Eleanor Beardsley | WAMC

Eleanor Beardsley

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

Beardsley has been an active part of NPR's coverage of terrorist attacks in Paris and in Brussels. She has also followed the migrant crisis, traveling to meet and report on arriving refugees in Hungary, Austria, Germany, Sweden and France. She has also traveled to Ukraine, including the flashpoint eastern city of Donetsk, to report on the war there, and to Athens, to follow the Greek debt crisis.

In 2011, Beardsley covered the first Arab Spring revolution in Tunisia, where she witnessed the overthrow of the autocratic President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Since then she has returned to the North African country many times.

In France, Beardsley has covered three presidential elections, including the surprising win by outsider Emmanuel Macron in 2017. Less than two years later, Macron's presidency was severely tested by France's Yellow vest movement, which Beardsley followed closely.

Beardsley especially enjoys historical topics and has covered several anniversaries of the Normandy D-day invasion as well as the centennial of World War I.

In sports, Beardsley closely covered the Women's World Soccer Cup held in France in June 2019 (and won by Team USA!) and regularly follows the Tour de France cycling race.

Prior to moving to Paris, Beardsley worked for three years with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. She also worked as a television news producer for French broadcaster TF1 in Washington, D.C., and as a staff assistant to South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Reporting from France for Beardsley is the fulfillment of a lifelong passion for the French language and culture. At the age of 10 she began learning French by reading the Asterix the Gaul comic book series with her father.

While she came to the field of radio journalism relatively late in her career, Beardsley says her varied background, studies and travels prepared her for the job. "I love reporting on the French because there are so many stereotypes about them in America," she says. "Sometimes it's fun to dispel the false notions and show a different side of the Gallic character. And sometimes the old stereotypes do hold up. But whether Americans love or hate France and the French, they're always interested!"

A native of South Carolina, Beardsley has a Bachelor of Arts in European history and French from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and a master's degree in International Business from the University of South Carolina.

Beardsley is interested in politics, travel and observing foreign cultures. Her favorite cities are Paris and Istanbul.

France has been shocked by incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism in the last couple weeks, including 80 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery painted with graffiti and swastikas earlier this month.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said France and other Western democracies are experiencing a "resurgence of anti-Semitism unseen since World War II."

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Stung by criticism, and with his government rocked by ongoing protests from yellow vest demonstrators, French President Emmanuel Macron last month launched a nationwide series of community conversations — what his government calls a grand debat national or "great national debate." Since mid-January, groups of mayors, local leaders and ordinary citizens have been meeting to hear and respond to complaints, grievances and suggestions.

Hanni Weissenberg, now Hanni Lévy, survived as a Jew in Nazi Germany.

Today, the petite and lively 94-year-old lives in Paris. Earlier this month, she returned to Berlin, her home during the war years, to attend the screening of a film about her and other Jews who survived while hiding under the noses of the Nazis.

The Invisibles, a German documentary-drama based on the accounts of four survivors, opened Friday in the U.S.

In the film, Lévy is depicted first at age 17, sitting in her Berlin apartment in 1943, with the Gestapo pounding on the door.

At a traffic circle outside the northern French town of Rouen, a couple of dozen protesters gather every day, building a bonfire and occasionally blocking traffic. The threat of arrest doesn't keep them away. Au contraire, says protester Frederic Bard; the nationwide movement called the gilets jaunes, or yellow vests, feels pretty powerful.

"The media are all talking about us, and we actually made the government back down," he says. "We're not about to accept the crumbs Macron has thrown us."

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The French government is hoping Saturday's "yellow vest" protests were the last. The movement, named for the fluorescent safety vests worn by demonstrators, is not only the country's biggest social and political crisis in 50 years, but, according to many analysts, a very threat to French democracy. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has called for national unity and said, "It's time to stop the fighting and begin the dialogue."

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Bells toll at the abbey where Dom Perignon is buried in the French region of Champagne. The Benedictine monk is said to have discovered the method for turning wine into champagne here more than 300 years ago.

As far as the eye can see, neat rows of vines look as if they're stitched across the rolling hillsides.

Mick Jagger and David Bowie gushed over her. Bob Dylan composed a poem about her and refused to continue playing during one Paris concert unless she was in the audience and visited him backstage. Francoise Hardy is a 1960s French pop icon who more than 50 years later is still making music. At the age of 74, she's not slowing down yet. Hardy has released her 28th album. Hardy's latest work, Personne d'Autre, available now, is the artist's best-selling album yet, coming close to Gold status in France.

