats” for interfering in the US elections by hacking the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.  His outrage at a foreign power for influencing a democratic process was such that he had to resort to a tool reminiscent of the Cold War.

President-Elect Donald Trump.

As to Donald Trump, the French are literally baffled by his behavior.

He is making a point of dissociating himself from Washington while anticipating his role as president in making political and economic decisions by tweets.  “Trump, Tweeter in Chief” writes Sylvie Kauffmann, in Le Monde.  She adds, “When you have room for only 140 characters, you have to be brief and forget nuances.”  Tweeting is apparently catching on as a form of communication.

Thierry Pech, CEO of think-tank Terra Nova, made the Esprit Public live audience laugh when he described former Mexican president Vicente Fox’s reaction to one of Trump’s announcements.  He sent his own tweet saying  “your f—ing wall, we are not going to pay for it.” Former French ambassador to the United States, François Bujon de l’Estang, commented that “carrying out diplomacy by tweets is like an oxymoron.”  He added, “tweets are the degré zéro or lowest level of diplomacy.”

All eyes are turned toward the US right now.  Europe, like the rest of the world, is bracing itself to see how the key players of the planet are going to manage world affairs, since the rules of the game  have changed.  Traditional diplomacy is now replaced by tweets.  Social networks are turning out to be more effective than propaganda in shaping the public opinion and hacking is widely used as a political tool.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Like UK’s Cameron, Italian PM Matteo Renzi Gambles His Future on a Referendum … and Loses

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Dec. 4, 2016, 60 percent of Italians responded “No” to the referendum question on constitutional reforms posed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. His aim was to modify the electoral laws, thus reducing the role of both the Senate and regions, and thereby enhancing his own power. This was a dangerous attempt at undoing the safeguards built into the 1948 constitution and intended to erase all traces of Mussolini’s fascist regime.

To better understand Renzi’s action, one should remember the omnipresent Italian dislike for a strong, centralized government. It was only in 1871 that the Risorgimento (meaning ‘rising again’) led to the unification of the country with Rome as its capital.

Beppe Grillo – the comedian turned populist – was quick to seize the opportunity and had his “Five Stars” party join the coalition opposing the referendum .

After the long “reign” of Silvio Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister in his 80s and the two-year-government of Mario Prodi, aged 70 and a long-time European Union (EU) economic commissioner, the Italian population must have found the arrival of 41-year-old former mayor of Florence as quite refreshing. Pleasant, laughing a lot and described as, “a young man in a hurry,” by a French diplomat, Renzi got along well with all the world leaders (too much so for my taste as he became close to President Erdogan of Turkey and supported that country’s accession into Europe.)

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.  (Photo from Press-TV.)

Renzi’s resignation may trigger political instability given the state of financial crisis in the country. Italy is one of EU’s founding members and its third largest economy, but the Italian economy is lethargic and in a state of stagnation. The public debt is 120 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, well above the level of 60 percent allowed by Brussels. In fact, Italy is called the mauvais elève (flunking student) of Europe.

After the Greek debt crisis, a number of financial mechanisms have been put in place in Brussels under the respective leaderships of Germany and France. They include a Banking Union to assure the safety of the private sector and more stringent requirements imposed on the banks under the “single rule” book.

Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank (ECB), supervises the 6,000 main European banks. In order to boost the growth of Europe, the ECB has been pouring 80 billion Euros per month into the monetary market, buying back poor quality obligations. Renzi has often been in disagreement with these new rules and refused to be tied by institutional constraints, particularly when they come from Brussels.

The specific problem with Italy is that its banks are undercapitalized and hold about 360 billion of “toxic” loans comparable to the US sub-primes in 2007-08. Several of the largest banks are on the verge of collapse. The Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) – the oldest bank in the world, founded before Christopher Columbus – is in the worst shape and on Dec. 9, the ECB forbade Renzi to ask his government for a 20-day-prolongation of a four billion Euro financial assistance package.

Renzi’s relations with Brussels have been tense and he frequently refused to go along with its policies, blocking negotiations. For instance on Nov. 11, he did not agree with the decision made by the other EU members to protect themselves from cheap imports from China.

He also deemed insufficient the funds granted Italy to cope with the flow of refugees. (that request was justified though, since 500,000 refugees have entered the country in the past two years, and 171,000 since the beginning of 2016.) He was criticized by the other EU members for “sabotaging” the Brastislava talks last September about the European response to Brexit.

Referenda can be dangerous, particularly when the initiator bets his or her future on them.  In the case of Italy, however, it might have been a good thing. The departure of Renzi will likely bring more cohesion in the EU to face the many problems ahead.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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She’s Back! Nicole Logan is Here Again With Another ‘Letter From Paris’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

We are absolutely delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan and her Letter From Paris column!  Nicole stayed longer than usual in Essex this year in order to see the outcome of the election and celebrate Thanksgiving.  She has now returned to Paris and here is her first column of the 2016-17 series.  We know this will please the many readers who have been asking about Nicole’s welfare and (perhaps even more intensely) the future of her column — it also pleases us greatly. Welcome back, Nicole!

In the Wake of Election Surprises Everywhere, Where is France’s 2016-17 ‘Saison’ Headed?

Debates, elections, referendums, reshuffling of governments- the political landscape of the European Union (EU) is shifting.  It would be a mistake however to place the events under the simplistic label of “populism,” a trend following the startling votes supporting both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  It is more accurate to describe the ongoing turbulence in the EU as a stand taken by its members toward the future of Europe.

Au revoir, Francois

Au revoir, Francois Hollande

On Dec. 1, the decision of president Francois Hollande not to run again in next May elections, caught everyone in France by surprise.  After many months of tergiversation, Hollande, with the abysmal 7.5 percent score in the polls, made the logical — but still wrenching — announcement during an unprepared TV news hour.

It was an unprecedented move in the fifth Republic, creating , a “lame duck” a la française situation for the next five months.  What a contrast with May 2012, when, on Bastille Square, I had watched the euphoria of the population when Hollande was elected!  The new president made a point of arriving by train instead of flying, like an ordinary citizen.  A delirious crowd was celebrating the end of eight years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s rule.

What went wrong with this “ordinary” president?

Specialists pondered over the assessment of his policies.  Many of his reforms, particularly to boost the economy like  the CICE (Credit d’Impot de Croissance et d’Emploi) or the Macron law, will survive him.   His mandate was highlighted by the signing of the Paris accords on climate change, the armed forces deployment against Islamist radicals on  the African continent, and the firm measures taken to protect the country from terrorist attacks.

But Hollande’s  political management was a disaster, commented Thierry Pech, director of the Terra Nova foundation.  Although intelligent and highly educated, the president lacked a visionary plan and the ability to give a direction to his programs.  He wanted to carry out reforms but never explained them in advance.

The battle to pass the el Khomry labor law was emblematic of his shortcomings.  His objectives were sound:- facilitate the laying off of workers, reject the rigid 35 hours per week Socialist taboo, and relax the rules concerning work on evenings and Sundays.  Unfortunately he presented the law proposal as a done deal and resorted to “49-3” or executive orders, which irritated the deputies in the National Assembly.  He frequently kowtowed to the anger of the street.  When the el Khomry law was finally voted on, it had been gutted of much of its content.  The scourge of high unemployment remained throughout  his mandate.

The campaign toward the May elections started with the primaries of the right and center parties.  Francois Fillon was catapulted into the lead of Les Republicains (LR) with 66 percent of the votes versus 23 percent for Alain Juppe who had been expected to win.  Nicolas Sarkozy , coming in third position, was eliminated.

Bienvenue, Francois Fillon

Bienvenue, Francois Fillon

Fillon, several times a minister and prime minister under Sarkozy, conducted a discreet but intensive campaign for three years, using social networks rather that the traditional media.  His program is quite conservative: reduce the number of civil servants by 500,000, decrease unemployment allowances, complement the social security benefits by increasing the share of private health insurance.  He advocates a free market economy.  In foreign policy, he has a pragmatic attitude to relations with Putin, wants a strong Europe and to control the flow of migrants.  By preempting part of the program of Marine Le Pen of the far right Front National , he may be in a good position to beat her.

