Pharaoh Seti I offers Maat
Pharaoh Seti I  offers to the Gods
an image of Maat, the Egyptian Goddess of Truth and Justice.
(Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Ding-dong. The doorbell. Saturday afternoon, 3:00 pm, I am on my bed, reading unenthusiastically a medical article, on the edge of a little nap.

Ding dong. Hmm, this is the doorbell indeed. The guys outside did not use the interphone first. Maybe a neighbour from another step? All right, let's go and see...

Yikes. They are two people on my doorstep. One man and one woman. Pale. Thin. They have not greeted me yet, but they already smile, with some disquieting benevolence. He has a thin goatee, dark eyes and white teeth. She swept her whole being into her suave sky blue eyes. She has no body. She is only a gaze of disembodied and icy goodness.

I know who they are, and they know I know. They don't really care, they have a mission. He begins to talk, while she sharpens her gaze on me, slightly tilting her head. I feel as if I were Mowgli in Disney's The Jungle Book, when he meets the python for the first time. I am unwilling to let religious freaks hypnotise me that easily though.

"We call in on you to make you know the Truth", he says, while pulling out a coloured leaflet from a black attaché-case. The Truth. Oh well. Learning the Truth isn't on my agenda for today. I planned to read and rest a little but — to tell the truth — I don't feel like learning the Truth this afternoon.

— "Well, sorry but I am quite busy right now".

— "You know, we need a five minute talk only", she says. Her lips smile, her eyes remain impassible. Does she blink sometimes? "God loves you. You must hear the Truth!"

"No, thanks. No talk. No Truth. Not today".

Under the goatie, two thin lips make the ghost of a tense smile. In the blue eyes, the storm remains under control. Such shades of pardon for my short-sighted incomprehension will make me lose my temper soon. I feel it, and they see it. He puts his leaflet back into his briefcase, whose zipping means both the loss of my soul and the saving of my nap. Truth is going away. I already love the untruthful nap I am going to take.


Dinner time. We are eating together, in the kitchen of our apartment. My mother, father, brother, and me.

We never watch TV while eating. 'It's unfriendly, and unhealthy', Mummy will say. Everyone instead tells the family how their day went.

Dad now talks about his job. Mum listens. I squabble with my bro. The radio plays softly in the background. Music usually, but news now. I like the music, but I don't listen to the news. Little boys are not interested in the news.

All of a sudden, my parents stop chatting. My father says 'Oh', stands up and turns up the sound of the radio. I look up from my plate of spaghetti. Daddy's face is as white as a sheet. Mum's eyes are full of tears. My little brother has not noticed, he is quite busy playing with his food.

November 22, 1963. I just learned there is a city named Dallas in the United States.

Noir Désir

Gagnants/Perdants by <em><u>Noir Désir</em>
Gagnants/Perdants by Noir Désir

Noir Désir became famous in 2001 with their song 'Le vent nous portera'. Yet the band was disrupted after singer Bertrand Cantat was jailed for the manslaughter of his girlfriend, actress Marie Trintignant after a violent row in a Lithuanian hotel in July 2003. He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment, but left jail last year after he had served half the sentence.

"Noir Désir died the same day as Marie", Cantat once said. Yet the band does not appear to be that dead, since they released on the Internet last Thursday, that everyone can download for free.

Le vent nous portera (Noir Désir)

For several months, I did not listen to 'Le vent nous portera' because I could not help thinking this voice belonged to a man who once beat his wife to death. I still have mixed feelings about it: the song exists anyway, and it is a great song.

Giorgio de Chirico — The Red Tower
Giorgio de Chirico
The Red Tower (1913)
The Barnes Foundation

When I was in Philadelphia lately, I visited , a fascinating place where hundreds (!) of chef-d'oeuvres are displayed. It owns a lot of Impressionist paintings especially. Also, many canvases by various painters who were not impressionists are exhibited, among which several pieces by .

I like many paintings by Chirico, in particular those he painted during his 'metaphysical' period. Yet the artist later joined the futurist movement 'Valori Plastici', then its 'Novecento' following, who both supported Mussolini's fascism. I sure dislike what were the ideas and behaviour of the individual. I still love many of his paintings anyway.

Another example: French writer , also a doctor in medicine. His first novel, 'Journey to the End of the Night' (Voyage au bout de la nuit) is among my favourite books ever. 'Death on the Instalment Plan' (Mort à crédit) is another great novel by him. His medical thesis about , who discovered the cause of puerperal fever and introduced hand washing in medicine, is at the same time a marvel of smartness and independence of mind, and splendid literature.

Yet Céline was a racist and anti-Semite, who shared many opinions with the Nazis. He wrote shameful pamphlets about the Jews before and during WWII. After the war, he was convicted a collaborator and imprisoned. I despise the man, I deeply admire several novels he wrote.

So... I still look at paintings by Chirico. I still read Céline. I still listen to music by Wagner. I may still listen to the songs by Bertrand Cantat also then. It does not mean I would shake the hand of the man, if it ever happened that I met him.

