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CULTURE

France declares erotic masterpiece ‘120 Days of Sodom’ a national treasure to halt sale

The French government stepped in Monday to declare the manuscript of the Marquis de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom" a national treasure as it was about to be sold at auction in Paris.

France declares erotic masterpiece '120 Days of Sodom' a national treasure to halt sale
AFP

Officials ordered that the 18th-century erotic masterpiece be withdrawn from the sale, along with Andre Breton's “Surrealist Manifestos”, banning their export from France, the Aguttes auction house told AFP.

They were part of a vast sale of historic documents owned by the French investment firm Aristophil, which was shut down in scandal two years ago, taking ($1 billion) of its investors' money with it.

“120 Days of Sodom” was expected to go for up to six million euros, while Breton's highly influential manifestos on modern art were estimated at around
four million euros.

Sade wrote the controversial work about four rich libertines in search of the ultimate form of sexual gratification on a roll made from bits of parchment he had smuggled into his cell in the Bastille.

When the Paris prison was stormed at the beginning of the French revolution on July 14, 1789, the famously dissolute aristocrat was freed, but he was
swept out by the mob without his manuscript.

Sade believed it had been lost to the looters and wept “tears of blood” over it, but the unfinished manuscript turned up decades later.

Even so, the book languished unpublished for more than a century and was banned in Britain until the 1950s.

Auctioneer Claude Aguttes, who is organising the 300 sales in which Aristophil's huge collection of manuscripts is being dispersed, said the French ministry of culture had promised to buy the Sade and Breton works “at international market rates”.

French courts seized 130,000 historic documents which Aristophil had bought for its investors in 2015 after police denounced the company as huge “pyramid
scheme”, claiming that its founder Gerard Lheritier ran a Ponzi operation similar to that of Wall Street fraudster Bernard Madoff.

FOOD & DRINK

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

More than six billion baguettes are baked each year in France and UNESCO has now inscribed the tradition in its “intangible cultural heritage” list.

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

The French baguette – one of the country’s most abiding images – was given world heritage status by UNESCO on Wednesday, the organisation announced.

READ ALSO French baguette gets UNESCO world heritage status

Here are some of the more popular theories:

Napoleon’s Bread of War
The oldest tale has the baguette being kneaded by bakers in Napoleon’s army. Less bulky than a traditional loaf, the long slim shape of the baguette made it faster to bake in brick ovens hastily erected on the battlefield.

France’s most famous man of war was preoccupied with getting his men their daily bread.

During his Russian campaign in 1812, he toured the ovens daily to sample the day’s offering and ensure the crusty batons were being distributed regularly, according to historian Philippe de Segur.

He also had portable bread mills sent to occupied Moscow, but the setbacks suffered by the Grande Armee in one of the deadliest military campaigns in history ended his bid to export the doughy staple.

Viennese connection
Another theory has the baguette starting out in a Viennese bakery in central Paris in the late 1830s.

Artillery officer and entrepreneur August Zang brought Austria’s culinary savoir-faire to Paris in the form of the oval-shaped bread that were standard in his country at the time.

According to the Compagnonnage des boulangers et des patissiers, the French bakers’ network, Zang decided to make the loaves longer to make them easier for the city’s breadwomen to pluck from the big carts they pushed through the city’s streets.

Breaking bread
Another theory has the baguette being born at the same time as the metro for the 1900 Paris Exposition.

People from across France came to work on the underground and fights would often break out on site between labourers armed with knives, which they used to slice big round loaves of bread for lunch.

According to the herodote.net history site, to avoid bloodshed, one engineer had the idea of ordering longer loaves that could be broken by hand.

Early rising
In 1919, a new law aimed to improve the lives of bakers by banning them from working from 10 pm to 4 am.

The reform gave them less time to prepare the traditional sourdough loaf for the morning, marked the widespread transition to what was called at the
time the yeast-based “flute”, which rose faster and was out of the oven in under half an hour.

Standardised at 80 centimeters (30 inches) and 250 grams (eight ounces) with a fixed price until 1986, the baguette was initially the mainstay of wealthy metropolitans, but after World War II became the emblem of all French people.

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