Revue de presse européenne de la semaine / This week in European politics (05/09-09/09)

It’s back to school after the long summer break…

Not a lot of things happened in the EU bubble this past week. « Brexit » apparently means « Brexit » but what it does actually mean is anyone’s guess.

The Commission reminded the USA that competition law had been part of its exclusive powers since the beginning of the then EEC and that yes sometimes US firm could fall foul of EU law.

So here’s a (very) short round-up of articles. And there’s not even a youtube video to be seen.

Quatremer et la décision Apple de la Commission (article du 02/09)

http://bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr/2016/09/02/apple-le-chemin-de-damas-de-juncker/

 

From « Brussels2Berlin« A good analysis of the rise of the AfD in Germany. No, it’s not the end of Merkel, but yes it’s worrying.

http://www.brussels2berlin.com/2016/09/merkels-far-right-home-state.html?spref=tw

And this nice and interesting blog also has a good take on the Apple decision too :

http://www.brussels2berlin.com/2016/08/the-rank-hypocrisy-of-obamas-appletax.html#more

 

 

Et pour finir, un peu d’humour (presque belge): Bruxelles sur le divan vue par Les Grecques:

http://lesgrecques.blogspot.be/2016/09/bruxelles-sur-le-divan.html#!/2016/09/bruxelles-sur-le-divan.html

 

Hopefully next week we’ll have a multi-lingual speech from the EC president. Yes, it’s State of the European Union Address time again (on 14/09). I advise using a bullshitbingo card for this, such as the one helpfully provided by Jon Worth:

https://jonworth.eu/soteu-is-back-on-14th-september-so-print-out-those-bullshit-bingo-cards/

 

This week in European politics / Revue de presse européenne (16/07-20/07)

It’s a short one this week since I’m on a long weekend break. Also because while a lot happened (e.g. failed coup in Turkey, the aftermath of the Nice attack), I haven’t seen anything really good written about these events (with the exception of the second link on this week’s post).

So here we go, a very short selection:

A scathing appraisal of Boris Johnson’s appointment at the Foreign Office by the Economist’ Bagehot columnist. Something about putting a baboon in the driving seat of a Rolls Royce:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2016/07/may-delusion

 

Parfois la presse régionale est bien au-dessus de la presse nationale. Sans parler des hommes politiques. Un très bon article de Ouest France sur la médiocrité de la classe politique française après l’attentat de Nice:

http://www.ouest-france.fr/societe/faits-divers/attentat-nice/attentat-nice-un-grand-moment-de-mediocrite-politique-4371304?utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_source=Twitter&utm_term=Autofeed#link_time=1468679981

Revue de presse de la semaine / This week in European politics (09/07-15/07)

An interview that is slightly old (first published last Friday) but that has been doing the rounds ever since. From the Spiegel, this is a joint interview of Juncker and Schulz. At times candid, at times very political. I’m not sure it will do much to disperse the notion that both are somehow ruling the EU behind closed doors (although in fairness, the relation between the head of the executive and the head of the legislative is very rarely one of complete opposition) but it is an interesting read nonetheless (in English)

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/interview-with-jean-claude-juncker-and-martin-schulz-a-1102110.html

 

I’m not that fond of Politico EU. I find that more often than not they go for lazy tabloid style articles. It’s alright for a newspaper to go down that road. Except when you want to establish yourself as the n°1 newspaper on EU affairs (so in a nutshell, I miss The Economist‘s professional type of reporting that underlined European Voice. Often dry but always well researched). But sometimes Politico has good articles. From guests writers most of the time. Here’s one looking at Little England’s view of the EU:

http://www.politico.eu/article/europeans-dig-the-eu-english-are-the-exception-brexit-euroskeptics-eurozone-european-union/

 

Another excellent « Long read » from the Guardian, on post-facts (or even post-truth) politics in the age of social media. And it’s not a cheerful read:

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth?CMP=share_btn_tw

 

Jürgen Habermas on Europe post-Brexit. The interview is a bit long-winded (well, it’s Habermas) but interesting nonetheless (well, it’s Habermas). I’m still not sure I know exactly what he thinks or what he wants though:

https://www.socialeurope.eu/2016/07/core-europe-to-the-rescue/

 

Frans Timmermans is slowly becoming my new hero. This Facebook text on « understanding the British » is actually quite beautiful and very touching. His disappointment in seeing what Britain has become is quite palpable.

https://m.facebook.com/notes/frans-timmermans/when-in-rome-learning-to-understand-the-english/1132734193416105

 

