Ada Lovelace Day: Pantheon of Women

[I have not found the time to write a blog about Marie Skłodowska Curie, as I thought of doing within the context of Ada Lovelace Day. I will use a subterfuge then: on March 8, 2008, for the International Women's Day, I posted an entry on my defunct blog on Yahoo! 360° that dealt with nine French Women who would deserve to rest in the Panthéon in Paris. The entry disappeared with that blog. Here it is again in this one. Granted, most of the women celebrated were not involved in technology. Yet everyone of them, each in her field, can be considered 'female role models' undoubtedly.]
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The Panthéon — Paris, 8 March 2008
I must say I am divided about the International Women's Day, celebrated every March 8th. I certainly agree women are still not considered equal to men in a lot of countries, for cultural and religious reasons. Even in western countries, there is no fair equality between genders in many fields, salaries especially.

On the other hand, I don't believe a yearly celebration can change the way men consider women, or make a religion evolves. I find it cheaply gives people clear conscience sometimes: one Women's Day a year, and 364 (365 even, this year) uncelebrated Men's Days!

Anyway... I went to the Panthéon this morning to see the portraits of nine French female figureheads displayed on its facade to celebrate Women's Day, and take pictures myself. Le Panthéon is a neoclassical monument on the top of the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the patron of the city. It is now the burial place for 'French National Heroes' (Pantheon in Greek means 'All the Gods'). The inscription in letters of gold above the entrance reads AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE (To the great men [from] the grateful homeland).

The word Men here is supposed to mean Human beings, yet among the 73 honoured people buried here, there is only one woman, Marie Curie. Although it was definitely theoretical, I was interested to see which women the Parisian elites had considered deserving enough to be next to Mirabeau, Voltaire and Hugo. Here they are.

ImageSimone de Beauvoir (1908-1986 — philosopher and writer). An existentialist, she lived with Jean-Paul Sartre for several decades. She was among the most influential intellectuals in the second half of 20th century. Her book The second sex is regarded as a major feminist book.
ImageColette (1873-1954 — writer). Her literary talent was first exploited by her husband Willy, but she became emancipated... and scandalous for a time (music-hall shows and overt affairs with men and women). She published around 50 novels, one can divide into idyllic natural tales and dark struggles in relationships and love.
ImageMarie Curie (1867-1934 — Physicist) Born in Poland, Maria Skłodowska went to Paris aged 24 to study and became a naturalized French. At the Sorbonne, she met and married Pierre Curie. She won the Nobel Prize twice: in Physics in 1903 (discovery of radioactivity) and Chemistry in 1911 (discovery of Radium and Polonium).
ImageCharlotte Delbo (1913-1985 — resistance fighter). She was arrested by the Nazis in 1942 and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. She was one of the 49 women who survived. She wrote several books about it, including a biography of every prisoner who was with her in the convoy to Auschwitz.
ImageMaria Deraismes (1828-1894 — politician and freemason). A figurehead of feminism, she was a republican (i.e. not royalist), antireligious politician. In 1893, she co-founded the first International Order of Mixed Freemasonry, advocating equality between women and men, Le Droit Humain.
ImageOlympe de Gouges (1748-1793 — politician). She is regarded as one of the first French feminists. In her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, she challenged the practice of male authority and the notion of male-female inequality. She was executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror.
ImageLouise Michel (1830-1905 — politician). A revolutionary and an anarchist, she was active during the Paris Commune as an ambulance woman. After the Versaillais won, she was sentenced to deportation in New-Caledonia. She returned to Paris 7 years later and preached the revolution until her death, despite several stays in jail and exile in London.
ImageGeorge Sand (1804-1876 — writer) Born Aurore Dupin, she decided to take a male nick to be more easily published. She would dress as a man, smoke the pipe, ride like a man, yet she had tumultuous liaisons with Alfred de Musset and Frédéric Chopin. She was a feminist, asking for women's right to divorce and equality in civil rights.
ImageSolitude (1772-1802 — fighter against slavery). In 1794, the revolution freed this mulatto slave. When Napoléon Bonaparte restored slavery in 1802, Solitude rose up in arms although she was pregnant. She was wounded, captured and sentenced to death. Her hanging was delayed until the day after she gave birth. Slavery in France was abolished for good in 1848 only.

Toilet Paper

I found the roll of toilet paper displayed on the left in La Grande Épicerie du Bon Marché, a big department store close to my building. I could not help but buying it.

