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Taking Aviation to New Heights


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To chart the inspiring journey of Pierre Jeanniot is to trace the remarkable development of the air transport industry. In his youth, Jeanniot survived the bombing of Rome, the occupation of France, and was a witness to the Resistance in the Jura Mountains. In 1963, after the Sainte-Thérèse air tragedy and the threat of finding himself jobless, Jeanniot was inspired to create the famous Black Box, which has since become a pillar of aviation security. Under his direction, Air Canada chose the Airbus rather than the Boeing to renew its fleet, in the midst of a highly visible political crisis. Against all odds, Jeanniot also orchestrated the successful privatization of the airline. His visionary speech at Amman, delivered when he was at the helm of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), laid out modern aviation’s most urgent priorities regarding accident prevention, protection of the environment, and technological progress. A master of logistics, he successfully negotiated the impasse in the skies following the September 11 terrorist attacks and handled the many complications that came in their wake.

Pierre Jeanniot’s influence has been felt far beyond the aviation world. His longstanding desire to facilitate access to higher learning led him to participate actively in the founding of the Université du Québec. A skilled diplomat, he also helped to resolve political problems in Iran, Libya, North Korea, and the Middle East. Taking Aviation to New Heights is the story of a great leader who has left an indelible mark on his milieu. He has truly piloted aviation to new heights.



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Taking Aviation to New HeightsTaking Aviation to New Heights%
The University of Ottawa Press acknowledges with gratitude the support extended to its
publishing list by Heritage Canada through the Canada Book Fund, by the Canada
Council for the Arts, by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences through the
Awards to Scholarly Publications Program and by the University of Ottawa. The UOP also
acknowledges the nancial contribution of the O ce of the Vice-president Research of
the University of Ottawa and the Jeanniot Foundation.
Copy editing: Edwin Janzen
Proofreading: Trish O’Reilly-Brennan
Typesetting: Robert Tombs
Cover design: Édiscript Enr.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Cardinal, Jacqueline[Pierre Jeanniot. English]
Taking aviation to new heights : a biography of Pierre Jeanniot /
by Jacqueline Cardinal and Laurent Lapierre ; translated by Donald Winkler.
Translation of: Pierre Jeanniot : aux commandes du ciel.Includes bibliographical
references. Issued in print and electronic formats. ISBN 978-0-7766-3046-5 (pbk.).––ISBN
978-0-7766-3047-2 (pdf).––ISBN 978-0-7766-3048-9 (epub).––ISBN 978-0-7766-3049-6
1. Jeanniot, Pierre J. 2. Air Canada––History. 3. International Air Transport
Association––History. 4. Aeronautics, Commercial––Canada––Employees––Biography. 5.
Executives––Canada––Biography. 6. Civic leaders––Canada––Biography. I. Lapierre,
Laurent, 1940-, author II. Winkler, Donald, translator III. Title. IV. Title: Pierre Jeanniot.
HE9815.A93C3713 2013 387.7092 C2013-906495-8 C2013-906496-6
© University of Ottawa Press, 2013Table of Contents
List of Boxes
Introduction: Who Is Pierre Jeanniot?
Part I Gaston and Renée (1914–1934)
Chapter 1 Baptism by Fire
Chapter 2 The Boches Are Coming!
Chapter 3 A Train for Addis Ababa
Part II Making the Best of Things (1935–1945)
Chapter 4 My Father, the Hero
Chapter 5 Rome: Run for Your Life!
Chapter 6 Woolen Pants and Wooden Shoes
Chapter 7 News from Christine
Chapter 8 Between Patton and de Lattre de Tassigny
Part III Destination Montreal (1946–1954)
Chapter 9 Fate or Chance?
Chapter 10 A Sign from Heaven
Chapter 11 The Rebellion
Chapter 12 Necessary Conditions
Part IV The Black Box (1955–1967)
Chapter 13 Slamming the Door
Chapter 14 Trans-Canada Airlines
Chapter 15 The Tragedy of Sainte-Thérèse
Chapter 16 The Inventor of the ‘Black Box’
Chapter 17 My Cabin at Lake McCaskill
Chapter 18 The Canadian Operations Research Society
Part V On the Way Up in Air Canada (1968–1983)
Chapter 19 A Revolution: l’Université du Québec
Chapter 20 Chaos
Chapter 21 Linguistic Turmoil
Chapter 22 Goings-on Behind the Scenes
Chapter 23 Taschereau, Mackasey, Taschereau, Amyot and … One Other
Chapter 24 Open Skies
Part VI President and CEO of Air Canada (1984–1990)
Chapter 25 The Battle for Asia
Chapter 26 Boeing or Airbus?
Chapter 27 The Smoke Extinguisher
Chapter 28 Privatization Curtailed
Part VII Director General and CEO of IATA (1992–2002)
Chapter 29 Through the Front Door
Chapter 30 Ready AboutChapter 31 The Amman Speech
Chapter 32 Kim Jong-il, Gaddafi, Arafat and … the Others
Chapter 33 Waiting for Y2K
Part VIII 9/11 and Its Aftermath
Chapter 34 September 11, 2001
Chapter 35 “I’m Coming Back to Montreal”
Chapter 36 “The Master of the Skies”
The Authors
A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s
PIERRE JEANNIOT is clearly the rst person we must thank. Without his close
collaboration, not only in the course of the interviews we conducted, but as the
manuscript continued to evolve, this book would quite simply not exist. His colleague,
Susan Gough-Cooper, greatly facilitated our task. Christine Jobin, our steadfast
colleague at the Pierre Péladeau Leadership Chair, lent her customary competence and
patience to the shaping of the manuscript. We are most grateful to her. We cannot fail
eto mention the staunch support of M Jean A. Savard, QC, who, in his meticulous
revision of every chapter in this book, brought to bear all the imagination, precision and
attention to detail that are his hallmark. His comments went well beyond legal matters
in his assessment of the e cacy of a phrase, the elegance of a verb and the
appropriateness of a word. Finally we thank Céline Fournier, who believed in our
project from the start, and brought it to fruition, guiding her talented production team
with enthusiasm and resolve. As writers, we could not dream of having better
Jacqueline Cardinal
Laurent LapierreList of Boxes
1. Air traffic rights—freedoms of the air
2. Canadian ministers of transport since 1936
3. Air Canada, breakdown and projection of available funds, 1989–1993
4. Mission and Objectives of IATA, 1994
5. The Amman speech: excerpts
6. Star Alliance, oneworld, SkyTeam: a list of member companies
7. “The Master of the Skies”: article by Corinne Scemama in L ’ E x p r e s s, August 14,
Who Is Pierre Jeanniot?
