Monday, August 22, 2005

Silly Season

In the media world, August is considered to be the "silly season".

With many people in the Northern Hemisphere on holiday, or involved in the tourist trade, there is usually less hard news than at other times of the year – wars, plagues and air tragedies notwithstanding. Working Western Europeans are traditionally taking their hard-earned vacations, while Russians are off in the country - if possible, at their dachas. Amerloque is no exception, of course: he came to France for its quality of life. August in the French countryside, far from the cares of Paris, is one of the high points of his year, if only because there is time enough to reflect on the vagaries of society.

Silly season occurrences have never failed to amuse and infuriate at the same time.

Probably no event symbolizes the bankruptcy of French Socialist thinking more than "Paris Plage", the boondoggle developed by the Mayor and his Green allies to imitate a beach in the center of Paris, along the quays on the Right Bank of the Seine. Spending taxpayer money as though all other pressing problems were already correctly financed, calling on supposed "private sponsorship" (among them: La Poste, EDF, and the RATP …), handing over any moneymaking concessions to private interests, and causing enormous disruption to transport, shopping, daily life and traditional tourism, the organizers annually demonstrate that the tenets of smoke-and-mirrors French Socialism are alive and well. Vast alarums and excursions for an ephemeral return, en somme: a lot of real pain for no real gain.

This year the Paris Apprenti Plagistes have outdone themselves by choosing "Brazil" as the main theme. The central government had decreed that the year 2005 was to be "the year of Brazil", certainly (President Lula was the guest of honor at the Bastille Day parade, in which Brazilian military units marched), but was that a reason for the Socialists, allegedly the opposition party, to stick with that choice ?

Never mind that the Brazilian President, swept into office on the strength of the leftist credentials of his Workers’ Party (PT), has turned out to have an administration riddled with corruption and incompetence. Never mind that this same Brazilian President has authorized genetically modified crops to be planted in Brazil. (Genetically-modified organisms (GMO), you'll recall, have been - and continue to be - hotly contested by Les Verts, the French environmental political party, those faithful allies of the Mayor of Paris who scupulously follow the "green" agenda – only when it suits them, of course.). Never mind that this Brazilian President has failed to prevent Amazon destruction soaring to record levels. Never mind that this Brazilian President has worked for the establishment of the "Soybean Highway", neatly bisecting what remains of the southern Amazon forest.

All public knowledge, but still Brazil was chosen as the Paris Plage theme by the Socialist Mayor and his Green allies. How very, very sad – but in keeping with the nature of the beast, which, along with cherrypicking its doctrine so as to dumb down its socialist programs even more, assumes that French voters are stupid and have no memory. What is truly worrying, too, is the speed with which other cities throughout the world have adopted the idea. If copycat beaches are all that municipal administrations can come up with for summertime events, local government as it is known today is in big trouble.

Another silly season highlight is the return of Zidane to the French national soccer team. Miming a Napoleon or a De Gaulle, Zidane is the most recent manifestation of the French "comeback kid" tradition. The French are persuaded that soccer is a "universal" sport, appreciated in equal measure throughout the world. Hence, the French suppose that success of the national team will enhance their worldwide prestige. Perhaps - but isn't it a bit like doing well in a gin rummy tournament when other parts of the world are playing bridge ? Look at how many countries – some more influentially sporting than others - do not have soccer as the major sport: the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Indonesia; India, and Pakistan, for starters. What good is it to excel at a sport that a goodly percentage of the world population doesn't particularly care about ? Ah - interestingly enough, the French consider sports to be "sports", rather than "entertainment", which might explain the massive insistence on soccer. Alors, le revoici, le Zidane.

