Wonderful being back in Paris, seeing some friends, the usual beautiful walks, discovering some new cafes (and rediscovering some old) and the comfort of being in familiar surroundings (one of the asides of the Coates book on stress is that a familiar location with people one knows is less stressful than a new location).
We saw some good exhibits. A retrospective of the work German artist Gerhard Richter, at the Beaubourg, who has an incredibly wide range of style, ranging from landscape to portrait to abstract, colour range from monochrome to bursting with colour. My favourites were the large abstracts, where his sense and use of colour is amazing.
Two very different shows at the Grand Palais, one on how our portrayal of animals has changed over time, and a retrospective of Helmut Newton, the well-known fashion photographer. Both equally impressive shows in their own ways, with Newton’s portraits particularly impressive.
One of the funny things was that the apartment in which we stayed was old and had a very uneven floor. I really felt the neuropathy in my feet and had to pay attention, so as not to lose balance.
Unfortunately, as the week went on, my cough came back. Eventually saw a doctor and now have meds to reduce the inflammation in my throat and the cough. Very good experience with the French healthcare system, no wait, good and thorough exam, and only charged about $30. Nothing serious, but has cramped the last few days of our trip. I should have worn face masks on the various planes and buses, given all the air and microbes recirculated. My ‘new normal’.
I did take advantage of the train to Southern France to read Nazanin Afshin-Jan’s book, co-written with Susan McClelland, The Tale of Two Nazanins (disclosure: I know her professionally), about how she used her celebrity to save the life of the other Nazanin in Iran, who had killed her attacker in self-defense, and where the combined class, ethnic, and religious biases meant the Iranian Nazanin had little chance of acquittal. A sharp contrast to the social milieu of the main family depicted in A Separation.
While I understand the story telling rationale for presenting these as two parallel stories, and the contrast between the gloss of the Canadian Nazanin and the grittiness of the Iranian Nazanin, it didn’t completely hold together for me, until when the Canadian side became equally gritty on the campaign to free Nazanin. it was really only when she talked about how she mobilized people that the two stories really came together for me, and became more compelling as a result.
Some interesting asides in the book. She complains about the few Iranians who attend her public events during her campaign, without perhaps a full appreciation of the challenges that many have, given ongoing family and other relationships in Iran (Nazanin’s family, for understandable reasons, would appear to have none). She is perhaps a bit overly defensive over criticism that she used the campaign to increase her own profile – all celebrities do, and as long as the cause is sound, no shame in such synergy. Her summary of Iranian history skips too quickly from the Arab conquest of Iran in the mid 7th century to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, without mentioning key periods like the Safavid Empire 1501-1722, which not only led to an Iranian Renaissance, best exemplified by the art and architecture of Isfahan, the development of Shia Islam, but also a relatively open period for other religions and groups, many who were brought in for their artisan and craftsmanship.
And surprising, in a book based on human rights, remarkably little on the overall human rights framework, no mention of the 2009 elections and repressed Green Revolution, and a rather naive idea for a United People of Iran and United People project, while useful in highlighting the limits of the UN and international system, is unlikely to be as effective as some targeted campaigns can be (as she showed through her successful campaign).
In terms of relatively recent books on Iranian society and the prison and judicial system, other books include Marina Nemat’s, Prisoner of Tehran, Maziar Bahari’s, Then They Came for Me, and Haleh Esfandiari’s My Prison My Home, all of which provide a deeper understanding of contemporary Iran, and, with the exception of Marina’s, have the common thread of outside pressure to free someone from an Iranian prison (Nazanin’s achievement was to do so for an unknown).
Despite my cold, has been very good last few days with friends here.
Hopefully the flight back to Canada will not be too painful, and I can finally kick this cold and get back to my normal routine.
5 weeks to go!