Ben Franklin Superstar!

Benjamin Franklin Parkway — Philadelphia, November 2008
Benjamin Franklin Parkway — Philadelphia, Nov. 2008

Wherever you go in Philadelphia, you meet Benjamin Franklin.

One day, you visit the on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, then gaze at the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in the rotunda of the .

Another day, in the , you walk through Franklin Square, close to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River, then in front of Franklin's Grave, on your way to where the founding fathers of the U.S.A. — including Benjamin Franklin — signed and ratified the U.S. Constitution on July 4, 1776.  Two blocks from there, you reach Franklin Court, where once stood Franklin's house. Below the court is the Franklin Museum, that is filled with paintings, objects, and inventions associated with Benjamin Franklin...

Okay, let's stop making fun of the way Philadelphians worship 'Ben', because he actually was one of the most historically fascinating personalities in the Image18th century. Although he was given little education as a child, he became famous for being a printer, an inventor, a scientist, a musician, a champion swimmer, an economist, a writer, a philosopher, and a statesman.

Especially, Benjamin Franklin personifies the 18th century approach to science. When a subject interested him, he gathered information, experimented, and then developed a practical application.

Electricity, symbolized by the lightning rod, was the source of his worldwide renown as an inventor, but the list of his other contributions includes improved streetlights, more efficient heating, bifocal, and even a musical instrument, the armonica, of which a reproduction is displayed in his underground Museum below Franklin Court.

ImageFranklin was in England in 1761, when he heard a performer playing musical glasses. He wrote then: "He collected a number of glasses of different sizes, fixed them near each other on a table, and tuned them by putting into them water, more or less as each note required. The tones were brought out by passing his fingers round their brims."

Franklin loved the music, and because it is very difficult to set up about fifty glasses on a table, he decided to find a more practical method of creating music from glass.  He had a glass maker create 37 glass bowls tuned to specific tones, according to their different size and thickness, then ran an iron rod through a hole in the top of each hemisphere so that they could nest together, from largest to smallest. Under the row of bowls, he put a water reservoir to moisten the rims of the bowls, and linked all of this to an apparatus like a spinning wheel, with a foot treadle that turned the rod, making the bowls rotate. This removed the need to rotate one's own hands, and allowed quick access to every note successively, like on a piano or harpsichord.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

The instrument has a full compliment of 48 notes, two octaves above and below middle C. Franklin named it 'The Armonica', after the Italian word armonica which means 'harmony'. It is also called a Glass Harmonica sometimes. The Armonica never needs to be tuned, since glass bowls don't have the same intonation troubles as wood and metal instruments. Yet there are fragile... nothing's perfect.

Franklin's invention took Europe by storm. Some said it was more popular than the violin at the end of the eighteenth century in Europe. At least 300 pieces were written for it, including works by Mozart and Beethoven. Thousands armonicas were sold; one factory employed over a hundred people for this purpose only. Many of the performers were women, and even the French Queen Marie-Antoinette took lessons.

The popularity of the instrument faded quickly afterwards, Several decades later though, Tchaikovsky used it in his famous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, part of The Nutcracker ballet.

Welcome back, America!

Joy in Philadelphia — Barack Obama has just been elected the 44th President of the United States
Philadelphia, Wednesday 5 November 2008, 2 am.
Barack Obama has just been elected the 44th President of the United States.

I arrived at Philadelphia yesterday evening, and went to bed early. At 1 am, I was awoken by car horns and hundreds of people crying out in joy in the streets. You cannot stay in your bed in such a historic day... I put my clothes back on, and went outside again with my camera.

People in the streets now are excited and happy. They congratulate each other, they laugh, they shout and dance. Whites and blacks, a lot of black people. You can feel joy and hope in the air.

People will have to come back down to earth, their problems will not disappear in the twinkling of an eye, but this night is their night. Enjoy, folks. We're glad too. You've made the choice of courage and hope. Welcome back, America!

Stendhal Syndrome

Tomb of Galileo Galilei — Basilica Santa Croce, Florence
The tomb of Galileo Galilei
by Giovanni Battista Foggini
Basilica Santa Croce, Florence.
Henri-Marie Beyle, better known by his pen name, Stendhal, is the author of several famous novels, among which Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black) and La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma). He was also a lover of arts. In 1817,  aged 33, he had a long trip in Italy. He related afterwards, in his book "Rome, Naples et Florence", that he was quickly overwhelmed by the rich legacy of art and history of the country.

The day he visited the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, a monument that houses the tombs of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo, and with famous frescoes by Giotto on the ceilings, he was overcome with emotion:

I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty, [...] I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations. [...] I had palpitations of the heart [...] Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.

Stendhal wrote then the first description of what is now called Stendhal Syndrome, a psychosomatic phenomenon that may include dizziness, increased heart rate and palpitations, chest pain, sometimes loss of self-conscience, confusion or even hallucinations. Some people will get depressed, others will go from exaltation and feeling of omnipotence to panic attacks and fear of death.

