A Preview of My Fair Lady

Days before it opened to raving critics and enthusiastic audiences, more than  30 AAPA members and guests enjoyed a sneak preview of the popular musical "My Fair Lady" at the Chatelet Theater on Dec. 3.


 The show's lively, creative director, Jean-Luc Choplin  spent nearly an hour with us, answering questions about challenges of

presenting  a musical in English with  French  subtitles . He explained his strategy  for bringing such shows to the centuries-old Chatelet, including past hits "The Sound of Music" and "Le Chanteur de Mexico", which he described  as "populaire sophistique," an approach he intends to pursue.  Our invitation included drinks and snakcs offered by the house.


Choplin, who previously worked as an artistic director for Disneyland, also noted how laughter was good for the health, and suggested to us, and the French media, that an idea worth pursuing is subsidizing theater tickets by the nation's social security system.


Then, for about an hour, we sat back and enjoyed the scores of the celebrated musical played and acted, in a non-stop, working rehersal, which for some of us recalled similar events we organized at the Bastille Opera, going back to 1997.


- Axel Krause

Farewell to Pat Thompson

We gathered for the burial mass under a gray, damp sky on the morning of December 28 at the Eglise Saint Thomas d'Aquin in the 7th to remember and reflect on the life of longstanding AAPA member Pat Thompson, amid prayers, music and a sense of great loss among some one hundred fifty attending relatives, friends and colleagues.


Conducted in English by the American priest Francis Finnigan, the mass went well beyond Bible readings and prayers, accompanied by songs, cello and organ playing, and ended with moving tributes to Pat as an astoundingly happy, upbeat, warm, ever-smiling, hard-working and successful wife, friend, teacher and journalist; as most of us know, she died of a cerebral hemorrhage following over three decades as a Paris-based journalist, award-winning television producer and documentary film-maker. (Her obit was published in the IHT December 22.)


Jim Bitterman, also a longstanding AAPA member and Paris-based CNN senior correspondent, made the concluding tribute, tracing their close, fun, hard-working, highly-successful life together, noting that, reflecting on those decades in France, he was "the luckiest man here today, and the saddest." Jim was flanked by their daughter Tess, who movingly, among others, recalled her mother's commitment to justice and truth, reflecting, among other accomplishments, her "Irish soul."


With the final strains of Josephine Baker's song "J'ai Deux Amours" still in our ears, as the music faded, we headed out of the church, some to the Gilles cemetery in Normandy for Pat's burial. Jim noted that their family house there remains a place where she "can keep an eye on our water mill and the flower beds she planted every spring...And in what one French colleague termed one of the most moving punch lines he had ever heard, Jim said in conclusion: "We are so happy to see you!"



---Axel Krause


Joanne and Gerry Dryansky's books

Slake300Gerry Dryansky and his wife Joanne, who began writing together doing screenplays, have had two of their three novels out now, nearly at the same time, SATAN LAKE and FORTUNE’S SECOND WINK/LA DEUXIEME VIE DE FATIMA.

The first is with the prestigious literary houses of Actes Sud in France and McArthur &Co. in Canada and the second with the French Les Editions Héloïse d’Ormesson.  Each is in a very different genre.  SATAN LAKE is a modern Hansel and Gretel tale about two pre-adolescents whose lives are twisted by the misdeeds of their elders, in a small American town that is Norman Rockwell by day and Edward Hopper by night.

FORTUNE’S SECOND WINK is the sequel to FATIMA’S GOOD FORTUNE, which was published worldwide and is being brought to the screen by Jean-Jacques Beineix of DIVA fame.  It’s the story of a poor Tunisian woman whose decision to become the maid of an eccentric countess changes her life drastically.

ESA Explores The Final Frontier

ESA-018_300People don’t realize how much their daily lives depend on space technology, according to the head of the European Space Agency.

“To help EU citizens understand how much they rely on space in their daily lives,” ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain told AAPA members on Dec. 1, “I would like to have a ‘Space Day’ every year when I turn off all the satellites.   Then they will see how important space is to them.”

Speaking at ESA’s Paris headquarters, he said ESA’s long-standing cooperation NASA is increasing against a background of squeezed national budgets.

One example will be to spread the cost of hugely expensive Mars missions, he said, and as the “Red Planet” is easiest to reach for reasons of orbits every two years, ESA and NASA plan to launch joint missions in 2016 and 2018, with partners providing in alternation the orbiter and the lander.

Dordain said it’s also important to study the Earth’s neighboring planets Venus and Mars for reasons of better understanding climate change.

Mars was once rich in water; now it’s dry — how did this happen?  The role of carbon dioxide in planet warming first became apparent, Dordain said, through studies of the atmosphere of Venus.  Farther out in the solar system, he spoke proudly of the performance of ESA’s probe Huygens, which in 2005 made the most distant landing ever achieved on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.  There the methane atmosphere resembles what Earth would have been like at its beginnings.

