If there is any subject that, on the surface, reveals the well-known differences between French and Anglo-Saxon cultures, it’s the most obvious one — attitudes towards sex. Nicolas Sarkozy knew this, Dominique Strauss-Kahn did not. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a conversation between Sarkozy and Strauss-Kahn just before the latter moved to Washington DC to take up his new post as head of International Monetary Fund. Knowing Strauss-Kahn’s reputation as a compulsive womaniser, Sarkozy warned his political rival to keep his notorious zipper problem under control in puritanical America where public figures who get caught philandering are torn to pieces by the media. Strauss-Kahn obviously wasn’t listening. Perhaps he had grown arrogant in high-office, enjoying the impunity of power in France. Perhaps he’d been too long used to the tacit indulgence towards his womanising by his many close friends

Quai des Nations, 1900

Sunday, 01 May 2011 by

QUAI DES NATIONS: I came across these photos from 1900 that show the precise location where I live today — on the very spot where the boldly white United States Pavilion stood in 1900. A century ago this stretch along the Seine was called, fittingly, “Quai des Nations” after the national pavilions erected for the Exposition. In an earlier time, I believe, it was known as the “Port du Gros Caillou”. Today it’s called the Quai d’Orsay (also the familiar name of France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is a few yard yards down the road from my place). In the black and white photo, note the American bald eagle surveying the Seine from atop the pavilion’s dome. The eagle is seen more clearly in the colour photo of the USA Pavilion taken from a different angle. I am also intrigued by

Portraits of Oscar

Saturday, 30 April 2011 by

PORTRAITS OF OSCAR: three photos taken (with my iPhone) over recent months — the first on the Champs de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower; the second on the grounds of the chateau de Fontainebleau; and the third on the Invalides esplanade near my flat in Paris.

  I am obsessed with Patricia Highsmith. My reading habits, I confess, have always been obsessive. Whenever I discover authors, if I am moved by a book I go through everything they’ve written. My obsessions are eclectic. I once read the entire Herodotus, spending weeks immersed in ancient Rome. I similarly went through an obsessive Maupassant phase, and in truth have never really emerged from it. A few years back, I read everything by Ian McEwan, such was my admiration for his writing. Now I’m plunged into the strange world of Patricia Highsmith. I’m not terribly interested in Highsmith’s life, despite the fascinating and perverse similarities between her troubled personality and the characters she created. She was alcoholic, lesbian, misanthropic, racist, and evidently cold and cruel in her personal relationships. The young author in the nude photo above, and the more

My fascination for the photo above can be explained not only because, dating more than a century ago, it wonderfully evokes the quaint fin-de-siecle romanticism of the Belle Epoque. Taken in 1900 from the pont Alexandre III, the photo shows the opulent pavillions that sprouted like a magnificent 19th century Disneyland along the Seine as part of the 1900 Exposition. The parasoled Victorian women and top-hatted gentlemen in the foreground were presumably visiting the world’s fair. Millions visited Paris that year to behold new-fangled inventions like escalators and sound-recording machines. Oscar Wilde, who would die in Paris later that same year, visited the fair where he made a brief recording of his voice, reading four lines from his poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”.  The photo holds another fasciation for me: it shows my current neighbourhood, the 7th arrondissement, a

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