Et pour finir le cas Barroso. Oui, cela est (probablement pour ce que l’on en sait pour le moment) parfaitement légal. Mais ça fait tout de même désordre. Jean Quatremer virulent comme jamais en vidéo et plus modéré mais toujours aussi mordant à l’écrit:

La vidéo: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I124429&videolang=INT&devurl=http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player/config.cfm

L’article sur Libération

http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/07/11/barroso-pris-la-main-dans-le-sachs_1465612

The Battle for Spain, Anthony Beevor

Summary (from a well known online reseller)

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War’s outbreak, Antony Beevor has written a completely updated and revised account of one of the most bitter and hard-fought wars of the twentieth century. With new material gleaned from the Russian archives and numerous other sources, this brisk and accessible book (Spain’s #1 bestseller for twelve weeks), provides a balanced and penetrating perspective, explaining the tensions that led to this terrible overture to World War II and affording new insights into the war-its causes, course, and consequences.

 

Summary if I had written it

A thorough study of the Spanish Civil War, destroying any pre-conceived romantic ideas you may have held on the topic.

 

Review

The Spanish Civil War is the poor cousin of our history classes. Stuck between the Great Depression and World War II, it is usually summarized in a few words, along the lines of « fascist uprising against a left-wing government; training ground for German and Italian weapons » and illustrated with either Picasso’s Guernica or Capa’s Fallen soldier.

I had of course heard of the International Brigades, but saw them as thousands of « gallant young democrats » joining an international crusade against fascism. I was vaguely aware of the presence of an anarchist movement but had no idea of its strength. And finally, I only became aware of the extent of communist control over the loyalist/Republican troops when reading Capa’s biography and his misgivings about it.

Beevor’s account is very detailed, a bit too much for my taste when it comes to battles description, and all aspects of the war are covered.

Quite a few of my illusions were shattered in the process:

  • international brigades men were not allowed to leave Spain,
  • anarchists were probably the most democratic of all the loyalist parties,
  • Republican forces did not lose just because the insurgents were helped by Germany but also because their commanding officers were useless,
  • the number of deaths is on a scale I had not even imagined.

The book is also very useful to understand current affairs, in particular Catalan and Basque nationalism. Without knowing what these regions suffered, it is hard to understand why they are so vocal about their particularism.

The (in)action of foreign countries is well-explained. The short-sightedness of Britain, also well-known, remains baffling. And although it is only the subject of a few paragraphs, the behavior of France towards the Republican prisoners is sickening. It is a strange feeling to discover that the little village where I spent my first summer holidays held a prisoner camps in 1939. Of course, this treatment of war refugees also has strange echoes nowadays. Looks like French welcome culture is as strong now as it was then.

Although frankly indigent at times, it is a very interesting study and I would recommend it to anyone with a fondness for military history. But maybe, Orwell’s Hommage to Catalonia would have been an easier read.

Robert Capa, by Richard Whelan

Yes, I know, not the most original book for me…

 

Summary as written on the book

The legendary war photographer Robert Capa carried into his personal life the same remarkable vitality that characterizes his pictures. Driven from his native Hungary by political oppression, he was first recognized for photographing the Spanish Civil War. In 1938 he was in China recording the Japanese invasion. During World War II he was in London, North Africa, and Italy, and then in France covering D-Day on Omaha Beach, the liberation of Paris, and the Battle of the Bulge. When the new nation of Israel was founded in 1948 he was there. In 1954 he was in Vietnam, taking photographs until the moment he was killed.

Away from battle, Capa gather about him such famous people as Ernest Hemingway and his wife (the war correspondent Martha Gellhorn), Gary Cooper, Irwin Shaw, and Gene Kelly. Whelan shows Capa photographing the street life of Paris, crisscrossing America on assignment from Life, in Russia with John Steinbeck, in Italy with John Huston, on the Riviera with Picasso, and with Ingrid Bergman.

 

Summary if I had written it

A thorough account of the life and art of Robert Capa, from his childhood and early political engagement in Budapest, to his early years in Paris, his meeting with Gerda Taro and finally to him becoming « the greatest war photographer in the world ».

The life of a talented man who from the moment he lost his great love at the age of 23 realised that his life as a war photograph would only bring him loneliness and constant wanderings.

 

Review

Capa’s life has all the ingredients of a Hollywood story: the poor Jewish emigrant stealing food in Paris cafés in the 1930s who becomes the « greatest war photographer in the world », creates the first independent agency run by photographers for photographers (Magnum), hangs around famous people like Hemingway and dates Ingrid Bergman. Whelan also drew heavily from testimonies from Capa’s brother (Cornell) for this very well research biography. In short, it had all the ingredients to be a eulogy and not a proper biography.

