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.

Parisians Join US Women’s March the Day after Trump Inauguration

There is usually a honeymoon period after a US presidential election, a time when the new guy can do no wrong; when Americans are happy with their choice and they allow him to get on with the business of governing the country.  However, the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, will have to be content with the honeymoons he has already experienced with his three wives. The unprecedented mass “Women’s March” protests

Women's March took place in more than 60 cities globally.
Women’s March took place in more than 60 cities globally.

held all over the world the day after his inauguration made it perfectly clear that the new woman in his life, the female American electorate, will be watching him very closely.  No honeymoon in sight for the new President. (In fact, his third wife, Melania, has already left Washington DC to return to New York to take care of her “Mom” duties.)

For a man who has tweeted his way into the Presidency, it seems only fitting that the Women’s March Movement started with a social media facebook invitation.  Teresa Shook, a retired attorney and resident of Hawaii, invited forty of her friends to a March on Washington with one little click.  Twenty-four hours later, that one click turned into a group with thousands of names.

The DC crowd itself was estimated at about 500,000 participants; over 700,000 people participated in Los Angeles (the biggest turn-out).  More than 5 million women activists around the world, including 7,000 women in Paris, used the morning after the inauguration to come together and “send a bold message to the new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”

A sea of pink as thousands of women sported "pussyhats".
A sea of pink as thousands of women sported “pussyhats”.

If you saw any of the Women’s March photos, you most likely noticed a sea of pink hats bobbing on the horizon.  Those hats come from the Los Angeles based “Pussyhat Project,” where knitters first began crafting little pink caps with cat ears as an angry rebuttal to Trump’s 2005 offensive remarks about grabbing women’s genitalia.  Many of the celebrities who attended and performed at the Marches wore a pussyhat as a symbol of protection of women’s rights.  Here is a non-exhaustive list of the stars in attendance:  Helen Mirren, Gillian Anderson, Jane Fonda, Charlize Theron, Cher, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Fran Drescher, Felicity Huffman, Amy Poelher, Madonna, Ashley Judd, Michael Moore and Scarlett Johansson.  When you consider that celebrities were conspicuously absent from the Presidential Inauguration ceremony and celebration, you have an idea of how divided the USA has become.

But you might wonder why French women (and men)Getty.A-demonstrator-carries-a-sign-reading-Pcame out in support of this American demonstration.  I mean, what happens in the USA stays in the USA, right?  Wrong!  Quite a few women who were interviewed at the Paris March stated that the subject of women’s rights concerns the whole world.  The French have seen female reproductive rights put into jeopardy once again in Poland, Spain and Portugal when those neighboring countries elected conservative leaders. France will be electing a new President this spring and women are worried about the National Front Candidate,

Marine Le Pen, coming into power.  Mme Le Pen is an avid supporter of President Trump. At a recent, unprecedented meeting of Europe’s rightwing party leaders, she was quoted as saying, “His position on Europe is clear. He

National Front Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, is an avid admirer of Donald Trump.
National Front Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, is an avid admirer of Donald Trump.

does not support a system of the oppression of peoples.  2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. I am certain 2017 will be the year when the people of continental Europe wake up.”

It’s strange that the organizers of the Parisian Women’s March also alluded to Trump’s election as being a wake-up call for France.  We’ll just have to wait and see which side wakes up first.

Explaining Inexplicable American Politics to the French

Text messages and phone calls from my French friends started invading my cell phone around midnight on Election Day.  The messages all subscribed to the same theme of extreme surprise and overwhelming curiosity.  “How could Trump even be the nominee?”  “He just won Florida – does that mean he could win the election?”

Texting for political explanations.
Texting for political explanations.

“Will I need a Visa to visit the States now?”  I shut my phone off to gain some extra time.  But I knew, as an American living in Paris, that the French wanted answers.  Answers that could be understood.

Then, the next day, as if explaining how Donald Trump won the Presidency wouldn’t be a daunting-enough task, I saw that Hillary Clinton won the majority of the popular vote.  That meant I had to EXPLAIN the Electoral College, the “only-in-America” voting system, to the demanding French.  You see, when you’re the only American they know here in Paris, they think you know everything.  But I don’t.  So, as a first step, when I finally got my head cleared, I went with the numbers.  Now, that’s something everyone can understand in any language – at least that’s what I thought.

I started returning my phone calls and messages with statistics.  I told the curious French that 46.9% of eligible American voters did not vote (this was less of a voter turnout than in 2012 and 2008).  I told them that Trump got 279 electoral votes; he needed 270 to win.  Clinton got 228, so she lost the electoral votes.  Now, that could look like a big win for Trump.  But, for the popular vote, where every person counts, Hillary beat Trump by 238,087 votes.  That means that Trump got 59,704,847 and Clinton received 59,942,934 votes.

Historical statistics.
Historical statistics.

If the US election followed French rules, Hillary would be President.  And, by that same token, Al Gore would have been named President instead of George W. Bush in 2000 since Al Gore had more than half a million votes over Bush.  I gave my French friends the numbers and they all asked the big question, “Why don’t you Americans change the voting system?  Using the majority system is fair and easy.”

Using the majority system might be easy, but changing the electoral college requires an amendment to the Constitution.  Even though the electoral college began in 1804 and times have changed since then, US lawmakers have only tried once to change it to a direct vote election.  That attempt failed in the Senate by only by 2 votes.  And that was in 1934.  There is another movement, started by John Koza, a computer scientist and lead author of the book “Every Vote Equal.”  Professor Koza has proposed legislation to change to a direct voting system state-by-state, thereby circumventing the need for a constitutional amendment.  Each state would pledge its votes to the winner of the popular vote.

John Koza is the lead author of "Every Vote Equal".
John Koza is the lead author of “Every Vote Equal”.

So far, eleven states have adopted this – not yet enough for repeal of the electoral college.  My French friends scratched their heads in disbelief.  I was getting tired of feeling responsible for the US electoral woes so I changed subjects.

“You know, we voted for some interesting issues on the Presidential ballot,” I told them.  I mentioned how some states voted for the legalization of marijuana.  Now that took them by surprise.  “What, you can do that in America?  Vote for marijuana and the President at the same time?  That’s strange.”  Strange as it may seem, I explained that on November 8th, California, Nevada and Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana use.  Three other states – Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas – voted yes to medical marijuana.  I threw another number at them.

America votes green!
America votes green!

Now 21% of Americans live in a state where there is legal recreational marijuana.  “Put that in your pipe and smoke it,” I added, quoting an age-old expression my mother used to say (though, I must admit, she was never referring to marijuana!)

Talking about the marijuana referendum issues with my French friends was so much more fun than trying to explain the electoral college.  I won’t have to try and deal with our voting system for another four years, when its ugly head will reappear for the next presidential election.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy helping French friends plan their future vacations to California, Nevada or Massachusetts.

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.

 

The Dark Side of French Humor

Having been married to a Frenchman for sixteen years, I know a lack of a sense of humor when I see it.  His jokes weren’t funny to me; my jokes weren’t funny to him.  We eventually divorced due to this total humorless vacuum (and maybe for a couple of other reasons I don’t want to talk about here).  My point is that not being able to laugh together can definitely kill a relationship.  I just saw it happen on television this week when a French comedian-weather girl verbally killed her budding professional relationship with Jonah Hill, the American actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer.

Jonah was in Paris promoting the film, War Dogs, which was released in France this week.  He and fellow co-star Miles Teller were guests on “Le Petit Journal,” a French news and entertainment program.

Jonah Hill, in Paris on a promotional tour of War Dogs.
Jonah Hill, in Paris on a promotional tour of War Dogs.

Their interviewer, Ornella Fleury, was a pretty, young weather-girl who thought that ridicule and humor were synonymous.  She kicked off the live conversation with Jonah Hill with a daring proclamation of how she first fell under his charms.  These were her exact words: “It was when I saw you get sodomized by a 3-meter tall demon in This Is The End,” she said, “that I told myself, now THAT’S the man of my dreams.”

Now, please tell me, firstly, how does this statement makes any sexual sense and, secondly, how in the world did she expect Jonah Hill to react?  Well, he gave her the “right back at you lady” treatment with the following quote, said via his translator, “I heard you get sodomized quite often.”  That wasn’t enough to stop Mademoiselle Fleury as she pummeled through a very awkward live-TV moment with an even more awkward sexual fantasy of hers.  Here it is in all its glory.  “We would meet up in a hotel room at night. We would chat, you’d make me laugh… and then, all of a sudden, you’d bring your friends Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. And then you would leave.”

Jonah Hill was, as he should be, offended.  He said something about coming to France to promote a movie, not to be publicly ridiculed by a “local weather girl” and he left – the TV set and the country.  He subsequently canceled all his further appearances in France. The

Ornella Fleury, the weather girl and would-be comic.
Ornella Fleury, the weather girl and would-be comic.

weather-girl apologized to Jonah in front of the camera the next day, spurting out some lame excuse about how she mistakenly thought that she and Jonah were “friends” due to the fact that she has seen him in films for the last ten years.  So she was just messing around with him (well, her statements were certainly “messy”).  Jonah Hill has not responded and probably never will.  Her actions certainly don’t merit any sort of response on his part.  One more relationship has gone south due to a mismatch of senses of humor.

This incident got me thinking about the kind of “humor” the French feel comfortable with.  They don’t go in for self-ridicule; they need a target to mock.  Anglo-Saxon humor is often self-deprecating whereas the French think wit is funny.  That wit could be hostile, sarcastic, aggressive – and, in this particular case, just plain rude.  The French have an intellectual approach to humor, which is why they love Woody Allen.  And, the fact that they like to see people ridiculed is why they absolutely adore Jerry Lewis.  Most authentic French jokes get lost in translation and that’s probably a good thing.  American jokes get lost too.  For example, I just saw Jimmy Fallon tussle Donald Trump’s hair on live television and the audience thought that was hilarious.  Now if this weather girl dared to touch a French Presidential candidate’s hair on live TV, it would be seen as disrespectful, rude and uncalled for – anything but funny.

When you think about French comedy on a global scale, there aren’t very many names of French comics that come to mind.

Marcel Marceau, a truly funny Frenchman - the King of Mime.
Marcel Marceau, a truly funny Frenchman – the King of Mime.

To understand its wit and irony, you would need to be extremely fluent in the language.  French “comedy” works on a national level.  In fact, the only well-known Frenchman who could make people laugh in both the USA and France was Marcel Marceau.  Ah, but he was a mime. Maybe that young weather-girl should look him up.  She might learn something.  Something that was truly funny.

A French Summer Special – OVD (Obsessive Vacation Disorder)

It has always been amazing to me, scandalous sometimes, the way Paris allows itself to slow down to a near-halt in August when the whole city goes on vacation.  It’s a

Paris in August - no hustle, no bustle and very few Parisians.
Paris in August – no hustle, no bustle and very few Parisians.

time-honored tradition (established in 1935) that gets everyone involved – from shop keepers to civil servants to government officials.  It’s probably the one single thing that opinionated Parisians agree upon – their need, their undeniable right to a month’s holiday.  Good for them.  Or at least that’s what I thought.

However, this year, I have noticed a “condition” with some French vacationers that could be disabling and potentially dangerous.  I’m going to call it OVD (Obsessive-Vacation Disorder).  Here’s a little summary of its symptoms and side effects.

First of all, the concept and the word “Vacation” laces everyone’s conversations from the month of May to the month of October.  In May, it’s in the planning stages.People are obsessed with getting the best deal; repeatedly searching for bargains for holiday destinations online (and often at work).  Coffee breaks are longer as colleagues discuss where they might go and what they might do.  They leave work early to shop for their snorkels, walking shoes, tents, golf clubs, etc.  The French need extra time to plan and prepare.  Any boss can understand that a good vacation doesn’t just happen – he or she is probably using some of his work hours to do exactly the same thing.

The second stage of OVD occurs as the vacation date approaches.

The stress of preparing for vacation.
The stress of preparing for vacation.

