France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

November 26, 2008

François Bayrou versus the media

Boy, I tell you: If there’s one factor that would determine me to become a French citizen it would be the chance to campaign and vote for François Bayrou. It might only be one small pinky finker in the dyke trying to stem the Left-wing media tide against him, but maybe if my friends on the French Left saw a Lefty American vote for the man ill-defined as ‘centrist’ they might start to question the pidgeon-hole the French Lefty media has tried to box him into. One need only to have listened to the Left-leaning crew of my favorite radio program, the morning show on France Culture, to be reminded of how a determined effort by this same media during the 2007 presidential election succeeded in convincing enough French that the man from Pau was ‘flou’ or mushy to beat him down from a second-place 19 percent in pre-first tour polls and prevent him from reaching the second and final round, thus paving the way for Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory against the hopelessly entrenched Socialists.

The lowest moment came during the final 30 minutes, when commentator Olivier Duhamel refused to accept that Bayrou was not rejoicing at the squabble between Segolene Royal and Martin Aubry for premiere secretary which threatened to engulf the Socialist party over the last week. (Royal, who lost by 102 votes, finally conceded last night.) Allowing that he might reap a benefit here or there, Bayrou explained simply that for this battle to consume so much time and energy and attention at this particular time was not good because it detracted focus from the real world at a time when we needed it most. This was not good enough for Duhamel, who proceeded to waste five prescious minutes trying to get Bayrou to admit he was dancing for joy. Et voila, these were five minutes that the president of the Mouvement Democratic could have used to answer the morning’s final question, from the only commentator who was not piling on (and who indeed was chastising the others for doing so), Catherine Clement. She’d asked what he’d do for Culture. Bayrou, who had earlier pointed out that, contrary to what Socialist propaganda would have us believe of him, it’s not capitalism but humanism that he exalts as a mode of life, began by noting that the tenets of this humanism were three non-merchandisable elements of society: Education, Research, and Culture. Clement pressed him to expand on Culture; when he said he wasn’t sure in what sense she meant, she elaborated, trés presicely, that the State has been pushing responsibility for cultural expenditure to the regions and even localities — a crucial question for the artistic sector, in which I count myself, across France. Bayrou had barely time to begin, “Pour le spectacle vivant…” when host Ali Badou cut him off because there was no more time left — which would not have been the case if Duhamel, unrestrained by the host, had not wasted five minutes trying to get Bayrou to act like HE expected a politician to act. Bayrou had already alienated, or at least riled, his host by saying he should go hide himself for not opposing the government’s proposed changes in the audio-visuel regime on the grounds that they would enable the president to appoint the heads of France Television and Radio, thus robbing journalists of their independence. (Once again proving the abrogation of the Socialists on crucial issues where a firm stance from the supposed Opposition is called for — who’s flou now? — the Socialist leader in Parliament yesterday flatly refused Bayrou’s call to censure the government on the audio-visuel law.)

If I have one constructive suggestion for Bayrou — offered from one who has the same tempting but sometimes self-defeating tendency — it would be that he should guard himself from the urge to personalise his polemics in this fashion. (He also likes to employ Pinochio’s nose to evoke politicians who in his view are being hypocritical. “They wouldn’t even fit in a stadium!” he once said of one group.) Take it from one who knows from personal experience, Monsieur Bayrou: Just because you have the gift of a rapier wit doesn’t mean it’s always the best weapon to employ. Or to use an old American aphorism (thank you, Mark Dendy!): You can catch more flies with honey than vinager. (Tr, approximatif: “On a plus de chance a tiré des mouches avec le miele que le vinaigre.”)


November 25, 2008

Pirate Radio: The news is on strike to protest the elimination of commercials

I guess it’s no surprise that after reporting last night that the teachers, the students, the parents, the train workers, and the emergency hospital workers are on strike, the News decided to join the party this morning, presumably taking the weather with it. (There was only one mishap of mal-coordination; apparently the transport workers who decided to call a Flash strike in Bordeaux last week forgot to tell the teachers, delaying the start of the demonstration.) Thus the hourly 15 minute and half hourly ten minute newscasts on France Culture this morning were replaced by randomly mixed top 40 music, the news team calling in sick to protest a government proposition to eliminate commericals from the four public television stations after 8 p.m. . (As strikes in France often mean not that the employees don’t show up for work, but that they show up but just don’t work, my theory is that it’s the errant newscasters who are torturing us with the randomly mixed music.) Curiously enough, the theme on this morning’s France Culture program — host Ali Badou and the commentators apparently got notes excusing them from not showing up for work — is pirates. So maybe the News is actually being held hostage by Somalia-based corsaires. (Perhaps we can keep the commericals going long enough to collect ransom, anyway.)