About ten cases of the Stendhal syndrome are reported every year in Italy, among people who have gazed at works such as the David by Michelangelo or The Birth of Venus by Botticelli. It is not a specific 'Italian art disease' though: it can occur whenever people who have been eagerly expecting an emotion for a long time finally feel it, in the deepest way. It can happen in front of a special place, when you gaze at a painting or a landscape, or even when you look at the face of the beloved one, the day you have succeeded at last to have a date with her/him...  Look out then!

Will they dare?

I have a confession to make: when I wrote a of US citizens when they elect a new President, several months ago, I felt like most people I know: that we just simply could not trust the US people any more. Seriously, how could anyone keep confidence in people who were blind enough, and that deliberately forgetful of 'American values', to elect again a character such as Georges W. Bush as their President in 2004?

I was quite sure at the time that, whoever the Democratic candidate would be, he would not be elected, especially because John McCain is not a far rightist neocon, as G.W. Bush is, but a respectable conservative politician.

Economically, it will not necessary be good news for the Europeans if Barack Obama is elected, especially because he will probably increase U.S. protectionism. Yet I do believe it will be a good thing for the people of that country. On the economical and social grounds first: the failure of the Republicans here is obvious. Also, for the image of a country that has essentially shown its worst facets for several years.

Today, a few days before the election to be held on November 4, Barack Obama leads in the polls by several percent. It is certainly not as much a landslide as in polls conducted elsewhere in the world though, and nobody knows how many people will not vote Obama at the end because "he is not like us". Yet Obama still leads in the polls, and early-voting Democrats are outnumbering Republicans in most sites.

I will be in Philadelphia next week, a direct onlooker of this huge event. Will U.S. citizens dare to elect him? If they do, hats off.

Le Lapin Agile

Joachim-Raphaël Boronali — Coucher de soleil sur l'Adriatique (Sunset on the Adriatic)
Joachim-Raphael BoronaliSunset on the Adriatic [Coucher de soleil sur l'Adriatique]

The painting on the left induced some hurly-burly when it was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in 1910. The canvas was signed by a person of obscure repute named Joachim-Raphael Boronali, who had prepared the picture's appearance by drafting a manifesto about a new, dissident futurist school, Excessivism.

ImageMany specialized critics who saw the painting in the show found the work 'very interesting'. It was sold twenty Golden Louis (400 French francs, about 1,800 current dollars). And yet, its author, who appears in the adjacent photo with his best friend, was not a painter at all.

There is a famous cabaret at 22 Rue des Saules in Montmartre, named Le Lapin Agile, where, in the 1900s-1910s, unknown people called Picasso, Utrillo, Modigliani, Braque, Derain, Dorgelès, Apollinaire or Max Jacob would meet, talk, joke, sing and drink together. The owner of the place was Frédéric Gérard, Le Père Frédé as everyone called him, who is the bearded man who appears in the photo above.

ImageThe cabaret had existed since 1860. It was originally called Le Cabaret des AssassinsCabaret of Murderers — until Andre Gill, a caricaturist, painted in 1875 the sign that was to suggest its permanent name: the picture of a humanized rabbit with a top-hat, who jumps out of a saucepan with a bottle of wine in his hand.

Residents soon called their neighbourhood night-club Le Lapin à GillGill's rabbit — a name that naturally evolved into Le Lapin AgileThe Agile Rabbit.

Cora VaucaireFrédé
Pablo Picasso - Au Lapin Agile
Pablo PicassoAt the Lapin Agile
[Au Lapin Agile] 1905.
Oil on Canvas, 99 cm × 100 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New-York.

The cabaret still exists nowadays. It is still full of customers who come and listen to French songs dating back as far as the fifteenth century.

Frédéric Gérard— aka Frédé — the owner of the place shown with his donkey on the photo above, was a character. Songs have been written about him, and he is the man playing the guitar in the background, in the adjacent painting by .

In this painting, Picasso portrayed himself dressed as a Harlequin, accompanied by his model Germaine Pichot. According to the tale, Picasso once paid a lunch with this painting, that Frédé sold in 1912 for the equivalent of 20 dollars. In 1989, it was auctioned at Sotheby's for 41 million dollars.

Anyway, how about 'Joachim-Raphael Boronali'? Who hid under the nickname? You know it was not Picasso or any of the abovementioned artists since I wrote that the painter was portrayed in the photo displaying Frédé with his donkey. Yet the painter was not Frédé but... Lolo, the donkey!

The painting was a hoax by the writer Roland Dorgelès and a few friends, to make fun of art critics. They tied a brush to the tail of Lolo, which daubed a canvas with several colours in front of witnesses, official ones included. They coined the nickname Boronali because it is an anagram for Aliboron, as Jean de la Fontaine would call the donkey in his fables.

Boronali in the process of creating his masterpiece
The painting is now permanently exhibited in a museum in Milly-La-Forêt, near Paris.

Happy Unbirthday!

Well, let's see...

