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France

The race for la lanterne rouge

Thursday, 20 July, 2017 0 Comments

La lanterne rouge is the French term for the competitor in last place in the Tour de France. Currently, the “honour” is held by Luke Rowe from Team Sky, which is quite astonishing as his teammate Chris Froome leads the field. Clearly, the media-savvy Sky wants to hoover up all the publicity, from start to finish, from top to tail.

The race for the lanterne rouge among the tour teams has come down to three: Team Dimension Data, Team Katusha Alpecin and Team FDJ. Of the three, Team Dimension Data is the most fascinating as its sponsor is working on transforming the Tour into a Big Data project. Actually, the proper name of the team is “Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, Africa’s first UCI World Tour Team racing to mobilise change in Africa, one bicycle at a time.” Qhubeka is a charity that gives bicycles to young people in Africa and, as we know, mobility is vital for the development of every society.

Today: Stage 18 from Briançon to Col d’Izoard. The ascent of this legendary Alp will be crucial to determining the winner of this year’s Tour.


Vive la France!

Friday, 14 July, 2017 0 Comments

It’s the #jourdebastille and there are many reasons to celebrate it. For example, the 13th stage of the Tour de France from Saint-Girons to Foix. It’s being described as “brutal”, which should add to the enjoyment. Then we’ve got the Trump, l’« ami » américain de Macron bonding in Paris, and there’s always that classic scene from Casablanca when Rick Blaine, owner of the Café Américain, asks the house band to play La Marseillaise.


Macron first, second and third

Monday, 24 April, 2017 0 Comments

If you add Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 19 percent to the 21 percent Marine Le Pen got in yesterday’s French presidential first-round vote, you have 40 percent of the electorate now radically opposed to “the system” of which Emmanuel Macron is a product and a symbol. Still, he will be elected president of France in a fortnight’s time says Arthur Goldhammer, writing in Prospect. Why? The youthful Macron has three main advantages over the hapless Hollande. Snippet:

“First, he did not pretend to be anything but what he is: a reformist social-liberal technocrat.

Second, he is not saddled with the baggage of 30 years of maneuvering among party factions and a hundred past compromises.

Finally, and most importantly, he has the knack of reassuring the Germans, who in my estimation have recognized that some modification in their approach to strict budgetary discipline is in order if the European Union is to be preserved, as they hope it will be because they have profited from it so handsomely. Regardless of whether Merkel or Schulz is the next German chancellor, the Germans will have found in Macron someone they can work with, and that is long overdue good news for Europe.”

Given the nature of the French administration, being president is a critical part of the constitutional puzzle, but governing is a very different story. Or, as they say in France: c’est une autre paire de manches.


My Mélenchony Baby

Saturday, 22 April, 2017 0 Comments

The full title of this sobering piece by Spengler (David P. Goldman) on tomorrow’s French election is “Come to Me, My Mélenchony Baby” and it’s a thoughtful take from the American side of the Atlantic on the options that face voters in a contest that’s powered by “rage against the country’s complacent and corrupt Establishment.” In a choice between Macron and Le Pen, Spengler would opt for Fillon. Snippet:

“Macron is pure bubble; if the bubble pops, right and left could unite with some elements of the Establishment to put Le Pen in power. She is the only candidate to warn about the danger to French society posed by Muslim migrants. But she also wants to take France out of the European Union, which would mean the end of the EU. The main winner in that case would be Putin. If I were French I would at least consider voting for Le Pen; as an American, I hope she loses as a matter of pure American strategic interest. The best outcome from an American standpoint would be the victory of the conservative Catholic free-marketeer Francois Fillon.”

Only Mélenchon or Le Pen would challenge the rotten elites, but neither France nor the EU might survive their radical approaches. Which, then, is the lesser of the electoral evils? That’s what the voters must ponder, but regardless of the outcome, the decline of France will continue.


Le crépuscule de la France d’en haut

Friday, 21 April, 2017 0 Comments

“The Twilight of the French Elite” is the English translation of Le crépuscule de la France d’en haut, the most recent book by Christophe Guilluy, who describes himself an urban geographer. Guilluy is best known for his concept of France périphérique and Christopher Caldwell examines the idea and the works of Guilluy in the Spring issue of City Journal and his essay, The French, Coming Apart, is as enlightening as it is disturbing.

On many levels, France gives the appearance of stability, but signs of crisis abound. The ruling elite has lost its legitimacy and there’s a dangerous vacuum where the centre once was. Meanwhile, there’s terror on the streets, despair amidst the squeezed middle and a draconian political correctness. Snippet:

“French elites have convinced themselves that their social supremacy rests not on their economic might but on their common decency. Doing so allows them to ‘present the losers of globalization as embittered people who have problems with diversity,’ says Guilluy. It’s not our privilege that the French deplorables resent, the elites claim; it’s the color of some of our employees’ skin. French elites have a thesaurus full of colorful vocabulary for those who resist the open society: repli (‘reaction’), crispation identitaire (‘ethnic tension’), and populisme (an accusation equivalent to fascism, which somehow does not require an equivalent level of proof). One need not say anything racist or hateful to be denounced as a member of ‘white, xenophobic France,’ or even as a ‘fascist.’ To express mere discontent with the political system is dangerous enough. It is to faire le jeu de (‘play the game of’) the National Front.”

Tip: For excellent observations on the French elections, read the French Politics blog of Art Goldhammer, “a student and observer of French politics since 1968.”

France


Houellebecq on elections

Sunday, 26 February, 2017 0 Comments

Today is the birthday of Michel Houellebecq, the great French writer who dares to speak the savage truth about France, sex, politics, culture and the human condition. This is from his novel Submission, which was published on 7 January 2015:

“To be fair, when I was young, the elections could not have been less interesting; the mediocrity of the ‘political offerings’ was almost surprising. A centre-left candidate would be elected, serve either one or two terms, depending how charismatic he was, then for obscure reasons he would fail to complete a third. When people got tired of that candidate, and the centre-left in general, we’d witness the phenomenon of democratic change, and the voters would install a candidate of the centre-right, also for one or two terms, depending on his personal appeal. Western nations took a strange pride in this system, though it amounted to little more than a power-sharing deal between two rival gangs, and they would even go to war to impose it on nations that failed to share their enthusiasm.”

Houellebecq is terrifyingly honest, which is why people either love or hate him. There is not Third Way with Houellebecq. In a recent interview with the French magazine Valeurs actuelles he said, Les élites haïssent le peuple. Very Houellebecqian. Santé.

Michel Houellebecq


Impressions of Nice before the Terror

Friday, 15 July, 2016 0 Comments

Ce fut le temps sous de clairs ciels,
(Vous en souvenez-vous, Madame?)
De baisers superficiels
Et des sentiments à fleur d’âme.

Paul Verlaine

It was a time of cloudless skies,
(My lady, do you recall?)
Of kisses that brushed the surface
And feelings that shook the soul.


The barbarity of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel

Friday, 15 July, 2016 0 Comments

The terrorist responsible for murdering up to 84 people by driving a truck into a Bastille Day celebration in Nice has been identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a delivery driver and petty criminal. How do we respond to such barbarity? With more useless hashtags? Ineffective cartoons? Meaningless interdenominational prayer ceremonies? Hollow declarations of “je suis Nizza”? Hand-wringing gestures by political leaders? We’ve had lots of those in the past but they made little impression on Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel. Maybe we should consider the words of J.R.R. Tolkien:

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” — The Two Towers


With Wales and God in France

Saturday, 9 July, 2016 0 Comments

No, not for Euro 2016. The date was 29 September 2007 and the game was Wales vs Fiji in the Rugby World Cup. The venue was Stade de la Beaujoire, which is the home of the FC Nantes football club. Huw Griffiths provided the tickets, the sun shone and the Fijians won in style. Afterwards, we ate cuisses de grenouille (frog’s legs) and washed them down with lashings of the local Muscadet. Despite the volume consumed, a green apple bottling stood out with its bouquet and name: Michel Delhommeau Symbiose. Later, we found out that it’s made by Michel and Nathalie Delhommeau, a husband-and-wife team based in Monnières. The German maxim, “leben wie Gott in Frankreich” (to live like a god in France), summed up our weekend with Wales in Nantes.

2007 Rugby World Cup Nantes


Hooooo! A Toast to Iceland

Sunday, 3 July, 2016 1 Comment

France vs. Iceland tonight in Paris, with the winner meeting Germany in the semi-final of Euro2016. During the game, most non-French people will be clapping their hands and chanting “Hooooo,” the Icelanders’ version of the New Zealand rugby haka.

The poet Jónas Hallgrímsson was born in Eyjafjörður on the northern part of Iceland. He studied Latin and Greek at secondary school in Bessastaor and then attended the University of Copenhagen. He coined many Icelandic words, including reikistjarna, meaning planet, from the verb að reika (to wander) and the noun stjarna (star).

A Toast to Iceland

Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth’s fiery sinews —
the Lord pour out his largess there
as long as earth continues!

Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807 – 1845)


Houellebecq: How France’s Leaders Failed

Friday, 20 November, 2015 0 Comments

Just as we end our week of postings about Submission, the important new novel by Michel Houellebecq, the great man himself makes a rare appearance in the public prints to comment on the state of France. In today’s New York Times, under the headline Michel Houellebecq: How France’s Leaders Failed Its People, the writer addresses la Grande Nation in its hour of need.

Soumission Quoting the famous motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War, Houellebecq places his faith in the people and says: “Keep calm and carry on.” He regrets that his France does not have a Churchill to lead the nation at this critical moment and despairs of the country’s political class: “It’s unlikely that the insignificant opportunist who passes for our head of state, or the congenital moron who plays the part of our prime minister, or even the ‘stars of the opposition’ (LOL) will emerge from the test looking any brighter.”

He then cites a gap, no, “an abyss”, between the people and their elected representatives. “The discredit that applies to all political parties today isn’t just huge; it is legitimate.” This leads him to formulate four democratic theses and nail them to the door of France in the following order:

  • That the French population has always maintained its trust in and solidarity with its police officers and its armed forces.
  • That it has largely been repelled by the sermonizing airs of the so-called moral left (moral?) concerning how migrants and refugees are to be treated.
  • That it has never viewed without suspicion the foreign military adventures its governments have seen fit to join.
  • That the only solution still available to us now is to move gently toward the only form of real democracy: I mean, direct democracy.

And just to prove that Houellebecq is central to understanding the true nature of the crisis now gripping France, Todd Kliman rows in with The Subtle Despair of Michel Houellebecq in today’s Washington Post. The “d” word is the one that struck him during his second reading of Submission. It “permeates every page, every scene, every observation.” Still, he points out, and this is very true, that “Submission is very funny, easily the funniest of the four Houellebecq books I’ve read.” As regard’s the author’s politics, Kliman concludes that Houellebecq is a man of the right, but a particular kind of right — a right of the long view that is…

“… pessimistic about notions of progress, skeptical of easy answers, or of any answers, a man of measured despair whose immersion in history and literature has taught him that time can’t be measured in election cycles or decades, that technologies exist to distract us and/or give us new means to destroy ourselves, and that people never do change.

Today, in this age, that qualifies as real subversion.”

Submission is, without doubt, the novel of the year. Somewhat plausible, rather worrying, funny, subversive and very, very important.