The plan to strip commericals from public television, my two regular readers will recall, was launched by President Sarkozy at a press conference earlier this year, in a deft move to deflect reporters’ attention from the fact that the candidate for purchase power had turned into the president of the empty treasury. (Although I guess if we have no money with which to buy, maybe it’s best to eliminate commercials which tempt us with the cars, vacations, and sheepherd tended cheese beyond our reach.) Why is this cause for grievance among audio-visual workers? It’s not that they love commericials, apparently, but that they’re worried about how the State will replace that money and, worse, that the solution — more money directly from the State — will return public television to the days of old, when there was, as non-striking commentator Alain-Gerard Slama put it today, a general inside every television (De Gaulle, not Electric). And indeed, in addition to taking away commercials, President Sarkozy wants to give to himself the power to appoint the president of the France Television uber-network which supervises the public television stations. (Il faut dire que the president did have a good point when he said it’s hard to tell the difference between ‘public’ television and ‘private’; the one broadcasts Cold Case, the other Law & Order. There do seem to be more historical dramas on the public television France 2, most concerning an Occupied France peopled predominantly by heroes of the Resistance, the collaborators relegated to supporting roles. Recent history, from the Algerian War to the 2005 riots in the suburbs, are less frequently treated. As for France 3, the other main public television station, I love my nightly Marseille-set soap Plus Belle la Vie but it’s hardly something you’d find on Channel 13, the egg-heady NY public t.v. station.) Modem Party leader François Bayrou has piled on, saying he’d support a parliamentary resolution opposing the new audio -visual law, raising the question: How can he oppose opening stores on Sunday because we need to teach our children that there are more important things than consummation, on the one hand, and on the other oppose eliminating the commericals which install that ideology on a nightly basis? (The France Culture morning program has just terminated, seguaying into a rap song that begins with a word I can’t repeat without censoring: “N*****s are people.” Now it’s returning to the same mix played two hours ago. Evidently the newscasters just left an old mix tape, recorded off an AM top 40 broadcast.)

PS It seems that History is also on strike, Emmanuel Laurent’s daily France Culture program on that theme having been replaced this morning by afore-mentioned still-running mix tape.

November 22, 2008

Sour Grapes: Wine & Whining, Fear & Loathing on the Campaign and Campagne trail in France

It might well be all the free coffee I drank at the round-table, bring your culture and dish lunch, and thematic improvisation at the local event for the Month of Economie Social and Solidaire, but to quote Stevie Wonder terribly out of context, I’m in a real Mr. Know-it-all mood this early Saturday evening, ready to give my French hosts advice on wine and politics. Here goes:

I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I’m beginning to know more about local wine than even some locals. I’ve now met at least a couple in the region who’ve never heard of what I think is the perfect departmental specialty when it comes to wine, that being bourou, basically a first pressing of white Perigordian wine that comes out fizzy, with a particular taste (grape juice with something more, sweet but not too) and the best part, is both hardly alcoholized (2 – 7 percent) and yet at the same time can give you a pleasant buzz. (As Bernard says, “You get bourou’d with bourou!”) (I miss Bernard already.) This fall there was such a prolongued delay in its release — probably because the cold weather made the grapes take longer to sweeten — that I actually tried to make some myself. Toujours at the suggestion of Bernard, I asked Monsieur Marty, the theoretically retired farmer across the path from me in Les Eyzies, if I could harvest some of his grapes. He said yes but this was not as easy as it sounds.It was not so simple as just picking all the white grapes that looked ready. Going branch to branch, vine to vine, I tested first to make sure they were actually sweet. Only about a third, at most, were; the rest were sour. (That’s not a complaint — hey, these were a gift — just a report.) Eventually I picked enough sweeties to make about an ice bowl-full (which I did in the Lillet ice bowl I got for my Lillet-loving brother Aaron years ago for a Euro at a vide grenier on the Canal St. Martin… unfortunately, even if the prices on Lillet ice bowls were down, the Euro was up in comparison to the dollar, so Aaron has not been back since, boo-hoo.) Following what I thought was Bernard’s advice, I pressed the juice out of the grapes — vendange a la main! — but left the grape skins in the bowl to ferment over-night.

