Wednesday, October 29, 2014


La Belgique est defiguree par des avatars culturels, genre Albertine ou Musee d'art moderne (?) qui renvoient le visiteur a un style lugubre, du genre feu Berlin Est.
Toutes ses institutions ont ceci en commun qu'elles semblent immobilisees suite a un coma artificiel, faute de moyens, de gardiens, de visiteurs et de renouveau. Autour de la Belgique la scene culturelle au sens large explose. Il suffit de voir le nouveau Rijksmuseum a n'ose meme pas mentionner Berlin ou Paris.
Le nouveau gouvernement a decide de penaliser encore davantage le secteur culturel. Se pretendant de "droite" il n'a pas pour autant considere une campagne visant a mobiliser le secteur prive pour compenser un deficit qui risque de devenir structurel.
La capitale de l'Europe recoit le visiteur dans des gares coupe-gorge, dans des musees ringards et dans un site urbain  transforme en garage permanent (genre Sablon). Restent la Grand Place, Oberbayern permanent, le palais de justice en decomposition permanente ( ou est l'inspiration du musee d'Orsay ?) et la Rue de la Regence et palais royal , facades non ravalees et rebarbatives dans la capitale du facadisme. Une reaction plus musclee des utilisateurs ou createurs reste timide. Cette espece de reddition permanente devient ecoeuerante, pour qui veut bien voir la multiplication des meandres regionaux, comparee aux quelques sous-entendus reserves aux institutions "nationales".
Il faut esperer que des initiatives viennent au depart du secteur et des donateurs prives, comme cela est le cas dans plusieurs pays. Encore faut-il que le politique prenne des mesures d'encouragement et qu'il promouvoie des interventions novatrices plutot qu'un clientelisme en retard de la creativite actuelle.
Il serait dommage qu'un gouvernement qui pretend reactiver debute par marginaliser une nouvelle fois le secteur culturel, tout comme ses predecesseurs. Bientot la Monnaie risque de se retrouver "muette", comme l'heroine de 1830. 

Friday, October 24, 2014


In less than a couple of hours America lost two of her iconic sons, Oscar de la Renta and Ben Bradlee.  The first was the ultimate taste-maker, who by himself was the first to lift American fashion to European levels. He was the designer for socialites and was what the New York Times called "the red-carpet king."  Nevertheless, he maintained in both his public and private lives the demeanor of a man "to the manor born", while coming from humble beginnings. 
Ben Bradlee, who presided over the Washington Post's Watergate reporting was the ultimate Orson Welles-like alpha editor.  With the support of his extraordinary editor Katharine Graham, he published the Pentagon Papers (after the NYT discontinued publication). Later he enjoined Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to delve deep into the Watergate break-in. Henceforth Richard Nixon was doomed.  His professional and private lives, his health, his Kennedy connection, were endlessly scrutinized, but his "persona" stood tall until the end.

Both de la Renta and Bradlee stood for what continues to make America great. For sure they were also blessed with living mostly in different acts of the continuing King's tragedies. Probably they behaved as they did because power rested in the hands of a different class (in moral terms). Not that the "patricians" have disappeared, they have just chosen to retreat to the Aventine rather than soiling their hands in the Capitol.  America looks amateurish not because the reservoir of talent and class has run empty, but because the offerings are becoming too debased for most to stoop to retrieve them.

This bouderie leads to a most unfortunate situation, which is starting to prevail in most Western democracies. The West is losing the narrative battle, less by absence of will than by the revulsion of the actors who despise the "script."  So the media are full of "sound and fury" from all the wrong sides.  Instead of Bradlee we are left with Snowden and Assange, who prefer to hide rather than to stand.  Instead of pressing our values we indulge almost masochistically in reporting the deeds of Jihadists and the radicals in our midst. It is high time that we re-appropriate our narrative, and stop giving evil a free ride.  Otherwise our moral and intellectual Codex might end up like the Dead Sea Scrolls, in a museum now run by ISIL.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


An ersatz Agatha Christie has come to be.  Sophie Hannah is the author of this "avatar": "The Monogram Murders."

Christie was a sloppy writer but she was the master of "spin."  She was predictable but ended up serving the expected "red herring."  We are all familiar with her cliches:  nylon stockings fetish, anti-Arab utterances, wicked plots, anti-"queer" slurs, sexless loves, and one can go on.