However, Whelan is good enough to avoid this pitfall. His portrait of Capa is positive, mainly because Capa was a loveable man, but he does not hide the failings and contradictions of the man. Whelan is also ruthless in exposing the lies or the embellishments behind Slightly out of focus.

Whelan’s treatment of the Capa-Taro affair is very touching. There is not too much sentimentality, but he is very clear on the impact she had on him and on his career and rather dramatically, the impact her death had on Capa’s life. The feeling I got was that it was Taro’s death that made him realise that life as a war photographer was dangerous and that if he let anyone too close to him (i.e. as close as he had been to Taro) he could one day cause them terrible pain. Taro’s death made Capa a lonely wanderer who put on a brave and smiling face on for the entire world to see.

The story behind the creation of Magnum and how far the idea came back (1938 more or less) was also fascinating. With Capa as its head it’s a miracle Magnum survived its first years.

The book has, in my view, two downsides:

  • the fact that Whelan (who died in 2007) didn’t have the time to update it following the (re) discovery of the Mexican suitcase*
  • it lacks pictures. Descriptions of famous or powerful pictures are very well written but sometimes they’re not enough. Many times I found myself reaching for my ‘definitive Capa’ (ed Phaidon) to see exactly which photo was being discussed. Which is fine if you’re reading on your sofa. Not so if you’re on the train as it’s not possible to carry the Phaidon book along (its weights a ton)

But these two downsides aside, it’s a really good book and I understand why it’s considered as the definitive Capa biography (somehow I don’t feel like reading Kershaw’s Blood and champagne. I find the title too bling, too sensational. I may be doing it a disservice.).

 

 

ISBN 978-0803297609

*Originally published in 1985, some 20 years before the discovery of the Mexican suitcase.

The Other Paris by Luc Sante

Summary as presented on the book

Paris, the City of Light, the city of fine dining and seductive couture and intellectual hauteur, was until fairly recently always accompanied by its shadow: the city of the poor, the outcast, the criminal, the eccentric, the wilfully nonconforming. In The Other Paris, Luc Sante gives us a panoramic view of that second metropolis, which has nearly vanished but whose traces are in the bricks and stones of the contemporary city, in the culture of France itself, and, by extension, throughout the world.

 

Summary if I had written it

A trip through the Paris of the poor, the workers and the outcast in the 19th and early 20th century, showing the city behind the postcard and the people who made it what it was and what it is now.

 

Review

As for « Low Life » the structure of the book is thematic rather than chronologic. There are 12 chapters with titles that sometimes can seem a bit obscure to the non-initiated (e.g. « Mort aux Vaches » or « la zone »).

Contrary to Low Life though, the Paris described by Sante even if it has almost completely disappeared is still very much remembered and cherished by some Parisians (some of the places described were still very much there in the 30s when my late grand-father was a child). And some of the events described have left unforgettable marks on the cityscape (when you burn down a Royal Palace it does leave a scar…). The lowest of the low in this « other Paris » are the rag-pickers (chiffoniers or Biffins in the Parisian slang). And they still exist in Paris, in a slightly changed form, but latest estimates put their number at 3000 (see this article http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2013/06/11/achetez-malin-achetez-biffins-derriere-le-slogan-la-volonte-de-pouvoir-vendre-en-toute-legalite_3428039_3224.html ).

The Other Paris is a place of deep poverty and misery but it is also strangely enough a place of joy and hope. Paris is a very politicised city, especially in the 19th century and this gives its workers (because it is a very industrialised city) a deep sense of the unfairness of their condition and a deep desire to change the order of things. Cafés and balls are an important aspect of the city life, for all classes and they give the feeling of a city where no matter how hard life is, there is always a way to have a bit of fun on a Saturday night.

Paris also seem easier to live in for women. In Low Life, I got the feeling that the only option available to the poor women of New York was prostitution. In Paris, while prostitution was undeniably there (it was one of the main tourist attractions of the city), it seems like a last resort for women and not as the only choice. There are a lot of little jobs for women in Paris. They may not be enough to pay the rent, hence the occasional prostitution, but the feeling I got from reading the book was that Paris was a place of equal misery and almost equal opportunities. Putting it bluntly: if I had had a choice between being a poor immigrant girl in New York or a poor working girl in Paris, I would have chosen Paris. Less chances of being killed before the age of 30.