Considering this was my first try, my bourou was pretty close to the real thing. The taste was right, but it was not so gazeuze and I did not get bourou’d.

So today I had a chance to taste what’s bascially the red grape version, a bio variety of just pressed wine. I had a couple glasses just because the experience was so unique but , at the risk of seeming ungracious — I couldn’t drink much more as a)I remembered Martin (my landlord in Les Eyzies) telling me about the time he got sick to the stomach tasting Monsieur Marty’s variety one year just after it had been wined, and b)it was too sour. I thought this was just how it’s supposed to taste, but then I remembered my experience hand-picking grapes from M. Marty’s vineyard — and *not* picking the sours — and I think it’s probably that with this red, there were just too many sour grapes in the mix.

Unless you’ve been reading me for a while, you probably thought that Segolene Royal was going to be the target of this clever segue, for refusing to accept Martine Aubry’s victory this morning by just 42 votes in the Socialist premiere secretary election. But in fact it’s the reverse. Listening to Aubry’s rabid refusal to accept Royal’s call for a re-vote — wich Royal wants not just because the count was close, but because there may have been voting irregularities — you’d think that she won by 42,000 votes. (I use the word ‘rabid’ express; Aubry’s behavior (not her, her behavior) right now reminds me of a dog trying to hold on to a bone; unfortunately, if she succeeds in hanging on to this particular bone — the Socialist Party — she may actually bury it, fulfilling Comrade Kruschev’s warning in reverse, without Nicolas Sarkozy having to lift a ring-whited out* finger.) Instead, she’s acting like she has a mandate! (We’re talking like, 50.02 percent to 49.98 percent.) Tonight Aubry — the retrenching Socialist compared to Royal’s modernizer — used the word ‘barrage’ to say that this is what the Left has to put up to actions from Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling conservative government. Oh-lah-lah. THiS IS EXACTLY WHAT ALLOWED SARKOZY TO BEAT ROYAL IN THE FIRST PLACE. Besides fear of immigrants, the big reason the Socialists lost and Sarkozy won is that the former failed to recognize the real concerns of normal, middle-class people, particularly merchants. (My local news vendor in Paris told me, not long before he closed up shop, that he resented paying 60 percent of his income to support an over-abundance of functionaries or civil servants.) Now, you might say that, well, it was Segolene who carried the party banner and platform last time, so what makes you think she’d be different? Segolene *also* reached out to my hero the Mouvement Democratic’s François Bayrou (see also the link within that link if you don’t know who Bayrou is) — even saying she might make him her prime minister if elected. And Bayrou is someone who both recognizes the concerns of small businesspeople but is not going to give the farm away to big corporations, and who also is able to look at just about every important issue with fresh eyes, unshackled by ideological dictums. (Or is that ‘dictates’?)

So whether she is concsious of this or not, the barrage that Aubry will erect will actually be the one between the Socialists and ordinary French people outside of their calcifying movement. Might win her the Socailist primary in 2012; will lose the Socialists the seonc and final round of that year’s presidential election — if they get that far.

My solution? Here’s where I get cheeky: I think Segolene should leave the Socialist party, take her 50 percent of it with her, and add them to Bayrou’s 13 percent or so of the total electorate. To Aubry’s exclusionary barrage, she — and Bayrou — can then answer with an opening.

