A Charming French Touch in TV “Infotainment”

I usually stay away from French television programs entirely but one show I love to watch is called “Quotidien,” which means “daily.”  And, as you might have guessed, it’s a French, modified version of America’s The Daily Show. It is presented by Yann Barthès, a charming, classy 40-something Frenchman who excels in the business of conversation.  “Quotidien” is a relatively new show on prime-time TV but Yann is not new to television.

Yann Barthes, the charming presenter of the “Quotidien.”

From 2011-2016, he was the impertinent, controversial presenter of “Le Petit Journal,” a satirical news program on Canal Plus.  Due to internal differences, he ultimately left that network and, along with Laurent Bon, co-founded a production company called Bangumi. (“Bangumi” is the Japanese word for TV program.)  The pressure was on for him to succeed in this daily venture and, so far, he has done quite well.  I recently had the opportunity to be part of the live studio audience of “Quotidien” and I jumped at the chance to see how French TV works.  It was interesting, amusing…and oh, so French.

First of all, the formalities for entry into the studio were even more stringent than a visit to the Prefecture of Paris when applying for French citizenship.  Before you could step foot in the building, you had to sign a disclaimer in which you promised to give up your passport or identity card, cell phone and handbag to the Bangumi production

Waiting in the first of many lines at the TV studio.

company for the time you were in the studio.  You also gave permission to the company to make a copy of your passport.  You agreed to actively participate in the “Quotidien” (meaning applauding when they tell you to); not get paid for it and, especially important, you agreed to behave.  Any sign of trouble and you were out the door, facing a possible civil lawsuit.

French administrative inefficiency began in earnest as you waited in line to give up your passport to one person (the one who was most likely photocopying it during the show.)  Then, there was another line to surrender all your earthly belongings and cell phone to another person who was stocking them in the coat room.  That’s right, one person only was taking care of about 120 people who would be part of the audience – how efficient is that? Then there was the metal detector passage.  And, finally, you could “hurry up and wait” in the downstairs, sectioned-off lobby.  At least there were restrooms available, a coffee machine and a couple of benches for a lucky few who got there first.

After about a thirty-minute wait in the brouhaha of anticipation, we were finally shuttled in to the real television studio and placed on the rock-hard, grandstand seats.  We had a coach, a friendly-enough guy with a hat who explained how to laugh and when to applaud.  We practiced clapping with him and then he went around reprimanding the gum chewers.  It was a relaxed, summer-camp ambiance – until I heard a camera man yell at an apprentice for not having anything on hand to clean his camera lens.

The set of the French TV show, “Quotidien.”

The young man was 17 at the most and ran off the set embarrassed as hell as his mentor loudly complained about how “stupid” the kid was.  Ah, the joys of the French teaching approach of shaming students.  Even outside of the classroom.

When Yann Barthès came on the set, everyone applauded spontaneously (although we had been told before only to applaud on cue).  You could see he was well-liked by this group of viewers and by the other 1.2 million fans who were watching him on TMC (Tele Monte Carlo).  He was pleasant, natural and professional.

Once the program got off the ground, he was at ease and in charge of all the topics and guests.  It was an eclectic program too, that included interviews with young National Front voters (France’s far-right party led by Marine Le Pen); a conversation with Melania Trump’s make-up artist; conversations with an actress and director of the movie “Grave” based on cannibalism; a talk with a Canadian stand-up comic, Sugar Sammy and a report on the “Salon du

Garance Marillinier, the star of the French cannibal film “Grave” (“Raw in English).

Bébé.”  Yann supposedly has carte blanche on the content of the program “Quotidien” and he uses it to blend a cocktail of news, comedy, culture and human interest stories.  He is serious when he needs to be but knows that a little bit of light-hearted “Infotainment” can go a long way in the TV business.  I appreciated the fact that, unlike other talk show hosts, Yann doesn’t come across as the Star.  The star of the “Quotidien” is its unique mix of news and humor – a breath of fresh air in French TV programming.

When the show ended, French administrative inefficiency reared its ugly head just as strongly as it had in the beginning.  The staff shuffled us all back into the hall where we waited for up to an hour to get back our phones, bags and passports.  There were several other team members standing around looking important, but only one person to return the bags and another person to return the passports.  Happy to say, though, that there was a little bonus for us on the way out.  We all got a “Quotidien” sticker for good behavior.  The Prefecture of Paris would never do that.

Francois Fillon Turns the Tables in the French Presidential Election

With only seven weeks to go before the first round of the French presidential elections, no one is talking policy.  Everyone is talking “Fillon” instead.  And all the conversations and predictions are about whether this candidate should stay or go.  Three days ago, 100 political chiefs deserted him.

Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe just says No to Plan B.
Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe just says No to Plan B.