Fillon’s victory represented only 40 percent of the total electorate, so there is still plenty of ground to cover. Next will come the Socialist primaries.

Emmanuel Macron, former minister of the economy in the cabinet of Manuel Valls, is running as an independent.  Only 38, he is a brilliant  young man who had had a versatile career, including one year with the Rothschild investment bank.  On Dec. 9, the boisterous gathering of 16,000 supporters marked the start of the movement he is calling, “En marche,” under which he promises to modernize the labor market in order to create jobs and eliminate the old divide between right and left.

The battle has just began.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris – No, Now It’s Essex!  A Brave, New Museum Opens in DC

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

Editor’s Note:  Our popular writer from Paris, Nicole Prevost Logan, is back in Essex, CT, for the winter.  She does not normally write for us from Essex, but this year, she is making an exception and will be continuing to contribute articles to ValleyNewsNow.com and LymeLine.com during the winter months.  Here is her inaugural column from Essex about the opening of  a very special museum in Washington DC.

The Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will take place in Washington DC this coming Saturday, Sept. 24.  The NMAAHC, the 19th and newest of the Smithsonian museums, was established by a bi-partisan Act of Congress in 2003.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, Nov. 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Barnes from http://newsdesk.si.edu/photos)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Nov. 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Barnes / Smithsonian Institution.)

The massive structure occupies a prime location next to the Washington Monument and contrasts with the 555 ft. slender obelisk.  The dark bronze-colored metal lattice that covers the ‘Corona” also stands out from the white marble classical architecture of most of the other museums standing on the National Mall.

It has been a long struggle for the supporters, such as Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), to make the project a reality.  They needed to overcome the resistance from several senators who advocated another location. The final approval  was more than a triumph — it might be considered a miracle.  It succeeded in making a strong statement as to the importance of Black history and culture in the American nation.

The lead designer was David Adjaye, son of a Ghanaian diplomat and the lead architect Philip Freehon, who died in 2009.  Founding Director Lonnie B. Bunch III is the visionary and driving force of the project.  During some of the many interviews he gave to the press and to a variety of audiences, including select ones like the Aspen institute, he explains the building process and his objective with a very contagious enthusiasm.

The NMAAHC is not intended to be a Holocaust museum, he explains . Its mission is to show the pain but also the joy and the creativity of African-Americans.  A daunting fund-raising goal of 450,000 million dollars had to be reached.

The three-tier effect of the construction incorporates elements from African culture, such as the Yoruban crowns from Nigeria.  Inside the building, high tech designs and the enormity of the space will make it possible to be versatile in organizing several exhibits simultaneously.

The collections had to be created from zero.  It required a treasure hunt into the attics, trunks and basements of the population.  To date 35,000 artifacts have been collected.  A segregated train from outside Chattanooga (TN) was lowered by crane and the museum built around it.  All traffic stopped on Constitution Ave. when an oversized truck delivered the control tower from a federal prison.

Artifacts showing the terrible fate of the slaves are very moving.  Such is an amulet created by the Lombi tribe in the form of a shackle.  More tragic still were the shackles for children.

But fun and the world of entertainment are also present in the displays , such as Louis Armstrong and his trumpet, Lena Horne or Marianne Andersen . The film archives will be essential to build up history, from Harriet Tubman to the human rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

According to Washington insiders , the opening of the new museum is the hottest event in a decade.  More than 150,000 special tickets have been distributed to dignitaries while long lines of visitors gather at the entrances of the building to purchase tickets for general admission after the opening.

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Letter From Paris: The Grand Palais in Paris to Old Lyme — CT Impressionist Exhibits Both Sides of ‘The Pond’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Talking with Jan Dilenschneider is entering a beautiful world of marshes, rushes swaying in the breeze, ponds reflecting the sky,  and clusters of trees taking on the many hues from the painter’s palette contrasting with the softness of the wild flowers.

Dilenschneider is a Darien artist who has recently been making inroads on the Paris art scene. She was one of only a very few artists to participate in the “Art Paris Art Fair” held in March 2016 at the Grand Palais and, in a switch of continents, she will have a solo exhibition at the Sill House Gallery of the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in October of this year. For an artist, whose work so closely resembles Impressionism, to exhibit her paintings in the same year both in Paris and in Old Lyme – the home of the American Impressionism –  is a remarkable and very special event.

A classic work by Jan Dilenschneider.

A classic work by Jan Dilenschneider.

For the past three years, Dilenschneider has shown her work in Paris at the upscale Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier in the Marais district, close to the Picasso Museum. I was treated to a private showing of Jan’s paintings by the gallery’s owner, who knows her well.  Then I had the pleasure of meeting Jan personally at the Grand Palais.  Thanks to the badge Challier obtained for me, I was able to enter the giant steel and glass 1900 structure through the cavernous entrance reserved for the exhibitors. 

The Paris artistic calendar is overcrowded and art professionals are scrambling to find a time slot.  The “Journal des Arts” describes the artistic events taking place in the spring as a “galaxy in fusion.”  The last weekend in March is particularly in demand.  It was therefore a real breakthrough for “Art Paris Art Fair” to be able to establish itself under the nave of the Grand Palais at that time.  The Fair has a special format — only galleries can participate, not individual artists.  This year, 143 major galleries from from 22 countries around the world showed their collections.  All media are allowed, including sculpture, design, photographs or digital art.

"Trees with broken color" by Jan Dilenschneider

“Trees with broken color #2,” oil on canvas, 36″ x 36″, by Jan Dilenschneider.

As I approached the Challier space, several potential buyers were looking at the gallery’s collection.  A striking blonde woman was standing in front of one of her paintings – an icy white and blue landscape – being interviewed by a French television team from the Canal Sat network channel “Luxe.”  It transpired the woman was Dilenschneider and after the TV crew left, she and I started chatting and did so for a long time.  I immediately liked her as a person and was attracted to her sunny personality.  Her passion for nature was contagious.

“Any work starts from the abstract, and the abstract is never far under the painting,” she explained, adding, “Each artist makes a contribution to art history.”  In one of the handsome catalogues the Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier has published relating to her exhibits, she writes, “If I were to have lunch with four artists, I would choose Wolf Kahn, Henri Matisse, Franz Kline and Michelangelo.”

In a video series named “Nec plus ultra,” produced by the “Magazine de l’art de vivre” of TV 5 Monde, Dilenschneider is shown caught in the throes of her creating process.  She paints with gusto, happily digging into the colors lying heavily on her palette.  She uses spatulas, all sizes of brushes, and even squeegees to diversify her technique.

Painting is her way of meditating, which she says she can do eight hours a day.  Even when she is not painting, she is taking photographs from trains, at airports … wherever she is, to be used in her future work.   

Dilenschneider has a remarkable way with words and writes, “I become the water, I become the trees, I become the birds and reeds — but I don’t need to tell you [that] — my paintings already do.  Living on Long Island Sound, the beauty of the world is my inspiration.”

She wants to make people enjoy the beauty of nature and is happy to use her privileged situation to make an impact.  With the help of her influential husband, whose communications counseling company is based on the 57th floor of the Chrysler building in New York City, she has created the “Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider Scholar Rescue Award in the Arts.”  This year she rescued a Syrian artist, her husband and two sons.

Although she has been painting since the age of 17, she has not exhibited her work until recently.  Thus, she has long been a hidden treasure, which now finally all can enjoy.

Editor’s Note (i): Dilenschneider’s exhibition at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts opens Friday, Oct. 7.

Editor’s Note (ii): This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Madrid and the Incredible Wealth of its Museums

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The silent crowd stands with emotion as it would in a cathedral, keeping respectfully a few feet away from “Guernica” – the huge (11 by 27 ft. ) scene painted by Pablo Picasso in 1937 after the bombings by the Nationalist forces led by General Franco of the Basque village of Guernica.

A weekend spent stomping the art collections of Madrid is mind-boggling.  Spend six hours a day and you will only have a glimpse at the Thyssen museum, the Prado, the house studio of Sorolla and the Reina Sofia modern art museum.

Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his son Heinrich had an unusual flair when they selected outstanding works of art in the 1920s and 1930s to create one of the world’s richest private collections at the Thyssen.

