Just Above Sunset
September 4, 2005 - In the News in France as Summer Ends

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In another item in these pages - The President's Rentrée: When it rains, it pours… - you will find this comment:


Well, the president's vacation is so over. And it was so very French - five or six weeks off, bicycling with Lance through the fields of poppies. But as in France, it's time for the September rentrée - that time the French "reenter" the real world after their long summer vacations – as Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, puts it, "when the last French holiday-er is supposed to have returned and applied his or herself to the garlic grindstone."

As there, so here. The real world needs some attention.


Ric sends this along on the last day of August:


Paris, Wednesday, August 31 -

Was the president's vacation "so very French?" Bush has taken twenty-eight days - four whole weeks. This used to be normal for French holidays but they probably max at three weeks with two weeks being common these days. While the 35-hour week continues, many take the rest of their allotted time off in short breaks combined with national holidays and long weekends. It spreads the vacation around the calendar, and around the country.

But politicians were hacking away until late July or early August, and now they're back, showing off their suntanned faces. Champion tan goes to Dominique de Villepin, with Nicolas Sarkozy as runner-up. In France most political parties have conventions at the end of August. These are called 'Universite d'Ete,' but they are pure politics. In two weeks the Communists will have their big fête, called the 'Fête d'Humanité,' after the newspaper. Many on the left will take part in this party just outside Paris, for this is to be a hot rentrée. They are calling for the jumbo mother of demos - hoping to put a million on the streets to protest everything about the government.

There are people in France growing their own gasoline. Apparently it is not rocket science. The EU in Brussels has said it is okay to do this, but Paris' tax collectors say that French farmers who put plant gas in their cars are breaking the law. As others have pointed out the price of crude has reached a level where plant gas is cheaper to use. A professor said that sunflower power won't hurt modern motors. Meanwhile, José Bové's gang has been tearing down transgenetic corn again, and fighting with state goons trying to protect it. This is what some people do on their holidays - rip out corn and fight with the police.

Did I say meanwhile? In Paris crummy places where people are lodged while waiting to be assigned less-crummy places to live, are catching fire for mysterious reason. There was the hotel fire six months ago and now there have been two more, within a week. For the first of the two - with about 17 killed, mostly kids - the mayor could not speak. On camera, speechless. Then a few days later it happens again - another shabby temporary lodging breaks out in flames, more kids die. Sarkozy, of course, is on the spot. Says, 'all the crummy places gotta be counted.' Does not say the government is going to have a crash program, to house the 100,000 in Paris on waiting lists. The city has to do it, and is doing it with the means it has. Now the students are returning, all competing for lodgings. Sub-studio rents are hovering around 600 euros a month. A government plan to legalize living spaces the size of broom closets was rejected as inhumane.

All is not somber. On this last day of August the sky is nicely blue and the temperature is about 32 degrees, and there is a little breeze. Of course there's an ozone alert, but so what? It might be the last of the year.


As there, so here.



In English from AFP (l'Agence France-Presse):

Tuesday, August 30: Third Fatal Paris Fire Focuses Attention On Immigrants' Plight
Wednesday, August 31: Politicians Swap Accusations Over Paris Fire Disasters

And from Nicholas Long's Internet Press Review in English for Wednesday, August 31, over at RFI - Radio France Internationale:


The front page story in most of the French press is the aftermath of the fire that broke out in a Paris apartment on Monday night, killing seven people, all of African origin. This was the second fatal blaze in a Paris apartment building in four days; the last cost the lives of 27 people, also African, and fifteen others died in a fire in Paris five months ago.

We have a special report coming up in this programme in which Philip Turle talks to some survivors of the latest fire, and asks the question how soon all the unsafe buildings in Paris that need urgent work could be made safe. The papers throw some light on that question. According to LE FIGARO there are some 550 buildings in the capital that the city hall considers so badly degraded that it's set up a company to take them over and repair them by 2007. Half of these buildings are currently undergoing repairs and the building that caught fire on Monday was one of them. The town hall had decided to take it over last year, and had ordered a ban on people living there, and on the landlord collecting rent. The occupants were squatters and the landlord said he had not had access to the building since 1999; he had refused the city hall's offer of 330,000 euros to buy the building, claiming he had had other offers of up to a million euros. A court had ordered the evacuation of the building, but this order had not been carried out by the police.


And so on and so forth...  They are clearing all the buildings now.

Trivia: RFI - Radio France Internationale - has its headquarters over in the 16th, on avenue du Président Kennedy, oddly enough.


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