After my attention has been attracted on the topic, I could not help either but looking for up-to-date information about toilet paper. The funny thing is: I found a lot! Especially, several detailed articles about how people would manage, before paper, hence toilet paper, was invented, including a chapter of the novel by François Rabelais, Gargantua, published in 1534.

ImageFocusing on the design of toilet tissue in the 21st century though, I found out that there are dozens, even hundreds of designs: TP with euros, frogs, razor blades, funny tales, whatever. Then, of course, there are collectors for it.

If you are a Sudoku addict for instance, I have good news for you: you can now find Sudoku-printed toilet paper rolls. Hmm... Making reference to a previous entry, I wonder if the wrapping clearly stipulate: 'Don't fill in the grid after you used the paper?''

WARNING: the video below is in bad taste undoubtedly.
(Yet it is funny)

Sandy Toilet Tissue - For Men.


A graveyard in the city of Mostar
A graveyard inside Mostar — March 14, 2009

There are many little parks in the city, with grass and trees. Anywhere else, such places of greenery would be called 'public gardens'. Not in East-Mostar though, because there are tombs between the trees. Dozens of tombs.

Each tomb is engraved : it displays a name, a date of birth, a date of death: 1993 usually. Thousands of people died during the civil war in Mostar, and graveyards seem to have replaced public gardens.

A ruin in Mostar
A ruin in Mostar

The war in Bosnia ended fourteen years ago but you can still see it everywhere. The streets and avenues are lined with destroyed buildings, dangerous ruins of which the fronts are riddled with holes of bullets and shrapnel. There is a same poster everywhere, that warns people against going into the ruins, children against playing there.

Constructions are coming on slowly in Mostar apparently. They are rebuilding, but you can guess that money is lacking.

Stari Most, the Old Bridge after which Mostar was named, was the symbol of the city, and a chef-d'oeuvre of Ottoman architecture. It was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent to Mimar Hajruddin, a pupil of Sinan, "the father of classic Ottoman architecture".

On Stari Most, close to the right bank
On Stari Most, close to the right bank

Built in 1566, Stari Most consisted of a single 30 metres long hump-backed arch that stood more than 20 metres above the green waters of the Neretva River. It had withstood all sorts of calamities, invasions, wars, and even earthquakes.

Nevertheless, it was destroyed when Croats and Bosnians, who used yet to be allies against the Serbs during the civil war in Bosnia (1992-1995), fought during one year in Mostar. On November 9, 1993, the Old Bridge was destroyed by the artillery of the HVO Croatian forces, allegedly to stop Bosnian troops, in reality for its symbolic value as an Ottoman piece of art and a link between communities.

Mostar — Stari Most
Stari Most, the Old Bridge — March 14, 2009.

Under the aegis of the UNESCO, and thanks to a loan from the World Bank and grants from donor countries, the Old Bridge was rebuilt for the very same reason: as a symbol of peace and tolerance.

After two years of scientific and archeological research, it was rebuilt in 2004 exactly as it was, using identical blocks of white stones found in nearby quarries and according to traditional methods, using quoins, cramps and dowels. It is now listed as a World Heritage Site.

From Dubrovnik to Mostar

Close to Mostar — March 13, 2009
(This one was a fast driver)
According to my experience of driving a car between Dubrovnik (Croatia) and Mostar (Bosnia-Herzegovina) today, drivers in this part of Europe are of two kinds: fast drivers, and slow drivers.

Low drivers are really slowwww. They drive an old car, are sometimes quite old themselves, and will hardly exceed 50 km an hour in speed... on the downhill with the wind at their back, that is.

On the opposite, fast drivers drive very ffffffffffffast!!! Also, they are very, very good drivers obviously: they are so skilled that it is not a problem for them to overtake you in the bends or on the brow of a hill, especially when there is a white line and they are on the phone. Quite impressive, especially when they suddenly appear, just in front of you, at about 30 meters in a bend, as they are astutely overtaking one of those above-mentioned slow drivers.

I confess I was a little surprised the first time it occurred. I was not any more, half an hour and three similar incidents later. You cannot go against local customs, yet trying to stay alive until you reach your destination appeared just fair to me at the time. I found a tip then, I give for free in case you ever drive a car in the area: as soon as you catch up with an old VW Golf with a granny-driver going dead slow, just don't overtake it. Keep a cautious fifty-meter-security-distance between your car and the improvised shield, and enjoy the scenery. You are in vacation after all, no need to hurry.

Dubrovnik, in the Off Season

A rainbow in Dubrovnik
A rainbow in Dubrovnik — March 11, 2009.

