Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Eurocapitales 2019

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th October, 2019

JF speaking at Eurocapitales 2019I spent the latter half of last week in Paris attending the 2019 gathering of Eurocapitales, an association of individuals and groups mainly linked to the European Movement, celebrating some of the great cities of Europe while discussing topical subjects. Paris currently operates as the organisational hub as well, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of Jean-Paul Doguet, though there are plans to set up a European not-for-profit body under Belgian law in Brussels. The four countries represented at the 2019 encounter were Finland, France, Greece and the United Kingdom, and the French provided generous and memorable hospitality at a couple of Paris’s notable restaurants as well as a closing dinner in the Salon Napoleon at the French Senate in the Palais de Luxembourg.

The discussion programme was in two halves, covering Brexit and Artificial Intelligence. I was one of the morning speakers outlining the current state of Brexit — less easy than that might at first sound, as the position changes almost daily and no-one — not even Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for all his bluster — knows exactly what will happen between now and October 31 (the theoretical UK departure day), let alone beyond. It was interesting to note that some of the French participants seemed to assume that Brexit will indeed happen, with or without a deal, whereas both I and fellow Brit, Mark Paterson, thought it may well not, particularly if there is a second referendum. In my speech I focussed particularly on the post-Truth nature of modern British political discourse and the media, Trumpian in its outlandish lies, of which Boris Johnson is a prime culprit. One thing everyone did agree on was that Brexit would be bad for the EU and even worse for Britain, though paradoxically the whole Brexit debacle has actually raised the positive understanding of the European project, on both sides of the Channel.

One might have thought that AI would prove to be a less heated subject, but not a bit of it. I was particularly interested in the contributions relating to Smart Cities and the increasing participation of AI in so many aspects of urban life today — which can only increase in the future. But serious concerns were raised about moral and ethical issues relating to AI, from driverless cars to critical non-human decision-making, which I suspect will indeed preoccupy many of us as what has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution is rolled out.

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Armistice 2018 Commemoration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th November, 2018

3FD0BB67-E403-4016-BDB7-B1A8C5D35606I found pictures of the Armistice Day commemorations in Paris today deeply moving. President Emmanuel Macron spoke with dignity against nationalism and war. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stood next to him, underlining how these two great European powers, which had fought each other three times during a period of just 75 years, are now allies and the mainstay of the European Union — a body which now unites not just most of the countries of Western Europe but also the formerly Communist states of central and Eastern Europe. It was good that both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump were present, too (even if Trump blotted his copybook by pulling out of an earlier, related engagement because rain was forecast). Despite some recent tensions in the West’s relations with Russia, the Cold War, which kept us teetering on the verge of nuclear Armageddon, is long over. Scores of nations were represented at senior level in Paris, but shamefully Theresa May was not there. Apparently she thought it more important to be at the Cenitaph in London rather than participate in this unique, truly global event. Reportedly she sent David Lidington MP (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) instead, though naturally he did not get to stand with the top leaders, thus relegating the UK to second rank. At a time when Britain’s reputation is at rock bottom among our EU partners as Brexit loooms and many Conservative and Labour politicians fall over themselves to be rude to the EU and the 27 other member states, while banging the drum of British exceptionalism, this was a serious miscalculation. Theresa May is trashing the UK’s standing in Europe and the wider world, while Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn just stands on the sideline, nodding.

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Two Summers of Billy Morton ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th July, 2018

Two Summers of Billy Morton1968 really was a year to remember, what with the Prague Spring, the Paris May events, the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the Tet offensive in Vietnam, to mention but a few highlights. Fifty years on there have been many commemorations of individual events, but novelist Barry Stewart Hunter takes the year’s complete timeline as the backdrop to his picaresque tale of young Billy Morton, student photographer and opportunistic rent-boy, coming of age in swinging London at a time when sexuality was fluid and abortion recently legal (Two Summers of Billy Morton, Martin Firrell Company, £11.99). Billy’s “good” summer sees some strong and educative relationships on both sides of the fence, as well as the (not always disinterested) patronage of older people, including a one-armed lady picture editor based in Notting Hill (when the area was shabby, not chic) who suggests he go to Paris to see what the students were up to there. Having experienced the adrenaline rush of police horses charging an anti-War demonstration outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Billy is up to the challenge, as well as being agile and comely enough to depend on the kindness of strangers when he gets to the French capital.

