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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

An Interview with Emile

One of the controversial writings by Emile is the novel “Lourdes” about the conflict of faith and naturalism that took stage in the famous pilgrimage place Lourdes, France. Since reading the novel I felt compelled to have a chat him and to confront him with the controversy aroused by this novel. I tried contacting him many times, but he seemed very busy and was traveling around France.

Then, during my trip to Lourdes in August, I heard that Emile was there amid the thousands of pilgrims coming from around the world.  I was so surprised that he came here, knowing his reputation as the founder of a new literary movement ‘Le Naturisme’, return to nature, an extreme form of realism which explains everything based on natural causes rather than supernatural or divine causes.

Eager to find him, I went around asking people about him, but it wasn’t easy. Everyone had their own interest to come here, and certainly celebrity searching wasn’t their favorite interest. With a bit of luck though, after a long search I saw him in a small crowd of singing and dancing pilgrims, nearby the Grotto by the Gave de Pau river.

He seemed to be having a good time there and was friendly and approachable.  After a ‘Bonjour’ exchange, and a polite  ‘may I talk to you’ he agreed for a chat there at the bank of Gave de Pau river. I couldn’t believe it, my head exploded with the imagination of the praises and rewards I would get from the publisher of ‘stenote’.

I then hastily opened the discussion:
“Monsieur, this time Lourdes appears very far developed compared with the time of Bernadette Soubirous. Lourdes was a greenery village with a few hundred people, far from any frequented highway during Bernadette’s time. Now, look, there is a beautiful basilica at the centre, and the wild Massabielle grotto where Santa Maria appeared is now beautifully decorated with flowers, and there are many nice hotels and restaurants surrounding the site. ”

“Indeed, in my book I wrote about the contracts between Lourdes now and Bernadette’s house at Rue des Petits Floses which has been kept the same as the original. It is a simple wretched looking house in a gloomy neighborhood, with a mournful facades in which never a window opens. Inside the house it is like a low dark chamber, the walls, with their decaying, damped stained plaster falling off bits by bits, were full of cracks, and turning dirty black like the ceiling. Yes this is the room, all come from here, three beds for seven people of the Soubirous family filling this small space. All of them lived here without air, without light, almost without bread! What frightful misery! What lowly, pity-awaking poverty!”

I said:
“It is inevitable that people criticize the modern Lourdes on the shrine’s relationship with modern market practices, commercialization. Some five million pilgrims from around the world visit Lourdes every year, making it the second most-visited city in France after Paris. There is a concern that by becoming a religious shrine that catered to a mass audience, the commercialized activities surrounding the pilgrimage undermine the holiness of the site.”

Emile, citing his book:
“But, really, I must say that members of a religious community ought not to keep hotels. No, no, it isn’t right. Ought not those Blue Sisters, those Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, to have confined themselves to their real functions, the manufacture of wafers for sacramental purposes, and the repairing and washing of church linen?

Instead of that, however they had tranformed their convent into a vast hostelry, where ladies who came to Lourdes unaccompanied found separate rooms and were able to take their meals either in privacy or in the general dining room. Everything was certainly very clean, very well organized and very inexpensive, thanks to the thousands advantages which the sisters enjoyed; in fact no hotel in Lourdes did so much business.”

I said:
“Because of its modern formation, there are even allegations that Lourdes has become a Disneyland for the adults. Come to think about it, the boulevards and gardens look like those in a Disney town, the Rosary Basilica can be compared with Cinderella castle, the Ave Maria procession can be compared with “Happiness is here” carnival in Disneyland, and the candle lights prayer can be compared with the firework at Disneyland. “

“The Disneyland in Hong Kong has its own special train to its secluded location in Lantau island. The whole train is decorated with Mickey Mouse images inside out, painted with Mickey’s face. The seating are arranged like a family room so the passengers can feel cozy. The windows are in Mickey’s shape, the handholds for the standing passengers are in the shape of Mickeys’s ears, and the interior is decorated with Mickey, Donald and Goofy statues. So you feel “Disneyed” even before you arrive at the theme park.

In a way, the Church also used the railway in innovative ways as they sought to augment the number of pilgrims coming to Lourdes. They coordinated special trains for pilgrimages, designed compartments to transport sick and disabled pilgrims, and secured reduction in prices of 20 to 30 percent for third class tickets.

As I wrote in my book, these trains to Lourdes were the rolling hospitals of disease at its last stage, of human sufferings rushing for the hope of cure, furiously seeking consolation between attacks of increased severity, with the ever present threat of death – death hastened, supervening under awful conditions, amidst the mob-like scramble.”

