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Tag: France

These EU elections again

Wednesday, 15 May, 2019

Apart from the excitement generated so far by the astonishing polling performance of the Brexit Party in the UK, this year’s European Union Parliament elections are inducing even more torpor than ever. European political debate, such as it is, is still dominated by Brexit, while President Macron’s EU reform proposals, which should have lit a fire, have been completely quenched. Credit for that must go to Chancellor Merkel, who ignored them, and her designated successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has done nothing to suggest that she’s going to deviate from Mutti’s cold-shoulder line. Reformist ideas coming from France simply don’t survive the crossing of the Rhine anymore.

This leaves us with an election in which mostly Lilliputian candidates repeat mostly hackneyed phrases. Because the stakes are so low, turnout will be low, too. And because nothing much will change after 26 May the lack of voter excitement is totally justified. Despite Brexit, the immigration crisis and the fragility of the euro, the EU seems unable to energize itself or the citizens of its member states. This is all the more astonishing, given that Europe’s North Atlantic partner and protector is drifting away, China’s rapacious Belt and Road initiative is making inroads in Italy after making important acquisitions in Greece and Russia is becoming ever more dangerous as it expands its malign influence into the eastern regions of the EU. There’s lots going on but the European Union seems destined to a future of global irrelevance. It’s not surprising, then, that the so-called populists get all the attention.


Houellebecq on restoration beyond Notre-Dame

Saturday, 20 April, 2019

It has been described as “an ecumenical, conservative and, in some views, neoconservative religious journal.” It’s First Things and among the contents of the May issue is an essay titled “Restoration,” which is an “exchange of views on religion between Michel Houellebecq and Geoffroy Lejeune.” What can one say about Houellebecq? He’s a French author of international fame whose latest novel is Serotonin. There’s much, much more, of course, but that’s sufficient for now, and Geoffroy Lejeune? He’s the editor of Valeurs actuelles, a French conservative weekly news magazine published in Paris.

Their conversation took place quite some time before Monday’s catastrophic fire in Notre-Dame cathedral, but whenever Houellebecq is involved, prescience is to be expected. Snippets:

Houellebecq: “In a Romanesque cloister I feel at peace, connected to the divinity. With Gothic cathedrals, it’s already something different. Beauty takes on a character there that Kant will later call sublime (beauty accompanied by the sensation of danger, such as a great storm at sea, or a thunderstorm high in the mountains). In a baroque church it’s no good at all, I could just as well be in a palace, or at the theater.”

Lejeune: “If you choose to go by architecture, there is indeed a striking aspect: In the time of the cathedrals, monumental places of worship were erected and their construction lasted longer than a man’s lifetime. The cathedrals of Chartres, Reims, and Paris were built in 75, 134, and 182 years, respectively. At that time, preference was not for the minuscule. By comparison, Trump Tower in New York was designed, constructed, and delivered in four years, between 1979 and 1983. You can say that motorization, technological progress, and materials explain this difference. So much for the business angle, but when we see the ugliness of modern churches, these unhappy cubes of faded cement, sometimes so hideous, which hardly ever tower above the horizon traced by the surrounding houses, one understands above all that what differentiates us from the Christian builders is ‘functional thinking,’ instead of dedicating the construction to God. It was better before, when the supernatural was seen everywhere, even in the cathedral spires pointing toward heaven.”

The big question posed by First things is: Can the Catholic Church regain her former splendour? Lejeune feels it probably can but the road will be long: “Today, the Church in Europe has shrunk back into certain hard cores, sociologically very homogeneous – a social class – cut off from the majority of souls. Its embourgeoisement is perhaps, in the end, the greatest scourge that strikes the Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”

Houellebecq, noted for his pessimism, is more optimistic: “Can the restoration of Catholicism to its former splendour repair our damaged civilization? Here we are in agreement – it’s much simpler, almost self-evident. The answer is ‘Yes.'”


Sérotonine sells

Wednesday, 9 January, 2019

On average, a French novel sells around 5,000 copies. In comparison, Sérotonine, the latest work by Michel Houellebecq, sold 90,332 hardback copies in its first three days, according to L’Observateur.

Houellebecq’s publisher, Flammarion, took a calculated gamble with an initial print run of 320,000 copies but it looks as if it’s going to pay off handsomely. Sérotonine is being published in German, Spanish and Italian this week and it will appear in English in September. «Mes croyances sont limitées, mais elles sont violentes. Je crois à la possibilité du royaume restreint. Je crois à l’amour.» — Michel Houellebecq.

Michel Houellebecq


Houellebecq on farming in Ireland and France

Tuesday, 8 January, 2019

After a publicity tour for his novel Platforme, which was published in 2001, Michel Houellebecq was taken to court in France for inciting racial hatred, so he moved to Ireland for several years and lived on Bere Island off the west coast of Cork. The rugged landscape there has much in common with rural Normandy, the backdrop to Sérotonine, his latest novel.

The protagonist of Sérotonine is Florent-Claude Labrouste, a European Union agronomist. Coincidentally, Houellebecq worked as an agronomist before he took up novel writing and this fact gives substance to his observations of rural life. Although he lives in Paris, Labrouste spends considerable time in the countryside and, while he sympathizes with farmers, he knows he’s powerless to halt the decline of their traditional way of life. “Where there are now slightly more than 60,000 dairy farmers,” he notes, “there will be in 15 years 20,000. In short, what is taking place with French agriculture is a vast redundancy plan, but one that is secret and invisible, where people disappear one by one, on their plots of land, without ever being noticed.”

