James Franco Writes a Love Letter to McDonald’s: ‘They Were There for Me When No One Else Was’
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Actor James Franco wrote a column in the Washington Post extolling the virtues of his first-ever job as a fry chef
James Franco wrote a surprisingly heartfelt column in the Washington Post: he’s pulling for McDonald’s.
Before he fought for his life for 127 hours, before he was the ultimate villain in Spider-Man, James Franco spent his time stealing French fries from the hopper. When James Franco was a young college dropout he worked at McDonald’s, and in this surprisingly poignant column for The Washington Post, he writes, “McDonald’s was there for me when no one else was.”
Franco gave an honest account of his employment at McDonald’s when, at 18 years old, he was a broke college dropout looking to make it in Hollywood. After a while, Franco booked his first-ever commercial (a Pizza Hut ad that aired during the Super Bowl and featured an animatronic Elvis).
“I was treated fairly well at McDonald’s,” Franco wrote. “If anything, they cut me slack. And, just like their food, the job was more available there than anywhere else. When I was hungry for work, they fed the need. I still love the simplicity of the McDonald’s hamburger and its salty fries. After reading Fast Food Nation, it’s hard for me to trust the grade of the meat. But maybe once a year, while on a road trip or out in the middle of nowhere for a movie, I’ll stop by a McDonald’s and get a simple cheeseburger: light, and airy, and satisfying.”
This nostalgia-fueled column is more a musing on Franco’s early life as a starving artist than a true defense of the company, but rest assured, despite slipping sales and McDonald’s losing its grip on America’s dietary cravings, Franco is rooting for them.
The Shady Side Of Joel Osteen
Joel Osteen has endured plenty of criticism throughout his career. The toothy preacher has come under fire for everything from his physical appearance to his spiritual beliefs to his lack of theological training. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston, Texas-based pastor attracted a lot heat for allegedly not doing enough to help, like so many selfless community members actually did, becoming heroes in the process.
But this preacher had already weathered plenty of controversy prior to the waters of Buffalo Bayou raising up around the southeast Texas city. From not being quick enough to condemn some clearly objectionable behavior, to being accused of misrepresenting the basic tenets of Christianity in a variety of ways, Osteen's public image is far from that of a flawless saint.
Let's take a look at what potentially lurks beneath this holy man's bright smile. This is the shady side of Joel Osteen.
Tom's Wine Line
Readers of this blog know I contribute frequently to Decanter, a magazine for which I have a lot of respect. This doesn’t mean I agree with every opinion expressed in it, however, and I was particularly troubled to see James Suckling, for whose opinions I have very little respect, featured prominently in the current edition (Decanter, May 2011).
The Suckling’s article strikes me as a textbook example of the worst kind of wine writing. It’s an opinion piece (rightly so-called because there is hardly a useful or accurate fact in it) about whether the so-called “SuperTuscans” are a fading star. The cover promises more: “James Suckling on the Rise and Fall of SuperTuscans,” it says, but that isn’t what the Suckling delivers. Strange, because this is an issue on which consumers and producers have already voted with their dollars and their efforts. Since almost all SuperTuscans are now covered either by the IGT category or the many Tuscan DOC and DOCG designations, many producers have moved their formerly maverick wines into the more spacious conventional categories. And from everything I’ve been able to gather from importers and retailers, with the exception of the greatest stars of the SuperTuscan cast, sales of the whole category have been declining steadily in favor of classifications like Chianti Classico and Brunello.
But this article is a typical Suckling performance. Let me walk you through it.
Step 1: Immediately remind your readers how important you are: “People ask me if I invented the term SuperTuscan.” Gracefully concede that you didn’t, and you don’t know who did. Also admit that you don’t know whether these wines have “as much resonance with consumers” as they used to. So much for the “fading star” question, ostensibly the point of the article. Don’t trouble yourself to look up any production, sales, or distribution figures that might suggest an answer. That’s not your style.
Step 2: Provide an extensive quote from one of your winemaking friends who is, incidentally, a participant in your upcoming, for-profit event, Divino Tuscany (see below for the skinny on this). Don’t worry that the quotation has nothing to do with the subject of your article: the point is publicity, not relevance. Thus, Lamberto Frescobaldi opines that people “may not have a clear understanding” of the term SuperTuscan, goes on about how they don’t know what a Chianti or a Brunello is either, and concludes that prices for these various wines vary.
Now, as author, don’t use that as an opportunity to explain to your readers what a SuperTuscan is or how it may differ from a Chianti or a Brunello that would just be information, and too boring.
Step 3: Do talk a bit about the DOC and DOCG wine appellations, which allows you to mention your favorite wines in those categories – none of which costs less than $100 a bottle, which seems to be the lower limit of the Suckling’s interest in wine. Then admiringly recount the stories of two of the most prestigious (and expensive) SuperTuscans, Tignanello and Sassicaia.
Step 4: Introduce another of your friends who makes an expensive SuperTuscan (and is also a sponsor of Divino Tuscany) and have him pronounce a ridiculous opinion on this whole group of (still undefined, unidentified) wines. Here’s Luca Sanjust, who produces the $100+ SuperTuscan Galatrona: “These wines introduced people to drinking wines for pleasure, not just in an intellectual way, like old Barolos and Brunellos.” (Well, that opened my eyes: I never knew I wasn’t enjoying wine before the SuperTuscans came along. Just think of all those years and years in which nobody ever drank wine for pleasure!)
Step 5: Conclude your article by letting your buddy do the heavy lifting of pointing out how stupid all other wine writers are. Signor Sanjust does that nicely for the Suckling. He starts sensibly enough by observing that “we can’t become Burgundy or some other region like that.” But then he denounces “all those idiot wine critics and bloggers” who say that Italians should stick with native Italian varieties. “They don’t understand that there are microclimates and soils that are perfect for other grapes, and that they make great wines.” Final word, right? Says everything there is to say on the subject?
Well, no I think that those idiot wine critics and bloggers know perfectly well about the diversity of Italy’s terroirs, and they have serious reservations about the greatness of the wines in question. Does the world truly need another $100 Tuscan Merlot? I have problems with brand-new estates in California offering their first vintage at more than $100 a bottle, and by the same token I have doubts when Signor Sanjust tells me “we are simply trying to give the maximum pleasure to wine drinkers.” If he really means that, let him lower his price to around $25 – and then we can talk.
A question of propriety:
Almost all the wines the Suckling mentions in this article, and the only two individuals he quotes, are sponsors/participants in Divino Tuscany, a barbarously named four-day event the Suckling is presenting in Florence in June – featuring “the best wineries in the region – all personally selected by me.” He is charging consumers €1,600 for the event, and that doesn’t include travel or lodging. This is clearly not a penny-ante matter.
For him to be writing now about only participating wineries, and in particular, giving such inordinate space to self-serving personal promotion by Luca Sanjust, seems a blatant conflict of interest. This isn’t wine journalism: this is public relations. Those are two different activities and should be carried out by different people. The ethics of the wine business can often be murky, but journalistic ethics are pretty clear-cut: you’re not supposed to have any pecuniary relationship with individuals or firms about which you’re ostensibly objectively reporting. It’s not so long ago that journalists were released from magazines and newspapers for considerably slighter involvements than the Suckling’s with the people he writes of.
Persistent rumors in Italy – admittedly unverifiable: nobody is talking for attribution – claim that the Suckling is charging wineries heavily to be represented in Divino Tuscany. One figure I have heard is €10,000 per winery. Should these rumors turn out to be true, would this be the same as what the pop music industry used to call payola, and what politicians now know as “pay to play?” You tell me. Even if untrue, it still seems to me a glaring breach of journalistic ethics to write a purportedly unbiased article that hardly mentions a single wine that isn’t a part of your own clearly for-profit venture. That isn’t journalism: it’s advertising.
'The Other Black Girl' In This New Thriller May Not Be Your Friend
The Skagit Valley Chorale in Washington held a rehearsal in early March of 2020 that became a superspreader event for COVID-19. Dicken Bettinger hide caption
37 Perfect Handwriting Examples That will Give You An EyegasmGreta Jaruševičiūtė
If eyes are a mirror to your soul, then handwriting must be a window. It might sound funny, but our handwriting tells so much about us, that a skilled professional might see through you only by looking at your lettering. Cursive handwriting can tell about your personality, state of mind, traumatic events, hand-eye coordination and even bone structure that affects the way you hold the pen. It can be determined by analyzing the way we dot our I's and cross our T's, how you write the lowercase and uppercase letters and many other factors. Also, incredibly neat handwriting might not mean that you are at peace with yourself, but also that you might have an OCD or are a pedantic person.
Science and psychology aside, it is always very aesthetically pleasing to marvel at someone's nice handwriting, especially with the modern technology forcing us to type, rather than write, thus lessening our penmanship skills. To celebrate these rarely seen masters, we've put together this list of exceptional calligraphy and handwriting styles from the penmanshipporn subreddit. Which one is the most exquisite? Vote or submit your own photos below--otherwise, if you're looking for more perfect symmetry, check out this perfectionists' list. And don't forget that mastering good handwriting can impress people as much as a firm handshake.
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By 1889 Verdi had been an opera composer for more than fifty years. He had written 27 operas, of which only one was a comedy, his second work, Un giorno di regno, staged unsuccessfully in 1840.  His fellow composer Rossini commented that he admired Verdi greatly, but thought him incapable of writing a comedy. Verdi disagreed and said that he longed to write another light-hearted opera, but nobody would give him the chance.  He had included moments of comedy even in his tragic operas, for example in Un ballo in maschera and La forza del destino. 
For a comic subject Verdi considered Cervantes' Don Quixote and plays by Goldoni, Molière and Labiche, but found none of them wholly suitable.  The singer Victor Maurel sent him a French libretto based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Verdi liked it, but replied that "to deal with it properly you need a Rossini or a Donizetti". [n 1] Following the success of Otello in 1887 he commented, "After having relentlessly massacred so many heroes and heroines, I have at last the right to laugh a little." He confided his ambition to the librettist of Otello, Arrigo Boito.  Boito said nothing at the time, but he secretly began work on a libretto based on The Merry Wives of Windsor with additional material taken from Henry IV, parts 1 and 2.  Many composers had set the play to music, with little success, among them Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1796), Antonio Salieri (1799), Michael William Balfe (1835) and Adolphe Adam (1856).  The first version to secure a place in the operatic repertoire was Otto Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1849, but its success was largely confined to German opera houses. 
Boito was doubly pleased with The Merry Wives as a plot. Not only was it Shakespearian, it was based in part on Trecento Italian works – Il Pecorone by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, and Boccaccio's Decameron. Boito adopted a deliberately archaic form of Italian to "lead Shakespeare's farce back to its clear Tuscan source", as he put it.  He trimmed the plot, halved the number of characters in the play, [n 2] and gave the character of Falstaff more depth by incorporating dozens of passages from Henry IV.  [n 3]
Verdi received the draft libretto a few weeks later, by early July 1889, at a time when his interest had been piqued by reading Shakespeare's play: "Benissimo! Benissimo! . No one could have done better than you", he wrote back.  Like Boito, Verdi loved and revered Shakespeare. The composer did not speak English, but he owned and frequently re-read Shakespeare's plays in Italian translations by Carlo Rusconi and Giulio Carcano [it] , which he kept by his bedside.  [n 4] He had earlier set operatic adaptations of Shakespeare's Macbeth (in 1847) and Othello (in 1887) and had considered King Lear as a subject Boito had suggested Antony and Cleopatra. 
