Topic: World View
Our Man in Paris: Howling Sirens
PARIS - Wednesday, December 7 -
I could tell it was the first Wednesday in the month and it was noon because the air raid sirens were howling. Twelve months a year, and next spring will make 30 years, which adds up to 720 times - because they hoot them twice to make sure. In my next life I will live through the Blitz to get it over with quickly.
Then radio France-Info polluted my breakfast air with updates to old news. It told me that Nicolas Sarkozy, France's short minister of civic troubles, had canceled a trip to Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Another bulletin, somewhat related, said that France's spooks of the interior have composed a confidential report that concluded the urban riots that Sarkozy set off were not caused by nefarious troublemakers, organized bad guys, the CIA, or religious fanatics trying to start a holy war. The kids were insulted by Sarkozy, although the report does not say so - Sarkozy is not a foreign terrorist group after all - they simply rioted for three weeks on their own steam until they got tired.
Then there was another report which I probably garbled on account of eating too loudly, about the CIA flights that landed at Bourget and some other airfield, flights from Iceland and Oslo - both unnotorious Islamic terrorist hotbeds. France denies these happened, or if it does not, wants to ask the CIA a couple of questions.
After breakfast I felt much better. So much so that it occurred to me that nobody wants to read about our exceptional riots or read one more word about Sarkozy, and it's all old news anyway.
Naw! Instead I decided to take myself out and trot down to Sèvres-Babylon to the Bon Marché, the Left Bank's only department store, and capture its Christmas lights. On the way, after stopping in Montparnasse to watch them smooth the ice on the rink for the fast kids on blades, it occurred to me that the Bon March?'s lights are never lit when I go there.
They weren't for the past two years, and both times it was really cold. Today it was not, so I kept on my guided path. And for those of little faith, let me say that perseverance pays off - with just enough skylight to mix with the store's lights, and enough sunset to give the camera problems.
With that little chore in the digital film can I took up my customary position in front of the TV for tonight's news, first on France-3, and who do I see immediately, but Sarkozy. Looking in the camera lens so sincerely, with so much white below his ball-bearing eyeballs that they looked like gull's eggs with black yolks.
He says he's not going to Guadeloupe and Martinique and it has noting to do with the stink he caused by saying Napoléon is wonderful - last week on the anniversary of Austerlitz, but also the anniversary of Napoléon reintroducing slavery. "Which 'official' history does France want to have?" he wants to know.
Well, in the islands, they are the descendants of the free people Napoléon decided were slaves, so there are all on strike and they are organized and waiting for the minister of the interior to show up, and now he's decided not to go, but that's not the reason. He did go to Corsica, didn't he? "I don't want to give the extreme left a reason to protest," he says on TV. The last French politician the folks in the Antilles didn't want to see was Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Then the very brown newslady went on to the 'confidential' report put together by the Renseignements généraux - spooks of the interior - which concluded that the disturbances were a form of 'unorganized insurrection, a kind of popular revolt, without a leader or a program.'
She didn't get a chance to say all this because Sarkozy persisted - and 'signed' - with his own interpretation. "I call hooligans hooligans when they are hooligans," with the whites under his eyeballs increasing, "we were facing organized bands - what about the 800 we arrested? Hooligans and delinquents create terror," he added, running on about domination of the suburbs by 'mafias' and 'drug dealers.' But never saying why his guys don't catch them, because nobody asks.
Besides being uninvited to the Antilles the short minister took another blow today when a court commission in Pontoise recommended against deporting a young rioter. He has lived in France since he was three, has correct papers, and no previous offenses on record. The commission was also skeptical about the facts of the case. Another court at Bobigny, at the very center of the disturbances, noted that few of the arrested had police records. Hardly the stuff mafias are made of.
It must not be forgotten that the minister of the interior is a busy man, as president of the wealthy Hauts-de-Seine department and president of the UMP, as well as self-proclaimed candidate for president of France. The UMP had a congress or meeting of some sort last week, when they gathered to decide to either hold a primary to chose a candidate, or decided not to.
As it is, Sarkozy is high in the polls, but Jacques Chirac's man, the prime minister Dominique de Villepin, is rising fast. Nobody can figure out who the polling people talk to, giving Sarkozy high scores. Socialists don't like him, the right wing UDFs don't trust him, the Communists, Verts and Anarchists can't stand him, he's got no friends in the Radical Left, and even some members of the UMP think he's a bit hairy.
It leaves a core of support within the right-right of the UMP, and the usual 10 percent of the ultra retros in the Front National. Does Nicolas Sarkozy want Jean-Marie Le Pen's job? The other way around is hardly credible.
Down by Sèvres-Babylon, the Bon Marché - one of the Hollywood editor's favorite places to buy stuffed toys at Christmas to haul back to the tykes out here in Southern California -
Shall we meet "At the Smoking Dog" with its cool neon sign? Note in the lower right, a Mini Cooper twin of the white Just Above Sunset staff car out here in Hollywood, next to a svelte Twingo (none of those out here) -
A classic Paris dive -
In lieu of a Los Angeles 7-11, this Paris "Superette" -
Text and Photos, Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis