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Back To the Country

photo: quai, ile de la cite, seine

The city is full of visitors, and yet...

And Stay There!

Paris:– Monday, 23. August 2004:– The notion of living 'out in the country' is an honorable one in France. It's where the roots are, and even Parisians who have lived in town for centuries feel uneasy without having a claim to some good dirt somewhere beyond Paris' Perifreak!

Then there is the modern idea that Paris shouldn't be the centre of everything in France. The country needs a bit more geographical balance, so the government gives lip–service to 'decentralization.' Once in a while, some government office in Paris is asked to leave town and move itself out to, say, Nantes.

This always creates a howl from those concerned. 'Give up Paris?' they moan. Give up the theatres, the cinemas, the thousands of restaurants and cafés, the schools their kids are in, their friends, girlfriends and relatives? Not willingly.

There are a lot of attractive smaller cities and big towns outside of Paris. Some Parisians willinglyphoto: fiat 600 of the week migrate to them in order to find a bit of calm, less pollution, and lower prices. Some even do it for the weather, because many parts of France are green and pleasant.

Ultra–rare Fiat 600 of the week.

Some migrants even go so far as giving up the city life entirely for the charms of villages. France has a lot of these. The trouble is, many younger people who live in them do not see their charm and only see their lack of opportunities – so they dream of moving to Paris for its high life.

While this criss–cross goes on, France's thinkers insist that it would be bad for the country if the countryside became deserted. Villages, even if populated only by older people, die if there are no local shops or services. Who wants to live in a place with no café, no boulangerie, or no post office?

France has a national postal service with its headquarters in Paris. It has 17,000 post offices throughout the country, making it the densest network in Europe. In addition to postal services, La Poste is also a bank. It manages savings accounts and issues cheques. You can also pay utility bills at a post office, or buy money orders to send money to starving Parisians.

The telephone and the post used to be united, but when it became apparent in the mid–1970s that telephone services made more money than postal, they were separated by the government. The post was told to pay its own way.

The French postal service put on a mighty effort. New pre–paid boxes to mail goods with, new stamps all the time, and all sorts of other post–related products and services were introduced – including email accounts for customers without access to the Internet. And the post kept on delivering mail and operating its bank.

Late last week the newspaper Le Parisien revealed that it had received a copy of a report about the future of the post office. In a program to start next January, lasting over a period of three years, the postal service intends to close an estimated 6,000 of its offices.

Some will be partly replaced by having cafés, grocery stores or boulangeries sell stamps, but a person requiring the financial services will have to travel as much as 12 kilometres. In cities the distance could be three kilometres and in the suburbs, five.

The massive shutdown will directly cause the loss of many jobs, and the demotion of many postmasters. Older people living on pension cheques should plan now on moving to villages that will retain post offices so they can cash their checks. The same goes for small businesses, especially if they use the post to ship goods.

Today in many rural areas the post office is the only point of contact, the only outpost of the république. Eliminating post offices is an odd way to go about decentralizing the country's authority.

The post must be a bit embarrassed with its plans, because local mayors are finding out about them from newspaper reports. And then maybe finding out that the post will keep an office open in whichever town that puts up the most attractive subsidy. A local subsidy to ensure a national service sounds like an idea from the 18th century.

Meanwhile post offices are trying out measures such as only opening for half–days, or not collecting nor delivering mail daily. Charges might be introduced for not being at home to receive registered mail or packages.

There is a fair amount of outrage 'out in the country.' Some small towns and villages have populations that arephoto: closed, la palette in august rising due to refugees arriving from the big cities, completely in tune with decentralization – but totally at odds with a government that sees one of its essential services as somewhat unnecessary.

Perfectly normal café closed in August.

The minister concerned, Patrick Devedjian, characterized post offices only open 'one or two' hours daily as an improvement in public service on Thursday. Unions think that 10,000 jobs will be completely lost, but La Poste maintains that 17,000 public contact points will be maintained – if only for a hour a day.

Not Going Back

In the same edition as Le Parisien's postal revelations, the paper began a series about holidayers who fancied their vacations so much that they decided to take up permanent residence where they were happiest.

According to a professor interviewed, some people in France are fed up with crowded and polluted 'megapoles.' Even in Paris the contact with friends may be no more than a profit–centre for the phone companies. 'Dropping–in' on friends is not done lightly, so it is 'not done.'

It is to escape city stress but also the frigid anonymity of life in the grinder, that some want to exchange urbanity for the imagined quality of the simple life available beyond urban centres.

This doesn't mean taking up farming or sheepherding. Most city refugees want to keep the good parts – access to health services, schools, and leisure activities – but not the city's inconveniences.

And, being French, they must have a good plan, worked out in the smallest detail. They are advised to take all the time they need for it. Mistakes are not treated lightly.

This need for over–detailed advance planning is repeated more than once, probably to frighten the less than stout–hearted. If I had read this before coming to Paris I would probably still be living in Hamburg.

Now that I think of it, I what I did was risky. The paper doesn't seem to want to allow for this. No, migrants are supposed to have a plan that works right the first time. Nowhere does it say, 'try it,' but have a fall–back plan.

