Black Marianne: A freedom too far for France?

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the groundswell of affirmation for freedom of expression in France, you might have thought that all was well in the land of Liberty, Egality, Fraternity. At least as far as what the state is prepared to allow in the name of artistic expression.

Not so in the small town of Fremainville, in Northern France, whose mayor has removed the statue of a black Marianne from outside the town hall. Here is the statue in question.

260115-marianne-noire-620Beautiful, isn’t she? Marianne is a national symbol of the French Republic, an allegory of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. You will be shocked to learn that most Mariannes are white.

And it appears the mayor, Marcel Allègre, wants to keep it that way. He claims that a black Marianne is a “Marianne of liberty, but not a Marianne of the French Republic. She undoubtedly represented something, but not the French Republic.”

So, absolute freedom of expression where the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are concerned, but you can’t allow a black Marianne to represent the French Republic? The cognitive dissonance is staggering.

If the French are serious about freedom of expression, then I suggest the government overrules this stupid, racist mayor, and puts the statue back in place. Furthermore, I suggest they commission more Mariannes, representing all the ethnic minorities.

Including a few Muslim Mariannes, complete with headscarf.

The Tiger Lillies: Low Life Lullabies Live at Cite de la Musique

Deep joy! A full concert from The Tiger Lillies, who I had the pleasure of seeing twice in Seattle.

Just found my favourite track – not sure if it’s in the concert – so here is the haunting Flying Robert from Shockheaded Peter. The cautionary tale of a boy who will go out in windy weather with an umbrella, instead of playing inside with his toys.

Daily Video: Tatoue-moi & Amadeus

Thanks be to Thoughts on Theatre, for posting Tatoue-moi a couple of days. I should have credited the inspiration at the time I posted this, but forgot to do so. My apologies to Thoughts on Theatre.

A French rock opera about Mozart, which makes perfect sense. The man was obviously a rock star in his time. Some unintentionally funny subtitles – I particularly liked, “I want to engrave all of my lust on your gilding.” I recommend Amadeus for a lipsmacking account of Mozart’s life. Tom Hulce is brilliant in the title role, with that subversive, maniacal giggle. You can see why Salieri might have been royally pissed-off, though I can’t vouch for the film’s historical accuracy. It’s a glorious romp, and rock stars are created, not born.

Daily Photo: Classic French Cars on Bastille Day


Bastille Day, 2008, at the Seattle Center.

A Flight of Poetry

I’m completely charmed by this video, which has everything I love rolled up into a Nouvelle Vague package. There’s poetry, Paris, the Eiffel Tower, and a chanson d’amour, all articulated through the flight of a paper plane and filmed in black and white.

The video comes from a Parisian literary magazine, Do Not Look At The Sun.

Divagation on anthems, flags, patriotism, and identity

Surfing the zeitgeist in pursuit of a cheap and easy blog post, I came across this Guardian article about Cyndi Lauper fluffing a line in the US national anthem, at a 9/11 memorial service yesterday.

It brought to mind the Rutland Isles’ national anthem, which must surely be the subtext for them all.  Here’s Eric Idle, leading a motley crew of performers on the Bill Maher show, just before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the matter of national anthems, I’m all for giving it the Full Monty, so people know where you stand, as it were.  No other anthem surpasses the French in full-throated patriotic fervour.  I give you my personal favourite, La Marseillaise.

Now, while we’re in the mood, where are those bankers…?

Rather than end on a cheap political joke, I’m going to suggest that each of us inhabits a different country, although we might agree on certain broad ideas that seem to bind us together.  Any one flag is guaranteed to be partial or incomplete.  An ideal, individual flag would bear some resemblance to the Buddhist idea of a mandala, an object of individual focus and meditation.

Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel, Cat’s Cradle, invented the religion of Bokononism.  It suggests that we “live by the foma (harmless untruths) that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”  All religion is a lie and so, by extension, are all notions of national identity.  Problem is, where do you find a foma that’s truly harmless?

There’s one term in Bokononism, a granfalloon, which I particularly like.  As much for the sound of the word as for its meaning.  It means “a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.”  I think a lot of us inhabit granfalloons of various kinds.  Rank-and-file Teabaggers spring readily to mind, claiming kinship with the very economic forces that rob them blind.  The mutual association is actually destructive in this case.

I suppose this is my response to the 9/11 anniversary.  I want to choose my own friends and enemies, not be bound together in a granfalloon dictated by patriotism.