Marianne in mourning

Marianne pleureTears and other public displays of emotion are not characteristic of the French. But while they may not smile and laugh all the time that does not mean the French don’t feel things. Deeply.

Marianne is in mourning. For three days the nation will wear black, mourn its dead, weep for so many innocent lives lost in Paris on November 13, 2015. There will be anger, there will be sadness and regret. These feelings will erupt only occasionally into tears and shouting. Mostly, there will be small acts of kindness, like those of the strangers who took in blood-stained victims from the street and let them shower, who offered food and shelter for a few hours until the siege was over. Like the gesture of this spontaneous embrace captured when shots last rang out in Paris.

There is no accordion music playing in the streets of Paris — not today or any other day. Paris is not the romantic city of postcards, of Hollywood movies, although if you spend any time there you will experience moments of pure magic. Perhaps you will love its joie de vivre all the more for the fact that it takes place against a backdrop of restraint.

I am not a Parisian but a little piece of my heart will always be there. We lived in Paris for most of 1986 before getting married here. Our apartment was in the 7th arrondissement, just a few blocks from the Eiffel tower. It was a short time but one that left an indelible mark in my memory. Paris is indeed a moveable feast.

There was a wave of terror attacks in Paris that year. As a Canadian abroad, it was the first time I had encountered machine-gun toting police in the street. We lived with what became for me the constant fear of bombs in the metro, in the cinemas and the shops. I learned the French word for terrorist act – attentat – and became familiar with the identity checks and security measures of the plan ‘Vigipirate’.

Like many of my compatriots here in France, I have felt numb since waking to the news of Friday’s attacks. Perhaps it was to be expected. Since we reeled from the cold-blooded murders at Charlie Hebdo in January, there have been many reported terror attempts – fortunately failed. Lest we forget, France is still public enemy number one of Daesh.

And like many of my fellow countrymen, I wonder why. Why are we fighting a war that cannot be won, at least not with bombs? Why can’t we fix our own broken social system so that French-born Muslims provide less fertile ground for extremism? It’s complicated and I don’t have any answers, other than the obvious one: life is precious. Any life lost to evil, whether in Paris or Beirut, must be mourned.

Marianne is crying but it is not out of self pity. Let us shed a tear for Paris, and for her victims, but no more.

The world needs light and undying love and for this reason Paris will continue to shine.

Vive la France.

Trudeaumania

#TrudeaumaniaMy earliest memory of Pierre Elliott Trudeau goes back to 1967, the year before he became prime minister.

I was ten years old that year, and Canada was celebrating its first 100 years as a country. We were a young country, everyone said, although it didn’t feel that way to me. We celebrated Canada’s centenary and being 20 million with songs and parties and a nascent sense of nationalism. Change was in the air. The Beatles were on the radio and my mother sat glued to our black-and-white TV, just as she did whenever anything big happened in those years: when President Kennedy was shot, when the first man walked on the moon, or when the race riots exploded south of the border.

Trudeau came on the scene as Canada was grappling with issues of identity: who were we, anyway? Were we English, were we French, were we British or American? Perhaps we were a bit of all those things, but somehow when Trudeau became our prime minister, we figured it out. We were the truth north, strong and free! We had our own flag and we learned how to wave it.

And we had a young, attractive PM representing us abroad. He was a bilingual French Canadian, and an intellectual. He was born in Montreal but he had all the glamour of the French. He was also a bachelor, and a bit of a ladies’ man. The women, including my mother, all swooned. Trudeaumania was born. My father scoffed, until someone told him he looked like Trudeau.

Trudeau reportedly had affairs with many famous women, including a personal idol of mine, Barbra Streisand. Then he married a woman thirty years his junior, a flower child called Margaret. Canada was shocked, Canada was thrilled. The couple produced three children while Pierre was in office. Sadly, the marriage did not last and Margaret went off the rails before remarrying and disappearing from public view. She was famously photographed dancing in Studio 54 when the Liberal party lost in 1979.