Some of the early masterpieces there include, “The portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni” (1480), which is a beautiful example of the work of Florence Quattrocento, showing the idealized profile of a woman. “A young man in a landscape” was painted by Vittore Carpaccio, probably from the Venetian school.  Nature is codified with each animal having a symbolic meaning related to good and evil.

In his “Jesus among the doctors” (1506), Albrecht Dürer – the most important representative of the German Renaissance – depicts the 12-year-old Jesus surrounded by a group of old men.  Some of them have been touched by grace while others have sin written all over their ugly faces, hands like claws threatening the child.   In The “Portrait of a lady” (1530?) painted by Hans Baldung Grien – the remarkable disciple of Dürer – the influence of Cranach the Elder is noticeable in the rendering of the decorative elements of the dress, necklaces and large hat with feathers of a supremely elegant model.

Flanders – or modern Belgium and Netherlands – was part of Spain in medieval times and the Prado has many Flemish paintings, which reflect the highly sophisticated culture of trading towns like Ghent or Bruges.  Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Gerard David or Hans Memling are the best representatives the 15th century “Northern Renaissance.”

Contacts were frequent between artists who traveled from the “Low Countries” of Northern Europe to Italy.  Unlike the Italians who painted with tempura and an egg base applied over a thin layer of wet plaster called “gesso,” Flemish painters used oil directly on panels of wood without knots, such as mahogany or oak.

The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

The “Garden of Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch is one of the highlights of the Prado — it is a display of amusing, bawdy or frightening details intended to give a didactic message to the population of his time.  The Flemish landscape painter Joachim Patinir (1480-525) offered panoramic views, with details at some times naturalistic, and at others, fantastic.  Instead of using linear perspective, which Florentine artists had mastered at that time, his way of showing distance was by drowning the landscape in bluish colors.

One room of the Prado is turned into a gallery of family portraits of the Spanish dynasty of the Habsburgs.  An equestrian painting by Titian of Charles V (1500-1558) at the battle of Mulhberg shows the most powerful sovereign in the world.  His kingdom went from the North Sea to the Mediterranean.  Velasquez painted many of his descendants: Philip II, Philip III, Philip IV and his son, the young prince Balthazar Carlos, riding a frisky horse.  His death, at age 17 from smallpox was a tragedy.  And there is poor Charles II, the end of the Habsburg dynasty, who was a total mental and physical disaster because of repeated consanguine marriages.

“Las Meninas”  (ladies in waiting), also by Velasquez, is one the most famous paintings ever.  It is a complex composition, which has puzzled art historians through the centuries.  At the center stands the five-year-old infanta Margareta Teresa, Philip IV’s daughter. Velasquez is looking at us and working on a huge painting, which he never painted.  The infanta’s parents are not far away and we see their reflection in a mirror.  There are two sources of light, which is quite unusual.  In 1957, inspired by the masters of the past, Picasso tackled the deconstruction of “Las Meninas,” particularly of the dog.

Velasquez (1599-1660) was the leading painter of the Spanish “Golden Age,”  during the Baroque age which lasted until 1690.  As a court painter, he had an immense influence living and working in the el-Escorial palace and was not only honored as an artist but also as the curator of the Kings’ art collections.

The love for animals is strong in Spanish painting.  Just two examples:  “Agnus Dei”, by Zurbaran (1640) showing a lamb with its  four legs garroted is probably the most heartbreaking sight in the Prado, with the animal accepting his fate.  The other one is a dog by Goya.  In an undefined brownish background of sand and sky, a dog is looking in panic at his master as he is being pulled down by quicksand.

It was not until 1840 that Spanish art began to be known in France.  The Pyrenees constituted an insurmountable barrier separating Spain from the rest of Europe.  In 1835, French King Louis Philippe sent Baron Isidore Taylor to Spain to acquire some Spanish paintings intended for the future Galerie Espagnole or Spanish Gallery at the Louvre.  After his visit to Spain in 1865, Manet said, “the scales fell off my eyes.”  The Spanish influence on Manet and Courbet is clear, especially their use of black.

Beside the works of the well-known artists like Miro, Dali or Juan Gris, the presence of Ignacio Zuloaga (1870-1945), Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923), Santiago Rossignol (1861-1931), and Ramon Casas (1866-1933) at the Reina Sofia museum attests to the importance of Spanish contemporary art.

'Guernica' by Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous paintings in the world.

‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It hangs today in the Reine Sofia Museum in Madrid.

In the attic of the old convent of Grands Augustins, near the Seine, Picasso completed  “Guernica” – probably the most important artistic statement of the 20th century against war.  The Spanish civil war from 1936 to 1939 left 500,000 dead.  Dora Maar, his companion, photographed each stage of the work , leaving a unique document on the creative process of the artist.

The composition is a frieze, powerful, fluid, easy to read and devoid of any narrative. The horse and the bull – the main actors of the bullfight about which he was so passionate – are treated like human characters.  The horse underwent many changes from deep suffering to the defiance he shows in raising his head.  The bull is aloof and protective of the population.  The dead warrior lying on the ground has the profile of Marie Therese Walter, his previous companion.  To balance the duo of bull and horse, Picasso created a screaming mother, head thrown back, with a tongue like a dagger, her dead child hanging limp from her arm.

Painted in May and June of 1937, “Guernica”  traveled the world, stayed several years at MOMA at the request of Picasso, then returned to Spain in 1981 and hangs today in the Reina Sofia museum of Madrid, never to be moved again.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Moderate, Radical Islamists in France — a Difficult Cohabitation

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Introduction 

For years the buzz word in France has been “amalgam.” On ne doit pas faire l’amalgame entre Islam modéreé et Islamisme radical. (One must not confuse moderate Islam and radical Islamism.)  After the repeated terrorist attacks in France and Belgium and with the discovery of other jihadist enclaves, it is hard to keep making that distinction.  The voice of moderate Muslims has been barely audible lately.  Until they start speaking with a stronger voice, the cohabitation within our democratic and secular society is becoming more difficult.

Belgium

Belgium was the last victim of terrorist attacks when, on March 22, 34 people died at Zaventem airport and at Malbeek metro station (close to the European Commission offices) combined.

Why Belgium?  For the past two decades, it has been a divided country between Flemish and Walloon languages and cultures.   It remained without a central government for 18 months.  How can such country produce six parliaments and six governments? asked David Van Reybrouck, a Dutch-speaking Belgian writer in Le Monde dated March 28.  The author of the article adds with irony, “… and the icing on the cake is the creation by the government of a Commission communautaire commune” (joint Commission of communities.)

It was in Molenbeek that the four and a half month-long chase of Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in the Nov. 13 Paris attack, ended.  Molenbeek is one of  the 19 Brussels municipalities — it has a population of 93,000 with 80 percent of them Muslim, 56 percent of them unemployed and 24 mosques.  After the closing of the coal mines and the steel plants in northern France in the 1980s and 1990s, many of the workers  emigrated to Belgium.  Molenbeek is a typical agglomeration of a second generation Maghreb population – more specifically of Rifains, coming from the Rif mountains of Morocco.  It constitutes almost a self-ruled community, many of whose members are related and even siblings.  No better safe haven for people running away from the law. 

Belgium has been described as the “ventre mou” (litterally the soft belly), in other words, the weak link, of Europe. Patrick Kanner, one of the French ministers made the chilling remark, “but there are tens of Molenbeeks in France “.

France on the front line

France is, in fact, on the front line of the confrontation with radical Islamism.

The weekly Le Point‘s issue of March 24 describes the long history of France’s interaction with the Arabs. It started with the 732 AD defeat of the Saracens at Poitiers by Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne. Then came The Crusades and subsequently Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt in 1798.  The French began their conquest of Algeria in 1830 and made it a part of France.  The country gained its independence after the bloody war of  1954-1962.  France established protectorates in Tunisia in 1881 and in Morocco in 1912 until 1955.  At the present time, France has become the “gendarme” across the Sahel region, ready to deploy its forces to stop extremist groups. 

Gilles Kepel, professor at Sciences Po and an authority on Islam, has  just published “Terreur dans l’Hexagone – Genèse du Dhihad Français,” in which he stresses the deep-rooted antagonism of the North African population for the former colonial power and the existence of a specific French jihadism.  Acts of terrorism in France are accomplished by individuals with French nationality. The country holds the sad record of having the highest number of jihadists in theEuropean Union who have gone to Syria. 

