B.rian Bouillon can be recognized from afar by the face mask with the likeness of his famous mother Joséphine Baker. The ceremony in her honor was “the most beautiful moment of my life,” he says, touched. The family returned to the Panthéon on Wednesday to watch the lowering of the empty coffin in private. From now on, Joséphine Baker symbolically has her place in the hall of fame next to the writer Maurice Genevoix, who put the horrors of the First World War into words. For the occasion, the German artist Anselm Kiefer created six monumental works of art with barbed wire, uniforms, lead and straw, which spread an oppressive, gloomy atmosphere under the huge dome of the Panthéon.
But nothing can overshadow the memory of the sublime and at the same time cheerful celebration on the previous evening. Even the Eiffel Tower glitters for Joséphine Baker like the sequins on her stage costumes once did. Thanks to the latest lighting technology, the red curtain opened on the column-lined facade of the Panthéon, and the singer, revue dancer, resistance fighter and civil rights activist was brought back to life by an audience of millions in film clips. The actress Sephora Pondi from the Comédie-Française told the unusual life story of the woman who was born out of wedlock in 1906 to a laundress in Saint-Louis. She grew up in a hut with rain dripping through its corrugated iron roof. When she was eight, she had to join a family as a maid. When she accidentally broke a plate, boiling water was poured on her hands as a punishment. She experienced one of the worst pogroms against blacks in US history. She was beaten and mistreated and married at the age of 13. She “never gave up,” as President Macron would later say. She danced to live and lived to dance, conquering Saint-Louis and New Orleans, making it to Broadway. In 1925, she was just 19 years old, she went on a European tour: Paris!
Their songs continue to echo through the Latin Quarter
In the “Revue Nègre” in the theater on the Champs-Elysées, she suddenly became a star, also because she broke the colonial clichés of the erotic-exotic wild. “She destroyed the erotic with grimaces and jerky gestures, overcame clichés with a swing of the hips,” says the President. With mocking eyes she made fun of the representations of black people. Paris became her home and her ideal, and she received French citizenship as a gift 84 years ago.
Even when the music from the loudspeakers has stopped in the streets in the Latin Quarter, the singer’s voice seems to continue to sound: J’ai deux amours, I have two loves. “What enchants me is Paris, that’s simply Paris,” goes the lyrics. On Tuesday evening it was Joséphine who enchanted Paris, no France. The Rue Soufflot, which leads up to the hill of Saint Genoveva, is lined with onlookers who hum their songs and watch the slow march of honor of the Republican Guards with the coffin covered by the tricolor. There is a lot of clapping, singing and laughing on this evening in the Latin Quarter.
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