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Monday, April 17, 2017


This is one of John Oliver's best -- and most terrifying -- episodes. Personally, I am convinced that Marine Le Pen will win in the final round. Although I know nothing about the mechanics of French elections, my inner cynic understands that, if there is a way to game the system, the system will be gamed.

In an interview contained in this segment, Marine Le Pen declares her willingness to ban all head coverings, including yarmulkes and the turbans worn by Sikhs. In response, I present a rewritten version of  a piece first published in 2011, which was prompted by some outrageous statements made by French actress Juliette Binoche and American Congressman Peter King. Le Pen is, of course, far more dangerous than those two.

I've always been a Francophile. I've even concocted a singable English translation of La Marsellaise. (Go here and scroll down.) There is no beauty like a French beauty: Claudine Auger, Isabelle Adjani, Laetitia Casta...yow. Ye gods. (Ye goddesses?) If Marine Le Pen attains her goal, there would be no room in her nation's heart for the very first French girl to capture my heart. And here she is.

For the most part, this video reworks a collection of images taken from another video which you can find on YouTube. In this version, the soundtrack features Joseph Cantaloube's "Baïlèro," from his Songs of the Auvergne. I chose that lovely piece because it's sung in Occitan, the language of the Troubadors, the language of the Cathars, the language of King Richard the Lionheart (betcha didn't know that!) -- and of Bernadette Soubirous.

Long-time readers know of my embarrassing, inexplicable, life-long crush on Bernadette. Please understand: I'm not religious. I've almost never set foot inside a church except to look at the architecture.

I first learned about Bernadette's story during a childhood viewing of the film Song of Bernadette. In the film, Vincent Price plays the embodiment of 19th century anti-clerical rationalistic bah-humbug-ness. Although he's supposed to be the heavy, the movie cleverly leaves open the possibility that he's right about everything.

Then, around the age of 13, I stumbled across a photo of the real Bernadette. That round face...those piercing eyes...the flawless skin (never touched by cosmetics). Bernadette was, in my instant decision, the most beautiful girl in all of human history.

At that age, of course, puberty had kicked in, which meant that every few days there was a new "most beautiful girl in all human history." Bernadette held the office for a full month. Eventually, she was dethroned by Ann-Margaret in Kitten With a Whip.

Since then, I've read tons of stuff about Bernadette, and even had a glance (back when my French was much better) at Father Cros' magisterial study. That Jesuit scholar met her once and instantly developed a lifelong crush on her. Many in France felt similarly. She had something.

The apparitions? I don't know what caused them. Don't much care. That's the least interesting aspect of her life. She wasn't crazy -- in fact, she may have been closest thing to a rational well-known person the Second Empire had on offer. This peasant girl's indifference to sudden international fame is rather astonishing. (Consider the sad examples of such modern celebrities as Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears.)

What tickles me is the stuff left out of hagiographies: Her life-long tobacco habit, her fondness for wine (she never drank to excess, but she did sneak bottles into the convent), her stint as a 13 year-old barmaid (her aunt fired her for dipping into the stocks), her Garbo-like aloofness, her flares of temper, the time she was tempted to run off with a handsome young priest, the postulants who formed "girl crushes" on her. There is also the possibility that something very troubling happened to her while working as a servant in Barthes -- a job she deserted just two weeks before you-know-what happened. (Zola once obliquely referred to this episode as the key to her story.)

She wasn't stupid. The Jennifer Jones movie got that part all wrong. She became a respected nurse, more or less running what we would now call a M.A.S.H. unit during the war with Bismarck.

So what does all of this have to do with the Marine Le Pen interview seen in the John Oliver episode embedded above?

Simply this: Bernadette never appeared in a single photograph with her head uncovered. The proof is in the video.

She was, by some accounts, the most photographed person of the 19th century -- despite the fact that she came to hate having her picture taken. (Note that she smiles only in the very earliest photos.) She was forced to adopt poses which she considered ridiculous. The whole business reeked of commercialization, which she detested.

Part of her commercial appeal was her costume -- specifically, the head covering.

