Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Chateaubriand

Mon cher Ado/Jean. Part 16

Quand j’ai appris le décès de Jean d’Ormesson je fus bouleversé: les derniers temps il me rendait la joie de vivre lors de ses interventions à la télé avec son charmant sourire et ses beaux yeux malicieux !

(He enjoyed a great life of comfort and all the privileges of the elite class)

Aujourd’hui quand j’y pense , je suis triste malgré un petit sourire qui s’affiche sur mes lèvres . Je souris en me remémorant sa fougue quand il se faisait le chantre de l’un de ces écrivains préférés et particulièrement quand il parlait de Chateaubriand , l’auteur des Mémoires d’outre-tombe !

Alors tout son corps semblait jouir de plaisir pendant que ses yeux lubriques devançaient ses mots pour nous dire son amour de l’écrivain , de la vie … N’oublions pas que l’un de ses derniers romans s’intitulait : ” Je dirai malgré tout que cette vie fut belle ” .

J’espère mon cher Ado qu’il a retrouvé aux cieux ses copains et qu’ensemble il échangent leur traits d’humour … (J’ai lu plusieurs de ses ouvrages et plusieurs sections de Mémoires d’outre-tombe) 

Mais Jean d’Ormesson n’était pas du tout pressé de s’en aller! Ce qui le chagrinait, c’est qu’un jour il s’en irait ” sans avoir tout dit “” Qui suis-je? ” . Mais que dire ?

Si Montaigne avait conclu ses Essais par un ” Que sais-je?” , d’Ormesson qui n’avait jamais cessé de scruter la vie pour chercher à comprendre l’existence aurait pu conclure par un ” Qui suis-je? ”

C’est si difficile de savoir qui nous sommes ! Sa donne le vertige ! C’est évanouissant !

Écrivain, journaliste , critique , mais surtout homme de bonne compagnie , scandant avec bonheur sur les plateaux de télévision la poésie de ses aînés …

Avec toujours ce sourire un peu narquois au bout des lèvres …

Oui , mais il savait bien que ” rien n’est jamais acquis à l’homme.. ” sur cette terre !
Il avait , de ce fait, préféré souvent la malice à la tragédie , car plus divertissante , plus distrayante , excellente thérapie pour échapper à “l’Ennui “…

Enfin le “petit “Jean aux yeux bleus se mit très tôt à écrire pour exorciser le mal existentialiste qui nous torture , qui nous supplicie … (On ecrit toujours quand on est dans un etat neutre, apres avoir subit des rages de passions et d’anxiete’ existentielle)

Écrire , aimer et se divertir , tel était sa devise ! (Sans un sense de l’humour, rien n’ ai acquit)

Voilà déjà trente ans que je me suis exilé en France , l’un des plus beaux pays de cette planète , ce pays que j’ai appris à aimer pour l’avoir appris dans les livres au Liban et maintenant à l’avoir parcouru du Nord au Sud et d’Ouest en Est.

Et pourtant ,ce matin je suis nostalgique du pays de mes ancêtres qui dorment tranquillement à l’ombre de nos cèdres millénaires. (Et que les Libanais essaient de reveiller les Cedre pour qu’ils les eveillent?)

Note: En 5ieme, le Frere jouflu qui enseignait le Francais a Notre Dame de Furn el Chabak m’avait dit “ton style avec ce “Que sais-je” ressemble a Montaigne“. Et pourtant je n’ avais jamais entendu ou lis Montaigne.


Beirut Metropolis: Orientalism with a surgical twist

For much of its contemporary history, Beirut has been characterized as the Paris of the Middle East, a cosmopolitan metropolis that misfortune has placed in the middle of a region otherwise hostile to the civilized pleasures of material excess, free-flowing alcohol and exposed female skin.

Beirut’s Parisian charm has tended to become less apparent during periods of mass sectarian slaughter.

