When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: France

Stylish In Stripes

1945: Bessie, comtesse de Mauduit, returned to Paris from Ravensbrück concentration camp still dressed in her striped uniform, but looking elegant all the same (“encore vêtu de l’uniforme rayé des déportés et très élégante tout de meme”). Another inmate, a head seamstress from the Schiaparelli fashion house, had restyled her uniform.

Source: Jean Galtier-Boissière, Journal 1940–1950 (1992), pp. 410, 413

Right Priorities

1944: Major-General Charles Gerhardt, commander of the American 29th Division, was a stickler for discipline. Amid the carnage and destruction of Omaha beach on D-Day – mangled corpses, smashed landing craft, burned-out vehicles and discarded weapons – he yelled at a soldier for dropping orange peel.

Source: Antony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (2009), p. 153

Papal Divisions

1935: During a visit to Moscow, the French foreign minister, Pierre Laval, urged Joseph Stalin to improve the lot of Catholics in the Soviet Union. Stalin was utterly contemptuous of Catholics and the Vatican. “The Pope!” he snorted. “How many divisions has he got?” (To which the perfect riposte would have been: “The same number that Karl Marx had.”)

Source: Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, I: The Gathering Storm (1950), p. 121

Lindbergh’s Logic

Charles Lindbergh, standing in front of the plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis

1927: Charles Lindbergh’s inflight food for his trans-Atlantic trip consisted of five sandwiches. With dry logic he explained, “If I get to Paris, I won’t need any more, and if I don’t get to Paris, I won’t need any more either.”

Source: A. Scott Berg, Lindbergh, 1998, pp. 14–15

Unmusical Anatomy

Erik Satie, photographed by Man Ray in about 1921

1917: The music critic Jean Poueigh congratulated Parade’s composer, Erik Satie, when the ballet was first performed in Paris, but then savaged it in print. The enraged composer fired off a series of insulting postcards. “You are an ass-hole – and, if I dare say so – an unmusical ‘ass-hole’.” (“Vous êtes un cul – si j’ose dire, un «cul» sans musique.”)

Source: Satie Seen Through His Letters, ed. Ornella Volta (1994), pp. 131–3

Natural Causes

1967: Grigori Rasputin was murdered in Petrograd on the night of 29 December 1916. Prince Felix Yusupov and his fellow conspirators poisoned Rasputin with cyanide, shot him four times, clubbed him, kicked him, tied him up and finally pushed him through a hole in the ice on the River Neva.

After the Russian Revolution, Yusupov fled abroad and lived most of the rest of his life in Paris. He died on 27 September 1967 at the age of 80 – unlike Rasputin, from natural causes.

Prince Felix Yusupov, photographed in 1914

Source: Andrew Cook, To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (2005), p. 226

Nuclear Option

1954: Did the Eisenhower administration really offer to drop atomic bombs on the Vietminh troops besieging the French at Dien Bien Phu? Nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did the Americans contemplate once again using their nuclear arsenal in combat? Howard Simpson thought so. “The relevant documents remain classified,” he wrote in Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot, “but enough has seeped out through personal comments and written memoirs to suggest that such a proposal was seriously considered.” Fortunately for the men on the ground, the idea was abandoned; any attack would have wiped out attackers and defenders indiscriminately.

Source: Martin Windrow, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (2004), pp. 568–9

Singed Eyebrows

1938: In dense cloud over the south of France, a ball of lightning entered the open cockpit window of a B.O.A.C. flying boat, singed the captain’s eyebrows and hair, burned a hole in his seat belt, and then meandered harmlessly through the forward passenger cabin into the rear cabin, where it burst with a loud explosion.

Source: Nature, 5 April 1952

Vulgar Wailing

1932: “Ravel’s Bolero I submit as the most insolent monstrosity ever perpetrated in the history of music. From the beginning to the end of its 339 measures it is simply the incredible repetition of the same rhythm,” scoffed Edward Robinson in The American Mercury. The main theme, he wrote, was “an overwhelmingly vulgar cabaret tune”, little different from “the wail of an obstreperous back-alley cat”.

Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (2000), p. 138

Beauty Regime

1920: “Like every morning I have had my enema, in order to preserve a clear skin and sweet breath,” wrote Princess Ghika in her notebook on 11 January. “It is a family habit, approved of by Dr Pinard,” explained the princess, the former demi-mondaine Liane de Pougy. “One of Maman’s old great-aunts, the beautiful Madame Rhomès, died at the age of ninety and a half with a complexion of lilies and roses, skin like a child’s. She took her little enema, it seems, at five o’clock every evening, so that she would sleep very well. She did it cheerfully in public. She would simply stand in front of the fireplace; her servant would come in discreetly, armed with the loaded syringe; Madame Rhomès would lean forward gracefully so that her full skirts lifted, one two three, and it was done! Conversation was not interrupted. After a minute or two my beautiful ancestress would disappear briefly, soon to return with the satisfaction of a duty performed.”

Source: Liane de Pougy, My Blue Notebooks (1979), p. 83

Target Practice

1916: When the British attack lost momentum on the first day of the battle of the Somme, Lieutenant R.A. Heptonstall found himself stranded in no man’s land. “From my shell hole I could see a dead man propped up against the German wire in a sitting position.” A German rifleman whiled away the time taking pot shots at the corpse “until his head was completely shot away”.

Source: Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 (1988), p. 218

High Flyer

Vaslav Nijinsky, portrayed by John Singer Sargent

1909: Ballerina Tamara Karsavina recounted how Vaslav Nijinsky “rose up, a few yards off the wings, described a parabola in the air, and disappeared from sight. No one of the audience could see him land; to all eyes he floated up and vanished.” Nijinsky’s leaps, defiant of gravity, caused a sensation in Paris. How did he accomplish them? Were they difficult? “No! No!” he replied, “not difficult. You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.”

Source: Tamara Karsavina, Theatre Street (1930), pp. 240, 241–2

Record Breaker

Jeanne Calment in 1895, aged 20

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

“Wind Of Change”

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.

Source: www.france24.com/en/
20100214-1960-year-independence

Safe From Bullets

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

Bound For Glory

Isadora Duncan, photographed in 1911 by Otto Wegener

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

Dodgy Excuse

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

“One Of The Best”

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

Sleight Of Hands

Portrait of Pablo Picasso, by Juan Gris

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

Crocodile Smile

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

“The Little Fellows”

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

Nobs And Spivs

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

“Comme Les Autres”

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

Peace In Wartime

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

Messy Tenants

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

Dead Giveaway

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

Dirty Tricks In French Rugby

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.

Source: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interdiction_du_rugby_à_XIII_en_France