Saturday, May 28, 2005

Paris Spring

Today is Saturday. France is holding its breath.

Tomorrow is Mothers' Day. The first French Mothers' Day was in 1920. Introduced by the American doughboys who came over here during World War I, the holiday here was originally in honor of "mothers of large families", and not toutes les mamans. On May 25, 1941, during the Vichy government, Marechal Petain decreed a journee nationale des meres. In 1950 a law was formally passed instituting the holiday as a national tribute to all mothers.

France is not holding its breath because of Mothers' Day.

Tomorrow is the first big Sunday of the Paris Open tennis tournament on the clay courts at the Stade Roland-Garros in Paris. This is 2005, not 1983, the year in which Frenchman Yannick Noah won the tourney. All of France lived and breathed tennis that Spring. For a full two weeks, one was unable to escape the jeu, set et match, in the papers, on the radio and on TV. Noah won (his only major victory) and the French love affair with tennis, so powerful in the 1920s and 1930s, was relaunched and has continued to this day.

France is not holding its breath because of Roland-Garros, however. This year there is no overwhelming French favorite for the top spot, as there was those twenty-two years past, although Amelie Mauresmo should fight the good fight.

Tomorrow, out at the Auteuil racetrack in the Bois de Boulogne, is the annual running of the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, a 5800-meter event (three miles and five furlongs, that is, about 3.6 miles) over 23 hurdles and fences, including the formidable juge de paix("the justice of the peace"), the rail ditch and fence, which requires each tiring horse to jump a span of 8 meters. Perhaps not as well known as the Grand National at Aintree or the Pardubice in the Czech Republic, the Grand Steeple heralds the opening of the Parisian classical racing season, which culminates with the June running of the Prix du Jockey Club (the French Derby) and the Prix de Diane (the French Oaks) out at Chantilly, to the north of Paris. The Steeple is televised throughout the world, including the USA.

France is not holding its breath because of its Grand Steeple, either. Those days are long, long gone - - predating the first World War, when over a hundred fifty thousand excited spectators would wend their ways on foot, by omnibus and in caleches and in drags to the lovely track for a day at the races.

Tomorrow - - Sunday, the traditional election day here - - the French people will go to the polls and either ratify or reject the proposed European Constitution. That is why French are holding their breath today.

The campaign officially closed at Friday midnight. Is Amerloque imagining it, or does an unaccustomed silence hang over the country ? Each French man and woman is going about his/her usual Saturday morning business, but there is a suppressed excitement in the air. "How will you vote ?" seems to be the unspoken question in each person's eye as he or she stares at a fellow voter. Should Amerloque dramatize and say there is, indeed, a calm before the storm ?

For the expatriate completely plugged into French life, for someone who loves France and the French, this has been a truly marvelous Spring, the best in many a decade. The French people have risen magnificently to the occasion that their political leaders have offered them. Since the beginning of April, campaigners for oui and for non have been outdoing each other to obtain the vote of each French citoyen and citoyenne on the day. Analyses and syntheses, arguments and counter-arguments: all have been bandied about with enthusiasm, emotion and pleasure.

There was no lack of exegeses, no dearth of brilliantly-reasoned positions, no paucity of appeals to patriotism and for the common good. Just as inevitably, assertions preceded lies and misstatements and followed exaggerations and propaganda, in an unceasing torrent of discussion and dissention that only the French are capable of producing. Et tant mieux ! A defender of non would be characterized as un ennemi de l'Europe ("an enemy of Europe"), while a supporter of oui was termed un mauvais francais (i.e., "a bad Frenchman").

The entire mainstream political establishment from right to left, with a few notable exceptions (first-rank Socialists Laurent Fabius and Henri Emmanuelli among them), along with the media and big business, came out overwhelmingly in favor of the oui, but the proponents of non (souverainiste Philippe de Villiers and Communist leader Marie-George Buffet being the most visible) held their own. Hour after hour, day after day, the TV screens were filled with pundits, reporters and politicians waving copies of the thick blue-covered, densely- printed traite in each others' faces, their voices rising in strident and convoluted verbiage, frequently speaking at the same time in an almost-incomprehensible babble in their eagerness to persuade and convince.

