Tag: France

€10m fight to save James Baldwin’s Provençal home

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The writer’s home was a regular haunt of African-American cultural giants

€10m fight to save James Baldwin’s Provençal home
James Baldwin in his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1979. Photograph: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images

In the Provençal town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the picturesque stone house beneath the medieval ramparts is known as “la maison de Jimmy”. The official records office lists it as the ancienne maison Baldwin.

Here in the hills behind the Côte d’Azur, the Harlem-born writer and social critic James Baldwin lived, composing his later works on a clackety old typewriter and entertaining friends including Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, Simone Signoret and Nina Simone. It was here he died of stomach cancer in 1987, aged 63.

For 17 years, the local people adopted the African American author as one of their own. He was often seen chatting in the bar of the local Colombe d’Or hotel, and the affection was reciprocal. Today campaigners are battling to secure the future of his 17th-century house and its grounds, which have been earmarked for development into 18 luxury €1m flats. Two wings of the property on the 10-acre plot have already been demolished, including one in which he wrote.

The Paris-based American novelist Shannon Cain, who is leading the fight to save the property, recently squatted in the surviving section of the house for 10 days in an attempt to stop further development. “Apart from his books, the house is all that remains of Baldwin’s physical presence,” she told the Observer. “It was his dream that the property should become an artists’ colony or residence, and it would be a tragedy to let it go.” Neighbour Hélène Roux remembers “Jimmy”, the kind, lively American who was a larger-than-life presence at Colombe d’Or, run by her late mother, Yvonne. “He was a big presence in my childhood. Jimmy used to write at night and pop up to the village each day around 4pm to come and sit and chat with my mum. Every day he would show up, so he was always there when I came back from school.

“At first he seemed intimidating, then you saw the life in his eyes and the smile that illuminated his face. And every day he would ask how my day at school had been. My mother held him in high esteem and vice versa. She was his great friend; it was a lovely relationship.” The pair were so close that Baldwin named the main character in his 13th novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, Clementine “Tish” Rivers; Clementine was Yvonne Roux’s middle name.

“It was no coincidence,” Roux said. “The degree of generosity and affection he showed with his time and incredible intelligence was wonderful. He followed us through childhood; through adolescence, the tribulations, boyfriends … Jimmy was there.”

Baldwin bought a one-way ticket to Paris at the age of 24, despairing of American prejudice against African-Americans and gay people, and was soon adopted into the cultural mêlée of the French capital’s Left Bank. In 1970 he settled in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where American painter Beauford Delaney, a regular guest, set up his easel in the garden, and Josephine Baker, Miles Davis and Ray Charles visited.

This is a passion project for me. I cannot let it go

Shannon Cain

In his autobiography, Miles Davis wrote that he and Baldwin would “get comfy in that beautiful, big house and he would tell us all sorts of stories … he was a great man”.

The town, a few minutes from the Côte d’Azur, has long been a magnet for the rich and famous. Picasso and Chagall worked here, Jacques Raverat and his wife Gwen – Charles Darwin’s granddaughter – lived here, Yves Montand and Lino Ventura visited, Rolling Stone Bill Wyman has a nearby property, and the actor Donald Pleasence died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.

After Baldwin’s death, there was a dispute over the ownership of the house. The Baldwin family fought a long legal battle, which it eventually lost. The house has since been sold three times.

Cain is now back in Paris after the developers took advantage of her absence from the house to remove her belongings to a nearby hotel (they paid for two nights) and brick up the doors and windows.

She wants to persuade France’s culture ministry to declare the house part of the country’s heritage and take it over. Failing that, she says she will try to raise more than €10m to buy it. “The plan is the same as it’s been from the outset – to work with the ministry of culture to seize the house on the grounds that historic preservation laws were violated, and if that plan fails to raise the money to purchase the house from the developer,” she states on the campaign website.

“The aim for this startup phase is to establish an organisation with the capacity to raise a significant amount of money – in the neighbourhood of €10m – to purchase and/or renovate this house, as well as to establish a permanent endowment that will support an artist residency in perpetuity.”

Baldwin’s literary estate has stopped Cain using his name for her campaign site and has been “like many literary estates … uncooperative and recalcitrant”, she says, but she is hoping to bring relatives on board and begin negotiations with the property developer next month. “This is a passion project for me. I cannot let it go.”

Hélène Roux says it would be a tragedy if Baldwin’s last home were lost. “This is where Jimmy wrote and lived and died. If this house is lost, there would be absolutely nothing left of James Baldwin in this village, a place where he was very happy and where we were happy to see him,” Roux told the Observer.