In the introduction to his Orientalism, the late US/Palestinian author Edward Said notes repercussions of civil conflict in Lebanon on the European consciousness:

“On a visit to Beirut during the terrible civil war of 1975-1976 a French journalist wrote regretfully of the gutted downtown area that ‘it had once seemed to belong to the Orient of Chateaubriand and Nerval [18th- and 19th-century French Romantic writers] ‘. This journalist was right about the place, of course, especially so far as a European was concerned. The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences.” (See link in note 2)

Belen Fernandez published in AlJazeera on Nov. 6, 2012 “Orientalism with a surgical twist: Beirut”

The ‘New York Times’ advertised Beirut as number 1 out of 44 ideal travel destinations in 2009 [Reuters]
Can the representation of Beirut as a “Middle Eastern Paris brimming with wealth” function on behalf of imperialism?
“The civil war may indeed have upset a regional landscape constructed over time by European scholars, poets, travelers and other self-appointed authorities, who, as late Edward Said argues, helped institutionalize Eurocentric prejudice, deny agency to the actual inhabitants of the romanticized exotic lands and thus facilitate imperial and colonial conquest.

The civil war did not, however, halt Orientalist traditions – made quite clear in manuscripts like From Beirut to Jerusalem, unleashed to wide acclaim in 1989 by former New York Times Beirut bureau chief Thomas Friedman.According to Friedman’s account, civil war-era Lebanon was populated by “buxom, Cleopatra-eyed Lebanese girls“, whose presence threw invading Israeli soldiers for a loop:”This was not the Sinai, filled with cross-eyed Bedouins and shoeless Egyptian soldiers“.

That such caricatures were permitted to pass as insight, exposes the delusional nature of Friedman’s subsequent complaint that “a toxic political correctness infected the academic field of Middle Eastern studies“.

Paris revisited 

In recent years, Beirut has reclaimed its image as the Paris of the Middle East, outfitted with expanded shopping opportunities and a spiffy new downtown erected on the former dividing line between the Muslim and Christian halves of the city.

A spate of Times articles about Beirut’s various amenities offers such trivia as that “[i]n a city of many faiths – Christian, Sunni, Shiaa, Druze – at least one religion is universally practiced: sun worship“.

The New York Times has dutifully taken on the role of PR firm for the resurgent Lebanese capital, advertising it as number 1 out of 44 ideal travel destinations in 2009.

Given that the specified temples of worship are high-end beach clubs where “hordes of heliophiles absorb ultraviolet rays and cultivate their bronzed exteriors”, it would seem that said religion is not so universal after all

– either from an economic perspective or one that recognises the incompatibility of certain prominent faiths with public bronzed exterior cultivation.

On the new Zaitunay Bay waterfront promenade, a “luxury playground” where “tablecloths gleam white and bottles of wine sweat in silver coolers”, the Times observes that the boardwalk planks, “a nod to maritime authenticity, present a design flaw perhaps foreseeable in this city: Women with Louis Vuitton handbags are forever extracting their spike heels from the cracks”.

Additional sights at Zaitunay Bay, itself described as “Lebanon’s latest effort to recapture the prewar 1960s – when Brigitte Bardot was a regular and Beirut was a fashionable port of call”, include an Iraqi immigrant in “leather miniskirt, thigh-high boots and a fur vest and whose fire-engine-red lipstick and long yellow hair” would have appeared out-of-place in her native land but “were right at home in Beirut”.

In other Beirut-centric dispatches, the Times raves about gay nightlife and restaurants offering beef and duck flown in from France.

The point of taking issue with such idealised odes to money and fashion is not to deny the affluence that exists in the city or the comparatively liberal nature of its society.

However, the marketing of a Beirut brand of “joie de vivre“, so blatantly equated with material wealth becomes morally problematic when we acknowledge the glaring economic disparity in the country, visible in the capital itself.

Consider, for example, the aesthetic differences between the refurbished downtown and the overcrowded and neglected Palestinian refugee camps and primarily Shia southern suburbs.

In these areas, recent infrastructure projects have included the rampant flattening of apartment blocks by the Israeli air force in 2006.

Needless to say, less sanitary aspects of life in Lebanon – such as the enslaved status of many migrants employed in the domestic help sector – have no place in the portrait of Beirut as a paradise of wealth, where tantalising opportunities await foreign visitors and their pocket-books.