Political has-beens (yes, the term is used in French) were trundled out of the closets of retirement and put to the task. Raymond Barre and Lionel Jospin, both ex-Prime Ministers, and Jacques Delors, a former President of the European Commission, all urging a oui vote. were paraded in the media. Surprisingly but emphatically in the oui camp, the European MP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a hero of the May 1968 student/worker revolt and known once as Dany Le Rouge, came in for heavy criticism and used up what little political capital remained to him. European politicians and technocrats from across the political spectrum were unashamedly invited to participate in meetings for oui. They unhesitatingly heeded the pleas for help, perhaps forgetting that if there's one sure way to make a French person adamantly stick to her/his uniquely French guns, it's to involve foreigners, no matter how well-intentioned, in a purely French decision. Even the gliterati were drafted into the Establishment efforts to ensure a oui. From the actor Gerard Depardieu to the singer Renaud, cultural ions were called on to express their opinions time after time, in venue after venue.

On the street, in the metro, in buses and taxis, at work, in schools and universities, in cafes and restaurants, among the French, there was only one topic: the referendum. It seemed sometimes as if people from all walks of life were able to speak to one another for the very first time -- discovering others' lives, expectations and problems. In emails addressed to his French persona, Amerloque daily received exhortations urging oui and non, messages invoking the entire gamut of reasons, from the sacrifices made by French troops "to liberate Europe" (oui) to "the betrayal of the European dream" (non). Praying to Saint Joan of Arc as a rampart against evil foreigners ("les turques") and grasping globalists ("les americains") was suggested, too.

Though he knows the French well, and loves them, Amerloque was still, from time to time, astonished during the campaign. Among the major surprises:

Jacques Chirac, the President of the French Republic, admitting on prime-time TV during a much-awaited meeting with selected French youths, that he "didn't understand" why young people "were frightened". This savvy politician saying in public that he didn't understand an electorate which holds the future, his included, in its hands ? A remarkable and telling disconnect from the people he is supposed to lead.

Lionel Jospin, the Socialist former Prime Minister with Trotskyist leanings, apparently attempting to blaze his comeback trail, asserting that if they were to vote non, the French "would be misunderstood" by Europeans. Lionel, just where have you been keeping yourself the past two centuries or so ?

Olivier Besancenot, the 31-year old leader of the Jeunesses Communistes Revolutionnaires, debating on TV. A candidate for President in 2002 who pulled 4.25% of the French vote, Besancenot was truly impressive throughout. A man of remarkable self-control, he never raised his voice, no matter what the provocation, while contradicting the lies and verbally destroying the opposition's disinformational, pusillanimous attempts to portray his well thought-out non in an unfavorable light. Besancenot is not a professional politician and France is the poorer for it. In his day job, he's a mailman.

Less of a surprise, alas, was the International Herald Tribune missing the boat in its "coverage". Inaccuracies concealing omissions, mistranslations mixed with gross simplifications, arrant and ill-intentioned puffery heaped on self-satisfied political correctness. How truly, abysmally, shamefully bad it was.

Ever the optimist, Amerloque has for years been expecting the onset of the Pinocchio effect among politicians, but it never happens, whether the politicos are French or American. Each person's nose stayed the same this Paris Spring.

Finally, to those concerned American readers who have emailed asking worriedly "What about France ? Will the vote count be honest ?", Amerloque can but answer "One would hope so." A minor, almost niggling caveat, cependant: what must one make of a story in London's Daily Telegraph on May 8th ? Its Paris correspondent Henry Samuel, speaking of the oui supporters' lavish promises in the French overseas departements and territories wrote: "Jacques Chirac, the French president, is mindful of the fortuitous last-minute arrival of hundreds of thousands of overseas Yes votes in 1992, which saved the government over the referendum to ratify the Maastricht treaty. " Fortuitous ?!

Merci, la France, pour un merveilleux mois de mai. Vous ne m'avez pas decu ! Vive la Republique, et vive la France.


Text © Copyright 2005 by L'Amerloque


Blogger Frania W. said...

“Tomorrow - - Sunday, the traditional election day here - - the French people will go to the polls and either ratify or reject the proposed European Constitution. That is why French are holding their breath today.”