The employee needs to leave his office in a reasonably organized state for his back-up.  And that is anxiety-provoking.  I have witnessed French colleagues stress out so much in this pre-vacation period that they drop sweat beads on their computers and forget all kinds of important details (such as passwords, essential documents, etc.).  Huge computer snafus usually happen in August, just like the one Delta Airlines is experiencing this year.  Could the root of that technological disaster be human error?  Was that human getting ready to go on holiday?  Remember, OVD is chronic, uncontrollable and potentially disabling.

Now, when a Parisian is on holiday in August, someone takes his place who is just returning from their four-week July holiday.  One would think that that person would be recharged and ready to go, looking forward to showing off their efficiency.  But no, OVD strikes the returning vacationer as well.  There are several ways the French “handle” their total lack of productivity upon returning to work post-holiday.  The most common one is to

The French Art of Complaining
The French Art of Complaining

complain – constantly, repeatedly, obsessively.  I went to the bank last week and listened to my banker tell me how overwhelmed she was because there were only three people working in her office.  She couldn’t even give me an appointment because of all the frenzy going on at her job.  She told me to stop by and she would “try to fit me in.”  This lady spent at least ten minutes talking about how understaffed they were during the August vacation period; how another colleague was on maternity leave; how that colleague forgot to leave her the information she needed for my account; how the new software they were using was slower than the old one and on and on.  When she finally shut up and did what she had to do, it took five minutes.  Five minutes.

Another OVD sign for post-vacation stress is the French art of using vacation as an excuse for inefficiency.  It happened to a friend of mine during a recent medical visit.  She had seen the same nurse for her ongoing cure – once a week every week in the month of June.  The nurse had completely forgotten who she was and began treating her as a brand-new patient at her August appointment.  She had my friend’s file in her hands but had not thought to read it.  When she finally realized her mistake, she apologized by saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I just got back from vacation a few days ago.  You’ll have to excuse me.”  That’s it.  That’s an excuse that this professional thought was a reasonable one.  So, just how much time does an OVD-sufferer need to get back to the real world? Shouldn’t you be a better worker when you return from holiday?  Isn’t that why vacations exist in the first place?

Is there a cure for OVD?  I doubt it, at least not for any Frenchman worth his salt.

Happy Vacation Everyone - see you in September!
Happy Vacation Everyone – see you in September!

This ritual, these leisure habits are engrained in the French culture.  I simply can’t imagine any Parisian going to an Obsessive-Vacation Disorder support group.  For them, obsessing about vacation is just Business as Usual.  And, like I said earlier, good for them.

A Few Things You Should Know about Euro 2016 Soccer Tournament

The EURO Cup 2016 is quickly approaching its final game, scheduled for Sunday, July 10th here in Paris and, so far, it has been an interesting and entertaining event – with a couple of surprises (such as England exiting, thanks to Iceland, just a few days after Brexit).  As an added bonus, France is still in the running for the championship.  The Euro Cup began in 1960 and is second only to the World Cup as far as popularity and sportive importance is concerned.  You can follow the scores and schedule on the UEFA official website (www.uefa.com), but here I would like to give you a few Fun Facts you can toss around at the pub as you’re watching a game.

  1. Whistle Swallowing as It Applies to Trophy History – The coveted prize the 24 soccer teams are fighting for is named the “Henri Delaunay” trophy. Henri was the first General Secretary of the French Federation of Football and, basically, the Euro Championship was his idea, way back in 1927.
    Henri Delaunay, the first General Secretary of what is now UEFA (and a Whistle Swallower).
    Henri Delaunay, the first General Secretary of what is now UEFA (and a Whistle Swallower).

    After playing soccer for the Paris team, Étoile des Deux Lacs, Henri became a referee.  He stopped that, however, when a soccer ball struck him full in the face, forcing him to swallow his whistle and breaking two teeth in the process.  He turned to a much safer job of Football Club Administrator. Unfortunately, he died in 1955 and didn’t get to see his dream come true when the first Euro Championship was held in France in 1960.  His son, Pierre Delaunay, who replaced him as UEFA’s General Secretary, named the trophy after his father.