I have known people who moved to some sunny place down south only to find they didn't know anybodyphoto: square vert galant there, and didn't think they were ever going to fit in. It might have been because they didn't cleanly sever their ties to Paris. The paper suggests this might not be necessary because TGV trains are so rapid.

City centre park in August.

Another spur to moving out of urban areas to start a new life, is to start a new life. This involves part two of the 'plan,' which is supposed to guarantee some way of making a living where there might not be a lot of employers crying out for help. You are not supposed to be casual about this. A solid 'B'–plan is necessary.

But with a lot of France being nearly deserted there is no lack of old places to fix–up and turn into B&Bs, or rural vacation apartments or dog and pony farms. One quote grips me – "It's been a lot harder than we imagined." Probably, I think, an understatement.

Operation Libération DVD

The city announced some time ago that it had commissioned a DVD about the Liberation in 1944, with the intention of distributing it to schools in September. But late last week Le Parisien announced that its Sunday edition would offer the same disc to the first 200,000 who bought the paper.

This caused me to get myself to my boulangerie a bit earlier than usual yesterday to get my daily loaf and Sunday's paper, along with the DVD. It's a little unfair because I have no DVD player.

Today the paper says that the operation was a huge success. By noon many points of sale put up signs saying copies of the paper were available, but all of the DVDs were gone. Other than knowing that 200,000 copies of the DVD were snatched up, the paper won't know its Sunday circulation figures until later in the week.

This event also marked the 60th anniversary of Le Parisien, which first appeared on the streets of Paris on Tuesday, 22. August 1944. Its name then was 'Le Parisien Libéré.' As today, its headline wasn't brilliant, with 'La victoire de Paris est en marche!' running across eight columns.

Other newspapers were distributed in Paris as early as 1942. There was 'Résistance' with a circulation at times reaching 100,000 copies, and later, 'L'Avenir' in Versailles.

A federation of clandestine papers was formed in 1943 and it decided that only underground papers that had circulatedphoto: liberation, ffi ambulance under the occupation could be published after the liberation. 'L'Avenir' was the entry permit for 'Le Parisien Libéré.' In all, a thousand different titles were printed during the occupation and some of them had print runs of a half million copies.

Original FFI–police ambulance.

Luckily, according to Le Parisien, only about 20 titles sought authorization to continue publication after the liberation. The paper says everything was planned to the tiniest detail in advance, from having writers who were not compromised by collaboration, to having an organized distribution.

But the key person was Emilien Amaury, and his 'group of the Rue de Lille.' They had the paper necessary to run through the presses. The original management quickly ceded control, and Amaury became the 'patron.' His son, Philippe Amaury, runs Le Parisien today and yesterday was the paper's 60th birthday.

This sketchy history, provided by Le Parisien, omits to mention how or from where Emilien Amaury and his boys in the 'Rue de Lille' managed to lay their hands on huge rolls of newsprint during the occupation or at the time of the liberation. It's not the kind of thing you can easily hide in an overcoat pocket.

Since the origin is not mentioned, I guess the newsprint must have been 'borrowed' from the stocks of collaborating papers. Once the liberation was in full swing they couldn't have had much further use for it.

1944 Poll

Between Monday, 28. August and Saturday, 2. September 1944 the Institut Français d'Opinion Publique carried out a poll of 1000 Paris residents. The city was barely liberated, the barricades were being dismantled, much of France was still occupied and WWII was going on hot and strong.

Parisians were asked if they thought the Allied command had permitted General Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division to enter Paris first intentionally, and 92 percent thought 'yes.' The reason, 73.9 percent of Parisians thought, was courtesy.

Only 61.9 percent had the opinion that the FFI played an important rôle in the liberation of the city. Charles de Gaulle led a parade through Paris on Saturday, 26. August and 55.6 percent of those polled said they watched it and 44.4 percent stayed away.

About the sporadic shooting that continued, 85.8 percent blamed it on men and women in the Nazi forces. Thephoto: dvd, liberation, parisien, vdep French militia allied to the occupiers were thought to be responsible by 68.2 percent, other 'French' were credited by 31.8 percent, and 'fous' were named by 12.9 percent.

The Ville de Paris DVD distributed by Le Parisien.

When asked to name the country that contributed the most to Germany's defeat, 61 percent named the USSR, with the United States trailing at 29.3 percent. The 'three Allies' got 11.5 percent and 3.5 percent thought Britain contributed most, slightly more than 3.1 percent for 'others.'

But when asked to name the country that would most help France to get back on its feet after the war, 69 percent cited the United States, followed by 13.8 percent mentioning Britain and 6.2 percent naming the USSR.

The poll began on the third full day of the liberation, after a military occupation that tasted two months more than four years. Thousands had been killed and wounded during the insurrection and liberation, food was in short supply and there were snipers around. News had been tightly controlled during the occupation, despite the clandestine presses. The IFOP poll was daring, and conducted under difficult conditions. Its results reflect those dangerous times.

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