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Strange Monday

photo, banner, vote non, marche sunday

Parisians angling for 'non' votes on Sunday.

Phoney Palm War

Paris:– Monday, 16. May 2005:– I had to worry when I turned on the regional TV–news tonight and it wasn't there, possibly on account of the news producers being on strike. This started out earlier in the day when I found the local post office open but not in business. Two posties were manning it but the only thing open was the door.

France has gotten through its day of 'solidarity for older dependent people' in the way that France usually gets through these things. Some people went to work like the government wanted and some people didn't, probably setting a new record for national civil disobedience and confusion.

While most of Paris' public transport operated more or less normally the same was not the case throughout the country where 27 systems did not work at all. In another 50 cities the traffic was running about 50 percent at best.

The government tried to be upbeat about the affair and the prime minister, Jean–Pierrephoto, mairie 14th Raffarin, is expected to show up on France–2 TV–news tomorrow evening and tell us how well he is coping with the situation. He told Le Figaro that he can still 'look at himself in a mirror.'

Many city halls in France were only semi–open today.

Tonight the most common criticism was that the 'donation' measure was borne by salaried employees, both in the private sector and in the administrations. The self–employed – doctors, lawyers, artisans, farmers, and shopkeepers – were not required to contribute.

Losers for the day were local and regional administrations that remained open and functioning. The cost of staying open was estimated at 90 million euros, which will likely be recuperated through local tax hikes.

Early reports from weekend areas that depend on the Monday of Pentecost being a holiday estimated that receipts were off by 10 to 30 percent, which will also be reflected in a fall–off in value–added tax collections.

In a way it hasn't mattered one bit whether anybody worked today or not. As soon as the solidarity law was passed last year, the tax collectors at Bercy started sucking in the cash – in advance.

A Little Solidarity Anyone?

In ordinary years the month of May has so many public holidays that many working people in France consider the whole month to be a long weekend, but for this year three of the four holidays fall on Sundays. One of these, Pentecost, is always on a Sunday and the following Monday is always a holiday too.

So far the only long weekend this May has been Ascension, and it included 'Victory in Europe Day' which was aphoto, poster, oui, ps Sunday. So, having 'lost' a day off, the French are looking forward to having Monday, 16. May off.

In the summer of 2003 there was a rare heatwave in France. As is usual in summer many were away on holidays and some of these included hospital staff, nurses and doctors, as well as public sector administrators. Unforeseen, unforeseeable, the blistering heatwave cooked the defenseless, hastening the deaths of an extra 15,000 older residents, many in hospitals and retirement homes.

In average years France has a temperate climate so there is little reason to take measures against temperature extremes. But the French learned in 2003 that if the climate got out of hand, especially in summer, those standing guard would be too few and practical remedies wholly inadequate.

When the right–wing government returned to work in the fall its solution was to declare that a holiday, seemingly useless or vague, Pentecost for example, could be sacrificed in the name of 'solidarity.' The government proposed that everybody work the day for nothing and the taxes collected would be placed in a special fund destined to aid older residents. The government estimated that two billion euros would result.

There wasn't enough time available to arrange this for 2004, so it is this May's Pentecost Monday that will be scratched as a holiday. The French have waited until now to indicate that they don't like the idea one bit.

One national union asked the state's Council d'Etat to declare the suppression of a national holiday – and the obligation to work the day – illegal. The legislative body rejected the appeal. There having been dark mutterings about 'forced labor.'

Other unions, the entire alphabet–soup collection of them, have called for a day of strikes. Teachers' unions and Parent–Teacher associations have called for strikes and class boycotts. Administrative support staff at some schools won't be driving the buses or making school lunches.

Private companies are not obliged to stick to Pentecost as the day of solidarity because they can come to agreements with their unions and pick some other day. But the general lack of agreementsphoto, poster, oui, ump means that the default day will be Pentecost. Many firms will make a 'gift' of the day. Others will work but class the day as a holiday, with holiday pay. Some others face strike threats.

The national train service, SNCF, has proclaimed Monday as a holiday, and is preparing its schedules for the final day of a long weekend. The rail unions have an agreement that a solidarity contribution will be based on seven hours of work, divided by a year, which comes to one minute and 52 seconds of extra work per shift.

Many doctors, if they are receiving patients, may be charging normal fees. But others will be applying the Sunday and holiday rates, which could drive the cost of a consultation up to 39.06€, nearly double the standard rate. The Social Security, which handles the reimbursements, has said that it won't repay this inflated amount except in 'case of emergency.' Other doctors will make themselves unavailable for the day.

Some regional and local administrations, city halls, and other civic employees have been invited to stay home. Not all will be on holiday but it is unclear exactly who will be working or enjoying a long weekend.

In Paris its 46,000 municipal employees have been asked to work, 'so that Parisians won't be penalized twice,' a reference to the fact that the heatwave hit the city hard.

Government agencies and their dependant national services such as the Security Social, will be working as if it is a normal Monday. However the Minister for Labor, Gérard Larcher, is also a deputy mayor for the city of Rambouillet, and this municipality will not be entirely open for business as usual on Monday, 16. May.