Dordain discussed the delays that are dogging the start-up of the Galileo global navigation satellite constellation. While launch of the first four satellites is planned for early next year, full implementation of the 30-satellite system won’t be reached until 2016, he said.

He outlined ESA’s other missions and plans, and provided numbers on the agency’s size and scope.  He insisted that the economic impact on Europe went far beyond the agency’s own 2,200 staff and the 30,000 direct jobs that the space industry has generated, estimating that hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs have been created thanks to the space sector.

At the 19-nation ESA, Dordain pointed out, “We know what international cooperation is,” adding: “It’s not always easy to cooperate — it’s difficult, but successful every day.”

Cooperation extends beyond Europe to NASA, Russia, Japan (a mission to Mercury) and India (to orbit the moon), he noted.

After Dordain’s presentation and a Q&A session, many AAPA members continued the discussion with other ESA officials over a buffet lunch.

— John Davidson

Douglas Kennedy Meets The Press

A crowd of more than 50 people filled John Morris' loft Nov. 22 to hear best-selling novelist Douglas Kennedy talk about himself, his art and his vision of the world.  Kennedy, whose 1998 novel "The Big Picture" has recently been made into a box hit of a movie in France, “L'Homme Qui Voulait Vivre Sa Vie," has sold millions of books worldwide. Kennedy explained how he organizes his writing, and how he keeps up his output by producing two complete pages a day. He said his view of the world is tempered by living four months of the year in the U.S., and the rest of the time in his homes in London, Paris and Berlin.  He spoke about the persistence of unexplained calamity in the human condition, a given of everyone's existence, and also of man's other existential enemy, boredom.

-Gerry Dryansky

AAPA Meets Le Monde's Top Brass

Le Monde 007More than 20 AAPA members went to Le Monde on November 9 to meet with the group's director, Éric Fottorino, and chief editor Sylvie Kauffmann, over an informal, bring-your-own lunch in the newspaper's conference room. The discussion centered around the paper's new trio of major shareholders who saved the paper from bankruptcy -- Pierre Bergé, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse -- and their impact or lack of it so far on the paper. We also discussed the intervention of President Sarkozy, concerned about potential new owners, with Mr. Fottorino; the Bettencourt affair and Le Monde's lawsuit alleging violation of a law against investigating journalists' sources. Other topics included the digital future, whether the paper considered morning publication, and how the paper makes its editorial decisions.

-Steve Erlanger

Reporters sans frontières

Julliard-of-RsFProtecting the freedom of journalists has become far more difficult and complex during the past few years, but organized efforts to combat media controls are increasing throughout the world, according to Jean-Francois Julliard, secretary general of Reporters sans frontières.


Meeting with over a dozen of us at RsF headquarters Oct, 18, Julliard, who became its secretary general two years ago, explained how the use - and manipulation - of Internet by governments, criminal organizations and even companies has made protection of journalists more difficult.


Increasing numbers of journalists in war zones has also complicated the tasks of RsF, set up to defend the freedom of journalists, improve their safety and help those in difficulty or in prison, he said


Operating with an annual budget of some four million euros, funded by sales of photos and publications, as well as private contributions, RsF still faces major obstacles, Julliard said. Rsf officials can no longer travel to China to pursue cases there, for example, nor to Iran and Tunisia, due to strict government controls and censorship.


But he also indicated that RsF has moved away from heavily-publicized demonstrations seeking to help free journalists taken hostage. "We now rely on both communication and diplomacy," he said, yet the French government does not share information on the efforts to release French journalists taken hostage. Details on Rsf’s efforts and ongoing campaigns can be found on www.rsf.org


Julliard said that, given the growing complexity of protecting the freedom of journalists, RsF now has a volunteer group of nearly a dozen lawyers working with him and his staff.


Groups similar to RsF, but more modest in scope, are being organized in developing countries, Julliard said, citing Ethiopia, the Congo and Somalia. "National bodies, embassies and active supporters of our cause of freedom of expression such as financier George Soros, are also part of the struggle...we will not stop."


---Axel Krause

Peter Gumbel's new book

cover pic gumbels book“On achève bien les écoliers” (Grasset)


Back in 2002, we moved to Paris from Los Angeles, in part because we wanted our children to have a great European education. French schools, with their high academic standards, seemed to offer just that, at least from a distance.


It didn’t take long to discover that the reality of school here is far removed from the magnificent ideal of a great meritocratic institution that the French themselves long boasted about. In practice, it’s a system stricken with high dropout rates, declining scores in international comparative tests, crass inequalities, and a worrying increase in the proportion of children who simply can’t read, write or do basic math even after years of schooling.  All this has given rise to a vexed debate in France about what’s gone wrong. Yet one element seems missing from this debate, the element that’s most apparent to me, and to many other foreigners with children: the harsh and sometimes demeaning classroom culture that piles stress onto kids even as it saps their self-confidence.


