France: The Sparrow & the Dilettante

"The ship is sinking," Jean Cocteau mourned last week when he was told of Edith Piaf's death. It was a typically melodramatic lament for the waning of a French world that began with cubism and ended, more or less, with existentialism. Several hours later, Cocteau himself died of a heart attack at the age of 74. In one day France had lost both an esthetic arbiter of its intellect and a guardian—or at least a mascot —of its heart.

Singing to Live. Hollow-cheeked and not quite five feet tall, Edith Piaf looked the...

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