March Potpourri: Tableaux, Toasts, Trees, and Uplifting Tales

Throughout the month I come across a fair number of francophile-related articles, blogs, images, books, or videos that I’d like to share with readers. I’ve combined this potpourri of news items into a single post. Below are some of the gems from March. However, if you only have time for one or two paragraphs today, please scroll to the end to find out about a new book that features my brother-in-law, Dennis McCarthy.

Le Chat Sur les Champs Élysées

Le Chat is a much-loved comic-strip character, created by the Belgian cartoonist, Philippe Geluck. Geluck’s single-framed gags, feature Le Chat, an obese, anthropomorphic feline who typically wears a suit. If you’re not familiar with the series, the following cartoon will give you a feel for Le Chat’s charming personality.

Le Chat's Preferred Menu
“Like all of my brothers, I eat mice and birds… But, if given the choice, I prefer roast scallops in a sauce of white wine, cream, and butter, accompanied by a nicely chilled Chablis”, by Philippe Geluck

Geluck recently created a series of bronze statues featuring Le Chat. Last Friday, the exhibit, called Le Chat Déambule, went on display to the public along the Champs Élysées in Paris. Geluck’s website offers an easy-to-follow 20-step summary with photos that show how he created the massive figures.

Pipi et Grosbidet
Pipi et Grosbidet, by Philippe Geluck

The Value of a van Gogh

Early in March, a van Gogh canvas was unveiled for the first time since it was painted in 1887. van Gogh composed it while living with his brother in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris where he developed much of his impressionist style. A native of the Netherlands, van Gogh took pleasure in painting the many wind-powered mills situated in that part of Paris, which was still semi-rural. Before heading to auction, Street scene in Montmartre, had been in the hands of the same family for more than 100 years.

Scène de rue à Montmartre
Scène de rue à Montmartre (Impasse des Deux Frères et le Moulin à Poivre), by Vincent van Gogh, 1887.

Last Thursday, Sotheby’s sold the painting for more than 13 million euros. According to one popular Twitter account, van Gogh is believed to have only sold one of his paintings during his lifetime. A woman named Anna Boch purchased the painting, The Red Vineyard at Arles, for 400 francs.

The Red Vineyard at Arles
The Red Vineyard at Arles, by Vincent van Gogh, 1888

A Real-Life Story of Redemption?

The Red Barn Pub and Grill
The Red Barn Pub and Grill, Toulon, France

Last month I read a story about a restauranteur from Toulon, Philippe Lorentz, who was the victim of attempted theft. Lorentz’s actions reminded me of those of Bishop Myriel, the kindly priest from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables who gives the criminal Jean Valjean a chance for redemption. Lorentz attended the trial of the 20-year old repeat offender who broke into his restaurant just three days after he’d been released from prison. When the young man confessed to the judge that he committed the crime because he could see no other options, Lorentz offered him a job.

The young man received a sentence of 6 months in prison, but Lorentz told him that he should come to the restaurant when his sentence was over. Lorentz would not only give him a job but help him get through all the required paperwork that apparently must be filed when an ex-con finds employment. Before the culprit left the courtroom he approached Lorentz to apologize and said he would take him up on the offer. I’m hoping this promising story plays out at least half as well as Jean Valjean’s.

The Brusseler

Thanks to the wonderful blog Travel Between the Pages, I learned about a cool exhibit space in Brussels called Maison de l’image. This non-profit institution organizes public exhibitions of some of the best examples of graphic art from around the world. The exhibits are free to the public and funded through private donations.

Last week, they opened a new and novel exposition featuring cover art designs for a fictitious magazine called The Brusseler. The idea was for graphic artists to submit cover art resembling that of The New Yorker, yet featuring the sites and citizens of Brussels.

In order to have your work displayed in the Maison de l’image, you must first be invited to participate. In this case, over 100 “big name illustrators” responded. A panel of volunteers judged the entries to arrive at a final number to appear in the exhibit which was unable to open due to the pandemic. However, thanks to the web, you can savor some of the finalists and link to the artists’ bios from here.

ABC Takes a Look at a Notorious Wine Counterfeiter

Wine Bar
Photo © SmileMan Kuk-Sun

Last Wednesday, ABC’s docu-series, The Con, featured Rudy Kurniawan, a notorious fraudster in the wine industry who I’ve covered several times on cas d’intérêt. You can stream the episode, which is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg from here. Or, if you prefer to read, the following posts provide a summary of Kurniawan’s masterful high-brow hustle.