I decided to write a book about this culture after I discovered a wealth of international comparative studies that confirmed my anecdotal impressions. These studies unequivocally show that, compared to most of their peers in the developed world, French schoolchildren are more anxious in class and afraid of speaking up, that they feel discouraged and unaided by their teachers, and overall have a much less warm and fuzzy relationship with their school.


On achève bien les écoliers was published in early September 2010. The title is a play on the famous Sydney Pollack movie, and best translated as They Shoot Schoolchildren, Don’t They? It immediately sparked a media storm, including a six-page spread in Le Nouvel Observateur and two write-ups in Le Monde, and it edged its way onto the non-fiction bestseller list. Best of all, it has added a fresh perspective to the old debate about school here, which is why I wrote it in the first place.


-Peter Gumbel

Annual Gala Gets Top Marks

Virginia Power welcomes the AAPA to the U.S. Ambassdor's residence
Virginia Power welcomes the AAPA to the U.S. Ambassdor's residence
Charles-Efflam Heidsieck plays for Yana Boukoff
Charles-Efflam Heidsieck plays for Yana Boukoff
Presidential special envoy George Mitchell and ambassadors Charles Rivkin and Sir Peter Westmacott
Presidential special envoy George Mitchell and ambassadors Charles Rivkin and Sir Peter Westmacott
The gala 2010 was one of the best ever, with 90 members celebrating
The gala 2010 was one of the best ever, with 90 members celebrating

It was one of the best AAPA galas in recent years, according to many of those present.

Some ninety members and guests gathered in the U.S. Embassy residence on a fine mid-June evening found that the traditional cocktail fare was just a sideshow compared to what was to come.

AAPA President Virginia Power set just the right convivial tone in her welcoming speech. She recalled that, now in our 103rd year, we remain financially healthy and dynamic with an expanding membership. She also warmly praised our coordinator, Maria Vincenza Aloisi for her dedication and hard work and thanked U.S. Embassy Press Attaché Paul Patin for his help in organizing this year's gala.

Our host this year, honorary co-president U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin, together with his next-door neighbor and our other honorary co-president, Britain's Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott, then shared their encouraging, support for the AAPA and briefly, insights on relations with France.

All three introduced our surprise guest, President Barack Obama's Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, who was staying with the Rivkins. Mitchell spent some time chatting to members about current affairs.

In another first for a Gala, Charles-Efflam Heidsieck, a concert pianist of the famed Heidsieck family, accompanied opera soprano Yana Boukoff in several arias. The rest of the event was spent catching up with colleagues, chatting to our diplomatic guests, and sampling the Indian fare from our traiteur and vintage Grand Cru Penet-Chardonnet champagne provided by the owner and CEO of the estate, Alexandre Penet. Penet, who was among the guests, told us he is available to any member interested in following up on what he described as Chardonnet's "unique" story, with a 400-year history.

Many of those present agreed that the time, effort and cost of organizing our annual Galas was well worth it, and that the tradition started several decades ago to alternate the event between the American and British embassy residences should definitely be continued. Indeed, upon leaving the party, Ambassador Westmacott asked if it was the British Embassy's turn next year. The answer was an encouraging "Yes!"

---Axel Krause

Photos by Philippe Maille 2010

A Field Guide for Global Reporting

A Field Guide for Global Reporting

“Whenever you see hundreds of thousands of sane people trying to get out of a place, and a little bunch of madmen struggling to get in, you know the latter are newspapermen.” It was this astute observation by iconic reporter H.R. Knickerbocker that Mort Rosenblum uses as a peg for his latest book: "Little Bunch Of Madmen," designed as a field manual for global reporters and those who aspire to the trade. Drawing on his own experience as well as interviews with legendary journalists he has admired, Rosenblum, an AP special correspondent and long-time AAPA member, gives insights on how to find the story and overcome adversity (including editors) to bring it home safely. Reporters will prize the hard-won, practical advice in the book, such as details on how to pack, interview, and make connections. But beyond these basics, it helps all readers to cross cultural bridges and find the vital human context that underpins good reporting.

“This is the manual I wish I’d had back in the 1960s when I was dropped into the Congolese mayhem, clueless, sleepless, and scared witless,” Rosenblum says. “It’s also the primer I wish people back home could have had at hand to understand what they were reading and watching.”

"A rare blend of great storytelling and pure wisdom, Little Bunch of Madmen is the best thing yet written about the state of modern journalism by one of its few true living masters, and every reporter working today should go out and buy it and read it."

-Jon Lee Anderson, staff writer, The New Yorker

rosemblums coverMore details at www.bunchofmadmen.com