PS: Which, unfortunately, is all this year’s beaujolais nouveau merits. A good indice — although actually, this is the first year this has happened — is when even the grand surface super-market issue is under-par. There was no price on the bin of such at the Netto ‘hard discount’ shop down the street by the canal (er, not St. Martin; I’m now in Perigueux here in Southwest France, in case you just arrived at the party), causing one wag of a lady customer to ask the check-out lady, “Does that mean it’s free today, because this is beaujolais nouveau day?” It was actually 1.66 Euro, and I guess that unlucky number at the tail should have been the tip-off: It tasted like most of your 1.66 wines taste. (You really have to cross the 2 Euro threshold to find some bargains that are actually drinkable bargains.) (I see you scoffing Mark; I challenge you to a blind tasting next time you’re in France, mano-a-mano, VDPs to burgundies or maybe even Languedocs. Rhones are ringers so we’ll leave those out.) Sure enough, as I moved up the scale (yes I know, Smarty, the whole beaujolais nouveau thing is just a marketing thing, but it’s exactly the mediocrity of the grape that makes it a challenge to find one good one; what’s the fun in trying to find a good Loire?) — as I was saying, as I moved up the scale, the standard moved down from previous years. Great boudin accompaniements and even an accordian band playing old-timey hits at the ‘house of a thousand beers’ across the rue President Wilson, but all three selections were about as good as last year’s 2 Euro supermarket edition, notwithstanding the Toulouse-Latrec-y labels (Jane Avril seemed to be trying to hide). Only at Julian of Savignac’s tasting up a ways towards the Cathedral St. Front (my bourou source — Julian, that is, not the cathedral) did I finally score: No music, no party, just one plate of dry (though quite good and gamey) salami, but a corse Beaujolais Villages for 6 Euros and change that had some complexity and — this year’s surprise, if not glorious find — a Nouveau from the same vintner — Chateau du Chatelard — which, almost in defiance of Julian’s presenting it as ‘light’ had something else going on.

*To save myself from being *too* France Insider: This is a reference to the incident last week in which the right-wing leaning daily Le Figaro actually erased a 13,000 Euro ring on the finger of Justice Minister Rachida Dati before publishing her photo, the theory for this breach of journalistic ethics being that standing in for President Sarkozy, they didn’t want one of his ministers to seem so out-of-touch with ordinary French people in these austere times that she walks around boasting a 13,000 Euro piece of jewelry.

November 20, 2008

Brussels, Schmussels; or, is the new 2 million Euro Europeana Digital Library a Lemon?

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 3:13 pm
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Really, I have nothing against Brussels. Sure, foreign architecture classes have been known to take field trips there to see a classic example of what happens when a citiy has no architectural planning, but I kinda like the fact that it’s all over the map. I like the contradiction that even though it’s technically speaking in the Dutch part of the country, most people speak French. I like that it’s kind of a bordel, pre-gentrification Brooklyn to Paris’s post-Disney New York. I like and even love some of the dance companies — much more original and, well, dancey than their French counterparts.

But if you live in Europe, Brussels, the word, has left the city behind and has come to mean bureaucratic heaviness and impersonal regulation from heartless bureaucrats who are out of touch with the reality and exigencies of regular people in member states — particularly small business-people, farmers and fishermen.

In theory, the idea of a European Union — or, if you prefer, a United States of Europe — is great. But even when Brussels — read, EU management — does something that in theory should be wonderful, it seems their heads are so overloaded with technospeak that they forget practicality.

Take Europeana, the new European digital library which launched today with much bally-hoo, including a speech from the president of the European commission. Theoretically it’ll have material from libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions from all 27 member states.

I thought I’d check it out.

I just finally was able to access it — earlier in the afternoon, at about the same time the EU commission prez was announcing the launch — I think he said something about boasting top-tiere technology — the site was ‘unavailable.’ Now it’s available. And, according to itself, it’s ‘simple’ to use. “Just ask yourself who, what, where or when you are interested in and type these words into Europeana’s search box.”

Before we get to asking myself, I have a preliminary question:

Where’s the search box?

Historical Movements

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:13 am
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A less catchy headline, I know, but it allows me to catch you up on two recent events of historical or potential historical signficance here in France.

… Were I to question here that the Turkish killing of Armenians in 1915 qualifies as genocide — which I’m not doing — I would be breaking the law. (It should be said that in Turkey — though this may be in the process of changing — I might have problems posing the opposite case.) That’s because of a law passed by Parliament a few years ago that made it illegal to deny that a genocide took place. A Turkish friend objects to the qualificaiton, making the point that atrocities took place on both sides. I can listen to her. I can discuss privately with her. But were she to convince me, if I subsequently tried to make her argument in public, I would be breaking the law. As you might be able to devine, I’m uncomfortable with this. And yet… and yet, if you would have asked me if I was uncomfortable with a previous law Parliament passed in the same spirit — perhaps the law whose passage made this one possible — that made it illegal to deny the Holocaust, I probably would not have answered no. Because that’s my history. That’s my blood. And the idea that a Jean-Marie Le Pen would be able to get away with diminishing the organized gassing and otherwise killing of 6 million Jews, not to mention Gypsies, homosexuals, and others, as simply “Sure, abuses took place” sickens me.

