Geneva Diaries #27*

Language and The Presumption of Innocence – OED Online – Le Chat Qui Parle


Dear Roger,

Another visit to the video library and another struggle with movie titles, do help! 

I just saw an English movie, one which we had recently watched, called “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”, titled in french as “Presume Coupable”! Now, please correct me, but does that not translate to presumed guilty/alleged culpable? If so, how does “beyond a reasonable doubt”  translate into presumed guilty? In fact, as I see it, it’s exactly the opposite of presumed guilty. Are we not innocent until proven guilty, with the burden resting on the prosecution to demonstrate “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” of the guilt? 

I was once told (by my froggie abductor whom I missed seeing this weekend, a “wild mushroom” story that I might share when we meet) that in the French legal system, the burden is upon the individual to demonstrate his innocence (this shifting of burdens in my universe is absolutely shocking, unforgivable, incomprehensible)! Please tell me this is not so, please, please pretty please…

I am further perplexed, as I just read an interesting article (in the IHT) this morning shedding new light on the old debate on the role of language in the moulding of ones thoughts and ideas, and if the French ideas are based on the converse translations of what we in the common law world understand to be the truth, then we should all be forewarned that we are entering into an alternate universe where we must walk on our heads to be acknowledged.

Art Installation- Orchard Road, Singapore-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

I apologize for coming to you with all my problems and queries, but you ARE my French teacher after all!

Good night and see you next Saturday.

Dear Purnima,

I see you have been writing into the wee small hours of the morning again.  It reminds me of my graduate school days when I would often have to pull all-nighters to finish a paper or work on my thesis.  I always appreciated the calm and quiet of those post-midnight hours when there was nothing to distract you from what you were concentrating on.

Film title translations are very often a mystery (and we won’t even get into the many terrible subtitles I’ve seen over the years).  There often isn’t any relation between the original title and the French translation.  I remember the case of the translation for the American release of a French film back in the 80’s.  The original title was “Coup de foudre”, which translates at “Love at first sight”  The title in the US was not even in English, and don’t ask me why they chose a French title.  It was called “Entre nous”.   I also remember the translation in Danish of the great Billy Wilder film, “Some Like it Hot”.  In Danish the title was “Ingen er fuldkommen” = Nobody’s Perfect, which, although it’s the last lines in the film, has really nothing to do with the story line of the film.  So don’t worry you beautiful head over such seeming incongruities in film titles.  They will always be there, and it is often someone’s idea of how to best portray the content of the film in a title in a different language.  It is not always a direct translation.;

And, as for you much more serious question about innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent, I’m afraid your froggie admirer is right.  The French justice system theoretically is based on the principle of “the presumption of innocence”, but in actual practice that is rarely the case.  It really is up to the accused (or to his or her more or less (in)competent lawyers) to prove his or her innocence.  And can’t we also say that the same thing often occurs in the US legal system ?  When the honor and reputation of a district attorney’s office depends on bringing in a guilty verdict in high profile cases, the prime focus of the legal system is overwhelmingly on getting the jury to declare “Guilty, your Honor” at the end of the trial.  There is very often little concern for the truth.  The primary directive is to find the defendant guilty.  I am often disheartened at the legal system in the US that adamantly fights to prevent a retrial of a death-row prisoner based on new evidence, especially DNA evidence that could prove the innocence of someone that has been wrongly convicted.  The defendant’s lawyers have to mount extensive legal battles to force the local authorities to accept the new evidence.  And then, even when the person is determined to be innocent, it is often months before they are actually released.  There is a case in Texas right now of a man convicted of killing someone, and the local courts at first refused to allow DNA evidence to be introduced.  It is as though the system itself would be besmirched, since it would be proof that they had actually convicted the wrong person.  That is also one of the main reasons why I am adamantly opposed to the death penalty.  There are too many examples of totally innocent people being executed by the state.

Well, that was a heady way to start my Sunday morning !  I’m sorry your planned rendezvous in Paris was cancelled.  That must have been disappointing.  Did he eat some wild mushrooms that he shouldn’t have ?

I saw that article on how language can shape the way we think on the New York Times website, but I haven’t read it yet.  I have always felt this was probably the case.  Maybe that explains why the Japanese are so ahead of the game in many areas: their language is so complicated and intricate, and also why the French have produced a body of literature and philosophical essays that is so impressive.

We’ll bring champagne Saturday night.  I bought it Friday in Ferney Voltaire at my favorite wine shop and it is already in the fridge staying chilled.  What time should we arrive ?

Have a good Sunday, and see you on Saturday,





Dear Roger,

Believe it or Not, I did make it to Paris… and back in time to catch my flight to Delhi tomorrow morning!

