Ramblings & ephemera

A wallet returned after 60+ years

From KOMU’s “Sarah’s Stories – Wallet Memories” (KOMU: 4 January 2007): MEXICO [Misouri] – A local resident enjoyed an early, unexpected Christmas present. Ray Heilwagen, an 83-year-old World War II veteran, has a story that stretches from France to his front lawn. … During war, a wallet can be a soldier’s most prized pocession, full […]

Van Gogh on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): Van Gogh in Arles wrote this about death: Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why? I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots […]

Why did Thomas Jefferson bring a stuffed moose to France?

From David G. Post’s “Jefferson’s Moose” (Remarks presented at the Stanford Law School Conference on Privacy in Cyberspace: 7 February 2000): In 1787, Jefferson, then the American Minister to France, had the “complete skeleton, skin & horns of the Moose” shipped to him in Paris and mounted in the lobby of his hotel. One can […]

The cochineal insect’s gift of red

From Allen Abel and Madeleine Czigler’s “Scandal, communism, blood” (National Post: 27 June 2008): The blood-red allure of lipstick is a gift of a parasitic insect that infests cactus plants, principally in Mexico and Peru. It has been known since Aztec and Mayan times that, when boiled, the body of the cochineal insect dissolves into […]

Maintaining control in a subdued country

From Louis Menard’s “From the Ashes: A new history of Europe since 1945” (The New Yorker [28 November 2005]: 168): [Tony Judt, author of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945] notes that France, a country with a population of some forty million, was administered by fifteen hundred Nazis, plus six thousand Germen policemen. A […]

Who was saved in the storming of the Bastille?

From Wikipedia’s “French Revolution” (5 July 2006): On July 14, 1789, after hours of combat, the insurgents seized the Bastille prison, killing the governor, Marquis Bernard de Launay, and several of his guards. Although the Parisians released only seven prisoners; four forgers, two lunatics, and a sexual offender, the Bastille served as a potent symbol […]

Napoleon’s losses in the invasion of Russia

From Wikipedia’s “Napoleon I of France” (5 July 2006): The French suffered greatly in the course of a ruinous retreat; the Army had begun as over 650,000 frontline troops, but in the end fewer than 40,000 crossed the Berezina River (November 1812) to escape. In total French losses in the campaign were 570,000 against about […]

Fouche’s blackmail of Napoleon

From Napoleonic Literature’s “The Court and Camp of Buonaparte: The Ministers: Fouche“: [Fouche,] who was so profoundly versed in the state of parties, — who was obeyed by one, courted by another, and feared by all; who, by means of his countless agents, could at any time congregate the scattered elements of resistance to the […]

Fouche proud of terror, expanded

From Napoleonic Literature’s “The Court and Camp of Buonaparte: The Ministers: Fouche“: But whatever might be the merit of his services at Nantes, it was far eclipsed by those he had soon afterwards the happiness to perform at Lyons. On his arrival there with Collot d’Herbois, he announced to the terrified citizens the reward they […]

Fouche’s daily list for Napoleon

From Central Missouri State University’s “Joseph Fouche“: Fouché established an organization of policing and intelligence gathering that was decades ahead of its time. Napoleon, frequently on military campaigns, depended on Fouché’s information to maintain control over France and his military effectiveness. Six days a week, every week, Fouché sent secret reports to Napoleon. The information […]

Fouche proud of terror

From Central Missouri State University’s “Joseph Fouche“: As chief police officer of the revolutionary government, Fouché was given the power to impose the government’s policies quickly and mercilessly. He demonstrated his willingness to accomplish this feat when, after the population of Lyons revolted against the government, he personally presided over the mass executions in that […]

Fouche praised with parallelism

From Central Missouri State University’s “Joseph Fouche“: Such was Fouché’s accomplishment that Chaumette, a Jacobin extremist in the Assembly, publicly praised his efforts: Citizen Fouché has worked the miracles of which I have been speaking. Old age has been honored; infirmity has been succored; misfortune has been respected; fanaticism has been destroyed; federalism has been […]

Joseph Fouche the atheist

From Central Missouri State University’s “Joseph Fouche“: Moreover, Fouché was not content with merely attacking the aristocracy. He orchestrated a campaign of atheistic fervor never before seen in Europe. He abolished clerical celibacy and ordered priests to marry or adopt a child within a month. Churches were pillaged, and priests were forbidden from wearing their […]

The French character

From "The Habit of Democracy" by Adam Gopnik in the 15 October 2001 issue of The New Yorker, a review of two books about Alexis de Tocqueville: At a deeper level, too, [Tocqueville’s] turn of mind was French: witty but humorless, indifferent to empirical details, constantly searching for the lucid abstraction, what he called the […]

Secret movies in the Paris underground

From Jon Henley’s “In a secret Paris cavern, the real underground cinema” (The Guardian: 8 September 2004): Police in Paris have discovered a fully equipped cinema-cum-restaurant in a large and previously uncharted cavern underneath the capital’s chic 16th arrondissement. Officers admit they are at a loss to know who built or used one of Paris’s […]