Verdi to Boito, 8 July 1889 
Verdi still had doubts, and on the next day sent another letter to Boito expressing his concerns. He wrote of "the large number of years" in his age, his health (which he admitted was still good) and his ability to complete the project: "if I were not to finish the music?" He said that the project could all be a waste of the younger man's time and distract Boito from completing his own new opera (which became Nerone).  Yet, as his biographer Mary Jane Phillips-Matz notes, "Verdi could not hide his delight at the idea of writing another opera". On 10 July 1889 he wrote again:
Amen so be it! So let's do Falstaff! For now, let's not think of obstacles, of age, of illnesses! I also want to keep the deepest secrecy: a word that I underline three times to you that no one must know anything about it! [He notes that his wife will know about it, but assures Boito that she can keep a secret.] Anyway, if you are in the mood, then start to write. 
Boito's original sketch is lost, but surviving correspondence shows that the finished opera is not greatly different from his first thoughts. The major differences were that an act 2 monologue for Ford was moved from scene 2 to scene 1, and that the last act originally ended with the marriage of the lovers rather than with the lively vocal and orchestral fugue, which was Verdi's idea.  He wrote to Boito in August 1889 telling him that he was writing a fugue: "Yes, Sir! A fugue . and a buffa fugue", which "could probably be fitted in". 
Verdi accepted the need to trim Shakespeare's plot to keep the opera within an acceptable length. He was sorry, nonetheless, to see the loss of Falstaff's second humiliation, dressed up as the Wise Woman of Brentford to escape from Ford. [n 5] He wrote of his desire to do justice to Shakespeare: "To sketch the characters in a few strokes, to weave the plot, to extract all the juice from that enormous Shakespearian orange".  Shortly after the premiere an English critic, R A Streatfeild, remarked on how Verdi succeeded:
The leading note of [Falstaff]'s character is sublime self-conceit. If his belief in himself were shattered, he would be merely a vulgar sensualist and debauchee. As it is, he is a hero. For one terrible moment in the last act his self-satisfaction wavers. He looks round and sees every one laughing at him. Can it be that he has been made a fool of? But no, he puts the horrible suggestion from him, and in a flash is himself again. "Son io," he exclaims with a triumphant inspiration, "che vi fa scaltri. L'arguzia mia crea l'arguzia degli altri." ["I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men", a line from Henry IV part 2.] Verdi has caught this touch and indeed a hundred others throughout the opera with astonishing truth and delicacy. 
In November Boito took the completed first act to Verdi at Sant'Agata, along with the second act, which was still under construction: "That act has the devil on its back and when you touch it, it burns", Boito complained.  They worked on the opera for a week, then Verdi and his wife Giuseppina Strepponi went to Genoa. No more work was done for some time. 
The writer Russ McDonald observes that a letter from Boito to Verdi touches on the musical techniques used in the opera – he wrote of how to portray the characters Nannetta and Fenton: "I can't quite explain it: I would like as one sprinkles sugar on a tart to sprinkle the whole comedy with that happy love without concentrating it at any one point." 
The first act was completed by March 1890  the rest of the opera was not composed in chronological order, as had been Verdi's usual practice. The musicologist Roger Parker comments that this piecemeal approach may have been "an indication of the relative independence of individual scenes".  Progress was slow, with composition "carried out in short bursts of activity interspersed with long fallow periods" partly caused by the composer's depression. Verdi was weighed down by the fear of being unable to complete the score, and also by the deaths and impending deaths of close friends, including the conductors Franco Faccio and Emanuele Muzio.  There was no pressure on the composer to hurry. As he observed at the time, he was not working on a commission from a particular opera house, as he had in the past, but was composing for his own pleasure: "in writing Falstaff, I haven't thought about either theatres or singers".  He reiterated this idea in December 1890, a time when his spirits were very low after Muzio's death that November: "Will I finish it [Falstaff]? Or will I not finish it? Who knows! I am writing without any aim, without a goal, just to pass a few hours of the day".  By early 1891 he was declaring that he could not finish the work that year, but in May he expressed some small optimism, which by mid-June, had turned into:
The Big Belly ["pancione", the name given to the opera before the composition of Falstaff became public knowledge] is on the road to madness. There are some days when he does not move, he sleeps, and is in a bad humour. At other times he shouts, runs, jumps, and tears the place apart I let him act up a bit, but if he goes on like this, I will put him in a muzzle and straitjacket. 
Boito was overjoyed, and Verdi reported that he was still working on the opera. The two men met in October or November 1891,  after which the Verdis were in Genoa for the winter. They were both taken ill there, and two months of work were lost. By mid-April 1892 the scoring of the first act was complete and by June–July Verdi was considering potential singers for roles in Falstaff. For the title role he wanted Victor Maurel, the baritone who had sung Iago in Otello, but at first the singer sought contractual terms that Verdi found unacceptable: "His demands were so outrageous, exorbitant, [and] incredible that there was nothing else to do but stop the entire project".  Eventually they reached agreement and Maurel was cast. [n 6]
By September Verdi had agreed in a letter to his publisher Casa Ricordi that La Scala could present the premiere during the 1892–93 season, but that he would retain control over every aspect of the production. An early February date was mentioned along with the demand that the house would be available exclusively after 2 January 1893 and that, even after the dress rehearsal, he could withdraw the opera: "I will leave the theatre, and [Ricordi] will have to take the score away".  The public learned of the new opera towards the end of 1892, and intense interest was aroused, increased rather than diminished by the secrecy with which Verdi surrounded the preparations rehearsals were in private, and the press was kept at arm's length.  Apart from Verdi's outrage at the way that La Scala announced the season's programme on 7 December – "either a revival of Tannhäuser or Falstaff" – things went smoothly in January 1893 up to the premiere performance on 9 February. 
The first performance of Falstaff was at La Scala in Milan on 9 February 1893, nearly six years after Verdi's previous premiere. For the first night, official ticket prices were thirty times greater than usual.  [n 7] Royalty, aristocracy, critics and leading figures from the arts all over Europe were present.  The performance was a huge success under the baton of Edoardo Mascheroni numbers were encored, and at the end the applause for Verdi and the cast lasted an hour. [n 8] That was followed by a tumultuous welcome when the composer, his wife and Boito arrived at the Grand Hotel de Milan. 
Over the next two months the work was given twenty-two performances in Milan and then taken by the original company, led by Maurel, to Genoa, Rome, Venice, Trieste, Vienna and, without Maurel, to Berlin.  Verdi and his wife left Milan on 2 March Ricordi encouraged the composer to go to the planned Rome performance of 14 April, to maintain the momentum and excitement that the opera had generated. The Verdis, along with Boito and Giulio Ricordi, attended together with King Umberto I and other major royal and political figures of the day. The king introduced Verdi to the audience from the Royal Box to great acclaim, "a national recognition and apotheosis of Verdi that had never been tendered him before", notes Phillips-Matz. 
During these early performances Verdi made substantial changes to the score. For some of these he altered his manuscript, but for others musicologists have had to rely on the numerous full and piano scores put out by Ricordi.  Further changes were made for the Paris premiere in 1894, which are also inadequately documented. Ricordi attempted to keep up with the changes, issuing new edition after new edition, but the orchestral and piano scores were often mutually contradictory.  The Verdi scholar James Hepokoski considers that a definitive score of the opera is impossible, leaving companies and conductors to choose between a variety of options.  In a 2013 study Philip Gossett disagrees, believing that the autograph is essentially a reliable source, augmented by contemporary Ricordi editions for the few passages that Verdi omitted to amend in his own score. 
The first performances outside the Kingdom of Italy were in Trieste and Vienna, in May 1893.  The work was given in the Americas and across Europe. The Berlin premiere of 1893 so excited Ferruccio Busoni that he drafted a letter to Verdi, in which he addressed him as "Italy's leading composer" and "one of the noblest persons of our time", and in which he explained that "Falstaff provoked in me such a revolution of spirit that I can . date [to the experience] the beginning of a new epoch in my artistic life."  Antonio Scotti played the title role in Buenos Aires in July 1893 Gustav Mahler conducted the opera in Hamburg in January 1894 a Russian translation was presented in St Petersburg in the same month.  Paris was regarded by many as the operatic capital of Europe, and for the production there in April 1894 Boito, who was fluent in French, made his own translation with the help of the Parisian poet Paul Solanges.  This translation, approved by Verdi, is quite free in its rendering of Boito's original Italian text. Boito was content to delegate the English and German translations to William Beatty-Kingston and Max Kalbeck respectively.  The London premiere, sung in Italian, was at Covent Garden on 19 May 1894. The conductor was Mancinelli, and Zilli and Pini Corsi repeated their original roles. Falstaff was sung by Arturo Pessina Maurel played the role at Covent Garden the following season.  On 4 February 1895 the work was first presented at the Metropolitan Opera, New York  Mancinelli conducted and the cast included Maurel as Falstaff, Emma Eames as Alice, Zélie de Lussan as Nannetta and Sofia Scalchi as Mistress Quickly. 
After the initial excitement, audiences quickly diminished. Operagoers were nonplussed by the absence of big traditional arias and choruses. A contemporary critic summed it up: "'Is this our Verdi?' they asked themselves. 'But where is the motive where are the broad melodies . where are the usual ensembles the finales?'"  By the time of Verdi's death in 1901 the work had fallen out of the international repertoire. The rising young conductor Arturo Toscanini was a strong advocate of the work, and did much to save it from neglect. As musical director of La Scala (from 1898) and the Metropolitan Opera (from 1908), he programmed Falstaff from the start of his tenure. Richard Aldrich, music critic of The New York Times, wrote that Toscanini's revival "ought to be marked in red letters in the record of the season. Falstaff, which was first produced here on February 4, 1895, has not been given since the following season, and was heard in these two seasons only half a dozen times in all."  Aldrich added that though the general public might have had difficulty with the work, "to connoisseurs it was an unending delight". 
In Britain, as in continental Europe and the US, the work fell out of the repertoire. Sir Thomas Beecham revived it in 1919, and recalling in his memoirs that the public had stayed away he commented:
I have often been asked why I think Falstaff is not more of a box-office attraction, and I do not think the answer is far to seek. Let it be admitted that there are fragments of melody as exquisite and haunting as anything that Verdi has written elsewhere, such as the duet of Nanetta and Fenton in the first act and the song of Fenton at the beginning of the final scene, which have something of the lingering beauty of an Indian summer. But in comparison with every other work of the composer, it is wanting in tunes of a broad and impressive character, and one or two of the type of "O Mia Regina", "Ritorna Vincitor", or "Ora per sempre addio" might have helped the situation. 