        The silver trophy weighs 8 kilos (18 lbs.) and is 60 centimeters high (23.6 inches).  It had a “makeover” in 2008 by the Arthus Bertrand Company.  The winners are engraved on the trophy and the winning team gets to keep it for four years, after which time they have to pass it on to their successor. Spain was the first team to hold the newly-designed trophy in 2008 and, since they won in both 2008 and 2012, they kept it for eight years.  This is not happening this year – Spain lost to Italy 0-2 in the second week of the tournament.

  1. Soccer and Scandal – Now, one might ask, who’s running this giant sporting event? Who’s at the head of UEFA? The answer, as it applies to the UEFA management, is no one.  There is no UEFA president to preside over the most prestigious once-every-four-year happening of this soccer organization.  Not at this time, anyway.  The latest UEFA administrative head was Michel Platini, a famous soccer
    Former UEFA president, Michel Platini, who resigned in May 2016.
    Former UEFA president, Michel Platini, who resigned in May 2016.

    player who was part of the French team that won the Cup in 1984.  He was forced to resign in May of 2016, following an ethics investigation of an alleged “disloyal payment” of two million Euros (about 2.2 million US dollars) back in 2011.  The payment to Platini was from Sepp Blatter, his former FIFA counterpart.  UEFA has decided not to appoint an interim-president and will hold an election in September.  We’ll have to wait and see who will give the trophy to the winning team on Sunday.

  2. “Make Love – Not War” during Euro 2016 – In an effort to stop the spread of AIDS, Euro 2016 has launched a daring marketing campaign using naked soccer fans whose bodies have been painted in unexpected places with their country’s national colors. There are four posters of different couples adorning the subway halls in Paris as well as covering social media networks.
    A daring marketing campaign to stop the spread of AIDS.
    A daring marketing campaign to stop the spread of AIDS.

    AIDES, the non-profit organization which is behind this campaign has said that the message they want to convey is to “Celebrate the universal value of love and sexual diversity, while at the same time reminding people of the importance of protection.”I thought these photos were a bit risqué when I first saw them, but, in general, I think sexual healing is a good thing and why not as part of a sporting event?  Also, people get to brush up on their geographical knowledge as they try to guess what flags the models are (kind of) wearing.

  1. The Best Euro 2016 Fans are the Irish – Please take a few minutes to watch the video with examples of the best fans ever – the singing Irish.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CC-X-I3hlHc  Sure, they were drunk but they weren’t disorderly.  They were singing incessantly – serenading a nun on the train to Bordeaux (that’s right, spontaneously breaking into a rocking version of “The Lord’s Prayer”); chanting and smiling with the French police and flattering a pretty French girl with their version of “I Love You Baby.”
    Irish soccer fans serenading a pretty French girl.
    Irish soccer fans serenading a pretty French girl.

    There was also a group rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the Parisian subway, which delighted a little baby and overwhelmed the parents – just a little.  Some Irish fans helped an elderly couple change a flat tire.  They picked up their own trash.  The Irish lost the tournament but they won the respect of a lot of French people – and that is not an easy thing to do.

I will miss Euro 2016 when it’s over.  I’ve enjoyed the variety of nationalities that have floated through Paris proudly dressed in their national colors and creatively silly costumes.  I like the fact that all the soccer players have to play with their “Homies” – even if they make exorbitant salaries with the professional teams they have chosen, the Euro Cup makes the players return to their home nation and play with their fellow countrymen.  (This reminds me of Thanksgiving Homecoming American football games. Sniff, sniff.)  But the best thing I like about the Euro 2016 is that for a few weeks, we don’t have to look at non-stop bicycling.  Hardly anyone is talking about who’s in the lead for the Tour de France, which started a few days ago.  It will stay that way – at least until the final Euro 2016 soccer game on Sunday evening.  Allez les Bleus!     

 

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.

Mad Dogs and Frenchmen – Animal Drama on a Parisian Sidewalk

Dogs are rock stars in Paris.  They are conversation starters and inseparable companions for over 300,000 dog owners here (that’s about one dog for every 7 people).  Dogs are the real “social animals” in this fair city.  They actually make people talk to each other.  A recent magazine poll states that around 40% of the French consider their dogs more important than their lovers!  Now that’s saying something.