Of course; it's silly season in Europe, too. At the International Herald Tribune, in a column about holidays in Europe, Thomas Fuller, one of the IHT's least unaware journalists (to put it politely) tells the story of a somewhat obtuse American:

Eugene Aughinbaugh and his wife decided to renovate their apartment in Brussels this summer and had planned on a completion date of July 7. But in a story that might be familiar to anyone who has done major home redecorating in Europe, the plumber left for vacation in the south of France before installing the new toilet and sink; the workmen in charge of creating a new kitchen put down their tools and went on their own vacations, leaving the old kitchen piled up on the terrace; and when the Aughinbaughs called their architect, he, too, wasn't much help - vacationing in southern France.

Now living in the rubble of his half-completed apartment, Aughinbaugh, an American, had this bitter conclusion: "I can assure you from many of my own local contacts that the Europeans not only want their vacations, they simply don't want to work at all."


Apparently this Eugene Aughinbaugh fellow has never heard the proverb "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Importing his cultural norm to Europe, he thinks that late spring and early summer are good times to hire workers to renovate an apartment. Eugene, Europeans renovate their own houses and apartments in late spring / early summer, not those belonging to others. Trundle on down to your local bookshop and purchase a copy of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. Read it and gain some perspective. Leave your cultural norm at home, Eugene: it's not wanted here in Continental Europe.

Finally, the most delicious silly season tidbit (at least so far – there are still some days to go) comes from Spain via a French site. Victoria Beckham, the 31-year old pop singer formerly known as Posh in the Spice Girls group and now wife of David Beckham, the English soccer wiz, has confessed that she has never read a book. "I haven't got enough time," she told a Spanish journalist, "I prefer to listen to music, although I do love fashion magazines." It's hard to decide which is worse: the fact that this cultural icon, brayingly portrayed as a role model by the media, has never read a book, or the fact that she publicly admits it. One hopes that she is simply being disingenuous – it is, after all, the silly season.


L'Amerloque


Text © Copyright 2005 by L'Amerloque

6 Comments:

Blogger TonyJ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:43 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

The above comment was off topic and removed by Amerloque.

Amerloque does not like it when businesses connect to blogs under the guise of "comment" and make a "recommendation", one which is simply designed to advertise a site or a service.

By acting in such fashion, such businesses are demonstrating their dishonesty, greed and lack of respect for others.

Amerloque urges internet users who feel the same way to make their views known to offending companies.

7:52 AM  
Blogger jean said...

Thanks for keeping the commercial dreck at bay. What an insidious practice!

Too bad that the "grands travaux" have given way to less glorious ways to generate excitement. But don't be an "amerloque amer." You are still in Paris, and things will get more serious there with the first chill of automne.

4:07 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hi Jean !

Thanks for keeping the commercial dreck at bay. What an insidious practice!

Yes, it truly is. What astonishes me is that companies having recourse to such tactics seriously expect that readers will be interested enough to click on the supplied link, rather than simply being furious at the untoward intrusion into the discussion thread.

Too bad that the "grands travaux" have given way to less glorious ways to generate excitement. But don't be an "amerloque amer." You are still in Paris, and things will get more serious there with the first chill of automne.

Oh, the current city administration has its own grand travaux, never fear. (smile) The boulevards des marechaux along the southern edge of the city have simply been one huge traffic jam for over a year now, with all the roadworks being done for the tramway.

There was already an excellent right of way encircling Paris: the old petite ceinture railway line, which has been unused for a number of years. All the city would have had to do was to rip up the old tracks and lay new ones for the tramway. That would've been easier, faster and cheaper. However, taking that course would have contravened one of the basic rules of politics: always make sure that the governed can see what you're doing. The old petite ceinture right of way is not easily visible and thus could not have borne witness to the city administration's so-called penchant for ecology.

I know a French couple who were so infuriated with the destruction of the boulevard de Montparnasse (the once-fluid traffic on this street now moves at a snail's pace thanks to the installation of a huge central bus lane; even the taxi drivers now avoid passing along that boulevard, if possible) that they both went out and purchased the biggest 4x4s they could: each bought a Toyota Land Cruiser, just to drive in Paris, so that they could thumb their noses at the Mayor and his allies. A nice example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. (smile)


L'Amerloque

11:14 AM  
Blogger jan-yves said...

