September 30, 2003

A dancer in Paris

I've always had a fondness for a Paris I imagine, the Paris of Josephine Baker and F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Carlos Williams (even Hemingway's dull prose seems to have marginally improved while he lived in Paris). There are too many names one could throw out -- Picasso and Chagall, Dali and Bunuel come to mind -- of foreign artists (and of course artistes) plying their trade in the French capital. Which is not to say that I have no appreciation for the French themselves, but my pantheon is decidedly eclectic -- Cocteau, Radiguet, Soupault, to name a few. I am vaguely hostile to orthodoxy, and all the -isms and their avatars leave me rather cold. Manifestoes are not poetry, but rather its impediment. Reading the likes of Andre Breton, I can't help thinking that he's a magician with no rabbit to pull out of his hat. After all the elaborate gestures suggesting the unraveling of a great mystery of the unconcious, he pulled (not even the Communist Manifesto) the speeches of Stalin out of his hat. Charming fellow, Breton. He and his clique used to call Cocteau's elderly mother in the middle of the night to tell her that her son had been killed in an automobile accident, or burned to death in a fire, or the like. For his part, Cocteau detested the cult of novelty that obsessed art critics. "We no longer speak of disciples," he wrote, "but of thieves." A later dogmatic, Sartre, once said that in his opinion, Cocteau had no ideas at all. I think Cocteau would have regarded that as a compliment.

Sorry for the lengthy digression to what is, after all, a very short post, but in some ways it seems vaguely appropriate -- the shock of tradition, the novelty of antiquity. Paging through Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History tonight, I came across what appears to be a photo caption to an image of a rather arresting woman wearing a costume that shows off her legs to great effect:


Princess Leila, daughter of the last Emir of Kurdistan, who was inititiated into the sacred dances of the harem, is revealing their mysteries and is now dancing publicly in a Paris theatre.

I haven't been able to find the photo of her online, but there's an excerpt from the book and another photo (also in the book) reproduced here. (This other photo doesn't do the princess, Leila Bedirkhan, justice.) According to the brief biography on this site, she was born in Istanbul in 1908, and died in Paris in 1986. Beyond that, I wasn't able to learn much about the Kurdistan princess.

Posted by Ideofact at September 30, 2003 11:46 PM

If she shows up in The Colonial Harem, which we'll be reading this semester, but later, I'll let you know. (It sounds very related.)

Posted by: kristine at October 1, 2003 11:36 AM

I thought The Colonial Harem deals with erotic photos taken in the Middle East and shipped back to Europe. I doubt Ms. Badirkhan ever posed for such pictures -- she was something of an artiste, after all. I tried a Nexis search hoping I'd find an article on her, or an obit, but with no luck, regrettably.

Posted by: Bill at October 3, 2003 01:14 AM