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One Flat Too Big

photo, roofs, snow, paris

From the garret of a starving artist in Montparnasse.

France In Winter

Paris:– Monday, 28. February 2005:– An uproar started a couple of weeks ago when the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé remarked that the Minister of the Economy, Finance, Budget, etc. – all one minister – was about to move into a vast apartment, a duplex near the Champs–Elysées, and it was going to cost the taxpayers a cool 14,000€ a month.

That French taxpayers pay to house government ministers is not news. That rents are high in Paris is not news to anybody paying 1000 a month for a recycled broom closet. In fact once we learned that the minister has eight kids, who knows? Maybe 14,000 a month is cheap.

So a week of medium media highlife went by, and the minister allowed that if he were properly 'bourgeois,' he'd own his apartment. This was the fatal slip of the ministerial mouth because that sneakyphoto, barthelemy, cheese shop quacking duck of a weekly then let us know that the minister indeed does own an apartment in Paris – in the seventh arrondissement near nice schools, with a whole 200 square metres for all those kids.

A sort of cheese heaven.

Nothing of course, everybody assumes, to compare with the 600 square–metre ministerial duplex, but his property is bringing him 2300€ a month in rent. Very slowly a heavy penny began to drop.

This minister, looking after the whole country's finances, is maybe a little uncertain about his own – and ours. It's true that he needs an apartment and a big one at that, because his own apartment is tied up in a lease until the coming summer. This raises the question of where he's been living with eight kids if not in his own apartment.

Leave that for another time. He told the property agent he needed 10 rooms – the majority of Parisians have to get by with studios, or one or two bedrooms – but she had to go out of the 7th to find two apartments totalling 10 rooms. All they needed were interior stairs to make one duplex. The extra kitchen was converted into a gym for madame. Then three parking places were found in the adjoining building, and with a bit of fixing up these were added to the lot.

Fixing–up the apartments cost the taxpayers 31,833€, plus an extra 10,000 for the kitchen–into–gym. Fixing–up the garage cost us 15,000€. The monthly charges for utilities, elevator and garbage, is 1,654€ and the rent for the parking is 843€. Finally, the rent itself is 14,140€. The agent's fee of 12,107€ hasn't been paid yet.

On Friday, according to Libération, the minister who wasn't bourgeois enough to own his own apartment, does own a house in Brittany and has some claim to a family estate in Savoie – plus, you remember, the 'bourgeois' apartment in the 7th, near the good schools.

The papers say the minister is a good Joe, an unassuming fellow from the country. They have begun to mention that he pays extra taxes because of his personal fortune, but they haven't yet found out where it came from. Not, we assume, from his pop's shoe shop.

At that point, except for a few mis–statements, there was nothing illegal here anywhere. When Nicolas Sarkozy was running the same ministry, he had a state apartment in the Bercy finance HQ – as big as a medium–sized mall if I recall correctly.

In fact the minister's only real fault, in the eyes of the Sarkozy clique, is that he is a supporter of the president, Jacques Chirac. Before this fumble some Chiracians were even calling him Chirac–bis.

Friday's Le Parisien said this affair is not making Sarkozy unhappy. On a tour of his future dominions on Thursday, hephoto, cigarium did whine a bit that the journalists were making it hard for him, only asking questions about his successor. He recalled 'media attacks' when he filled up the Bercy apartment with plasma screens.

Not for just its color, but for 'cigarium.'

And madame, who was to be surprised by monsieur le ministre, with a private gym – madame a high–ranking civil servant, often off on missions to peddle France to the world of megabusiness.

On Friday night we were supposed to expect to see and hear the minister on TF1's national TV–news explaining himself. No matter what, when the fan is flinging merde all over the place, a little sincere confession is supposed to sooth all bobos.

Serial killers are supposed to explain their acts. Politicians, facing mountains of evidence and dozens of witnesses, are supposed to explain their acts. The only person officially exonerated from explaining everything and anything, is France's president.

All the rest of us are guilty by default, but if we have a good excuse we may escape condemnation, depending on the good humor of the state. Grace is not God's to give, but the president's.

He is also the only one in France allowed to live in a palace. The Elysée Palace.

Part Two

Hervé Gaymard showed up on the TF1 TV–news on Friday night, after resigning his portfolio. That afternoon he'd gone along to his boss's place at the Hôtel Matignon and quit. This left the news shows up in the air on Friday until the word was passed that Thierry Breton agreed to accept the portfolio of the ministry of the Economy and Finance.