(Checking my organizer) Today is October 23... nothing written here.

(Checking my address book) No, no one among my relatives. None of my friends either.

(Checking my memo board) Nope, no one actually. I knew I was not mistaken! Nobody I know has his birthday today!

Happy unbirthday, everyone! A very merry unbirthday to you! (yes, you)

People of Peru

Peruvian woman and daughter - Ollantaytambo, Peru, October 2008
Peruvian woman and daughter — Ollantaytambo, Peru, October 2008

Wayayay by Ulises Hermosa
(A Cambio de Cepas)

I had planned to write a couple of blogs during my trip in Peru, and post them when I am back in Paris. Yet, I wrote a few lines only. I realized quickly it was too hard for me to write in English, while my French brain tried to format itself to think and speak in Spanish.

Women with lamas - Cuzco, October 2008
Women with lamas in Cuzco

By the way, I do love the Spanish language. Essentially because it is a Romanic language probably, and the building of sentences is the same as in French. I speak Spanish much more easily than English, because I instinctively feel where to put the stress, unlike in English. Also, you know how words should be pronounced when you read them, it sure helps!

Between Urubamba and Cuzco - October 2008
Between Urubamba and Cuzco

Anyway. It certainly is a shame that I will not post blogs about this trip at present. First, because of the wonderful sceneries I have gazed at, in Cuzco, the Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Lake Titicaca. And especially because Peruvians are among the nicest people I have ever met.

Old woman in Urubamba - Peru, October 2008
Old woman in Urubamba

Peru is a very poor country. People there work a lot and earn little. However, I never felt that the gringo with a backpack and a camera was a guy from which you should take as much money as you can, as it is so often the case in many countries.

Women on a floating island - Lake Titicaca, October 2008
Women on a floating island
(Lake Titicaca)

People will try so sell you little showy stuff in tourist places obviously. Yet you can feel they are proud of what they have often made with their own hands, and if you kindly tell them 'no, gracias', they will give you a wide and friendly smile in return, and will not bother you afterwards.

I just finished to sort out the photos I took in Peru... more than 800 pics of which only four or five can be considered "good photos" in my opinion. Here are a couple of pictures that are not of great artistic value, but show the kind people of Peru.

Children defile - Cuzco, October 2008
Children defile in Cuzco

Children playing in Pisaq — October 2008
Children in Pisaq

An old woman flattens reed - Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, October 2008
A woman flattens reed on a floating island

Peru, the White Night, and Icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder — Lanscape with the Fall of Icarus
Pieter Brueghel the ElderLandscape with the Fall of Icarus
[Landschap met de Val van Icarus], ca. 1558
Oil on canvas mounted on wood — 73.5 x 112 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels

I am leaving Paris this Friday morning, en route to Peru where I'll spend ten days. Not another medical conference this time, but mere tourism, with my brother and father. We shall visit , , , ... I feel pretty excited and plan to take a lot of photos there.

There's only one (very little!) fly in the ointment: they don't have the White Night in Lima yet, that will occur on the next Saturday night in Paris and many cities. The White Night is a cultural night of discovery that has been organised every year since 2002 in a growing number of cities, in Europe first, then in the whole world.

Throughout the White Night, museums, libraries, monuments, places of worship, tourist sites, cinemas, parks and gardens, hospitals, swimming pools, universities, etc. will stay open. You can go and see an exhibition at 2 am or visit a library at 5 am if you feel like... you will sleep later, tomorrow is a Sunday.

I usually manage to be in Paris on the , as it is called in French. Three years ago though, I was in Brussels, and enjoyed it a lot in this welcoming city. I walked in the streets all night long, listened to music bands, ate mussels with french fries, and went to several museums. The Fall of Icarus by Pieter Brueghel the Elder was exhibited in the Museum of Ancient Art, part of the Royal Museums of Brussels.

I don't know why I've always had the feeling that the scene in this painting occurs in the New World, instead of the Aegean sea... on the Peruvian coasts, maybe, which makes I have now come full circle in the weird associations of idea that made up the present blog.

Poor Icarus... In the painting by Brueghel, his fatal fall is of minor interest.
The ploughman is bent over the ground...

... the shepherd is looking at the sky...
... and the fisherman is watching at the sea

They couldn't care less what happens to a dreamer, a reckless person who dared to challenge the sun.

Les plaintes d'un Icare [Ch. Baudelaire]

I thought of this melancholy painting today when I read again this poem by Charles Baudelaire.

Les Plaintes d'un Icare

Les amants des prostituées
Sont heureux, dispos et repus ;
Quant à moi, mes bras sont rompus
Pour avoir étreint des nuées.

C'est grâce aux astres nonpareils,
Qui tout au fond du ciel flamboient,
Que mes yeux consumés ne voient
Que des souvenirs de soleils.

En vain j'ai voulu de l'espace
Trouver la fin et le milieu ;
Sous je ne sais quel oeil de feu
Je sens mon aile qui se casse ;

Et brûlé par l'amour du beau,
Je n'aurai pas l'honneur sublime
De donner mon nom à l'abîme
Qui me servira de tombeau.

