Monday, October 09, 2006


October is the month when activities in Paris resume their normal course, after the summer months and the back-to-school season.

The rentrée is in full swing: children have been enrolled in school and are only really seen and heard when walking on the sidewalks in chattering groups, or when being escorted by maman, papa, or the nounou to and from their bahuts, their institutions of learning. Throughout the entire month of September, though, one invariably encounters gaggles of university students, both foreign and French, many of whom are desperately seeking suitable lodgings before their own rentrée universitaire during the first week of October. There are also the inevitable manifs: demonstrations in favor of or against a particular political point of view or action. Among the most common and repetitive this year are the continual demos in favor of the sans papiers, the illegal immigrants living in France. (One wonders just what these illegals will do should the government refuse to cave in to their demands. Leave France ? Stay ?)

Presidential elections are coming in April, 2007, and the French media are eagerly gearing up for them. Not a day goes by but that the two frontrunners – Mme Segolène Royal on the Left and M Nicolas Sarkozy, the Minister of the Interior, on the Right – are not mentioned prominently on the front pages of the papers or interviewed on radio and TV. The Socialist Party is preparing to select its official candidate: Mme Royal will apparently be squaring off against Messrs Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the internal Party debates. M Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate the last time around, in 2002, has removed himself from contention. Over on the Right, M Sarkozy might find himself up against Mme Michèle Alliot-Marie, the current Minister of Defense, or even sitting Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Rumors abound … that M Jacques Chirac might even be a candidate for his own succession ! Since the rightist majority UMP party does not select an official candidate, but only endorses its preference, the maneuvers on the Right will be far more interesting to the attentive observer than those on the Left. Currently opinion poll after opinion poll is being put before the people as though gospel, while other, more marginal candidates – including Olivier Besancenot, Arlette Laguiller, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and Philippe de Villiers - fight daily for the attention of the media.

As has been the case since the current Socialist city administration under M Bertrand Delanoe has come to power, in this Year of Our Lord 2006 there are more traffic jams in Paris than the previous year. The ecoayatollahs at Paris City Hall have simply declared open war on the automobile, creating enormously wide sidewalks and bus corridors, thus reducing the portions of the streets devoted to cars. Private passenger vehicles, taxis, and delivery vans of all sizes are in competition for the same shrinking driving space. More traffic jams mean more pollution, more frustration, and more disillusionment with Paris: the city has changed, and most definitely not for the better. The contrast with the Paris of twenty years ago is striking.

Every fall, however, there always seem to be a few new shops in each neighborhood. Blithely optimistic shopkeepers are invariably trying to make a financial go of an idea which seemed perfectly rational in the summer months, and this year is no exception. Amerloque is also struck by the number of small shops which simply closed down during the summer months of 2006: unless located in a rue commercante pietonne or in the equivalent of a shopping mall (such as a passage couvert or a centre commercial), stationery shops, bakeries, delicatessens, butchers, cheesemongers, pictureframers, seamstresses, shoemakers, booksellers and other such commerces are no longer able to make ends meet. They are being replaced willy-nilly by telephone boutiques, unappetizing ethnic sandwich shops, bland chain restaurants and soulless bank branches. Again, the contrast with the Paris of twenty or so years ago is quite pronounced.

There are several reasons for this, in Amerloque's opinion. The first is the vicious competition from supermarkets and hypermarkets, which are able to offer a far wider range of products - at far lower prices to the consumer. A second factor is changing lifestyle of Parisians: the pace is faster, more hectic and less urbane; they are massively reallocating their free time. In addition, many of them are simply shopping online for their staple groceries – canned goods, bottled water, wines – and having the items delivered; they are also having readymade meals, including pizzas, brought to the door. A final reason, in Amerloque's view, is the growing lack of solvent native shoppers: Paris is being emptied of its working and middle classes - those individuals who were used to patronizing such businesses. The boboisation of Paris is not an illusion, but very real, alas, and frenzied real estate speculation is but one of the results.

Fortunately autumnal Paris is filled with all sorts of cultural activities. After the relative desert of the summer months, museums, galleries, and antique shops vie with each other to put on the best show imaginable – and hence receive a favorable review in one of the daily papers, which immediately boosts attendance and, hopefully, genuine buyers. The art buff can spend almost every afternoon at a vernissage: an "opening" at a gallery or an antiquaire's, exchanging pleasantries and views with other enthusiasts. The munificence of the gallery owner is always a subject of conversation, naturally: canapés and wine can never go amiss during the later part of the shortening daylight hours, in the waning afternoons, entre chien et loup as the French phrase it so marvelously.