Eiffel-Tower-322x252Kepel, sees a correlation between politics and the spread of Islamism in France.  He remarks that, during the 2012 elections, François Hollande benefited from 93 percent of the Muslim electorate voting for him.  Kepel believes, as most other Islam scholars do, that the problem our society is facing is cultural.  He criticizes the unpreparedness of the political elites for the ongoing debate about religions.  He deplores the fact that insufficient public funds have been allocated both to research and Middle East studies.

Mohammed Sifaoui is a brillant French journalist born in Algeria, who is quite forthright in expressing his opinions.  He advocates a relentless reprisal against the preachers of violence in the 2,000 mosques and Koranic schools of France.  Sifaoui’s opinion is that we have to abandon the attitude that only the FN (Front National party) has a right to fight back against the Islamists.  Besides, he says, we should stop treating these people as victims from discrimination.

Daesch

After the fall and occupation of Fallouja in Irak in 2014, Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi became the self-appointed ruler of the Islamic State organization or Daesch. (The “ch” sound stands for “sham” meaning Levant in Arabic ) The objective of this organization is to re-create a caliphate reminiscent of the golden years of  the 661-750 AD Ommayad and 750-1258 AD Abbasid caliphates. The totalitarian organization banished the Wahhabism and any other doctrines of Islam and has broken all ties with Al-Qaeda.  Al-Baghdadi gave his founding speech at the great mosque of Mossoul, dressed in black like the Abbasids. 

Mathieu Guidère, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toulouse 2, a learned scholar in geopolitics with a PhD in the Arabic language, believes that the objective of Daesch is to build a state, anchored solidly in a territory, with the elimination of the 1916 Sykes-Picot borders.  Its aim is also to break up the cohesion of Europe.  So far, we are still only at the initial stage of “collateral terrorism,” comments Guidère. 

The riposte

Alain Bauer, professor of  applied criminology at the Conservatoire  des Arts et Metiers, former advisor to Nicolas Sarkozy and Manuel Valls on security and counter-espionage, says, “The problem is that we seem to have too much information and not enough analysis.  We still do not have the ability to connect the dots.  We have a brain and two ears and four ears will not help ” He concludes, “What we need is a return to Human Intelligence.”  Bauer and Guidère agree that there should be a European Intelligence agency but several states oppose it for fear of losing part of their sovereignty.  The creation of a PNR (personal name register) still awaits a vote.

Euro 2016 – the European soccer championship – will be held in France in June. This means, on the one hand, a great deal of excitement for millions of spectators, but on the other, an equal — or even greater amount — of nervousness for the security forces.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Immortal Chekhov Rises Again in Paris

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Chekhov will never die!

This winter four of his plays appeared on the Paris stages: two short one-act plays (“The Swan” and “The Bear”) at the Studio de la Comédie Française, “Three Sisters” at theTheatre de la Colline and “The Cherry Orchard” at the Theatre de l’Ile Saint Louis-Paul Rey. I chose the latter.

The first time I saw a play by Chekhov was at the Moscow Art Theater (MXAT) in downtown Moscow in the mid 1960s. The production and the reception by the public were electric. In those days, theater was the only possible evasion from a drab and controlled life for Soviet citizens. The audience knew by heart and relished every single line beautifully spoken by the adulated actors. Period clothes, settings and furnishing provided an authentic reconstitution of life in a run-down country estate.

What is amazing is that Anton Chekhov’s plays, written under the Tsarist regime, lasted through the Soviet era, although he depicted members of the idle bourgeoisie, about to disappear from the surface of the earth. Other playwrights were not so lucky. Some of the controversial plays – Bulgakov’s for instance – did not make it through censorship and were suddenly removed from Moscow stages.

Chekhov’s universal message explains why his plays still attract huge audiences around the world — in different languages and re-adapted by directors. His “inward-looking” realism came from a traditional line of dramatic art founded by Constantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938), one of the greatest founders of theater staging and philosophy of all times.

The_cherry_Orchard‘The Cherry Orchard,’ created at MXAT in January, 1904, was Chekhov’s last play. Six months later he died in his Yalta “white house.” Obliged to live far away from Moscow, in the warmer climate of the Crimea because of his tuberculosis, it was hard for him to give long-distance stage directions to his high-spirited wife, actress Olga Knipper.

In the play, Liubov Andreevna Ranevskaya, her daughter Ania, age 17, and adopted daughter Varia, age 30, just returned to Russia from five years spent in France. The family was crippled with debts and the creditors were forcing the sale. A retinue of servants, some of them providing a light touch of vaudeville, and penniless hangers-on, are part of the large household.

The main character is Ermolai Alekseevich Lopakhin, full of energy, ideas, and, apparently money. He is trying to convince Liubov Andreevna to sell the estate with the cherry orchard to a developer who will build small houses for vacationers. But she is not interested in money; if things do not work out, she will return to Paris and live off an inheritance. Lopakhin was a slave or “soul” owned by the Liubov’s family. This former muzhik is now rich and ambitious.

His antithesis is Petr Sergueevich Trofimov, the eternal student who lives in a world of noble ideas, philosophy and poetry. He tells Lopakhin, “Soon you will be a millionaire. Sharks are needed also.” Such archetypes exist in many countries.

The Theater of Ile St Louis is the smallest theater in Paris with only 50 seats. The full cast of 12 characters barely fitted on the tiny stage and looked like giants. The set was limited to two benches and the period clothes to the slim laced-up boots of the women. When, at the end of the play, the spectators heard the chain saw felling the cherry trees and noticed the very old servant forgotten in the locked-up house, the emotion was intense.

I went on feeling that emotion while walking along the rushing grey waters of the Seine river.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Divided Europe is Too Weak to Resist Turkish Pressure

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The European Union (EU) is going through what most consider the toughest times in its history.  The surge of migrants, not only from the Middle East but also from South East Asia and Africa, has provoked an untenable human crisis on the continent.  It is threatening the fundamental principles on which the (EU) was built.  In desperation, Europe turned to Turkey for help and became the prey of an authoritarian government whose main objective is to force its way into the EU.

More than ever Angela Merkel has become the homme fort  (the strong man) of Europe.  She is the only one among the 28 heads of state of the EU to have taken a clear stand on how to manage the migrant crisis – albeit without a well-thought-out plan.  The general opinion here is that, as a good pastor’s daughter, she has been motivated by a sense of moral duty when she opened her arms to the migrants at the end of 2015.

German Chancellor Angela merkel shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the historic agreement between the European Union and Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the historic agreement between the European Union and Turkey.

On the flip side, her methods have irked many Europeans such as her several one-on-one talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  The day before the crucial March 7 meeting in Brussels, she met Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davitoglu for a six-hour long discussion, which lasted late into the night in an hotel near the Commission.  The only officials present were Jean Claude Junker, president of the European Commission and Netherland Mark Rutte, president of the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council).

The French daily Le Monde described what happened in an article titled, “The night when Angela Merkel lost Europe.”  On the morning of March 7, diplomats and EU officials were stunned to discover the text of the pre-agreement.  None of them had been in the loop, not even Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, who had talked to every single EU leader state seeking  to create a consensual policy.

To speak in the German Chancellor’s defense, however, one should stress the pitiful lack of solidarity between the 28 EU members.  From the start the Visegrad group (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic) – a remnant from the former Iron Curtain countries – closed their borders to the migrants.  Other East European countries like Bulgaria and Rumania are also opposed to mandatory refugee quota.

The chancellor felt betrayed when, on Feb. 24,  Austria called a meeting of the Balkan states to stop the influx of migrants. Greece, the Balkan country most affected by the migrant crisis, was not invited.  Neither Brussels nor Berlin was notified.  David Cameron is too embroiled with his Brexit issue to get involved.

France has its own problems — it is still recovering from the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks, it does not want to help the right wing Front National by opening its borders too much and it is busy fighting radical Islam in five countries of the Sahel.  The “Franco-German couple” was described by some people as “moribund.”

As regional elections were approaching, Merkel made a 180 degree turn by tightening her immigration policy.  It was back to realpolitik lest public opinion forgets that she is a tough politician.