Meanwhile the opposition Socialists are making a minor point by promising to restore Pentecost if they win elections in 2007. Many on the other side politically think the measure unnecessarily divides the French. Even the government is hinting that it will reexamine the situation.

Some look at France's Constitution and are saying that a day of imposed work resembles a pre–revolutionary, pre–1789 practice – 'la corvée.' This refers to the work peasants were obligated to do for free for the nobles of the old regime.

Le Parisien is calling this tizzy a 'rebellion.' It also notes that poll results are against working. Another indication of what the French will do today is provided by travel agents. They said they have twice as making bookings for the Pentecost weekend as for the two following. The French have always been fond of long weekends.

Phoney Palm War

Since I announced a beauty contest between Paris' palms and the tall beauties in Hollywood on Thursdayphoto, palms, luxembourg the only real facts I've been able to find out is that palms have a fan club. It turns out that I'm not alone with my appreciation for them. There are other whackos around, called appropriately, 'Les Fous de Palmiers.

Luxembourg's tidy palms in a place of not much shade.

Just as you may think that Paris' palms don't amount to a pile of weeds, they are not having brilliant times in Los Angeles either. There are 10,000 of them lining the streets, bending in the breezes like the necks of flamingos and waving their languid fronds, ventilating the sky when it's blue. The best is supposed to be at sundown when the city drops into darkness and the setting sun illuminates the high crowns with gold.

But some of them are 100 years old and Los Vegas is driving up the replacement price. In the land of lower taxes the signature palms may gradually disappear, to be replaced by less extravagant and more practical shade.

Paris has trees lining 1400 roads, streets, avenues, boulevards and places and they have an average life of 60 years. Every year about 1500 trees are replaced out of a total forest of about 100,000 trees, not counting those in cemeteries and the two bois – Boulogne and Vincennes.

Palms don't line Paris' streets but they could because the city is pretty temperate and there are no less than eight sorts of palms that could survive in the open air. For example one of the mostphoto, palms, los angeles, foto pavlik common palms is the Phoenix 'Canariensis, ' not so much because it has lots of coconuts or produces a lot of oil, but because it looks swell. It can also stand temperatures of minus ten degrees.

Palms in Hollywood, in a photo by Alan Pavlik.

There are far more exotic palms to be found at the Serres d'Auteuil where they have a nice year-round hothouse. Louis XIV was a bit of a botanist when young and he ordered this plant farm into existence in 1761. A hundred years later Paris sought a garden outside the walls and Jean–Camille Formigé got the job of organizing it. The Périfreak! loped a third off it in 1968, and the nurseries were transferred to Rungis and Fresnes. Today the greenhouses at Auteuil are the headquarters of Paris' botanical gardens.

The Palmarium at the Serres d'Auteuil was completely renovated in 1999 and houses subtropical and tropical specimens that overhang a pool full of Japanese carp, while some tropical birds racket in the fronds. It is a warm place to take a hot tea in winter while frost litters the ground outside.

For the month of Paris–Plage in the summer the city will move some potted palms to the riverside speedway transformed into a three kilometre–long urban beach, complete with sand ice cream stands and a pool. Given the right angle you can imagine yourself at some coastal spa, but not a tropical island.

If you would rather not overexercise your imagination the Senat's Jardin de Luxembourg has its palms too and some of them are much larger than the ones lining the beach along the Seine.

Marie de Médicis got tired of the stinky Louvre and moved to the left bank with the idea of having a Florentine palace built, along with a garden inspired by Boboli. It took her a while to buy out the townhouses already there, and the one owned by the Duke, François du Luxembourg, gave the name. Marie died before the whole thing was assembled in 1792, and it was only afterwards that a plant nursery and botanical garden was added. Le Nôtre changed the round pool to octagonal, but left the rest alone.

Parisians got upset at Haussmann and Napoléon III but they went ahead and chopped off the nursery and the botanical garden. The garden had been open to the public sporadically from the 17th century, and the palace was used as a prison during the Révolution. When the city was under siege in 1870 the palace served as a military hospital – and then the Versailles Federals used it a year later when the Commune was quashed.

In WWII the palace was the Paris headquarters of the Luftwaffe and some of the statues were meltedphoto, palm, orangerie down for their metal. French and American tanks rolled into the gardens in August of 1944 without wrecking the place.

The best sun–spot – along the side of the Orangerie.

A legend says that Ernest Hemingway used to snatch pigeons in the park to take home for the pot. Verlaine, Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir are only some of the people who used the park as a living room or back yard. When it is not raining the park is full of students, chess players, sailing fans, boules players, tennis players, bee fans, hundreds of shouting kids, and a lot of other people who seem to be jobless most days. On sunny days the big park even gets full.

I go there often and for many reasons but the best is when I don't have any other purpose than a desire to see the palms dotted about. It is like the city is a woman who puts on this makeup – Mademoiselle Saint Tropez! – and even if you can see it isn't so, be polite and pretend.

For a view of Hollywood's palms take a trip to Alan Pavlik's Just Above Sunset Web site, where you might not find so many actual trees, but there's plenty of other items to pursue.

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