At the end of each month, I select a handful of fun and informative Francophone news items that have come across my screen. Here are my picks for November 2021.
First Black Woman Enshrined in the Panthéon
Located in the heart of Paris’ Latin Quarter, the Panthéon honors many of France’s most famous luminaries. There you will find the tombs of dozens of “great men” (as the inscription over the portico indicates) and a handful of women. Today, November 30, 2021, the French African American singer, Josephine Baker, joins other members of the Panthéon’s lauded club.
Baker, born in Saint Louis, MO, in 1906, made France her home in 1925. During WWII she worked as an informant for French counterintelligence services and raised funds for the French Resistance, donating much of her own money. After the war, she became involved in numerous civil rights initiatives.
Upon her death, Baker’s body was buried in Monaco and there it will remain. A coffin, carrying soil from the U.S., France, and Monaco, will serve as her memorialized resting place beneath the Panthéon’s massive dome. She is the first Black woman to enter the famous shrine.
More On Marie Antoinette’s Baubles
Earlier this month, as I was working on a post about Marie Antoinette and the world’s most ostentatious diamond necklace, a pair of the French queen’s diamond bracelets was sold at an auction in Switzerland. The anonymous buyer, who bought the bangles over the phone, paid approximately $8 million dollars for them.
Marie Antoinette sent much of her jewelry away for safekeeping during the French Revolution. The bracelets, together containing 112 diamonds, had not surfaced since.
Thanks to Emma at Words and Peace for telling me about this story.
Good News for Lovers of Books in French
I’ve long been frustrated with the difficulty of ordering French titles here in the United States. Now, two former Amazon employees have founded Lireka, an online French bookstore that is going head to head with the Internet giant and taking the sting out of buying books in French. Lireka’s site offers several advantages over Amazon.
Perhaps first and foremost, there are no shipping charges. You pay the full retail price, as you would when buying from an independent bookseller, but there are no shipping or handling charges. Lireka offers more than 80,000 French titles and uses expedited shipping to 185 countries via DHL. Lastly, Lireka’s selection is curated by French experts who breathe the classics while stalking the latest hot reads. The inventory is not determined by AI algorithms that largely focus on bestsellers.
Based in Grenoble, Lireka’s brick and mortar storefront, Arthaud, is one of France’s oldest bookstores. Lireka’s founders know the pain of obtaining books in French while living as an expatriate. When they worked for Amazon, one was stationed in New York, the other in London. They’re betting that expatriates around the world, as well as other Francophones, will appreciate their new venture. I, for one, am thrilled.
A Small Sampling
To get an idea of the price/availability difference between Amazon and Lireka, I took a look at 3 graphic novels I’ve had on my wishlist.
|L’Arabe du futur 5|
|Quartier Lointain, Intégrale|
|$50.86 + $13.34 shipping||$39.15|
|Idées Noires, L’intégrale|
|$29.67 + 11.30 shipping||$26.80|
In addition to significant savings, I found that the estimated delivery time for Lireka books was 5 days. While Amazon deliveries ranged from 10 to 30 days. Thus far, Lireka’s vision seems to be paying solid dividends. In their first month online, the site received 6 times as many visitors as anticipated.
Apparently, in July of 2020, French President, Emmanual Macron, changed the shade of blue used in the French flag from cobalt blue to navy. Starting on July 14, French Independence Day, the French government began flying the new flag on official buildings. No one noticed, however, for the next 16 months until Macron publicly announced the change on November 14.
The switch to navy is actually a return to the original color used from 1793 until 1976 when President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing introduced the flag with cobalt blue. Alas, change never comes easily and many people are unhappy with the shift that no one noticed in the first place.
An Unseemly Salute
On November 11th, Armistice Day, military flag-bearers, commissioners, and presidents of France’s veteran organizations were invited to a state dinner at the Élysée Palace. Despite the solemnity of the occasion and the grandeur of the surroundings, one venerable veteran decided to take advantage of a rare opportunity to show off his handstand on the presidential steps. A video of the courageous feat instantly went viral.