Toscanini recognised that this was the view of many, but he believed the work to be Verdi's greatest opera he said, "I believe it will take years and years before the general public understand this masterpiece, but when they really know it they will run to hear it like they do now for Rigoletto and La traviata." 
Toscanini returned to La Scala in 1921 and remained in charge there until 1929, presenting Falstaff in every season. He took the work to Germany and Austria in the late 1920s and the 1930s, conducting it in Vienna, Berlin and at three successive Salzburg Festivals. Among those inspired by Toscanini's performances were Herbert von Karajan and Georg Solti, who were among his répétiteurs at Salzburg. Toscanini's younger colleague Tullio Serafin continued to present the work in Germany and Austria after Toscanini refused to perform there because of his loathing of the Nazi regime. 
When Karajan was in a position to do so he added Falstaff to the repertoire of his opera company at Aachen in 1941,  and he remained a proponent of the work for the rest of his career, presenting it frequently in Vienna, Salzburg and elsewhere, and making audio and video recordings of it.  Solti also became closely associated with Falstaff, as did Carlo Maria Giulini they both conducted many performances of the work in mainland Europe, Britain and the US and made several recordings.  Leonard Bernstein conducted the work at the Met and the Vienna State Opera, and on record.  The advocacy of these and later conductors has given the work an assured place in the modern repertoire. [n 9]
Among revivals in the 1950s and later, Hepokoski singles out as particularly notable the Glyndebourne productions with Fernando Corena and later Geraint Evans in the title role three different stagings by Franco Zeffirelli, for the Holland Festival (1956), Covent Garden (1961) and the Metropolitan Opera (1964) and Luchino Visconti's 1966 version in Vienna.  A 1982 production by Ronald Eyre, more reflective and melancholy than usual, was staged in Los Angeles, London and Florence Renato Bruson was Falstaff and Giulini conducted.  Among more recent players of the title role Bryn Terfel has taken the part at Covent Garden in 1999, in a production by Graham Vick, conducted by Bernard Haitink.  and at the Metropolitan Opera in a revival of the Zeffirelli production, conducted by James Levine in 2006. 
Although Falstaff has become a regular repertoire work there nonetheless remains a view expressed by John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune in 1985: "Falstaff probably always will fall into the category of 'connoisseur's opera' rather than taking its place as a popular favorite on the order of La traviata or Aida." 
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 9 February 1893  |
(Conductor: Edoardo Mascheroni) 
|Sir John Falstaff, a fat knight||bass-baritone||Victor Maurel|
|Ford, a wealthy man||baritone||Antonio Pini-Corsi|
|Alice Ford, his wife||soprano||Emma Zilli|
|Nannetta, their daughter||soprano||Adelina Stehle|
|Meg Page||mezzo-soprano||Virginia Guerrini|
|Mistress Quickly||contralto||Giuseppina Pasqua|
|Fenton, one of Nannetta's suitors||tenor||Edoardo Garbin|
|Dr Caius||tenor||Giovanni Paroli|
|Bardolfo, a follower of Falstaff||tenor||Paolo Pelagalli-Rossetti|
|Pistola, a follower of Falstaff||bass||Vittorio Arimondi|
|Mine Host of the Garter Inn||silent||Attilio Pulcini|
|Robin, Falstaff's page||silent|
|Chorus of townspeople, Ford's servants, and masqueraders dressed as fairies etc.|
Act 1 Edit
A room at the Garter Inn
Falstaff and his servants, Bardolfo and Pistola, are drinking at the inn. Dr Caius bursts in and accuses Falstaff of burgling his house and Bardolfo of picking his pocket. Falstaff laughs at him he leaves, vowing only to go drinking with honest, sober companions in future. When the innkeeper presents a bill for the wine, Falstaff tells Bardolfo and Pistola that he needs more money, and plans to obtain it by seducing the wives of two rich men, one of whom is Ford. Falstaff hands Bardolfo a love-letter to one of the wives (Alice Ford), and hands Pistola an identical letter addressed to the other (Meg). Bardolfo and Pistola refuse to deliver the letters, claiming that honour prevents them from obeying him. Falstaff loses his temper and rants at them, saying that "honour" is nothing but a word, with no meaning (Monologue: L'onore! Ladri . ! / "Honour! You rogues . !") Brandishing a broom, he chases them out of his sight.
Alice and Meg have received Falstaff's letters. They compare them, see that they are identical and, together with Mistress Quickly and Nannetta Ford, resolve to punish Falstaff. Meanwhile, Bardolfo and Pistola warn Ford of Falstaff's plan. Ford resolves to disguise himself and visit Falstaff and set a trap for him.
A young, handsome fellow called Fenton is in love with Ford's daughter Nannetta, but Ford wants her to marry Dr. Caius, who is wealthy and respected. Fenton and Nannetta enjoy a moment of privacy, but are interrupted by the return of Alice, Meg and Mistress Quickly. The act ends with an ensemble in which the women and the men separately plan revenge on Falstaff, the women gleefully anticipating an enjoyable prank, while the men angrily mutter dire threats.
Act 2 Edit
A room at the Garter Inn
Falstaff is alone at the inn. Bardolfo and Pistola, now in the pay of Ford, enter and beg Falstaff to allow them to re-enter his service, secretly planning to spy on him for Ford. Mistress Quickly enters and tells him that Alice is in love with him and will be alone in Ford's home that afternoon, from two o'clock until three o'clock, just time for an amorous dalliance. Falstaff celebrates his potential success ("Va, vecchio John" / "Go, old Jack, go your own way").
Ford arrives, masquerading as a wealthy stranger, using the false name "Signor Fontana". He tells Falstaff that he is in love with Alice, but she is too virtuous to entertain him. He offers to pay Falstaff to use his impressive title and (alleged) charms to seduce her away from her virtuous convictions, after which he ("Fontana") might have a better chance of seducing her himself. Falstaff, delighted at the prospect of being paid to seduce the wealthy and beautiful woman, agrees, and reveals that he already has a rendezvous arranged with Alice for two o'clock – the hour when Ford is always absent from home. Ford is consumed with jealousy, but conceals his feelings. Falstaff withdraws to a private room to change into his finest clothes, and Ford, left alone, reflects on the evil of an uncertain marriage and vows to have revenge (È sogno o realtà? / "Is it a dream or reality?"). When Falstaff returns in his finery, they leave together with elaborate displays of mutual courtesy.
A room in Ford's house
The three women plot their strategy ("Gaie Comari di Windsor" / "Merry wives of Windsor, the time has come!"). Alice notices that Nannetta is too unhappy and anxious to share their gleeful anticipation. This is because Ford plans to marry her to Dr Caius, a man old enough to be her grandfather the women reassure her that they will prevent it. Mistress Quickly announces Falstaff's arrival, and Mistress Ford has a large laundry basket and a screen placed in readiness. Falstaff attempts to seduce Alice with tales of his past youth and glory ("Quand'ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk" / "When I was page to the Duke of Norfolk I was slender"). Mistress Quickly rushes in, shouting that Ford has returned home unexpectedly with a retinue of henchmen to catch his wife's lover. Falstaff hides first behind the screen, but realizes that Ford will likely look for him there. The women urge him to hide in the laundry basket, which he does. In the meantime Fenton and Nannetta hide behind the screen for another moment of privacy. Ford and his men storm in and search for Falstaff, and hear the sound of Fenton and Nannetta kissing behind the screen. They assume it is Falstaff with Alice, but instead they find the young lovers. Ford orders Fenton to leave. Badly cramped and almost suffocating in the laundry hamper, Falstaff moans with discomfort while the men resume the search of the house. Alice orders her servants to throw the laundry basket through the window into the River Thames, where Falstaff endures the jeers of the crowd. Ford, seeing that Alice had never intended to betray him, smiles happily.
Act 3 Edit
Falstaff, cold and discouraged, glumly curses the sorry state of the world. Some mulled wine soon improves his mood. Mistress Quickly arrives and delivers another invitation to meet Alice. Falstaff at first wants nothing to do with it, but she persuades him. He is to meet Alice at midnight at Herne's Oak in Windsor Great Park dressed up as the ghost of Herne the Hunter who, according to local superstition, haunts the area near the tree, and appears there at midnight with a band of supernatural spirits. He and Mistress Quickly go inside the inn. Ford has realized his error in suspecting his wife, and they and their allies have been watching secretly. They now concoct a plan for Falstaff's punishment: dressed as supernatural creatures, they will ambush and torment him at midnight. Ford draws Dr. Caius aside and privately proposes a separate plot to marry him to Nannetta: Nannetta will be disguised as Queen of the Fairies, Caius will wear a monk's costume, and Ford will join the two of them with a nuptial blessing. Mistress Quickly overhears and quietly vows to thwart Ford's scheme.
Herne's Oak in Windsor Park on a moonlit midnight
Fenton arrives at the oak tree and sings of his happiness ("Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola" / "From my lips, a song of ecstasy flies") ending with "Lips that are kissed lose none of their allure." Nannetta enters to finish the line with "Indeed, they renew it, like the moon." The women arrive and disguise Fenton as a monk, telling him that they have arranged to spoil Ford's and Caius's plans. Nannetta, as the Fairy Queen, instructs her helpers ("Sul fil d'un soffio etesio" / "On the breath of a fragrant breeze, fly, nimble spirits") before all the characters arrive on the scene. Falstaff's attempted love scene with Alice is interrupted by the announcement that witches are approaching, and the men, disguised as elves and fairies, soundly thrash Falstaff. In the middle of the beating, he recognizes Bardolfo in disguise. The joke is over, and Falstaff acknowledges that he has received his due. Ford announces that a wedding shall ensue. Caius and the Queen of the Fairies enter. A second couple, also in masquerade, ask Ford to deliver the same blessing for them as well. Ford conducts the double ceremony. Caius finds that instead of Nannetta, his bride is the disguised Bardolfo, and Ford has unwittingly blessed the marriage of Fenton and Nannetta. Ford accepts the fait accompli with good grace. Falstaff, pleased to find himself not the only dupe, proclaims that all the world is folly, and all are figures of fun (Tutto nel mondo è burla . Tutti gabbati. Ma ride ben chi ride La risata final. / "Everything in the world is a jest . but he laughs well who laughs the final laugh"). The entire company repeats his proclamation in a bewildering ten-voice fugue.
Verdi scored Falstaff for three flutes (third doubling piccolo), two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, four trombones, timpani, percussion (triangle, cymbals, bass drum), harp, and strings. In addition, a guitar, natural horn, and bell are heard from offstage.  Unlike most of Verdi's earlier operatic scores, Falstaff is through-composed. No list of numbers is printed in the published full score.  The score differs from much of Verdi's earlier work by having no overture: there are seven bars for the orchestra before the first voice (Dr Caius) enters.  The critic Rodney Milnes comments that "enjoyment . shines from every bar in its irresistible forward impulse, its effortless melody, its rhythmic vitality, and sureness of dramatic pace and construction."  In The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Roger Parker writes that:
the listener is bombarded by a stunning diversity of rhythms, orchestral textures, melodic motifs and harmonic devices. Passages that in earlier times would have furnished material for an entire number here crowd in on each other, shouldering themselves unceremoniously to the fore in bewildering succession. 