I said:
“You joined a train to Lourdes that time to see for yourself the condition in the train and based on this experience you wrote in your book the suffering, passion and hope of the pilgrims. The pain, anxiety and death are real experience you encountered in the train.”

“Yes, for instance Elise Rouquet was a real 18 years old girl, she had lupus which had preyed on her nose and mouth.  Ulceration had spread, and was hourly spreading- in short all the hideous peculiarities of this terrible disease were in full process of development.  She covered her entire face with a black scarf to hide the disease. She could eat only tiny pieces of bread, cautiously slipping it into her poor shapeless mouth.  When she uncovered her face to eat, people could see her face with the gaping cavities which seemed to be the face of death. Everyone in the carriage had turned pale at sight of the awful apparition. And the same thought ascended from all those hope-inflated souls. Ah Blessed Virgin, Powerful Virgin, what a miracle indeed if such an ill were cured!”

I said:
“Then, as you wrote in the book,  Elise Rouquet thinking it was useless to go to the piscinas to bathe the frightful sore which was eating away her face had contended herself by employing the water of the fountain as a lotion, every two hours since her arrival that morning. Doctor Bonamy who advised her to continue using water as a lotion and to return everyday for further examination, after sometime noticed that there were signs of improvement in this case- that was beyond doubt. It had become evident that the lupus that was eating away her face, was showing signs of cure.

Elise Rouquet, now that the sore was healing, then bought herself a pocket mirror, a large round one, in which she did not weary contemplating herself, finding herself quite pretty and verifying from minute to minute the progress of her cure with a gayness which, now that her monstrous face was becoming human again, made her purse her lips and try a variety of smiles.

However, Monsieur, you saw and wrote about this cure of lupus, yet you denied that it was a miracle. You even refused to look at her the healing of her face closely as suggested by doctor Bonamy, and said: ’To me she is still ugly.’  How could you deny it?”

“ As I wrote in the Preface of the book, I will admit that I came across some instances of real cure. Many cases of nervous disorders have undoubtedly been cured, and there also have been other cures which may perhaps be attributed to errors of diagnosis on the part of the doctors who attended the patients so cured. These cures are based on ignorance of the medical profession.

As doctor Chassaigne said our most learned medical men suspect many of these sores to be nervous origin. Yes, they are discovering that complaints of these kinds are often simply due to bad nutrition of skin. These questions are still so imperfectly studied and understood ! And some medical men are also beginning to prove that the faith which heals can even cure sores, certain forms of lupus among others. However science is vain, it is a sea of uncertainty. ”

I said:
“You came to Lourdes to examine the miracle phenomenon in a skeptical point of view, however you unexpectedly observed three miracles in a single trip, while for most of the people we cannot hear even one miracle or apparent miracle in a few trips.

You wrote about those miracles in detail, besides Elise Rouquet there was this young peasant girl Sophie Couteau who came back to visit Lourdes after she was cured the year before. She suffered for three years from a horrid open sore on her foot, it was swollen and quite deformed. The foot had to be kept bandaged because there was always a lot of nasty matter coming from it. The doctor who made a cut in it, so as to see the inside, said that he should be obliged to take out a piece of the bone; and that, sure enough would have made her lame for life.

But she was suddenly cured by bathing her foot in the piscina, where the bandages fell off, and her foot was entirely restored to a healthy condition.”

“I investigated this case thoroughly. I was told there were three or four ladies living in Lourdes who could guarantee the facts as stated by Clementine Trove, Sophie’s real name. I looked up those ladies.
But no one could vouch for anything, no one had seen anything, and no where was I able to find any corroboration of the girl’s story. Yet the little girl did not look like a liar, and I believe that she was fully convinced of the miraculous nature of her cure. It is the facts themselves which lie.”

I said:

“There is another case that you observed, the cure of Marie Lebranchu, you named her as La Grivotte in your book. The 36 years old lady suffered from severe pulmonary tuberculosis for two years, and had reached the terminal stages of this disease. “
Emile, citing his book:
“La Grivotte was weeping hot tears because they would not bathe her at the piscina. They said she was with a wasting disease, and they could not dip somebody like that into the cold water. So she had been wearing herself out for half an hour in telling them that they were only grieving the Blessed Virgin, for she believed she would be cured. She was beginning to cause a scandal till one of the chaplains approached and endeavoured to calm her. Then after receiving Father Fourcade’s express permission, she had been obliged to insist and beg and sob in order prevail upon them to do so.

And then it had all happened as she had previously said it would.  She had not been immersed in the icy water for 3 minutes- all perspiring as she was with her consumptive rattle-before she had felt strength returning into her like a whipstroke lashing her whole body. And then flaming excitement possessed her; radiant, stamping her feet, she was unable to keep still. On the previous night she was seen lying on the carriage seat, annihilated, coughing and spitting blood, with her face of ashen hue.”