This factor is probably invisible to modern Americans. She always wore traditional Pyrenean costume, which made her the most prominent representative of a culture considered quaint and charming -- a vanishing culture. A culture under attack.

Paradoxically, even as those photos spread throughout the nation, the French government was doing everything it could to wipe out the language and customs of her region. Occitan was forbidden in schools; the schools told children to speak only in French.

Today, a small but loud segment of the population of Occitania remains infuriated by the cultural imperialism imposed by Parisian dictates. If you know where to look, you'll find websites where Occitan nationalists express their fury at the French, whom they regard as foreigners.

That resentment may explain why Bernadette -- or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she was known in the convent of St. Gildard -- had only one thing to say when she heard that the Communists had burnt down the Tuileries (the royal palace): Good. That was one of the few political statements she ever uttered -- and it would have shocked the French right, had they known about it. (The monarchists had made her their poster girl.)

What she said in 1871 was the equivalent of a modern celebrity voicing approval for the burning of the White House. Or the fall of the Twin Towers.

Suppose Bernadette were alive today. (The corpse certainly looks like it could sit up and say bonjour.) Would she be welcome in a nation led by Marine Le Pen?

If she were alive today, I have no doubt that she would keep her head covered in defiance of the French law. If someone from Paris told Bernadette Soubirous that she could no longer wear the traditional costume of her people, her response probably would be -- well, rather unholy.

(Did I mention that Bernadette had a temper? She and her sister got into a fight that lasted for years.)

So, Mme. Le Pen: Would you have forced Bernadette to accept liberty, equality, fraternity -- and conformity?

Isn't there room in France -- and in America -- for those who do not speak, dress or believe as the majority does?

Added note: Although the song is in Occitan -- Bernadette's language -- she spoke the Gascon dialect; the song is in Auvergnat. She would have understood most of the lyrics, and may even have known the tune. (Cantaloube orchestrated a traditional folk song.) In her late teens, she learned to speak, read and write in French; her calligraphy was exquisite.
How about a compromise, Joseph? The law could be that no religion shall force its members to wear some type of uniform at all times.
The military requires its personnel to wear uniforms, presumably to prevent friendly fire, so what is religions' excuse for requiring their members to wear a certain type of garb at all times?
Forcing religious members to wear a certain type of clothing at all times seems to be a militaristic equivalent, no?
Some notes on France...

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen's father, Roger Auque, was Mossad.

The talk about a ban on yarmulkes is partly about encouraging Jewish emigration from France to "Israel". President François Hollande sat in the audience at the grand synagogue in Paris and listened to Benyamin Netanyahu declare that French Jews had a "home" there. It's hard to think of a time when the leader of a major state has been so humiliated in his own country by the leader of a foreign state.

If Hollande had any balls whatsoever, he would have said French Jews are French and we protect all our citizens, and we protect all foreign residents and visitors too, and that is an absolutely non-negotiable function of the French state. But he didn't. That was at a time when the French army had literally been sent out to protect Jewish buildings. I would imagine that on the ground they functioned in effect as auxiliaries or support units.

Le Pen has to find a line that appeals both to Zionists and the anti-Semitic far right. (Much of the latter is Lefebvrite or sedevacantist, or even if they don't go that far, they're not keen on having a Jesuit called Francis on the papal throne.) She seems to be doing so quite successfully.

You may be interested to learn that Aleksandr Dugin's mate Roger Soral (who is a bit of a monarchist) supports not Le Pen but Benoît Hamon, the "Socialist" candidate, because of the matter of Palestine. (But if there is a candidate in the top six who won't get into the second round, it's Hamon.)

I'm guessing Brigitte Bardot isn't to your taste, Joe, but she links both to the National Front and the left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon who is fast rising in the polls. I like Mélenchon's programme a lot: he wants 100% inheritance tax on estates larger than 30 million € (that will affect the top 1% of the top 1%) and 100% income tax on salaries over 400,000 €. Who wouldn't support that? Of course there is a massive gap between something being written in a programme and its implementation. He also wants France to leave NATO.