The opera was described by its creators as a commedia lirica. [n 10] McDonald commented in 2009 that Falstaff is very different – a stylistic departure – from Verdi's earlier work.  In McDonald's view most of the musical expression is in the dialogue, and there is only one traditional aria.  The result is that "such stylistic economy – more sophisticated, more challenging than he had employed before – is the keynote of the work." McDonald argues that consciously or unconsciously, Verdi was developing the idiom that would come to dominate the music of the 20th century: "the lyricism is abbreviated, glanced at rather than indulged. Melodies bloom suddenly and then vanish, replaced by contrasting tempo or an unexpected phrase that introduces another character or idea".  In McDonald's view the orchestral writing acts as a sophisticated commentator on the action.  It has influenced at least one of Verdi's operatic successors: in 1952 Imogen Holst, musical assistant to Benjamin Britten, wrote, after a performance of Falstaff, "I realised for the first time how much Ben owes to [Verdi]. There are orchestral bits which are just as funny to listen to as the comic instrumental bits in A. Herring!" 
The extent to which Falstaff is a "Shakespearian" opera has often been debated by critics. Although the action is taken from The Merry Wives of Windsor, some commentators feel that Boito and Verdi have transmuted Shakespeare's play into a wholly Italian work. The soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf believed there was nothing English or Shakespearian about the comedy: "it was all done through the music".  In 1961 Peter Heyworth wrote in The Observer, "Because of Shakespeare we like to think of Falstaff as a work that has a certain Englishness. In fact the opera is no more English than Aida is Egyptian. Boito and Verdi between them transformed the fat knight into one of the archetypes of opera buffa."  Verdi himself, however, felt that the Falstaff of the opera is not a conventional Italian buffo character, but portrays Shakespeare's fuller, more ambiguous Falstaff of the Henry IV plays: "My Falstaff is not merely the hero of The Merry Wives of Windsor, who is simply a buffoon, and allows himself to be tricked by the women, but also the Falstaff of the two parts of Henry IV. Boito has written the libretto in accordance."  A contemporary critic argued that the text "imitated with marvellous accuracy the metre and rhythm of Shakespeare's verse",  but Hepokoski notes Boito's use of traditional Italian metric conventions. [n 11]
Another recurrent question is how much, if at all, Verdi was influenced by Wagner's comic opera Die Meistersinger. At the time of the premiere this was a sensitive subject many Italians were suspicious of or hostile to Wagner's music, and were protective in a nationalistic way of Verdi's reputation.  Nevertheless, Verdi's new style was markedly different from that of his popular works of the 1850s and 1860s, and it seemed to some to have Wagnerian echoes.  In 1999 the critic Andrew Porter wrote, "That Falstaff was Verdi's and Boito's answer to Wagner's Meistersinger seems evident now. But the Italian Falstaff moves more quickly."  Toscanini, who did more than anyone else to bring Falstaff into the regular operatic repertoire, commented:
the difference between Falstaff, which is the absolute masterpiece, and Die Meistersinger, which is an outstanding Wagnerian opera. Just think for a moment how many musical means – beautiful ones, certainly – Wagner must make use of to describe the Nuremberg night. And look how Verdi gets a similarly startling effect at a similar moment with three notes. 
Verdi scholars including Julian Budden have analysed the music in symphonic terms – the opening section "a perfect little sonata movement", the second act concluding with a variant of the classic slow concertante ensemble leading to a fast stretto, and the whole opera ending with "the most academic of musical forms", a fugue.  Milnes suggests that this shows "a wise old conservative's warning about the excesses of the verismo school of Italian opera" already on the rise by the 1890s.  Among the solo numbers woven into the continuous score are Falstaff's "honour" monologue, which concludes the first scene, and his reminiscent arietta ("Quand'ero paggio") about himself as a young page.  The young lovers, Nannetta and Fenton, are given a lyrical and playful duet ("Labbra di foco") in Act I  in Act III, Fenton's impassioned love song, "Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola" briefly becomes a duet when Nannetta joins him.  She then has the last substantial solo section of the score, the "fairy" aria, "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio", described by Parker as "yet another aria suffused with the soft orchestral colours that characterize this scene". 
The score is seen by the critic Richard Osborne as rich in self-parody, with sinister themes from Rigoletto and Un ballo in maschera transmuted into comedy. For Osborne the nocturnal music of Act III draws on the examples of Weber, Berlioz and Mendelssohn, creating a mood akin to that of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Osborne views the whole opera as an ensemble piece, and he comments that grand soliloquy in the old Verdian style is reserved for Ford's "jealousy" aria in Act II, which is almost tragic in style but comic in effect, making Ford "a figure to be laughed at."  Osborne concludes his analysis, "Falstaff is comedy's musical apogee: the finest opera, inspired by the finest dramatist, by the finest opera composer the world has known". 
There are two early recordings of Falstaff's short arietta "Quand'ero paggio". Pini Corsi, the original Ford, recorded it in 1904, and Maurel followed in 1907.  The first recording of the complete opera was made by Italian Columbia in March and April 1932. It was conducted by Lorenzo Molajoli with the chorus and orchestra of La Scala, and a cast including Giacomo Rimini as Falstaff and Pia Tassinari as Alice.  Some live stage performances were recorded in the 1930s, but the next studio recording was that conducted by Arturo Toscanini for the 1950 NBC radio broadcast released on disc by RCA Victor. The first stereophonic recording was conducted by Herbert von Karajan for EMI in 1956. 
How the murders of two elderly Jewish women shook France
Two killings in Paris, one year apart, have inflamed the bitter French debate over antisemitism, race and religion.
Last modified on Sat 23 Feb 2019 22.07 GMT
T he body landed in the courtyard, not far from the building’s bins. Shortly before 5am on 4 April 2017, a 65-year-old woman was hurled from the third-floor balcony of a social housing project in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, a rapidly gentrifying area on the eastern side of the French capital. An hour earlier, that same woman – a retired doctor and kindergarten teacher – had been asleep in the small apartment where she had lived for the past 30 years. When she woke up, she saw the face of her 27-year-old neighbour in the darkness. The man, who still lived with his family on the building’s second floor, had first stormed into another apartment, whose tenants had locked themselves in a bedroom and called the police. By the time he climbed up the fire escape into his victim’s apartment, three officers were present in the building.
The autopsy would later reveal that the woman’s skull had been crushed, most likely with the telephone on her bedside table. Before and after his victim lost consciousness, the assailant beat her until the nightgown she was wearing – white, with a blue floral pattern – was soaked with her blood. He then dragged her body to the balcony of the apartment, and threw her over the railing – exactly the same way, he told prosecutors, as John Travolta does in The Punisher, the film he had been watching before the attack. “I killed the sheitan!” he yelled from the balcony, according to testimonies given by neighbours. “Sheitan” is an Arabic word for “devil”. Neighbours heard him repeatedly chant “Allahu Akbar”.
The victim was Lucie Attal, an Orthodox Jewish woman who sometimes used the name Lucie Attal-Halimi. The perpetrator, who confessed to the crime, was Kobili Traoré, a Franco-Malian Muslim. He later told authorities he knew that his victim was Jewish. According to her family, Attal had long felt afraid of Traoré. Her brother, William Attal, told me that Traoré had verbally abused her in the building’s elevator, and she had said she would only feel safe if he were in prison. In fact, Kobili Traoré may never go to prison for the killing: he has been in psychiatric detention since the night of the crime, and a French judge could rule that he is mentally unfit to stand trial.
In the immediate aftermath of Attal’s death, there was virtually no public discussion of her killing. With the upcoming presidential election dominating headlines, the defenestration of a Jewish woman in the 11th arrondissement of Paris was treated by the mainstream French press as a fait divers, the term used to describe a minor news story, which led to considerable outcry in the Jewish community. But after the victory of Emmanuel Macron, the case returned to the forefront, becoming a new frontline in France’s culture wars, among the most explosive in Europe.
The French Republic is founded on a strict universalism, which seeks to transcend – or, depending on your viewpoint, efface – particularity in the name of equality among citizens. In a nation that tends to discourage identity politics as “communautaire” and therefore hostile to national cohesion, the state not only frowns on hyphenated identities, but does not even officially recognise race either as a formal category or a lived experience. Since 1978, it has been illegal in France to collect census data on ethnic or religious difference, on the grounds that these categories could be manipulated for racist political ends.
But eliminating race did not eliminate racism or racist violence. In the case of Lucie Attal, the inescapable fact of the matter is that a Muslim killed a Jew in a society where those distinctions are supposed to be irrelevant. More than a year after the fact, exactly how to label Attal’s death remains a matter of bitter, and perhaps unresolvable, debate. To examine the case is to examine the fractures of the French Republic, the contradictions in the stories a nation tells itself.
Traoré has vehemently denied that antisemitism played a role in his crime, claiming instead that he acted in the throes of a psychotic episode triggered by cannabis. But for William Attal, the only way to understand his sister’s death is as an act of antisemitic violence. “He knew very clearly that Judaism was the motor of her life, that she had all the external signs of Jewishness,” Attal said. When we met in a cafe in the Paris suburb of Nogent-sur-Marne, he wore an anonymous red baseball cap instead of anything that might identify him as Jewish. “We have the obligation to cover the head, but we do not have the obligation to wear a kippa,” he said. “Understand?”
In February 2018, after considerable public outcry from Jewish organisations, who accused the criminal justice system of a cover-up, a French judge added the element of antisemitism to the charges against Traoré. But the case is far from closed. In July 2018, a second court-ordered psychiatric examination declared that the perpetrator was not of sound mind and was unfit to stand trial a third examination is forthcoming. If he cannot be held accountable for his actions, Traoré cannot, legally speaking, be said to have had a motive. There is the possibility that Attal will have officially died in a random act of violence, as if she had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
During the months of confusion, indecision and silence that followed the killing, people from every side of France’s political debate seized upon the case as evidence of whatever position they already held. In time, the story of Lucie Attal would become the inspiration for any number of politicised narratives, hardly any of which took into account the woman who had died, or even her actual name.
O n 10 April – one week after the killing and three weeks before the presidential election’s first round – Marine Le Pen sat down for an interview with the newspaper Le Figaro. Two days earlier, Le Pen had shocked much of the country by claiming that the Vichy government’s participation in the Holocaust “was not France” and insisting that France was “not responsible” for the so-called Vel d’Hiv roundup of Parisian Jews in 1942. It was time, she said, for the French to be “proud to be French again”.
The Vel d’Hiv roundup ranks among the darkest days in modern French history, and is known even to schoolchildren as a synonym for national shame. On 16 July 1942, approximately 13,000 Jews were arrested and detained in the now-demolished Vélodrome d’Hiver racing arena in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. From there, they were deported to Nazi concentration camps. Few of the deportees ever returned. What lingers in public consciousness is this: it was French police officers who carried out this assault on their fellow citizens, not their Nazi occupiers.