I said:
“ At the end of your book you wrote that La Grivotte had relapsed into her mortal disease dying on the train back to home, implying that the cure was neither permanent nor supernatural, but rather a case of autosuggestion in an hysterical religious atmosphere.  

Yet you remained in communication with the woman long after her recovery, and were perfectly aware that there had been no relapse. She actually lived in perfect health until 1920.

Dr. Boissarie, or Dr. Bonamy in your book, the President of the Medical Bureau, questioned you as to the honesty of your account, pointing out that you had said that you had come to Lourdes to make an impartial investigation.”

“I replied to Dr. Boissarie that being an artist I could do whatever I liked with my writing. I wrote to express my view about this religion of human suffering, the redemption by pain, weeping humanity desperate with anguish, like some despairing invalid, irrevocably invalid, and whom only a miracle could save.”

I said:
“Almost 7,000 cures have been documented at the waters of Lourdes. The Church has vigorously investigated all these cases and validated a mere 67 of them.  These 67 were also authenticated as miracles by the International Medical Committee of Lourdes (CMIL).

All three miracles that you observed, of Clementine Trove (Sophie Couteau in your book), Marie Lemarchand (Elise Rouquet) and Marie Lebranchu (La Griovote), all are included in the 67 approved miracles by the Church and CMIL.”

“The Lourdes miracles can neither be proved nor denied. In none of the miracles that I observed was I able to discover any real proof for or against the miraculous nature of the cure. Even were I to see all the sick at Lourdes cured, I would not believe in a miracle.”

I said:

Then, may I ask you a last question, did Sophie really tell : ‘I hadn’t brought many bandages for my foot with me, so it was very kind of the Blessed Virgin to cure me on the first day, as I should have run out of linen on the morrow.”

Emile just smiled…..


This is an imaginary interview in memory of Emile Zola.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Seoul, at Myeongdong Night Time

In the early evening when the Myeongdong streets get closed to vehicles traffic, the food stalls start to arrive serving various kind of Korean dishes. As the neon lights lit up the smoke from the grills raised to the air spreading mouth watering smell. You can walk from stall to stall finding foods judging from the appearance and the smell.  

But unlike in Bangkok where you can eat entire meals on the sidewalk, in Seoul the street food are more along snack kind of food, things that can be eaten standing up or walking, catering to Seoul people that are walking from subway to subway. 

In the dense grid of streets in Myeongdong, the food stalls lined-up in the middle of hotels, skin care shops, restaurants, cafés and night clubs. It is the hot spot of Seoul for tourists. From stalls to stalls, you can hunt for foods, but you must try first the Tteokbokki, a rice cake with fish, egg, scallion and a sweet and spicy red sauce. The firmness of the cake combined with the aroma of scallions and sesame seeds make it a delicious snack on a cool evening. A Tteokbokki serving costs around 2000 to 4000 KRW.

Photo by cutekirin, Wikimedia

Along the rather spicy Tteokbokki, you may accompany it with Gimbap, a sushi like rice rolls, consisting sticky rice – ‘bap’ rolled up inside a seaweed sheet - ‘Gim’, filled with ingredients such as vegetables, tuna, crab stick, pickles and other variety. A serving of 3 to 4 roll slices costs about 1500 KRW.

Photo by cutekirin, Wikimedia
Then you can try Hweori Gamja or tornado potato which is very popular Korean street food. It is a deep fried spiral cut potato, like tornado, which is then dipped in all kinds of toppings. These can include cheese, red pepper, honey or brown sugar. The tornado potato is a nice snack, easy to eat while walking in Myeongdong night market.

Photo by tragrpx, Wikimedia

After eating those “snacks” than you can eat your “main dish” Sundae.  Don’t be mistaken it is not an ice cream, it is a Korean style blood sausage. Although the appearance of the sausage is rather off-putting, it is black, it is surprisingly tasty. It is originated back to the Goryeo period, recorded in 19th century cookbooks and it was initially meant to be served for special occasions. Depending on the vendor, the blood sausage can be stuffed with meat, glass noodles and all kinds of vegetables. A serving can cost about 6000 KRW.

Photo by SauceSupreme, Wikimedia

Now you must be stuffed already,  if not you can try the Ppopgi. This is an old fashioned sugar candy, mostly sold and made by the older Korean generation. This ppopgi candy only has 2 ingredients, baking soda and sugar, but timing and technique are key to making the perfect ppopgi. Each ppopgi has a different shape pattern, back in the days if the kids could eat around the pattern without braking it, they would get a free ppopgi from the vendor. Try it, it is harder than it looks like.