IN 2007, AIR CANADA celebrated its seventieth anniversary. A notable achievement, if
we think of the “Québécair, Transworld, Northeast, Eastern, Western, pis Pan American”
that Robert Charlebois rolled o his tongue in the 1960s song Lindbergh, and that have
all since disappeared. Since its plucky beginnings in 1937 as Trans-Canada Airlines
(TCA), this Canadian aviation company has evolved into one of the rare enterprises of
its kind to have endured for more than seven decades, against all odds. If its aircraft
have crossed oceans, skies and continents for such a long period of time, it means that
its management was consistently successful in adapting to the technological, social and
financial changes that helped define the twentieth century.
Pierre Jeanniot was CEO of Air Canada for six years, from 1984 to 1990, after
having joined the company as a humble technician in 1955. At a very young age, he
too had crossed oceans, skies and continents, until his mother decided to settle in
Canada, where he accompanied her in his early adolescence. At the age of ten, Pierre
Jeanniot already knew the cities of Montpellier, Marseilles, Addis Ababa, Djibouti,
Milan, Rome and Paris, not to mention the small family village of Lombard.
The legacy of the Second World War’s military con icts, and their repercussions,
would remain with him always. Re ecting upon them, and on military history in a
wider sense, he learned to appreciate the vital importance of a winning strategy. At the
age of fourteen he landed in Montreal, one city among others, but the one that he
would make his own. An involuntary globetrotter, he followed in the wake of his
parents, and then just his mother, who twice married and twice divorced his father. He
traveled by train, by air, on foot, or by boat, as fate—and his family’s displacements—
After tempestuous years at Air Canada, which were brie y interrupted when he took
time o to play a vital role, for reasons dear to his heart, in the founding of the
Université du Québec at the end of the 1960s, Pierre Jeanniot became director general
of IATA, the International Air Transport Association. Having acceded to the highest of
managerial ranks in the global aviation sector, he found himself in a strategic position
during the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and had to cope with the outcome.
Looking back on his remarkable story, we see that Pierre Jeanniot as a leader thrived on
change, and that for him to embrace change was to embrace life, to live it fully and to
achieve success. “What are we going to change this year?” he used to say to his
colleagues when they showed signs of resting, even for a moment, on their laurels.
At the Pierre Péladeau Leadership Chair, we have always maintained that leadership
comes from within, and that it is intimately associated with a desire for change. We
believe that every leader harbours a strong drive that leads him or her, one day, “with
some devil egging him on,” to quote Jean de la Fontaine, to become fully conscious of
this and to accept the consequences. Why do some people dare to transform this
appetite for change into action? How is this desire born? Why does it manifest itself in
some individuals and not in others? How, once it is lodged in the heart, does it come to
express itself? Why does it take one form rather than another? Why does it resonate in
one environment and elicit no response elsewhere? Why can some people End in their
environment the foothold they seek to propel them into action? The answer is not
simple; it is manifold, because it is at the heart of our societies and of human nature.
Pierre Jeanniot’s career path shows this clearly. Why was he not beaten down by the
trials he had to face when he was very young? Why, once he was a manager, did he
decide to act according to his own lights, and to prevail, shrewdly and intelligently,
over the resistance he faced, in full cognizance of the explosive political situations with
which he had to contend, especially during the Gens de l’air protests of the 1970s, the"
‘Airbus a air,’ or the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? At the core of leadership
there is a mystery, which is what draws us to any in-depth study of a leader’s life.
1In the course of the many interviews we conducted with this manager-leader, we
were given privileged access to the momentous events that marked his early childhood,
including the declaration of war in 1914, the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy and the
outbreak of the Second World War. We invite you go with us as we retrace Pierre
Jeanniot’s odyssey, and explore its connections to those global events that altered the
destinies of so many individuals and families. We have charted his wanderings across
continents as he awoke to reading, to history and to military strategy, three interests
that would colour his view of the world, and that would later serve him well as a
manager with highly refined tactical skills.
As a student in Montreal with dispiriting summer jobs, he had to fend for himself at
a young age in the uncertain urban world of the 1950s. He had to adapt constantly to
new environments, moving from a lycée in France where the students learned by heart
accounts of Napoleon’s battles, to the Saint-Henri high school where his French accent
and his already probing mind earned him the sarcasm of his religious teachers and
brickbats from his classmates. It is there that he learned to defend himself, opting for
humour and charm as his most potent weapons.
In our previously published work we wanted to share with the largest possible
readership the results of our observations, because we believe that there is wide interest
in object lessons that stimulate thought. Our approach is simple and resolutely
empirical. We solicit the Erst-person accounts of organizational leaders in the worlds of
business, public a airs, art or culture, the various arenas where leadership scenarios
may play themselves out. We then present their thoughts and their recollections in
narratives that are as accurate as we can make them, because their careers speak for
themselves, and we supplement their stories with extensive research. Our biographies of
leaders, already available in print, and our case histories, published on a regular basis
in the HEC Montréal’s Centre de cas electronic catalogue, are easily accessible.
We like, in fact, to tell stories, to indulge in what the world of advertising calls
storytelling, not only because stories captivate the reader (and the lives of leaders do so
marvelously), but because they are so rich in possibility. Can leadership be taught
theoretically? We do not think so. Can leadership potential be awakened by the study of
schemas comparing di erent categories of leaders whose character traits, deEned by
surveys whose questions are prepared in advance, are translated into vertical columns
of di erent heights and colours? We do not think so. Can a student proEtably look into
himself and evaluate the personal strengths and weaknesses he must carry through life
by running his eyes over verbose, abstruse texts, or ingesting the arbitrary hypotheses of
a so-called researcher wanting to declare them proven even before having recorded any
observations ‘in the field’? We do not think so.
We are aware that our approach goes against the grain of common practice in a
university environment favouring the teaching of management based on models that
are quantiEable if at all possible, simple to teach and likely to be published as articles
in learned journals. However, we do not for all that propose leadership formulas that
are infallible or reassuringly magical, though this might appeal to a certain public. The
narrative of a life, or storytelling, evoking in some depth the personal and professional
development of leaders, has greater potential, in that it invites the reader to undertake a
salutary, comparative self-examination that will bring him to know himself better, and
to make his way through life with conEdence. It is no accident that leaders are drawn to
biography; there are many for whom it is their daily bread. They seek, in the lives of
famous people, examples, lessons and courses of action that will inspire them, after a
careful thought process that is both outward-looking and introspective, in the conduct
of their personal lives or of the organizations they run.
That is what we are proposing with this book. Call them narratives, case histories,storytelling or biographies, our work provides points of departure for self-examination,
leading to action as a life choice. Pierre J. Jeanniot has lent himself without reserve,
with a generosity rooted in courage and humour, to this demanding exercise. He both
satisEed and aroused our curiosity with his distinctive beginnings, the richness of his
experiences, and the subtlety of his ideas on management, leadership and strategy. We
have tried to reflect all that as faithfully and incisively as we could.
