Just Above Sunset
July 17, 2005 - France Goes Off the Clock Again

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Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. His weekly columns appear here and often in a slightly different version the next day on his site from Paris, with photographs.

PARIS, Saturday, July 16, 2005 - The trouble with France is that everything is an exception. If it were not I would write, 'in normal times,' but there never are any. A year's worth of bickering was supposed to end at midnight on July 13 so everybody can have a united Bastille Day, watch the uniformed soldiers and sailors march down the Champs-Elysées in the brilliant sunshine, and then go off to well-earned vacations until September 15 when the new bickering season starts.


Four terrorist bombs in London a week before were tragic but not all that rare in Europe. We've been blown up before many times. All the same, after the military parade on Thursday at the stroke of 13:00, sirens signaled the beginning of two minutes of silence as a memorial. This wasn't just in Paris but all over Europe.

At the traditional garden party at the Elysée Palace the president of France, Jacques Chirac, stood at attention on the terrace and the palace's waiters suspended their cocktail service for two long minutes while guests panted.


This caused the president's annual Bastille Day 'press conference,' broadcast on television, to be delayed by 20 minutes. Traditionally the president is asked 'questions' he wants to answer, so it's a way for him to say what is on his mind. As it turned out, Jacques was sincere and convincing, at least to himself. No new news was the news, given with good intentions.


Meanwhile Brazilian soldiers, the guests of honor at the garden party were sniffing at the Brazilian beef grilling and the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, was circulating some elegant ambiance. Elected politicians, usually present en masse, poked their noses in and then disappeared.


At the Ministry of the Interior in the Place Beauvau, across the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, about 70 metres distant from the Elysée Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy was hosting a garden party in his ministry's grounds. Traditionally this is to honor the country's police and firemen on the national holiday, but the short minister invited the press to what is usually a private fête. If this wasn't a 'first' for the République, it must have been an exception.


Monsieur Sarkozy has had quite a bit to say since be began campaigning for the job as president of France the day after the French voted 'non' for the European constitution. "The French are demanding action, they are demanding that old ideas get shifted," he was reported to say. We take his word for it of course. He also insisted that France is grumbling, and he is listening.


But not to the country's president. While Jacques was saying not much on television, the television at the ministry of the interior was turned off, while the orchestra in the garden played themes from James Bond films.


Across the street the strategy seems to be to let the talkative minister of the interior spin out of control on his own steam. The president says he welcomes the debates. But it is like the press conference - both the president and his ambitious minister make declarations rather than engage in dialogues.


While the president's thoughts have taken hits from his erstwhile allies, Bastille Day also gives the loyal opposition a chance for a whack at him. The Socialist's leader François Hollande characterized Chirac's comments as those of a president at the 'end of his reign,' adding, "He has nothing left to say to the French." This was picked up by the Socialist's spokesperson, Annick Lepetit, who noted that the president's comments 'were long' compared to their content.


It is the 'Year of Brazil' in France so Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, or Lula for short, was the guest of honor for the Bastille Day ceremonies. In return he loaned his minister of culture, Giberto Gil, to Paris' mayor Bertrand Delanoë - to be the star of an all-star Brazilian show on the eve of Bastille Day, at the Bastille.


This raised the musical tone of this street party - all of Paris was invited - where a huge concert stage was erected and amped to the max, which might not have been all that necessary because of all the drums. The minister showed up, and performed with Jorge Ben Jor, Gal Costa, Lenine, Seu Jorge and Daniela Mercury, and halfway through Lula showed up, was greeted like a local hero by the estimated 60,000 present, while the mayor did the translation duties.


Some Brazilian units then took part in the Champs-Elysées parade the following morning, and Lula saluted and went on to the Elysée Palace for the cocktail in the garden.


Earlier in the week Lula was at the G8 meeting up in Scotland where he pleaded the case for Africa as well as for the particular plight of Haiti, where Brazil has 8000 troops stationed, under a UN command.  Along with India, Japan and Germany, Brazil is seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, with some support from France and none from the United States.


Seven Brazilian air force aircraft overflew Paris during the Bastille Day parade, trailing green and yellow smoke. This is a model that France will buy from Brazil, or take in trade for a dozen used Mirage 2000s that Lula eyed for Brazil.


Other random items associated with the end-of-year Bastille Day hoopla were the usual presidential pardons, given to certain categories of prisoners because of prison overpopulation. On the opposite side, the recipients of Légion d'honneur awards were also named, among whom were actor Philippe Noiret, film maker Fernado Arrabal and mode designer Valentino.


Then, because of perfect weather on Thursday, a quarter-million trekked to the Champ de Mars for the traditional evening fireworks at the Eiffel tower. These always look the same to me but I was informed that there were some extra features not seen since the special show done for New Year's 2000. TV-news showed a five second clip to give me a fleeting idea of what I missed.


Little noticed last Monday were the few deputies cooking in the National Assembly who quietly voted to change the work statues, to allow workers to 'opt' for contractual pay-per-day rather than normal hourly wages. Managers are usually paid on a daily basis. This could raise the average number of hours worked per year from about 1600 to 2800, at no increase in salary.


This came too late for the union reaction this season. The summer has priority now, and another million left Paris this weekend headed south. The traffic radars are cranking out speeding tickets, the forest firewater bombers are in heavy rotation, and the nearly naked French are grilling on all the coasts, along with millions of visitors.


Folks are busy falling off mountains, Jose Bové's merry pranksters are tearing out genetically modified corn, swimmers are downing, festivals are booked out, jazz is all over, food inspectors are on the prowl, the Tour de France grinds on and the Stade de France is full of sand and parasols for a week. No more 'nons,' no Olympics; just sun, sand, sex, food and fun.


Those of us left behind have only another week to stew until this year's edition of the fake-beach Paris Plage resumes along with nightly tango. All things being equal, or exceptional, this will probably be the date of the return of the chilly rains. Or the heatwave, or maybe all three.




Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis





Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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