Barry Stewart Hunter The Paris middle section of this novel in three distinct parts produces some of the most memorable characters, including a transvestite benefactor, Mme Georges, and a handsome young Arab, Lafcadio, with whom ever-so-English and still quite naive Billy becomes involved. But unlike in the 1960s children’s classic by Shel Silverstein, this Lafcadio is not the lion who shoots back but rather the harbinger of Billy’s “bad” summer that sees a chain of mysterious dangers with death in their wake. For a literary novel — and Two Summers of Billy Morton is highly literary — this book is packed with action, though at times it can appear hallucinatory, daring the reader to cease suspending their disbelief. Though the principal narrative voice is Billy’s, other people chip in from time to time, almost as if giving evidence to a police investigation. Some of Barry Stewart Hunter’s characters are more credible than others; I found parts of the Bloomsbury salon chatter and a supposed interview with novelist Graham Greene a little arch. But the central figure of Billy, in all his contradictions, is engagingly real and memorable. Indeed, as I myself ventured alone to London aged 18 in the summer of 1968, Billy could have been me.

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May 68

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th May, 2018

May 68Fifty years ago this week, the Left Bank in Paris was rocked by student protests, later followed by workers’ strikes. Revolution was in the air. I can’t claim to have been there then, though I watched as much as was available on British TV news. I was studying French ‘A’ level at the time, my mind totally caught up in the works of Albert Camus and André Gide, and I had been to France the year before on an exchange visit (as recounted in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes). So the cobblestones that the student activists were tearing up from the streets of Paris to hurl at police were still vividly in my mind. I had already become very political — with the Young Liberals, some of whom were branded Red Guards by the then party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, in mocking reference to what was happening in China’s Cultural Revolution. But neither we nor many of the students in Paris were Marxists, being more libertarian with a touch of anarchist, though I was totally opposed to violence. I longed to go over to join people at the Sorbonne, but with exams looming that was hardly feasible. And after a few weeks the whole thing fizzled out. General de Gaulle — who had fled to an army base in Germany at one stage in the protests — called a general election and the Gaullists were returned with an overall majority in the National Assembly. The bourgeoisie had won. Yet May 68 did leave an indelible mark on that generation of French youth, as well as impacting on cinema and other aspects of French culture. And it convinced me that I would live in Paris at some stage in my life, though it was to be another 12 years before that happened. Looking back now it seems impossible that les événements were half a century ago, as they are still so fresh in my mind. It’s even weirder to realise that half a century before that, young men were dying on the battlefields of the First World War — which as an 18-year-old I had thought of as ancient history.

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Clive McCartney at the Catto Gallery

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th September, 2015

Clive McCartney paintingThe artist Clive McCartney is inspired by the power of the sun. Light and movement are all, as witnessed in so many of his canvasses in the exhibition currently running at the Catto Gallery in Hampstead. His visions of Grand Central Staion in New York, busy with faceless travellers, as well as his exteriors of almost deserted Paris café terraces are particularly affecting. Had I a spare square two metres of wall space in my house, I would happily buy one. He is far more confident in acrylic on board that oil on canvas, and some of his London views, such as Greenwich from the top of the hill in the park, are disappointing. But the rest more than make up for this. He is an artist supremely conscious of place, as well as the light that iluminates it, and even if Paris and New York might seem old hat as themes for an Engushman abroad — even one based in Tunbridge Wells — he brings something fresh and appealing. Go and see the exhibition. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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Blasphemy Laws Are Medieval

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th January, 2015

Raif BadawiJe Suis CharlieGiven the blanket media coverage of events in Paris over the past week many people will probably have missed the distressing news that on Friday, after midday prayers, the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received 50 lashes in a public flogging, an act of medieval barbarity that is due to be repeated another 19 times on Fridays until the full 1,000 lashes sentence imposed on him for using electronic media to “insult Islam” has been implemented. Other words banded about in his case have included blasphemy and apostasy (renunciation of one’s faith), the latter meriting the death penalty in some extremist Islamic states. Of course, to any rational modern human being these “crimes” are not crimes at all and certainly do not deserve harsh punishment. I do not believe in gratuitously insulting someone else’s religion, but surely God and the Prophets are strong enough to stand up for themselves in the face of any such criticism, satirical or otherwise? At the heart of the Je Suis Charlie demonstrations in France and elsewhere, in the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, was the principle of free speech — an essential element not just of modern western civilization but of universal values of human rights, thanks to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by all members of the UN, including gross abusers of human rights, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudis base their antediluvian approach to blasphemy and other such “offences” on their strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which was, frankly, outmoded in the late 18th Century when it arose, and when the Enlightenment was sweeping Europe, let alone now. On Sunday, a wide range of world leaders gathered in Paris for the Je Suis Charlie march. But many of these same leaders are themselves guilty of curbing free speech, persecuting and even killing writers and journalists. All have a duty to improve their own records, as well as turning the spotlight on the worst culprits, including Saudi Arabia, applying sanctions where appropriate to reinforce their message. Those countries that still have blasphemy laws should repeal them now.