Let’s take a third proposed law now. In 2005, the Parliament tried to prescribe that schools had to teach that French colonialization brought good things to the colonized. For historians and teachers, this was the threshold. The law died. And now, earlier this week, Parliament officially changed its mind and pledged to make no more laws prescribing or proscribing history lessons. (Er, the law is not retroactive.)

Prescribing is another matter. Last week, on the eve of 11 novembre (Armistice Day commemorating the end of the Grand War, or WWI), the head of a government commission came out with a report saying France has too many commemorations (as opposed to too many commissions) — 11 at last count, I believe. Instead, he said, they should be winnowed to three: 8 mai, 11 novembre, and of course 14 juillet. (In France, holidays are frequently named after the days the commemorated event took place, rather than the event itself, so you have to be quick on your feet; in the States, we call 14 juillet Bastille Day.) So days like that commemorating the end of Slavery or the raffle of the Vel’ D’Hiv — after July 16, 1942, when 12,884 Jews (including 7,000 kept wthout food for five days at the Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris’s 15th arr), were rounded up by the French police for the Nazis to be deported to the death camps — commemorations like these would be eliminated. In other words, the effect would be that only days which mark (notwithsanding their tragic elements) occasions for national pride would be remembered, days of shame forgotten. And this is before we even get to those whose victims, or the families of whose victims, are waiting in line for their own days, notably those of the up to 200 Algerians thrown in the Seine in 1961 (for the crime of demonstrating) under the direction of Marucie Papon, the not yet indicted war criminal who was then prefect of Paris. (And proving the importance of commemorations is that the only reason many people know about this is that in October 2001 the the city of Paris put up a plaque in their memory on the much-traversed stairs to the St. Michel Bridge.)

November 17, 2008

‘A shave and a haircut and close Gitmo while you’re at it’; and, the BBC’s Man Bites Dog Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 11:49 am
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Last night on the American television news show 60 Minutes, President-elect Obama announced he’d be closing the hors de loi Guantanimo Bay Prison Base plus pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2010. As an American living abroad, which of the following news sources do you think I learned of this this morning?:

A) New York Times
C) France Culture Radio’s 15-minute news broadcast

Of course it was C, and, as far as mainstream media culpability in the Gitmo atrocity, there’s the rub.

When I finally found today’s Times’s coverage of the appearance, it was buried in a blog column called the Caucus which spent more time (a couple of sentences) on the president-elect’s bemoaning that he would now have to order out for a barber than on his decision to close the institution that’s probably been the biggest embarassment to America (and Americans) abroad over the last eight years of anything the Bush Administration has perpetrated in our name (to say nothing of its violations of international and American law and their tactile effect on the detainees). (No mention in the Times story.) More than just bad journalism, it’s this kind of mainstream U.S. media lack of attention that has enabled the Bushies to get away with this for the last seven years. Out of site, off mainstream media radar, out of the public mind.

The BBC was hardly better; no, 0 mention of Guantanimo in its segment on Obama’s 60 Minutes gig but healthy time to Michelle Obama’s update on the puppy situation. Personally, I — and many Americans and others abroad who care about the United States — am more concerned about detainees being treated worse than dogs than puppies in the White House.

François Bayrou, off-center candidate

Or maybe ‘off-spectrum’ is a better way to put it. I almost think that to traverse the media gauntlet and get his ideas a more open hearing with the French public, François Bayrou has to assert the same lingual precision he exerted last night on RTL radio when, before answering his host’s quesiton about the economy, he chided him (I’m paraphrasing), “But first, let’s return to your first line: I don’t appreciate the condescension.” His interlocutor had begun by positing “Since you’re an expert on the economy….” I’d missed the sarcasm, but Bayrou nailed it. I’d like to propose that he exercise a similar vigilance the next time an interviewer introduces him as being from ‘the center’ of the French political spectrum, somewhere between Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing UMP party and the putatively opposition Socialists. (Putatively because in recent months, its leaders have been too busy battling among themselves for the job of premiere secretary to consistenly oppose Sarkozy, ceding that responsibility to Bayrou, the League of Communist Revolutionaries’ Olivier Besancenot, and to some extent union leaders.)