I really enjoyed the book, probably because it refers to places and event that mean something to me and to a part of my family. I think anyone living in or loving Paris would probably enjoy the book too.

The working poor of Paris have been studied before, mainly because of the Commune, but I found Sante’s take on the subject to be original, thorough and very human.

Reading both The Other Paris and Low Life also allows to compare how two of the biggest metropolis of the 19th and 20th century treated their poor (I think a book on London would be rather nice too, to complete the picture) without having the story coloured by a predefined political narrative.

Another view of Paris: the Père Lachaise cemetery

Welcome to this new category of articles, where I will try to share my favourite tips about Paris, sometimes outside the typical tourist tracks.

 

The Père Lachaise. I know. Not the most original place. Everybody knows the Père Lachaise: Oscar Wilde’s lipstick covered tomb, Morrison’s, Edith Piaf’s etc… But besides those well-known names, there are quite a few other residents who deserve to receive a little visit.

 

Before we start, some practical advice:

Metro line: 3, Père Lachaise stop, or 2 Philippe Auguste or Alexandre Dumas stops.

Duration: between 1h30 and 2h00

Wear good (hiking like) shoes: the ground is fairly irregular, there are cobbles which can become slippery with the rain, not to mention the mud.

Bring a map. I use the Super Lachaise app on iPhone (it’s in French) which is quite comprehensive. Most tombs are listed, there is a link to the Wikipedia page with the picture of the tomb (very useful) and the geo-localisation worked perfectly.

 

Let’s start the visit

 

The writers

Jules Valles: he couldn’t have been buried further away from the Mur des Fédérés (where 147 fighters from the Commune were shot and thrown in an open trench) if they had tried. This is a bit sad since he was involved in the Commune. His tomb is quite plain, with a statue of his head and a quote which roughly translates as « what they call my talent is nothing but the expression of my beliefs ».

Honoré de Balzac: another victim of the lipstick plague. Seriously, why do people kiss Balzac’s grave (not to mention Wilde… I love Wilde’s writing but I would never kiss the tomb of a long-dead homosexual writer…and I do put flowers in St Nicholas in Deptford for Christopher Marlowe)? The statue above the tomb is flattering to say the least. Not like Rodin’s statue of Balzac! Just in front of Balzac’s is Gérard de Nerval’s tomb. No lipstick, nothing just a plain white column. I would have loved to see a lobster there.

Guillaume Apollinaire: his tomb is a bit hard to find as it is in the middle of a plot. Well worse seeing though as it has a lovely calligram « my heart like a reversed flame » (mon Coeur pareil à une flamme renversée)

Oscar Wilde: no need to say more. I find this art déco Egyptian-inspired monument ugly, and I don’t understand the symbolism behind it, but I suppose it has to feature on any literary circuit of the Père Lachaise.

 

Scientists

Champollion: because the cemetery opened in 1804, there are quite a few Egyptian tombs at it was all the rage then. But the most modest of all is that of the man who did most to bring Ancient Egypt to the modern men: Champollion. Which goes to show that very often, the greatest people have the smallest tombs.

Vivant Denon: the same Denon that gave his name to one of the wing of the Louvre. He wasn’t really a scientist but did so much for the organisation of the Louvre as a modern museum that he deserves a visit. There’s a nice statue of him over his tomb.

 

The monuments to the Deportation (death and forced labour camps)

There is almost one monument per camp. They are all very moving and for me this was the only part of the cemetery that actually felt like death.

 

The « communist » quarter

In front of the mur des Fédérés are buried the leaders of the French communist party: Thorez, Marchais etc… big cold tombs, that leave a strange feeling. In that part are also buried communists sympathiser like Paul Eluard, and a lot of immigrants who probably were involved in the party (mainly Polish and Spanish).

Gerda Taro: her tomb is just behind the Ravensbruck monument. It’s a very simple one, with the statue of a dove, a sign in French and Catalan reminding visitors of her engagement for « a better world » and some mementos left by visitors, including some empty camera film boxes and some flowers.

In the same area (besides the Mathausen monument) is the monument to the Spaniards who fought for freedom between 1939-1945. Some 10 000 Spanish loyalists died in deportation and another 25 000 fell fighting besides the allied troops or in the Resistance. The different flags (Spanish republican flag, the black of the anarchists, the red of the communists) tied around the monument are a strong testimony of the survival of the Republican ideas and ideals within the Spanish community in Paris (well, after all, the city was liberated by Spanish Republicans).

 

 

Also worth seeing are all the monuments to the foreign fighters who fought and died for France in the two World Wars (including the Russians who fought for the Resistance, i.e. « White Russians »). They’re forgotten by the history books but at least their memory is kept here.

