herald

Thursday 23 November 2017

Bookend: City of love and much, much more

Paris in the springtime?

And the winter, when it drizzles, and the summer, when it drizzles, and, en effet, from the time of Napoleon to today. A brilliant book.

Pourquoi, ma chEre amie?

Robb has an amazing way with words: "The silvery wake of a river rat pushing through sewage could be seen from both windows" -- charming -- and with facts; did you know that there was once a street called Rue du Poil-au-Cul -- Hairy Arse Street -- in Paris? And that was one of the more polite names.

Hmmm . . .

And with romance -- he tells one story, the love affair between jazz genius Miles Davis and Resistance heroine and chan-teuse Juliette Greco, in the form of a film by one of the 1950s' auteurs de cinema.

What? They were an item?

Like, crazy, man: Davis needed to go back to the US, but wouldn't expose the delicate Greco to the effects of being a black man's lover in bigoted 1950s America.

L'amour tragique.

There are stranger stories too -- how the alchemists of Notre Dame Cathedral are linked to 20th century nuclear discoveries . . .

And more?

The student riots of 1968, expressed as an exam paper, which proves that the rioters killed French communism. Marie Antoinette's flight from the city, Hitler's tour of Paris, Zola's wife and his murder, and Vidocq of the Surete, the world's greatest detective.

And?

A young Mitterrand's ill-fated attempt to set up a fake assassination attempt on himself and the deportation of 13,000 Parisians for the crime of being Jewish. The banlieues, wrecked projects inhabited by refugees from somewhere once worse.

Mad stuff. I have to read this.

Oh yes you do. Especially if you're going to Paris this summer!

Banlieues -- that rings a bell?

Three kids -- Bouna, Zyed and Muhittin, sons of Africans, Kurds and Arabs -- ran from cops in the bleak banlieues one Ramadan night in 2005, and jumped into an electrical substation. Muhittin was the only survivor. Rioting followed.

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