The Corner

From Versailles to Davos



The Petit Hameau (The Little Hamlet), or “Le Hameau de la Reine,” was situated in the English-style gardens of the Petit Trianon.   Created in 1783, the Petit Hameau was a mock farm area, complete with farmhouse, dairy, and poultry yard …

When visiting this ersatz farm, Marie Antoinette and her attendants would dress as shepherdesses, and play at milking the cows and tending other docile animals.   The farmhouse interior was more opulent, featuring all of the luxuries expected by the Queen and her ladies….

The Petit Hameau was part of the landscape of the “natural” English garden, but it was also a reflection of France’s cultural values on the eve of the Revolution.  This artificial nature retreat mirrored the moral values associated with natural simplicity and virtue. 

Novelists, playwrights, and moralists encouraged the aristocracy to act their part by giving a helping hand to the deserving poor in well-staged events that would reflect well on them….

The aristocracy, however, were known to turn all this simplicity into a pretty spectacle.


The New York Times:

Most of the events center on talking. But beyond lectures and panel discussions, the agenda also features more esoteric attractions. One notable event is a simulation of a refugee’s experience, where Davos attendees crawl on their hands and knees and pretend to flee from advancing armies.

If forced to choose between these two disgusting charades, I’d have to say that the one performed by Marie-Antoinette was somewhat less repulsive. To be sure, the queen and her courtiers were acting out a grotesquely idealized pastiche of rural life (supposedly made more authentic, incidentally, by the presence of, so to speak, ‘show peasants’ who did the real farm work) of remarkable insensitivity, but it was, fundamentally, a performance, a game with only a nod to “virtue”.

Contrast then, the spectacle at Davos, virtue-signaling at its most narcissistic. The participants in the farce, all of whom ought to be very well aware of the real horrors that refugees have to face, will make a great  show of  having learnt everything from an experience that will have taught them nothing, while being praised by fellow-participants, onlookers and, most importantly, themselves for having the courage and the empathy to submit to an ‘ordeal’ that is an insult to those who have had to suffer the real thing –  and a gesture of contempt towards the intelligence of everyone else.

Or, if you are Ban-Ki Moon, late of the UN, it is “a profound experience that reminds us of the plight of millions of forcibly displaced people.”

Full details of what the Crossroads Foundation (which has arranged ‘refugee simulations’ at Davos since 2009, not to forget ‘poverty simulations’ in 2013 and 2015) will be offering can be found here.

As they should, the organizers acknowledge that it “is always a challenge to portray a global issue in a sensitive way, particularly in a very short time frame.”

But, no worries…

We ask… questions of our refugee colleagues, those who have lived it first-hand. Secondly, we liaise with NGO representatives who serve refugees in the camps and other locations where they are seeking shelter. These two groups help determine the story line and its trueness to life, the props and set that best reflect reality and the points they consider of critical importance for participants to take away.

OK then…

And for participants who might be a little anxious about what awaits them:

Simulations vary but some can be very powerful. For that reason, we warn those considering an experience that they may be placed in an intense situation. We also assure them that no actual harm will come to them. In addition, we tell them that if at any point during the experience, they feel they cannot manage, they may leave immediately and we will have staff ready to speak with them, as needed. Since we began offering simulations, we have almost never found people do this, but the offer is always there.

Message to participants: How courageous you are, and (whispered) how thrilling it will be. 

And there will always be time for a restorative cocktail at that nice little bar that will not, I am sure, be too far away.  

The farmhouse interior was more opulent, featuring all of the luxuries expected by the Queen and her ladies….