Cleopatra on Botox 

Three decades after Thomas Friedman discovered buxom Cleopatra in Lebanon, another Western voyager by the name of David J Constable has confirmed that the women still “look like Cleopatra”, and that they have acquired new methods for enhancing their appearances – becoming in the process veritable ambulatory showcases for “tucks, lifts, firming, lipo, implants, grafting, tightening, otoplasty, mammoplasty, rhinoplasty and many other physical manipulations”.

A member of the Royal Geographical Society, Constable approaches his anthropological subjects with Orientalist vigour, compiling his findings in a Huffington Post report entitled “Boobs, Botox, and the Babes of Beirut“.

Constable dispatch begins with the curious hypothesis:

“For a largely Arab country it’s a bizarre thing that in Lebanon (Beirut specifically), women care more about their appearance than men.

Males lead a rather sullied existence, priming their closely cut mini-beards and, from my own observations, eating rather a lot.

The formula in Lebanon’s capital for women is fashion-forward, from their choice of cloth to the decisions they make surgically.”

Non-experts on Arab grooming habits might of course be surprised to deduce that men usually spend hours preening in front of the mirror while women mope about in filth.

Undeterred, Constable rumbles on: “Muslim, Christian and Druze women in Beirut dress surprisingly skimpy. There are vests and silks and bikinis and cashmere and come-hither off-the-shoulder numbers.

Constable warns, however, of occasional inauspicious outcomes among operated females: “Some look as if a drunken Picasso has drawn a face on to a balloon”.

In the very least, Picasso’s inebriated doodles attest to the European role in literally shaping the Orient.

Indeed, in 2006, the Israelis were presumably just as pleased as they’d been in 1982:  They discovered that not all Arabs were cross-eyed Bedouins, and Lebanon is still inhabited by bikini-clad plastic surgery recipients (and their slovenly overeating menfolk).

Field notes 

The Orient’s existence as a spectacle for the Westerner to behold and interpret is meanwhile made especially clear during Constable’s expedition to a nightclub “to witness the dolls and their dates myself”.

A power outage interrupts the exotic display but is fortunately resolved:

“The lights slowly raise and the permafixed smiles return. The waxed, toned limbs of party women begin to pop and gyrate again.

They’re back on show, electrified so their surgical enhancements, botoxed-brows and designer names can bounce off my eyes, competing in a variety of silk-cut blouses, Louboutin heels and over-night handbags.

At another rooftop bar, Constable surmises that “there are benefits to marrying/dating/having sex with a plastic surgeon, since surely no one can afford to spend that much of their own cash on reconstructive surgery and blow-me-up operations”. Case closed.

As with the New York Times‘ fixation with Beirut glamour, the effect of essays like Constable’s is to reduce the Lebanese to a superficial existence in which personal concerns are limited to inflating one’s lips and breasts and not getting one’s designer heels stuck in boardwalk planks.

Never mind that many Lebanese are faced with more pressing preoccupations, such as a southern neighbour with a penchant for massacring civilians, upending infrastructure and saturating portions of the country with unexploded cluster bombs to serve as post-conflict population control.

Some may argue that the Times Constable approach is less detrimental than other reductionist portrayals of the country, such as Lebanon equals terrorist den.

These reductionist statements helps propagate an ethnic stereotype that has been exploited to justify more than one imperial project in the Arab/Muslim world.

However, the representation of Beirut as a Middle Eastern Paris brimming with wealth and cleavage – a place the West can relate to on account of its fervent materialism – can also function on behalf of imperialism, eliminating as it does all context legitimizing other aspects of Lebanon’s identity, like resistance to Israeli regional designs.

Note 1: Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Workreleased by Verso in 2011.

She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blogAl Akhbar English and many other publications.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Note 2:

Note 3: I think Miss Lebanon of 2012 is the one on the far left, the tall blonde one?

Around the World Social Event Miss Lebanon 2012 In Las Vegas Lebanon

Napoleon enters Moscow; (September 10, 2009)


            Napoleon Bonaparte, the self appointed Emperor of France, gathered a large army “La Grande Armee”.  This army was over 680,000 soldiers strong, including 175,000 cavalry men.  The Big Army converged from many parts of Europe to Dresden; it included 270,000 French soldiers, 20,000 Italians, 80,000 from the Rhine Confederacy, 30,000 from Poland, 30,000 from the Austrian Empire, and 20,000 from Prussia.  The objective was to punish the Russian Czar Alexander I.  No one among the politicians and the Generals saw any cause for this war.  The Czar simply was the only independent monarch in the European continent not to obey promptly to the ducats of the Emperor.  Napoleon’s avowed reason for this war was that Alexander I did not sign on a tariff treaty that bind all the other monarchies in Continental Europe and thus was alienated from the continental system.

