No 'Good Old Days' for Paris

photo: extra old cafe, rue fgb st anyoine

At the Extra Old Café you can wait forever for a parade.

French Cinco de Mayo

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 6. May 2002:- Now that the election for the Président of France is out of the way for the next five years, the weather can return to being more normal than it has been in the recent past.

Last time Jacques was elected, in 1995, it was very warm in Paris and he took a windows-down victory ride through the yellow-lit streets of the city, accompanied by a fleet of photographers and journalists on motorcycles and scooters.

Attempting the same thing last night was out of the question due to it being very cool, damp and rainy. He was wearing a coat suitable for a 'windows-down' victory tour, but Madame Chirac was not.

Now that France has returned to what passes for 'normal,' the weather is expected to do the same thing, even if it is never quite as 'normal' as residents and visitors would hope.

From today's threatening skies, there is supposed to be a slight improvement to partly cloudyphoto: cafe chairs, champs elysees for Tuesday, less than partly cloudy for Wednesday, and back to partly cloudy until Friday. This applies for most of France, except for the Côte d'Azur, which will be all cloudy.

But the really good news is the expectation that temperatures will rise from their current high of 15, to a blistering heatwave of 22 on Wednesday, with only a slight fall-off towards next weekend.

This agrees with the season, which calls for a lot of arty 'open doors' and long weekends coming up in May. On account of all the election stuff in this issue, the update for this week's 'Scene' column isn't possible, but many of these 'open doors' opportunities will be plugged into next week's version.

Having more of Paris 'outside' won't hurt anybody. We just need a lot more cooperation from the weather than usual.

Café Life

What 'They' Were Saying

Once in a while there is a subject here called 'Is It True?' - which considers comments about Paris that are usually about 30 years off the mark or simply fictional. 'Is It True?' is only occasional because it isn't a full-time industry.

But when some antediluvian type like Jean-Marie Le Pen leaps out of the past's curtains on to the centre stage to stir things up - and how! - then all of the professional France-watchers get busily to work, to explain the situation here to everybody who doesn't think much about it from one decade to the next.

Secretly, I think France enjoys the attention. For a 'former' super-star on the world's stage, even rotten PR is better than being ignored.

The odd thing about a lot of these commentaries is that they start out with 'Shame On France' and then they drift off to the situations in the countries where their writer's reside, and usually conclude that what they have is worse.

Everybody seems to agree that everyphoto: seat 600d of the week country has its hard core 20 percent of more-or-less fanatics who want to return to the 'good old days,' when the rich where amply protected and rewarded, and the poor weren't worth worrying about unless they happened to be dangerously 'red.'

This magazine's first 'Seat 600D of the Week' is at least 42 years old.

All that Mr. Le Pen's stab at France's presidency seems to have raised is the possibility that France will catch up with its more 'modern' neighbors in the funky western world.

No doubt, 'right-thinkers' have been hoping that France would somehow remain immune, so that they could pay visits here when their situations at home become tiresome.

The good news is that Jacques Chirac won his bid for re-election yesterday, partly on a promise of more 'law and order' here. He even intends to create a 'super-minister' of security.

Before you leap to think that human rights in France will be facing dire straits in the near future, consider that the job of this new 'super- minister' will be to try and mesh the security forces that France already has into some sort of unit that works together, instead of on their own little turfs.

Doing this will be a huge administrative job. It will require putting together security units belonging to different ministries, it will require stepping on toes, and it will require a lot of change.

Eighty percent of French voters have just rejected Jean-Marie Le Pen's proposals to undo a lot of changes that have taken place over the past 200 years, so it is just as unlikely that there are going to be any sudden or massive reforms - changes - of France's public security forces.

Philosophically, the French are all for reforms. Everybody talks about them all the time. There are evenphoto: cafe deauville, champs elysees cafés that specialize in discussions about them, and you can have lively conversations in almost any café about 'what's wrong with France,' without talking to non-residents.

On the Champs-Elysées it is as good as being at Deauville.

Now, suppose that the 87-odd ultra-urgent 'reforms' that are on the top of everybody's minds actually happened. France would not merely be is as it is now, but it would be perfect - (I pull a random country name from my hat) - somewhat like Switzerland.

No cows would be 'mad,' banks would keep their 'secrets,' trains would run on time, pickpockets would be banished to poor Albania, all laws would be automatically obeyed, all cheese would be free, and everybody would be in bed by 21:00.

Is this really the France the French and the 70 million annual visitors to France, want?

But the most startling idea I received during the week was the proposal that France should 'come back to the fold,' and embrace Elizabeth II as Queen of France, and dump the République as an anarchical system that is incapable of functioning as smoothly as a constitutional monarchy.

As a recent first-time visitor from Britain noted in the Guardian newspaper, Paris seemed refreshing because it is indifferent to how it seems, including its many warts - it pursues its days and nights without regard to its postcards and is not a bit self-conscious about its egocentricities.

I admit I've had to reconstruct this from memory because the piece it came from has gone along with everything else tht disappeared in a on-going clean-up here.


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