If in the United States ‘centrist’ may still be a dirty word among militant Republicans and militant Democrats, in the media, at least, it’s a cause for respect. In the media world of France, however, which has lived with dramatic political cleavage since at least 1789, it’s an excuse for mockery. Thus during the 2007 presidential campaign, pundits who apparently hadn’t listened to the ideas of the man from Nay (a small village in the Aquitaine region just outside Pau, and whose other claim to fame is the Museum of the Beret) pegged him as being ‘mou,’ or soft. In other words, being from the center actually meant having no fixed positions.

In fact, in the case of Bayrou, being from the Mouvement Democratic (Modem for short) — the actual name of his party — means that he looks at issues from outside the traditonal Left-Right spectrum. Yet another example surfaced on last night’s radio interview when the subject of whether to open stores on Sundays came up.

On this issue, speaking generally, the Left or at least the Union movement has opposed it because its members would have to work an extra day. The Right has supported it because it means more work for people — thus more income — and, perhaps, to boost the economy.

Bayrou — showing yet again his native ability to transcend simple positioning and look at the broader, societal implications of policy — said that he opposed opening businesses on Sunday because of the message it would send to our children. “Dans la vie, c’est pas le consummation qui compte le plus,” in life, there are more important things than consummation.

Typically, Bayrou had no doubt been granted this bully pulpit not because the mainstream media is suddenly genuinely interested in independent perspectives like this — i.e. not in his own context — but because, as the Soclalists prepare to vote on a new premiere secretary Thursday, the leading candidate Segolene Royale’s support during the last presidential election for an alliance with Bayrou’s Modem has become a dviding issue, or at least is being exploited that way by the Left–most candidate. He explains his opposition by asking how Socialists can link up with a profound supporter of Capitalism. I would say that rather, this openness signifies Royale’s understanding that if the Socialists are going to win in 2012, they have to appeal to a broader sector than their own militants and, more important, respond to current problems not from their entrenched positions but by looking at them with open eyes and broadened minds, as does Bayrou.

November 14, 2008

TSS, meet TSP; Dancing Guignols at the Socialist Temple; Olivier gets his voice back

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:09 am
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It was only yesterday that commentator Olivier Duhamel returned to France Culture’s morning program after three days out because he couldn’t speak, and this morning, Olivier got his voice back.

The guest was Pierre Moscovici, yet another Socialist leader who seems more concerned with the party’s navel than the stomachs of francaises. The context is that as the Socialist party opens its congress, it continues to be consumed by internecine battles, this time over who will succeed François Holland, who’s quitting as party secretary supposedly because he thinks that the best way to remedy the fact that in 11 years he hasn’t succeeded in electing a Socialist president is to run himself. Fencing off to succeed him are Segolene Royale, who lost the presidential race to Nicolas Sarkozy last year; Martine Aubry, whose main claim to fame is the 35-hour work week Sarkozy has been set on eviscerating; Benoit Hamon, reportedly the Left-most candidate and who doesn’t like Segolene because she dared to take the very practical step, before the second and final round of the presidential election, of saying that if elected, she’d consider appointing centrist François Bayrou prime minister; and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, a darling of the national media who, in this former Parisian’s view, turned the City of Light into the City of Bruit (Noise) and Pollution for six long years, with calamitous results for many merchants and residents.

The first sort of straw poll among Socialists militants took place earlier this month, in the form of a vote on propositions submitted by the various candidates. (Don’t ask what they contained; the media here is so obsessed with the horse race that it hasn’t divulged the contents of the propostiions — what program the candidates would actually promote if elected.) Segolene came in first with 29 percent of the vote, Delanoe and Aubry locked at second with 25 percent, and Harmon brought up the rear with 19.