France Returns its Only Klimt to the Rightful Heirs

During World War II thousands of works of art were looted and wrongfully obtained by soldiers fighting throughout Europe. Hundreds of those pieces were returned to their countries of origin immediately after the war, but many still remain in the hands of private individuals or museums who may or may not know of their origins.

In mid-March, France announced that they will return their only painting by Gustav Klimt to the heirs of Nora Stiasny, a Jewish woman who sold it under duress after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. The Musée d’Orsay purchased “Rosebushes Under the Trees” in 1980 from a private dealer.

Rosiers sous les arbres, Klimt
Rosiers sous les arbres, by Gustav Klimt, 1905

Centuries-Old Oaks Felled to Rebuild Notre Dame’s Roof

Notre Dame on Fire
Notre Dame on Fire, April 15, 2019, Wikimedia Commons

It’s been almost 2 years since flames engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fire destroyed the ancient church’s 96-meter spire as well as most of its roof. According to CNN, the intricate framing of the roof consisted of lumber from more than 13,000 oaks. What’s more, those trees were hundreds of years old when they were felled, in the early part of the 13th century. After considering a number of possible reconstruction proposals, last year, President Macron announced that the cathedral would be restored rather than redesigned.

Apparently, architects and other experts have come up with a way to restore the roof without felling another 13,000 ancient trees. However, the project will still require timber from around 1,000 massive oaks.

In early March, the process of cutting down the centuries-old trees began. In order to obtain duplicates of the original massive beams, only the finest trees are selected. The trunks must be at least 1 meter in diameter and at least 20 meters long. However, some of the trunks must also have a slight curve to them in order to support the weight of the spire. The cost of a single trunk is around 15,000 euros.

Felling of Ancient Oak
Felling of Ancient Oak in Jupilles, Sarthe, France, reported by France24

After felling, the trunks must now wait for 12 to 18 months in order to dry thoroughly. As the wood dries, it will shrink, and only then can it be cut to dimensions that will remain relatively consistent. The French government hopes to complete the project some time in 2024. I’m eager to return to France for many reasons, one being that I’d like to see what the cathedral looks like long before and after the work is completed.

North by Shakespeare

It’s been an exciting week in the Seidl household. Today, March 31, 2021, marks the release of a new book by Michael Blanding that features my brother-in-law, Dennis McCarthy. If you’re not familiar with Blanding, you may recognize the name of his previous book, The Map Thief, a gripping account of a map dealer who made millions by stealing rare maps from library collections and reselling them. I read and loved this journalistic work of art a few years ago.

In his new book, North by Shakespeare, Blanding has turned his sights on Dennis, an incredible writer and researcher who has spent more than a decade trying to determine the inspiration and possible origins of many of William Shakespeare’s famous plays. One of the shocking aspects to Dennis’ story is the fact that he barely graduated from high school, yet he has managed to track down scads of evidence showing that Shakespeare plagiarized much of his work from Thomas North—evidence that centuries of Shakespearean scholars ignored.

The Boston Globe Magazine ran a feature story on Blanding’s book last week, How a college dropout in New Hampshire found a Shakespeare secret all the PhDs missed.

Our entire family has been waiting on this book for a few years and we are excited to finally be able to dive into Blanding’s account. I received my copy in the mail yesterday.

As you might imagine, it’s not easy to sell books in the middle of a pandemic. Authors can’t do a traditional book tour and readers can’t gather in bookstores to browse the hot new titles. So far, North by Shakespeare is getting great reviews but as you can imagine, some in the lofty halls of Shakespearean scholarship are flustered. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider North by Shakespeare and lend your support to a couple of underdogs by telling others about the book if you think they’d be interested and spreading the word on social media.

Merci d’avance, Carol

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, French to English translator, mother, and lover of: books, travel, history, cultures, art, cooking, fitness, nature.

15 Comments

  1. I love the idea of an exposition featuring cover art designs for fictitious The Brusseler! Imaginative entries. I looked at some on their website, and I guess I liked the Magritte-inspired ones, François Schuiten ones and the one with the egg is also thought-provoking. I lived in Brussels for two years, but I am sure I am missing some references and thoughts behind some of the posters. Strangely, when I look at the man with a pipe, I don’t think about Tati, but about Belgian Georges Simenon! lol

    • Glad you enjoyed them Diana. I’m jealous of you living in Brussels. I’ve never been. Maybe some day. I have a list of things I’d like to see there which grew when I learned of Maison de l’image.