Pressing Le Pen on her Vel d’Hiv comments, the journalist from Le Figaro asked how she would respond to the condemnations her remarks had elicited from Jewish groups and the state of Israel. For the daughter of a convicted Holocaust denier trying to “de-demonise” her party, these kind of questions risked giving Le Pen precisely the kind of publicity she was desperate to avoid. So she changed the subject.
Marine Le Pen. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters
“What I’d rather we talk about is Islamist antisemitism,” Le Pen said. She had an anecdote ready. “Several days ago, a 61-year-old woman was thrown, defenestrated from the third floor, because she was Jewish. She was threatened and called a ‘dirty Jew’ by her neighbour, for several days – and that we never talk about.”
During a presidential election campaign that revolved around questions of national identity, Le Pen became the first public figure to discuss the killing of Attal. Yet Le Pen did not mention Attal by name, and she was wrong about her age. During the interview, Le Pen’s Twitter account mentioned that the victim – again unnamed – had been 70. In fact, she had been 65, but the details about the actual woman who had been killed were never the point.
On one level, Le Pen’s rhetorical pivot to “Islamist antisemitism” was an attempt to distance herself from her party’s history of Holocaust denial and to court Jewish voters anxious about the rise of Islamist terrorism. But for Le Pen, the killing of Attal – even before any of the details were known – served a much broader purpose. It was perhaps the most emotive example of what had been the Front National’s underlying message throughout the campaign, and which of late had trickled into the mainstream right: that the French Republic and Islam were fundamentally incompatible.
O n 10 July, Kobili Traoré was formally interviewed by the judge investigating the case. Three months earlier, on the night of the crime, he had been taken into custody, and police discovered that he already had a considerable criminal record, having served time for aggravated violence and drug dealing. But when police tested him that night, the toxicology report showed a high level of cannabis in his bloodstream, and his behaviour was erratic enough that he was immediately sent to a psychiatric hospital. There he was examined by a respected psychiatrist, Daniel Zagury, who concluded that he was not of sound mind and was therefore not in a fit state to be interviewed by prosecutors. In the months that followed, Traoré remained in the hospital, under warrant but without being formally charged.
When the investigative judge finally interviewed Traoré in July, the young man insisted that antisemitism had not been his motive. “I have never had problems with Jews before,” Traoré said. He claimed that the killing had happened during a bout of temporary insanity. On the night of 4 April he had been with a friend, he said, watching The Punisher. Before turning on the television, the two had gone to evening prayers at the Omar mosque in the rue Morand, according to an investigative account by the French journalist Noémie Halioua. (Mohammed Hammami, that mosque’s former imam, was expelled from France in 2012, when Traoré was a teenager, for having allegedly incited hatred in sermons.) Traoré, who by all accounts was not a particularly observant Muslim, told the judge that he and a friend had gone to pray that night because he had not been feeling well. “I was feeling like I’d been oppressed by an exterior force,” he said in his interview, according to the transcript. “A demonic force.”
The young man defined that “demonic force” as a kind of delirium over which he had no control, induced by the several joints he had smoked. (According to Le Monde, Traoré smoked between 10 and 15 joints a day.) Asked why he had entered Attal’s apartment, he had no answer: “I still do not know,” he said. “It could have fallen on anyone – the Diarras, my family,” Traoré claimed, referring to the family whose apartment he had first entered, before climbing up from their balcony to the apartment of the woman he killed. Yet “it” did not fall on anyone else it fell on Lucie Attal.
At one point in Traoré’s interview with prosecutors, he was interrogated about what he had said at the scene of the crime.
Investigator: Your family heard, and your sister and your mother have confirmed that you were not feeling well and that you were repeating “Sheitan, sheitan.” What does that mean?
Traoré: It’s “the demon”, in Arabic.
Investigator: Do you speak Arabic?
Investigator: Doesn’t it seem bizarre that you would designate [Attal] as the devil in a language you don’t speak?
In Zagury’s report, seen by Le Monde, the psychiatrist concluded that it was unlikely the killing was a premeditated antisemitic hate crime. However, the psychiatrist saw plenty of antisemitic mechanisms at work, including Traoré’s own confessions that he had somehow been triggered by the Torah and the menorah he saw in Attal’s apartment.
In his report, Zagury pointed out that the particular form delirious episodes take is always shaped by “society’s atmosphere and world events”. “Today, it is common to observe, during delirious episodes among subjects of the Muslim religion, an antisemitic theme: the Jew is on the side of evil, the evil one,” he wrote. “What is normally a prejudice turns into delirious hatred.”
This, he concluded, is precisely what happened once Traoré broke into Attal’s apartment. “The fact that she was Jewish immediately demonised her, and amplified his delusional experience … and caused the barbaric surge of which she was the unfortunate victim.”
L ucie Attal’s apartment block – No 30, rue de Vaucouleurs – is a classic habitation à loyer modéré, or HLM, one of the many social housing projects developed in this part of Paris in the early 1980s to provide residents, many of them immigrants, with affordable housing in a fairly central location. In recent years, the neighbourhood has become the kind of place where trendy cafes, natural wine bars and experimental restaurants with months-long waiting lists seem to anchor every block.
A squat, angular structure plastered with grimy grey tiles on a short, treeless street, the apartment block is as far as central Paris gets from 19th-century grandeur. But the rue de Vaucouleurs is hardly an example of the “social and ethnic territorial apartheid” decried by then prime minister Manuel Valls in January 2015, as he lamented the rise of homegrown Islamist extremism following the Charlie Hebdo attack. It is also a remarkably diverse neighbourhood, which appears at first glance to be a testament to the success of the French social model of integration, not its failures. Local residents describe a far more complex reality than often appears in public discussions of the killing.
One of Attal’s neighbours, Faim Mohamed, 50, told me he had lived in the building since 1997. “Life was cool,” he said, insisting that the only tensions he has ever felt came after Attal’s death, not before. “Since the murder, everyone is suspicious. They’re worried if someone is following them when they enter the building.”
Another man, from Morocco, who declined to give his name, was Attal’s neighbour on the third floor. I met him as he was bringing in groceries one afternoon, and his eyes filled with tears when I asked him if he knew the woman who had been killed. “She was someone who was very good,” he said, adding that she had designated him her “Shabbos goy”, because he would do little household tasks for her on Shabbat that she could not do for herself. He said he had been on vacation when the killing happened, visiting family in Morocco. “If I were there, I would have intervened. But I was not,” he said. A Muslim himself, he was adamant on one point: “A Muslim would not do this.”
Sarah Halimi AKA Lucie Attal, who was killed at her home in Paris in 2017. Photograph: Confederation of French Jews and the friends of Israel
But one reason the case became so notorious is that it fit into what has become a common narrative. France is the only country in Europe where Jews are periodically murdered for being Jewish. No fewer than 12 Jews have been killed in France in six separate incidents since 2003: Sébastien Selam, Ilan Halimi, Jonathan Sandler, Gabriel Sandler, Aryeh Sandler, Myriam Monsonégo, Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, François-Michel Saada, Yoav Hattab, Lucie Attal and Mireille Knoll.
In each of these cases, at least one of the perpetrators was from what the French call minorités visibles, or “visible minorities”, which typically refers to those of north African or west African descent in most cases, the perpetrators have been linked with some form of extremist Islam. In nearly every case, the victims have been either identifiably Jewish or personal acquaintances of the perpetrator. Almost all perpetrators and victims have been lower middle-class, residing in the same diverse neighbourhoods, the same streets, or even the same buildings.
In 2006, for instance, there was the notorious murder of Ilan Halimi, in which the so-called “Gang des barbares” – a band of French-born children of Muslim immigrants from west Africa and north Africa – lured the 23-year-old Halimi, who sold mobile phones off the boulevard Voltaire, on a date with a pretty girl. They had hoped to extract €450,000 in ransom money from Halimi’s parents, whom they assumed to be rich because they were Jews. But the Halimis lived in Bagneaux, the same low-income banlieue as the gang members themselves. Ilan Halimi was imprisoned and tortured in the basement of a public housing project for three weeks. He was found on the train tracks in Sainte Geneviève de Bois, to the south of Paris, his body naked and burned.
For Rachid Benzine, a scholar of Islam and a well-known French public commentator, these killings are best understood in the context of what he calls postcolonial antisemitism. “For me, this is a holdover from the colonisation of Algeria, linked to the treatment of Algerian Jews compared with Muslim natives,” he said. In 1870, for instance, the so-called Crémieux decree secured full French citizenship for all Jewish subjects residing in Algeria, whereas Arab Muslims remained under the infamous code de l’indigénat, which stipulated an inferior legal status, essentially until 1962. The legal disparity continued even after Algeria won independence, when hundreds of thousands of former colonial subjects from North Africa continued to arrive in metropolitan France. Jews like the Attal family, originally from the Algerian city of Constantine, arrived in France as citizens. Muslims, however, had to apply to the government for the privilege of citizenship.
Benzine also noted “the unfortunate reality that the Palestinian tragedy fuels the perception among many Muslims that we somehow have the Jews of France to blame”. Another factor, he said, is the so-called concurrence des mémoires. “We have this competition of who’s suffering most,” Benzine said. Many French citizens of west African origin, for instance, argue that while the French state has invested fully in preserving the memory of the Holocaust, it has made little effort to preserve the memory of slavery. “The disparity is a fact, and it’s true that many black people say, ‘look what they do for Jewish people, and there’s nothing for us,’” Louis-Georges Tin, an activist and the former director of the Representative Council of France’s Black Associations (CRAN), told me recently. Paris is home to one of the world’s premier Holocaust museums and research centres, and a black plaque adorns the façade of nearly every building in the city from which a Jewish child was deported during the second world war. All that commemorates slavery in Paris, the capital of a former slave-trading nation, are two small nondescript statues. The only museum that documents this history is in the overseas department of Guadeloupe, nearly 7,000km from mainland France.
But the concurrence des mémoires has also become a trope in contemporary French antisemitism, with those such as the Franco-Cameroonian “comedian” Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala engaging in Holocaust denial supposedly as a means of attacking “Jewish power” and insulting what they see as establishment narrative of the past. Tin said he could understand that frustration, but not its expression. “The anger should not be targeted toward Jewish people,” he said, “but against the state.”
T he battle over antisemitism in contemporary France often comes down to a war of words. Few would dispute the existence or even the virulence of antisemitism. According to statistics announced by the prime minister, Edouard Philippe, on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht earlier this month, antisemitic incidents in France have increased by 69% in the first nine months of 2018. Among those incidents were the torching of two kosher shops in the Paris suburbs and a Jewish teenager being slashed in the face with a utility knife. For Philippe, this significance of the problem is not up for discussion: “Every aggression perpetrated against one of our fellow citizens because they are Jewish resounds like a new shattering of glass,” the prime minister wrote. But when it comes to naming the perpetrators, or labelling particular acts, this certitude collapses. Much of the French government and the French press can seem at a loss for words.