The German elections on March 13 did reflect the growing opposition to the influx of migrants.  The populist parties made substantial gains in the three Landers, both in the affluent West and in the remnant of the poorer RDA :  in Bad Wurtenberg the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) gained 15.1 percent and in Rhineland Palatinate 12.6 percent.  In Saxe-Anhalt , AfD placed second, right behind the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) with 24.3 percent of the votes.

Daniel Cohn Bendit, former “green” euro-deputy commented, “What is important is that 55-60 percent of the German population still supports Angela Merkel’s policy regrading the migrants.  Such scores would make many politicians green with envy.”

On March 18, the negotiations  between the EU and Turkey toward the final agreement looked like a haggling process with a “toxic but needed partner,” to use the words of Pierre Servent, military expert.  Immediately the text raised violent criticisms across the board.

The plan concocted by Davitoglu is complicated, requiring extremely challenging logistics to implement.  The objectives are to stop the drownings, curtail the despicable activities of the passeurs (smugglers), legalize entry into Europe of  persons entitled to asylum and send back to their countries of origin the “economic refugees.”  From now on all the migrants arriving in Greece – whether “real” refugees or not – will be shipped back to Turkey.  Then, for one Syrian refugee leaving Europe, one Syrian refugee will return to Europe through an humanitarian corridor.

Turkey will be the central player of the plan, which it will co-steer with the UN Frontex agency.  For this job Turkey expects to receive another three billion Euros.  Some commentators describe the whole process as a mass deportation. Legal experts find the plan to be a violation of human rights as written in the European constitution and in the 1949 Geneva convention on the right to asylum.

The task is herculean, commented Jean Claude Yunker.  A heavy responsibility is being placed on Greece.  Judges, translators, and up to 4,000 people will have to be hired to process the human flow.  France and Italy worry that the migrants, in order to avoid Turkey, will look for other access routes to Europe .

Turkey demanded two sets of compensation for services rendered: simplification of visa requirements for Turkish individuals traveling to Europe and acceleration of Turkey’s acceptance into the EU.  At first the European negotiators wanted these topics to be red lines not to be crossed.  They had to be satisfied with the inclusion of a few caveats in the text — 72 criteria for obtaining a visa; only one chapter open for the membership discussion and not five as Turkey wanted.)

It is to be expected that Europe will drag its feet to accommodate Turkey.  After 52 years, its position on Turkey still has not changed — it does not think Turkey belongs in Europe.

The migrant crisis has left Europe weaker, not very proud of itself and more divided than ever.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The Trump Phenomenon – a View From Europe     

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Editor’s Note:  With a pivotal day happening today in respect of the Republican Presidential Primary, we feel this latest article by our columnist from Paris is perfectly timed.  Nicole Prévost Logan lives in Essex, CT, during the warmer months and winters in Paris, France.  For these reasons, she is ideally placed to write a commentary on the ‘Trump Phenomenon’  through European eyes … but with American understanding.  She also she has a lifetime of diplomatic service behind her and we venture to suggest that she understands the complexities of foreign diplomacy significantly better than several of the current US Presidential candidates!

Public opinion in Europe continues to follow the US 2016 elections in real time.  The interest went up a notch after “Super Tuesday” — for election analysts, it is a campaign unlike any other.  They describe it as a contest between moderates and radicals rather than between Democrats and Republicans.  Donald Trump’s performance intrigues every one and is being closely scrutinized by both seasoned and brand new election-watchers.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Trump does not fit in with the traditional image of a GOP candidate.  Commentators here label him as a “national populist” combined with a vision of the American dream, i.e., you too can become rich like me.  French ambassador Bujon de l’Etang writes that Trump is not a real Republican since he advocates an interventionist government which would take such protectionist measures as taxes on imports.

Journalist Andre Bercoff, interviewed on France-Inter, described Trump’s campaign as an “Uberization” of the society — or elimination of the middle man and rejection of the Establishment and along with that, of course, Washington.

According to the French observers, Trump is a demagogue and as such, does not want to leave anyone by the side of the road.  His discourse is full of contradictions and vascillates, depending on the situation.

Just a few examples …  he wants to build a wall to stop mass immigration from the south but not at the expense of the Hispanic votes, and besides, he is now leaning toward selective immigration in order to attract brains.

Is he pro-life or not ? The answer is yes and no.

To win over the workers, he will help them by stopping the outsourcing of jobs.  He feels the middle class has not profited from the growth of the economy stating that only 1 percent of the population did.

He does not seem to have worked out a foreign policy with any resemblance of the subtlety of diplomacy.

Thus far, his black and white remarks are rather frightening.

His tax plan is a mixture of unrealistic and sound ideas.  He thinks that hedge fund managers should be taxed more and forced to repatriate the billions of dollars they have stashed away in off-shore accounts.  He declared that couples earning less than $5,000 per month should not be taxed .

How long will Donald Trump be able to keep his lead in the race ?  If he does, would he have a lasting power?   An analyst here commented that Silvio Berlusconi (the former Italian Prime Minister) – a very comparable politician – lasted eight years in power.

Trump is the mirror of the rising populist movements in many countries: Viktor Orban in Hungary, increasing populist opposition in several German ‘Landers’, 40 percent of favorable votes for the  ‘Front National’ in France,  Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and many others.  The surge of migrants is the main cause of the closing of borders within the European Union (EU).

Professor Nicole Gnesotto, Board President of the National Defense Graduate School, “It would be a catastrophic scenario if  the next presidential elections were to bring populist leaders in the US, France and Germany.”

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Cameron Obtains (Some) Concessions From Europe in Effort to Prevent ‘Brexit’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

After 30 hours of negotiations at the European Council on Feb. 18-19, British Prime Minister David Cameron could claim some measure of victory in terms of the new concessions he obtained from the European Union (EU) to make Britain’s special status even more favorable.  It is clear that he had to appear victorious in order to impress his electorate and convince Eurosceptics in his country to change their mind and vote against the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union — dubbed ‘Brexit’ — at the June 23 referendum.  Cameron is obliged to hold the referendum as part of his election platform.

As he left, Cameron declared “I do not like Brussels.”  A French analyst commented that was a strange way to convince his own people not to leave Europe.  Although the talks lasted through the night, the process was, in fact, surprisingly rapid.  There are two possible reasons for this:  Cameron believed England’s economy would lose more from a ‘Brexit’ than Europe, so he had to be flexible in his demands.  Furthermore, the British prime minister was fortunate to benefit from the presence of a Europe busy with more serious problems such as the migrant crisis or the surge of populism. 

Since 1973 — the date of its entry into the European Union under the pro-European government of then Prime Minister Edward Heath — the United Kingdom has had one foot in Europe and one foot out: it is not part of the Eurozone, nor of the Schengen space and it did not adhere most of the fundamental principles inscribed in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.  For a long time, it benefited from a special status within the EU. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron

The demands Cameron just presented to the European Council were therefore intended to reinforce that different treatment regarding social benefits for migrant workers, independence of ‘The City’ (the financial center of London) from European financial regulations, refusal of a “Supra State”  infringing upon British sovereignty, and the right to refuse further integration of the EU.

The debate over a possible ‘Brexit’ is asymetric.  For England, Europe is basically a profitable market for more than 40 percent of its exports.  For the core and early members of the EU – Germany, France, Benelux, Italy – the  arduous construction of Europe over decades since the 1950 European Steel and Coal Community (ECSC) is an ideal and has long-term objectives.

For Europe, to part with England would have dangerous consequences by creating precedents regarding the other 27 EU members’ requests.  Cameron’s suggestion to use “red cards” to give the right to national parliaments to oppose the decisions made in Brussels if they could gather 54 percent of the votes was turned down, lest it lead toward the unraveling of the European structure.

The reactions and the final comments of the main players at the negotiations were mixed.  Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, called the text of the agreement “honest.”  Donald Tusk, Head of the European Council, approved “a done deal.”  Germany’s President Angela Merkel was putting all her energy to block a Brexit, overlooking the big English deficit (larger than that of France) and departing from the harsh words she had for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the height of the Greek debt crisis.  