      I’m sure I missed many of the cultural references on The Brusseler covers but I’m in awe of the variety of illustration styles that still manage to conform to the New Yorker look.

  2. Thanks so much, I love your monthly harvest. This thing on North vs. Shakespeare is very intriguing!

    • I’m eager to dive into reading North By Shakespeare, Emma. SInce you’re such a prolific book blogger, maybe I can get you a copy.

      When we first learned that Blanding was considering writing this book we were all a bit nervous. He’s the real deal, a professional journalist that isn’t going to pull any punches. I have to hand it to Dennis for giving him complete access to his life. Happily, I know that Dennis is more than pleased with the result.

  3. So many items of interest in this post! I’ll just say I hope the true heirs of the Klimt will let the world see it sometimes. I know I was bowled over by seeing his work in NYC at https://www.neuegalerie.org/gustav-klimt-and-adele-bloch-bauer-woman-gold

  4. Congratulations on the book! Do you plan to review it on the blog after you’ve read it?

    I’m glad to see that the French government is taking the trouble to do the rebuilding on Notre Dame properly. Waiting a year for the wood to dry may seem onerous, but the new roof will (hopefully) last for centuries, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

    It will be interesting to see how the case of the Toulon restaurant burglar turns out once he’s out of jail and takes the job. Some people can change, but some people can’t. Still, the fact that he apologized is somewhat promising.

    • I do plan to review it on my blog Infidel. I’m in the middle of a few other books right now but had to at least read the prologue on Wednesday. I recognize Blanding’s voice from The Map Thief and am more excited than ever to dive in. I may have to re-shuffle my priorities.

      Regarding Toulon, the restaurant owner regularly takes on young apprentices to train them in the restaurant trade. Hopefully, his experience dealing with youth increases the probability of him transforming the delinquent. Fingers crossed.

  5. Geluck is very good. I always say: “where would France be without the Belgians”?
    13 million bucks? That is cheap. I think I’ve heard of van Goghs sold for way more. As is the case of most -then- starving artists. I can hear today’s buyer? “Oh. That’s a cheap little Van G. Got it at a bargain for 13mil.”
    To end the financial note: 15 grand for a tree? No matter how old and necessary to rebuild ND. Seriously? Many people don’t earn that in a year across the world…
    Joyeuses Pâques, “Carole”. (I like the E)

    • Thanks for pointing out Brieuc that the cost of the rebuild of ND is certainly controversial. Perhaps the cost of the tree, however, is an accurate reflection of its worth. Century-old oaks should be expensive. There aren’t that many left.

      I approve the “e”. Joyeuses Pâques à toi aussi.

      • France is covered – still – with woods and forest. I remember other European countries even offered oaks if I recall. Imagine multiplying that cost by the number of beams necessary. 100? 200? I sense someone is taking advantage of the situation, but that’s me. I have become very critical of France. Breaks my heart. Fact is there is a lot of rampant, occult corruption in France. Not the obvious corruption one sees… for instance in Latin America, where money really goes in the pockets of politicians. Channels are more subtle. A typical example: a supermarket chain wants to build a store in a city. The Mayor has to sign the permit. And says: “okay, but I need you to build a public swimming pool for the city. Or rebuild a public park. Or give a job to my nephew’s wife…” Way it goes.
        Pardon. I ranted. Bonnes fêtes CarolE.

        • Penelopegate all the way down, eh? C’est dommage.

          • Oui c’est dommage. And having said that, many representatives and senators employed relations of acquaintances as assistants. Not even illegal. Fillon was just stupid, for around 1000 Euros a month? Not worth it. But they caught him and the others are left free. Oui, c’est dommage.

          • I’ve been thinking about your earlier comment about a mayor asking for some form of public service in exchange for granting a building permit. Here in the US it’s the opposite. Cities give all kinds of tax breaks to large companies to attract them. That also has its share of downsides.

          • There are downsides everywhere. Thing is how to control the systems. The US has many tax breaks. France has very small tax breaks. And a the end, the only thing politicos want is reelection. So they always figure a way.
            The important thing is checks and balances. Toqueville (I think) wrote that the US had the “best system”. But that was almost 2 centuries ago. We definitely need to write a new story for the world.

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