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Women and Weegee

Screenshot of France 24 News video on France making abortion a constitutional righ


Friday was International Women’s Day and I’m sure you’ve already heard that France enshrined the freedom to women’s rights to abortion in its constitution. And I might add that happened with a resounding majority during a special congress in Versailles, underscoring the country’s commitment to safeguarding reproductive freedom.

International Women's Day

It makes me proud.

The move by President Emmanuel Macron is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that previously guaranteed the right to abortion as part of the right to privacy. France therefore sets a precedent as the first country to take such a bold step on a national level.

Yep, it makes me proud.

The battle doesn’t end here, however. While celebrating this momentous achievement, we must remember that the fight for women’s rights extends far beyond access to abortion. France still grapples with systemic issues such as gender-based violence, with 31 reported femicides in 2024 alone highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive measures to prevent violence, support survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable.

Additionally, France’s policies on religious attire, including bans on full-face veils, headscarves (hijab), and long robes (abayas) in schools and public places, disproportionately impact Muslim women and girls, raising concerns about religious freedom and discrimination.

About this I am not proud. I have always felt that these laws misuse “laïcité” (secularism) as an excuse to simply be racist. The French will argue with me, but that’s because they can be blind to their own prejudices.

On another note, France’s 2016 law criminalizing the purchase of sex has faced criticism, with sex workers challenging its legality before the European Court of Human Rights. The law has been linked to increased violence and dangers faced by sex workers, underscoring the importance of addressing the broader implications of legislation on women’s rights.

This is just the beginning to protecting women’s rights in the broadest of senses, but that’s okay…at least it’s a beginning and a beacon to the entire world, and in particular to the U.S. which has regressed on these issues…shocking to most of us.

This does not make me proud.

In a report by the World Economic Forum in June 2023, the Global Gender Gap Report now in its 18th year, Europe has the highest gender parity compared to any other region at 76.3%, surpassing North America, where 75% of the gap is closed. Women make up 49.7% of the world population, as reported in 2023. In the U.S., women make up 50.49% and in France, 51.7%. So, what’s with the inequality? And why are we women still battling to be treated equally?

It starts with us, as women. We must fully believe that we are 100% equal to our male counterparts and never let anyone treat us differently. I remember growing up in a household of all women with three sisters and a father who couldn’t relate to us—he was a “man’s man” if you will. I was the last child and therefore his only hope for a son, so somehow I ended up with a man’s name (“Adrian” vs “Adrien”) and was treated like his son. He taught me how to box, fix a car, play baseball and throw darts. While I was still taught and encouraged by my mother to do “girly” things, like sew, knit, cook and get married, it never dawned on me that I had to make a choice and could follow whatever dream I had without restraint. Getting married was never one of those dreams, although that is what happened. And funny enough, in our relationship and household, we had a role reversal. I became the full-time worker while my husband ran the household and took care of our daughter. We used to joke about how wonderful it was that I had my own “wife” to run the errands and do the chores!

Looking back at this is why I believe we, as women, must see ourselves not as “women” per se, but as “people” with no specific gender, regardless of our sexual orientation. And why can’t we do anything we set our minds to doing without limitations? Do men stop us or do we stop ourselves? For example, women do often vote for politicians who support anti-women measures and I can’t get my head around why anyone would actually support that which affects them negatively.

Nonetheless, thank you, France, for taking this very bold first step, and let’s hope other countries follow in your footsteps, including the U.S.!

See the report on France 24.


Long-time friend and colleague, Mary Palko, made a stop in Paris to attend the Sister Cities International Round Table to meet on the issue of human trafficking. The French Government launched a three-year initiative to address these issues.

Mary Palko

Mary Palko

Established in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sister Cities International is a nonpartisan 501 nonprofit organization that acts as the national membership body for individual sister cities, counties, and states throughout the United States. This extensive network brings together tens of thousands of citizen diplomats and volunteers across over 300 member communities, fostering more than 2,000 partnerships in over 140 countries worldwide.

As a Global Envoy, Mary is a volunteer who serves during a five-year term as a diplomat and spokesperson at U.S. embassies abroad, international embassies in the U.S., protocol visits, and sister city partnership meetings. She presents papers, gives speeches, participates on panels and at workshops and meetings, at conferences, and more.

Logo for Sister Cities International

New Orleans and Orléans became Sister Cities in 2018, which makes perfect sense! I learned that New Orleans was named after Philippe d’Orléans, the nephew of King Louis XIV, and not actually after the city of Orléans.

