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France Closes Down

photo, stage, bastille, 13 july

On the eve of Bastille Day, at the Bastille.

Unfair Competition

Paris:– Monday, 18. July 2005:– The trouble with France is that everything is an exception. If it were not I would write, 'in normal times,' but there never are any. A year's worth of bickering is supposed to end at midnight on 13. July so everybody can have a united Bastille Day, watch the uniformed soldiers and sailors march down the sunny Champs–Elysées in the brilliant sunshine, and then go off to well–deserved vacations until 15. September when the new bickering season starts.

Four terrorist bombs in London exactly a week before were tragic but not all that rare in Europe. We've been blown up before many times. All the same, after the military parade on Thursday at the stroke of one, sirens signalled the beginning of two minutes of silence as a memorial. This wasn't just in Paris but all over Europe.

At the traditional garden party at the Elysée Palace the president of France, Jacques Chirac, stood at attention on the terrace and the palace's waiters suspended their cocktail servicephoto, july column, bastille for two long minutes while guests panted quietly in the heat.

This caused the president's annual Bastille Day 'press conference,' broadcast on television, to be delayed by 20 minutes. Traditionally the president is asked 'questions' he wants to answer, so it's a way for him to say what is on his mind. As it turned out, Jacques Chirac was convincing, at least apparently to himself. No new news was the news, given with good intentions.

The top of the July Column at Bastille.

Meanwhile Brazilian soldiers, the guests of honor at the garden party were sniffing at the Brazilian beef grilling, hoping for some frites, and the prime minister Dominique de Villepin was circulating some elegant ambiance. Elected politicians, usually present en masse, poked their noses in and then disappeared.

At the Ministry of the Interior in the Place Beauvau, across the Rue du Faubourg Saint–Honoré, about 70 metres distant from the Elysée Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy was hosting a garden party in the ministry's grounds. Traditionally this is to honor the country's police and firemen on the national holiday, but the short minister invited the press to what is usually a private fête. If this wasn't a 'first' for the République, it must have been an exception.

Monsieur Sarkozy has had quite a bit to say since be began campaigning for the job as president of France the day after the French voted 'non' for the European constitution."The French are demanding action, they are demanding that old ideas get shifted," he was reported to say. He insisted that France is 'grumbling,' and he is listening.

But not to the country's president. While Jacques was saying not much on television, the television at the ministry of the interior was turned off, while the orchestra in the garden played themes from Nicolas' favorite James Bond films.

On the south side of the street the strategy seems to be to let the talkative minister of the interior spin out of control on his own steam. The president says he welcomes the debates. But it is like the press conference – both the president and his ambitious minister make declarations rather than conduct dialogues.

While the president's thoughts have taken hits from his erstwhile allies, Bastille Day also gives the loyal opposition a chance for a whack at him. The Socialist's leader François Hollande characterized Chirac's comments as those of a president at the 'end of his reign,' adding, "Hephoto, stage, lula has nothing left to say to the French." This was picked up by the Socialist's spokesperson, Annick Lepetit, who noted that the president's comments 'were long' compared to their content.

Lula on stage, but better seen onscreen.

It is the 'Year of Brazil' in France so Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, or Lula for short, was the guest of honor for the Bastille Day ceremonies. In return he loaned his minister of culture, Giberto Gil, to Paris' mayor Bertrand Delanoë - to be the star of an all–star Brazilian show on the eve of Bastille Day, at the Bastille.

This raised the musical tone of this street party – all of Paris was invited – where a huge concert stage was erected and amped to the max, which might not have been all that necessary because of all the drums. The minister showed up, and performed with Jorge Ben Jor, Gal Costa, Lenine, Seu Jorge and Daniela Mercury, and halfway through Lula showed up, was greeted like a local hero by the estimated 60,000 present, while the mayor did the translation duties.

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