French President François Hollande acted as a mediator during the proceedings and also fought against the Brexit.  Cameron was taken aback by Hollande’s determination to set as a red line a right of veto by Britain over the decisions taken by the Eurozone.  England has only a “droit de regard” (a right to look), in the same way as the other 19 non-Eurozone members. 

Cameron does not want “The City” to submit itself to European regulations and lose its beneficial tax position.  The “single bookrule” of the Central European Bank (ECB) should apply to Britain without making any exception, stressed Hollande.  However, England is obtaining a “discount” on the funds it paid the ECB to help with the Eurozone crisis.  A letter, co-signed by the 200 largest British companies, warned Cameron against ‘Brexit.’  When the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced he was a partisan of “Brexit,” the English pound lost 2.4 percent against the US dollar – its lowest level since 2009.

For 20 years, from 1993 to 2013, the foreign-born population in Britain has more than doubled from 3.8 to 8.3 million.  In the London area, 39 percent of the population is of foreign origin.  A few thousand workers from Eastern Europe were expected but, in fact, 850,000 Poles arrived.  This explains why Britain is protecting itself from the recent waves of immigration . 

By a bilateral agreement signed at Le Touquet in 2003, England and France placed the border at the Gare du Nord railroad station in Paris.  This is where all the border controls take place before boarding the Eurostar train to London.  But the Le Touquet agreement did not foresee the 2015 and 2016 arrival of close to 6,000 migrants on the French side of the English Channel (called La Manche by the French) near Calais.  What if ‘Brexit’ became a reality?  Would the border move to Dover on the English coast?  That is perhaps a strong argument against ‘Brexit’! 

A frequently acrimonious attitude between England and Europe does not reflect the deep ties they share.  Many British people own houses or come for the weekend to le Touquet.  Go to a town market in a Perigord village and one is surrounded by people speaking English.  For the two million British people living on the continent, ‘Brexit’ is a very real threat. 

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: To Primary or not to Primary, That is the Question … for the French

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is an interesting time when the US has started the Primary process and the French Socialists are debating whether to hold Primaries before the 2017 presidential elections.

The French public is following with great interest the twists and turns of the American campaign and was fascinated with the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. It is surprisingly well informed (mentioning for instance the exact number of delegates each primary will bring to the national conventions). For a non-American, such a campaign is a real spectacle.

What is appealing to Europeans is the town hall format with a grass roots approach — the open debates when the candidates are bombarded with questions on a wide spectrum of topics. Besides, the European public likes a democratic process allowing candidates to be chosen by the people and not imposed from the top.

If primaries are systematic in the US, it is not the case in France. The primary system is already in place for the right wing party Les Republicains or LR, and also for the center, (UDI and Modem). But it is not with the left.

Thierry Pech, general director of the Think-Tank Terra Nova.

Thierry Pech, general director of the Think-Tank ‘Terra Nova.’

At this time there is an ongoing debate as to whether to make primaries the norm in left- wing politics. This debate reflects the division within the Socialist Party (PS). Thierry Pech, general director of Terra Nova, a think tank, has been most vocal since 2011 in advocating the adoption of a primary by the left.

The PS is divided since the “Frondeurs” (rebellious ones) have become a splinter party. Furthermore part of Europe-Ecologie les Verts or EELV (the Greens) have deserted the PS. The fracture within the left appeared quite blatantly during the Feb. 10 vote at the Assemblée Nationale on the inclusion in the Constitution of the dechéance de la nationalité (the loss of nationality) for terrorism acts. Half the Socialist deputies voted against their own government’s proposal.

Recently, the Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, caused quite a stir when she slammed the door and resigned from the cabinet over her disagreement on that very topic. Within 24 hours, she was giving a lecture at NYU!

On Jan. 11, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ex-green European deputy (hero of the May 1968 uprising) and Thomas Piketty, 44 (nominated as the best young economist of France in 2002), headed a group of politicians and intellectuals who published a manifesto in the daily Liberation. The manifest called for a primary in order to reanimate a political debate of ideas.

Jean-Louis Bourlanges

Essayist and science professor Jean-Louis Bourlanges

“The quarrel about having a primary …” said Jean Louis Bourlanges, professor at Sciences Po and essayist, ” … reminds me of what Churchill said: democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.” Bourlanges continues, “The Socialist militants are less and less representative. The proposition is like poker-liar: one pretends to have ideas, then one incarnates those ideas within a person.”

Many Socialists are opposed to the prospect of a president involved in months of campaigning while he should be concentrating his attention on governing the country and jumping into the fray as late as possible. For the time being, François Hollande is waiting and will not declare his candidacy until he sees a reversal of the unemployment curve.

On Feb. 11, the Elysée announced a government reshuffle. The objective was to remedy some of the internal division of the PS by bringing three ecologists into the cabinet and widening its base. The parity – 19 men, 19 women – is maintained. Jean Marc Ayrault- prime minister until two years ago – returns, but this time as minister of foreign affairs.

Apart from the positive asset of having a German-speaking and pro-European new prime minister, the changes in the composition of the executive were generally met with disappointment and criticism across the board.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Aleppo — an Orientalist’s Nostalgia

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Agatha Christie stayed there. So did T.E. Lawrence, King Faysal from Iraq and General de Gaulle: at the famous Hotel Baron in downtown Aleppo, Syria. At that time, Aleppo was an exotic and cosmopolitan city where Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian cultures coexisted.

A photo of the Citadel at Aleppo taken by Nicole Logan in 1957.

A photo of the Citadel at Aleppo taken by Nicole Logan in 1957.

But all this was before the Syrian civil war.

Aleppo, like many other historical Syrian cities, is being crushed by daily bombings. The devastation is concentrated on this region with the intent of cutting off the road to the north toward Turkey. Today the Bab el Faraj – one of the main squares – is in ruins; the 11th century minaret of the Omayyad mosque lies on the ground among fallen stones; in July 2015, a bomb placed in a tunnel destroyed part of the citadel. The second largest metropolis of Syria is now a pile of rubble.

Another photo of the medieval Citadel, which is now in ruins after repeated bombings, from the author's 1957 trip.

Another photo of the medieval Citadel — now partly in ruins after repeated bombings — from the author’s 1957 trip.

In a few magical pages, Mathias Enard, winner of the 2016 French Prix Goncourt for his novel entitled “Boussole” (compass), brings back to life the colorful Aleppo of a bygone era. His hero, Franz Ritter, is a Viennese musicologist fascinated by the Orient. He belongs to the group of “Orientalists” – archaeologists, linguists, historians, architects, diplomats, spies – writes Enard, “found side by side at Hotel Baron dabbling in the pleasure of Arab grammar and rhetoric.”

Enard’s rambling style, oozing with culture, takes the reader from Austria – the outpost of the West on the edge of the Ottoman empire – to the Middle East. Besieged by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1529, Vienna was threatened for the last time by the Ottoman Empire in 1683 in its final effort to flood the Danube valley.

Refusing to draw bitterness from the century-long tug-of-war with the Turks, Franz the hero of “Boussole” believes in cross-pollination between the Western and the Oriental worlds. As a musicologist he is able to detect in the works of Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg or Debussy, the influence of Arabic music’s harmony with its microtones and absence of tonal structure.

"The Moroccans" by Henri Matisse.

“The Moroccans” by Henri Matisse.

There has long been a tradition of literary and artistic attraction by the West toward the Orient. But it is Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign to Egypt (1798-1801), which opened the floodgates and made the 19th century West smitten with the Orient.

John Singer Sargent’s “Smoke of Ambergris.”

The “Orientalists” could be found around some of cultural centers like the French, German, English or American Institutes in Syria, Lebanon, Beirut or Baghdad. They were a privileged group, somewhat disconnected from the real world.

With some sarcasm but much honesty, the author acknowledges that the “Orientalists” took advantage of the comfort provided by the law and order of the police state of Hafez el Assad, father of Bachar. The “Orientalists” lived their dream, Enard writes, “under the amused look of the Syrians.”

At the present time Aleppo is at the epicenter of an imbroglio of violence and destruction and caught in the middle, tragically, are the refugees.

Why do we not take a brief pause and return to a more peaceful time when wars and religious intolerance were not destroying societies?