Signing of the Orléans and New Orleans Sister City Pact in 2018

Signing of the Orléans and New Orleans Sister City Pact in 2018

California has the most Sister Cities—nine in all, and in most cases I can fully understand what they have in common:

* Beverly Hills = Cannes (Yes! Isn’t Cannes the B.H. of the Riviera?)
* Modesto = Laval (Strange! I couldn’t find a good explanation.)
* Newport Beach = Antibes (Beachy! And Newport is to Los Angeles what Antibes is to Nice.)
* Laguna Beach = Menton (For the same reason as Newport Beach and Antibes…makes perfect sense to me.)
* Los Angeles = Bordeaux (Really? I don’t see it myself.)
* Palo Alto = Albi (There must have been a connection of some sort prior to officiating it.)
* San Francisco = Paris (This makes sense…San Francisco was the first city with an Alliance Française in the U.S.)
* Sonoma = Chambolle-Musigny (They even have a Facebook page. This “sistah” is thanks to international dignitary and wine connoisseur Frank Bartholomew who initiated the alliance with Burgundy’s Chambolle-Musigny, where he had friends in the village.)
* South San Francisco = Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (An important French town as the cross-roads of the route to Saint Jacques de Compostelle, at the foot of the mountain pass and the pilgrims’ last stop before the arduous mountain crossing…and San Francisco, a pioneer town?)

Street signs showing the Sister Cities in San Francisco

Sister Cities in San Francisco

Mary’s home city, Fort Worth, is partnered with Nîmes. Paris has two other Sister Cities—Chicago and Washington, DC. Nice is partnered with both Miami and Houston. Miami has two besides Nice—the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis and Lamentin in Guadeloupe (French territory).

Here’s a list of U.S./French Sister Cities provided by

Is your city one of them?

For more information about Human Trafficking, download these important reports:




Born Ascher Fellig, AKA Usher, AKA Arthur, a photographer and photojournalist, known for his stark black and white street photography in New York City, was nicknamed first “squeegee boy” during his job with Acme Newspictures which morphed into “Mr. Squeegee” before finally dubbing him “Weegee,” a phonetic rendering of Ouija because of his rapid and seemingly prophetic appearances at crime scenes or other emergencies—his arrival felt as mystical as a Ouija board. It stuck.

The “Weegee: Autopsy of the Spectacle” exhibition is on at the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson now till May 19, 2024. While you find many of the images are macabre, I found many of them strangely comical when considering the human nature surrounding the witnessing of death. There was one other person in the exhibition smiling and chuckling, but otherwise, the room was dead silent and serious and I knew we were outnumbered. Weegee might have been the first paparazzi having worked on his own during the 1930s and 1940s without a police badge or any kind of credential. But when a story came over a police teletype, he’d go, shoot the pictures and sell them to the newspapers.

Weegee at the Fondation Cartier-Bresson

Weegee at the Fondation Cartier-Bresson

The curators claim that the mystery of Weegee is also that his career seemed to be split in two. On one hand, there’s his sensationalist photography, immortalized in North American tabloids: images of gangsters’ lifeless bodies sprawled in pools of blood, victims trapped in wrecked vehicles, menacing kingpins captured behind the bars of prison wagons, dilapidated slums ravaged by fire, and other haunting snapshots depicting the struggles of the underprivileged in New York from 1935 to 1945. Then there are his celebratory photographs—glamorous parties, dazzling performances by entertainers, exuberant crowds, grand openings and premieres—accompanied by a diverse array of portraits of public figures that Weegee delighted in distorting with his artistic flair from 1948 to 1951, a practice he continued until his final days.

The Weegee Wall on exhibit in Paris

The exhibition questions how can these seemingly contradictory bodies of work can coexist, but it manages to reconcile these two facets of Weegee’s work by demonstrating that, beyond their formal disparities, the photographer’s approach remained critically coherent. When he would include spectators or fellow photographers in the foreground of his images, highlighting their role in shaping the narrative, one could see in their faces how they were affected by witnessing the unspeakably brutal acts.

In his final years, Weegee dedicated an astonishing amount of time to creating “distortions,” whimsical caricatures of celebrities such as Salvador Dali and Marilyn Monroe. You will either love them or hate them; find them horrifying or amusing. For whatever reason, they crack me up, but perhaps it’s my own sense of humor that is distorted!

Marilyn Monroe by Weegee

Marilyn Monroe by Weegee

Don’t miss it.


I’ve had a long-time love affair with top model and fashion designer, Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn…in the virtual sense. Two photos of her taken by her second husband, Irving Penn, were positioned over my living room sofa for many years, while I would sit across from her and imagine “shooting the bull” with this woman “friend” who is the epitome of elegance, glamour and beauty, with the perfect nose and even more perfect arched eyebrows. I coveted everything she had and represented.

