Beware the ides of March (15/3/2022)

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The Ides of March, which is a lunar date around March 15th, once signified the new year with much celebrations and rejoicing. Until Julius Caesar happened to find himself in the way of Brutus’s knife on that fateful day.

It would be centuries later that Shakespeare would ingrain that famous line in our heads to “Beware the ides of March,” along with that other memorable phrase “Et tu Brute?”

It is not clear if the latter line is in Latin or French since both are identical, but I imagine what many people are hoping for these days is actually the Russian version.

The view unfortunately doesn’t look any better in Ukraine than it did 2 weeks ago. A European Union conference was held by French President Macron at the Palace of Versailles a few days ago to discuss the matter and further sanctions, but for the people on the ground in Ukraine, I’m sure this feels like it is taking an eternity.

The choice of the Palace of Versailles is highly symbolic, and perhaps even a bit controversial:

There are more than a few international treaties that have been signed here, in its famous Hall of Mirrors:

  • 1783 – The Treaties of Versailles where Britain conceded to France and Spain that the United States of America was officially an independent nation. A separate treaty (the Peace of Paris) was signed with the United States.
  • 1871 – Treaty of Versailles declaring the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the birth of a new Prussian Empire called Germany.
  • 1919 – Treaty of Versailles declaring the end of World War I. France and her Western Allies insisted on the treaty at the site of the previous French humiliation: the Palace of Versailles.
  • 1940 – Franco-German Armistice, where France surrendered to Nazi Germany. Hitler in turn, insisted on signing it at the Palace of Versailles in retaliation for the previous German humiliation at the end of World War I. (The eye-for-an-eye cycle did not continue, the surrender of Germany declaring the end of World War II was signed in Reims in France and not Versailles.)

I suppose Macron could have picked a nice bland-looking building like the conference center at Porte Maillot in Paris, but he decided to go for fancy in his role as the President of the 27-member EU (which lasts only until June).

Anyway, no big declarations seem to have come out of that meeting, good or bad. So I suppose we can all just speculate whether all those tourists who had reserved a tour of Versailles on that day, got a refund or not. I presume yes.

And speaking of tours and exhibitions, an interesting diplomatic wrinkle looks to be on the horizon. The Louis Vuitton foundation in Paris is currently holding an exhibition of 200 works of art that are on loan from, you guessed it: Russia.

The collection includes famous works by some of France’s most famous artists like Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.

It was owned by a pair of Russian brothers, the Morozovs in the early 20th century and these ” icons of modern art ” had been nationalized by Lenin in 1918, following the Bolshevik revolution. Stolen artwork that has been whitewashed, if you will.

The collection was then exhibited in some of Russia’s most famous museums like the Pushkin, Russian National Museum, etc. It was lent to the Louis Vuitton foundation this year, I presume in exchange for some expensive luggage and handbags, and is supposed to go back to Russia at the start of April.

This is the first time that the Morozov collection has left Russia and apparently it is so important a collection that both Presidents Putin and Macron have signed the preface of the collection catalogue. Which begs the question, can the collection be seized?

State television France 3 says no, but considering the artwork is French and the Russian govt had seized the art in the 1st place, I’m going to assume that the answer will be a bit more complex than that. At the very least, I imagine a Morozov descendent or the Ukrainian govt will come a-knocking for reparations. Watch this space.

In other news:

  • Did you know that once a month an alarm siren sounds all across France as a test alert signal? It is held on the 1st Wednesday of each month between 11h45 to 12h. Particularly significant these days, given the events happening a mere 2-days drive from Paris.
  • A mysterious 14th century sarcophagus has been found in Notre Dame de Paris, during its reconstruction. The old lady clearly has a few secrets left.
  • Masks can be taken off in French schools and offices starting March 14th, at the same time that the Health Minister announced that the 4th dose is available for those 60 and older.
  • Less than a month now till French voters go the the polls for 1st round of voting on April 10th. I’ve got my calendar circled.

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