For many on the political right, antisemitism is essentially a straightforward problem, which the left strategically ignores, downplays or denies. “It’s very simple,” Alain Finkielkraut, one of France’s most prominent public intellectuals, told me earlier this year. “The new antisemitism is an import. It comes to us from the exterior. It’s among the gifts, the contributions, of immigration to French society.” (This is not entirely accurate: if the perpetrators in antisemitic crimes are often from immigrant backgrounds, they are almost always also French citizens, a distinction often lost in the public debate.)
Finkielkraut, now 69, is himself the son of immigrants, Polish Jews who came to France to escape persecution and who eluded the roundups of the early 1940s. A member of the Académie française, France’s most elite literary circle, he is now something of a public contrarian, a former leftist who uses his bestselling books and radio presence to bemoan what he sees as a nation in inexorable decline. What particularly aggravates Finkielkraut and his conservative allies about the debate around antisemitism in France is what they see as a widespread refusal to “name the problem” – that is, to declare unambiguously that the primary threat to France’s Jews comes from France’s Muslims.
For much of the left, this amounts to a dangerously crude generalisation about France’s largest minority group, which itself is the target of a constant stream of hateful rhetoric, from the covers of Charlie Hebdo to the regular pronouncements of sitting members of the French government. Muslims, too, are frequent victims of hate crimes. In June 2018, French authorities thwarted a rightwing plot to kill veiled women, imams and other Muslims at a network of halal groceries, mosques and community centres across France. Authorities have charged a group of 10 conspirators – one woman and nine men – for terrorist activity the alleged ringleader was a former police officer.
Cécile Alduy, a scholar who has written extensively on political rhetoric, puts the question this way: “How can you denounce a ‘new’ form of antisemitism that would be perpetuated only by Muslims, without targeting all Muslims as a threat to society?”
Even the phrase “the new antisemitism” is contested. If the old antisemitism was associated with France’s Catholic far right, which has hardly disappeared, the “new antisemitism” is today used almost exclusively to describe Muslim hatred of Jews. In that sense, many on the left believe that “naming the problem” actually makes it worse, enshrining difference in a society that officially recognises none, and repeating the kind of racial stereotypes that only exacerbate social divisions. But others, both on the right and in the Jewish community, ask whether Attal and the other French Jews who have been killed since 2003 are collateral damage in an egalitarian social project that was always doomed to fail. They often decry what they call “ostrich politics”, what they see as the wilful blindness of the left with regard to Islam.
One conservative I spoke to, the Jewish historian Georges Bensoussan, echoed this point. He has been embroiled in a debate about racism and Islamophobia since 2015, when, in the course of a heated debate on a radio show hosted by Finkielkraut a month before the Paris attacks, he said: “In Arab families in France – and everyone knows it but no one wants to say it – antisemitism is something babies drink in with their mothers’ milk.” Under France’s stringent hate speech laws, a number of claimants charged Bensoussan with inciting racial hatred by using reductive blanket statements. He was acquitted in March 2017 – one month before Attal’s death – but during the period that French authorities were struggling with how, exactly, to label the killing, the Bensoussan trial was constant point of reference.
For Bensoussan, his recent trial was “a symptom of the much larger problem, the hesitation to acknowledge the truth”. He noted that despite the persistence of antisemitism among Front National members and supporters, “none of the antisemitic murders we’ve seen [in France in recent years] have been committed by the extreme right. All were perpetrated by Muslims, even as most journalists continue to blame the extreme right.”
Bensoussan is correct that mainstream media outlets refrained from emphasizing the Muslim background of Kobili Traoré, but it is hardly the case that they blamed the far right. It is also hard to defend the claim that French Muslims are somehow spared public scrutiny. To take one example, what Muslim women wear outside their homes has been among the most frequently debated questions in France over recent years. Meanwhile, political rhetoric around Islam has become increasingly extreme. Nearly every major candidate for the French presidency in 2017 had an official position on Islam, and Emmanuel Macron is still slated to announce a proposal to “reform” the practice of Islam in France.
When it comes to antisemitism, members of the French government have emphasised that they find themselves in something of an impossible situation: ensuring the safety of certain citizens while preventing the collective demonisation of others. The state takes the security threat very seriously, dispatching heavily armed reserve officers to guard nearly every major Jewish school, temple and community centre in the country. But for politicians, finding the right words to describe this situation remains acutely difficult.
“To identify the phenomenon and to understand the different ways it works is not the same thing as identifying potential authors of future attacks. We should pay real attention to the Muslims who feel stigmatised by this,” Frédéric Potier, the head of the French government’s interministerial delegation against racism and antisemitism, told me recently. “You have to pay very close attention to the words you choose, and how you say them. But at the same time, we have to say something.”
O n 16 July 2017, France’s new president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech at a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, speaking at length about France’s complicity in Nazi crimes. Standing alongside his invited guest, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Macron then turned to the present day, mentioning the name of the woman whose case Jewish groups and public intellectuals had, for months, been citing as the latest example of France’s indifference to antisemitism. But the name he used was not Lucie Attal.
“Despite the denials of the murderer, judicial officials must now search for full clarity on the death of Sarah Halimi,” Macron said. Calling her “Sarah Halimi” was not a novel choice. Ever since the killing first made headlines, that had been the name most commonly used to identify the victim. Yet Sarah Halimi was not necessarily the way she was known to her family, or in official documents. “Sarah” was Lucie Attal’s Hebrew name, while the surname “Halimi” came from her former husband, Yaacov Halimi, a psychologist she had divorced decades earlier.
How the woman known in her lifetime as Lucie Attal became Sarah Halimi after she died is a detail no one can quite explain. But the name only intensified the symbolic resonance of her case. The name “Sarah” happens to be the label the Nazis uniformly used to identify their female Jewish victims, who were stripped of their individuality along with their lives. “Halimi” also carried its own grim associations. In 2006, the torture and murder of Ilan Halimi became a national scandal, not only because of the brutality of the crime, but also because French authorities at the time had initially refused to acknowledge that his killers had antisemitic motivations.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Emmanuel Macron mark the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, Paris, July 2017. Photograph: Stephane Mahe/EPA
Thus, by the summer of 2017, Sarah Halimi had come to be seen by many as a new Ilan Halimi, the latest victim not only of Islamist antisemitism but also of government silence, and possibly even indifference. “I think ‘Sarah Halimi’ was the most resonant for the Jewish community, the most Jewish name,” Haïm Korsia, France’s chief rabbi, told me. “For some, the recurrence of the two names was striking.”
Gilles-William Goldnadel, the lawyer for Attal’s family and a well-known hardline rightwing columnist, disputes that the association between his client and Ilan Halimi was a calculated political move. But he acknowledges that names can be powerful public symbols. “We can consider that ‘Sarah Halimi’ is the name of the syndrome for the ideological reticence to recognise reality,” he said when we met in his office earlier this year.
Like Ilan Halimi before her, Sarah Halimi soon became less a real human being and more a metaphor put to use in France’s culture wars. In most accounts, she was portrayed without nuance or individuality. In April 2018, Sarah Halimi – rather than Lucie Attal – became the centrepiece of a widely publicised book entitled Le Nouvel Antisémitisme en France, a collection of essays by prominent journalists and public intellectuals. “We have to ask ourselves if her death was only an accident or whether it testifies to the spirit of the times,” says the preface. Again, the allusion to the earlier Halimi case was clear: “Such a convergence of silences will have represented a perfect model of public denial.”
O f all the events on the Parisian social calendar, none quite compares to the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, or Crif. Not merely a gathering of Jewish leaders or a chance to take a selfie with the aging Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, the dinner is a gathering of virtually everyone who matters in French public life, including nearly every sitting government minister. Although the main event is always an address by the French president, the point of the evening is to demonstrate that even the most universalist of republics can recognise that its citizens have their particular attachments.
In keeping with Macron’s taste for setting and spectacle, the first Crif dinner of his presidency, on 7 March 2018, was held beneath the Louvre pyramid. Once again, Macron used the Attal case to show he took the issue of contemporary antisemitism seriously. “I took a stand by calling for the justice department to make clear the antisemitic dimension of Sarah Halimi’s murder,” he said, not without a tone of self-congratulation.
By that point, the Paris prosecutor, François Molins, had ultimately decided to consider the killing as antisemitic. In his speech, Macron did not go on to discuss the Attal case in any more detail, falling back on abstract platitudes: “We must never falter, we will never falter, in the denunciation of antisemitism and in the fight against this scourge.”
But two weeks later, on 23 March 2018, Mireille Knoll, 85, another elderly Jewish woman – and a survivor of the Vel d’Hiv roundup – was stabbed 11 times in her apartment and left to burn in a failed arson attempt.
The similarities to the Attal case were immediately striking. Knoll also lived alone in a public housing project in the 11th arrondissement. Authorities later confirmed that one of her alleged assailants was also a neighbour, also a young man in his late 20s, and also a Muslim, this time of north African heritage. Members of Knoll’s family later confirmed that she had known the young man, identified as Yacine Mihoub, since he was a boy and that he had been in her apartment drinking port and chatting with Knoll earlier on the day of the murder. Mihoub was a known alcoholic with a history of psychiatric problems, but he had long enjoyed a good relationship with his elderly neighbour. Knoll’s daughter-in-law, Jovinda, told me that in years past, when her mother-in-law was unwell, Mihoub had helped her “a lot”. “He was the one who’d helped put her to bed,” she said.
The news of Knoll’s death broke the next day, via a small item in Le Parisien noting that an 85-year-old woman had died in a “mysterious fire”. The day after that, on Sunday 25 March, two things happened that transformed a small fire in eastern Paris into a national scandal. The first was Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo announcing on Twitter that the victim had been a Holocaust survivor. The second was a Facebook post by Meyer Habib, a confidante of Benjamin Netanyahu’s and a rightwing member of the French parliament. Before authorities had released any information about the identities of the killers, Habib cast Knoll as a victim of “the barbarism of an Islamist”. He then situated her killing in the context of France’s recent struggle with Islamist terrorism. “It’s the same barbarism that killed several Jewish children in Toulouse, slit the throat of a priest in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray or a gendarme officer in Trèbes,” Habib wrote. The Trèbes attack, in which four people were killed by a terrorist, including the gendarme Arnaud Beltrame, happened on the same day as Knoll’s killing and was still receiving wall-to-wall coverage on all major networks.
Knoll’s family, meanwhile, had also retained Gilles-William Goldnadel as their lawyer. He immediately sought to link the two alleged perpetrators: “The two are Muslims who attacked with barbarity women who haven’t done anything,” he told me at the time.
This time, the French state’s response was different. By midday on 26 March, François Molins announced that the Paris prosecutor’s office would investigate the death of Mireille Knoll as an act of antisemitic violence. On 28 March, Macron went even further, closing the investigation in the court of public opinion: Knoll, he said, “was murdered because she was Jewish”.