Yesterday, the Plan B candidate, Alain Juppe, officially proclaimed he would not run.  So today, Francois Fillon is back – and it looks like he’s going to stay.  His strategy is just to keep standing and let the others come and go as they please.  That seems to be working for him.  Is it working for France?  Only time and votes will tell.

Fillon hosted a rally on March 4th in Paris to insist publicly that he is still the Presidential hopeful.  The Fillon team said there were 200,000 people in attendance.  Now, that’s the French version of fake news since Trocadero, where the rally was held, can only hold 45,000 people, according to the French police. Polls show that more than 70% of French voters want Fillon to withdraw his candidacy.  They want him to resign; name a replacement and ride off into the sunset of a possible indictment that is facing him.  But, just like the Elton John song, he’s still standing.  Here’s how all this unprecedented mess started.

Penelope and Francois Fillon very much in the public eye.
Penelope and Francois Fillon very much in the public eye.

Back in November, 2016, Francois Fillon won the first-ever Republican party primary with a healthy score of 44%.Things were looking good for him and the party in general. Since this was the first time for a primary, no one thought about what happens if the candidate gets into a legal scandal before the election.  As it stands, the only exit for acandidate would be a resignation letter.  However, Mr. Fillon is adamant that he is in for the long-haul.  The scandal  he is now in is being called “PenelopeGate.”  He is supposedly about to be charged with creating fictitious employment for his wife Penelope (to the tune of almost a million euros, pretty much the same amount in dollars).  The suspicious employment he gave to two of his children while they were law students is also on the judge’s table.

So, for the French right party, the Republican Party, Francois Fillon is a candidate who might (or might not) be indicted on March 15th when he is summoned to court.  The far-right populist candidate, Marine Le Pen, has also been summoned for financial dealings concerning two members of her staff but she has “solved” her problem by saying she simply won’t go.  On the left side of the government, Francois Hollande, the current president, bowed out of the Socialist primary.  He chose not to run for the “good of the party” since all polls were saying he was sure to lose.  The Socialists had their scandal just before the last election in 2012 but theirs was a sexual one.  Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the left front-runner for president, was accused of raping a hotel maid in New York back in May 2011. He subsequently spent a night in Rikers prison and settled the civil case out of court for an undisclosed amount. The accompanying disgrace ended his chances of running for president and that’s when Francois Hollande came into the picture.  He was Plan B for the Socialists in 2012.

Mr. Fillon is now being compared to Trump..
Mr. Fillon is now being compared to Trump..

 

The French media like to compare their presidential candidates to Trump.  Up to now, they were consistently doing this only for Marine Le Pen.  She is France’s Populist candidate on the far-right. She is consistently anti-immigration; anti-European and anti-Muslim. However, this week, the media has started to compare Francois Fillon to Donald Trump since he attacked the judicial system which he feels is attacking him (something equivalent to Trump’s tweet about the “so-called judges” who stopped his Executive travel ban order).  Mr. Fillon also staged his public “feel-good” rally in Trump fashion and urged his supporters to “resist,” to “fight this strange combat” along with him.

 

Francois Fillon's latest Motto.
Francois Fillon’s latest Motto.

After Fillon’s anti-justice system declaration, his spokesperson resigned; his campaign manager bailed and many elected officials said that Fillon had “crossed the line.”  They all point to the fact that Fillon initially said he would pull out of the presidential race if there were to be a formal investigation.  There is a formal investigation and Fillon is still running.  France is on political hold.  The only thing is sure at this point is that Fillon is the candidate for the conservation Republican party.  He has managed to “divide and conquer” his party — just by running in place.

PenelopeGate – A New Feminine Twist on French Political Scandal

There’s another political scandal blazing in France and this time it doesn’t involve the President taking a ride on a Vespa and paying a nocturnal visit to his girlfriend. It still concerns a woman though, but a woman who has done, and openly admits to doing, nothing. No problem in that, in and of itself, except that she was allegedly paid 831,400 Euros (about $894,000) for that “nothing.” Now that’s a problem.

Francois Fillon, the Presidential candidate for the French Republican party, and the frontrunner, is suddenly

Penelope Fillon out and about in Paris.
Penelope Fillon out and about in Paris.

embroiled in a situation that is wreaking havoc on his party and the whole country.  Mr. Fillon is accused of falsely employing his wife, Penelope Fillon, as a Parliamentary assistant over several years and paying her an enormous sum of money – from public funds.  There is nothing illegal about employing family members in the French political system (nepotism is welcome here).  What the voters are upset about is that it seems there is no proof that she actually worked in the Parliament.  There is no trace of a badge, no pay slips, no one remembers seeing her working in the wings of the Parliament building.  Adding to this is the alleged salary of 84,000 Euros (about $90,000) that Mr. Fillon paid to two of his adult children for their legal advice.  Again, hiring family members as lawyers is not illegal, however, his children were not yet qualified lawyers when they were paid.  They were still students.

