The declining fortunes of La Place du Tertre

‘My name is Picasso,’ he says, eyes glinting mischievously over a big, bushy, grey moustache. ‘And I sell thousands of paintings a day.’

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‘Picasso’

 

His booming laugh echoes out around La Place du Tertre. Above him, in the historic heart of Montmartre, the white dome of Sacre Coeur glistens in the early morning sun. Pigeons shuffle and flit, pecking between the cobbles. Empty cafes line the perimeter of the square as one or two Parisians cradle their steaming espressos al fresco. Perched high above the city, painters here huddle over their work, braced against the winter cold. Lovingly they tend to their windows onto imagined worlds.

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The Césars, Yves Saint-Laurent and Timbuktu

Judith Prescott is a former top critic for Rotten Tomatoes and author of the French Cinema Review blog. I interviewed her about the upcoming Césars (the French equivalent of the Oscars), Yves Saint-Laurent and Timbuktu.

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After the interview I saw Timbuktu myself. Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, a leading name in African cinema, the film follows life in this northern Malian town, which came under the control of a group of Islamists in 2012.

Visually, the film is breathtaking. It includes one of the most memorable moments of cinematography I have ever seen. After accidentally shooting and killing Amadou, a fisherman who had killed his cow, Kidane staggers back across the lake whilst the dying man pitches and writhes in the water. The backdrop is stunningly beautiful and the shot, perfectly framed, is held and held. You never want it to end.

The relative absence of plot and drama gives the film a slow pace – at times too slow – but the action, when it does arrive, is moving. A scene of boys playing imaginary football – because the sport is banned by the Islamists – is cinematic gold. Most striking is the realism of their game. They twist, run and jump in perfect synchronisation with the location of their imagined ball. Heart-breaking.

Acts of defiance and cruelty punctuate the film’s mesmerising exposition. A woman tells the Islamists to cut off her hands for refusing to wear gloves whilst selling fish. Another woman is lashed for singing but continues to sing during the punishment. A man and woman are buried up to their necks and stoned.

I encourage you to watch Timbuktu. You won’t enjoy it, but that’s not the point.

Love on the line

It is 9:38pm and Guillaume is waiting. The station lights of Gare du Nord glint in his round spectacles, his black, unruly hair peeking out from under his hat as he peers over the bustling, expectant crowd. This vigil at Platform 3 has become a fortnightly ritual. He waits for his love.

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‘Her name is Constance,’ he says, smiling. ‘We met in London last year. She’s French but she works there. I take the train to London one week, she comes to Paris the next, so we see each other every weekend.’

This Eurostar service is their vital link, an international locomotive artery flowing lifeblood into their romance. 2014 marked its 20th anniversary, an occasion celebrated by the announcement of seventeen new hi-tech Siemens trains set for action this year.

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Jews set to observe ‘Hyper Sabbath’ for terror victims

Thousands of Jews across France will observe a ‘Hyper Sabbath’ this weekend to commemorate the victims of last month’s Hyper Cacher shootings.

Hyper Cacher victims

Kevin Hagege, the CEO of a Jewish organisation that promotes the spread of the Torah, said: ‘For Charlie Hebdo, everyone bought a copy of their newspaper. For Hyper Cacher, the Jewish community will observe a Hyper Sabbath.’

The commemoration comes as France continues to maintain heightened security at Jewish schools and places of worship following the killings of Phillippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab and Francois-Michel Saada by Islamic extremist Amédy Coulibaly at the Jewish Hyper Cacher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes in January.

The idea of a ‘Hyper Sabbath’ was inspired by Hattab’s final text message, sent just before the attack, which encouraged a friend to observe the Sabbath as much as possible.

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Hattab’s final text

 

The Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, and the President of the Israeli Council of Paris, Joel Mergui, have called on Jews worldwide to observe this ‘Hyper Sabbath’.

In an open communiqué, Mergui said he had been ‘literally stunned’ by Hattab’s final text and that the Jewish community needed to ‘respect the testament of this young murdered Jew’ and to ‘honour the memory of the four Jews murdered because they were preparing for the Sabbath.’

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Joel Mergui

 

Hagege said: ‘The victims at Hyper Cacher died whilst doing their shopping for the Sabbath. They respected the Sabbath and through this commemoration we will pay them homage.’

‘The 6th and 7th of February mark one month since the attacks and this is when we say a special prayer for the deceased. Certain people are going to be observing the Sabbath for the first time in their lives.’

The Sabbath, a day of rest when Jews are forbidden from performing manual work, begins on Friday evening and lasts until Saturday evening. Observance of the Sabbath is proscribed by the Ten Commandments in the Jewish faith and also involves the lighting of candles and reading passages from the Torah.

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In addition to maintaining heightened security, French President Francois Hollande recently declared measures cracking down on anti-semitism. Speaking at the Holocaust Memorial in Paris last week on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, he announced that anti-semitism and racism would henceforth be considered aggravating features of a crime.

In a message of solidarity, he said: ‘You, French Jews, your place is here in France. Our country would not be the same if we had to live without you.’

He also noted the findings of a recently published report by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, which showed that the number of anti-Semitic attacks in France had more than doubled from 423 in 2013 to 851 in 2014.