A bridge in Paris

Posted on August 27th, 2017

Here we drown the Algerians

It was 1961 and tensions were running high in Paris. Over the previous four decades France had welcomed Algerian workers to replace Frenchmen killed in the First World War, a process repeated after WWII. By the time the Algerian War of Independence began in 1954, more than 200,000 Algerians had already arrived, with many settling in Marseille and the 18th Arrondissement of Paris. In 1961 the violence of the war spread to the French mainland where several police were murdered and a Strasbourg to Paris express train was blown up killing 28. As the situation became increasingly volatile many French decided these immigrants were no longer welcome.
Maurice Papon was the tough and uncompromising Police Prefect for Paris, who had served in Algeria and Morocco. Twenty years later it was revealed that Papon had worked for the Vichy authorities in Bordeaux as supervisor of the Service for Jewish Questions, where he was responsible for the round up of hundreds of Jews to be handed over to the Germans for deportation to concentration camps.
Under Prefect Papon’s rule detention centres were rapidly filled with Algerian immigrants and police brutality became routine. He created special squads of harkis, Algerians who supported French rule, with a fearsome reputation for torture.
In a further attempt to crush dissent Papon introduced a curfew that closed all Algerian bars at 7:30pm and banned Muslim Algerian workers from the streets after 8:30pm. It was fuel to the fire, so on 17th October 1961 thirty thousand mainly Algerian marchers took to the streets to protest and break the curfew. It was intended to be a peaceful protest, with many wearing their best clothes. They gathered at several locations across the city including the Place de l’Etoile, the Concorde and next to the National Assembly, shouting “Algeria for Algerians!”.

The police were waiting with nightsticks, shields and rifles ready for battle. Papon had promised them protection with no repercussions. One officer later recalled Papon saying: “You will be covered, I give you my word on that. Besides, when you advise headquarters that a North African is down, the officer in charge who will come to the crime scene will have everything necessary to make sure the North African has a weapon on him, because in the current state of affairs, there can be no mistakes.”
In the rain a paramilitary force of 8,400 officers attacked protesters across the city. Machine guns and revolvers were fired into the crowds. People were clubbed as they emerged from Metro stations, bodies littered the streets, others were stacked in front of the Rex cinema. One policeman described a passenger bus stopping so the driver and passengers could help officers hurl Algerians into the river. Survivors were packed into public buses, taxis and police wagons. Many of the buses had to be thoroughly cleaned to remove the blood of protesters.

In all 11,720 Algerians were held in detention centres where the vicious beatings continued and corpses were piled in storage rooms. At the Palais des Sports, the prisoners were moved out to make way for a Ray Charles concert. In the courtyard of the police prefecture protesters were beaten, strangled with ropes and brake cables, their bodies, living and dead, thrown into the river by the Pont Saint-Michel. In the next days police death squads terrorised immigrant neighbourhoods to continue the slaughter. For several weeks, unidentified corpses were discovered along the banks of the river. Two weeks later, a group of officers anonymously published details of what they had witnessed. “Torturers threw their victims by tens in the Seine … to keep them from being examined by the forensic scientists,” they wrote, “but not before having taken their watches and money.”

Maurice Papon

The official report listed two Algerians and one European protester dead. Estimates later put the number around two hundred.
No charges were ever brought against Papon or the police for their role in the killings. President Charles de Gaulle awarded Papon the Légion d’honneur and he later became France’s budget minister. He died in 2007, after serving three years in prison for ordering the deportation of Jews.
In 2012 historian Jean-Luc Einaudi told TV station France 24: “There was a convergence of interests to maintain a silence, a forgetfulness, a wilful ignorance about this issue.” On October 17, 1997, the first commemoration of the 1961 massacre was held at Pont Saint-Michel. Four years later, on the fortieth anniversary, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë unveiled the plaque officially recognising the massacre.