Every leader is unique. Every reader is unique. Our hope is that the one will become
the other, and vice versa, each in his or her own way.
Jacqueline Cardinal
Laurent Lapierre
1 The interviews took place on April 19 and 27, May 7, 11 and 29, July 3, 6, 18 and
25, and September 6 and 12, 2007, as well as April 21, July 25, October 29, November
13 and 19, and December 2 and 9, 2008. In 2009: March 4, 13, 17 and 26, April 14, 24
and 27, May 9 and 11, and June 11 and 30.I am not from where I was born.
Gaston and Renée 1914–1934
1. Baptism by Fire
2. The Boches Are Coming!
3. A Train for Addis Ababa#
Baptism by Fire
AT THE AGE of 23, his life was all mapped out. Like his father and grandfather before
him, Gaston Jeanniot would be stationmaster at Houdelaincourt, a small village in
southwestern Lorraine, from where he could make out the nearby hills of Alsace, where
the wine and the days owed smoothly, despite the Occupation. But on the morning of
August 3, 1914, his future took a sharp turn.
Two days earlier, on August 1, France, believing war to be imminent, had issued an
2o cial notice of general mobilization, “barring un- tness for duty,” for all male
citizens between the ages of twenty and forty-eight. Germany’s warlike behaviour in the
days to come con- rmed these fears. On August 2, Germany occupied Luxembourg,
which did not have the military capacity to o2er resistance. On August 3, it sent
Belgium an ultimatum, demanding it allow its troops to pass through its territory on the
way to France, with which it had o cially declared war on the same day. Farther south
it had already deployed its battalions, ready to surround Paris as soon as the marching
orders were given. The region was teeming with young men ready to - ght under the
French ag against their sworn enemies, the despised invaders, those they called, under
their breath, the boches. Since May 10, 1871, the date when the Treaty of Frankfurt was
signed, putting an end to the Franco-Prussian War, Alsace-Lorraine had been part of
Germany, to the great displeasure of its inhabitants, who still dreamed, after more than
thirty years of occupation, of returning to the fold of their mother country, France.
From generation unto generation, the torch of resistance to pan-Germanic assimilation
had been passed on like a precious treasure, pending the day when the yoke might be
shaken o2. On the morning of August 3, 1914, that long-awaited day had perhaps
dawned, and Gaston Jeanniot wanted to be part of it. He jumped on his bicycle and lost
no time joining up with his friends on the main square, where the news and gossip was
spreading like wildfire.
For several months, political crises had been erupting in Europe on many fronts
simultaneously. On June 28, the assassination at Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
iof Austria, perpetrated by Serb extremists, had led to alliances being forged between,
on the one hand, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and on the other, Great
Britain and its allies. The conditions were ripe for the onset of history’s first ‘Great War.’
Claiming that it wanted to avenge the a2ront this assassination represented for the
imperial family, Austria, in order to be able to declare war, manoeuvred Serbia, itself
supported by Russia, into a diplomatic stando2 it intended should fail. For its part,
Great Britain, with the support of France and Russia, wanted to block a German
advance that threatened its own political and commercial interests. During the months
following the Sarajevo assassination, the game of dominos between the alliances pushed
the countries of Europe toward a certain confrontation, ultimately drawing their
respective colonies in North Africa and Asia Minor into the tragic slaughter. A historian
summarized the Sarajevo assassination in these terms: one shot that made for nine
iimillion deaths.
On this historic August 3, full of youthful fervour, Gaston Jeanniot decided, along
with several of his friends from Houdelaincourt, to plan a quick departure from
AlsaceLorraine, to cross the border into France and to sign up as a volunteer to combat the
German enemy. Their zeal and their thirst for adventure led them to see only the bright
side of this nationalistic engagement, widely supported by the population. A few weeks
later, Gaston Jeanniot reported to a French army camp, ready to - ght under the#
tricoloured flag.
Meanwhile, there was a relentless unfolding of events, which led to the Great War as
we know it. Resolved to gain control of Europe, Germany wanted to capitalize on the
widespread political instability and prepared its July 1914 o2ensive, but things did not
iiiwork out as planned. The enlightened despotism that had been so widespread during
the eighteenth century had given way bit by bit to feelings of patriotism, intensi- ed by
the heroic struggles of the Balkan countries.
When Germany sent its troops into Luxembourg at the beginning of August, and
then into Belgium, the Belgian population saw this act as a violation of its territory. In
Great Britain the population rose up, insisting that every people had a right to
determine its own destiny, a principle that was gradually gaining sway in public
opinion. This wave of sympathy impelled the prime minister to enter the con ict on the
European continent, especially given that economic interests were at stake. And so the
French and British armies made common cause, and came to Belgium’s defence. At the
end of August, they were able to stop the German army in its tracks in the northeast,
while several weeks later another French army further south won what is called the
Battle of the Marne, following a strategic retreat brilliantly executed by Maréchal Joffre.
And so the war of encirclement envisaged by the Germans became a static trench war,
3whose accounts of daily horror still haunt the descendants of soldiers in both camps.
The general mobilization announced by France on August 1, 1914, brought the
number of potential combatants to 1,300,000 men. This number was deemed radically
inadequate, in the light of the three million Germans in uniform. And so the French
authorities welcomed with open arms the recruits from Alsace-Lorraine, young men
barely out of adolescence, as motivated as they were inexperienced. A few months later,
after some rudimentary training, Gaston Jeanniot and his comrades found themselves
among the infantrymen of the Franco-British expeditionary corps on its way to
ivSalonica, the Greek city in Macedonia.
Why did France participate in military manoeuvres in Greece? In August 1914,
while Germany was preparing to invade France, Greece had opted, after much
hesitation on the part of it leaders, to remain neutral vis-à-vis the European con ict, but
the strategic interests of England, France and Russia were to undermine this strategy.
After analyzing the geographic situation and the forces on the ground, England and
France chose Salonica as the linchpin of their Balkan front, and the bridgehead for
supplying the Russian troops. The city was strategically located at the crossroads of the
route to Serbia, which Russia was supporting against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and
to Russia, their ally in dire need of food and munitions. And so, in August 1915, Gaston
Jeanniot landed on the shores of Macedonia, which had been reunited with Greece after
the Balkan wars. Taken by surprise, Greece was presented with a fait accompli by
England and France.
During the four years of World War I, the soldier Jeanniot, all things considered, got
o2 lightly. The troop movements in Salonica did not result in violent confrontations,
unlike what had transpired a few months earlier in the Dardanelles operation, when
vFrench and British ships were soundly defeated. Gaston made plans for his return
home, and dreamed of making a career in railroads, whose strategic importance
became clear to him during the war. He could perhaps take courses leading to a rail
tra c engineering diploma, which would lead to his being hired by some railroad line
that France was helping to build in its overseas colonies. Who knows? He might - nd
himself in Africa, in Senegal, in Ethiopia or in some other exotic locale. He had seen
horizons beyond his native Lorraine. He wanted to know more than the just
Houdelaincourt station.