I sold the two photos in 2007 at auction when making ends meet wasn’t so easy, cried like a baby when they were carted away, and in their place, began collecting photos of her by her first husband, Fernand Fonssagrives.

Penn, when on assignment for Vogue Magazine, found himself in the company of this remarkable model, confessed, “When Lisa came in, I saw her and my heart beat fast and there was never any doubt that this was it.” Their union culminated in marriage in London in September 1950.

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn Vogue cover

She and Fernand Fonssagrives divorced in 1949 after 14 years of marriage, having met at a dance school in Paris. He gave up dancing after he was injured in a diving accident and as a gift for recuperation, Lisa gave him a Rolleiflex camera that introduced him to photography. He subsequently became a noted photographer and Lisa Fonssagrives became a more than highly celebrated fashion model.

When I got word that an exhibition opened while I was traveling in the U.S., I grabbed tickets immediately to see it—”Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn Fashion Icon” at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie—showcasing the personal archive of one of the most iconic models of her era.

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn by Horst P. Horst

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn by Horst P. Horst

Featuring nearly 150 prints captured between 1935 and 1955 not only by Penn and Fonssagrives, but also by renowned photographers including Horst P. Horst, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and Erwin Blumenfeld, the exhibition provides a window into the glamorous heyday of fashion photography, enriched by the presence of an extraordinary personality. Tom Penn, the son of Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn and Irving Penn, conceived and generously contributed a portion of this remarkable collection to the MEP, making this exhibition possible.

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn by Erwin Blumenfeld

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn by Erwin Blumenfeld

Lisa was a multi-talented individual, excelling as a dancer, model, photographer, stylist, and sculptor, earning her the title of the first “supermodel” in history. Over a span of 20 years, she graced the covers of leading fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, amassing an impressive portfolio of nearly 200 cover appearances. In 1949, at the pinnacle of her career, she achieved a milestone by gracing the cover of Time magazine at the age of 38.

I fully expected to weep throughout the exhibition, anticipating that many of the images that adorn my walls would adorn these, but none did, even the most iconic of them all. I didn’t cry, but instead got to know Lisa even better, and not just as the perfect beauty with an “attitude” I always imagined, but as the perfect beauty with talent and brains…not just good looks.

Don’t miss the exhibition if you can help it.

Note: The reason I write so much about the cultural exhibitions taking place in Paris is because this is the primary reason for having moved here. Being surrounded by art and culture is necessary to my happiness. I often joke that Paris is the “cultural Mecca of the planet,” and I stand to be proven wrong. Paris tops the list of number of museums in the world with 297. Moscow is second with 261 and L.A. is third with 219. New York is 9th on the list with 140 and London is 5th with 192. What a lucky move it was to be living in Paris where one can museum hop and absorb creative talent and thought on a daily basis.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds looking over the table at oyster Sunday dinnerAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian eyeing the table of seafood on Oyster Sunday, Paris

P.S. We’re filming a House Hunters International episode beginning this Saturday, March 16th and we’re seeking an apartment or two in which to film the “meet-greet” scene as well as the “apartment interviews.” If you have an apartment in Paris and wouldn’t mind having us there for a few hours, with a small crew (about 6 people) and light equipment, we’d be eternally grateful and you’d get to see your apartment immortalized on TV! Contact us NOW and we’ll put you in touch with the producers. Email us now. Thanks!

P.P.S. Paris Writers Workshop 2024: Early Bird Registration Ends March 15

If you have a screenplay, travel story, poetry collection, memoir, novel, or short story in mind or in progress, this year’s Paris Writers Workshop is the place to be—to learn, to write, to network, to energize your literary goals, and just to have fun.

Sponsored by WICE, the Paris Writers Workshop (PWW) is the longest running workshop of its kind in Paris and has a legacy of quality, as well as a history of real-world success stories from past participants.

The early summer workshop (June 2–7) takes place in the heart of Montparnasse at Reid Hall in the Columbia Global Centers and offers daily masterclasses in your chosen genre by renowned authors, a morning literary walk, evening panel discussions on a range of issues in a writer’s life, the opportunity to meet with literary agents, and the chance to gather informally with like-minded writers throughout the week.

The Early Bird registration ends March 15, so sign up soon. The price (975 euros) has been kept lower than most workshops to encourage writers to move forward on their literary path…in a community of creativity and camaraderie.

More info on the WICE website.


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