In the days and weeks that followed the killing, there emerged a string of facts that did nothing to undermine the cruel intimacy of Knoll’s killing, but that did complicate the motive long since ascribed to her alleged murderer – especially the allegation of “Islamist” antisemitism. For starters, Knoll had two assailants, the second of whom, Alex Carrimbacus, was neither Muslim nor of North African origin. Second, Mihoub had no links to any jihadist organisation. In much of the French press, he has been treated as the principal suspect, although both he and and Carrimbacus have since accused the other of having committed the actual murder, while each claiming to have only acted as the other’s accomplice. Both are currently in prison, awaiting the conclusions of an ongoing investigation.
Further complicating matters was the story that emerged about Mihoub’s personal history with Knoll. In February 2017, Mihoub was imprisoned for having sexually assaulted the 12-year-old daughter of Knoll’s live-in carer. Mihoub was released from prison in September 2017 on a suspended sentence, and Carrimbacus, who he had met in jail, later told a panel of investigative judges that Mihoub was out for revenge, a claim authorities have not corroborated. “He told her: ‘You will pay, I wasn’t at the burial of my sister’,” Carrimbacus reportedly said. But revenge seems an unlikely motive, as Knoll had never filed a complaint against him it was Knoll’s carer, the child’s mother, who filed the complaint that ultimately landed Mihoub in prison.
Even if Mihoub did kill Knoll out of some form of revenge, under the influence of alcohol, there may still have been an element of antisemitism to the act – what Zagury, the psychiatrist in the Attal case, interpreted as the tragic influence of “society’s atmosphere and world events”. One of Knoll’s sons, Daniel, believes there was, saying that the authorities would not have investigated the case as such if they did not have some evidence along those lines. In his interview with the judges, Carrimbacus also reportedly said that Mihoub had antisemitic motivations and had screamed “Allahu Akbar” during the attack – an allegation widely reported in the French press as fact, despite the dubious source. Mihoub’s lawyer, Fabrice de Korodi, vehemently denies the charge, claiming that Carrimbacus was trying to shift the blame. “The one motive that we can be sure was not involved was that of antisemitism,” de Korodi told me.
Posters commemorating Mireille Knoll placed at her apartment building in Paris, March, 2018. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images
Unlike Lucie Attal, Mireille Knoll became an instant national martyr. On 28 March, the Crif, along with several other Jewish organisations, planned a march in Paris in Knoll’s honour, from the Place de la Nation to her apartment in Avenue Philippe Auguste. It was an astounding sight: in a country often accused of indifference to the fate of its minority populations, here were tens of thousands of people marching down the Boulevard Voltaire, wearing buttons and brandishing signs that bore the face of a murdered Jew. In the crowd, I happened to bump into Finkielkraut, who was moved by the remarkable diversity we saw on the street. “Many Jews felt abandoned by the national community as a whole,” he told me then. “But I believe today there will be people of all faiths here. That’s very important.”
But a different, less harmonious narrative soon emerged. The month after the killing, the cases of Mireille Knoll and the woman now known as Sarah Halimi became the catalysts for a blistering “manifesto” against “the new antisemitism.” This was an open letter signed by more than 250 French luminaries, including one former president, calling for French Muslims to demonstrate their fealty to the Republic and arguing that portions of the Qur’an should be “banished to obscurity”, which many took to mean redacted altogether. In response, 30 imams published a response in Le Monde, denouncing antisemitism, but also what they saw as the normalisation of Islamophobia. “Some have already seen a chance to incriminate an entire religion,” the imams wrote. “They no longer hesitate to say in public and in the media that it is the Qur’an itself that calls for murder.” (Korsia, France’s chief rabbi, later told me that he regretted the phrasing of the original manifesto, which he signed. “What I would have preferred is that we would have made clearer the need for contextualisation and interpretation rather than the total abrogation of this or that verse,” he said, referring to the call to edit portions of the Qur’an.)
Looking back on the affair, Daniel Knoll feels that an opportunity was missed. On a rainy October afternoon, he received me for tea at the small apartment he shares with Jovinda, his Catholic, Filipina wife, in a suburb of Paris not far from Orly airport. I asked him how he felt seeing his mother transformed into a national symbol, a metaphor for the threat of Islamist antisemitism – even if there was little evidence her killer had been an “Islamist”.
“The culprit was a Muslim, but he doesn’t represent the entire Muslim religion,” Knoll said. He was particularly moved by the diversity of the crowd at the march, and what he saw as a collective sense that his mother could be anyone’s grandmother. “But to say she’s a symbol? I’m not sure about that.”
Former priest gets prison for abuse in Ontonagon County
Iron Mountain Daily News [Iron Mountain MI]
Jacobs scheduled to be sentenced July 2 in Dickinson court
One after another came the stories from the victims, now in their 50s and 60s.
The handsome, charming priest who seemed like he had a direct connection to God.
The way he abused their trust, sexually abusing them in the church or even in their own house.
And the way they’ve had to live with the memories in about 40 years since: the relationships with parents that were forever damaged, the marriages and careers that were derailed, the fears they still can’t shake.
Multiple victims called it a lifetime sentence. The man who imposed it on them, former priest Gary Jacobs, this week received eight to 15 years in Ontonagon County Circuit Court.
Jacobs, 75, was arrested in January 2020 after an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Investigation Team. He also has been accused in Dickinson County,…
The Biggest Celebrity Bombshells from Perez Hilton's Memoir TMI: My Life in Scandal
Perez Hilton is dropping names.
The infamous celebrity blogger released his first memoir, TMI: My Life in Scandal, on Tuesday, Oct. 6. And while the book, coauthored with Leif Eriksson and Martin Svensson, gives you the requisite insight into his upbringing and family life, he's also packed the pages with what he knows his audience wants: stories about stars. Whether he's expressing regret over the way he treated them over the years or revealing startling new information about the way they've treated him, he's squeezing out all the juice.
"I'm really nervous about this book. This is me. The real me," Perez said in a press release announcing the book. "And I have a lot to say. As always! From famous feuds and your favorite celebs, we talk about everyone and everything. My story is the American dream that my parents fled Cuba for. It's also an inspiring tale that predates all these influencers. I'm still here. And this book explains all the reasons why."
From his former friendship with Lady Gaga to a wild night with John Mayer and Jessica Simpson and so much more, here's everything you need to know from TMI: My Life in Scandal.
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As Perez Hilton reveals in TMI: My Life in Scandal, one of his earliest celebrity pals was Amanda Bynes, who messaged him back in 2005 to let him know she was a fan of the site. After inviting Perez to the set of her show What I Like About You, Amanda would take to visiting the blogger at his usual perch on Sunset Boulevard at the Coffee Bean he used as an office. She arrived one day just after an unnamed Scientologist confronted Perez in the coffee shop, angry about a story heɽ written about the church's sway in Hollywood. Perez explained to Bynes that the man had loudly accused him of being a pedophile before he stormed out. "'Seriously, this place . . . if you're not already crazy, it makes you go crazy,' she sighed. What neither of us knew in that moment was that her words were an ominous prophecy of sorts," Perez writes.
Born Mario Lavandeira Jr., Perez developed his pseudonym after the New York Post sued him for his blog's initial name, PageSixSixSix.com, which was a clear reference to their Page Six. With no money to defend himself, he rebranded instead. "The 'Perez' in me was the outsider, the Latino guy, the homosexual, the person who stuck out, and the 'Hilton' referred to Hollywood, the mainstream," he writes. And though the inspiration behind the new name could've sued him as well, she didn't. Paris Hilton befriended him instead. She first invited him to visit her in the studio in 2006 as she worked on her debut album. "I knew Paris was using me, but I also didn't care I was using her, too," he writes. "I mean, I was a blogger who was hanging out with Paris Hilton." He went on to spend a lot of time at parties at her house, where he witnessed her aunt—and future Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star—Kyle Richards amusing guests on the stripper pole installed in the middle of the living room. And while Perez says he never saw Paris partake in the hard drug use unfolding around them, "she was, however, one of the biggest stoners I ever met in my whole life," he writes. "She used to smoke weed every day, from first thing in the morning till late in the evening—a wake-and-baker, as they call ɾm."
After being introduced to Amy Winehouse by Kelly Osbourne at a party in London in 2006, Perez became friendly with the late singer. The two spent a day together on the Sunset Strip, visiting the former Virgin Megastore where her credit card was declined as she tried to purchase a stack of CDs. "At that point, it was Amy's turn to look embarrassed, so I quickly said, 'I've got it, I'll pay,'" he recalls. During a lunch at McDonald's immediately after, she became increasingly preoccupied by text messages from her husband Blake Fielder-Civil, of whom Perez was no fan. "'Well,' I said. 'Maybe you should think about—'"
'No,' she interrupted me. 'I love him.' She kept texting and cursing him for the rest of the day, and it made no difference what I tried to tell her, she defended him regardless."
In 2007, after co-hosting MTV's New Year's Eve special with Christina Aguilera, Perez went with the pop star to a nightclub where they ran into John Mayer and Jessica Simpson, who were dating at the time, in the VIP area. After John positioned himself between Perez and Jessica on a couch, the singer leaned in to Perez and told him he enjoyed watching gay porn, naming a particular actor whose work he said turned him on. (Brent Corrigan, for the record.) "Everything happened very quickly after that. John leaned in close and pushed his tongue into my mouth, and before I knew what was happening, he was full on making out with me. For a moment, I was completely paralyzed, but then I decided to play along," Perez writes. "But as John and I made out, I kept glancing over to Jessica, who was staring at us, frozen. She blushed when our eyes met, and quickly covered her face with her brunette hair (she was brunette at the time). After that, she sat with her head bowed and began massaging his d--k with one hand. John groaned quietly as he kissed me, but I was just trying to work out what was going on. Not long after, he leaned back on the couch with a satisfied look on his face. He turned and gazed affectionately at Jessica, who didn't seem to know whether she was incredibly embarrassed or really turned on."
Along with Bynes, Lindsay Lohan was one of the stars who would stop by the Coffee Bean during Perez's early days. She was the first to do so, in fact. She and Perez developed such a relationship by 2007, when trouble really started brewing in her life, that her former manager Larry Rudolph turned to Perez for help. "Larry seemed to think I was the right person to talk to her. So although I was hesitant, I said, 'OK, so take her over to my mom's place.' I didn't want the paparazzi that followed her everywhere to know where I lived," Perez writes. "Just a few hours later, we met at Mom's place across the street from my house. Lindsay was at rock bottom, and I don't know whether it helped or not, but I listened to what she had to say I gave her advice and did what I could to help get her back on the right track."
One of the few moments in his past that Perez says he now wishes heɽ handled differently came after Britney Spears took the stage at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards for a comeback performance of "Gimme More" that was anything but. "It was so bad that I could hardly believe what I was seeing and hearing. That's why I didn't try to soften the blow: I wrote that she should be ashamed of herself, that she was an embarrassment—something I really regret today," he admits. "I just assumed that her meltdown was a result of her wild party lifestyle and all the drugs she was taking. It never occurred to me that there might be some kind of mental health issue behind her behavior. Looking back now, it really does seem like Britney is lucky to still be alive."