Like many of his comrades-in-arms, Gaston Jeanniot had begun corresponding
regularly with a young woman who entered his life through letter writing. He told her#
of his adventures, but also of his moods, his fears, his hopes and his plans for when the
viwar would end. For her part, the young women sent him news of what it was like in
France during the war. She described the calm and quiet days as they unfolded in her
small village. She shared her dreams, her thoughts and her frustrated desire to become
a painter. The young correspondent’s name was Renée Rameaux. For the soldier
Jeanniot, she was his ‘wartime godmother.’
2The historical references bearing on the First World War have been inspired by the
following work: J-J. Becker, La Grande Guerre (Paris: Presses universitaires de France,
3See the mind-boggling, 332-page account of Louis Maufrais, J’étais médecin dans les
tranchées (Paris: Robert La2ont, 2008), edited posthumously by his granddaughter,
Martine Veillet.
i Originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina, they were part of the nebulous Young Bosnia, and
had gained the support of the Serbian nationalist organization The Black Hand, which
had supplied the weapons for the assassination.
iiIn contrast to the Second World War, all deaths were still those of soldiers: 1,800,000
Germans, 1,700,000 Russians, 1,384,000 Frenchmen, 1,290,000 Austro-Hungarians,
740,000 British (plus 192,000 from the British Empire, including 60,000 Canadians),and
more than twenty million wounded and gassed.
Source: M. McMillan,
iiiThe expression ‘enlightened despotism’ had been coined at the beginning of the
nineteenth century to describe the political doctrine espoused by those eighteenth century
philosophers who maintained that power belongs in the hands of a man whose decisions
are guided by reason. The most prominent ‘enlightened despots’ corresponded at some
length with the Enlightenment philosophers, notably Diderot and Voltaire, and some even
supported them - nancially. These included Maria-Theresa and Joseph II of Austria,
Frederick II of Prussia, Catherine II of Russia and Gustav III of Sweden. Peacemakers
(London: John Murray, 2001).
ivSalonica, also called Thessaloniki, had been the centre of the Young Turks movement in
1908 before being reintegrated into Greece in 1912 during the first Balkan War.
vWinston Churchill played an important role in England’s naval expedition, and his
political career su2ered for it, but as we know, it taught him lessons that stood him in
good stead later during the Second World War. See A. Cyr and L. Lapierre, Winston
Churchill, Écrivain et homme d’État. Deuxième partie (1936–1965) (Montreal: Centre de cas
hec Montréal, 1997).
viMany letters were written by soldiers hunkered down in muddy trenches. The poet
Guillaume Apollinaire wrote his as poems. “Letter to Lou,” written on April 6, 1915,
re ects well the disorientation and solitude of these foot soldiers of the Great War.
Weakened by a shell wound to his head, Apollinaire died of the Spanish u on November
9, 1918.2
The Boches Are Coming!
AT THE AGE OF 23, her life was all mapped out. Like her mother and grandmother
before her, Renée Rameaux would marry a young man from a good family, if possible a
prominent citizen of Lons-le-Saulnier or Besançon, two important centres in her native
Franche-Comté. She had just completed her normal school and was to teach in the
Department of Jura or Bourgogne while awaiting the proper suitor with whom she
would live out her life and have children. But on the morning of August 3, 1912, she
made her decision: her life would unfold differently.
Renée Rameaux had an illustrious name. Her family prided itself on its shared
origins with Jean-Philippe Rameau, o4 cial musician and composer appointed to the
court by Louis XIV. This branch of the Rameau family had decided, when it settled in
Dijon, to modernize its name by subtracting the x. In addition to his celebrated cantatas
and lyrical compositions, Rameau was the author, in 1722, of the Treatise on Harmony,
for which he would go down in history as the supreme theoretician and ‘grammarian’ of
music. A great friend of Voltaire, he entrusted him with the libretto for three of his
works: the opera Samson, banned by the censor (1736), the comedy-ballet The Princess
of Navarre (February 1745) and the opera-ballet The Temple of Glory (November 1745).
In addition to being an accomplished composer, Rameau had devoted much of his
life to making music a deductive science modeled on mathematics. His innovation was
to draw on principles of physics for a theory of harmony he applied to works judged too
‘modern’ by some ‘old school’ traditionalists such as Lully. His work is still a landmark
in the history of music theory. A Aercely independent spirit, this genius of French music
was a slender man with a wide brow, a forceful, slightly dimpled chin, and a big smile.
It was said that he had a “strong voice.”
Conscious of her origins, Renée Rameaux nevertheless sought, in her own way, to set
herself apart from her family. She showed an independence of mind and a wilfulness of
which her family disapproved, to her utter indiDerence. Like many young girls from
aE uent families, she was well educated. But beyond a skill in embroidery, she had
developed a love of reading, writing and all forms of art. History, in particular,
fascinated her, but not to the point of wanting to teach it to elementary school children,
at least not then.
François Rameaux, Renée’s father, had decided to live from his annuities, having
little aptitude for nor interest in business. He had ceded the management of his aDairs
to his brothers, and had set up residence in Paris in a beautiful apartment on one of the
wide boulevards. He had two daughters: Marie-Antoinette, the eldest, and Renée. On
August 3, 1912, she decided to enrol in art school without consulting her parents. She
was twenty-three years old, and she would be a painter. It goes without saying that her
family was not overjoyed at the thought of her leading the life of an artist. It was not
that they found a career in art reprehensible—noblesse oblige—but they did disapprove
of some of the scandalous practices involved. At the Academy, Renée Rameaux would
be learning to draw male and female models posing nude in artists’ studios where an
easygoing bohemianism was the order of the day. But as she was also taking courses in
pharmacy and music, they let her proceed without withdrawing their support.
The Rameaux family possessed what in France was called ‘old money.’ Martin
Rameaux, nephew of the celebrated musician, had acquired from Louis XV (1710–
1774) lakes and vineyards in Jura and in Burgundy, and had made a fortune in the
iproduction and marketing of wine. He also dealt in Ash, carp and pike, which in season
he sold as far oD as Paris, in the swarming and odorous market of Les Halles, where hepresided over a sizable Ash stall. It was his cousin, Jean Rameau, organist at Dijon, who
taught music to his seventh child and second son, Jean-Philippe, whom he found to be
particularly gifted.