This autumn sees the opening of the eagerly awaited Musée du Quai Branly (the Musée des Arts et Civilisations d'Afrique, d'Asie, d'Océanie et des Amériques). For hundreds of years, French leaders have loved to leave the people an architectural memento of their tenure, and M Chirac is no exception. Contrary to his immediate predecessor, M Francois Mitterand, who unhesitatingly disfigured the Palais du Louvre and the Place de la Bastille, M Chirac's legacy will be this museum. Its design, by the iconic French architect Jean Nouvel, is not particularly Amerloque's cup of tea; however, it doesn't clash as much with its surroundings as do M Mitterand's horrors, and for that M Chirac is to be thanked.

Early October is also the time when "new" TV and radio programs are revealed to be hollow, pathetic remakes of previous successful efforts; when the inhabitants of Paris - and all of France - receive their local property and residence tax assessments, which ratchet upwards year by year; when speculation begins in the media concerning the nominees and possible winners of the major annual literary prizes, such as the Prix Goncourt; when the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe horserace is run out at Longchamp racetrack in Paris; and when La Semaine du Gout ("the Week of Taste") takes place, showing clearly that the French interest and enthusiasm for good foods and haute cuisine is thriving.

It's a welcome, familiar touchstone in an increasingly unsettled, volatile world. Plus ça change ...


Text © Copyright 2006 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyrights reserved to copyright holders


Blogger benoit said...

Yep right, we have the highest rate of supermarket per inhabitant of Europe...Sorry for stereotypes about "the french-are-from-another-era" !!! ;P

And you're right too about boboisation of Paris : some sociologists think we're about to live times similar to early XXe century, just like in Titanic, the movie.^^ More rich, more poor, and less and less middle-class...

9:42 AM  
Blogger naomi94 said...

if sarkozy wins, what does this mean for the illegal immigrants?

I argued with my French boyfriend the other day, he thinks it is injust that they would have to go home. I reminded him that I have to fly back to NYC to get my proper visa, which is a long and expensive trip, why should I have to obey the laws and not them?

Not fair.

4:46 AM  
Blogger Tomate Farcie said...

Another great post touching upon many different things!

About the small businesses ... being replaced willy-nilly by telephone boutiques, unappetizing ethnic sandwich shops, bland chain restaurants and soulless bank branches. Again, the contrast with the Paris of twenty or so years ago is quite pronounced.

I totally agree with you.

I noticed the same thing when I was there last June and had more time to walk through Paris than I usually do. These phone shops are obnoxious, and depressing to look at, if you ask me.

You know back when I was a kid, boutiques / shop owners used to take their commerce very seriously. They were specialists in the specific line of products they were selling and knew ALL there was to know about it. You walked into a shop that sold wool (or shoes, or bras, or appliances), and you had someone who had been dealing with wool (or shoes, or bras, or appliances) his/her entire life and they were not going to let you leave the shop with the wrong wool.

They also cared about building a client base and keeping it as long as possible.

Different times, different people, different mentality, I suppose.

I had to laugh out loud at your comments about the Mitterand's alterations to Paris, though.

I left Paris in 1981 and did not return for the first time until the late 80's and therefore did not see the construction of the projects until they were already completed.

The Bastille Opera shocked me, of course, the first time I saw it, but I got used to it immediately. Truthfully, I don't remember exactly what was there before in place of that building, but I think the block on which it sits was in pretty poor shape, if memory serves.

But I'll tell you, the first time I saw the Pyramid I almost had a heart attack!!! Eventually, I visited the "newly built" part of the museum (underneath) and was quite impressed with that. They found the old foundations and that is totally worth a look.

I like the Pyramid a lot now, but it took a little bit of time to get used to it and I'm still not 100% sure the Louvre was the best place to put it.

One thing I still don't care for AT ALL, on the other hand, are the Colonnes Burren at the Palais Royal. Eeew! Is it just me or what were they thinking?!!

Well, tonight on prime time TV here in California, they did a little piece on the French presidential elections, and introduced Segolene Royal and Sarcozy. Maybe I'm reading into it a little, but I got the impression that the journalists were postively impressed with Segolene Royal and spent a little more time on her than on Sarcozy. They did say that because she is a woman, she embodies the possibility of change better than the other guy. But maybe it was just something for us to think about because after all, we, too, may be asked to consider electing a woman during the next presidential elections in the States?

Bye for now, Amerloque!

1:25 AM  

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