Before the investigative French newspaper “Canard Enchainé” broke the story, Francois Fillon was the morally irreproachable man of the hour.  He won the Republican primary by a landslide.  He had been the Prime Minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and was the perfect candidate from the right to replace the Socialist President, Francois Hollande.

Fillon family at their French chateau.
Fillon family at their French chateau.

His solid, Catholic family was picture-perfect – married for 37 years to the same woman, Penelope, who is of Welsh origin.  They are both in their early 60’s and have five children.  They live in an honest-to-goodness chateau in the Sarthes region of France.  In the rare television or newspaper interviews that Penelope has given, she has always talked about how she was just an ordinary housewife bringing up her children and letting Francois handle the political stuff.  In October 2016, she was quoted as saying, “Up until now, I have never been involved in the political life of my husband.”  Unfortunately, she is very involved now, and may be the reason that her husband’s political life might soon be over.

So, what’s happening now in French political circles?  Well, it’s one ill-timed, right-sided mess.  The first round of the presidential election is April 23rd.  Mr. Fillon and his family are being questioned this week.  They could be exonerated of all suspicion or the affair could continue to criminal court, and if that happens, Mr. Fillon could not run for President.  This is not the first time a politician is accused of mis-use of public funds – far from it.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is one happy camper.
Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is one happy camper.

The problem is the timing.  If Mr. Fillon were President, the government would have to wait until his term was over to take him to Court to settle this accusation.  However, he is only a candidate.  But, he is the only candidate that many French people think could have easily won the Presidential race…that is, until the doors of “PenelopeGate” opened.

Recent polls say that 6 out of 10 voters want Francois Fillon to resign as presidential candidate. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux who lost to Mr. Fillon in the primary, has already stated he refuses to be the “Plan B.” The party would have to come up with someone else – but they are running out of time. Meanwhile, this instability definitely helps the other runners.  The ones who are currently left standing are Marine Le Pen, the far-right, anti-immigration, anti-EU, Trump-loving representative of the National Front party; Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister under President Hollande, who is running as an independent; the Socialist rebel and ex-minister of Education, Benoit Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the perpetual candidate from the hard-left.

Mr. Fillon's campaign tract calling PenelopeGate a witch hunt.
Mr. Fillon’s campaign tract calling PenelopeGate a witch hunt.

Francois Fillon is on the road campaigning this weekend; claiming this whole deal is a witch hunt, a set-up by his political enemies.  He is asking his supporters to just look at his program but, when they do that, they see he wants to cut 500,000 civil service jobs, which does not look good next to the allegations of paying his wife close to a million euros for allegedly not working at all.

It seems that, at this point, it doesn’t even matter whether or not Fillon mis-used public funds – the damage is already done.  The entire Republican party is in disarray and the Presidential election is around the corner.  How they will get out of this sticky situation is anyone’s guess.  Maybe there’s another woman hanging around on the left who can generate another political scandal.  That seems to be business-as-usual in French (and other) political circles.

Surprising French FaceOff as Presidential Primaries Begin

All I can say is that political polling seems to be really off its rocker in both the USA and France. No one saw Trump coming; most of the polls wrote him off early, but then Voila! – he’s here. A similar thing just happened with Francois Fillon

One Happy French Camper - Francois Fillon.
One Happy French Camper – Francois Fillon.

in the first round of the presidential primaries of the “Republicans,” the center right party of the French government. On November 20th, an unexpectedly high turnout of voters, (4 million Frenchmen and women), surprised all the pundits by putting Francois Fillon at the head of the race and ending Nicolas Sarkozy’s political career.
All the predictions were for Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux, to come in first; Sarkozy second and Fillon third – but a long way behind Sarkozy. However, the results were 44.1% – Fillon; 28.6% – Juppe and 20.6% – Sarkozy. Since the Cartesian French keep their elections simple, that means Sarkozy is out, and on November 27th, there will be a face-off between Fillon and Juppe. The victor of the run-off, by a simple majority, will be the candidate for the right-wing Republicans. That winner, Fillon or Juppe, will be in the global spotlight until the elections on May 7th 2017 since so many people are looking to see if he will be able to defeat Marine LePen, the far-right, Front National candidate who is hoping to ride the Brexit/Trump wave.
You can read up on these candidates in other political blogs, in this article, I wanted to talk about how this first French Republican presidential primary was conducted. It’s so different from what happens in the USA that it’s worth a closer look. Any registered voter could participate in the primary as long as they signed a “Republican” charter and paid two euros (about $2.12). Here’s what the charter stated, “Je partage les valeurs républicaines de la droite et du centre et je m’engage pour l’alternance afin de réussir le redressement de la France”.