            Napoleon declared war unilaterally on June 22, 1812 at Wilkowiski proclaiming that second Polish war has started.  The army needed 3 days to cross the Niemen River to the Russian frontier; no enemy army was waiting to give battle to Bonaparte. In Witepsk he had a second thought of postponing the invasion to next year because he sensed that it was dangerous to remain in Russia during the coming winter season.  Then, as the Czar refused to reply to his letters or envoys for negotiation Bonaparte got pretty upset; he reasoned “Moscow, the Saint City with hundreds of churches and the remaining bastion of Christianity, is 20 days march for the army.  By the time the Czar calls up his recruits he will be in Moscow.  The Czar will be forced to initiate negotiation.”

            The Russian army under Barclay refused Bonaparte battles and continued its retreat toward Moscow.  There was a battle at the city of Smolensk; Bonaparte could either attack Moscow or move toward Saint Petersbourg where the Czar resided; he opted for the Capital Moscow.  General Kutuzov replaced Barclay at the head of the Russian army.  A major battle took place on Borodino or Moskowa on September 6; the two armies were equal in numbers of about 125,000 but the Russians had strong defenses. One thousand canons from both sides are vomiting fire; 80,000 perished in 5 hours of engagement, including over 50 generals from both sides; cold rain and violent wind dominated the dark landscape. The Imperial guard of 25,000 strong did not participate in the battle; Marechal Ney exploded “Since the Emperor refuses to be a General then let him go back to Paris and be Emperor”

            Bonaparte saw Moscow on September 14; the Russian troops had vacated their Capital. Emperor Bonaparte moved in the Kremlin the next day. The third day Moscow was burned down by order of its Russian’s governor Rostopschine; all the Russian prisoners were let out of jails with ordered to burn their Capital. General Kutuzoff who had moved east returned toward Voronowo. 

            Napoleon wavered for an entire month for the next step; he could have marched to Saint Petersburg to force the Czar to negotiate but he opted to wait for the Czar to take the initiative for a political settlement.  Napoleon decided to retreat by October 18; he had ordered Marechal Mortier to blow up the Kremlin after he leaves; it was done at 1:30 am on October 23.  

            Bonaparte decided to take a different route but was forced to follow the same route to Smolensk because the troops of Kutuzoff had blocked the way.  The French army had to watch the previous battlefields; the carcasses were still strewn everywhere and the wolves were roaming.  The harsh Russian winter arrived during the long retreat. Over 300,000 of the Big Army died mostly of frost, famine, drowning, and diseases within two months of the retreat.  Of the thousands of horses only 1,500 remained. All canons, carriages, and baggage were left behind for lack of horses.

            Napoleon parted with his army and returned to Paris to take care of “revolts”. Only about 120 thousands French soldiers arrived to their homelands; there are no documents how many of the survivors lived within weeks after arriving home. Napoleon wrote to the French Senate “Your Emperor never felt healthier during the entire campaign”. 

            The Russian army could have easily captured Napoleon as prisoner and totally eliminate the remaining French regiments but it must have been a political decision to let Bonaparte return safe and sound to Paris.  Europe did not expect the disintegration of the French army so quickly and thus had no political alternatives after Napoleon.  It was better to keep Napoleon as the target enemy to unite Europe against a unique enemy than to start political infighting among the monarchs.

            The worst crossing was the Beresina River. What happened before and during the crossing of the Beresina River? Bonaparte just wrote “The French army crossed the Beresina”; period. My next post will expose the harrowing details.


Note: My contention for this war is simple.  Napoleon was feling terribly bored. I was the master of Europe. He was bored by his new wife Emperess Marie-Louise of Austria; he was a new dad. Administration was giving him terrible headache.  He needed a long excursion at the head of the largest army; he wanted to break new Guiness records.  This topic was from Chateaubriand.




May 2020

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