“Delanoe lost because he’s a Parisian,” Duhamel boomed out in his chronicle this morning. “Our country has had it with Parisian arrogance.” (I’m liberally translating; in French he said the country ‘ne supporte plus’ this arrogance.) In effect, he was arguing, rather than speak of the possible emergence of a ‘Tout sauf Segolene’ movement — anybody but Segolene — we should be paying attention to ‘Tout sauf Parisians.” (It may have been host Ali Badou who coined this phrase; to follow one Moscovici had recourse to later, my attention was floating at that point.) To which I can only say “Amen.” If there’s one thing moving from Paris to the France Profund a year ago has taught me — besides that it’s not a good idea to live in a 300-year-old poorly insulated stone house in Winter — it’s that the conception of Paris in the rest of France is very different from the conception of Paris in the rest of the world. Essentially, people roll their eyes because of the place’s just reputation that I’ve evoked above — noise and pollution. Culturally, the city’s lords are out of touch with tastes of the general public d’ailleurs — and, I’d argue, with the non-elite in their own city. Contrast the top-down decision making on all fronts, but particularly in culture, of Paris with that of Toulouse, which for the past few months — also under its first Socialist mayor, Pierre Cohen, in years — has been conducting a series of city–wide forums, in all quartiers, to determine the future cultural projects of the city. Now that’s consulting. But the most notorioius example of what I’d call more Delanoe’s arrogance than Parisian arrogance (he was sometimes referred to as the Socialist ayatollah for his reluctance to listen to other views) was the embarassing and unsuccessful campaign to win the 2012 Olympics. As proof of arrogance, Duhamel pointed out the way in which Delanoe acted as if it was a done deed; how could the Olympic committee even think of selecting anyone else? But for me, the worse aspect was the way in which Delanoe and his team debased the most beautiful and elegant city in the world with this campaign, the lowest point of which was to plaster the Eiffel tower — perhaps the most beautiful monument in the world — with a tacky five-ringed flag saying “Paris loves the Games.’ Paris doesn’t need the Olympics to be glorious or pull the world’s affection and attention, but Delanoe — *its mayor* — seemed to project otherwise, a dependency which left us wide open to the malaise that followed the non-selection. The final insult was that colored filters which had been attached to the streetlights along the Seine and her bridges during the campaign were unceremoniously stripped after Paris was not selected, as if we ordinary Parisians didn’t deserve this luxury and had to return to living in black and white.

But back to Olivier, who wasn’t done. In his commentary 35 minutes earlier, Alain-Gerard Slama, who tends to hold the conservative fort on the program, had compared Royale’s performance before an adoring crowd at the Zenith auditorium to a scene evoked in a ’70s novel of a Congolese temple director who lost his head giving a ritual dance before a council of ministers. Re-listening to the commentary now it seems pretty inoccuous; Slama is apparently comparing Royale’s televisual charisma to that of the dancing minister. Duhamel seems to have been piqued by the African analogy — not so much towards his colleague, but towards Moscovici, whom he reproached, the anger mounting in his voice, for not calling Slama on the reference. Moscovici plead ‘two excuses’: that he’s not matinal — a morning person — and that, as the son of a psychologist, he has a ‘floating attention span.” This might make him an apt audience for a guignol or marionette show (in this bicentennial of the guignol’s invention in Lyon) and indeed, taking his turn in ‘pile-on-the-hapless-socialist-leader,’ Marc Kravitz chimed in that for a decade the Socialists keep repeating “It’s time to put our shoulders to the wheel” (that’s a very loose translation by me; he said ‘met au travai’), making him think more than anything of guignols, ceaselessly repeating the same spectacle. (I may not have the right analysis here; ‘guignol’ is one of fthose French words that receives multiple, often droll usage. Male buddies of mine once referred to what they considered the loser boyfriend of a gal I was interested in as ‘her guignol.’)

Let the show commence!

November 6, 2008

Original Sins

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The grand debate topic tonight on radio France Culture’s originally named “From 6 to 8” news program was how to explain the Obama-mania in the French suburbs. (Quick refresher course: Economically speaking, the suburbs here are more poverty-class than middle class, the racial mix more colorful than typically are what we know as suburbs in the United States.) One of the guests decided to try to answer the question by explaining that in the United States, when you ask someone where they’re from, you mean “What state are you from?”; in France, “Where are you from?” really means “What country are you from?” *Even if you were born in France* — and thus you’re French — what it REALLY really means is “What race are you?” (Only, since they deported the Jews it’s not permitted to actually phrase the quesiton that way.) “But if we can return to what’s supposed to our topic tonight,” said the host, not realizing that it was precisely this question — what pulls young French people of color to Obama’s story and his election — that her guest was addressing. No matter where his parents were born, no matter the color of his skin, there was no question in the minds of tens of millions of Americans where Obama was from: the country in which he was born. The young French suburbans of color here just want to be regarded the same way. Not — to be explicit — as “Arabs” but as French.

PS They’ve evidently got a long way to go. Another guest insisted that if a young French person of Arab descent doesn’t get a job he’s interviewed for, it’s not because of the color of his skin but because he didn’t prepare for the interview or showed up in tennis shoes. (A typical racist subterfuge, by the way.) There are none so blind as those who will not see.

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