A Chocolate Lover’s Extravaganza
Every fall, Paris hosts “the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate and cocoa”. For 5 days, chocolate lovers and confectioners from around the world gather for a feast of live demonstrations, exhibits, competitions, and tastings at Le Salon du Chocolat. The event features a fashion show where all of the costumes are made from chocolate. La pièce de résistance of this year’s production was a replica of Picasso’s Guernica, made from 500 kgs (1100 lbs) of chocolate.
It’s Getting Hot Up Here
Earlier this month, French daredevil, Remi Ouvard, broke his previous world altitude record for standing atop a hot air balloon, arriving at a height of 4016m (13,175ft). The balloon was piloted by Ouvard’s father. The feat was in part a fundraiser to collect donations for an annual French telethon that funds research for genetic neuromuscular diseases. When asked if he was cold so high above the earth, Remi replied to the contrary. He’d been roasting due to the heat generated by the balloon’s burner.
Thanks for Your Help
That’s it for the month of November. Thank you to the readers that funnel stories to me throughout the month.
There were many excellent political cartoons in November but these require a bit of explanation so they’re on hold for now. I close with one piece of humor from my friend and fellow francophile, Korin.
That’s great news about Lireka. They’re clearly offering a very good service and it’s great that the venture is getting so many online visits. I notice that they also have a collection of reviews for each book, like Amazon does, which is helpful to the prospective buyer. Evidently there are a lot of graphic novels available, which are probably a good option for learners of the language. I hope Lireka is a big success.
Your first item startled me a bit because while I’m familiar with the Roman Pantheon, I didn’t know there’s a similar edifice in Paris. After reading your item, I looked it up. Apparently it was originally built to be a church, but was converted into a secular monument after the French Revolution. That change, and the adoption of the distinctly pagan name Panthéon (temple of all the gods) create a kind of reverse of the desecration of the Roman original, which first served as a temple to the Roman gods and was later converted by the Christians to their own purposes. The people buried there do include some of the greats — Voltaire, Dumas, Braille, the Curies (but not Pasteur?), but I thought it was interesting that they have Toussaint Louverture there as well. I guess it was respect due to an honorable enemy.
It’s funny that nobody noticed the change in the flag color for 16 months and then some people got annoyed when they found out, even though it was just restoring the color it had for most of its history.
I think I gained weight just looking at those pictures from the Salon du Chocolate. That’s a hell of a lot of chocolate. I hope it doesn’t all go to waste when the event is finished.
I really hope that Lireka will be there for the long haul. There services were sorely needed. Lireka’s base prices (even without shipping) are better than Amazon, which largely relies on French vendors to ship the product. FYI: Lireka pulls its reviews from Babelio, a social media site for book lovers, somewhat like Goodreads.
Thanks for adding some background information about the Panthéon. It’s a glorious edifice. One fun piece of trivia is that the tombs of Voltaire and Rousseau are prominently positioned across from each other in the massive underground crypt. Yet, the two men became enemies before their lives ended. Neither would be happy about the current placement.
As I was pulling photos for the Salon du Chocolat, I thought about that crass Reeses cup you had on your site a couple weeks ago–a typical Americanized attempt at greatness. I was also thinking, “don’t spill anything on that dress. I’m hoping to eat it!”
Love the cartoon. Thank you.
I love it too. Partially because I don’t say grace and also enjoying cooking.
You don’t say Grace? Very unusual. It’s all right. (I don’t either…)
Ha, I like the cartoon, and so true! I still miss French cuisine!
French cuisine is delish. I have a few French cookbooks that I use from time to time. Not the same though. Thanks for stopping by.
A nice roundup. There was a restaurant on New York City’s West 42nd Street, Chez Josephine, that was founded by Josephine Baker’s adopted son ( at least she called him that) Jean-Claude Baker. He opened it in 1986 and ran it until his suicide in 2015, at age 71. I ate there a few times. The food was just ok, but the ambiance, with photos and art work of the legend, was delightful, and Jean-Claude was an exuberant host who made every visitor feel like a friend. I was saddened to learn of his death.
Wow! Thanks for sharing that story Annie. If I recall correctly, Baker, who couldn’t have children, adopted 12 kids of varying races and ethnic backgrounds.
Yes, she called Jean-Claude the 13th of her dozen.
Interesting. So did she have 12 or 13 kids?