As with the farmers on Ireland’s smallholdings, the farmers of Normandy are caught between the rock of agribusiness and the hard place of the European Union, with its unending regulations that make their miserable lives even more miserable. In a Satanic Mills description of a modern poultry farm, Labrouste notes that the “300,000 or so inmates, plucked and emaciated, struggled to live among the decomposing cadavers of their fellow chickens.” On entering these vast white-meat factories, the first thing the visitor notices is the birds with their “look of panic and incomprehension, who don’t understand the conditions into which they’ve been dragged.” The link in this section of Sérotonine between the luckless chickens and France’s farmers, despised by Brussels bureaucrats and uncared for by the urban elites who demand premier Calvados and the urban masses who demand cheap food, is obvious. Struggling, panicked and desperate, the small farmers of France have nothing to lose when they don those gilets jaunes.

More Sérotonine here tomorrow.


Michel Houellebecq: master of timing, seer of change

Monday, 7 January, 2019

With last week’s publication of his latest novel, Sérotonine, Michel Houellebecq has armour-plated his reputation as France’s clairvoyant of terrible vistas. In 2001, his Plateforme, which peaks with an Islamist terrorist attack on a Thai tourist resort, was published just before the 9/11 attacks and the publication of Houellebecq’s Soumission in 2015, which portrays an Islamist political party taking power in France, coincided with the blood-spattered jihadist attack on the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on this day in 2015.

Now, comes Sérotonine, which taps into the Zeitgeist, this time in the form of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protest movement. Although Houellebecq, has not campaigned for the movement, he has been called its “prophet” by France 24.

More Sérotonine here tomorrow.

Houellebecq


Film of the Year 2018

Saturday, 29 December, 2018

The award goes to L’Apparition, Xavier Giannoli’s story of a journalist (Vincent Lindon) investigating a young woman (Galatea Bellugi) who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. The film is divided into several chapters, which follow the war-worn hack Jacques as he travels back to France from the Middle East, where a a combat photographer friend died at his side, leaving Jacques with a constant pain in his ears. Out of the blue, he’s summoned to the Vatican and in a beautifully-shot sequence set in its archives, Jacques learns that an 18-year-old girl named Anna claims to have seen an apparition outside her village in the mountains of southern France. Since then, the place has become a pilgrimage destination where believers travel from around the world to witness the visionary that is Anna. The Vatican wants Jacques to find out whether the apparition occurred, or whether she made it all up.

If Dan Brown were in charge of the script, Jacques would quickly uncover a conspiracy involving Satan, the Illuminati, Donald Trump, demons and an evil Latin-speaking cardinal. Xavier Giannoli, however, takes a different path, but he tips his hat to fans of Catholic corruption with the role of Father Borrodine (Patrick d’Assumcao), whose parish has benefitted from Anna’s “vision”, and Anton (Anatole Taubman), a networked Christian guru who hopes to turn the apparition into global marketing gold. Giannoli should have made L’Apparition into a statement about religion in our era, but he opted for a thriller that ends being resolved like a whodunnit. That’s disappointing, but in a year that offered an excess of cinematic rubbish, L’Apparition was a winner.


Street Fighting Man in Paris, then and now

Monday, 10 December, 2018

Fifty years ago, the Rolling Stones released their Beggars Banquet album. It contained what’s been called the group’s “most political song,” Street Fighting Man. Mick Jagger said that he found partial inspiration for the song in the violence among student rioters in Paris during the run up to the civil unrest of May 1968. Quote:

“It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions … I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; de Gaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing.”

To mark the 50th anniversary of Street Fighting Man, the band have released a video of the song featuring the lyrics. Uncannily, this is again a strange time in France. Whether M. Macron will go into a complete funk and lock himself into his house in the country remains to be seen. Those French riot police are still amazing, though.


Jupiter Falling: We Get Fooled Again and Again

Tuesday, 4 December, 2018

Last year, the European elites warned the “deplorables” of France, les sans-culottes, and their better-off relations in la bourgeoisie, that if they didn’t vote for the elitist candidate, they would have to endure le deluge. So, they did and thus was M. Macron elected president. He said he wanted to rule as a ‘Jupiter’, above the political fray, but les gilets jaunes have brought him down to earth, sharply.

All of this was foreseen in 1971 by the political savant Roger Daltry, who doubled as a vocalist for The Who. Peering into the 21st century, and anticipating the handover of power from the hapless Hollande to the oleaginous Macron, Daltry said: “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.”

“There’s nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
The parting on the left
Is now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight”


Paris is Burning

Monday, 3 December, 2018

We’ll deal with the oleaginous Monsieur Macron tomorrow, but today’s post is given over to the film that inspired a thousand headlines this weekend. Paris Is Burning is a documentary directed by Jennie Livingston that chronicled the “voguing” culture of late 1980s New York City and how gay, transgender, African-American and Latino artists lived out their glamour fantasies in a world that had its own vocabulary: house, category, mother, shade, legendary, walk


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


Nike won the World Cup

Monday, 16 July, 2018

When the World Cup reached the quarter-finals stage, we pointed out here on 4 July that the Nike swoosh adorned the chests of Brazil, France, Croatia and England, while Belgium, Russia and Sweden wore the three stripes of Adidas, with the group of eight rounded out by Uruguay, sponsored by Puma. In the end, it was a Nike vs. Nike final yesterday with France the deserving winners over worthy Croatia.

@MuseeLouvre joined the celebrations by kitting out the Mona Lisa with a France top and this tweet: “Félicitations à l’@equipedefrance pour leur victoire à la #CoupeDuMonde2018″. And so say all of us.

Mona Lisa Nike