From Napoleon to... Salma Hayek
Mexican actress Salma Hayek has been awarded the French Légion d'Honneur. Her record of accomplishments entitling her to such an honor can be found at Wikipedia:
Hayek's charitable work includes increasing awareness on violence against women and discrimination against immigrants. On July 19, 2005, Hayek testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary supporting reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. In February 2006, she donated $25,000 to a Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, shelter for battered women and another $50,000 to Monterrey based anti-domestic violence groups. Hayek is a board member of V-Day, the charity founded by playwright Eve Ensler.
Since the birth of her daughter, Hayek has worked to help mothers in developing nations worldwide, teaming up with Pampers and UNICEF to help stop the spread of life-threatening maternal and neonatal tetanus. She is a global spokesperson for the Pampers/UNICEF partnership 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine to help raise awareness of the program.
Hayek also advocates breastfeeding. During a UNICEF fact-finding trip to Sierra Leone, she breastfed a hungry week-old baby whose mother could not produce milk.
In 2010, Hayek's humanitarian work earned her a nomination for the VH1 Do Something Awards.
Those interested can watch a short video of Hayek breastfeeding the African baby. In the video she explains why she did it.
The Légion d'Honneur award itself, created by Napoleon, is explained in Wikipedia:
In the French Revolution all French orders of chivalry were abolished. It was the wish of Napoleon Bonaparte, the First Consul and de facto sole ruler, to create a reward to commend civilians and soldiers and from this wish was instituted a Légion d'Honneur, a body of men that was not an order of chivalry, for Napoleon did know that France did not want a new nobility system, but a recognition of merit. (…)
The order was the first modern order of merit. The orders of the monarchy were often limited to Roman Catholics and all knights had to be noblemen. The military decorations were the perks of the officers. The Légion, however, was open to men of all ranks and professions. Only merit or bravery counted. The new legionnaire had to be sworn in the Légion. (…)
Although research is made difficult by the loss of the archives, it is known that three women who fought with the army were decorated with the order: Virginie Ghesquière, Marie-Jeanne Schelling and a nun, Sister Anne Biget.
The Légion d'honneur was prominent and visible in the empire. The Emperor always wore it and the fashion of the time allowed for decorations to be worn most of the time. The king of Sweden therefore refused the order; it was too common in his eyes. (...)
The President of the French Republic is the Grand Master of the Order and appoints all other members of the Order—by convention, on the advice of the Government. Its principal officers are the Chancellor and Secretary-General. (…)
French nationals, men and women, can be received into the légion, for "eminent merit" (mérites éminents) in military or civil life. In practice, in current usage, the order is conferred, in addition to military recipients, to entrepreneurs, high-level civil servants, sport champions in as well as others with connections in the executive. Members of the French Parliament cannot receive the order, except for valour in war, and ministers are not allowed to nominate their accountants.
Click here for a complete list of those who have received this honor. Everyone from Victor Hugo to Barbra Streisand, from Dwight Eisenhower to Jerry Lewis, from Louis Pasteur to Josephine Baker. Friend of animals and enemy of French politicians Brigitte Bardot was not among them. Nor were soprano Régine Crespin or showman Maurice Chevalier. Nor were the great composer Maurice Ravel, or the eminent French conductors Jean Martinon, Pierre Monteux, and Charles Munch. But Renée Fleming and Robert Redford are there.
Not everyone is happy with the choice of Miss Hayek. Here is an article from Yahoo, sent by a reader:
As actress Salma Hayek prepares to receive the Légion d'Honneur, there are those who are not at all pleased, like Henri Torre, an ex-minister, who was also a recipient.
Henri Torre, 78 and a former minister is refusing to be decorated with the Légion d'Honneur. "Too many people have been decorated who did not deserve to be.. They have made a mockery of this high distinction by naming anybody", declared Torre. And by "anybody", the former senator means members of show business, often decorated during the five-year term of Nicolas Sarkozy.
It must be admitted that the naming of Salma Hayek has engendered much talk. A blogger affiliated with the journal Marianne set the tone when he gave advance notice that the list of recipients this year would be "once again be an occasion for mirth, surprise and shock at the ribbon ceremony, that honors eminent services rendered to the nation."
At the website of l'Express readers' comments flooded in when the announcement was made. "Why not Tintin and Milou," asked one reader, while another predicted that "Napoleon was turning in his grave."
A reminder nonetheless that Salma Hayek is being decorated for her work as a "movie director and producer, an active member of charitable foundations: 23 years of services," according to the Official Record.
The main thing to remember is that Hayek is married to French billionaire François-Henri Pinault, director of Financière Pinault and chairman of the board of Artémis. Besides his daughter by Hayek, he has two children by his first wife and is the father of model Linda Evangelista's baby, born in 2006. Here is what one website says about him:
Since the day he was born, Francois-Henri had money growing out of his ears. His father, tycoon Francois Pinault, is the founder of retail company PPR and ranked no. 74 among the world’s richest people in 2006.
Currently, Francois-Henri is the CEO of PPR, which basically runs the luxury-goods market. PPR owns big brands Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, and Balenciaga.
Pinault is a friend of Nicolas Sarkozy leading some to the conclusion that this was the real reason for the award to his wife.
Below a photo of Hayek pregnant while engaged to Pinault.
Some revealing photos (not nudity) of Miss Hayek are posted here.
The painting at the top shows the first distribution of the Légion d'Honneur, July 15, 1804.