There is so much to say, share but I am struggling to put pen to paper, finger on keyboard for some very odd reason… have to wait to catch up upon my return early October. However, I am keen you check out the book that has been on my mind, “Whatever happened to Tangayika” by Harry Campbell, this book, apart from being a fabulously entertaining account of changing place names (many of which we have seen in our lifetimes), giving a colorful geographical, cultural and historic overview of the changing names of places, the words and their origins. This extremely well written geographic account by someone who describes himself as a lexicographer (btw, did you read about the plans to do away with the hard copy of the Oxford English dictionary and put it completely online so that it can be continuously and quickly updated in step with the rapidly changing vocab of the tweeters texters and cyber smurfs, but then, what happens to warm, familiar, tactile experiences of having someone in his 4th edition, yes I have the 1950’s version that always rests besides me, with whom you have many disagreements, face away but always return, sincere till the end, they want to do away with him…such blasphemy!) and armchair traveller, who is also apparently a linguist, truly opens up a new doorway, one we have discussed at length in the past, a multi disciplinary arena, where languages, geography, history, art and culture mesh and create an exciting, absorbing area of study. 

In fact, two years ago, just a few months after arriving in Geneva, I attended a legal conference at the Palais de Justice, a segment of which was presented by members of the legal faculty of the University of Geneva who interestingly enough were proposing such an idea, of setting up a department of multi disciplinary studies at the University . All I remember is that In my excitement, I went bouncing up to the virtual reality professor to shake his hand and share with him my enthusiasm for the proposed department. However, for some odd reason, the professor shot up ten feet in the air as I introduced myself, a truly comic scene (and I wasn’t even wearing my electric buzzer ring) and that was the end of my exploring any plans at the University of Geneva! 

Will email from India, much much to share, but I just can’t wait to leave, not sure if it’s wanderlust striking once again, homesickness or just a long long summer with the brats watching yet another session of “The Annoying Orange” (Roger, you absolutely have to check this out on youtube, at least I will have someone to share my memories/misery with, I found myself ENJOYING IT!!!) . See below The Annoying Orange:

I’m all packed and ready to go, taking along (what promises to be an exciting book) a wake up and “delete” call on the cyber-world on this long journey on the back of the bus to India! I look forward to the sushi meal (and finally checking out the kitchen) in October.

Hugs to the family and many kisses (after my french lessons in Paris I’m scared to use the French equivalent).


date:Oct 10, 2020
subject:Le Chat Qui Parle

Dear Roger,
I have just read Annick’s delightful compilation of 12 short mystery stories for French learners titled Le Chat Qui Parle. Of course, I needed a little help from google translate to fully follow the storyline, but regardless of how I got there, it had me hooked because the stories were full of suspense, mystery and novelty, an absolutely fun way to learn a language. Do convey my two thumbs up to Annick, but also to Marty Van Loan for his masterful representation of the quixotic cat, le chat qui parle. That cat certainly spoke to me lol! If I were to choose my fav short story, I really wouldn’t know which one to crown as they were all fab. I could almost hear the purr from the first story of Le Chat Qui Parle or the Cat who talks, Le Deuxième Personage about comic books or bande dessine was fun, Vol Direct Pour Nice ( Direct Flight to Nice) had me in splits, Le Cinquantieme Anniversary (The 50th anniversary) had me first shedding a  tear and then smiling, La Fete de Noel (Christmas) with the reference of my all time favorite symbol of the nightingale was I guess my fav. However, Sous Controle (Under Control) struck a cord close to home as it covered something I have been thinking and writing about – surveillance and the resulting intrusions in our lives and private spaces. So, yes it’s a fun read and a great way to teach French and I can’t wait to share this on my blog!

Back to Sous Controle and surveillance, we have truly in a very short time landed ourselves in a sticky web, one that looks impossible to extricate ourselves from. Our world and our children’s (grandkids) world is one run on and by data. There seems no escape from all our devices and today those are not just for entertainment but essential for both work and play. The option of locking oneself away in the remote recesses of the mountains surrounding the Bay Area (or any metropolitan area) to escape having our imprint captured by technology appears to be an impossibility. Our every move, thought, inclination, observation and desire is being captured supplemented by our physical attributes, images, expressions, sounds, movements, tones, expressions, fingerprints, DNA, ideas, beliefs and disbeliefs. All of which is being compiled into a neat data packet, and each packet becomes a part of a category. Once we are thus mapped and categorized, the State is no longer our human construct to be tweaked and moulded reflecting the changing times, but we become it’s construct as it tweaks and moulds us to conform to it’s predetermined silos in order for homogeneity and efficiency. 

See below the phenomenal Spiders exhibit at the SFMOMA by Louise Bourgeois:

The Sticky Web: See Purnima below looking at her iphone, next Purnima is taking a selfie, then Purnima senses something watching her, next Purnima screams but it too late because in the next image Purnima is trapped by the spider and in the final image Purnima become data (I Am Data) from the Data exhibit at the Singapore ArtScience Museum:

Here is an image from an exhibit at the Singapore ArtScience Museum which is what I have become entrapped by the spider – I AM DATA

In my attempt to keep up with my French linguistic skills, I decided to listen to some French songs recommended by an online French learners group and stumbled upon ZAZ which took me on a journey back in time, to my time in Geneva and some of the music surrounding me and my time there. This particular song with it’s rocking tune struck a chord with me so I have adopted this song to my storyline, and moulded its lyrics to represent my story centered on Privacy.  