Marriage equality

Posted on August 26th, 2017

In France, same sex marriage has been legal since May 2013.  There have been 40,000 gay marriages and despite religious prophesy, the sky hasn’t fallen. More than twenty civilised countries now have marriage equality, so it’s sad to watch the equivocation of Australia’s right-wing government. First they refused to allow a conscience vote in parliament, knowing that some government members would vote yes. Under pressure from Christian hard-liners, their next ploy was to promise a plebiscite, to delay and possibly postpone a decision indefinitely. In the uproar that followed, the government shifted to a non-binding postal survey costing over $150 million. This latest ruse has begun to backfire badly. Younger voters typically vote left and favour marriage equality. To be eligible to join the survey you must be on the electoral roll but many young people have not bothered to register. Now more than 90,000 have signed on in four weeks with more to come. The chances for marriage equality are much improved and the government will face a much harder battle come the next election.
Apart from the ugly politics involved, the debate has predictably unleashed venomous attacks on homosexuals. It is shameful that some Australians feel entitled to deny others the human rights they themselves enjoy.

Plagiarism in Aix

Posted on August 26th, 2017

The Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence has an excellent and varied collection of busts, cubist art, sculpture and paintings by Cézanne, Monet, van Gogh and Picasso. Among the collection are two almost identical works juxtaposed for comparison. On the left above is Le Baiser de la Muse, painted by Félix Frillié in 1857 while on the right is Le Baiser de la Muse, painted by Paul Cézanne three years later. It is the Cézanne version that receives all the publicity. More pictures of the exhibits can be seen: HERE

Albert Marquet, Quai des Grands-Augustins, 1905

Pablo Picasso, The Rescue, 1933

Kosta Alex, L’Echappée Belle, 1966

Paul Cezanne, Les Baigneuses, 1895



Hunting again

Posted on August 25th, 2017

Hunting dogs resting out of season

The hunting season has begun again, just for sanglier (wild boar) at the moment, but it will gradually open for other species soon. It is relatively quiet today but this is August, when all of France is on holiday. We expect the woods and fields to become hazardous from early September.
Last season 143 hunting accidents were reported across France, including eighteen deaths. Three of those deaths occurred while hunting small game, mainly rabbits, pheasants, partridge, hare, thrush and other small birds. The highest number of deaths, fifteen last season, was during large game hunting for deer and sanglier, of which there are plenty near us.
Local sanglier hunters employ chasse d’attente, where several guns lie in wait for sanglier to be driven towards them by large hunting dogs. The hunters race around in 4-wheel drives, communicating excitedly by mobile phone, and generally seem to have little regard for safety or property or the rules. We should not condone cruelty as a game……



Posted on August 23rd, 2017

In a small corner of the Marais in Paris there is a memorial to the Zajdner Family. Fifteen year-old twins Bernard and Simon Zajdner were deported to Auschwitz in May 1944, along with their father, mother, brother and sister Micheline. The twins were victims of the experiments of Josef Mengele. Only Micheline and her mother survived.

Bernard and Simon Zajdner

“My name is Simon Zajdner. I am fifteen. I am five foot six inches tall.” That’s what I had to write, as soon as I came to the zoo. Currently I am lying on the bed of my bunk, shared with two other Jewish children. One of them is my twin, Bernard. I came here with him, on the trains. I was being held closely by my mother- I remember the smell of her coat vividly- the scent of old newspapers and second-hand shops. When they opened the door to our cattle car, our mother became very frightened, “Stay with me, children,” she told us, refusing to let go of our hands. But then some prisoners told her in Yiddish, “Tell them you have twins. There is a Dr. Mengele here who wants twins…”
When I first met him he seemed such a neat, sane man: with his green tunic well pressed; scarcely a hair out of place and his face well scrubbed, he walked up and down the ramp, looking for us, all the while whistling a cheerful tune. He seemed so pleased with himself, so pleased with the work he was doing
Our life here at the zoo is not as bad as some of the conditions we hear of in other barracks. We keep our hair and our shoes. In exchange, the numbers are called. Our bargain.
Onkel Mengele is our new family. He tells us that our parents are alive and well, and brings us chocolate. He is a kind man, I can tell. Some people don’t understand, but he hates this place as much as we do, and in saying he needs us for ‘experiments’ he is saving us from what others must endure. He is not an enemy. He is not ‘experimenting’ on us- he is protecting us.


Posted on August 23rd, 2017

The Hotel de Sens in the 4eme arrondissement is one Paris’ few remaining medieval civil buildings. It was built by the Archbishop of Sens, Tristan de Salazar, between 1475 and 1519. The archbishops departed the building in 1622, after which it was rented out until the revolution, when it was seized as a national asset and sold privately. The Hotel was finally repurchased in 1911 by the City of Paris, which commenced restoration lasting 32 years. It is now a library of decorative arts.
The building has one remarkable feature. In July 1830 there was a three day citizens insurrection against King Charles X. The revolutionaries surrounded the Hotel de Ville district, building barricades and firing cannons into the old city. One of those cannonballs hit the Hotel de Sens and today remains firmly lodged high on the eastern wall.



