1900: The runners in the marathon at the Paris Olympics included the aptly named Champion and Fast. Emile Champion of France finished in second place and Ernst Fast from Sweden in third.
Tag archive: France
1997: Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment died on 4 August at the age of 122 years and 164 days – the longest confirmed lifespan, by a considerable margin, of any human in history. At the age of 100 she still cycled around her hometown of Arles, she was almost 110 before she needed to move into a retirement home, and she didn’t quit smoking until her 117th year.
Source: Michel Allard, Victor Lèbre and Jean-Marie Robine, Jeanne Calment: From Van Gogh’s Time to Ours, 122 Extraordinary Years (1998), pp. 73, 119
1960: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent,” British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told South Africa’s white lawmakers. Belgium relinquished control of the Belgian Congo; in West Africa, a swathe of French colonies gained independence; Britain pulled out of Nigeria. In a single year, Macmillan’s “wind of change” gusted through 17 African nations.
1928: The War of the Hoe Handle took its name – Kongo Wara in the Gbaya language of central Africa – from the hoe handles, or kongo, that the messianic leader Karnu distributed to his adherents to protect them against European bullets.
Karnu attracted followers in western Ubangi-Shari by claiming to have the power to get rid of the detested French colonisers and, for good measure, the ability to turn them into gorillas.
Source: Canadian Journal of African Studies, 1984
1927: “Adieu, mes amis, je vais à la gloire!” the dancer Isadora Duncan shouted from the passenger seat of her car – “Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!”
The car was an Amilcar Grand Sport – low and fast. The driver was a young garage owner from Nice named Bénoit Falchetto.
Duncan sat with a red shawl draped round her neck. The shawl was the size of a tablecloth; its fringe slipped over the side of the car and dangled dangerously close to the rear wheel. “Isadora, ta châle! Ramasse ta châle!” shouted a friend – “Isadora, your shawl! Pick up your shawl!”
Falchetto revved the engine and put it in gear. The car surged forward. The fringe caught in the spokes. The shawl wrapped round the wheel, yanked back Duncan’s head and snapped her neck.
Source: Peter Kurth, Isadora: The Sensational Life of Isadora Duncan (2002), pp. 553–6
1923: On 11 January, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr region on the pretext that Germany had defaulted on the payment of reparations: specifically that it had failed to deliver a shipment of telegraph poles and cut timber on time.
Source: Conan Fischer, The Ruhr Crisis, 1923–1924 (2003), p. 28
1918: The epitaph to Second Lieutenant W.L. Smart of the Lancashire Fusiliers consoles us that “to live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die”. Subaltern Smart was killed on 29 August 1918 and is buried at the Mory Street cemetery south of Arras. Personal inscriptions in the British military cemeteries of France and Belgium convey immense grief and tenderness. The inscription on the nearby grave of Private T.M. Finn of the Irish Guards, killed two days earlier, reads: “I loved him in life how I love him in death”. Serjeant S. Bates of the Manchester Regiment, who died on 29 March 1917 at the age of 20, is remembered simply and touchingly as “one of the best”.
Source: Personal diary
1973: Pablo Picasso never learned to swim. According to his widow, Jacqueline Roque, he mimicked strokes with his arms, while keeping his feet planted on the bottom.
Source: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917–1932 (2007), p. 160
1952: After failing his exams in Paris for the second year in a row, Saloth Sâr’s scholarship was stopped and he returned to Cambodia.
“There was never the least hint of what he would become,” said Mey Mann, who knew Sâr in France. Others felt the same.
“He never said very much,” Mann remembered. “He just had that smile of his. He liked to joke, he had a slightly mischievous way about him.”
Back in Cambodia, the mediocre student with the reticent manner and engaging smile devoted himself to the revolutionary struggle. By the late 1960s he had become the undisputed leader of Cambodia’s communists, and in 1970 he adopted a new name: Pol Pot.
Source: Philip Short, Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare (2004), pp. 31, 44
1951: James Joyce’s wife, Nora, outlived him by 10 years. She was protective of his literary reputation, though at times she overdid it. When an interviewer questioned her about the French writer André Gide, she remarked: “Sure, if you’ve been married to the greatest writer in the world, you don’t remember all the little fellows.”
Source: Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1983), p. 743
1949: Visiting Cannes, on the Riviera, Nancy Mitford found herself hobnobbing with a sizeable contingent from the British working class with their “Rolls Royces & luxury yachts – the black marketeers I suppose”.
