Throughout the month I come across a fair number of articles, blogs, images, exhibits, or videos that I’d like to share with readers, but they don’t necessarily work into my typical format. So, I’ve decided to create a monthly post that briefly highlights some of the Internet gems that have caught my eye in recent weeks. In many cases, I provide a link that you can follow to the original source for further details.
Create Your Own Bayeux Tapestry
If, like me, you sometimes need a fun distraction to take your mind off the day’s news, you might enjoy an online application that lets you construct your own medieval pixelated tapestries. The web-app is free and easy to use. For the technically inclined, the source code is on GitHub so you can add your own features and share them with the original developers and the world at large.
Some background if you’re not familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry. Constructed in the early part of the 12th century, the Bayeux Tapestry is a 70-meter long patchwork of embroidered linen that tells the story of France’s military conquest of England, conducted by William, the Duke of Normandy. I was planning to visit the tapestry last spring at its resting place in Bayeux, France but then COVID hit. Discovery of the online embroidery kit has been an enjoyable consolation prize. Below is my attempt at 11th-century-inspired civic action. So much for escaping from the day’s news.
Thanks to blogger Ellen Hawley who wrote about the tapestry application earlier this month. Ellen’s entertaining and informative blog has the cadence and humor of the Bugle podcast, which also delivers news out of the United Kingdom.
Ice Skating in View of the Eiffel Tower
Apparently, each winter the city of Paris constructs a patinoire de Noël, Christmas ice rink, that is located within view of the Eiffel Tower. In 2016, the rink was surprisingly perched on the Eiffel Tower itself. That’s right, skaters could glide about on a frozen platform overlooking Paris, 57 meters above the ground!
Plans for this year announced a patinoire located in the Trocadero Gardens. The 2020 rink was scheduled to open on November 15 but on Wednesday, President Macron delivered a televised address stating that all of France would be placed under rigorous lockdown measures until December. After the opening of schools across the country this fall, France is now reeling under a rapidly increasing COVID case rate. So, at least for November, sliding, spinning, and sprawling on ice in the heart of the city of lights will have to wait.
Switzerland’s House of Press Caricatures
We Americans aren’t the only ones closely following the presidential election. Last week, I came across an exhibit in Morges, Switzerland that opens on November 3 and runs for two weeks. La Maison du dessin de presse, will be displaying political cartoons featuring President Trump. Twenty-three cartoonists have submitted their favorite sketches.
I was happy to see that work from Swiss political cartoonist, Patrick Chappatte, is among the offerings. You may recall the New York Times decision in 2019 to no longer run editorial cartoons. Chappatte had been a regular contributor. His voice joined hundreds of other cartoonists who strongly criticized the decision and systematic efforts to suppress political satire throughout the U.S. newspaper industry. “In the insane world we live in, the art of visual commentary is needed more than ever. And so is humor,” he exclaimed. I wholeheartedly agree. Below are a couple of Chappatte’s drawings that will appear in the exhibit.
The Stables of Versailles Transformed into Gallery
Another exhibit that caught my eye is one taking place in the stables of the Versailles Palace. If you’ve ever visited, you know that the grounds of Versailles are enormous. There are many gardens and buildings to visit aside from Louis XIV’s famous castle. The palace stables are one such area and before this most recent lockdown decree, they were home to an exhibit of marble sculptures from the gardens of Versailles as well as a collection of plaster molds from the Louvre.
A publicity picture, shown below, gives you an idea of the grandeur of the free exhibit. The stables, erected between 1679 and 1683, are usually closed to the public. They alone are a marvel to behold. During construction of the royal palace, Louis XIV placed orders with Europe’s greatest sculptors to create the massive marble figures for his gardens. Approximately 60 of them are on display. The molds on loan from the Louvre originate from Greece, Etruria, and Rome. Intended to run through the end of the year, there may still be another chance to visit in December.
The Controversial Film Cuties
In October, I watched the French film Cuties. I’d heard about the controversial movie, available on Netflix, and watched an interview with its female director, Maïmouna Doucouré. I’d read that the film contained sexually exploitive scenes of pre-teens and that prominent political figures were demanding that Netflix take it off the air. The interview with Doucouré, however, painted a totally different picture. Now, after watching the movie, I stand on the side of the director.
The film addresses a number of complex issues: female subjugation, cultural assimilation, and the perils of growing up in a media-obsessed society. Doucouré rooted the story in her own coming-of-age experience. Like the film’s central character, Doucouré was the daughter of Senegalese immigrants living in Paris and who, like many pre-teens, struggled to fit in with her middle school peers. I found most of the plot to be entirely plausible, regardless of the fact that at times it was uncomfortable to watch.
Before making the movie, Doucouré spoke with hundreds of girls to get an idea of what they’re up against. Her goal in making Cuties was to get people talking openly about the negative impact that social media has on young and teen girls. Her intentions have been mischaracterized by those who claim she exploited her young actors in order to profit from the salacious effect they would have on viewers.
What such detractors seem to ignore is the fact that western society hyper-sexualizes not only young girls but women in general. Recall last year’s Super Bowl halftime with Shakira and Jennifer Lopez? Girls are exposed to such performances, and countless other similar female portrayals, well before they reach puberty. If anything, Doucouré’s reality-based drama shows why adults urgently need to engage with kids and help them navigate the tangled implications and potentially harmful consequences of emulating media influencers. Doing so is perhaps scary and difficult, but stifling conversations around these issues runs the risk of fast-tracking kids into making choices on their own that they may long regret.
In my opinion, Doucouré’s film thoughtfully accomplishes what she set out to achieve. Since watching, I’ve had discussions with my daughters, husband, and female friends about the complexities of the film and the issues it tackles. I echo Doucouré’s wish that her critics, many of which claim to have only watched the trailer, give the movie another chance. Deep down all sides want the same thing: to protect our kids.
Just in Time for Halloween, a Story of Brittany’s Ghosts
After discovering Bonjour from Brittany, a blog about the history and traditions of Brittany, France, I’m starting to think that Bretons may be the most superstitious people to have ever lived. Rather than summarizing it for you, I urge you to read Ghosts and Revenants of Brittany. This spine-tingling post is packed with tales of the walking dead and the many contrivances people employed to protect themselves from the wicked ways of spirits.