Posts Tagged ‘France’
>The Curious Journey Of Curious George
The little storybook monkey had many big adventures, but none so dramatic as what his German Jewish creators experienced, writes Erica Grieder …
Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE
The little monkey had a happy life in Africa—eating bananas, swinging on vines. When he was captured, by a man in a yellow hat, his distress was written on his face. He gaped at his body, clearly shocked to find it trapped in a brown sack, winched at the neck. But the little monkey quickly recovered his equanimity. By the time he boarded the rowboat, he was sad to be leaving Africa, but a little curious, too.
Thus began the adventures of Curious George, one of the most popular and enduring children’s characters of all time. During the course of seven original stories by H.A. and Margret Rey, he moved to America, joined the circus, and became an astronaut. Those are big adventures for a little monkey. But none was quite as dramatic as what had happened to his creators in real life. “Curious George Saves the Day”, an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco through March 13th, makes that much clear.
Hans Augusto Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein were German Jews from Hamburg. Hans, born in 1898, lived near the zoo and taught himself to draw there (also, how to bark like a seal). After the first world war he tried to scrape together a living drawing posters for the circus, but soon packed up and moved to Rio de Janeiro. He was there, selling bathtubs, when Margarete arrived. She was working as a photographer, and knew Hans as a family friend.
Hans and Margarete married in 1935, and shortened their name to make it easier in Portuguese. The next year, they packed up their pet marmosets for a honeymoon in Paris. Louise Borden, in her short biography of the couple, mentions that the marmosets died during the cold and rainy crossing, even though Margarete knitted them a pair of sweaters.
They planned to stay for two weeks. That turned into four years. The Reys, working together, were becoming established as the authors of children’s books. He drew the pictures, and she wrote the text (and occasionally modelled the animal poses). The monkey who would become world-famous made his first appearance as Fifi, in stories about a giraffe called Raffy who made friends with nine little monkeys. There was a brave one, a strong one, a good one; all were without tails, the Reys explained, because the illustrations were already cluttered with the monkeys and the gangly giraffe. Fifi was the curious and clever one. The Reys decided he should have his own book.
As the decade drew to a close, no Jews in Europe felt safe. The Reys were working, but in letters to his publisher H.A. made it clear that progress had slowed. In September 1939 the couple left Paris for the Chateau Feuga, tucked away in the Dordogne region. ‘It feels ridiculous to be thinking about children’s books,’ wrote H.A. Rey. At one point French police turned up at the castle—they were suspicious about what the strangers were up to—but finding the illustrations scattered around, left them in peace.
The Reys returned to Paris several months later to find that the situation had grown more ominous. Refugees were streaming into Paris, and streaming out for safer destinations farther south. Ms Borden describes the preparations the Reys made for their escape: they tried to buy bicycles, but the only one they could find was a broken tandem. Hans bought spare parts, and spent an anxious few days fixing up a couple of single bikes. On June 12th 1940, the couple left Paris. The Nazis arrived less than two days later.
The Reys made their way to the south of France, and spent several weeks in a makeshift refugee camp in a high-school gymnasium before proceeding to Lisbon. From there they arranged passage to Brazil, and months later to New York. They carried with them the first drawings for the Curious George books, and showed them to police as proof of their occupation. The first book, ‘Curious George’, was published in 1941. The little monkey arrives in New York and strolls off of the ship with a smile, holding his papers in one hand and a little red valise in the other. A policeman salutes in welcome.
Curious George has his share of troubles in America. For example, he had to go to the hospital after swallowing a puzzle piece. The emotional clarity of Hans’ illustrations is brilliant in these scenes of setback. Sitting alone in his hospital bed, with a single fat tear rolling down his cheek, the little monkey is the picture of distress. And he is occasionally naughty. The exhibition displays a hand-written list, from Hans, of Curious George’s infractions: obstructing traffic by sitting on a light, escaping from jail, monkeying with the police.
But these were just bumps in the road. George’s intentions are never malign, and order is quickly restored from chaos—sometimes with an assist from the man in the yellow hat, sometimes with reassurance from other understanding adults. Over time, George becomes fully integrated. He goes to Hollywood. In 1957 he travels to outer space, just weeks before Laika became the first animal to actually do so. He visits the circus, an interesting venue. Janet Davis, a sociologist, has explored the circus as a place where 20th-century Americans worked out some of their feelings about social and cultural change. George’s adventures there bring out his status as both outsider and insider. He’s a monkey, sure, but he’s also a hero, and a highly relatable character.
The Curious George stories were an international hit, allowing for a few cultural variations. In Britain his name is given as Zozo; the publishers thought it would be disrespectful to have a mischievous monkey named after the sitting king. Whatever the case, children around the world were taken with George’s unwitting mischief, and charmed by the cheerful, brightly coloured illustrations. But his story of travel, migration and cultural collision has a paradigmatically American dimension.
Against the backdrop of the Reys’ own dramatic travels, these children’s stories assume a poignant cast. The Reys became American citizens in 1946, and stayed in New York the rest of their lives. They never talked much about their narrow escape, and even today the story is not widely known. This is perhaps because, despite the direct biographical parallels, the Curious George stories give so little indication of their dark historical backdrop. The outlook is resolutely cheerful. George explores his new world fearlessly, and his confidence is justified. Strangers are kind to him. Authority figures are corrective, not punitive. The inevitable misunderstandings are quickly sorted out and forgiven. He is just a fictional monkey. But those would be good standards to help any newcomer feel at home.
‘Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey’ was organised by the Jewish Museum in New York. It is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco until March 13th
Erica Grieder is the South-West America correspondent for The Economist. Picture credit: Curious George, and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. © 2010 by HMH.