One crucial change that is on the cards in France is the introduction of plebiscitary democracy.

There is a reason why plebiscites were considered a no-no in Germany until a few years ago.

There is also a reason why in the first election to the presidency of the Fifth Republic the president wasn't directly elected, but was elected by those who had already been elected to representative positions. That reason was to prevent civil war.

France is likely to become a laboratory for the use of psychological warfare in plebiscites. Call it a "new kind of democracy". Call it "direct democracy". Call it anything. I am expecting this to happen before the end of 2017.

I'm following the French election very closely, and I too believe Le Pen will win. If her second-round opponent is the fidgeting pro-German thirtysomething Emmanuel Macron, who favours a "Nordic model" (for fuck's sake!), she will chew his balls off in the interround debate. François Fillon has so many points of weakness connected with financial fiddles carried out by him and his wife that it's surprising he hasn't collapsed yet in the polls. He's unlikely to get into the second round, but if he does he'll be no problem. (There is also a Las Vegas story that could hurt Macron if necessary, plus a Big Pharma story.) The "wow" scenario will be Le Pen versus Mélenchon in the runoff. It's getting a little too late for Nicolas Dupont-Aignan to be built up, but...well, stranger things have happened.

Those who don't like letting their minds float in the propaganda stream should probably refer to hijabs as "wimples". Essentially they are the same thing: they cover women's hair, necks and upper chests supposedly so that men don't get a stiffy.
Did I sign that post "b", that ends on wimples? I think I may have forgotten. It was by me anyway.
If the John Oliver video doesn't work for you, as it didn't for me, try It is a must watch.
Some time ago there was a case in Britain whereby a woman, or rather a girl, or presumably a girl's parents, went to court to contest their school uniform. Wanted to wear a burqa. It was a Muslim girl's school which had set its uniform after consulting with various Islamic scholars. So they set a suitably modest Islamic girl's uniform, then this girl sued them for not letting her wear her holier-than-thou dress.

Such costumes are already forbidden in France.

Of course it doesn't stop any arousal of men. There was a brief fad in the late twentieth century for nun porn, for example.

Perhaps if the Occitan had reacted like this then their culture would still exist today.
b brings up a good point about Catholic head coverings. Although more and more nuns, at least in these parts, which are still as Catholic as you can get in the US, have traded in the obvious habits for more civilian-looking clothes, there are still orders who cover their heads. I would point out that in the video Marine Le Pen spoke only of banning religious head coverings (which would go along with the existing ban on prominent religious symbols, like large crucifixes, which exempts more modest symbols, like small crosses or stars of David, n'est-ce pas?). Thus your beloved Bernadette's Occitan headscarf would be OK, while a formal habit might not.

I wonder how they would deal with Orthodox Jewish women's wigs that cover their own hair. I once shared an office with an Orthodox woman who wore a scarf rather than a wig for comfort's sake. I wear a hat year-round to protect my eyes from the sun and, when it's cold, to keep my head warm. I have heard of boys wearing ball caps instead of yarmulkes. How could you police this? It just seems stupid to me, perhaps even not very well thought out. Such a familiar ring to that.
Very nice version of the anthem, Joseph, but I can't resist adding my own two cents. I usually translate "impur" as "filthy" in this context. I also think "March on, march on" works well because it mimics the sound of the original.
I have heard of boys wearing ball caps instead of yarmulkes

The late Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, a former Lubavatcher Hasid who was one of the founders of the Jewish Renewal movement, frequently used to wear a beret instead of a kippa. It was quite dashing, actually. Surely le Pen would not ban that most traditionally French of chapeaux!

As for French beauty, I must point out that Adjani (while truly stunning) is half Berber and half German. And how could you forget Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert, Julie Delpy, Anne Parillaud, etc, etc.
Prop, I did not know that about Adjani's background. I think the reason why I became so fascinated with her is that, of all French actresses, she may bear the greatest resemblance to you-know-who. The round face, the chestnut hair, the mysterious eyes...
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