Patrick Marnham

When Paris was the only place to be

For more than 100 years Paris has been as much a symbol and a myth as a geographical reality. The enchantment dates back to the end of the 19th century, when ‘le bordel de l’Europe’, in words quoted by Marie-José Gransard, was transformed into ‘la capitale de l’amour’. In Twentieth Century Paris she traces the

The man from nowhere

Before the horrified gaze of its militants, the French Socialist party — which has been a major force in French politics since 1981, and forms the present government — is falling to pieces. There are many reasons behind this catastrophe. They go back to 2005 and the dithering leadership of the then secretary-general, François Hollande,

France’s new right

The result in France in the first round of the Les Républicains party’s primary elections marks the political death of one of the big beasts of French politics. Nicolas Sarkozy, widely known as ‘Sarko’, has been a volcanic presence on the public stage since he became Jacques Chirac’s minister of the interior in May 2002.

Japan Notebook | 20 October 2016

Tokyo is visual chaos everywhere, the antithesis of the Japanese interior. It is a multilevel jumble of overpasses, neon signs, electric pylons, railway lines and traffic lights. The pavements are empty, not a pedestrian human in sight. And the leader of North Korea is still lobbing ballistic missiles right over Japan and cackling away about

Frexit – oui ou non?

In France, Brexit has provoked resentment and shock. For many years-Britain has been seen in both Paris and-Brussels as the European ‘bad boy’, out for what it can get and intending to give as little as possible in return. The first news was greeted with headlines such as ‘Can Europe-survive?’ but there was also a

Hollande’s hollow crown

 Paris Sitting on a crowded café terrace in Rue Saint-Antoine on a sunny evening last week, there was no sense of national crisis. When a motor scooter backfired, no one jumped. The constant racket of police car sirens was ignored. The National Assembly had just voted for the third extension of a seven-month ‘national emergency’ following

Throned on her hundred isles

Approximately 500 new books on Venice are published every year and this is not the first literary anthology devoted to the city. But Marie-Jose Gransard lectures in Venice about Venice to Venetians, and conducts her students on guided tours of the city. Her selection draws on sources going back over 800 years and across six

A people horrible to behold

The much-lamented journalist and bon viveur Sam White, late of the rue du Bac, The Spectator and the Evening Standard, who lived in Paris for over 40 years, once wrote an affectionate portrait of his adopted home that opened with the defiant words, ‘Yes: I like it here.’ As a short review of the city

Hollande’s own emergency

The terrorist attacks of 13 November have had an enduring effect on people living in Paris and France’s other big cities. Hotel bookings and restaurant reservations are down, and some people will no longer go out in the evening. There have been several other minor terrorist outrages across the country since November, and tension —

France’s new reactionaries

When President de Gaulle was asked to authorise the criminal prosecution of Jean-Paul Sartre for civil disobedience during the Algerian war, he declined. ‘One does not lock up Voltaire,’ he added, unhistorically. In France, ‘public intellectuals’ have a quasi-constitutional status, so it’s not surprising that a furious bunfight has broken out over a handful of

France’s fight on the right

A year has passed since Nicolas Sarkozy announced his return to frontline politics, and the political landscape in France is still recovering from the shock. His rivals for the leadership of the French right have watched while their cordially disliked ex-leader consistently outmanoeuvred them. They had made the mistake of believing in the sincerity of

Liberating Marianne

In Marianne in Chains, his last book on Occupied France, Robert Gildea offered an original view of life in that country between 1940 and 1944, arguing that outside the cities it had not always been as bad, nor had the Vichy regime always been as reactionary, as was subsequently claimed. Confining his research to three

Bringing Camus to book

In 1975 the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, in a lecture at the University of Massachusetts, identified Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as the work of a racist. Achebe objected to a story that used Africa as a setting for ‘the break-up of one petty European mind’, and depicted Africans as nameless savages. Achebe’s lecture —

Is Nicolas Sarkozy headed back to the Elysée – or to jail?

In his more hyperactive moods Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, has been known to compare himself to Charles de Gaulle. Following defeat in the 2012 presidential elections ‘Sarko’ made a dignified exit from the national stage, stating that in future his personal commitment to the well-being of France would be in some loftier sphere.

A salute to Georges Simenon

One hundred years ago an 11-year-old boy called Georges Simenon was getting accustomed to the presence of the German army in Liège. Together with his mother and his younger brother he had been forced to hide in the cellar of their terraced house on the island of Outremeuse to avoid the firing squads. The Belgian

France’s political system is crumbling. What’s coming next looks scary

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Freddy Gray discusses the end of the French republic” startat=1844] Listen [/audioplayer]Last week President François Hollande, following his party’s humiliation in the European parliamentary elections (his Socialists won roughly half as many seats as the National Front), decided to cheer himself up. He left Paris and travelled to Clairefontaine to mingle with France’s

There was good art under Franco

Everyone knows about the Spanish civil war, first battlefield in the struggle that broke out in 1936 and ended nine years later in the ruins of Berlin. It has been immortalised in the work of Hemingway, Orwell and Koestler and commemorated in the heroic deeds of the International Brigades. This is how it is remembered