 

Some photos are on my instagram account (see the A propos page)

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Summary as presented on the book

A devastating story of love, loss and one woman’s terrible choice between duty and personal freedom.

Summary if I had written it

Eilys from Co Wexford emigrates to America and everybody decides all her life for her. The end. 

Verdict: good or bad?

Boring. 

Sometimes you wish fictional characters were alive. I have three categories for that: the « I want to share your adventures » category (e.g I want to live in Camp Half-Blood), the « I want to shake you and tell you you’re ruining your life » category (e.g any woman seduced by Bel-Ami) and the « Ana Karenina » category for heroes you dislike so much you actually want to push them under a train (I’ve spent the whole of Ana Karenina looking forward to the moment she would kill herself). Well, Eilis is very close to the Ana Karenina category. 

Eilys is the most passive character I ever read about. Everything happens to her without her taking any initiative. It’s impossible to know what she thinks. Does she like her job? Does she love Tony? Does she love Jim? Even towards the end of the book where she could have a choice to make, she manages to avoid it, letting someone else make the decision for her. It feels as if the whole story is a case of « Eilis knew she should do X or Y, but knew she could not / would not ».

I also found the book gave a very rosy picture of emigration. Everything works well for Eilis. A priest she has never seen finds her a job with a very understanding boss, and a place to stay. Her boyfriend is perfect. She has no troubles with her exams. No money issue. We’re not told the streets are paved with gold but almost. I wasn’t looking for a sob story but a bit more realism would have been good.

Issues that could have made for interesting stories like the Holocaust survivor who teaches law, or the opening of the store to « coloured » people and the reaction of the other customers (or even of Eilis …) are not developed. More than laziness or missed opportunity from the author, I think it’s deliberate and a way to show that Eilis has no curiosity, no real interest for the world around her. 

Apparently, the book received good reviews when published. Maybe, but I for one wouldn’t recommend it!

Slightly out of focus, by Robert Capa

J’ai lu le livre dans sa version originale, en anglais. Il existe néanmoins en français (et en italien) sous le titre « Juste un peu flou / Slightly out of focus ».

Summary (as found on the book)

« In 1942, a dashing young man who liked nothing so much as a heated game of poker, a good bottle of scotch, and the company of a pretty girl hopped a merchant ship to England. He was Robert Capa, the brilliant and daring photojournalist, and Collier’s magazine had put him on assignment to photograph the war raging in Europe. »

 

Summary (as I would have written it)

This an autobiography with a twist, as you could expect from someone who created a whole identify for himself in order to succeed in the world.

Capa loves a good story and tends to put a romantic veil on his war years. But rather than diminishing the value of his tale, it only enhances it, and makes it more readable and more importantly more bearable.

The story covers the years 1942-1945 and almost all war fronts: North Africa, Italy, D-day and the Oder. In the middle of his war adventures, Capa tells of his love affair with his wartime girlfriend Pinky.

Although part of the story gets a novel-like treatment, Capa doesn’t shy from telling the truth about the war, from the teenage partisans killed in Italy, to the soldier killed in Leipzig just as he was being photographed, via the D-day landing.

This is a valuable testimony about World War Two, from the perspective of someone who wasn’t a soldier but wasn’t quite a neutral observer either.

 

Review

I really enjoyed reading it. Capa’s story is both funny and tragic. There is a lot of emotion in his writing, even when he exaggerates (the bit about the liberation of Paris is maybe a tad over-enthusiastic but is probably quite close to how he felt given the extraordinary circumstances: « his » city being liberated by « his » comrades in arms, the Spanish loyalists), which makes it easy to relate to. It also provides a view of WWII that is not often told. War photography really started in the 30s and Capa as one of the pioneer of the genre is probably the best-placed person to tell the story of WWII as seen by a photograph.

His recounting of the Italian campaign really shows how painfully slow and deadly it was, which is a story that isn’t told much outside Italy.

Of course, I was really looking forward to the D-day landing part, as I never quite understood how he could have had the nerves to follow the first wave on Omaha beach. Let’s just say that it did not disappoint and I found it one of the best part of the book and probably the most touching one.

The photos are obviously very good and impressive. I read it on a kobo but bought a paper version later, simply because Capa’s photos on a kobo just aren’t the same as on paper.

I would definitely recommend the book to anyone with an interest in Robert Capa and war photography (obviously) but also to anyone interested in history in general and WWII history in particular. And if you love Hemingway he gets a few mentions too.