In his years in office, Trudeau stitched together the fabric of our bilingual and multicultural identity. He managed to calm the Québec sovereignty movement, although he did not make friends there, and made us proud with his stand on international issues.

Like most of my fellow countrymen, I am happy to see the last of Harper. He was boring, polite and oh-so Canadian. I could never remember his name. Outside of Canada, there was no reason to know it.

We Canadians are not the proud, flag-waving types; ours is not a celebrity culture like our American cousins to the south. To some extent, Pierre Trudeau changed that. Now, Justin is set to continue what his father started.

So forgive me for waving the flag for a moment: Long live Trudeaumania!

What are your memories of the Trudeau years? Any thoughts on Canada’s new PM?

Faire son cinéma

Sophie Marceau wardrobe dysfunction

Sophie Marceau’s ‘slip up’

To dramatize, to ham it up, to make a scene: however you translate the French expression ‘faire son cinéma’, it’s happening at the moment in Cannes.

This is one of the rare French expressions that you can actually say in more than one way: faire son cinema, faire du cinéma, faire tout un cinéma…they all mean the same thing. And the French are masters of the art.

It happens every year at this time when the Cannes film festival kicks off for ten days of glamour and glitz. Drama queen moments abound during the festival when the stars hit the red carpet on the steps or ‘la montée des marches’ of the Palais des Festivals.

Mostly they do a better job of going up the steps than François Hollande did on his recent trip to Haiti (he literally hit the red carpet). The French president is known to be a bit of a klutz and he certainly proved it here:

This year in Cannes Sophie Marceau’s underwear ‘slip up’ hit something of a false note. Since revealing her boob to all and sundry on the red carpet a few years ago, she has lost all credibility with the wardrobe malfunction. How desperate for attention can you get?

What really has the croisette buzzing this year is ‘Shoegate,’ sparked by the organizers’ refusal to let women wearing flat shoes go up the highly photographed steps to the première of the film Carol starring Cate Blanchett. There is a strict black-tie dress code in Cannes but festival organizers have formally denied that there is a ‘high-heels only’ policy. It wouldn’t surprise me. Heels are absolutely de rigueur for French women. As someone who makes it a policy to exclusively wear flats, I won’t be likely to get my red carpet moment.

It’s all the more ironic given that this year’s festival is supposedly dedicated to la femme. 

Here are some of my favorite pics from Cannes this year (I have such a crush on Gabriel Byrne!)

Do you have a favorite red carpet moment – in Cannes or elsewhere?

Mayday, m’aider!

Did you know that the expression ‘mayday’ used as a distress signal comes from French? I did not, although I speak the language and have lived in this country for over twenty years.

Amazing what you learn watching television. I was glued to the news last night watching reports of the Germanwings plane crash in the southern French Alps. A former commercial pilot being interviewed on France 2 says that the mystery of this crash is the fact that there was no call of ‘Mayday, mayday, mayday’ – which must be repeated three times according to international protocol. And suddenly it clicks. Mayday is ‘m’aider’ – meaning ‘help me’ in the formal or infinitive form of the verb.

Like you, I am horrified by this crash. The loss of innocent life, the tragic fate of 150 people who took off for a short-haul flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf on Tuesday morning. Something that low-cost travel has made almost like a taking a bus for many Europeans today.

It is all the more shocking considering that the flight was operated by Germanwings, a low-cost affiliate of Lufthansa, one of the world’s safest and most technically reliable airlines.

Perhaps because it has happened here in France, I find myself obsessing about that 8-minute descent into oblivion. The strange trajectory of the crash into the worst possible mountainous region. The gut-wrenching fear of the passengers, the impossible news for the families, the courage of the crews who must sift through the debris for bodies at 1500 meters near Seynes-les-Alpes.

Like many, I’ve considered the possibility that it could be an act of terror. Suicide or a medical emergency is now looking likely with the discovery that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit just before the crash.

My thoughts are with the victims and their families, the hundreds of police and investigators trying to recover the bodies on treacherous terrain at high altitude.

And for anyone who has to get on a plane knowing that their worst fears could be just a ‘mayday’ away.