I recently witnessed just how “social” dogs can be when I observed a French lady and a Frenchman tie their mutually cute dogs to a couple of shopping caddies outside a local supermarket. You see, it’s not legal to bring your dog into a food store and many customers just leave them outside.

Charley with a "Y" and Brigitte - before they got all excited.
Charley with a “Y” and Brigitte – before they got all excited.

(That’s actually not legal either; but like I said, dogs are rock stars.)  The man and woman, who had just met, exchanged small talk about their dogs’ names.  The bigger dog was named Charley, with a “y”, the man explained – as if the dog really cared about how its name was spelled.  The smaller dog, the lady’s pet, was named Brigitte, after Brigitte Bardot, the most famous animal advocate in France.  The dog owners instructed their pets to say “bonjour” to each other while they themselves exchanged flirty little glances.  I definitely thought those two (the humans I mean) would hook up later on, once they had brought their groceries and dogs home, but, as fate and “social animals” would have it, that was not to be.

The man and lady separated in the market and went about doing their individual food business.  Suddenly, from the outside, we all heard the crunching of metal against metal and a very angry male voice screaming obscenities in French.  Dogs were barking wildly and the flirty pet owners ran out of the store to see what was happening.  I did the same; I could sense something blogworthy was about to happen.  I was right.

It seemed that, even though the dogs were tied to the caddies, the caddies were not secured.

The scene of the "Dog Day Afternoon" in Paris.
The scene of the “Dog Day Afternoon” in Paris.

So, once the dogs got through saying hello to each other as their owners had requested, they got a bit excited (just like their flirty owners had).  One of them broke loose and the other followed. However, they were both still attached to their respective empty caddies.  It was a hysterical scene to see their shopping carts rolling around haphazardly and hitting the side door of a new, black, shiny Porsche Cayenne SUV that was parked next to them.  The dogs panicked as the car owner started screaming.  So they moved more quickly and the metal kept screeching against the car.  Quite a few scratches and a couple of good-sized dents made their appearance on that vehicle before the pet owners could get a hold of their dogs.

Charley with a “Y” and Brigitte were finally released from their caddies and under the control of their respective owners but not before considerable esthetic damage had been done to the Porsche Cayenne.  The car guy now redirected his screaming to Monsieur and Madame; saying how they would have to pay for the damages.  He was getting the forms out of the glove compartment to report this incident.  Monsieur immediately said that Charley had nothing to do with it; it was all Brigitte’s fault.  Madame glared at the jerk she was flirting with ten minutes before.  She raised her voice as well.  There was no way she was going to fill out any form.  Accidents happen, that’s it.  She pulled on Brigitte’s leash and ordered her to sit quietly (at least the dog listened to her).

This heated discussion went on for a while with the supermarket manager and a cashier joining in the argument.  Car guy asked me if I could be a witness but, thankfully, I had only looked at the dogs and the owners before the side door smashing.  I was in the market when the dogs broke loose.  The angry man said he would call the police.

The Angry Conversation that the Doggie Drama started.
The Angry Conversation that the Doggie Drama started.

“Go ahead,” Monsieur answered.  “See what good that will do you!  You should have parked somewhere else.”

“The dogs should have parked somewhere else.  You have no right to leave your unattended dogs on the public sidewalk!”

The three adults involved in this doggie disaster got nastier and nastier.  Monsieur took out his cell phone to take a photo of the man and his car’s license plate.  Madame took a photo of Monsieur’s dog; he did the same to her pet.  Car guy took photos of his damaged side door and also of Monsieur and Madame.  I didn’t manage to get a photo of anyone (I’m technically challenged).

In the end, the police were called but Monsieur and Madame went their separate ways with their pets before the officers of the law showed up.  They were both enraged and went off in different directions.  No cell phones numbers were exchanged and no groceries were bought.  The closeness I thought they would have shared thanks to their dogs dissipated in the gray Paris sky.  So, in this case, the Parisian dogs did their part as conversation starters.  They just didn’t know when to stop.

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.