Charles Baudelaire
Lamentations of an Icarus

Lovers of prostitutes, in crowds,
Are sated and content and cheery,
But as for me, my arms are weary
Because I have embraced the clouds.

Thanks to the stars — O peerless ones!
That flame deep in the boundless sky,
My burned-out eyes can now descry
Only the memories of suns.

In vain I sought to trace and fit
Space in its mid and final stance
I know not under what hot glance
My wings are crumbling bit by bit.

The love of beauty sealed my doom,
Charred, I have not been granted this:
To give my name to the abyss
That is to serve me as a tomb.

Transl. Jacques LeClercq,1958


I had the following talk once, with a friend who does not work in the medical field:

— As a kidney physician, you are in charge of a lot patients on dialysis, and see many people with terrible diseases. It must be tough. I admire doctors, I could never be one of them. I could not endure the death of a patient, it would depress me so much!
— It may take a toll, yes. With experience however, we physicians learn not to feel too guilty when a patient of ours die. If we did our best in conscience, we try to think we did the best.
— But this cannot be true every time... I know I would keep on believing that I could have done better.
— Oh yes, it happens. Sometimes I feel guilty because I was not able to do more. Sometimes, I think I should have managed the situation otherwise. It happens. Most often though, I know it was not possible to prevent the evolution. At least I helped for a while hopefully...

I was given this beautiful silver case as a New Year present by an Iranian 85 year-old man who had been my patient for several years before he died lately.

He had left his country in 1979 because of the Islamic Revolution. Once a political opponent, and now a person with a chronic renal disease who depended on dialysis for his survival , he painfully knew he would never see his homeland again. He was always cheerful and friendly to everyone though.

In fact, the old gentleman did not give me the box as such. He gave me chocolates... put inside the silver box. He was an upright and nice person I had become much attached to. I think of him often.

The Little Prince

There are few things about which I don't have any doubt, but here is one: by Antoine de Saint Exupéry is one of the greatest books ever.

I read Le Petit Prince — the original French title of the novella — for the first time when I was about eight, and I have read it again a lot of times since then... it is worth it, and also, this great book is a small book.

It is a children's story, yet it is also a philosophical tale, a poetical fable. The novella contains the best lessons of life, love and friendship you can read. Like Alice in Wonderland, it is a novel à tiroirs, with several levels of reading, in which everyone will find something different. Also, you will not find the same thing in it when you read it as a child, a teen or an adult, when you are young... or not that young any more.

To me [the fox said], you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world [...] And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat.
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near...
Ah said the fox, I shall cry.
It is your own fault, said the little prince. I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you.
Yes, that is so, said the fox.
But now you are going to cry! said the little prince.
Yes, that is so, said the fox.
Then it has done you no good at all!
It has done me good, said the fox, because of the color of the wheat fields.
Goodbye, said the fox. And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
What is essential is invisible to the eye, the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
It is the time I have wasted for my rose — said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
Men have forgotten this truth, said the fox. But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose...
I am responsible for my rose, the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

If you haven't read the book yet, you have missed something... Yet you're also a lucky one, because it is a wonderful story to discover. You'll have no difficulty to find it in your native language, : Le Petit Prince is one of the most translated and published books ever.


There are two large bookstores in Paris where I will go several times a year and buy books in English: Brentano's, the American Bookstore in Paris and WHSmith in Paris, the English Bookshop. When I last went to Brentano's, I had my attention attracted to the title of a book: Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, an Englishman. I had never heard of it, although it was labelled as a bestseller. I flipped through a few pages: the book was about the First World War, and beautifully written. I bought it.

The book tells the story of a young Englishman who fights in France during the WWI, interspersed with scenes of the life of his granddaughter, Elizabeth, a young woman living in the 1970s, who travels to France to discover more about the life and dead of her grandfather.

As Elizabeth drives across empty fields, she notices a great arch in a field. She pulls over and has a closer look at it.

As she came up to the arch, Elizabeth saw with a start that it was written on. She went closer. She peered at the stone. There were names on it. Every grain of the surface had been carved with British names; their chiseled capitals rose from the level of her ankles to the height of the great arch itself; on every surface of every column as as far as her eye could see there were names teeming, reeling, over surfaces of yards, of hundred of yards, over furlongs of stone.

She moved through the space beneath the arch where the man was sweeping. She found the other pillars identically marked, their faces obliterated on all sides by the names that were carved on them.
Who are those, these...? She gestured with her hand.
These? The man with the brush sounded surprised. The lost.
Men who died in this battle?
No. The lost, the ones they did not find. The others are in the cemeteries.
These are just the... unfound?

She looked at the vault above her head and then around in panic at the endless writing, as though the surface of the sky had been papered in footnotes. When she could speak again, she said:
From the whole war?

The man shook his head.
Just these fields. He gestured with his arm.