The sons of Martin Rameaux and their descendants followed in the commercial
footsteps of their father, and as good cultivators assiduously managed their inheritance,
so that in due course, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Renée Rameaux’s
father was able to live in Paris and draw on the generous dividends from the family
businesses, parts of which he sold oD from time to time to maintain his lifestyle. Renée
Rameaux understood that thanks to her family’s aE uence she could follow her artistic
iistar, as Jean-Philippe Rameau had done two centuries earlier, with his music.
And so for the three years following her entering art school, the young woman
enjoyed the free and bohemian life that her temperament demanded, and that her
family’s Anancial means made possible. She became an artist and freethinker, thanks to
her contacts with her professors at the Academy and the people she met as she moved
about a freewheeling Montmartre or some other Parisian Mecca of more academic art.
She loved the Ballets Russes of Diaghelev and the dancer Nijinski, who revolutionized
dance with their creations, The Afternoon of a Faun (1912) and The Rite of Spring
(1913), with music by Stravinsky.
When, on August 3, 1914, Paris received the abrupt news that war had been
declared on Germany, a large part of the population was thrown into a panic. Already
the mobilization notice, two days earlier, had provoked anxiety. This was too much.
Ordinary activities came to a sudden stop in the City of Light, and everyone prepared
for the worst. The exodus from Paris began. Those who had relatives in the countryside
left to join them, because they feared attacks on the capital and the famine that would
ensue. The roads of France swarmed with those Leeing with their most precious
possessions in enormous trunks that were piled into horse-drawn carriages or the rare
coaches still to be found. Each was as anxious as the next. The memories of the
FrancoPrussian War of the 1870s haunted everyone and fuelled the fear of wide-scale pillage
and wartime rape.
Like many non-native Parisians, the Rameaux family returned from whence they
had come. They took refuge in Lombard, in the Jura of their origins. To occupy her free
time while waiting for the hostilities to cease, which would take, it was believed, only a
few weeks, or a few months at the most, Renée buried herself in books on history and
music, and enrolled, to distract herself, in the ‘wartime godmothers’ program.
For the French government, this was a way of maintaining troop morale. It
encouraged women who were staying in the countryside to correspond with soldiers at
the front, or at least those who had not left behind a wife or a Aancée. For some
unmarried women, it was a way of fulAlling their responsibilities as citizens, while
lessening their solitude. And who knew? Once the war was over, the epistolary
relationship might blossom into a peacetime marital union. For others, it was simply a
creative and amusing pastime, enabling women to support the war eDort and to share
in the prevailing nationalism. So it was for Renée Rameaux, who in any case adored
She was assigned to someone who became her own unknown soldier. A few days
later she received a letter from the man who would be her correspondent for the
duration of the war. He was, obviously, Gaston Jeanniot, who had just learned that he
would be leaving for Salonica with the Franco-British expeditionary corps. Renée
Rameaux was curious by nature, and Gaston Jeanniot, who always looked on the bright
side of things, gave her a fresh take on life. The stories of his moving about and the
military manoeuvres in which he was involved were peppered with humorous
descriptions, because he liked to laugh and to make people laugh. Gradually, she began
to share her anxieties in her letters, and to await his gentle, well-phrased jokes. For his
part, Gaston Jeanniot learned of his ‘godmother’s’ passion for history and enjoyedhearing about her bohemian life in Paris. Their epistolary relationship became more
iiiand more intimate, so that after the signing of the Armistice, on November 11, 1918,
they met in person in Paris. From that point on, writing gave way to exchanges of
another kind. She was 28 years old, he was 26.
They married a few months later. The Rameaux family had dreamed of a noble
union for their daughter, and a bourgeois wedding, but they accepted the situation
because the young woman, Aercely proud and independent, had presented them with
something of a fait accompli. On his return from the front, Gaston Jeanniot had taken
night courses to obtain his diploma as a rail tra4 c engineer. He had learned to
calculate loads, to gauge the power of locomotives and to draw up train schedules
according to distance and the stops required for taking on coal, skills that had to be
mastered by every railroad inspector, which is what he hoped to become.
He was hired by one of the railroad companies for which the French government
ivgranted concessions to build and operate its lines, but even as an inspector he did not
have much social status in the eyes of his future in-laws. Never mind, Renée Rameaux
had decided to marry him. Whether or not she had the approval of her family in doing
so mattered not a whit.
The couple soon had a little girl, whom they named Christine. Gaston Jeanniot
wanted to travel to the overseas French colonies, doubtless seeing an opportunity to
advance his career. He applied to be a tra4 c inspector in Africa, more precisely in
Senegal, where France was involved in the construction, launch and operation of a
railroad for its colony. Gaston Jeanniot had to his credit his diplomas and his military
experience in foreign lands, both distinct advantages. The company that had obtained
the concession from the French government for the joint venture with the government
of Senegal agreed to send him to Thiès, a suburb of Dakar. The railway line linked
Dakar to Bamako, in Mali.
Two years later, however, the couple, with their opposing temperaments, came to a
shared conclusion: they had to divorce. The young woman, two years older than her
husband, was an intellectual passionate about history and literature, with her nose
always in a book, while Gaston Jeanniot thrived on real life. He was always ready to
have a party and to amuse himself. And so they decided to go each their own way.
Renée Jeanniot returned to France with her daughter and settled in Paris.
Despite the divorce and the distance between them, Gaston Jeanniot kept in touch
with Renée. They embarked on a new correspondence in which the father sought news
of his daughter. Years passed, until one day Gaston returned to France on a visit,
wanting to see his daughter. Against all expectations, the couple reunited and began, to
all intents and purposes, living together. Finally they decided to remarry, and together
left again for Africa, as Gaston Jeanniot had been named director general of the
FrancoEthiopian railroad company in Addis Ababa. A new life began for the reconstituted
family. Renée Jeanniot was forty-three years old, Gaston Jeanniot forty-one years old,
and Christine Jeanniot, twelve.
As it had done in Senegal, France operated a railroad line in collaboration with the
local government. In Ethiopia the line went from Addis Ababa, the capital, to the city of
Djibouti, the administrative centre of the French possession of the same name. The
single rail line was exactly 784 kilometres long, and gave Ethiopia precious access to the
4Red Sea, via the Strait of Bab-al-Mandab. The couple settled in Addis Ababa with their
daughter. The family occupied a large apartment over the railroad station. The
windows gave onto the main square, in the middle of which there sat an imposing lion
of gilded bronze, symbol of Ethiopia. A few months later, Renée Jeanniot realized that
she was pregnant with her second child, but as she was then forty-four years old, she
chose, as a precaution, to return to France for the last months of her pregnancy, in
order to give birth under the best possible conditions.