Bonjour,

Huummm, l'Amerloque seems to have been in a very bad mood the 22nd of august...
I'll leave the Paris plage affair off side and give my two cents on the soccer issue and the petite ceinture.
1° // the French (all of them ?)are persuaded...particularly care about//
To make your point, you choose next to only anglosaxon countries or former english colonies that are not interested in soccer. Why don't you mention all of Europe (including Russia), all of Africa and all of south America ? The world football cup has the largest audience at par (if not more) with the Olympics. As for Japan they made the semi-final in the latest world cup 3 years ago and there was an overwhelming feeling of pride all over the country. As for China, may be the situation is that of Japan 60 years ago when base ball was unknown in the place. The Chinese are fast learners...
Making the comparison with gin rummy in a world of bridge players would certainly be more appropriate to the Brits (certainly not all of them) and their craze for cricket. (Or darts for that matter.) Well, I kind of suspect the Britons to also consider soccer to be a "universal" sport. I'm no more interested in soccer than you seem to be but I can't let go such an obviously "strange" observation of yours.
2° As for the chemin de fer de petite ceinture,everybody has been dreaming of reopening that track for decades. Charles Fiterman, a communist, when he was appointed ministre des transports in the first governement of F. Mitterand 24 years ago, was very eager to go back to the roots of parisian transportation of the beginning of the century. //All the city would have had to do was to rip up the old tracks and lay new ones for the tramway.//
Not as simple as that! It appeared that the streamlining/rehabilitation of the railways, the stations, the infrastructure (security needing complete revamping) etc. would carry an exorbiting price tag. Even he, a communist, had to give up. What would you have said then about dilapidating of public funds!!!
The costs simply could'nt cover the benefits. And by far. And what about the decision to resort to a XIXth century transportation system in a XIXth century environment?
I personnaly had a ride on the chemin de fer de petite ceinture in june 2004 and, as enjoyable the trip may have been, it was easy to understand this couldn't be an option for the future. All true parisians lament this sad state of things alas, but...c'est la vie!

As for the disturbances brought by the grands travaux in the southern edge of Paris do I understand you live near by? When one considers the drawbacks of les grands travaux on the car traffic then one has better forget improving any city.

On the topic of la petite ceinture, here is a link that may interest you.

http://www.petiteceinture.org/

5:17 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hi Jan-Yves !

Huummm, l'Amerloque seems to have been in a very bad mood the 22nd of august...

Not at all ! (smile)

Re: soccer

To make your point, you choose next to only anglosaxon countries or former english colonies that are not interested in soccer.

??? I didn't choose the countries because they're "anglosaxon": I listed them because in those countries soccer is not the major sport. (smile) China and Japan can hardly be said to be "anglosaxon"; they were never English colonies.

Why don't you mention all of Europe (including Russia), all of Africa and all of south America ?

Because, quite simply, I was listing the countries which don't play soccer, not those that do play soccer. Why should I mention the others ? Please reread: I'm talking about the numbers, i.e., the populations. With China and India on the "not soccer" side of the balance sheet, that means that a goodly percentage of the world doesn't particularly care about the sport – which was the point I was attempting to make. It doesn't do much good to beat one's chest and say "I'm the best !" in a given field (or sport) if others don't give a damn about it. QED (or as we say in Paris, CQFD, right ?) (smile).

…/…. I'm no more interested in soccer than you seem to be but I can't let go such an obviously "strange" observation of yours.

Now I am perplexed. It's not a "strange" observation: it has to do with the societal space reserved to sports and the way a society looks at sports ("sport" vs. "entertainment"). There has been quite a bit of work done on the subject. It's not by chance that soccer has become the sport of choice for girls in the USA: until recently their "sports space" was "unfilled", since they didn't (whether by choice or not) "play sports" to any great extent. The boys' "sports space" has American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey: their "sports space" is crowded. All sorts of questions arise: Is there any room left for soccer this year ? Is American football really a sport, or is it entertainment ? When does a sport cease being a sport ? (smile)

… more appropriate to the Brits (certainly not all of them) and their craze for cricket

Or the Japanese with "sumo" (smile). Or the Aussies with "Australian rules football" … Hey, GB, Japan and Australia are all islands … could there be a connection between islands and sports of choice ? (smile) Once again, it's all about "sports space".