French voters (including Alain Juppe) waiting in line to sign the Charter.
French voters (including Alain Juppe) waiting in line to sign the Charter.

In English, it translates to something like this, “I share the Republican values of the Right and the Center and I am committed to the change of power so that the recovery of France will succeed.” That sounds a bit flowery and, when you analyze it, it’s a pretty general statement, not really requiring a great deal of thought on the voter’s part. Kind of like a “goes without saying” situation. And, after signing the charter, you had to pay.

I, for one, was taken aback by the fact that the French voters had to go to the polls with a two-Euro coin in their collective pocket. (The pre-voting publicity was very clear about not making change nor allowing for electronic payments.) However, after reading about the reasoning behind the contribution, it started to make sense. The primary costs between 6 – 9 million Euros to run. The rules say if the voter contribution

The price to pay for voting in the French primary.
The price to pay for voting in the French primary.

is not enough to pay for those costs, the Republican party will make up the difference. If there is more than enough, the extra amount will go to the winner of the primary to be used in his campaign. Since there were four million voters who contributed two euros each, the costs were largely covered by the eight million that was collected and the lucky winner of the November 27th run-off will get the overflow.  Surprisingly, none of my French friends protested paying to vote in the primary. I can’t even imagine that system being allowed in the US – not even for a second.

So, what happens on the left once the center-right candidate has been chosen? Well, between December 1st and 15th, the Socialist candidates who plan to run for president must make an official announcement.  It’s still not certain if Francois Hollande, the incumbent, will run, since his popularity rating is at an historic all-time low of 4%. The Socialist primary is on January 22nd and the first round of presidential elections on April 23rd. If no candidate has the majority of votes in April, the second and final round between the top two will be held on May 7th 2017. And that’s it, the new French presidential primaries and elections take place within a span of seven months! For once, the French touch is an efficient one. Let’s see if the polls can get this one right. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Americanization of French Presidential Campaigns

Oh no, it’s happening in Paris too.  Just when the US presidential campaign is almost over and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief; the French contest is starting and local TV is trying a new thing – producing political “shows a l’américaine”.  I saw one last week and couldn’t believe my eyes or ears.  It was a horrible harbinger, an omen of how bad the French presidential campaign just might become.

The name of the show is “Une Ambition Intime,” which translates to “A Private Ambition.”

This photo certainly sets the tone of the program.
This photo certainly sets the tone of the program.

The presenter is a beautiful, sexy lady named Karine Le Marchand, who usually hosts a popular reality show where she helps French farmers find love in the comfort of their own home.  (It’s called “L’Amour Est dans Le Pré” or “Love is in the Field”.)  She oversees the matchmaking of the contestants and interviews them in their country surroundings.  It’s a stretch to go from hosting a heartfelt, love-farm program to interviewing political candidates.  However, Karine does it while sitting on a couch and drinking wine.  She even makes the politicians cry and give up family secrets.  So, in the end, it’s not such a stretch.  And, in the end, it made me cry too – but for different reasons.

Karine Le Marchand is the producer of this show. Television rumor has it that she threatened to quit if the M6 channel, which broadcasts the program, didn’t give her the chance to host something else besides the Farmer takes a Wife.  The first airing of “Une Ambition Intime” received some bad reviews but the head of M6, Nicolas de Tavernost, defended Karine’s show saying that people would be surprised at the number of politicians who want a place on Madame Le Marchand’s sofa (that’s right; that’s what he said).  He added that he was proud of her.  Critics claimed that Karine doesn’t know anything about politics.  However, knowledge of French politics is irrelevant since, in “A Private Ambition,” Karine exposes the human side of the presidential candidates or, rather, lets them expose themselves.  A lot.

Karine asking Nicolas Sarkozy about his feminine track record.
Karine asking Nicolas Sarkozy about his feminine track record.

The objective of the program is to unveil another facet of the presidential candidate – one the audience would not see on a typical political program.  There is absolutely no discussion of current issues, social problems, the deficit, security or jobs.  Karine Le Marchand doesn’t grill the candidate as to what the basis of their political platform is and how he or she would accomplish their goals.  Instead, with sappy pop music in the background, (appropriately chosen by her 13-year-old daughter), Karine coyly asked the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, if she should call him “Nicolas” or “Mr. President”.

She cuddled up on the couch; poured him a glass of red wine and asked him about the ladies in his life.  He told her he had an “enormous track record” with women and she then asked if that was the only “enormous” thing he had.  She followed that with a pathetically fake giggle.

