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Today's quote:

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Did you know Steve McQueen spoke fluent Spanish?


I didn't know either, but here he is with Dustin Hoffman, fluent to the last 'Hola'. It reminded of today's 126th anniversay of Alfred Dreyfus's imprisonment on Devils Island after he had been accused of selling military secrets to Germany and convicted in an irregular trial against a backdrop of anti-Semitism.

Papillon’s world-famous Devil's Island at "Îles du Salut" in French Guiana in South America are known in English as the Salvation Islands but they were anything but "salvation" for the prisoners sent there from the French mainland by Emperor Napoleon III and the subsequent French governments. This was the French smaller version of other more famous death camps. From 1852 to 1947, some 80,000 prisoners died from disease, inhumane conditions and the guillotine on these sad isles. So much for égalité, liberté and fraternité.

The three tiny former prison islands consist of Île du Diable, Île Royale and Île St Joseph, and thanks to shark-infested waters they were considered escape-proof enoug for political prisoners, including the French/Jewish Alfred Dreyfus, wrongly convicted of treason in 1894.



The most famous prisoner though was Henry Charrière, who became known for his epic tale of nine remarkable escapes from French Guiana’s infamous prison camps. Nicknamed Papillon (Butterfly) for a tattoo on his chest, Charrière claims that after being wrongly convicted of murder he escaped from Îles du Salut by floating toward the mainland on a sack full of coconuts and cut his way through harsh malarial jungles to flee towards freedom eastward. Papillon is portrayed by Steve McQueen in a 1973 Hollywood version of his life, also starring a young Dustin Hoffman in thick glasses.

As for both being fluent in Spanish, let's just say that this was the only full-length version of the movie I could find on YouTube. So learn some Spanish and enjoy!

Googlemap Riverbend


P.S. To learn more about the Dreyfus case, watch the 1958 movie "I accuse!" which is in black-and-white - and not in Spanish either!