Founded toward the end of the Middle Ages in the time of Rabelais, the University ofMontpellier’s medical faculty was considered the best in France. Its reputation remains
high to this day. Renée Jeanniot decided to go and live there, while awaiting the birth
of her child. She departed Addis Ababa with her daughter, leaving her husband to his
railroad aDairs, and promising to write him often, as in the days of the Great War. The
mother and daughter made the long journey by water, by land and by train, traveling
from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, where they boarded a boat bound for Marseille. From
there they took the train to Montpellier. Christine Jeanniot has vivid memories of this
long odyssey.
Renée Jeanniot chose to live in a suburb of Montpellier, Sommières, bordering the
torrential Vidourle River. Between April 8 and 9, 1933, around midnight, Renée
Jeanniot brought into the world her second child in a Montpellier university hospital.
To her great relief, the end of the pregnancy and the birth itself went very well. She was
exhausted, but alive. As for the child, he was in excellent health. He was an active little
boy with a wide brow and a forceful, slightly dimpled chin. His strident wailing
suggested that he would have a strong voice. Renée Jeanniot named him Pierre Jean.
That this surprise child was born in Montpellier was in itself no surprise; his mother had
decided it would be so. Her son would be of French birth, not Ethiopian.
As soon as she felt strong enough to move, Renée Jeanniot took the train to
vLombard, where she moved in with the Rameaux, her family in Jura, along with her
daughter Christine and little Pierre Jean, whom she had baptized in the village church.
She chose as his godfather her young nephew, Hubert, son of her sister
MarieAntoinette, who lived in Paris. She wanted to gather her strength before beginning the
long trip back to Ethiopia. There her husband, Gaston Jeanniot, awaited her
impatiently, eager, after several months of purely epistolary contact, to see his wife and
daughter, and to put a face to the name of his itinerant little boy.
Today, if you ask Pierre Jean Jeanniot where he was born, he answers with a touch
of humour: “In Montpellier, but I am not from where I was born.” But is he any more
from Ethiopia, where he grew up?
4 See François Guyot’s novel, D’Addis Abeba à Djibouti en train (Paris: L’Harmattan,
iPierre Jeanniot has kept in touch with this winemaking branch of the family, especially
his cousin Jean Bourdy, also the son of a Rameaux, who sent him his best vintages of
Arbois, up to his death in 1997.
iiJean-Philippe Rameau prized his freedom. After having signed a contract as organist
with the Clermont cathedral that bound him for the next twenty-nine years, he wanted to
terminate it, but the Chapter was opposed. And so, for a subsequent mass, the composer
“applied all his art to producing the most awful music possible, discordant and jerky. It
was so unbearable that he was asked to stop. The Chapter reprimanded him, but he
replied that that was the only kind of music he would play as long as he was denied his
freedom. What could the Chapter do, but accept?” See jp.rameau.free.fr/Chronologie.htm.
iiiThe Armistice was signed in a railroad car (that one can still visit) in Rethondes, in the
forest of Compiègne, located in the Oise Valley.
ivIt was only in 1938 that the French government founded the Societé nationale des
chemins de fer (sncf), which nationalized the railroads. All the existing networks were
merged into one, which henceforth was the responsibility of the state.vThe Lombard railroad station is the end point of the line that links the village to
Besançon, centre of the administrative region of Franche-Comté, part of the département
of Jura.*
A Train for Addis Ababa
IT HAD ALREADY been several weeks since Renée Jeanniot had returned to her apartment
over the railroad station in Addis Ababa. She had resumed her daily routine in the Ethiopian
capital, a city that seemed to enjoy eternal spring. She was also back with her husband, her
bedroom, her books, her easel, her piano and those responsible for taking care of the
household. Once more she breathed in the scents of Addis Ababa, whose humid warmth,
spicy fragrance and eucalyptus perfume all mingled within a pale bluish mist. Not far off was
the surrounding countryside, where the principal ethnic groups, the Amhara, the Oromo and
the Gurage, cooked over eucalyptus res. The faint fumes of smoke drifted in, especially in
the morning and early evening.
The Addis Ababa railroad station. Postcard, 1930.
Through the half-open window she could hear the hubbub on the main square, with its
fruit sellers, its passersby, its children and the travelers being let o- at the station. The city,
whose population was then about 300,000, still had the air of an exotic capital belonging to
another century and another continent.
Situated at an altitude of 2,400 metres, Addis Ababa was founded in 1887 by the ‘King of
Kings,’ Menelik II. Claiming to be the direct descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of
Sheba, he declared his supremacy over the other contenders to the throne of the Kingdom of
Shewa, and in 1865 restored the reign of the Solomonic dynasty. After the construction of the
Suez Canal in 1869, Ethiopia took on strategic importance for European trade, and Italy
wanted to make it a protectorate under its jurisdiction. Menelik II resisted the invasion, and
gained celebrity as far away as Europe for his decisive victory at Adwa in 1896, becoming
the new hero of Ethiopia. After having expanded his realm through combat with the kings
i(called ras) of the Harar, Ogaden, Ka- a and Sidamo provinces, he declared himself the‘Negus’ (or King of Kings) of Ethiopia, and shifted the capital of Shewa to a central location
on a high point whose climate was more moderate, and where thermal springs had been
found. He would call the new capital of Ethiopia, which he had united under his iron hand,
Addis Ababa, meaning ‘new flower.’
In order to supply the city with wood for construction and heating, he planted around the
new capital a forest of eucalyptus imported from Australia. There he built the Gebbi, his
sumptuous palace, today the Menelik Museum, and erected on the central square the famous
Lion of Judah, the palpable symbol of his legitimacy as the direct descendant of the
celebrated king of Israel, the great Solomon, called the “wise man among men,” who reigned
iiover Israel and Judah. Receptive to modern technology, he introduced the telegraph, the
telephone and the automobile. It was his idea to construct a railroad line that would link
Addis Ababa to the Red Sea through the port of Djibouti, then a French colony.
In August 1897, Menelik II, for this vast project, entered into a partnership with France,
with which he had a privileged economic relationship since the time of his armed territorial
expansion. He awarded the mandate for constructing the rail line to European companies
(French and Swiss) grouped together under the name Imperial Company of Ethiopian
Railroads, later to become the Franco-Ethiopian Railroad Company, which was to ensure the
railroad’s subsequent operation. He did not see the work through to its completion, as he
died in 1913. The great project was only inaugurated in 1917.
In 1933, the year of Pierre Jean Jeanniot’s birth, Ethiopia was being governed by Menelik
II’s nephew, the emperor Haile Selassie. Crowned ‘King of Kings’ in his turn, he wanted to
carry on the work of his uncle Menelik II. He consolidated his relations with France, which
continued to play an important commercial, institutional and cultural role. Under his reign,
as the Suez Canal became the principal gate to the Orient and East Africa through the Red
Sea, Ethiopia exploited to the maximum its strategic position at the centre of the Horn of
iiiAfrica. Thanks to its rail line to Djibouti, where all of Ethiopia’s economic and commercial
activity converged, Addis Ababa became, along with Djibouti, one of Africa’s most
prosperous cities.