Photo by도자놀자 , Wikimedia


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Seoul, at Myeongdong Day Time

We can say that Myeongdong,  Seoul’s main shopping street, is the face of modern Korea which is driven by the “Hallyu“  or “Korean Wave” which is a collective term for the phenomenal growth of Korean popular culture encompassing everything from music, movies, drama to clothes and cuisine. The Korean Wave  first spread to China and Japan around the year 2000, later to Southeast Asia and several countries worldwide where it continues to have a strong impact and has become one of the biggest cultural phenomena across Asia.

As we walk in Myeongdong we can see various paraphernalia  of K-pop and K-drama in the shops, from calendars and coffee mugs to t-shirts, socks and even potato chips, just about everything featuring the faces of the country’s most celebrated idols.  We can see faces of K-pop girl group  Girl’s Generation, Blackpink, or boy group Exo , Super Junior on shirts as well as on stationeries, and also we can see traces of Winter Sonata, Autumn in My Heart, or My Sassy Girl on displays reminding us of the popular K- Dramas.
The Korean pop culture also influenced both women and men around Asia nowadays to have more interest toward Korean skin care and makeup products. Yoona of Girls’ Generation group has been chosen as a model for Innisfree, and Taeyeon also of Girls’ Generation promotes Nature Republic to bring Korean cosmetics to become a globally recognized brand with their clean images. Because of that in recent years, Korean cosmetics have stormed Asia in just about every corner. From face masks and body cream to cleansing products and hand lotions, Korea has some of the best, and most affordable, beauty products on the market.  That is why both small cosmetics shops and department stores at Myeongdong are always packed with many shoppers to look for the products of The Faceshop, Innisfree, Missha, Nature, Tony Moly, Etude House etc.

Myeongdong  which in Korean means “bright tunnel” or “bright cave” perhaps has its image enhanced by the bright, shiny, and polished image of this place and the Korean pop idols. You may see everywhere advertisement at this “bright tunnel” displays beautiful faces promoting flashy brand clothing, smooth cosmetics, and fashion accessories.  Whether shown on billboards or on TV screens, jackets, hats, and outfits can become iconic when worn by Exo’s Chanyeol,  Twice’s Nayeon, or BTS’ Suga. High rise department stores and small stores popping up acting as a platform to encourage you to buy latest style clothing, with a K-pop idol standing card-board welcoming you at the front door.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Tokyo, at the Disney Parade

Seeing the people arriving at Disneyland in Tokyo, we can understand why Disneyland claims that it is “The Happiest Place on Earth”.  Since before the opening hours, many visitors excitedly rush out of the metro train to see how this place looks like.  Expecting a welcoming early entrance to site, their excitement dies out rapidly after seeing the massive long queues at the entrance gates.  

Everybody have to line-up in the long queues, kids, teens, parents, grand-parents, while they start to feel the Disney atmosphere during queuing.  Joy fully Mickey Mouse in his black tuxedo greets kids at the front garden, and their smiles are captured in the photos they make. Thus the long queuing experience is not so bad, thanks to the Disneyland’s hospitality and efficiency, as well as to the Japanese considerate behavior.  The long queues are even forgotten once the visitors enter the main gate of the Disneyland to a different world, a mini world from the eyes of kids as told in story books and movies.

But we can see that actually the number of kids is much lower than the number teens and young adults visiting the theme park, perhaps because the young adults are more mobile to go around while kids need their parents to accompany.  Surely Disneyland realized these numbers and provides a wide range of attractions to suit all ages and personalities. Here we can see that many of the attractions are made for the young adults, focusing on activities, ridding, adventures, and romantic musicals.  Further the adults and the teens can enjoy the nostalgia of their childhood by meeting Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck, Sleeping Beauty after the rides on the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Indiana Jones  and the Jurassic Park.

 One of the most popular attractions in Disneyland is the daytime parade which features gigantic floats with Disney characters dancing to the music. The theme of the parade that time was “Happiness Is Here” which enhances the Disneyland’s claim to be “The Happiest Place on Earth”.   So to say, who cannot be happy watching the parade lead by Goofy on a horse, followed The Three Little Pigs pulling Mickey Mouse drum toy, and Pinocchio leads a magical train with Sleepy and Grumpy as passengers. Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Pluto, Chip 'n' Dale ride an enormous float featuring a carousel, canopies, and  Minnie Mouse waving on the back. Then the final float features Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse aboard a giant hot air balloon made out of Mickey Mouse balloons. The balloon is held up by Goofy, and Mickey and Donald wave goodbye to the guests.

It was definitely a memorable parade, the happy characters dancing to the repetitive music in tune with what Walt Disney once said: “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever."