Bon courage !

I run.

I enjoy running. I used to run marathons, twenty kilos ago. If I dropped some weight, I might run marathons again. As it is, on most days I run on roads or trails for about an hour. Sometimes I add interval training and sprint for a few, short bursts; but mostly I just run, slow and steady.

When I came to Paris to work, back in 1992, there weren’t many runners on the Champs de Mars. I distinctly remember drawing a few stares. That has all changed, of course. It’s not New York’s Central Park, but the sight of a runner in a Paris park is no longer cause for amusement.

There seems to be an unwritten rule among French runners: don’t acknowledge fellow runners. Most pretend not even to see you. Some will nod, but most don’t. I find myself saying “bonjour!” to fellow runners much more often than I hear other runners greet me.

This feigned invisibility only seems to apply to other runners. Walkers and strollers and seated park-goers do notice runners, including me. Every so often, they speak a couple of words. Almost invariably, these words are “bon courage !”

I enjoy the support but have often wondered about what the speaker means. Does my effort signal some sort of fortitude, some exemplary conduct that observers salute? Or am I seen as so hopelessly slow that I need encouragement, a few words to fuel my continued effort?

Postmortem: Eight Questions on the French Presidential Elections

  1. Did Sarkozy lose the election, or for the incumbent was this race unwinnable? Did Sarkozy and his handlers tragically misread or underestimate the strength and depth of anti-Sarkozy sentiment in the electorate?
  2. Does Hollande hold a mandate for anything? Did his blandness and seeming lack of substance improve his performance as the anti-incumbent?
  3. Which was the greatest disservice to Sarkozy’s campaign: morose economic conditions that would be a curse to any candidate; policy proposals that struck voters as unattractive (or even repulsive); or the candidate’s own personality (hyperactive, ever-changing)?
  4. Sarkozy held off, for a long time, in declaring his candidacy for re-election. Would his campaign have been better served had he officially announced his intention to seek re-election the day (before? after?) Hollande was anointed as his challenger?
  5. In 2007, Sarkozy ran as a candidate of change. This was no mean feat, as conservatives were in power, and Sarkozy held ministerial portfolios. In 2012, Sarkozy ran as an outsider (not as the incumbent, based on a record) seeking –paradoxically– to preserve (or conserve, but not to change) French institutions and lifestyle. Would Sarkozy have been better served by running, again in 2012, as the candidate for change?
  6. In 2007, Sarkozy’s “travailler plus pour gagner plus” (work more to earn more, earn more by working more) echoed Blair’s call for an “opportunity society”: both championed for social mobility. By 2012, social mobility disappeared from Sarkozy’s objectives. Evocations of “travail” (work) rang hollow and divisive. Would the Sarkozy campaign have stood better chances had the incumbent positioned himself as an advocate for social mobility?
  7. Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign slogan echoed an exhortation made long ago, under the reign of King Louis-Philippe, by statesman François Guizot: “Enrichissez-vous” (enrich yourselves). Both slogans shrugged off traditional unease with money and shone a favorable light on material prosperity. Unfavorable publicity surrounding Sarkozy –a celebratory dinner on the Champs-Elysées, a respite on a billionaire’s yacht, a noticeable penchant for aviator sunglasses and collectable watches– tempered arguments in favor of making money. Since the financial crisis, growth seems not to be even an option in Sarkozy’s mind. By 2012, any tax relief seemed off the table; Sarkozy instead pushed for a tax rearrangement that would cut some payroll taxes but boost VAT, paid by all and felt heavily by lower-income households. Would Sarkozy’s prospects have shown more promise had the candidate at least paid lip service to the goal of increasing household income and bettering material circumstances?
  8. Until a year ago, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the socialist also-ran tapped by Sarkozy to head the IMF, seemed, largely on a widely shared assumption of economic competence, likely to win his party’s nomination and the 2012 presidential election. Once Strauss-Kahn ceased to be a political rival, why didn’t Sarkozy and his handlers build the incumbent’s campaign around economic themes, developed over several months?

Komm rüber !

15 August 1961.
Conrad Schumann was 19.

Forty years ago

French city-dwellers live differently than do French farmers. A glorious proliferation of springtime holidays, the French Open, and especially the Cannes Film Festival all drive home this point, emphatically. Springtime in France is littered with events that only city-dwellers can follow; most farmers are too busy tended their fields, vineyards, or orchards even to notice.

One of my favorite photos from the Cannes Film Festival dates from 1971 and marks its fortieth anniversary this year.

The photo shows Keith Richards, longtime companion Anita Pallenberg, their children (presumably, although given the ages maybe not children they had together), various onlookers, and the palm trees that line the Cannes boardwalk.

Richards and family are on their way to the screening of “Gimme Shelter“, a documentary concert film built around the Rolling Stones that dramatically illustrates what can go wrong amidst poor planning or organization, circa 1970. (It’s neither a happy movie nor a protest film.)

In the photo, Richards and family are more upbeat and arguably more relaxed than the concert film they’re about to see. I love the photo because it’s so relaxed, yet stylish. Palm trees, a cigarette, a sun hat, a sunset. The family travels on foot, not in a limousine. She’s carrying a child; he’s carrying what looks like a purse.

What I like most in the photo is the young boy’s expression, particularly how his happy exuberance contrasts with the taut impatience of the tuxedoed photographer in the background. (The two children appear more engaged with their surroundings and the spectacle than their parents, who strike me as vacant or not wholly present.)

I’m not sure who the boy is, and I haven’t been able to identify the photographer, for attribution; the image is catalogued in the Bettmann archive.

I must have been sleeping in art history class

self-portrait at Louvre

Every month, the Louvre chooses a “painting of the month”, which is displayed in Salle 18.

From June through September, the Louvre has chosen a self-portrait by Elisabeth-Sophie Chéron. Summer visitors to Paris: rejoice! This is a rare chance to become acquainted with a remarkable artist.

I must have dozed off in art history class when Chéron was discussed, because I became acquainted with her work years after my college days.

An introduction to Chéron:

  • born 1648, died 1711
  • protestant father, catholic mother; brother Louis, also an artist, settled in England after the revocation on Nantes made life difficult for protestants in France
  • won acclaim as a painter for portraits, including the two self-portraits in this post, done while Chéron was in her 20s
  • admitted into the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture in 1672, when Chéron was in her 30s
  • also a celebrated writer and poet; most of her work had religious or Biblical themes
  • good with languages : French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew
  • for her writings, was inducted into the Accademia dei Ricovrati in Padua, which seems to have had a practice of admitting French women because they would not attend Academy proceedings in person
  • also an accomplished musician
  • married after her childbearing years were over

self-portrait at musée condé, chantilly