Elizabeth went and sat on the steps on the other side of the monument. Beneath her was a formal garden with some rows of white headstones, each with a tended plant or flower at its base, each cleaned and beautiful in the weak winter sunlight.
Nobody told me. She ran her fingers with their red-painted nails back through her thick dark hair. My God, nobody told me.

Between 1914 and 1918, about 9 million people were killed, in Europe essentially: 2 million German, 1,300,000 Frenchmen, 750,000 British, 650,000 Italians... Beside the terrible loss of young men in every family — France lost about 10 percent of its working population in the conflict — the war changed the political map of Europe, and the world balance of power. Several European empires were dismantled. France and the UK, although the winners, were ruined. It was the very moment in history when Europe handed over to the USA as the world economical and political leader.

Seeking Freud in Fragonard

Fragonard Le Verrou (The Bolt)
Jean-Honoré Fragonard - The Bolt (Le Verrou)
Oil on canvas 73 x 93 cm, ca. 1778.
Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Although he painted in several styles including neoclassicism, Jean-Honoré Fragonard is particularly famous as a rococo painter, because he painted several remarkable ribald, suggestive paintings, according to what was in the mood among her aristocratic patrons at the end of the 18th century, before the French Revolution occurred.

The Bolt (Le verrou), one of the most famous canvases by Fragonard, is a beautiful piece of art that is worth a analytical explanation... in every meaning of the word.

The painting is split by a diagonal, from the upper right to bottom left. On the well-lit right side, a man embraces a woman, while he pushes to the bolt of the door with the fingertips of his right hand. The woman seems half-fainting and resisting him mildly. Yet we all know that what must happen will happen. Hmm... 'will happen?' Why such untidiness on the darker left side then? A rumpled bed, scattered pillows, a hanging down canopy... how can there be so much disorder in a room where nothing has yet happened?

A specialist of paintings by Fragonard once wrote "On the right side, there is a couple; on the left side, there is nothing". Such a nothing is about half the painting though. Daniel Arasse, a French Art historian, rightly wrote in a fantastic book entitled Histoires de Peintures (Tales of Paintings) that much of the meaning of this canvas lies precisely in this nothing.

The Bolt — Detail

At first sight, there does not appear to be any real topic in the left part of the painting indeed, but drapes and folds. With a closer look though, you will see that the pillows are strangely put up as tips. In the canopy, a red material comes slightly unfastened, a slit sinking into the darkness. And the bed's corner, in the foreground, is covered by a sheet whose material is the same as the woman's dress. Look better: this corner is a knee. The knee of a widely open leg, a pair of breasts, a female sex above them, all allude to what is just going to happen. It refers to the man's fantasy and desire. The nothing on the left half of the painting is actually the thing.

Or... perhaps I am totally wrong? What do you think? Perhaps there is nothing to see there, but a rumpled bed? This is the whole ambiguity of art: you see (you can see, you want to see...) or you don't. Nobody can tell who is 'right' and who is 'wrong' if we disagree, but it does not matter anyway: when you look at a piece of art, it is not the meaning you see in it — or not — that is important, but how much the work appealed to you and gave rise to emotion.


The Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo
The Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo - August 2006

Sufia Begum lived in Jobra, a village in Bangladesh where she wove bamboo stools for a living. In 1974, a professor of economics visited the village with students, and asked her how much she earned. She replied that she contractually had to sell the stools back to the man who had sold him bamboos, and because she never had money enough to buy bamboos, she borrowed it from a middleman. Her net income, after deduction of the interest, was about $0.02 per stool.

The following day, the professor did a survey in Jobra with his students. They found out that 42 families in the village were in the same predicament. Altogether, the 42 families owed the usurer a total of... $27. The professor gave them $27 and explained they would then be able to buy their own materials, cut out the middleman, and pay him back some day, whenever they could. They all paid him back, day by day, over a year.

Image The idea of microcredit was born from this spur-of-the-moment generosity. It then grew into a full-fledged business concept that came to fruition with the founding of the Grameen Bank in 1983 ('Grameen' means 'Village' in Bengalese). In the years since, the bank has lent $5.72 billion to more than 6 million Bangladeshis. Worldwide, microcredit financing has now helped some 17 million people.

The professor was called Muhammad Yunus. Here comes an excerpt from his lecture when he was awarded the .

Poverty is a Threat to Peace [...]
The new millennium began with a great global dream. World leaders gathered at the United Nations in 2000 and adopted, among others, a historic goal to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Never in human history had such a bold goal been adopted by the entire world in one voice, one that specified time and size. But then came September 11 and the Iraq war, and suddenly the world became derailed from the pursuit of this dream, with the attention of world leaders shifting from the war on poverty to the war on terrorism. Till now over $ 530 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq by the USA alone. I believe terrorism cannot be won over by military action. [...] I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns.

The funny thing here: warmongers in the USA or elsewhere cannot say this guy is naive or inexperienced. It is just the contrary: he is not a dogmatic, and knows what he is talking about.