Nicole Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Europe and the Migrant Crisis

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

During the month of January 2016, 55,000 migrants have crossed the Aegean Sea, or 21 times the number that made the same journey in January 2015.   In 2015, a total of 856,000 arrived in Europe, 90 percent of them coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, there is an urgency in the face of this inexorable phenomenon, which is bound not only to continue but also to increase.  It is expected that with the spring’s milder weather, there will be a surge of four times that number.  The net result — Europe has a window of six to eight weeks to manage the crisis.

Everybody agrees on what should be done to stop the flow of refugees:  end the war in Syria; defeat ISIS; provide financial help to  the countries that have taken in the most refugees, i.e., Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey;  police the Mediterranean by destroying the derelict boats ferrying the migrants and put a stop to the profitable business of the smugglers.  But there has been an absence of a leadership in carrying out a common plan of action. 

At the outset of the crisis Angela Merkel was the only one to offer a clear strategy.  For her, Turkey was the key country to work with since three quarters of the migrants pass through its territory.  She even made the trip to meet President Erdogan in Antalya.  She supported the European Commission’s decision to pay Turkey three billion dollars for keeping 2.2 million refugees.  The Turks demanded that amount every year, Europe settled for a bi-annual payment.  Driving a hard bargain, the Turks demanded that Europe wave its  visa requirements for Turkish nationals traveling to Europe. Ankara even asked for the resumption of  the process of adhesion into Europe – a demand the European Union is refusing unanimously today as it has for 52 years..

Last September, Merkel announced she would welcome 800,000 refugees in Germany but she had not predicted the ensuing surge and her policy has backfired.  She has become increasingly isolated as those countries, at first favorable to her policies, started closing their borders, practicing more restrictive policies toward the migrants, and expelling the ones not qualifying for the status of “refugees.”

After the alleged mass rapes of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, German public opinion has become increasingly hostile to the presence of hundreds of thousands of young Muslim men not used to mixing with women in public places.  This event was reminiscent of the plight of many German women at the end of the Nazi period.  “The collective memory of outrage has overcome the compassion for the migrants,” declared Michaela Wieger, the French correspondent for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,  on a radio talk show Jan. 30.

ARTE, the Franco-German television channel gave an overview of the migrant’s situation on Feb. 2.  The three-hour- long documentary takes the viewer from Calais to Montenegro to Spain.

The situation in Calais in northern France is a festering problem.  The number of migrants, who live in abysmal conditions, has grown from 2,000 a year ago to 6,000.   Their lifeline is provided by humanitarian aid.  The mood is explosive and turning ugly.  The migrants are endangering the safety of the Euro-tunnel, which has been turned into a fortress.

The picture so far is positive in Germany, which finds in the migrants a much needed source of labor.  The town of Passau, Bavaria, which is situated on the Danube, is the hub of communications.  This is where the trains full of migrants converge. In an efficient manner, the new arrivals are greeted, trained and encouraged to learn German.  In Leipzig, workers are building wooden homes that can house 60 people.  The houses come in a kit and can be assembled in one day.  A German firm has outsourced the construction of containers – turned into living quarters – to a Polish factory.  The units cannot be built fast enough to meet the demand.  However, all the people interviewed in the ARTE program say that they have already reached their saturation point and will be unable to absorb more migrants

There is consensus today that the priority for Europe is to protect its external borders.  Greece is described as the number one “hotspot” whose job is to screen and process the migrants.  This task is colossal and it is understandable that Greece cannot cope.  Being reluctant to impose its own sovereignty, Brussels has decided to give the country three months to improve its work.  If it does not, a large contingent of  European Frontex officials and additional reserves will be sent as substitutes. 

In addition, the EU may decide to deactivate Article 26 of the Schengen treaty.  This will mean the suspension, for at least two years, of the free circulation of persons, goods and capital between the 28 member states.

Brussels would hate to make that very serious decision.  Schengen has been called an “accelerator of growth,” since its creation, says Wieger, but it was intended to function in normal times, which these clearly are not. The cost to reestablish internal borders will reach at least 100 billion Euros a year.  But, more importantly, the “Schengen Space”  is one of the main pillars of Europe.  Indeed, it is a core principle.   

“The problem of migrants is, in fact, in front of us,” commented Sylvie Kauffman, senior editor of the French daily Le Monde.  “Next, we will have to face massive flows of economic refugees  from Africa, due to its demography”.

It is a difficult time for Europe, and for the French in particular, to abdicate sacred principles such as the right of asylum and to see the very existence of Europe threatened.

Nicole Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Marmottan Monet Museum Offers Rare Glimpse of Villa Flora’s ‘Enchanting Times’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is a well kept secret that Switzerland’s private foundations own a wealth of  art works.  Swiss law does not require them to be registered commercially and offers them favorable tax and legal conditions, creating thus a “paradise” for art collectors.  The Villa Flora, in Winterthur near Zurich, is one of the richest of these family foundations.  Since the museum is under renovation this winter, its contents found a temporary home at the Marmottan Monet museum in Paris and currently form the Villa Flora exhibition subtitled, “A Time of Enchantment.”

In 1898  Hedy Hahnloser inherited from her father, a well-to-do textile  industrialist, a large house and moved in with Arthur, her husband.  For a short time, Arthur practiced ophthalmology in the clinic he installed on the property but soon the couple became fully engaged in the passion of their life, which was to create long-lasting friendships with painters and to collect their works.

Over the years, the rambling house was turned into a studio and an art gallery — every available space was used to place the paintings.  Hedy had always been interested in arts and crafts and in the English movement by that name.  She decorated her house’s parquets and wainscots with the geometric designs characteristic  of the 1897 “Viennese Recession” led by Gustav Klimt.

A trip to Paris in 1908 was for the couple a total immersion into the frantic artistic scene of the French capital.  Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubism, while the Fauvist movement was at its pinnacle.  The natural flair of the Hahnlosers in selecting art work was sharpened by their contacts with art merchants like Ambroise Vollard and Gaston Bernheim.

During that trip they met and struck up a friendship with Felix Valloton (1865-1925), who became a close friend, spent much time at the Villa Flora and also introduced them to the artistic circles of Paris.  They remained friends until his death.  For the Swiss couple to welcome artists and hold Tuesday coffees became a way of life.

One can compare their creative and welcoming home with the boarding house in Old Lyme, Conn., where Florence Griswold invited American Impressionists.  Or consider Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo who, like Arthur and Hedy, opened their “salon” on 27 rue de Fleurus to artists and writers.  And in yet another example, in the late 19th century, Russia also had its own artist colonies, which grew around enlightened members of the nobility.  The best known was Abramtsevo, near Moscow, created by  the industrialist Savva Mamontov.

Pierre Bonnard, Débarcadère (or L’Embarcadère) de Cannes, 1928-1934

Pierre Bonnard, Débarcadère (or L’Embarcadère)
de Cannes, 1928-1934

The Hahnlosers’ collection contained works by Cezanne, Van Gogh,  Manet, Renoir, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, the symbolist Odilon Redon and many others. But it is the abundance of  Nabis’ art, which made  it quite unique.

It was a post-impressionist movement in the mid 1890s.  “Nabi” means prophet in Hebrew and Arabic.  The leading members of this group — Maurice Denis, Felix Vallotton , Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard — considered themselves as the prophets of a new era in the arts.  Each one had his distinctive style, but there was always a message behind their way of depicting reality, whether it was religious, intellectual or emotional.  They were versatile artists, working in oil, and also lithography, wood cuts, satirical drawings, and book or poster illustration.

Vallotton stylized his subjects and used the technique of  “aplats” or flat areas of contrasting colors with sharp outlines.  There is a feeling of enigmatic  emptiness in his works. “La Charette” or cart drives away on a deserted dirt road, two slender umbrella pines contrast with the darker mass of trees bordering the road.

man&woman
Le provincial,” pictured above, shows a couple in a cafe.  One barely sees  the profile of the elegant woman wearing a huge hat.  The feather on the hat and the ruffled blouse are the only bright notes in this scene of a non-communicating couple in the male chauvinistic society at the turn of the 20th century.

