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.