ZAZ – Prends garde à ta langue, which means watch your tongue.  it means watch what you say because  “He” is always watching!Here is the first paragraph from the lyrics which in my story is a forwarming about the looming and avaricious data demons looking to strip us of ourselves:

Ouch, ouch, how naive you can be

of all these untrusworthy people
Who promise the moon for you,
Letting them your power
So they can manipulate you,
Your precious freedom
And even sometimes your moolah.

Do check out the fun French song ZAZ – Prends garde à ta langue:

Unfortunately, it’s our teens who are falling victim to the data demons and all their fantastic webs, social media platforms. I see the obsession, slavish devotion and devastation wreaked upon their lives by its misuse and abuse. Not a day passes when I don’t hear about yet another flippant statement made online as though it were made in person, with devastating consequences (part of my God Save Our Teens segement)…The Snapchat case of the school kid being expelled for posting a selfie on snapchat (assuming it will evaporate with all the other selfies due to it’s limited posting time ignorant of the fact that someone could take a screenshot making it last for eternity) while trying a costume in a thrift shop and posting it with a racist caption, or the minor girl sexting images to her two friends in a group chat only to find them disseminated to everyone and having a juvenile petition with criminal charges of child pornography and obscenity filed against her, despite her being the “child” in the pic.

This generation has no second chances, everything they do, say and think is captured for eternity. I think of my carefree youth and the numerous irreverent comments, gestures, even limericks made up about our teachers, staff and persons who had crossed our path to my friends, I remember changing the names of our professors to ridic pseudonyms that caught on like fire with the students, I remember crafting paper planes in class directed at a student/teacher with ridiculing note, I remember the girls toilet as a bastion of gossip and salacious rumors covering and uncovering everything from boys to bras and boys with bras, leaving none to spare which if translated into today’s world ie being a post on the online social media platform, none of us would have made it to college and certainly not the top tier. In fact, it would have followed me into my new life in the New World as Miss Goody Two Shoes, a life as an attorney, a wife and a mother with a banner atop my head announcing in psychedelic lights all the pranks of my childhood which no amount of lipstick or hairspray would have undone. I had a chance to outgrow my teens, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow up and start afresh. This option which my generation took for granted does not exist for our children, grandkids. Every tweet, post, bit and byte sticks like superglue for eternity. They have no options to jest, to play, to err, and to recover. 

As for my girls, I find them the most vulnerable group  and most severely compromised by this data driven world. Everything from beauty norms driven by the dictates of society to peer pressure to perform and please. If they express they are chastized and if they err they are compromised. Their errors haunt them and compromise them leading to a torrent of harassment, cyberbullying and deepfakes that often circulate well beyond the boundaries of their group or social circle. They have no where to go and no place to hide where the data trail of harassment can’t reach them…of course until they find le chat qui parle.

As the cases pile up and the judiciary struggles to figure how to address this new realm of information disseminating exponentially compromising all in its path… le chat or Purr-nima comes to the rescue…see lyrics below from ZAZ

Of course I couldn’t resist this Snapchat image in a cat costume…purr…erasing 30 years from my hard earned midlife and transporting me to high school!

Purrnima The Cat That Speaks – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

And again I take these lyrics from my fav song from ZAZ – Prends garde à ta langue

Hey damn rascal, mind your tongue
I am the cat that will eat it
At this game you will not win
Sooner or later, one gets punished …we will find the baton to beat you

Hé, sale fripon, prends garde à ta langue
Je suis le chat qui te la mangera
A ce jeu-là tu n’y gagnera pas
Un jour ou l’autre, on récolte le bâton

Here the baton is the stick or the system of laws or structure to address the issues relating to the erosion of privacy that has come parcelled with advances in technology and the digital world.

ZAZ – Prends garde à ta langue

Since this is tale of Cats, I will have to end with a poster bearing my fave image illustrated by Steinlem for the Montmartre cabaret The Chat Noir, compiled in a book of posters by David Rymer and the image of my fav Chinese porcelain cat see below:

And on the subject of cats and cat photos, see Owen Mundy’s web based experimentation titled – I Know Where Your Cat Lives, where the artist-experimenter is able to track the location of the cats (or the location of the photo by the co-ordinates embedded in the metadata) based on all the publicly posted cat photos online highlighting the vulnerability of the average individual to privacy violations at the hands of the Big Cats or mega corporations that are effortlessly able to access and scrape private personal information that is “voluntarily” submitted. Exhibited at the Singapore Art Science Museum below:

I Know Where Your Cat Lives-Owen Mundy

Goodnight and sweet dreams 


What Did The Cat Say? Purnima Viswanathan


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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