Rosh Hashana Recipes Routed Through Africa
Nanda Gonzague for The New York Times
From left, Carole Chaouat, Cathy Levy, with makroud, and Corynne Mas share recipes for the High Holy Days. Like many Jews in France, their holiday meals have North African influences.
Rosh Hashana Recipes Routed Through Africa
By JOAN NATHAN
Environment and Business Clash in Saint-Tropez
By LIZ ALDERMAN
PARIS — Of all the places to part with fistfuls of money in St.-Tropez, few have more cachet than Le Club 55.
Perched on the white stretches of Pampelonne, one of the Côte d’Azur’s most stunning beaches, Le Club offers a private patch of sand where habitués can pay around $255 a day to rent a couple of lounge chairs with an umbrella and enjoy a light lunch — not including wine.
But that traditional St.-Tropez luxury is in danger of being upended there, and at 27 other clubs and restaurants that have catered for decades to famous Côte d’Azur visitors from Brigitte Bardot to Paris Hilton.
The mayor’s office says the establishments pose a threat to the environment. Officials have proposed dismantling existing beach amenities and shrinking the area allotted for private beaches to protect delicate flora and what officials say are dunes worn down by the crush of manicured feet. As a result, despite the August atmosphere of hedonism, an unusual air of rebellion is stirring in St.-Tropez, with businesses contemplating their first ever “strike.”
“It’s completely stupid — everybody thinks so,” said Patrice de Colmont, the owner of Le Club 55 and a leader of the local fight against the government’s plans.
“If we said buildings in Paris couldn’t be above a certain height you wouldn’t cut off the top of the Eiffel Tower,” Mr. de Colmont said. “Well, this is the Eiffel Tower of the French Riviera.”
The mayor is seeking a compromise, but has not backed down. The town hall at Ramatuelle, where Pampelonne is situated, is planning to open its doors, starting Monday, to receive comments from the public.
“We all want to be here for the long term,” said Guy Martin, the chief of staff for Mayor Roland Bruno. “That’s why we need to make sure there’s a sustainable equilibrium between the environment and the community.”
Like much in France, though, the dispute is not so simple. Opponents of the move claim that it is really an effort to clear the way for big, well-connected companies to move in on the local businesses’ turf. Officials respond that the ruckus being raised by Mr. de Colmont and his colleagues is mostly in defense of their own form of crass commercialism.
French law prohibits private development on public beaches. But decades ago, residents built on Pampelonne by obtaining renewable one-year permits that allowed them to offer “public services,” like Jet Ski rentals and lifeguards, if the construction was dismantled when the contract expired.
If applying annually for permits was a nuisance, it at least protected small business owners, since no large company was willing to put up with the risk of losing a substantial investment, said Carole Balligand, the chairwoman of Save Pampelonne, a group that represents the local businesses that are in danger.
From the government’s perspective, however, all the activity stemming from the permits has hastened the erosion of an important dune on Pampelonne filled with rare native plant species. In 1986, the French Parliament passed a law to restore the area. Four years ago it ordered those in the area to strike a better balance between the environment and commercial activity.
Under the government’s plan, the commercial operators would be allowed on 20 percent of the beach rather than 30 percent, meaning their plots would be reduced to 23 from 28. As for the dune, it would be cordoned off to let nature do its work.
Local people are upset at another proposal, to require commercial beach activities to end on Sept. 1 every year — still the high season — rather than sometime in October, and to allow new businesses that build behind the restored dune 10-year operating permits. That, they suspect, is less about protecting the environment than attracting mass vacation companies with deep pockets, like Club Med.
What is more, Mrs. Balligand’s group, after digging up photos from the Allied landing on Pampelonne beach in August 1944, contends that no large dune ever existed. She accuses the government of using environmental arguments as an excuse to bring in bigger businesses.
In summer, about 20,000 people frolic on Pampelonne beach every day. While Paris and Nicky Hilton, Tina Turner, Bono and a constellation of other stars frequent its playground, so have a number of international artists, intellectuals and politicians. Many mix with the coterie of low-key, wealthy local residents whose families were here well before Ms. Bardot put Pampelonne on the map in the 1956 French film “And God Created Woman.”
Before Ms. Bardot, St.-Tropez was more like the Saint-Germain des Prés quarter of 1920s Paris. It was an eclectic beach town that drew few rich people. These days, “the gulf of St.-Tropez is covered with yachts, pretty much all of which are registered in tax havens,” Mr. Martin said.
The prospect of losing those clients and their free-flowing cash has Mr. de Colmont alarmed. His private beach plot is small, but it has been the stuff of legend ever since Ms. Bardot and the director Roger Vadim came during filming to seek food at what was then an outdoor dining table set up by Mr. de Colmont’s father for his family.
Last Thursday, Mr. de Colmont called off his planned one-day strike, he said, after the mayor’s office gathered him and other residents to discuss the matter “more reasonably.” But he is not ruling out a shutdown if the government digs in.
As he presses his fight, Mr. de Colmont will have at least one heavy hitter at his side. “Joan Collins left me a message the other day to ask what she could do to support me,” he said. “She has proposed to come give her point of view” to the mayor.
Such celebrities, of course, attract plenty of gawkers. Mr. de Colmont wants to be sure that the riffraff doesn’t get out of control, scaring the big spenders away. On a recent day, he said, 300 clients paid to use the amenities on Le Club 55’s plot, while only 100 people sat on the larger public beach next to his. “I would prefer,” he said, “not to have Club Med people crowding out those who are already here.”
KAL’s cartoon | The Economist: “KAL’s cartoon
Jul 15th 2010
The world this week”
Nicolas Sarkozy’s approval ratings have hit a record low in recent weeks
Click below for the interactive chart
It’s not just the third world where they like unmarked envelopes….