Riddle: A Hint of a Hitch

The Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde, Paris
The Place de la Concorde in Paris

Our paths crossed on that day. You were ravishing, smooth blonde hair and preppy look. The light strip of a pearl necklace, above your peach-coloured cashmere sweater, was slightly iridescent in the first beams of this sunny morning of spring. I had the shadow of a doubt: weren't you notorious, Rebecca... something?

Under the pelisse on the back seat (mornings were still a little chilly), caught in a glimpse through the rear window of your tiny Parisian car, I could make out your mother's Grace Kelly purse, near the birds-patterned Carré Hermès you had left there, skilfully undone. Everything in your appearance indicated this special sense of sophistication passed down through several generations of strong economic power. I felt spellbound.

ImageThere was a frenzy of traffic on the Place de la Concorde. Young and innocent, you did not yield to me — I was just the wrong man at the wrong place. I confess I had the ghost of a frown, barely the mark of minor annoyance. A beautiful manicured hand with a fine golden ring and a topaz let go of the blond wood steering wheel. You gave me the finger.

People who still believe in elegance and refinement never drove a car.


Titian — Portrait of a young woman
Portrait of a young woman (1536)
Oil on canvas, 96 x 75 cm
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

It is funny when you recognize somebody you 'know' in a painting.
how it happened to me in Oslo two years ago: I was amazed to recognize Edvard Munch's painting in the young woman portrayed in .

I had the same experience at an exhibition called Titien, le pouvoir en face (Titian, power straight in the face) held last year in Paris at the Palais du Luxembourg, the museum of the French Senate. The portraits exhibited were essentially those of powerful men of the time, of which Titian was the official portraitist, such as several Doges of Venice, Dukes of Urbino, Kings of Spain Carlos V and Felipe II, King of France François I, and so forth.

A few portraits of women were also displayed though, among which I particularly loved the canvas displayed above. This young lady with an elegant feathered hat, who wears her coat on one shoulder in a very casual way, is showed before a dark background. Yet the whole picture is lightened by her brilliant skin and white shirt.

Titian — The Venus of Urbino
The Venus of Urbino (1538). Oil on canvas, 119 x 165 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Watching at the portrait of this young woman, I progressively had a weird feeling, that I knew her in person. I realized it was almost the case indeed, a few minutes only after I left the exhibition: the woman portrayed here was also the sitter of the Venus of Urbino, one of the most famous paintings by Titian.

I'll probably write here some day about how Titian took the topic of the Venus of Urbino from a painting by Giorgione, the (also called the Venus of Dresde), that Titian finished after his master died in 1510, and how his painting in turn inspired Édouard Manet when he painted , more than three hundred years later.

ImageImageIn fact, I had just hoped to see this wonderful painting in the exhibition, but it was not there. Probably it does not leave the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence more than the Mona Lisa ever leaves the Musée du Louvre in Paris...

Well, at least I saw the face of Venus on that day, if not her whole naked body.

The Padlock Wall

Padlocks in Pécs, Hungary
On the Padlock Wall — Pécs, July 2007
If you ever go to the city of Pécs with your lover, don't forget to bring a padlock!
Several decades ago, a student left his padlock and its key on a grate in the center of this city of Southern Hungary, in a street close to the cathedral. It was his last day of school before summer holidays, and there was no need for him to bring such an old padlock back home.
A few days later, a couple of lovers saw the padlock on the grate. They engraved their names on another padlock, then locked it beside the first one. Other couples did the same. The tradition was born that lovers who lock a padlock to these grates get hitched forever themselves.
Thousands of padlocks are now locked on the grates of the padlock wall in Pécs. No doubt, it certainly means that the spell works.

Camille "Ta Douleur"

Camille – Le Fil
Camille Dalmais, who goes by the stage name , is a French songwriter and singer unlike anyone: most of the sounds in her records come from the human body. Clicks, slaps, rubs, purr... and many more sounds, including her voice of course.

Ta douleur (Your pain) was the second song in Camille's second album Le fil (The Thread), released 2005.

CamilleTa douleur

Here are the French lyrics of the song and their translation into English. It is noteworthy that the word 'douleur' (pain) is feminine in French, which allows Camille a poetic licence: she speaks of pain as if it were a female... a female rival? Hence the use of 'she' instead of 'it' in the translation below, so that it renders the ambiguity of French lyrics... of which the meaning is probably obvious for their author only anyway.

Lève-toi, c'est décidé
Laisse moi te remplacer
Je vais prendre ta douleur

Doucement, sans faire de bruit
Comme on réveille la pluie
Je vais prendre ta douleur
Prendre ta douleur
Je vais prendre ta douleur

Elle lutte elle se débat
Mais ne résistera pas
Je vais bloquer l'ascenseur...
Prendre ta douleur
Je vais prendre ta douleur
Saboter l'interrupteur
Prendre ta douleur
Je vais prendre ta douleur

Mais c'est qui cette incrustée
Cet orage avant l'été
Sale chipie de petite soeur ?