Source: Nancy Mitford, The Letters of Nancy Mitford: Love from Nancy, ed. Charlotte Mosley (1993), pp. 233–4
1948: Charles de Gaulle’s tender love for his family contrasted sharply with the cold dignity he displayed towards the public.
De Gaulle was especially devoted to his second daughter, Anne, who suffered from Down’s syndrome. She was different from de Gaulle’s other children, different from other parents’ children, and de Gaulle loved her all the more because of it. Anne reciprocated his love; sometimes she squeezed his cheeks so hard she left red marks and the only word she could apparently say properly was “papa”.
At the age of 20, she caught pneumonia. Her body hadn’t the strength to fight the illness, and she died on 6 February. At the graveside, de Gaulle consoled his wife, Yvonne: “She’s like the others now.” (“Maintenant, elle est comme les autres.”)
Source: Jonathan Fenby, The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved (2010), pp. 90–1, 337–8
1941: “You hear people say that fishing is a waste of time,” wrote the novelist and keen angler H.E. Bates. “Can time be wasted?” he pondered. “In a hundred years it will not matter much whether on a June day in 1941 I fished for perch or devoted the same time to acquiring greater learning by studying the works of Aristotle, of which, anyway, I have no copy. The day is very hot, and there are thousands of golden-cream roses blooming on the house wall in the sun. Perhaps someone will be glad that I described them, sitting as I am forty miles from the German lines at Calais. Perhaps someone will wonder then at the stoicism, the indifference, the laziness or the sheer lack of conscience of someone who thought roses and fish of at least as much importance as tanks and bombs.”
Source: H.E. Bates, The Country Heart (1949), p. 30
1924: In July, Pablo Picasso and his family rented a villa at Juan-les-Pins, on the Riviera. Picasso turned the villa’s empty garage into a studio and decorated its bare walls with murals. The owner was not appreciative, and Picasso had to fork out 800 francs to restore the walls to their original state.
Source: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917–1932 (2007), p. 265
1914: Lieutenant Erwin Rommel, in action for the first time, noticed the August sun glinting on the metal cooking pots on top of the tall packs of the French infantry as they tramped through fields of not-yet-harvested grain to where he waited in ambush.
Source: Erwin Rommel, Infantry Attacks (2006), p. 11
“Some say . . . [that homosexual] practices are allowed in France and in other NATO countries. We are not French, and we are not other nationals. We are British, thank God!”VISCOUNT MONTGOMERY OF ALAMEIN, SPEAKING DURING THE HOUSE OF LORDS DEBATE ON THE SEXUAL OFFENCES BILL, 24 MAY 1965
1941: Rugby union and rugby league have never seen fully eye to eye. In France, rugby union slumped in popularity in the 1930s as spectators deserted it for the newly introduced rugby league.
Following the military defeat of France in 1940, rugby union stooped to dirty tricks against its sporting rival. Officials lobbied the Vichy government, and in December 1941 rugby league was banned.
Although rugby league was rehabilitated after the downfall of Pétain, it never recovered its prewar vitality and remains a minority sport.
1940: The speed with which the Wehrmacht lunged across northern France caught P.G. Wodehouse on the hop; he was trapped in his villa at Le Touquet.
Two months later, the Germans decided to intern all enemy males under the age of 60. Wodehouse was given ten minutes to pack. Ethel, his wife, went “nearly insane” and couldn’t find the keys for the room with the suitcase. Plum went into captivity equipped with “a copy of Shakespeare, a pair of pajamas, and a mutton chop”.
Source: P.G. Wodehouse, P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, ed. Sophie Ratcliffe (2011), p. 295
1935: In her notebook entry for 15 July, Princess Ghika – the former demi-mondaine Liane de Pougy – recounted: “Anniversary of the day on which I got married and on which, with one thrust which quite deprived me of breath, I lost my virginity.”
Source: Liane de Pougy, My Blue Notebooks (1979), p. 262
1900: Can worms strut? Apparently so. At his brother’s funeral, the author Jules Renard observed a fat worm at the graveside (“un gros ver au bord”) strutting about, looking very pleased with things (“on dirait qu’il se réjouit, qu’il se pavane”).
Source: Jules Renard, Journal 1887–1910 (1990), p. 447
Illustration by Benjamin Rabier in Jules Renard’s Histoires Naturelles (1909)