Characterized as the 'portfolio without pity' on France-2 TV-news, Mr. Breton comes to the hot seat at Bercy from the top spot at France Télécom, following stints at Bull and Thompson Multimedia. He is also said to be a friend of the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and of the Président, Jacques Chirac.

Viewers were reminded of some of the recent history at the Economy and Finance ministry. Within thephoto, lafont shop past 10 years Hervé Gaymard now holds the absolute record for briefest service in the slot. Of the last ten ministers, five others governed for very short periods.

At just over two years, Socialist Dominique Strauss–Kahn functioned as minister the longest. He left office to defend himself from charges, which were eventually dismissed.

And here, just for the colors.

Thierry Breton has been seeing France Télécom through the difficult period of transition from state telephone monopoly to private company. The company has had to open itself to competition. This is usually done by selling its line services at a discount to other operators, who in turn offer the services to customers.

Many France Télécom subscribers object to paying non–discounted rates by signing up with the competitors, while those who stubbornly stick with the 'historic supplier' subsidize the 'privatization.'

On Friday it is uncertain whether the same tactics will be carried over to the Economy and Finance ministry. For example, France could sell discount state services to Spaniards and Germans, while French taxpayers pay the full shot, plus have to pay for a place in line at the tax collector's office.

This big–sous story must have hit the French where they live. The minister has quit and left town, but talk–radio, guests at parties, and taxi drivers are still mumbling on about it. It's over. We don't have Hervé to kick around anymore.

Meanwhile, a Strike of the Week

The general transport strike scheduled for Thursday, 10. March is still highly likely. Unions, and all of them are upset, have been asked to pick another day. The International Olympic Committee is slated to visit Paris on 10. March to access the city's ability to host the games.

The usual people are saying the usual things, about how the unions should be forced to provide 'minimum service.' These are the same people who never use public transport so they can't be expected to know that strikes are never total – in a serious strike there's always one train or bus out of three or four running. Somewhat like 'minimum service.'

Besides, the Olympic games are always held in the summer when there are no strikes in France because of holidays. In principle there should be nothing to worry about. What other city would have the chutzpah to stage a transport strike when the Olympic snoops are around? It'll show them that Paris keeps on truckin' no matter what.

Back To Regular Program

A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister, who isn't everybody's darling, stated on TV–news that unemployment would fall 'significantly' within months. Somebody, we are supposed to believe, possibly in the ministry of the Economy and Finance, thinks that France is poised for a burst of prosperity.

The Prime Minister's score in the popularity polls isn't outstanding and there's always talk about how his days are numbered, but six months later he's still here, with even lower poll results.

It must have been sobering on Friday night to learn that unemployment has nudged itself above the 10 percent level again, the first time it's been this high since 2000. Never mind that it has been above nine percent since 1995, or 1991, or whenever that crash back then was.

But the TV–news didn't dwell on this. The Pope is back in the hospital again and in this old Europe this is major news. The news ran on–the–spot reports from Italy, from Rome, from Poland and from France, with just about everybody saying they hoped the Pope would get better real soon, while expressing doubt that he will be able to talk.

As yet there are no reports about the jockeying for position that goes on when a Pope is on the way out. Popes are like other people, they get old and die too. They just never retire.

Who are the new stars of the mother church? Will it be Italy's turn next? Or will the church turn to new worlds? People get excited when the United States has an election, but believe me, the Pope has a lot more fans – although few of them can vote.

France In Winter

The temperature is hovering at zero or below and there's a nasty wind from the northeast. Accordingphoto, cafe madeleine to Le Parisien everybody is depressed. Stagnating salaries, high unemployment, a positive vote for the European constitution in doubt, political defections – everybody has decided to be uncertain.

While here, just for the café.

One politician thinks we need a psycho–shock, some event that will boost us back to our usual elan. The problem is that he is a right–wing dude and proposes the same four solutions that are not working already.

With the coming referendum for the European constitution the worry is that French voters will use it to 'send a message' to the government – not about Europe, but about how they think France is being mismanaged.

But mismanagement is normal in France. It may be in this season that it's a bit worse than 'normal,' or that it's perceived to be worse. There are a lot of problems that are getting their usual bandaids when folks say ouch, but some of the 'reforms' so dear to the right could just as well be left alone. We got this far without them.

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