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Neither Here Nor There: Noonoah, le petit phoque blanc

In the marketplace at Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, just across the Rhone river from Avignon in the south of France, there is a brocante or flea market every Saturday. I was there a few weeks ago browsing among the tables with a friend.

In the marketplace at Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, just across the Rhone river from Avignon in the south of France, there is a brocante or flea market every Saturday. I was there a few weeks ago browsing among the tables with a friend.

I was enjoying the bright sunshine in t-shirt and shorts, a welcome break from the fog and ice-filled harbour at home. In one corner of the market in the shade of trees, people sat in an open-air bar sipping wine and listening to a trio playing classical music.

The atmosphere was relaxing; there was no pressure to buy, good news, since I couldnt in my wildest dreams afford most of what was on display.

There was glassware from before the French revolution, massive armoires with beautiful wood inlay, gold jewellery and silverware from the seventeenth century, plus tables piled high with old books.

Among these last I found a rare treasure in mint condition and bought it without hesitation; two euros, about three dollars Canadian.

It was entitled Noonoah, le petit phoque blanc. Noonoah, the Little White Seal.

The author? None other than Brigitte Bardot.

Written by the starlet at the height of her fame in 1978, it is an illustrated childrens book that tells the story of a baby seal named Noonoah, Little Sun in Eskimo, explained Bardot who didnt know the word, Inuit.

As the story opens, Noonoah, the baby is born to his elated parents, Daddy and Mummy Seal. Maybe it is because they are celebrating the happy arrival that the parents are all dressed up.

Lying on an ice floe with the new born reclining on a puffy white pillow, Mama Phoque is wearing a blue house dress with frilly lace around the hem and a neck that is scooped so low that it comes close to revealing assets of which Bardot herself might have been envious.

Mama Phoque has real seal whiskers, but also what look suspiciously like eyelash extensions. The happy Dad, in addition to a big smile, is wearing a bow tie, collar and cuffs, French cuffs naturally, but no shirt.

All three ¬ mother, father and baby are wearing white gloves. Of course they are wearing gloves. Why wouldnt they be? Do you know how cold it gets out there on the ice floes?

Enter Irkou, the little Eskimo boy. Irkou is a friend of the seals, and he tries to introduce Noonoah to eating raw fish.

At this stage the little seal prefers mothers milk from those pretty containers threatening to burst out of the lacy front of her dress as she reclines fetchingly on the ice surrounded by other sunbathers.

Much as you might see them on the beach at St. Tropez, Bardots hometown on the Cote dAzur, the female seals are wearing bikinis while the bathing suits of the male seals are pretty darn skimpy too.

I must say they do start French kids early in the matter of fashion and sex. The whole scene is such a happy and contented one. The only thing that you could imagine spoiling it is if the seals forgot to put on their sun-block.

But wait, there is something terribly wrong. The very next day, Irkou the little Inuit boy rushes in to announce that bad men have broken through the ice in their steel boats and are setting about massacring the baby seals in order to sell their beautiful white fur for a very high price.

The mother seals scream and cry.

The young ones are too young to swim so the whole herd tries to crawl away to safety, pausing from time to time to wipe away tears with their white gloves.

Its hopeless, of course. Turning the page the little child reader comes face to face with the brutal truth. A group of demonic looking men with glaring eyes and fiendish smiles are clubbing and skinning the baby seals.

One little seal looks up smiling innocently as a sealers club swings downward. There is blood everywhere. Even on the white gloves.

Thinking fast, the weeping Irkou intervenes just in time to stop a sealer from clubbing Noonoah; then he finds a sled and drags the young seal away from the scene of carnage hiding him in his igloo. The sealer laughs uproariously, shrugs his shoulders, and moves away. Noonoah is safe.

Bardots message is that the slaughter continues, and will continue, every March unless you, tiny French reader curled up in your mothers lap, can find a way to convince women like your mother not to buy fur coats.

The next to last page shows a group of guilty looking women in fur coats eating in a fashionable French restaurant. The seal coats they are wearing are covered in bloodstains. This illustration no doubt contributed to the trend in Europe in the eighties for throwing red paint on fur coats in public places.

The last page shows Irkou paddling off into the distance in his kayak as Noonoah, his fur having now turned gray, waves goodbye. Irkou is off to spread the word to the rest of the world that the hunt must be stopped. So should you, little French child, said Bardot. Be good, and spread the word just like this little Eskimo boy.

Brigitte Bardot probably still doesnt know today that the word Eskimo is the derogatory Cree term for Inuit and means eaters of raw meat. Seal meat.

On the back cover is a 1978 photo of the beautiful Bardot cuddling a whitecoat. Great snap. Maybe the seal was sedated; otherwise it might have tried to bite her like that little scamp who tried to take a piece out of Heather McCartney on Larry King Live.

Ridiculous though it seems, this kind of propaganda has had an enormous effect.

Its fitting, I suppose, that la belle Bardot, who made her lifes work exposing her skin should finish her life protecting the skins of others.

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