Much was made of the presence, at François Mitterrand’s funeral, in 1996, of both his wife, Danielle, and his longtime mistress, Anne Pingeot. It turns out that another mistress of the former French president was graveside that day as well. This according to a book just published by the Le Monde journalist Solenn de Royer with the cooperation of the other other woman, identified only as “Claire” (Mitterand’s nickname for her), who was 50 years younger than the politician.
“The affair began as something of a student lark,” reported The Times of London. “[Claire] arrived aged 18 in Paris in 1984 to study law. Mitterrand, elected president three years earlier to the jubilation of the left, was her hero. Claire set herself the challenge of meeting him, waiting like a groupie—or maybe stalker—near the entrance to the flat in the Latin Quarter where Mitterrand lived part of his time, and getting close to him whenever he appeared in public—once even hitchhiking 300 miles to Strasbourg.” Eventually, she did meet him, and the affair began.
“Claire certainly would have been recognised by Danielle, whose suspicions had grown as she came across the young woman in her husband’s private quarters and treated her with disdain whenever their paths crossed,” noted the newspaper. “It was not clear, though, whether Pingeot was aware of the existence of her rival.” Danielle Mitterand died in 2011. Pingeot, the mother of a daughter with Mitterand, is an art historian. Claire is married with children. What also is not known is whether any of the principals were familiar with the Denise LaSalle song “Your Husband is Cheatin’ On Us.”
Well, the candidates to succeed Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines have declared themselves, and what a field it is. “Leading contenders included a dictator’s son, a boxing legend, a former softcore porn actor turned mayor, an ex-police chief who enforced Duterte’s blood-drenched drugs war, and the vice-president, who entered politics after her husband’s death in a plane crash,” according to The Times of London. “Sara Duterte-Carpio, 43, the incumbent’s daughter and presumed political heir, has ignored his exhortations, and an orchestrated clamour by his allies, for her to join the fray.” So far.
Observers say you also can’t count out 64-year-old Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator (who died in 1989) and of the notorious former First Lady Imelda Marcos, now 92. The election is in May. Stay tuned, or not.
So, three guys walk into a literary-awards ceremony … The identity of “the Spanish Elena Ferrante”—so dubbed because of the author’s determined anonymity, not because of any similarity of style or subject matter—has turned out to be something of a surprise. Carmen Mola, whose popular crime thrillers feature a female detective, won the million-dollar Planeta Prize last week, and until that moment had “been presented as a female university professor who writes under a pen name because of her desire for anonymity,” reported the Financial Times. “But when the main prize at the Planeta awards ceremony was announced in the presence of King Felipe VI in Barcelona, three people stepped up to the podium—and none of them was a woman. Neither Jorge Díaz, Agustín Martínez nor Antonio Mercero are academics, but in fact television scriptwriters in their 40s and 50s who have worked on Spanish shows such as On Duty Pharmacy, Central Hospital and No Heaven Without Breasts.”
“The last mass trials were a great success,” says Greta Garbo in Ninotchka. “There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” Russia’s current citizen depletion, however, has more to do with the trials of the coronavirus: over the last year, the country has recorded its largest-ever peacetime-population decline, losing some 997,000 people, according to a government demographer who cited the pandemic as “the biggest reason.”
“Russia has been one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, registering at least 660,000 excess deaths since the start of 2020,” reported The Guardian, “and the dramatic drop appears to show the devastating toll the pandemic has had on the country’s social fabric.”
You’re probably familiar with the career arc of the luxury ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2: 1967, launched; 1969, maiden voyage; 1982, moonlighted as troop ship during Falklands War; 2008, bought by government of Dubai and retired; 2011, briefly drifted out of Port Rashid during a dust storm; 2018, turned partially into a hotel; 2021—just last week, in fact—back in business as “Float Dubai, the world’s largest floating nightclub.”
“With marble-lined lavatories complete with velveteen sofas, the club has been designed to match the ostentation of Dubai’s super-rich, from the six-litre vodka bottles to the rosé wine, served only in three-litre double magnums costing £1,100 [$1,500] each,” said The Times of London. On opening night, “a scantily clad hoop dancer was one of several acts at the 1,000-capacity venue keeping the partygoers entertained,” and the next night the rapper DaBaby, fresh from having been dropped by several American festivals for homophobic remarks, performed. “But the legacy of the pandemic means the partying is still heavily controlled,” said the newspaper. “Security guards hovered around guests who must reserve a table—where a minimum spend starts at £800 [$1,100]—because nobody must stand up and nobody must dance.”
Sounds like a lot of fun. The club, by the way, is on the Q.E.2’s top deck. Not that you thought we were talking steerage.
This wine might need to breathe, but first it needs to freeze: in France, grapevine samples will be stored in a $12 million low-temperature conservation center as a precaution against climate change wreaking havoc on future crops. “Tissue from the vines will be preserved at minus 196C [385F] in liquid nitrogen in a wine sector cryobank,” reported The Times of London. “In regions such as Bordeaux, owners fear that rising temperatures could alter the taste of their wines. Some believe that Bordeaux’s two favourite grapes, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, which are used in such hallowed wines as Château Lafite-Rothschild, will no longer be suitable.”
The vino cryobank opened this month and is operated by the French National Institute for Research into Agriculture, Food and the Environment. “The challenge will be to regenerate the vines,” said the newspaper. “The techniques exist, although scientists are unsure how well they will work on each of the vine varieties.” Possibly leading to the first-ever instance of a vinophile sniffing, sipping, scowling … and then sending a bottle all the way back to an earlier generation.
A new facsimile edition of John Steinbeck’s handwritten manuscript for The Grapes of Wrath reveals, at the very end, a faint but unmistakable word written in red: “slut.” Curious. And the stuff, in short, of which graduate theses are made.
“Welcoming the manuscript’s release last week, Steinbeck expert Susan Shillinglaw described the word ‘slut’ as ‘an archival mystery’, pondering whether Steinbeck’s wife Carol might have ‘playfully’ written it in red and then erased it, or if someone in the University of Virginia archives had defaced the manuscript,” reported The Guardian. Shillinglaw added, “I suspect the latter, but we’ll never know for sure.”
Just a week later, it seems we do. According to the newspaper, Jonathan Shaheen of Stockholm University wrote Shillinglaw to say that slut “is the Swedish expression for ‘the end’, used on the last page of all kinds of books, especially children’s books.” Other Scandinavian academics also contacted Shillinglaw with the same theory. The Steinbecks, it seems, had visited Sweden in 1937. The novel was published in 1938. End—or slut—of story.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail