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France

Socks on for Alpe d’Huez

Thursday, 19 July, 2018

This year’s Tour de France reaches the legendary Alpe d’Huez today. As Christian Prudhomme, le directeur du Tour, says: “A classic in the making that will come and complete the Alpine chapter of the 2018 edition. The 21 bends that lead to l’Alpe d’Huez will establish a provisional verdict. The final explanation will be preceded by an increasingly demanding upswing: Col de la Madeleine, Lacets de Montvernier and Col de la Croix de Fer.” Allez!

Le Tour de France


Time Trial in France

Wednesday, 11 July, 2018

When it comes to sport these days, all eyes are on Russia, where the World Cup is approaching its climax. For those who aren’t that into football, there’s always tennis and Wimbledon right now offers a more genteel alternative to the mania in Moscow. If neither small ball nor big ball satisfies, the Tour de France ticks the remaining boxes.

Today’s stage from to Lorient to Quimper glides past the citadel of Fort-Bloqué and through Pont-Aven, the city of the painters Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard. The focus will be on Ménez Quélerc’h, a famous climb in Breton cycling, and the last 35km includes the medieval village of Locronan and the challenging côte de la chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.

Couch-based Tour fans are treated daily to spectacular landscapes steeped in history but what’s usually missing from the picture is the pain of the participants. Finlay Pretsell, the award-winning Scottish filmmaker, places pain at the centre of his film, Time Trial, and his anti-hero is Scottish-born David Millar, a Tour stage winner, who was suspended for doping in 2004. If the World Cup is ecstasy and Wimbledon is elegance, the Tour de France is human, with all the heroic and horrible facets of humanity exposed. Time Trial is a valuable contribution to our understanding of sport.


A. A. Gill and the je ne sais quoi in France

Sunday, 4 February, 2018 0 Comments

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television and travel. In “Markets,” published in July 2007, he pontificated on the phrase the French have created to “encompass it all”: je ne sais quoi. Snippet:

“My weakness, my pleasure, is markets… The Mercato in Addis Ababa, biggest market in Africa: dangersous red-eyed tribesmen, maddened and delusional on khat, unloading bushels of the stuff flown in daily from the ancient cities on the Somali border. The stalls selling coffee and the winding lanes of incense dealers, the gifts of the Magi, smelling of martyrdom and plainsong.

Tsukiji, the Tokyo fish market: miles of frozen tuna, lying like a thousand unexploded bombs steaming in the dawn as the auctioneers paint red characters on them, buyers cutting tiny nuggets of flesh from their tails to knead for water content.

Crawford Market in Bombay, the book market in Calcutta, the bird market in Denpasar, the karaoke market in Tashkent…”

However, when it comes to the market’s market, the perfect market, Gills puts his money on “the weekly markets of southern France.” And what makes them so superior? It’s the je ne sais quoi:

Je ne sais quoi is France’s abiding gift to the world. More je ne sais quoi for your euro is to be found in a French market than anywhere else. We wander down the aisles of trestles and stalls aghast at the marvellous repose of produce. There are peaches warm from the tree, ripe and golden. Figs, green and black, bursting with sweet, ancient, darkly lascivious simile. The smell of fresh lemon, the bunches of thyme and lavender and verbena, the selections of oil and olives, pale green and pungent, and the they honey, from orange blossom, from heath and orchard, and the beeswax. The charcuterie, the dozens of ancient and dextrous things to do with a dead pig, in all the hues of pink, and pale, fatty cream.”

Never was A.A. Gill happier than when in France, the land of Armagnac, Calvados and a thousand cheeses, wandering its markets, savouring the je ne sais quoi.

Apples


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