Gaston Jeanniot (seated) with a colleague in his Addis Ababa railroad station office.
ivAnd so the Franco-Ethiopian Railroad Company, which was run by the French, was not
a simple transport company. It was at the heart of the country’s social and economic activity.
The company’s language of work and administration was French, and it would remain so
vuntil 1972. Even the tickets were in French, though most of the population spoke*
In 1933, Gaston Jeanniot was the director general and principal inspector of the
company. He was often absent from Addis Ababa, but Renée Jeanniot did not mind. She
lled her free time by reading the history and literature that she had always adored. Having
returned to the fold after delivering her child, she organized the living quarters in such a way
as to be able to pursue her own interests.
While her daughter Christine went on with her studies at Addis Ababa’s Franco-Ethiopian
viiLycée, she chose a nurse to take care of little Pierre Jean. This was a young mother
belonging to the ancient Abyssinian tribe, who had given birth to a little girl a few weeks
earlier. Not only did she see to the day-to-day well being of the little boy, changing his
diapers and rocking him to sleep as any good nanny knows how to do, but she breast fed him
along with her own newborn. Pierre Jeanniot would later say that, as a small baby, he was
nourished on chocolate milk.
Given the frequent absences of his father, Pierre Jean Jeanniot was raised in a largely
female environment: his mother, his sister, his nurse and his little companion at the nurse’s
breast. He was well looked after, and did not lack for attention. He grew up watching the
universe unfold at his feet—that of Addis Ababa’s main square, whose sights, sounds and
scents wafted in through the nursery window above the station.
Laid out as a roundabout, the square teemed with life until sunset. Late at night you only
heard the crickets’ song and the howling of wild dogs. During the day, pedestrians, donkeys
loaded with merchandise, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages and the odd automobile crossed
back and forth through the noise and the ambient aromas. To reach the station, travelers
who arrived in a car or carriage pushed their way through the procession of vehicles, cyclists,
Europeans with their umbrellas and black flâneurs in white djellabas, all circling around the
central monument where the imposing Lion of Judah had pride of place.*
In the arms of his Abyssinian nurse in 1934.
For the citizens of Addis Ababa, this Lion of Judah was emblematic of an Ethiopia that
was powerful and indomitable. But for the little boy who became Pierre Jean Jeanniot, the
majestic lion was his. It was his very own lion, and not that of Ethiopia. Every morning, on
his tiptoes, he pushed open his bedroom window and greeted his friend, there waiting for
him in the middle of the square. He admired its strength, its beauty and its gaze, always
reassuring, solemn and good. Its abundant, scalloped mane was topped with a high crown
from the centre of which there rose a cross testifying to the Egyptian Coptic church’s
longago inKuence on Ethiopia. When the rst window to the left over the station was ajar, the
Lion of Judah was there, with eyes only for little Pierre Jean, who stood, fascinated. The
complicity went deep.*
From time to time, Gaston Jeanniot took his family on short trips to Djibouti. It was an
adventure for everyone. The rail route was 748 kilometres in all, across the Ethiopian
countryside, deserts and mountains: an uninterrupted succession of landscapes that took
one’s breath away. The journey could take three days, but it was relatively comfortable, as
special rail cars were available for clients prepared to pay for rst-class tickets. It goes
without saying that the Jeanniot family had the best seats in these luxurious cars. The Negus
himself had his own car, elaborately decorated in gold, with heavy crimson draperies in the
European style. The other travelers, most of them native, opted for second class—decent, but
much less comfortable. There you felt more the jolts, the pitching and the huL ng and
puL ng of the engine. As for third class, it was reserved primarily for the transport of
merchandise and animals. Sometimes travelers would sneak onto the train car roofs, at the
risk of being injured in the tunnels passing through the mountains.
In its bumpy progress across elds, oases and mountains, the train stopped in villages
with evocative names: Debre, Zeit, Dukem, Mieso, Nazareth, Asabot. From the window of the
moving car, little Pierre Jean saw bands of children coming out of their thatch-roofed huts,
running to meet the train, and old men dressed in loincloths with large hunting knives in
their belts. Their faces were black and their hair frizzy. Bare-breasted women with their
ankles circled by jangling bracelets carried on their heads baskets lled with fruit, fritters
and guavas, which they held up to the travelers leaning out of the windows, o- ering them
for a few thalers or Ethiopian dollars.
Every fty kilometres there were longer stops in villages where a station had been set up
that would allow trains to pass in the opposite direction. Other than in these precise spots,
viiithere was only one set of rails all along the route. These halts also made it possible to take
on water, as the builders had designed the line to allow for the setting up, near small rivers,
of water supply points for lling the steam engines’ boilers. This drilling of wells contributed
to the nomadic tribes’ becoming ever more sedentary, as they began using them for their own
needs. When the train stopped, new travelers got on, along with itinerant small merchants
ix xpeddling coffee, injera and qat. The first important stop was at the station of Awash.
About midway to Djibouti, one arrived at Dire Dawa, Ethiopia’s second-most important
city. It boasted a signi cant French colony, centering on the lycée founded in 1908 by monks
from the Vendée for the railworkers’ children. The Alliance Française was active there, and
was at the heart of the small expatriate community’s social life. Besides the lycée, there was a
French consulate, a hospital, a pharmacy, the railworkers’ sports club with facilities for
tennis and pétanque, plus the bu- et in the railroad station, an important meeting place. The
city was divided in two by a wadi that separated the Ethiopian and European districts. The
Jeanniot family visited often, to meet friends and to stay for a few days.
Professionally, for Gaston Jeanniot, Dire Dawa was an obligatory stop. The main
operational centre for the railroad, it was the site of all the workshops central to its
operation. He took the opportunity to visit the workshops for locomotives, rail cars, carpentry
and leather leather, as well as the warehouse where all the replacement pieces for
5maintenance were carefully stored. Given the remoteness from France, where the engines
and cars were manufactured, the upkeep of the equipment was of supreme importance for
the running of the railroad and the security of the passengers.
One May day in 1936, the Jeanniot family was preparing to take the 7 a.m. train. Renée
Jeanniot had prepared the bags for all the family, because their intention was to go beyond
Dire Dawa as far as Djibouti, where Gaston Jeanniot had business. The journey of several
hours went smoothly until the Dire Dawa station, where everyone got down. On the platform
they met some French friends, who pro ted from the whole family’s being there to pass on
the latest news and to talk about what was happening in France.
