Power And Seduction: The U.S. And France Still Worlds Apart

Just as the Dominique Strauss-Kahn storm hits, a well-timed book by an American reporter in Paris tries to make sense of the French codes of power, sex and gender. A review by Le Monde's New York correspondent.

Power And Seduction: The U.S. And France Still Worlds Apart
Corine Lesnes

NEW YORK - Transatlantic differences of opinion look far from being resolved. Accusations have been flying since the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, known as "DSK" in France: "Puritans!", "Brutes!", "Too permissive!", "Hypocrites!". French Socialists are denouncing a furious media and judicial frenzy, with veteran party stalwart Jack Lang even accusing the New York judge who kept Strauss-Kahn in prison of wanting "to make a Frenchman pay, and whatsmore a Frenchman who is well-known."

Since the arrest last Saturday of the General Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on charges of attempted rape, the DSK affair confirms the stereotypes. On the one hand, the French sensualist, forever womanizing with the tacit approval of his peers, confident in his "sophistication," as the Wall Street Journal put it mockingly. On the other, a brutal judicial system that does nothing but accuse, and sheriffs convinced they are in an episode of "Law and Order." Imagine the shock of Americans on learning that in France, there is a law against broadcasting images of a handcuffed defendant, whereas in New York, the police call the cameramen and invite them to film! For the French, it's incomprehensible that the accused has not yet had the chance to defend himself.

A book by New York Times Paris correspondent Elaine Sciolino comes just in time to explain French social attitudes to Americans -- and American astonishment to the French. In La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life, she investigates the depths of French society and culture. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing tried to discourage her. "I've never known an American, never, who has really understood how French society works," he warned. The French system is "impenetrable from the outside." A few pages later, we read about the former French President running his hand down the back of an assistant. When the journalist observed him doing it again, she thought she was dreaming.

Seduction is at the heart of the French spirit, Sciolino believes. "It's an unofficial ideology." By the word seduction, she means the collection of behaviors that standardize social relations, from the art of conversation to diplomacy. Since the shrinking of its empire, France has reinvented itself as a "soft power," which is nothing more than the ability to seduce and attract.

For starters, Sciolino is given a lesson in hand-kissing by Maurice Lévy, president of French advertising group Publicis, who both corrects and adds to Jacques Chirac's approach: "I mustn't touch you, but you should feel that I am rather close." Asked for her opinion, former Chanel model Inès de La Fressange suggests advising him to get a new haircut. And a lover if possible, before he gets arthritis.

French-American actress Arielle Dombasle explains: "Seduction is war." The author, who has been a war correspondent, believes she is in familiar territory. She is wrong. Showing yourself naked in front of your husband? "Never!" exclaims Dombasle, who performs at the Crazy Horse, one of Paris's racy cabarets. "If so, he'll never invite you over for lunch." For the French, nudity is not a trivial thing, she maintains. Just enter a locker room at a gym in the United States, overflowing with naked bodies, to measure the gap. French writer Chantal Thomas tells her about the art of suggestion: "It's either a miniskirt or cleavage, but never the two." The Americans have a rather different view: reveal all in the best way possible.

The journalist ends up seeing pleasure, leisure and seduction everywhere. At Evian-les-Bains, she is amazed to meet workers at a spa undergoing hydrotherapeutic treatment paid for by Social Security. On the route to Compiègne, she stops right in front of a garage called ‘Auto Seduction". She interviews the garage owner. ""Auto Prestige" was already taken," he admits. She writes that the French allow themselves pleasures and leisure activities not permitted by ‘hardworking", ‘super-capitalist" Americans.

Sciolino attempts to understand it all. Why does a French woman get dressed up just to buy a baguette at the corner bakery? The answer: "We'll never know." Why aren't French women offended when a man compliments them in public? The whistles? She is astonished by how little feminism there is, shocked that in France, a totally sexist book can be written by a foreign affairs diplomat without causing the smallest ripple of reaction. She's talking about the book by Pierre-Louis Colin, Guide des jolies femmes de Paris (Guide to the Pretty Woman of Paris), that takes stock of the legs and cleavages of Paris, neighborhood by neighborhood.

The chapter concerning seduction in public life brings together familiar elements: the mistresses of Jacques Chirac, the hidden child of François Mitterrand, the rumors about DSK. The French believe in the "right to pleasure," she says, making them tolerant of other people's behavior. Investigative reporters do not pursue politicians, and citizens do not demand embarrassing revelations. In the United States, the goal is to win with maximum efficiency. In France, she says, it is less about gratification than about desire.

Read the original article in French

photo - Kevin Dooley

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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