Dubrovnik this evening bears scarcely any resemblance with the sunny, exuberant city they talk about in the guide I read in the plane this morning.

The crowd that was supposed to fill the streets of the old town, was made up in actual fact of one tourist with a camera, a couple of local women doing the shopping for tonight's dinner, and half a dozen schoolboys messing around at a bus stop.

Hors-saison (Off Season)
by Francis Cabrel

It has been raining the entire day in Dubrovnik, and now it's getting dark. We're in the off season undoubtedly.

The atmosphere makes me think of a song by Francis Cabrel, that says:

C'est le silence qui se remarque le plus,
Les volets roulants, tous descendus,
De l'herbe ancienne dans les bacs à fleurs sur les balcons,
On doit être hors-saison.

La mer, quand même, dans ses rouleaux continue
Son même thème, sa chanson vide et têtue,
Pour quelques ombres perdues sous des capuchons,
On doit être hors-saison...

What you notice most is silence,
Rolling curtains, which are all down,
Some old grass in planters, on the balconies
We're probably in the off season.

Yet the sea, with its rollers, goes on
Its only theme, its empty and obstinate song,
For a few shadows, lost under their hoods
We're probably in the off season...

Yet, when I went out of the hotel a moment ago, there was a wonderful rainbow over the ramparts of the old town and the sea, standing out against the dark sky. Without rain, you cannot have rainbows, can you? Hurrah for the rain then. Anyway, a few drops of water will not prevent me to get to know the ancient city of Ragusa tomorrow.

The Lady and the Unicorn

A mon seul désir
The Lady and the Unicorn — To my only desire.
Cluny Museum of Middle Ages, Paris.

The Hôtel de Cluny, in the Quartier Latin (the Latin Quarter) in Paris, was built in the 14th and 15th century. It is a beautiful structure that combines Gothic and Renaissance architecture. It is worth seeing as a building then, yet essentially it is the French Museum of the Middle-Ages. It houses many early Medieval sculptures, wonderful illuminated manuscript, and an important tapestry collection, that includes one of the greatest works of art of the whole Middle Ages, the famous series of tapestries named 'La dame à la licorne''The Lady and the Unicorn'.

The Lady and the Unicorn — Taste
Taste (detail)
Click for the whole image

The Lady and the Unicorn
by John Renbourn

I went there again yesterday, for the tenth time maybe, because they have just opened new rooms to the public, dedicated to art and life in the Middle-Ages. Also, I wanted to see the red tapestries again, a few months after I went to the Cloisters in New-York and watched the green series of Unicorn tapestries they hold there [This series was the topic of the last blog I published on Yahoo. I might post an emended version of it here some day].

The Lady and the Unicorn — Sight
Sight (detail, click)

Both series are dated back to the 15th century. They are so-called 'Tapisseries mille fleurs' ('Thousand flowers tapestries'), named that way because they contain thousands of details, flowers and small animals especially.

While the Unicorn is the main character of the green tapestries held in New-York, that tell the story of the Hunt of the Unicorn, the Lady is the centre of the red tapestries displayed in Cluny Museum. My eyes this morning remain filled with visions of the beautiful, enigmatic Lady.

The Lady and the Unicorn — Touch
Touch (detail, click)
There are six tapestries in the series. Five hang side by side on a same larger curved wall in front of the only door. They are really huge, several meters wide and high. You see nothing but them when you enter the room. They depict the five senses: Taste, Sight, Touch, Smell, Hearing, in that order. Touch is situated in the middle, a very sensual picture where the Lady holds a standard in her right hand and the horn of the unicorn in her left one.

The Lady and the Unicorn — Smell
Smell (detail, click)
After you have looked at the five senses for a while, you turn round to the exit door, but then you have a view of the sixth tapestry, that has been hanging alone on the straight wall behind you from the beginning. In this tapestry, the Lady places her necklace into a case held out by her servant.  The Lion and the Unicorn are here, and many little animals. She will leave then soon though, and enter the tent behind her of which the door is wide open for her. 'A mon seul désir' ('To my only Desire'), an inscription on the tent says.

The Lady and the Unicorn — Hearing
Hearing (detail, click)

Nobody knows for sure what this tapestry means. I have the feeling that the Lady has experienced many things in her life already, using her five senses, and she has reached the end of this path now.

The wise, beautiful Lady, might have decided to renounce pleasures of the world. Or she knows she will pass soon perhaps. Whatever the reason, she now leaves her jewels forever, as a symbol of her physical life, before she enters the tent, as a symbol of her inner spirituality, a convent, or the Other World.

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