Taking advantage of the adults’ inattention, little Pierre Jean wandered o- to the end of
the platform. He was three years old, he loved to run and he was very curious. He spotted, a
few houses farther on, a magni cent animal like a big cat, gazing at him calmly with its
large, green, slanted eyes. Its smooth, pale fur was covered in pretty spots like rosettes. Tied
to a post with a long cord, it was languorously reclined, but it could freely move about
within a large radius. Doubtless observing the resemblance to his Lion of Judah, the little boy
gently approached to talk to it and pet it. The animal, still young and wanting to play, licked*
the child’s hands, knocked him down, rolled him around and had him doing noisy
somersaults. Hearing the strange noises and her son’s laughter, Renée Jeanniot turned and
saw the scene. Realizing that the big cat was in fact a leopard, and panicking, she instantly
alerted her husband that something had to be done.
A stopover in Dire Dawa: Renée Jeanniot holding her son’s hand, the nurse, her daughter Christine
and two French friends.
Some employees immediately came to their aid, rushing to disengage the child from the
hirsute and cushioned paws of the animal. Pierre Jeanniot remembers the scene vividly. He
saw the anxiety in his mother’s eyes, but he felt no fear. He knew that the leopard wanted to
play with him and was certain that it would do him no harm. It was only having fun. But
given the apparent danger, and the courageous rescue on the part of the railworkers, the
child immediately became the centre of attention in the Dire Dawa station, and his mother
didn’t let him out of her sight for the rest of the trip. Pierre Jean Jeanniot can still recall the
animal’s musky smell.
After twelve more hours on the train, the family at last arrived at its destination, the port
of Djibouti.
Djibouti, which has since acquired its independence, was then a colony called the French
Coast of the Somalis. After the construction of the Suez Canal, French merchants decided to
build a modern port that would permit the mooring of vessels of substantial tonnage. Its
easily accessible harbour, its large reserves of drinking water and its status as the capital of a
French colony made it the natural Franco-Ethiopian railroad terminus one wanted to
establish. During the 1930s Djibouti was populated by Europeans, the French especially, but
also by Ethiopians and members of the Afar and Issa tribes disputing the lucrative salt and
xicoffee trades. Economic activity Kourished there. The port and the railroad made it possible
to open up Ethiopia by giving it access to international sea routes for the marketing of its
natural resources.
Pierre Jeanniot remembers one of his visits to Djibouti with his mother and father. He
sees the port, and above all what, as a three-year-old child, he took for a magni cent red
balloon. He asked, and then demanded, stamping his foot and shouting at the top of his*
voice, that someone go and bring him the balloon, because he wanted to play with it and
take it back with him to Addis Ababa. He didn’t understand that the magni cent red balloon
he so desired was in fact a buoy that guided the boats into port. It took several hours before
his mother could make him understand and accept that it was just not possible to satisfy his
desire. Renée Jeanniot was learning, if she was not already aware of it, that her son had a
strong temperament, and knew what he wanted in life.
5 The details for the Addis Ababa–Djibouti line were inspired by François Guyot’s book,
D’Addis Abeba à Djibouti en train (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1995).
iFrench merchants supported him by selling him arms. He did business in particular with an
arms merchant by the name of Arthur Rimbaud, the poet prodigy who had traded in his pen for
a lucrative career as an African adventurer. See Alain Borer, Rimbaud in Abyssinia, trans.
Rosmarie Waldrop (William Morrow & Company, 1991).
iiThe legend goes that Solomon succumbed to the charms of the Queen of Sheba, a kingdom
situated within the territory of today’s Yemen and Ethiopia. Makeda, the “black and comely”
sovereign of the Bible, had visited Solomon in order to establish a commercial alliance with
him to the detriment of the Egyptian Pharaoh, their common enemy. She fell in love with
Solomon and had a son by him called Menelik, whom she raised at Aksum in the Jewish faith,
to which she had converted. At thirteen, the age of his bar mitzvah, Menelik went to see his
aging father in Jerusalem, and the king presented him with the tabernacle and the Tables of
the Law that Moses had received on Mount Sinai. The descendants of the Queen of Sheba were
converted to Byzantine Christianity in the fourth century, while retaining the Jewish rituals of
circumcision and the Sabbath. The Ethiopian Falashas are the descendants of those Jews who
remained loyal to Judaism, and the Copts are the descendants of those who converted to
Christianity. The legend inspired many adventurers, painters, writers and lmmakers, such as
André Malraux in the 1930s and George Lucas in the 1980s (Raiders of the Lost Ark, and his
character, Indiana Jones). See also M. Halter, La Reine de Saba (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2008).
iiiThe Horn of Africa usually refers to East African region from theshoresof the Red Sea
totheGreatLakes, and including the Somalian coast and the Abyssinian high plateaus. The
countries composing it are Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is where humanity was
born: the remains of Lucy, the oldest known hominid, widely considered the ‘mother of
humanity,’ were found in the Rift Valley. Source: al.oueb.free.fr/
ivThe name was subsequently changed to the Djibouti-Ethiopian Railroad Company.
vIn that year the unions demanded the Ethiopianization of the railway, and the French still
employed by the company had to leave.
viToday the oL cial language of Ethiopia, Amharic, is a language of Semitic origin spoken in
the major part of the Abyssinian plateau.
viiThe Franco-Ethiopian Lycée in Addis Ababa was founded in 1907 by Félix de Nole, a St.
Gabriel Brother from the Vendée in France. The religious community opened another school
the following year at Dire Dawa, halfway to Djibouti. In 1912, a section was established for
the professional training of aspiring railwaymen for the Franco-Ethiopian railways, where
French was the compulsory language of work.
viiiThis feature inspired a popular novel, La Voie sans disque, by the writer André Armandy
(Paris: Les Annales, 1931). In 1933, the lmmaker Léon Poirier turned that love story and*
mystery into a movie. The lm gave the French a sense of what life was like for expatriates in
Ethiopia in the rst third of the twentieth century, and enhanced the image of a mysterious
and mythical Abyssinia where the poète maudit Arthur Rimbaud had lived once his pen had run
ixA national Ethiopian dish, injera is a crepe made from the cereals te- and sorghum,
accompanied by leguminous sauces, lentils and numerous condiments.
xQat is a many-stemmed bush that can grow to a height of six metres. It is cultivated in
Ethiopia, Yemen and the entire Horn of Africa. Its leaves contain cathinone, qat’s principal
alkaloid, whose e- ects resemble those of amphetamine, but four times less powerful. Qat is
regarded as a soft drug. Its strength as a stimulant and euphoriant depends on the freshness of
the leaves, which limits its use.
xiThe port would also serve at the end of the nineteenth century as a hub for slave ships bound
for Sub-Saharan Africa.Part II
Making the Best of Things 1935–1945
4. My Father, the Hero
5. Rome: Run for Your Life!
6. Woolen Pants and Wooden Shoes
7. News from Christine
8. Between Patton and de Lattre de Tassigny
An Addis Ababa street in 1935.