16 October 2018 **** Front Page

Eeva Lennon is a well-known Finnish correspodemt in London. Her memoirs will be published on 22 October at the Helsinki Book Fair. Eeva's husband Peter Lennon was a well-known Irish journalist. Peter died in 2011. He and Eeva met in Paris in the 1960s. I am publishing here a translation of my review of Peter's book Foreign Correspondent: Paris in the Sixties. The review was broadcast by BBC Finnish Section in November 1995.  – TL.

A correspondent in 1960s Paris

By Tapani Lausti

Peter Lennon, Foreign Correspondent: Paris in the Sixties. Picador 1994.  

Introduction: As far as foreign correspondents' experiences go, working in Paris in the 1960s must have been one of the most interesting. This is certainly brought home by the descriptions by Irish journalist Peter Lennon of his encounters in the French capital during that decade of many dramatic events. Lennon's book is also a humourous description of how a young man dived into the life of a foreign country.

It is the job of a foreign correspondent to help the citizens of his or her own country to understand life in the country of his or her posting. Sometimes the work takes the correspondent into the turmoil of dramatic events which influence his or her world view. For Peter Lennon the Paris of the 1960s was a pivotal experience. He arrived in Paris with the foolhardiness of a young man without language skills and without money. He didn't know anyone in the city. He had only a couple of vague promises by Irish newspapers for publication of articles.

The beginning didn't seem promising but Lennon threw himself into his chosen career with youthful stubbornness. Soon his articles about the effect of the Algerian war in French life caught the interest of the renowned British newspaper The Guardian. Cooperation with the Guardian led to interesting encounters and helped the young journalist to turn into an intelligent observer of life.

Lennon realised how the past was losing its grip of France. People's eyes started to open to new possibilities. Lennon got to know many interesting persons who helped him to understand the spirit of the time. One of them was the famous film director Jean Renoir. Lennon says that he still remembers what Renoir said to him during their first meeting. These were his words: ”We are surrounded by screens. Not just bad art. Even in education we are taught to see life in a way that it is not. Everywhere there are screens. The artist is the one who pulls them down.”

Renoir's words were an important guide to life also for a journalist who had to observe the uses of power. Lennon found another fighter for intellectual honesty in the famous Irish playwright Samuel Beckett with whom he became friends in Paris. Beckett pondered the anxieties of modern humans – as well as his own anxieties – without veils that would hide the truth.

In his social life Beckett was rather seclusive but Lennon spent numerous coffee evenings with his famous compatriot. However, he had to promise not to use Beckett's comments as material for his articles. There were also other famous persons among Lennon's coffee house acquaintances. His book has funny scenes where one could see in a few square meters several well-known representatives of European cultural elites. The Romanian-born playwright Eugene Ionesco once came to meet Lennon in his favourite bar and was surprised to see Samuel Beckett in one corner, the pilosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in another and film director Jean-Luc Godard in the third. Once Lennon almost had a fight with the actor Peter O'Toole. He irritated Lennon by behaving as a famous person while Sartre and Beckett could sit in the café without anybody paying attention to them.

The 1960s was a time when many screens were beginning to open up and finally collapse. Now people could see the oppressive structures of the state which during the Algerian war revealed themselves in all their naked and illegal violence. Lennon himself had to run for his life when chased by the police who had turned into killers. In 1968 a young generation of students had had enough of the government's oppressive politics. General Charles de Gaulle turned out to be a tragicomic man from the past. Young demonstrators enjoyed shouting good-byes to him.

The student unrest of 1968 got Lennon into unusual adventures. He had just finished his own film about the mendacity of Ireland 's political and spiritual life when the May student rebellion drew him to join the relentless social and cultural critique of those wild days. Lennon was invited to show his film first at the Cannes Film Festival and then also in Paris to student revolutionaries and striking workers.

Lennon's book also reveals aspects of everyday life in the Paris of the sixties. Lennon desribes the freelance correspondent's modest life in cheap hotels, often tirelessly hunting for cheap meals. Descriptions of romantic experiences reveal a Finnish connection when Peter Lennon meets Eeva Karikoski who was studying in Paris and then becomes a correspondent. Finns would later know her by the name Eeva Lennon.

 

The original review in Finnish

Read also:

 

Book reviews

 

[home] [archive] [focus]