Whichever way the referendum turns out, ratifying or rejecting the proposed European Constitution, this Sunday 29 May 2005 will be a historic day for France, together with it being Mothers’ Day, the Paris Open & Grand Steeplechase. As a foreigner living in France & not able to vote in any election here, I find myself in the comfortable position to sit back and wait & see what “they” are going to do. But I often wish that I could add my one little voice…

When speaking with my French side of the family, friends & acquaintances, I realize that I hardly know anyone who is going to vote NON, yet that is the result the polls give as the winner. So I am really waiting to see!

At first, I believed the decision to vote “Non” would come from older French citizens who, fifty years ago, had wanted the creation of a United Europe of a little above a dozen states, but were now cringing at the thought of practically doubling the size of the not yet formed Union & finding themselves in the ackward position of adding … Turkey. But, thanks to the endless commentaries & discussions in all newspapers & on televised “plateaux”, by politicians & between friends, I quickly learned that the “Oui – Non” division has nothing to do with age but everything to do with political leaning. I will even say that loyalty to a man dictates what a French voter puts in the ballot box. One has only to see that in France, it is not enough to be of a party of the right or the left, but one adds an adjective such as, "chiraquien", "gaulliste", "hollandais", "fabusien", "mitterandien", etc. So political discussions are not only right versus left, but clannish & more heated within one party where divisions can run as deep as the St. Andrea’s Fault. To me it is obvious in the present situation of the “Oui” or “Non” referendum regarding the European Constitution. No matter what, the French will always be the French. They will debate. Good or bad? Hard to say sometimes but debates are great as long as they stay free-spirited – a gift the French handle well, even if they all speak at the same time, as long as each can make his point.

There is nothing more some countries outside the European continent would want than to see Europe fail, and fail because of a French “refus”. If I was French, my vote would be for Europe because Europe needs to be a strong entity able to face the American continent on one side and the Asian-Chinese on the other. This type of three-pronged “face à face” should have to stay peaceful, but it will not because History proves to us otherwise. I am deeply worried that the dream of a European Union will fail, if not from within but from without because of outside meddling according to the old principle "Divide & Conquer". There will always be a bully to say “Do as I want or I will let you have it!” How will peaceful cultural Europe defend itself?

And there is a final point I want to make. Let’s say that Europe of the west & the north unites with the countries that once were part of the former Soviet Union all the way to the Middle East, whether Turkey comes in or not: what of Russia? Will it become the “Far East” of a Europe that will go from Brest to Vladivostok or will it discover a renewed appetite of olden times for its former enslaved countries?

Frania W.

3:43 PM  
Blogger PTA Mom said...

There does seem to be a lot going on today. I'm very anxious about the vote today. I will even attempt to read the French news to find out more.

11:25 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Frania !

Many thanks for sharing your views ! Yes, I, too, am looking forward to this evening (it's Sunday morning as I write this).

When speaking with my French side of the family, friends & acquaintances, I realize that I hardly know anyone who is going to vote NON, yet that is the result the polls give as the winner. So I am really waiting to see!

This is a great country - - de mon cote, I must admit that I know very, very few people who will be voting oui today. It just goes to show how our experiences here in France differ (smile).

Russia hasn't changed. What was it that Winston Churchill called it ? "A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."

Happy Fete des Meres !


11:47 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hi Auntie !

There does seem to be a lot going on today. I'm very anxious about the vote today. I will even attempt to read the French news to find out more.

Oh, make no mistake about it: as Frania has pointed out, today will be a historic day for France.

When you're a grandmother, you'll be able to tell your grandchildren "Yes, I was there on that Sunday in May when the French ---". (smile)

Happy Fete des Meres !


11:49 PM  
Blogger Frania W. said...

Then, on 24 August, 1941, Churchill said: "Napoleon in his glory and genius spread his Empire far and wide. ... Napoleon's armies had a theme. They carried with them the surges of the French Revolution - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. ... There was a sweeping away of outworn, medieval systems and aristocratic privilege. There was the land for the people, a new code of law. Nevertheless, Napoleon's empire vanished like a dream."

Merci l'Amerloque de vos voeux for la Fête des Mères!

Frania W.

12:33 AM  
Blogger amyalkon said...

Always interesting reading all of you -- Frania, L'Amerloque, and Auntie M!

12:31 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Amy !

Welcome aboard ! (smile)


2:10 AM  

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