It got worse.  There were three more candidates to go.  The emotional highlight of Arnaud Montebourg’s interview was when he got all teary-eyed thinking of his premature baby.    The next candidate, Bruno Lemaire, shed tears when he talked about his wife (she’s fine, by the way).  Then Karine Le Marchand had a conversation in the garden this time (no couch) with Marine Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate.  With Marine, she evoked favorite recipes and flowers and commiserated about how both Karine and Marine are single moms.  She offered wine again (white wine, this time) and they toasted to life.

Jugging down the wine in an attempt to get "cozy".
Jugging down the wine in an attempt to get “cozy”.

Madame Le Pen went on to talk about her difficult, if not impossible, relationship with her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who used to be the head of the National Front party.  She threw him out of the party a few months ago and they haven’t spoken since.  Marine said that was an extremely painful thing to do – second only to childbirth.  Wow.

That politicians have turned into entertainers in the United States is not a new phenomenon.  But this is new is for France and, personally speaking, I hope it stops right here.  However, “A Private Ambition” attracted 3.1 million viewers; that’s 14% of the Sunday evening market so it looks like it will probably continue.  The French are voluntarily lowering their standards of political campaigning and the candidates are letting them do it.  Why, oh why, did these potential presidents agree to do such a program?  They could have all nipped this trend in the bud by just saying no.

Let’s hope that one day we will all pick our presidents in the same way we choose a doctor.  For example, if you were going to have a knee operation, would you care about your surgeon’s romantic liaisons?  About his or her favorite recipes, gardening talents, musical preferences?

Let's talk about skills, not stories, please.
Let’s talk about skills, not stories, please.

No, there’s no time for silly small talk and, truthfully, you would just want a skilled professional with experience.  You would probably check out his team; the reputation of the clinic; his or her surgical success rate.  Let’s face it, we’re all human and we all have stories.  But, when it comes to deciding who will govern a country, there are some stories we just don’t need to hear.

The Disrespecting Women Effect in Presidential Elections

Everyone I have spoken to about the upcoming US presidential election, both in France and America, is shocked at the incredibly low level our presidential debates have sunken to.  The French news media broadcast both debates live but it’s really the second one that is the most embarrassing.  You see, when you’re an American living in Paris, your French friends and family feel it’s absolutely necessary to badger you with their opinions and questions about the elections.

The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.
The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.

They ask you how Donald Trump could have been nominated in the first place; why do Americans dislike Hillary Clinton so much; how does the electoral college work; why don’t the candidates talk about their policies during the debates; why is sex so important in the election and on and on.  Explaining the electoral college system to the French is boring and useless so I’ll just skip it.  Let’s talk about sex – and its part in both French and American recent and future elections.

The latest sexual development in the American campaign is, of course, the sound track of Donald Trump’s offensive comments regarding having a license to grab women’s private parts.  This caused Republicans like Paul Ryan and John McCain to withdraw their support of Trump, saying he had crossed the line.  This also gave hope to Hillary supporters who believe that the indecisive voters will now be on her side or not vote at all – which in the end is good for her.  I just want to remind everyone that Trump crossed the line with racist comments many months ago.  He also insulted families of soldiers who have died for their country.  But fellow Republicans didn’t raise an eyebrow until he was exposed as a sexual aggressor.  Just goes to show how women, or rather disrespecting women, could make or break this election.

Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.
Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.

Now the French have their sexually-related political problems too.  Remember Dominique Strass-Kahn?  He was the Director of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) who was supposed to have run as the Socialist candidate for president of France in 2012 but encountered a major obstacle in 2011. That was when he was taken off an Air France plane in New York and arrested in connection with the alleged rape of a hotel maid.  His subsequent trial and eventual settlement blew his chances for political success and cleared the way for Francois Hollande’s win in May of 2012. Another potential-president bit the dust due to a woman-related issue.

Again back in the USA, the Trump campaign is hitting Hillary hard with claims that Bill Clinton has sexually attacked and abused women for many years.  The fact that Bill Clinton is not running for president doesn’t seem to deter Mr. Trump.  For the second debate, he brought in three women, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey who have all alleged that Mr. Clinton sexually assaulted them

Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.
Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.

during different points of his career.  Their claims range from sexual harassment to rape.  Mr. Trump thought he would show that Hillary is not a defender of women’s rights.  He said and I quote, “Hillary was an enabler and she attacked the women who Bill Clinton mistreated afterward.”  The second debate seemed like more of a reality-show-gone-horribly-bad or, even worse, a horribly bad TV show that suddenly becomes real.  I have never seen anything so hard to watch.

The French have now begun their debates in view of the presidential elections which will take place in May of 2017.  France is hosting primaries for the first time in its political history and the first meeting of seven candidates of the center-right party was held this week.  It was a tame, polite meeting compared to the Trump-Clinton debates, but it’s only the beginning.