“It would be heartbreaking for it to disappear. What is really devastating is that very often my doorbell rings and people ask where they can find James Baldwin’s house, and I have to direct them to this devastating sight.”

€10m fight to save James Baldwin’s Provençal home
The house where James Baldwin lived, pictured in 2009. Photograph: Daniel Salomons

Marion Cotillard put forward for France's highest honour

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The Oscar-winning actor was among 650 names from the worlds of politics, culture, sport and public life put forward for the Légion d’Honneur

Marion Cotillard put forward for France's highest honour
Marion Cotillard, who has been put forward to receive France’s highest honour, the Légion d’Honneur. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty

The Oscar-winning actor Marion Cotillard was among those put forward for the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, as the country celebrated its national day.

She was among 650 names from the worlds of politics, culture, sport and public life published in the government’s official journal for Bastille Day.

Cotillard, 40, was the first French woman since 1960 to win the top US film acting prize for her portrayal of the singer Édith Piaf in the 2007 movie La Vie en Rose, and she was nominated again in last year’s awards for her turn as a woman battling for her job in Two Days, One Night.

France gave Cotillard its top artistic award in 2010, but she was left wincing when the then culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, jabbed the pin of the order through her blouse as he made her a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.

The Légion d’Honneur is awarded three times annually – at the start of the year, Easter and Bastille Day – with civilians taking two-thirds of the places on the list and the military making up the rest.

Other recipients announced on Thursday included the photographer Raymond Depardon, who took President Hollande’s portrait in 2012, and the celebrated Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado. War veteran Sylvia Wild, 93, from Cardiff, received the award from the French consul earlier this week, for her part in the D-Day landings.

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Rock am Ring festival in Germany shuts as France braces for new storms

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With Hollande poised to declare ‘natural catastrope’, Paris floodwaters recede but Louvre and train stations stay closed

Rock am Ring festival in Germany shuts as France braces for new storms
Visitors wade through mud at the Rock am Ring festival. Photograph: Thomas Frey/EPA

Authorities in western Germany have pulled the plug on one of the country’s most popular open-air rock festivals because of a storm warning.

Organisers of Rock am Ring said on Sunday they accepted the decision “out of responsibility for the welfare” of the roughly 90,000 attendants.

Scores of people were injured at the site near Mendig, 62 miles west of Frankfurt, when lightning and heavy rain struck the festival late on Friday. The German Red Cross said 72 people were treated in hospital. The festival was suspended after the incident but briefly reopened Saturday night, before the final decision to close it Sunday.

During a week of exceptionally heavy rain around Europe, at least 18 people were killed in flooding in Germany, France, Romania and Belgium. New thunderstorms are forecast for eastern France on Sunday and more rain elsewhere. More than 11,000 French homes are still without electricity.

The French president, François Hollande, told Europe 1 radio that the cabinet would formally declare a “natural catastrophe” on Wednesday to facilitate payout by the insurance industry. The downpours have added to the gloom caused by months of protests and strikes over a labour reform bill that have continued in the run-up to the 10 June kick-off of the Euro 2016 football championships.

In Paris, the riverside Grand Palais exhibition hall reopened on Sunday as floodwaters slowly receded but the Louvre museum, several train stations in city and roads remained closed after the worst floods in three decades.

Emergency crews were pumping water out of a key motorway interchange and evacuating cars trapped for days south of the capital.

Levels in the river Seine peaked on Saturday in Paris, and the national flood service said it would remain about 4 metres above normal on Sunday. Authorities warned it would take up to 10 days for the river to return to normal.

The flood risks along the Seine are moving downstream after forcing thousands out of their homes and houseboats earlier this week. West of Paris, it overflowed around the medieval city of Rouen overnight, but the local administration said on Sunday the damage was “localised and limited” and severe flood warnings for the area were lifted.

Alerts have also been issued in 15 other regions, including Île-de-France, where Paris is located, Lorraine in the northeast as well as parts of the country’s central areas.

Although Paris authorities warned people not to venture near dangerous parts of the river, crowds gathered on bridges to snap pictures of the dramatic sight. “It’s mind-boggling,” said Bente Wegner, a 25-year-old German, speaking near Notre Dame cathedral. “I’ve never seen it this high.”

She added: “We had to scrap plans for a boat cruise but at least we have some super photos.”

Pieces of driftwood, plastic bags and other detritus swept past in the muddy waters, which engulfed the city’s riverside walkways, a popular haunt of strolling couples. “It is a reminder that nature is more powerful than man and we cannot do anything, only wait,” said Gabriel Riboulet, a 26-year-old businessman, as he took in the scene.