Vallotton’ masterpiece is “La Blanche et la Noire”  (The White and the Black).  A white woman is lying, unabashedly naked, on a bed while a black woman is staring at her with insolence and a sort of inappropriate familiarity, a cigarette is sticking out of  her mouth. The painting is reminiscent of  the “Olympia” by Manet but with a different underlying story.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Bonnard’s paintings have an effusive and warm quality.  His colors are luminous, his brush strokes seem unbridled, full of life.  He is inspired by the intimacy of domestic scenes — “Le Tub” is a picture within a picture thanks to the mirror placed at the center of the composition.   A plunging angle reveals Marthe, his wife and beloved model, near the tub.

Pierre Bonnard, Le Thé, 1917

Pierre Bonnard, Le Thé, 1917

Bonnard cherished his villa in the Var, not far from Cannes.  “Le Thé” is a peaceful scene of young women having tea . He plays with an array of hat colors.  The vegetation seems to overflow into the porch.  On “Le Debarcadère” or pier,  young people lean over a railing, as if frozen in the contemplation of the rough Mediterranean waters.

This is indeed a rare opportunity to see an exceptional private art collection created by two extraordinary citizens, who according to the exhibition’s guide, lived their lives by following a simple mantra, “Living for art. Collecting. Such was the raison d’être of [this] couple.”

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Exhibition Explores the Elegance, History of Louis Vuitton’s Luggage

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The exhibit “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” (Fly, Sail, Travel) at the Grand Palais takes the visitor to the elegant world of travel in the early 20th century. It is a retrospective of the luggage, which created the Vuitton dynasty’s fame. Every item is beautifully crafted of wood, cloth and leather, such as the famous “sac Noé” created in 1932.

caroussel_grandpalais_460x550_v02These luxurious objects make travel by air, train or sea glamorous and modern. The visitor rides an old-fashioned, wood-paneled train and feels transported into the “Out of Africa” world of Karen Blixen, as the Kenya savannah speeds outside the windows. Several pieces of the Vuitton family’s private luggage — first seen by the public at the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World Fair) — are scattered on sand dunes, evoking the beautifully photographed scene of a couple riding in the desert near the Pyramids in the 1978 Agatha Christy’s movie “Death on the Nile.”

A huge sail reaches all the way to the ceiling. On the deck of a yacht are displayed a wooden trunk, fragrant with camphor wood and rosewood; a “wardrobe” trunk whose drawers and hangers contain an elegant passenger’s apparel; a gentleman’s personal case complete with crystal flasks; and fancy hair brushes.

Luxury goods – labeled as “consumer discretionary” in Wall Street jargon – are an important sector of the French economy. They combine traditional savoir-faire acquired over many generations (the Maison Vuitton has existed since 1835; the Maison Hermes since 1837) with the creative talent of artists and decorators along with the highly complex robotic machinery used to fabricate, clothes, bags, shoes and more.

At Hermes, silk screen scarves are made from raw silk spun under the constant scrutiny of a worker; artists, assisted by colorists, create the designs.

For decades, not a single famous woman – from Jacqueline Kennedy to French actress Catherine Deneuve – has been seen without the iconic Chanel purse. The making of the little black purse, with its gold chain, and its distinctive padded outer shell stitched in lozenges, requires the skilled delicate work of 17 people.

The world of fashion and luxury objects could not exist without money — lots of money. In 1987, the merger of Louis Vuitton fashion house with Moët et Chandon and Hennessy champagne – produced the LVMH multinational conglomerate. It brought together 90 of the most famous brands of wines and spirits, fashion and luxury goods, as well as perfume and cosmetics. Dior is the major shareholder with 40 percent of the shares.

Bernard Arnault is CEO of both Dior and LVMH. He is the richest man of France and holds the fifth largest fortune in the world — his worth is about 30 billion dollars. When Arnault arrived in Shanghai for the opening of a new Vuitton boutique, he was received like a head of state.

It is not uncommon for a tycoon to be a philantropist and an art collector. In the late 19th century, two Russian businessmen were instrumental in bringing French art to their home country — Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin introduced Impressionist art to Russia after a trip to Paris, and similarly, Ivan Morozov was a major collector of French avant-garde art.

Arnault won a resounding victory over his rival Francois Pinault when he was able to build his art museum on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. (Pinault “only” owns a few islands of Venice.) In order to promote artistic creation, Arnault built a museum, which he called the Fondation LVMH — it was designed by the American architect Frank Gehry. At the time of its inauguration in 2014, it was met with a mixed reaction but gradually it has become part of the landscape. It did help rejuvenate the dilapidated Jardin d’Acclimatation, a 100-year-old zoo and children’s attraction park, beloved by the Parisians.

Gehry created a wild structure of huge, curved glass panels flying in all directions, like spinnakers blowing in the wind. To create an area of 125,000 square feet of molded glass, 100 engineers were employed who were supported by Dassault Systèmes, the leading French company specializing in aeronautics and space.

The inside structure, called the “iceberg,” is erratic and disorients visitors. Several intricate levels and vertiginous staircases lead to the upper terrace offering a view over the Bois in which the skyscrapers of La Défense district appear to be framed by the glass panels.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Welcome ‘Le Grand Paris!’ New Geographical Region Becomes a Reality

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On January 1st, 2016 the “Metropole du Grand Paris” became official .  This new territorial organization, named Etablissement Public de Cooperation Intercommunale (EPCI),  includes Paris plus parts of three departements Hauts de Seine, Seine St Denis and Val de Marne– with seven millions inhabitants.

What is the Grand Paris ?  Why is it a necessity?  Is it a decisive step forward? Does it have models in other countries?  What are the  problems it is facing ?  Anyone curious to learn how France works and what lies in the future might be interested in having a look at this new concept.

The project was born in 2007 under President Sarkozy’s mandate.  When the Socialists came to power in 2012, they immediately modified the initial proposal.  But the authors of the project kept plodding away.  Its official status represents a progress toward the long term objective, which is to be ready for the Olympic Games in 2024 and the 2025 World Fair, in the event Paris is chosen.

The French capital is choking inside the beltway and something had to be done:  the town of Paris is too small and too expensive even to accommodate the middle class; suburbia, which used to provide a labor force in the former industrial economy, is hit today by unemployment ; this same suburbia feels isolated because of inadequate public transport (if you drive into work you might spend hours in bouchons or traffic jams on the highway).  The RERs (Regional Rapid Transit) are overcrowded and often unsafe.

reseau-de-transport-grand-paris-1

In the new project (see map above), the backbone of public transport will be the Grand Paris Express, six new lines of totally automated trains circling the Paris agglomeration  and connecting, for the first time, the suburbs.  For instance it will be possible to go directly from Boulogne at the west of Paris to Marne la Vallée  (the location of Euro-Disney) in the east.

Until now any change has been hampered by administrative complexity – layer upon layer of  authorities, like a millefeuille  – (a well known and sinful pastry).

The Grand Paris will  include 132 communes.  Mayors wield enormous power in France.  That power is particularly obvious at election time when building permits seem to multiply.  The mayors will have to learn how to live together and adapt to the new administrative structure, which now includes other layers of the bureaucratic millefeuille, namely the departements and the regions (this year they have been reduced from 22 to 13), piled on top.

France is essentially a centralized state.  Culture, finance, education of the elite,  research and development, luxury shops,  are heavily concentrated in Paris and the Ile de France.  Napoleon, Baron Haussmann, General De Gaulle are the great historical figures who left their imprint in the centralization process.  What we are witnessing today is an explosion of the center.  It is even likely that the boundaries of the Grand Paris may expand.

The Grand Paris will be made of ‘clusters’ (in English in the French text) to bring Paris to par with New York , London or Tokyo.  According to the official description of the project, “Greater Paris relies on seven thematic competitive clusters.”  The list includes : Air Space, Trade, Sustainable City, Digital Creation, International Trade, and Life Sciences.  A financial center already exists in the Defense district, which looks like a mini-Manhattan. ,

Saclay, 20 kilometers south of Paris, is the most impressive and modernistic of these clusters.  Until recently an agricultural land, it is now the hub of Research and Development.  Many élite Grandes Ecoles, like Polytechnique,  have  moved there, as well as 23 universities and the headquarters of major companies.  Its emblematic building, spreading over the fields like a giant flying saucer, is the Synchroton Soleil with its accelerators to study light.  Pierre Veltz, an engineer and former head of Saclay, is confident that it will become an European Silicon Valley.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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