After inviting a then-unknown Lady Gaga to perform at a party he was hosting in Las Vegas in 2008, the two became very close. "We would spend hours talking on the phone almost every day. She asked me what I thought about various ideas I told her, and I gave her ideas in return. The whole thing was intoxicating and exciting. She valued my opinions and talked to me like I was part of the team, like a close friend," he writes, adding that he started calling her "wifey." As they grew closer, he began using his blog to attack perceived competition of hers, going after Christina Aguilera particularly hard, even after sheɽ performed at his birthday party. "Looking back now, it's one of the things I'm most ashamed of, and I can also see that Gaga was using me as a tool—not only against Christina but against her other rivals, too," Perez writes. "She never explicitly asked me to write nasty things about people, but by moaning to me she made me feel like I, her best friend, should do something about it."
By 2011, sheɽ become a genuine superstar, releasing her album Born This Way. He flew to Australia to interview her on camera for one in a series of specials he was producing. He writes, "We were still best friends—in my eyes, at least—so unlike everyone else who wanted to interview her, I didn't have to send my questions to her publicist to scrutinize and approve in advance. Gaga and I assumed, like the good friends we were, that neither of us wanted to hurt the other." Drinking and sitting in bed while they filmed the interview, Perez recalls Gaga getting a "slightly absent look in her eye" as she struggled to keep focus on him. I didn't know any better, so I didn't stop the interview, and continued to ask the questions I had prepared on the plane," he continues. The first was about the controversy surrounding her song "Judas," which he hoped sheɽ be able to dismiss as a non-event. "Gaga clearly didn't share that view," Perez writes, "because her eyes turned dark and she snapped at me, 'What are you doing? Are you trying to make me look bad?'"
He then tried to ask about her boyfriend, which was equally ill-received. "For a split second, I thought Gaga was about to throw the glass at my face," he claims. "But instead she leapt up from the bed and glared down at me before hissing, 'What are you doing? I don't want to talk about this.'" She stormed out, only coaxed back to finish filming after several days. After that, they never saw each other or spoke again.
In 2013, Gaga would accuse him of stalking her in New York City while he was looking for an apartment in the city. "Though I hadn't known it at the time, it turned out Gaga had an apartment in the same building I had visited just a few hours earlier. A fan of hers had spotted me there, and immediately tweeted the news to Gaga, who freaked out and started writing all those awful things about me on Twitter," he writes. "I mean, it was a complete coincidence that Iɽ gone to a viewing in the same building where Gaga lived. Why, after two years' silence, would I suddenly start stalking her? It was sheer persecution mania, and once I got over the initial shock and deleted all the hate mail, I actually just felt sad for her."
The best Hollywood party Perez ever attended? That would be his own 32nd birthday bash in 2010. "That particular year, the party was at Paramount Studios, and everyone who was anyone was there—particularly since the MTV Movie Awards had been filmed nearby that same day. My party became the unofficial after-party for the awards," he brags. "Justin Bieber was there, Lindsay Lohan was there, John Stamos, too. Everyone I knew or had a relationship with…Liza Minnelli and Leona Lewis both performed for free, and Katy Perry surprised me by showing up on an elephant to sing 'Happy Birthday.' It was the same elephant she used in the 'Waking Up in Vegas' video."
In 2010, Perez sought to change his infamously mean ways after two particular events shook him. The first was at an after-party for the Much Music Awards in Toronto. An argument with will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas, in which he called will the f-word, wound up with Perez taking a punch to the eye. That same year, after Perez posted an up-skirt photo of a 17-year-old Miley Cyrus, a run-in with the then Hannah Montana star at a movie theater left him on the defensive again. "'What the f--k were you thinking?' she shouted, making everyone around us turn and stare," he writes. "She continued, telling me exactly what she thought of me and my website, and I replied as best I could."
Another regret expressed in the book pertains to Perez's treatment of Ariana Grande after he felt snubbed by the budding star back in 2011 as he was dabbling in music management. "Ariana Grande and her mother came over to my place to discuss the possibility of me managing her music career. I could see the potential in her, but they ultimately decided not to go with me—even as a consultant, an idea I had pitched to them. I was really hurt, so for years afterward I was super petty toward Ariana on my website and on social media," he writes. "This book is the first time I've shared that story, and Iɽ like to apologize to Ariana and her mom. I'm really sorry. I should have apologized sooner, and for that I'm sorry too. Ariana has done pretty well for herself regardless."
During an appearance on Howard Stern's SiriusXM radio show in 2014, Perez was informed that Howard and show staffer Benjy Bronk had made a wild wager. "➾njy said that if he couldn't lose twenty pounds in a month,' Howard continued, grinning at Benjy, 'he had to let someone finger him.' Out of nowhere, I was asked if I could finger Benjy," Perez writes. He inquired as to why theyɽ chosen to him to ask. "'We thought youɽ be a good fit for the job,' Howard told me, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world." After Howard told Perez they couldn't do "any penetration" in the building, as it was against the law, Perez offered his nearby apartment and off they went, crew and all. The rest lives on in radio infamy.
One of the bigger stories Perez broke on his site came in 2007 when he reported that The Hills star Lauren Conrad had made a sex tape. "While I'll never reveal my sources, what I will say is that The Hills had a huge cast, and more than one member told me that the tape existed. So I wrote about it," he writes of the story that ultimately left him with egg on his face. "Lauren Conrad quickly came out to deny the existence of the tape, and sure enough, it never materialized. Looking back now, all I can assume is that my sources were lying to me. These people had an agenda. But at the time, I had no reason to suspect they were lying. If I did, I never would have published the story."
Admitting he was "desperate" to appear on The Hills, he got his wish in 2018 when MTV revived the show. After being invited to "audition" to be in the cast of New Beginnings, he was ultimately passed over for newbies Mischa Barton and Brandon Thomas Lee. At a party hosted by Spencer Pratt, producers saw how Mischa fled from Perez's presence and asked him to film a scene with her to clear up their past. "In truth, Mischa was one of the people I had been really awful to. I own that. I accept it, and therefore I knew there was a 95 percent chance Iɽ come across in a negative light. Still, I said yes, and at first everything seemed to be going well. I had made up my mind to hear her out that seemed like the right thing to do. Once she was done speaking, I responded, sharing my truth. We got to a point, after filming for maybe fifteen minutes, where I thought the conversation was coming to an end, so I said, 'Truly, no bulls--t . . . I'm being totally serious now . . . I just want to tell you that I'm truly sorry for the things I did in the past. For the nasty nicknames I gave you. All the stories I wrote.' Mischa just stared at me, and eventually said, 'I don't believe you.'"
He tried to make clear just how much he meant it. "'Well, I'm very serious. I swear on my kids' life.' But Mischa still didn't believe me, which I thought—and still do—was really odd," he notes.
'And it's painful when those things end. I'm devastated about what happened but I feel talking about it is just uncool and you start pointing the finger.'
Sue has also claimed that The Great British Bake Off judge Hollywood passed off bread made by her as his own.
She said he would often use her mornings off from filming to craft the 'hero bakes' that Paul, 54, would then claim to have made himself.
Sue explained: 'I made a lot of bread - I was quite good at making bread. A few of the Paul Hollywood hero bakes were made by me, actually, and my mates in the prep kitchen at the back.'
Difficult: She said the pair were 'incredibly hurt' by their quarrel with Hollywood after they left the hit BBC show in 2016 with judge Mary Berry
Sue went on to explain that she and Mel took it in turns to film, so when she wasn't in front of the camera she would be in the kitchen.
She continued: 'We would alternate, so if it wasn't my morning to [film] I essentially had the whole morning off.
'So rather than just go and watch television my favourite thing would be to go [bake] because I absolutely love food and cooking.
'I made most crew lunches most days - they'd have pizza and brownies and curry and whatever else we could scrape together.'
Sue and Mel hosted Bake Off on the BBC from 2010 but did not move with the show to Channel 4 in 2017. Mary Berry, 85, quit soon after them.
In a statement released at the time, Mary said: 'What a privilege and honour it has been to be part of 7 years of magic in a tent – The Great British Bake Off. The Bake Off family – Paul, Mel and Sue have given me so much joy and laughter.
'My decision to stay with the BBC is out of loyalty to them, as they have nurtured me, and the show, that was a unique and brilliant format from day one. I am just sad for the audience who may not be ready for change, I hope they understand my decision.
'I wish the programme, crew and future bakers every possible success and I am so very sad not to be a part of it.'
Mary later revealed that she was never formally offered a spot on the new GBBO, telling the Radio Times: 'I was never asked to go.'
Leading ladies: Sue and Mel hosted Bake Off on the BBC from 2010 but did not move with the show to Channel 4 in 2017
Meanwhile, previously sharing an insight into the moment the duo decided to walk away, Mel has told the Press Association it took about 'three seconds' for herself and Sue to make up their minds about their Bake Off future.
She said: 'I think there was no question where we were heading, but I miss the gang. we were like a big family.
'All the camera guys, the sound guys, home economists behind the scenes, so knowing a lot of them are there filming as we speak, it feels kind of strange,' she confessed.
They were replaced by Noel Fielding, 46, and Sandi Toksvig, 61, who will herself be replaced by Matt Lucas, 46, for the next series.
Mel revealed that she had not watched the show since she left. She added: 'I like to think that Perks and I created the tone for it. We wanted it to be a comforting watch and hopefully we established that.'
Last month, the pair told how they quit on day one of Bake Off because the way it was made was 'not kind', with producers making contestant cry. But they returned after 'stiff words' with the production team.
Sue told Radio Times: 'We resigned, basically. Because it was not a kind show.
'They were pointing cameras in the bakers’ faces and making them cry and saying, "Tell us about your dead gran".’
'So we had very stiff words about how we wanted to go from there. I think we can say that, now we’re out of it, can’t we?'
She continued: 'It was painful, and we've kept our counsel as to the whys and wherefores, and I think there is dignity in that. It's a show about cakes and the moment you get tied up in intense feelings you tell yourself to stop being silly.
Fantastic four: The most recent series saw Paul judge alongside Prue Leith, with Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig as presenters. Sandi has now quit and will be replaced by Matt Lucas
Mel said another reason why they quit the show was because of the way they discovered it was moving to another channel.
The makers of the hit baking show Love Productions announced they'd signed a deal with Channel 4 and would be leaving the BBC.
Sue said: 'We wish it the best and in return we just wanted them to understand that it would have been hard for us to carry on in those circumstances. There's no antagonism there. I just think, "If you're going to let us find out that way [from TV], then we're not really a team, are we?"
'We’re quite cheesy and homespun and we just want to have a laugh. Who wants to see people crying? I don’t. Especially if you work in television and you know the mechanisms that have been used to make them cry.'
Mel added that she felt the pair made the right decision to leave when they did and she doesn't mind that the show carried on without them.
She said: 'It was hard, but it was the right time. I think it’s good to leave the party before the sandwiches start to turn up at the corners. I have no problem at all with the fact that the show still goes on.'
That takes the biscuit! Sue said she often used her mornings off from filming to craft the 'hero bakes' that Paul would then claim to have made himself