The first French Presidential primary debate - a calm affair - for now.
The first French Presidential primary debate – a calm affair – for now.

The current president, Francois Hollande, has not yet announced his candidacy and will not do so until December.  That makes for only five months of French political campaigning, which seems like heaven at this point.  Women-wise, we’ll see what happens.  So far, so good, no major sexual scandals have emerged.  But, like I said, it’s just the beginning.

Paris Mayor Wins the Fight against Motorists – But Can She Do Better?

Paris is regularly a very sick city, full of spikes of pollution that practically erase the Eiffel Tower from the Parisian cityscape. The last smog attack happened this March (see photo) and sparked a series of actions by the City Council led by Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo. One of these actions was the second edition of the “Journée sans Voiture” or “A Day without Cars” which happened this past Sunday, September 25th.  From 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM, cars were forbidden in 46% of the streets of Paris (that represents about 400 miles of roads).  Pedestrians, bicyclists, walkers, joggers took over the avenues and, except for an hour or two of rain, enjoyed this slight hiatus from urban chaos.

Can you even see the Eiffel Tower through the pollution?
Can you even see the Eiffel Tower through the pollution?

But seven hours of clean air per year is not enough to stop the pollution and its consequences.  Mme Hidalgo has lots of other ideas.  And, due to her “Bras de Fer” attitude, one extremely controversial plan just received the go-ahead from the Paris City Council.

Here's what the Right Bank of the Seine will look like soon.
Here’s what the Right Bank of the Seine will look like soon.

 

It is now official that 3.3 kilometers (about 2 miles) of the Right Bank of the Seine will be transformed into a pedestrian zone.  This stretch of road (called Voie Georges Pompidou) runs from the Tuileries Gardens to the Henri IV tunnel near the Bastille and, on a normal day, has about 43,000 cars traveling on it.  It’s a great, easy way to cut through the center of Paris.  The fact that it is now inaccessible is causing massive traffic jams on the other Boulevards that drivers are forced to take, such as Rue de Rivoli.  Needless to say, many suburbanites who commute to Paris for their jobs, are not happy with the mayor’s plan.  But she doesn’t care.  They don’t vote for her anyway.  They don’t live in Paris. It was the Parisian Socialist and Green Party City Councilors who passed this measure.

The mayor has a lot of statistics on her side.  She has tweeted that there are 2500 deaths a year in Paris caused by bad air quality; up to 45,000 deaths in France.  The cost of the smog-related health problems is as much as 101 billion Euros annually.  It was time to do something. Yes, everyone agrees that something has to be done.

Enormous traffic jams in Paris due to the Right Bank closing.
Enormous traffic jams in Paris due to the Right Bank closing.

But the motorists and the politicians of the Right say that the pedestrian zone is not the appropriate move and will only displace and increase the pollution in other parts of the city.  That may be true but the decision is now official. The work crews will soon be constructing playgrounds, terraces and waterside gardens where pollution-charged vehicles used to tread.  Mme Hidalgo and the Parisians are taking back the Seine.  However, I have an idea to make this pollution-reduction plan even more effective.

I think that Mayor Hidalgo and her City Councilors can easily do more than just banning motorists.  They should also ban cigarette smoking from the riverbanks.  That would really make these two miles pollution-free.  Let the smokers puff away in the rest of the city but keep these new terraces and gardens that will be lining the Seine smoke-free.  If you have

An all too common site on Parisian streets. Do we want to see these in the Seine?
An all too common site on Parisian streets. Do we want to see these in the Seine?

ever walked around Paris and looked down, you have seen the hundreds, even thousands, of cigarette butts that line the city streets.  Now, just imagine the Parisians on the water’s edge.  Do you think they will throw their butts in an ashtray?  Certainly not.  They’ll throw them in the Seine and watch them float all the way to Normandy.  The mayor has a chance to stop that before it starts.  I know it could spark another mini-French revolution but having a pristine paradise in Paris, even if it’s just for two miles, would be well worth it.

 

Turning Tables and Throwing Tantrums in Paris

The recent (and continuing) strikes in France with their subsequent acts of violence, provocation and just general unrest, set me thinking about French social behavior.  I am not talking about the politics of these demonstrations nor about who is right or wrong – there are plenty of other blogs that are doing that.

French demonstrator being pulled away by police.
French demonstrator being pulled away by police.

I am talking about how the French bring up their kids and what happens when these kids turn into adults.  Can their childhood education possibly have something to do with their grown-up comportment?

For years, I have participated in conversations with other Parisian mothers who stand by the strictness of table manners in bringing up their babies.  They are proud of the fact that their children do not throw tantrums at the dinner table.  They sit; they eat and they are not the center of attention.  I have seen mothers slap their children in public for slight misbehavior and no one even blinks.  (In the US, social services would have been on speed dial!)  The kids request permission to leave the table.  They go to bed and stay in bed when they are supposed to.  The parents have them under control and do not feel guilty about disciplining them.  But, then the kids grow up; turn into adults and regress like crazy.