"The Monogram Murders" however, is devoid of grace and wit, almost Conan Doyle-like at his worst.  Seldom has anything been so fabricated and artificial. Gone are the idiosyncracies and the perverse, macabre misanthropy. Even Hannah's choice of names betrays her total lack of creative imagination. We want Hastings back!



While travelling abroad, it can be revealing to observe how third parties see situations which are familiar but can be hard to judge for a party entrapped in them.  When living in the United States now one has the impression to be part of some colossal, all-encompassing downfall. The encroachment of the negative becomes repetitive and unbearable.  The outside world looks on with awe, disbelief or distaste.  The administration is seen as a hapless group of amateurs, guided by a coterie of the blind.

It would be unfair to put all the blame on one side, since the opposition is anything but loyal or creative. Parochial attitudes prevail and the slightest piecemeal agreement is off-limits.  If both chambers in Congress become Republican majorities, the lame-duck presidency will be a "death announced."

President Obama was unable to cozy up to Congress. He has been equally failing to forge more personal contacts with leaders abroad, foes and friends alike. Allies doubt both his word and his resolve. They also have themselves to blame, since they resent American involvement while reversing course when it is no longer there.

One should not indulge in the blame game.  On the other hand, one becomes rightly worried when the former "indispensable country" looks absent for lack of clear leadership. Everywhere problems multiply, creating a perverse backlash. While the Russian machismo or the Chinese rise are met with mixed feelings, the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping are, perversely, "in fashion."
President Obama now appears almost "fraudulent."  The Nobel Prize winner from the early days has now become seen as yet another provincial Chicago politician who has lost his "mojo" together with his former persona, which now appears now to have been ''fabricated.''  Still, he can occasionally wake up to the moment, as during his recent address to the UN General Assembly. But then the high point is immediately overtaken by unfortunate events, not always of his own making but seen as another transgression of professional leadership.  As a result, one ends up dreading what the post-American world might have in store.

The answer can only come from the Americans themselves.  Dynasty fatigue, a lack of indispensable successors, dysfunction all over, are making the last Obama years even more ominous. The EU's  irrelevance only creates more opportunities for others (BRICS) to accelerate the coming apart of the former American order.   In the end, President Obama risks being seen as having set into motion the involuntary (temporary) eclipse of the American might. Nobody contests his intellect but all start to question his investment in "leadership."  It is an unfair allegation maybe, but lately the White House looks adrift.

When a grand power loses the knack to negotiate in Nixon/Kissinger style, it might as well become irrelevant. What are the achievements after six years of the Obama administration? The Affordable Care Act, which doesn't dare to say its name? Another albatross, alas!


The outgoing president of the EU Council will be missed!  

Herman Van Rompuy has been an outstanding personality at the helm of the EU flotilla for two terms.  He was able to jump-start the Lisbon Treaty without a hitch.  He was able to achieve the almost impossible, gaining the trust of all and the enmity of none.  The EU waters were stormy but he could navigate cliffs and rifts with intelligence, flair and modesty.  The insults of Nigel Farage left him unmoved, the cat fights between the usual EU suspects were never allowed to get out of hand and the expected tensions with the Head of the Commission were never realized. This discreet intellectual and writer of Haiku poems used his Belgian political savoir faire for debunking false arguments and extirpating compromise.  If the EU could avoid a crash it is thanks to the joint efforts with Jose Manuel Barosso, the Commission's president, who had an almost impossible task.  

This consensual figurehead will be a difficult act to follow at a time when economic priorities in several member states are on a collusion course.  Besides, one needs a sophisticated hand to reign in the populist grab for attention.  Herman Van Rompuy had that skill and authority. These qualities are hard to transmit. They might also be even harder to find!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Patrick Modiano is a good choice.  In a world "full of sound and fury" most novels tend to reflect this dark vortex.  Modiano is atypical.  He did not have to force or bang doors, he enters.
Contrary to what is becoming more and more a French malaise today, his oeuvre reminds us more of the paintings of Watteau and Chardin or the music of Satie.  One has to open one's ears for the droplets and forget about the splash elsewhere.

My first encounter with Modiano was "Villa Triste , a gem of a novel wherein the situations appear to have been left untouched, merely creased.  The writer is not unlike his oeuvre, a man who remains discreet and who has, paradoxically, little connection with expression other than the written word.  There is an ambivalence in the man and in his novels which reminds us of Proust and Mallarme.  His words are still lifes. They mesmerize most, they are supposed to have a taste of ennui for others. After having met his "Reine des Belges," I was enthralled.

