Tuesday, June 14, 2005 notes from Paris -
In our coverage of the end of the Michael Jackson trial - Enough Already: Michael Jackson So Over - there's a screen shot of one of the celebrating pro-Jackson demonstrators waving a French flag.
What was THAT about?
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, and Our Man in Paris, has some thoughts, as the same image showed up on the television news in Paris -
Yep, there's him.
In one of the posts today there's a mention of a French flag. This showed up in tonight's TV-news, which had a report about MJ getting off. While many fans outside the courthouse looked like they weren't old enough to remember MJ's last hit, there was this French guy waving the bloody tricolor, screaming, "France is behind you, Mikey!" - in French of course. This was probably one of the Johnny Hallyday fans left stranded in Las Vegas from a few years ago. It just goes to show that when it comes to serious looniness the French can hold their own. I mean, there's Johnny Hallyday, isn't there?
But what else is happening in the City of Light?
What? See this:
Well. Of course the world moves on, so Giscard was on the TV too, for the first time since his constitution got the big 'non' here. He said it was like 'Saving Private Ryan,' in the sense that there is no other text and no project to create any. He also mentioned a recent poll in which 65% of the French were for a continuation of the EU, plus the fact that Italy, Spain and Germany, and 7 other countries have voted to ratify the constitution. He's just a poor loser of course.
Giscard puts blame on Chirac
Elaine Sciolino - The New York Times / The International Herald Tribune - Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Ah well, he himself is elegant. And a sore loser. And why is "the Mozart of politics" making references to "Saving Private Ryan" of all things?
PARIS - As the architect of the European Union constitution, Valary Giscard d'Estaing, seemed at the top of his game, praised as "the Mozart of politics" and poised to go down in history as the founding father of a new Europe.
Only two months ago, Giscard, the former French president, called the constitution "as perfect as, perhaps less elegant than, the Constitution of the United States of America."
Ratification by member countries was supposed to have been easy, and Giscard, now 79, might even have been asked to become the first president of the entire the 25-country bloc. …
The French are strange. (And someone who has lived in the middle of Hollywood for fifteen years says that?)
And then, as Ric notes, the Big Brit was in town -
Oh, that dispute is a dismal business as the BBC notes here (Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK) -
Tony was in town today. Back in prehistoric times Thatcher conned the EU into giving it an annual cheque for 5 billion euros, in return for the UK contributing anything - about 7 billion - to the common EU funds. Apparently it was a deal to balance the fact that UK farmers had been already driven into the Irish Sea and there wasn't anything to subsidize. Now the UK is doing alright Jack, and France - Jacques in fact - is leading the drive to get the UK to forego the cheque.
Tony said, 'not bloody likely!' He said, "Why should the EU spend 60% of its budget to subsidize 2% of the population?"
I hope Jacques said that Tony would starve to death if we don't. I hope he didn't say we could buy cheap wheat from America instead. If Europe didn't squander it on farmers, what else could it waste it on? Mind you, if we can drive the farmers off the land, then we could close all those money-losing rural post offices, town halls, bakeries and village schools.
So these were "immensely amicable" talks - but there was "sharp disagreement." Cool. Blair speaks passable French, and he's not Margaret Thatcher, but this is going nowhere.
Tony Blair says he cannot see how he can bridge his disagreement with French President Jacques Chirac over the controversial British EU rebate.
The UK premier said his talks with Mr Chirac were "immensely amicable" but there was "sharp disagreement".
Mr Blair earlier flatly rejected a formal plan put forward by Luxembourg to freeze Britain's ?3bn rebate. …
But Ric reminds me of one of my favorite things about to happen, again -
I drove Autoroute A54 et A9 - Arles to Aix – a few years back. Much like driving the freeway out here (same climate, same topography, same flora, and we have beaches too) – when you can, you go fast.
Upcoming is the weekend of the 24-hour flat-out race at Le Mans. France has its own good old boys and about a quarter million of them go there and drink a lot of six-packs during the race and the weekend. It's supposed to be quite a show, and, since it usually rains floods, it might be disappointing this year if the drunks stay dry.
It's all very appropriate because TV-news just announced that French drivers seem to be losing their fear of the robot radars, as in, speeding has become fashionable again. Average autoroute speeds have risen from 128 kph to 142 kph, and it has been estimated that 94% of drivers are joining the fun. No doubt this prompted the traffic lords to propose 'life-long' license plates, to combat against the tens of thousands circulating with stolen or counterfeit plates. The idea is that a car will get a plate and keep the same one until it goes to the wreckers. They didn't say how this would prevent the stolen plate trick, but the speeding drivers who were photographed by the robot radars while they were home asleep in bed in Perpignan will probably welcome the idea.
All that slow driving was too tedious anyway. Getting to the beaches is going to be fun this year. Or would be, if there were any free parking spaces.
And it would be fun to get to Le Mans one day.
But the license plates? Years ago you'd spot a French car out here with a plate that ended in "75" and know it was from Paris. That system ended a few years ago, and now this. New ugly pan-European currency and no localized license plates on the cars. Things keep changing.
Back to Ric -
Hey, after a heavy rain the beaches out here are just the same!
Which brings up to the beach report. Many French beaches have been awarded the good housekeeping Europe-wide 'blue' flags for 2005. A local seaside mayor whose resort community didn't get one said that the inspections were too superficial, and didn't take into account polluted ground-water and open-pit garbage dumps just out of sight behind his battery recycling plant. Another town showed its wheelchair route across the sand to the high water, which kind of looked like the edge of the Erie Canal with its gum wrappers and froth of suds. Next thing we'll hear will be from the sanitation inspectors, discovering unfrozen meat lockers full of rotten chicken wings, worms as big as bullsnakes in the lettuce and stinky cheese full of rabid mice. Our paradise has lumps in it, but it's authentic!
And Ric adds -
What? We don't have the scows blocking ports, and no one is burning down anything, but a red tide has shut down most shellfish beds from Maine to Massachusetts. No oysters. On Friday, June 10, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries expanded the ban to a stretch of federal water (see this) – but no rampage.
How timely that bacteria no longer infests the oysters. They had to be given a clean bill of health on account of the oyster people burning down police stations and tax offices, and blocking ports with their oyster scows. Now they are waiting for a month with 'r' in it so they can go on the rampage about the price of gas, or is that the wine people?
Do Americans go on rampages about oysters, or the price of gas, or the price of wine? No – that's a French thing. We don't do rampages. Consider our revolutions back in the eighteenth century. You guys had the guillotine and that Reign of Terror. We had the Boston Tea Party. "Party."
But as Los Angeles moves into the dry season, what Ric says here resonates -
Hot, no rain, beach volleyball. Polluted beaches, speeders, beer drinking good-old-boys at the car races. And crazed Michael Jackson fans?
Meanwhile, also causing anxiety, is the lack of rain. One by one departments are being added to those with water restrictions and farmers are watching their tender little green plants shrivel up into ropey brown twists of useless weed, while car washes close down and lawns fry. Meteo France [watch the weather here
] says that two out of four weather soothsayers are predicting a summer warmer than usual. The water bomber squadrons are completing their spring training. Paris, mostly immune from all this, will hold its first beach volleyball tournament at the end of July on the Champ de Mars. Unknown - whether there will be sand, and whether they will play beside the Seine. Where there's sand there's …
As Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, said earlier - "Omigod! It sounds like the French are turning into... into Americans!"