When I watch the evening news and see the intense kicking and screaming of French demonstrators and police alike, I can’t help thinking of temper tantrums. The French are acting like toddlers in adult clothing.  When a 2-year-old has a fit, it is considered normal.

Child having a tantrum being pulled away by his mother.
Child having a tantrum being pulled away by his mother.

He is testing his limits with these outbursts.  Since he cannot yet master any language, physical wrath is common and is considered a normal part of child development.  Parents have to remain calm; be consistent in their treatment of these tantrums and NOT let the child win.  They are instructed to wait out the storm – let the kid storm off in a huff.  They try to reason with him only when he stops all that negative wrath and animosity. An angry child does not get a place at the dinner table.  An angry child gets a time-out.

Following this temper tantrum theory, I think that as French children grow (or not) into adults, the state replaces their parents and all the temper tantrums that were repressed in their childhood are now directed at the government (their financial provider).  They expect Mom and Pop to provide them with this and that.  They are used to their paternal government privileges and don’t want to lose them.  They certainly don’t want their parents to divorce.  There’s no way they could stand having a step-dad from the private sector.  They want their world to continue just as it is. Safe and secure and with them as the center of everybody’s attention.

I did a bit of research on what causes angry “episodes” in toddlers.  It seems that a feeling of intense anxiety, the kind you experience when you can’t get what you want, makes their bodies release cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone.  That makes them breathe faster; increases their blood pressure and causes confused thinking. They literally become “explosive” at the slightest provocation from their family and the world around them.  This sounds just like what’s happening in the streets of Paris.

The Parisians are acting out; melting down in perfect imitation of early childhood tantrums.  When the unionist “toddlers” come to the negotiating table,

Throwing over the negotiating table...literally.
Throwing over the negotiating table…literally.

the government parents can’t tell them to go to their room and come back when they are ready to talk sensibly.  These “parents” must stay calm and try to reason with them.  But, that doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked in the past and it isn’t working now.  The average child temper fit lasts for 3 minutes and, when it’s over, the tiny tot doesn’t remember anything.  Unfortunately, the French adult-child fit seems to be lasting a lot longer and spreading like a virus.

I am sure that the government Mom and Pop will “cave”; they will give in to their toddlers’ demands during any mediation.  As the unionist spoiled brats kick, scream and literally turn those negotiating tables upside down, the government parents will do what they have always done – give the children what they want so they can have a peaceful meal and/or get a good night’s sleep.  And they’ll do it quickly – right before the European Soccer Cup starts in Paris on June 10th.

 

 

 

 

This Week in Paris – Madness and Meditation

This week in France, there were not one, not two, but many social strikes and demonstrations.  The demonstrators included truck drivers, post office employees, oil workers, street cleaners, Parisian airport employees and, finally, the French police themselves. Some of these marches were peaceful – so, of course, they’re not worth talking about.  What everyone is focused on, however, is the violence and growing intensity of these movements.

Only one example of Parisian social unrest.
Only one example of Parisian social unrest.

The Molotov cocktails, tear gas, rocks and other projectiles being used in the streets of Paris turned certain parts of this beautiful city into domestic war zones.  A police cruiser was set on fire by a few demonstrators who made sure (at least) that the police themselves had time to get out of the car before the smoke invaded their vehicle.  France is in the midst of social chaos – it is a country full of frustrated, angry, young and old men and women.  It is certainly not the only country in crisis at this time, but it is the one I am trying to understand.

I was watching the news on one of the most socially-chaotic days of this week as the journalist went over the “Strike Agenda”.  He gave a rundown of the who, what, why, where and when of the social movements – it was a long list detailing the parts of Paris to avoid.  I had a sudden thought about how calm the newscaster seemed even though he was obviously discussing a country that was “out of control”.  He was showing footage of hooded trouble makers breaking store windows and throwing stones at people’s heads.  He announced that more than 350 French police officers have been injured in demonstrations in 2016 alone. I was stressed out just listening to him and thought about staying in my pajamas all day.  Then, he talked about someone peaceful – Deepak Chopra.

Deepak Chopra just happened to be speaking in Paris on May 17th at the Grand Rex theatre, a famous venue usually reserved for movies and musicians.  Mr. Chopra, a meditation, wellbeing and human relations expert, who is also a celebrated author, was to

Grand Rex stage ready for Deepak and group meditation.
Grand Rex stage ready for Meditation.

give a conference on “How to Live Better Today and Tomorrow.” He wanted to meet the French public after the horrible events of 2015 to “share an overall global review of ourselves and our future.”  The conference was to be followed by a group meditation led by the guru himself.  They even showed a short interview with Deepak while he was walking around Paris the day before.  When the reporter asked him what he thought would help with the unrest in France, he answered simply that the French should learn how to meditate. A little bit of calm energy and introspection seemed like a good anecdote to the volatile tension in the Parisian air.  So I got out of my pajamas and set my sites on Deepak’s meditation instead of the social madness.

I didn’t think there would be any problem getting a ticket to the conference given the public transportation strike and the feeling I had that the Parisians were just not a meditative bunch (especially not this chaotic week).  But I was wrong.  I tried on both the web and by phone and could only get the highest priced ticket – at 150 Euros (about the same in US dollars).  Now, that was a high price to pay for silence and introspection but I thought I might be able to find a cheaper one at the Grand Rex just before the show.  So I headed out.

In the end, I couldn’t get there because of the very reason I wanted to go there in the first place.  I wanted solace from the social turbulence but the social turbulence got in the way.  Roads were blocked so buses could not circulate; the metro was stopped.

Pink smoke in Paris is not a good sign.
Pink smoke in Paris is not a good sign.

I tried walking for a while but saw pink smoke in the distance and changed my mind.  I carefully treaded back home and put my pajamas back on.

I read the next day that more than 2,000 people attended Deepak’s conference.  I don’t know how they managed to get there but I’m glad there was some peaceful karma in the Parisian air this week.  Wish I had had enough money and enough foresight to be part of the Meditation instead of the Madness.

Moo’s, Boo’s and Whistles in Paris – France’s Cash Cow Industry Speaks Out

     Even though the French equivalent of the Oscars, called the “Césars” and the Oscars themselves were happening this weekend, the real star of the show in Paris was not Leonardo di Caprio in LA or Michael Douglas in Paris.

Meet Cerise - Best Head Shot Ever for a Farm Fair Mascot
Meet Cerise – Best Head Shot Ever for a Farm Fair Mascot

The real star was “Cerise”, otherwise known as Cherry, the Bazadais cow from southwestern France who was the official mascot for this year’s International Agricultural Fair, a prestigious Parisian annual event which attracts about 700,000 people and a whole lot of animals.

Cerise must have been a bit surprised at the reception she received on the pre-opening hours of the Farm Fair – at 6:45 on that Saturday morning. She was expecting to have a one-on-one, face-to-face encounter with Francois Hollande, the president of France. The President made it to the Fair, but could not get anywhere near her. Cerise heard the boos and whistles and the insults that invaded the Expo Hall that morning. She knew that was not a good sign. Cerise also heard the destruction of stands that had just been assembled the day before. She looked for her owner, Bernard, to explain the chaos to her but she was left alone in a corner for a long, long time. (She later saw Bernard on the evening news. He was an integral part of that chaos. He could have let her in on it before he took off like that.)

The Salon mascot looked up at the television monitors and witnessed the pandemonium. She felt bad for the President. She was looking forward to meeting him. That’s pretty much why she accepted this role as mascot – for the prestige of getting a nod, a compliment and maybe even a pat on the behind from the Head of State. But Cerise knew from the conversations she overheard back home that these were very difficult times for her family of farmers. She knew they were justified in giving the President and the Agricultural Minister such a hard time. But, Cerise still wanted to see the President in person. Since she couldn’t, she listened to his speech instead.

No one could get near the French President at the Farm Fair.
No one could get near the French President at the Farm Fair.

Mr. Hollande said that he heard the cries of distress from the farmers and that he would do something about it. He blamed the overproduction of wheat and the Russian embargo. He would change the laws to make it better. “The whole country of France suffers when agriculture suffers”, he said. Cerise agreed with that comment. Her milk was worth less and less every day. But it was really good quality stuff. How could France continue to make the best cheese in the world if it did not also produce the best milk? Something had to change.

Cerise saw more police in one hour at the Agricultural Salon than she had seen in her entire lifetime. They were blocking the way of the President and steering him in a direction far from her. She saw on the TV that he was actually petting a different cow on the other end of the fair. She was beginning to regret ever having entered this mascot beauty contest. What was the point of winning first prize if she didn’t even get to say hi to the First Guy of France?

The beautiful, pregnant Ayem Nour speaking for all the cows of France.
The beautiful, pregnant Ayem Nour speaking for all the cows of France.

Then she saw a TV presenter who wanted to send a message to the President.  The lady’s name was Ayem Nour and she was very much pregnant. Her message to Francois Hollande went like this – “In the name of all the cows in France, please know that we are very happy to see you. Love you President.” Cerise agreed. But she still hoped the President would come back to see her for that “tête-à-tête”. After all, she was the Star of the Show.