Je vais tout lui confisquer
Ses fléchettes et son sifflet
J'vais lui donner la fessée...
Prendre ta douleur
Je vais prendre ta douleur
La virer de la récré
Prendre ta douleur
Je vais prendre ta douleur

Mais c'est qui cette héritière
Qui se baigne qui se terre
Dans l'eau tiède de tes reins ?
J'vais la priver de dessert
Lui faire mordre la poussière
De tous ceux qui n'ont plus faim...
Prendre ta douleur
Je vais prendre ta douleur
De tous ceux qui n'ont plus rien
Prendre ta douleur
Je vais prendre ta douleur

Dites moi que fout la science
A quand ce pont entre nos panses ?
Si tu as mal là où t'as peur
Tu n'as pas mal là où je pense !

Qu'est-ce-qu'elle veut cette connasse
Le beurre ou l'argent du beurre?
Que tu vives ou que tu meures ?
Faut qu'elle crève de bonheur
Ou qu'elle change de godasses
Faut qu'elle croule sous les fleurs
Change de couleur...
Je vais prendre ta douleur
Je vais jouer au docteur
Prendre ta douleur
Je vais prendre ta douleur

Dites moi que fout la science
A quand ce pont entre nos panses ?
Si tu as mal là où t'as peur
Tu n'as pas mal là où je chante !

Lève-toi lève-toi lève-toi
Elle a envie de toi ta douleur
Elle a envie de toi ta douleur
Elle a envie de ttt ttt tt…

Get up, it's a done deal
Let me take your place
I'm going to take your pain

Gradually, without a noise
As one wakes up the rain
I'm going to take your pain
Take your pain
I'm going to take your pain

She fights, she struggles,
But she won't overcome
I am going to stop the lift...
Take your pain
I'm going to take your pain
Mess up the switch
Take your pain
I'm going to take your pain

Well, who is she, settled down,
Such a storm before summer
Such a brat little sister?

I'm going to seize her everything
Her darts and whistle
I am going to spank her…
Take your pain
I'm going to take your pain
Kick her out of the break
Take your pain
I'm going to take your pain

Well, who is that heiress,
Who has a bath, who goes to earth
In the warm water of your back?
I'm going to deprive her of dessert
Make her bite the dust
Of those who are not hungry any more...
Take your pain
I'm going to take your pain
Of those who don't have anything left
Take your pain
I'm going to take your pain

Tell me what the hell science is up to
When for a bridge between our bellies?
If you're aching where you're scared
You're not aching where I think!

What does she want, that bitch?
Your cake or she eats it?
You living or you dying?
She must be full of happiness
Or change her shoes
She must be snowed under with flowers
Change your colour…
I'm going to take your pain
I'm going to play at doctors
Take your pain
I'm going to take your pain

Tell me what the hell science is up to
When for a bridge between our bellies?
If you're aching where you're scared
You're not aching where I sing!

Get up get up get up
She wants you, your pain
She wants you, your pain
She wants…


Crane Origami
"I will write peace on your wings
and you will fly all over the world"
"Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs it would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them? "
Leo Szilard,
father of the US atomic bomb.

I was chatting the other day with a US friend about the trip I had in New-York a few months ago. As it happens often when you chat, our conversation turned, from , the movie by Woody Allen at the time, to the and atomic bombs. I was very surprised when he genuinely said that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "good things" because they actually "saved lives".

ImageAlthough I know it is the way the whole story is usually told and taught in the USA, I wondered how a smart and articulate guy could seriously think that killing more than 200,000 civilians "actually saved lives". The whole bloody fighting in the Pacific killed about 40,000 US soldiers 'only'... When the US President Harry S. Truman ordered to drop Little Boy on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, then Fat Man over Nagasaki three days later, the point was certainly not about saving lives then, but saving lives of US soldiers, at the expense of much more lives of foreign civilians.

Little Boy and Fat Man had killed about 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945, of which about half within the first days after the bombings. Several ten thousands more people died from radiation-induced diseases in the following years. In both cities, the overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians. These are to date the only nuclear bombings in history. Yet, as the historian and Pulitzer prize winner Gary Wills wrote once: "Only the winners decide what were war crimes".

Sadako Sasaki lived in Hiroshima. She was two year-old when the first nuclear bomb was dropped on her city. Although she lived close to ground zero, she was not harmed. Nine years later, she was a healthy 11 year-old girl practicing running. After the end of a race, she fainted, was hospitalised and diagnosed radiation-induced leukaemia.

ImageThere's a legend in Japan, the country of origami. It says that if you can fold a thousand , the Gods will make your first wish become true. Sadako decided she would fold one thousand origami and wish to be cured. She folded 654 cranes before she died, in October, 1955. Yet, she was buried with one thousand paper cranes, because her classmates had finished her uncompleted vow.

After her death, her friends and schoolmates raised funds to build a memorial to her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb. In 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. At its base a plaque reads: "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world." Every year, on August 6, the statue is decorated with thousands of paper cranes sent by children from all over the world.

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by W. A. Mozart

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Les Essais
by Michel de Montaigne