Re: petite ceinture

It appeared that the streamlining/rehabilitation of the railways, the stations, the infrastructure (security needing complete revamping) etc. would carry an exorbiting price tag. Even he, a communist, had to give up. What would you have said then about dilapidating of public funds!!!

The same thing that is being said today, of course (smile) … except that with this new tramway on les marechaux, the problem of what to do with the perfectly good petite ceinture right-of-way is still not solved, so the municipal government will have to throw even more money down the drain. The contribuable might be paying twice as much as necessary … and will have undergone the years of hassle due to the roadworks.

The costs simply could'nt cover the benefits. And by far. And what about the decision to resort to a XIXth century transportation system in a XIXth century environment?

I fail to see the point, here. That's akin to my saying "Turning many perfectly good streets into pedestrian walkways isn't even XIXth century: it's stone-age." It's not like there would also be horse carriages and horsedung on the street, rampant tuberculosis among the people, and giant rats and cockroaches running around everywhere. Note, too, that a tramway is XIXth century ...

I personnaly had a ride on the chemin de fer de petite ceinture in june 2004 and, as enjoyable the trip may have been, it was easy to understand this couldn't be an option for the future. All true parisians lament this sad state of things alas, but...c'est la vie!

Of course it could be an option for the future. (smile) It must simply be upgraded.

When the left loses the elections (this time ? next time ?), the new tramways might be rolled back anyway, and the petite ceinture might come into its own …with private financing to help out the public money … if there remains any private financing which wants to invest so heavily in Paris. Ceci n'est pas evident.

The tram works are simply part of a larger problem: under the current administration, shops are closing hand over fist, people (I mean the real working people who pay taxes and keep the city running, not the so-called "students", illegals and various street people) are moving out of Paris like there is no tomorrow (and they can sell their apartment at an excellent price to an absentee foreign landlord !), and many companies (especially foreign ones) are very reluctant to remain (although that's not necessarily a particularly Parisian problem, but rather a one stemming from the French tax system, apparently one of the few in the Western world that passes and enforces retroactively-applied tax laws).

As for the disturbances brought by the grands travaux in the southern edge of Paris do I understand you live near by?

Oh, no. (smile) I used to drive along les marechaux, then to Montparnasse, to do my shopping. I don't do it any longer: I now shop outside of Paris. The prices are exactly the same. It is Paris (and its shopkeepers) that loses out, especially since I (I should say "we") eat at a restaurant both before and after shopping. All that VAT no longer goes into Paris' coffers … Because I am no longer able to move around Paris easily because of all of the quartiers verts and buslanes and no-parking zones and politically inspired "Paris Respire" areas on Sundays, I shop and amuse myself in a different manner … there are thousands of people like me, now. I know great restaurants that have simply closed up and moved out because twice a week (middle class) people can't drive to them because of the thousands of rollerskaters disrupting traffic while moving en masse across Paris. Twice a week ? Plus the bike crowd once a week ? The people running the city need their heads examined, pronto: sorry.

When one considers the drawbacks of les grands travaux on the car traffic then one has better forget improving any city.

That's where we differ. You appear to be saying that these grands travaux are an improvement. I am saying that they most definitely are not. They are a regression. They are politically inspired by people who are incapable of dealing with modern life and applying modern solutions to modern problems. Watch what happens when taxes will inevitably have to be raised to pay for all the boondoggles: even more people and even more companies will move out, Paris will probably lose its AAA+ credit rating, and taxes will have to be upped even more to compensate.

Most unfortunately for all of us, destroying the soul of Paris seems to be the name of the game.



L'Amerloque

2:24 AM  

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