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Meeting Adonis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th February, 2012

‘Everyone is born in a poetic state,’ the Syrian-born writer and artist Adonis declared in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington this noon. But not everyone is destined to express themselves poetically. The sprightly octogenarian — who is viewed by many as the most significant Arab poet alive today — had humble beginnings in a remote village in the French mandated Syrian territory round Latakia, in which electricity and cars were unknown. But he got a lucky break through his own juvenile audacity. In 1943, after Shukri al-Kuwatli was elected Preaident, the new head of the (still not formally independent) state toured the country, to get to know it better. When the 13-year-old Adonis (original name Ali  Ahmad Said Asbar) heard of the impending visitation, he told his father that he wanted to read a poem he had written to President al-Kuwatli, as he was sure the president would then ask him what he would like in return, the answer to which was: to go to school! And that is exactly what happened, according to his testimony today. He studied and wrote and became politically active, which resulted in his being sent to prison for several months. But in 1956 he went into exile in Beirut, leaving there for Paris in 1980 to escape Lebanon’s Civil War. Exile from the Middle East was probably wise, despite his being born into the Alawite sect of Shia Islam from which the current al-Assad ruling family and cohorts in Syria hail. Adonis himself is a-relgious, though very interested in Sufi mysticism. He argues that the ‘decadence’ of the Arab world began with the fall of Baghdad in 1258 and continues today, though he draws some encouragement from the young activists of the present Arab Aakening, ‘though they have been betrayed by the fundamentalists.’ He is scornful of any country, including Israel, being based on a religious faith.  His years in France have given him a very French understanding of positive intellectualism and the power of profound thought. All great artists are also thinkers, he believes. He himself produces striking collages which combine extracts of handwritten text with fragments of everyday objects.  An exhibition of his work can be seen at the Mosaic Rooms 1100-1800 Monday to Saturday until the end of March and there are a couple more events with the poet himself next week.


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Cleaning up Oscar Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th December, 2011

This weekend in Paris the usual tide of pilgrims to the tomb of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde were able to see the product of approximately 40,000 euros-worth of renovation, most of that funding being provided by the Irish government. The maginificent carving by Jacob Epstein — commissioned by Oscar’s friend and patron, Helen Carew — has sat in the Pere Lachaise cemetery for over a hundred years, but over the last 50 or so it has suffered from repeated assaults by the passionate lips of female admirers, who left stains of lipstick all over the solid base. Not only did this require considerable cleaning to get the marks off, but there had even been a corrosive effect on the stone. To prevent this happening again, a two-metre high plate-glass screen has been erected round the cleaned tomb. Some fans are distraught and a few lip impressions have already appeared on the glass. But I think most Wildeans will concur with Oscar’s grandson, Merlin Holland, who unveiled the restoration earlier this month and who was not only concerned about the damage being done to the monument (which had its prominent genitalia chopped off by a vandal some time in the 1960s) but also argued that the effect of the kisses was unsightly. The glass screen itself is pretty unsightly, it has to be admitted, but at least it should perform a useful function. Wilde himself would be amused that 111 years after his death he is still hailed as a literary genius as well as a social reformer and (some would argue) LGBT martyr, and that his tomb is the subject of so much conversation in Paris. But as he himself said, there is only thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.

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Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd November, 2008

  Of all the streets in Paris, the rue du Faubourg St.-Denis is my favourite. The photo doesn’t really do it justice, as it is one of the most colourful and multicultural thoroughfares in the French capital. French delicatessens jostle with Turkish and Mauritian grocers, Indian restaurants and a whole series of Arab and African telephone centres and internet cafés. Three hundred years ago, before the French Revolution, it used to be very grand, but now its popular edginess is its greatest attraction, at least for me. There used to be street stalls as well (which featured in Jean-Luc Godard’s film ‘Une femme est une femme’), but they were long since evicted. Nonetheless, it’s still a great place to do one’s daily food shopping — a habit I acquired when I lived here 30 years ago and have not abandoned in London, where the ‘weekly supermarket shop’ culture reigns supreme. Eating fresh produce and being able to choose which particular vegetable or piece of fruit one wants, unhindered by packaging, is a facet of the quality of life too many people in London have sacrificed.

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A la recherche du Proust perdu

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd November, 2008

  This week I will start teaching a new course on writing non-fiction at City University in London, the first class being on Nostalgia and Selective Memory, with Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann as the core text. As I haven’t read the opening volume to  A la recherche du temps perdu since I was at university myself, I’m spending the weekend reacquainting myself with the text, by coincidence in Paris, whither I came from Stockholm, staying in the same area of the Xème arondissement where I had a tiny studio flat nearly 30 years ago.

Paris is the ultimate city to walk in, full of small neighbourhood shops of the kind that have been squeezed out by high rents in most areas of London. Many are the same as were here when I left all that time ago, or else are being run by the sons or nephews of the proprietors I knew. As I head across town towards the Boulevard Haussmann, I can imagine the invalid Proust in situ there, and the smell of baguettes and fresh coffee in the morning brings back memories of times lost but not forgotten.

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