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Moliere

La Grande Siecle – a century that begins and ends with the reigns of  two of the greatest of French kings –  fires the imagination with French achievements in art, architecture, letters and all things civilized. It is the 17th century and it  has become the object of our studies here in Paris.  We are  escaping into the past  in Paris, just as we are escaping the Canadian winter. Here in the past you can meet  a highly interesting set of people, from forementioned kings Henri IV and Louis XIV, to Mme Sevigne and  Moliere.  Alan and I passed the field where Moliere played Jeu de Pommes; it is just a block from our house. Now it is the playing field for young Lyceens, not one of whom was fooling around on a gameboy.

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Exterior of the Comedie Francaise

Just a stone’s throw from the Louvre, in the Palais Royale (which was also the home of Louis XIV’s brother “Monsieur”, arguably the most famous openly gay man in European history) is another place Moliere used to frequent. His troupe of actors, officially supported by the King, were housed there beginning in 1680. It is the Comedie Francaise, an establishment that continues as a state-supported theatre to this day. It showcases classic works by Racine and  Corneille as well as modern plays. How lucky for us that Tartuffe, considered Moliere’s masterpiece, is on the boards this winter.

IMG_0003_2 Climb the stairs to the Corbeille.

 

photo 3 Moliere

photo 5Gracious corridor with natural light.

photo 4 The lounge where one can drink a jeroboam of champagne before the performance. If only we had known.

photo 9 Gracious, grand. Most people are in jeans.

photo 7 A hush falls.

photo 6  Beautiful theatre.

FrontispieceTartuffe

Tartuffe (or The Imposter)

Tartuffe is a rollicking work that takes you inside the hearts and minds of 17th century Parisians as they deal with family conflict, the demands of love and passion, and the problem of duplicity and betrayal. Tartuffe is a religious beggar who has been taken into the home of Orgon, a man of great enthusiasms but little judgement. A scurrilous hypocrite,   Tartuffe manages to cheat and trick his host into giving him the hand of his daughter, the inheritance of his son and a clear pathway to the bed of his young wife. Tartuffe intends to completely ruin Orgon while outwardly displaying a saintly demeanour and condemning all those who want to enjoy life.

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Scenes from the Comedie Francaise (2015)

Mais…. Plus ca change…. We may be trying to escape into the 17th century but we can’t stop thinking of recent events here in Paris. What is Tartuffe if not a religious extremist who wants to impose himself on all around him? The many speeches made by friends and family about him to Orgon touch on the importance of a balanced approach to religion; they speak of the true religionist as someone who quietly and modestly serves his God without hurting or violating others. Moliere suffered censure on account of the  frank depiction in Tartuffe of religious extremism and hypocrisy. Even though the King – and the public –  liked the play, it was attacked by the Church who did not want these ideas expressed. The Bishop of Paris threatened to excommunicate anyone who watched, performed in, or even read the play. Can we understand, in the light of this, why now  the French insist that theirs must be a secular society, and that even the most caustic of Charlie Hebdo cartoons must be tolerated without interference?

Well, I have used up my quota of rhetorical questions and so, like the play, will try to end on a positive note. Charlie Hebdo sold millions of copies this week and demand for a reprint continues.  The French are still celebrating a play that a few hundred years ago they were told would effect their damnation, if seen. Vive la liberte.

 

 

 

 

 

FrontispieceTartuffe IMG_0003_2 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5 photo 6 photo 7 photo 8 photo 9

 

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Terror in Paris

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By now most of my friends know that during the Charlie Hebdo shootings I was inside the Picasso museum which,  next to the Elysee Palace, must be  one of the most secure spots in the city. The lineups to get into the newly- renovated  museum had been fou through Christmas and New Year’s so we purchased our tickets on-line and hoped that by this week the crowds would have  gone back to their classrooms and offices. There were still substantial lineups, and in some of the galleries, overcrowding, but by the time we came out – no one. Hmm, we thought, should have come later. Would have had Picasso to ourselves. At the same time, my friend Genevieve was out for the first day of les soldes, the Paris Winter sales. Wandering the world’s most wonderful department store, the BHV, she was astonished at its emptiness  since on this day of the calendar, hepped-up Parisiennes vie for the orange-ticket items and run to the cash with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. Interestingly, Genevieve and I both learned of the grim truth from our far-flung children, texting us to reassure themselves about their mothers’ safety.

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At dinner that night chez Genevieve, surrounded by her friends, fear, angst, and anger flowed along with the champagne. “I’m terrified,” said Francoise -the -beautiful -dentist. “These young men , many of them are French, Catholics even.” She envisaged an unstoppable fifth column of citizen terrorists destroying the French way of life. The other Francoise, a gravel-voiced banker’s wife, was imagining how the families of the dead were feeling, their friends too. “Just because they stand up to these….. Islamists!” She spat the word and looked around uneasily. I thought it unlikely that any of these extremely tasteful and  soignee bourgeoises had been faithful Charlie Hebdo readers. But that night in Paris we were all Charlie.

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Freedom of expression, of self determination, of religious affiliation (or none) are hard-won French values we Canadians inherit and hold dear. For us,  adoption of these ideals has been comparatively easy. But for the French, centuries of turmoil were needed to effect their ascendance. And now the French are coping with a post-colonial legacy they cannot control and that threatens the humanist freedoms their ancestors died to establish. This legacy takes the shape of disaffected, potentially violent  urban youth, often born in France, but with parents from former colonies, who are picked up by extreme movements offering them that sense of belonging the Fifth Republic cannot or does not provide. I mumbled something to my dinner companions  about trying to identify the lonely, the misfits, trying to lend support to those working with youth in the banlieues. I was thinking of my daughter Charlotte’s experience in a Paris high school. She was stunned that Ismail, 18 years of age in a grade where everyone else was 14, a giant lad with the ebony skin and pleasing manners of the Senegalese, was simply waiting out the year in order to drop out and go on the dole.

“Well, what does he do every day?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said. “He just sits at the back of the class.”

“Don’t the teachers yell at him?”  It was  a bit of a joke. The teachers were always yelling in a way we found shocking, until it became funny.

“No. They leave him alone.”

I was mystified. Perhaps you don’t yell at a young man who could so easily punch your lights out. Or maybe you don’t yell at him because you have no hope for him, less even than he has for himself. Maybe such a young man goes on to become the ideal target of “recruiters”; I cannot believe that it has to be so.