Around the world, people are struggling for access to drinking water. All Things Considered is examining the forces at play in separating the haves from the have-nots — from natural disasters to crumbling infrastructure and corruption.

There's a distinct sound to summertime in Switzerland. I first heard it driving up a winding mountain road at night. A curious tinkling sound was coming from the darkness around me. It got louder and closer, until I realized it was the clanging of cow bells in the surrounding pastures.

I knew the month was going to be a wash after just two phone calls. It was early August and I had returned to Paris from my vacation in the U.S., energized and ready to start working on stories again. But my first two calls for interviews were met with the same recording: "We are away on vacation and the office is closed. We'll be back Aug. 30."

Ah, Paris in August.

French butchers say they're under threat from militant vegans. And they've asked the French government for protection. What's at stake, say butchers, is not just the right to eat meat — but a way of life.

Didier and Sandrine Tass run their butcher shop on a busy street in Paris' 15th arrondissement. They've been here for 19 years. They know all their customers and discuss growing children and family vacations as they serve them. The Tasses say it's a great livelihood. But these days, the butcher and his wife are nervous about threats from militant vegans.

Sometimes a high school history project ends up making history. That's what happened when a 16-year-old Nebraska student decided to participate in the National History Day project in 2015.

Partly due to her research, the bodies of two American twin brothers, separated at death during World War II, were finally reunited.

A Paris concert that's still months away is generating controversy. Muslim rapper Médine is scheduled to play at the Bataclan, the concert hall where 89 people were killed by Islamist extremists in a terrorist attack two and a half years ago.

As France competes in the World Cup, the makeup of the team is bringing some positive attention to some French who have been struggling with poverty and low expectations. Several team members are from "les banlieues," the mainly nonwhite working-class suburbs that surround many major cities such as Paris, Lyon and Marseilles.

In March 1968, a journalist from France's Le Monde newspaper claimed that the French were too bored to take part in the upheaval that had begun sweeping other countries that year. There was peace and prosperity in France. But there was also an entrenched, patriarchal society led by a deeply conservative president, Charles de Gaulle, who in 1968 had already been in power for 10 years. And there was a generation of young people yearning for greater freedom.

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In late March, thousands of people took to the streets of Paris to protest the murder of an elderly woman whose killers may have been motivated by anti-Semitism. The silent march started at Place de la Nation and ended at 85-year-old Mireille Knoll's apartment in a working-class neighborhood in the east of the city. That's where her partially charred body was found with stab wounds on March 23.

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Patrick Desbois, a Roman Catholic priest, has spent the last 15 years investigating and uncovering the details of Nazi massacres across Eastern Europe and Russia, crimes known as the "Holocaust by bullets."

During World War II, the Nazis killed some 1.5 million Jews and Roma across the Soviet Union. While the Nazi death camps are well documented, much less has been known about the systematic murdering of Jews in what are today Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and other countries.

Every morning at a supermarket called Auchan in central Paris, Magdalena Dos Santos has a rendezvous with Ahmed "Doudou" Djerbrani, a driver from the French food bank.

Dos Santos, who runs the deli section of the store, is in charge of supervising the store's food donations. She sets aside prepared dishes that are nearing their expiration date.

Opening a giant fridge, Dos Santos shows what else the store is giving away – yogurt, pizza, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cheese.

When President Emmanuel Macron set out to overhaul France's notoriously rigid labor laws last fall, unions promised crippling strikes to stop him.

All of France, it seemed, was waiting for the showdown.

After all, the country's powerful unions have stopped French leaders from overhauling their cherished work code for decades. In 2016, a succession of strikes and 14 nationwide protests snuffed out President François Hollande's hopes for simplifying the 3,000-page employment code.

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The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal has been felt far and wide. As women continue to speak out against sexual aggression, the #MeToo movement has ended a few careers. Many people in France now wonder if it could also topple a longstanding social custom — the two-cheek kiss known as la bise.

In December, the female mayor of Morette, a small town in western France, fired off an email to 73 municipal counselors, telling them, "From now on, I would prefer to shake hands, like men do."

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Aurelie Garat still can't get over how she found her Pere Noel this year. She's the Christmas pageant organizer for the tiny Normandy town of Vimoutiers.

"I was parking when I saw a nice young man with a beautiful beard sitting in his car on the phone," says Garat. "So I said to him, your beard speaks to me. Would you be our Father Christmas this year?"

Garat says they had been looking everywhere and had almost given up hope. She says it was as if this Pere Noel — as the French call Santa Claus — had just fallen out of the sky.

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