Posted on June 17th, 2017

Lunchtime scene at Vaugines

Like father, like son?

Posted on June 12th, 2017

On 22nd August 1962, on a road outside Paris, twelve OAS paramilitaries attempted to assassinate President de Gaulle. The Citroen DS19 carrying the president and his wife was hit by twenty bullets, but both occupants escaped. The attackers were disgruntled French-Algerian partisans seeking to prevent Algerian independence. De Gaulle became their target after he condemned and halted a generals coup in Algiers in April 1961.
The would-be assassins were led by Lieutenant Colonel Bastien-Thiry and his second in command, Lieutenant Alain de La Tocnaye. Bastien-Thiry was subsequently found guilty and became the last person in France to be shot by firing squad. De La Tocnaye was also sentenced to death but released after only five years in prison, dying in Cavaillon in January 2009. His political views were so extreme right that he thought de Gaulle was a “crypto-communist”. He remained an active extremist all his life, involved in the Parti Nationaliste Francais and the Mouvement Travail Patrie before joining the Front National. 
Which brings me to the current elections for 577 seats in the Legislative Assembly, the first round of which took place yesterday. If no-one achieves more than 50% of the vote in any given electorate then it goes to a second round run-off between the two leading candidates next Sunday 18th June. Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche is expected to dominate the final round securing more than 400 seats. Other parties, such as the Parti Socialiste will be decimated, but there are local pockets of support for the conservative Les Republicains, the far-right Front Nationale and the communist La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). Our little commune of Lacoste has only 308 registered electors, being part of a wider electorate which includes Bonnieux, Cavaillon and l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Yesterday 170 votes were cast in Lacoste, with just twelve choosing the Front National candidate, a certain Thibault de La Tocnaye…….

Left, right, left, right, onwards!

Posted on May 8th, 2017

Emmanuel Macron was victorious in the French Presidentielles last night by a margin of 2:1 over far right candidate Marine Le Pen. My department of the Vaucluse voted 53.5% for Macron, but he won 71.4% of the votes in our commune of Lacoste. It was welcome news in the face of gains by the extreme right represented elsewhere by Donald Trump, Theresa May, Malcolm Turnbull and the appalling Binyamin Netanyahu. If you don’t think they are extremists then take a closer look at their policies on refugees, healthcare, privatisation, the environment and taxation. And pay special attention to who supports them, who benefits, where the money comes from and the influence of the religious right. It has been fun reading the right-wing British Brexit press trying to manufacture some good news from defeat, while the Daily Mail could not even include it on their front page. Fortunately the French media are significantly more level-headed and balanced, and French voters generally seem much better educated and thoughtful about their voting responsibilities.
But this French election has still shaken the establishment. The two principal parties of right and left are in disarray, having failed to reach the final run-off. Many of those who supported Macron did so principally to frustrate the nationalism, racism and negativity of Le Pen. Equally many stayed away, unable to bring themselves to vote for a perceived establishment banker. Macron formed his new political movement En Marche! only a year ago, it has no seats in the legislative assembly, a limited party structure and is short on funds. Next elections for the 577 seats in the legislative assembly are in June, only five weeks away, barely time for En Marche! to put together an effective vote-winning campaign against the established parties, leaving Macron to face a potentially hostile assembly. Our new president will need exceptional skills to bring together a polarised electorate and overcome establishment resistance if he is to achieve worthwhile change.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”Desmond Tutu

Flamants de la camargue

Posted on May 7th, 2017

Late winter is when the flamingoes of the Camargue wetlands are at their finest. Thousands assemble near the coastal town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer,  growing brilliant red/pink plumage to attract breeding mates.
These are flamants roses or pink flamingoes, who conduct an elaborate mating ballet with necks entwined and low grumbling. Eggs are laid in April/May at the Lake of Fangassier, the only flamingo breeding site in France. Around 10,000 birds live here all year, but the population swells to over 40,000 in summer. It’s a pleasant two-hour drive from here and well worth the effort.