Friday, October 10, 2014


La Belgique a un nouveau gouvernement.
La formule, dite "Suedoise" confirme le temperament surrealiste du Belge.
Voila qu'une equipe est au pouvoir dans laquelle les pretendus "deconstructivistes (Flamands N-VA) " se retrouvent avec leurs collegues sous la houlette d'un Premier Ministre francophone. Bart De Wever a prefere "sagement" la distance a la "casse".
Il faut rendre a Caesar ce qui est a Caesar et l'ingeniosite de Charles Michel est indeniable. Il a bouleverse le paysage politique, avalise le deficit francophone, exile la mouvance socialiste et parie sur la "correction" du N-VA.
Il a herite de son pere un "savoir manipuler" evident. Reste a esperer qu'il ne souffre pas des intemperances paternelles.
Les priorites economiques sont bien ciblees. Encore faut-il que le climat economique global permette les ajustements envisages.
Les syndicats et l'opposition socialiste ne faciliteront pas la tache d'un gouvernement considere des a present comme "hostile".
Les choix et designations ministeriels  peuvent etonner mais il n'est jamais sage de vouloir se prononcer en amont.
En tout cas la Belgique a une nouvelle fois prouve qu'elle restait en mesure de reinventer le paysage politique. L'eternel "patient" finit toujours par contredire tous les diagnostics. Pour combien de temps ? Le sphinx d'Anvers devient le grand arbitre. Il assume d'ailleurs certains risques en mouillant les siens dans les eaux dangereuses de la paricipation a la gestion de l'etat plutot qu'a son affaiblissement.
Il y a plus d'un Macchiavel dans cette nouvelle donnee et il sera interessant de voir si l'orientation  promise pourra etre tenue.
Nous vivons des jours interessants.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Deborah Mitford

The last of the famous Mitford siblings, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, has passed away.
The six Mitford daughters and one brother were probably more witty together than considered individually.  Nevertheless, two writers, Jessica and Nancy, and two extremes, Diana (married to Oswald Mosley) and Unity (to national socialism), made for a most unusual "clan."
Behind the veneer the dysfunctions had a free hand.

Today all of them look strangely distant.  If some of their attitudes had not been so extreme, they might well have remained obscure or marginally eccentric.  They fit more in Noel Coward or Cecil Beaton's worlds than in any more pertinent narrative.  We are only still occasionally mildly interested because the sum of those lives became a plot, at the same time tenuous and bizarre. Their often nonchalant choices were consumed like a gin and tonic, almost at random.

The Duchess, chatelaine of the legendary Chatsworth, was as close to royalty and the grandees of the world as she was to her chickens.  It is hard to tell whom she preferred.  She joins now the ranks of Evangeline Bruce and Diana Cooper.  Her children and great-grandchildren will surely feel the absence of the last torch carrier.  Her strength lay in her cunning, disguised under the mantle of an adopted fragility.

Maybe we are reminiscent because the rather drab today looks so devoid of irrelevant non sequiturs.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


My barber in Cairo was a lot of fun.  But the tide often turned suddenly, as soon as some flash points/words or a slip of the tongue changed the salon into a war zone.  The same "disconnect" is becoming mainstream Islam.  Either you conform or you are sent to the gallows.

The Quran should not be allowed becoming the new "Mein Kampf."  Horrors are spreading in the name of what appears to mutate into, unfortunatey so, a similar if not identical evil-twin , set in stone.  The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, then Hitler's crony, is no different from some of his "ideological heirs" today.

We came to a point of making coalitions with yesterday's (?) financiers / followers of the growing Caliphate/Anschluss monster.  I would not be surprised if we arrived equally at a nuclear " folly" with Iran this year. Civil use of nuclear power doesn't need 1000 and 1 centrifuges.

I know that old civilizations , including the West, can still convey relevant teachings. Plato or Sophocles continue to mesmerize. Whahabi Islam to the contrary is a curse both for the believers and for the world.  We fought the fascist rape of lives and souls, at the cost of having to make heartbreaking existential choices in Dresden or Hiroshima, inter alia. Nowadays we have become timid or "correct".  Spengler might have been right after all. 

In Belgium, Islam is subsidized (no comment) and all too loosely monitored (correctness oblige)
My Cairo barber is still a nice guy, until...