Monday, June 12, 2006


There was another pont last week: the Pentecost weekend, with its holiday Monday (lundi de Pentecôte). Once again, France slowed down a bit. This year, though, celebrating the off day was a bit more challenging, but quite possible for many. A modicum of planning was required.

Until 2005, le weekend de Pentecôte was celebrated nationally. Those readers following events in France will recall the exceptional summer heatwave that took place three years ago, in 2003. Thousands upon thousands of people (14,802 according to an official report), mostly vulnerable senior citizens, died. After much debate and media hairshirting, the government subsequently decided that one holiday on the French calendar would be a day of solidarity with the senior citizens. It would be transformed into a normal working day – and employers would pay the social charges and salaries due for that day into a special fund devoted to helping senior citizens and retirement homes. The Pentecost Monday of 2005 was chosen as the day sacrificed, in spite of protests from tourist venues such as Nimes, for whom that long weekend represented serious money in the bank. The Education Nationale wasn't too happy about the change, either.

It turned out to be a catastrophe. Instead of opening, many schools and other educational institutions remained closed. In some areas, the schools opened – but there were no school buses. In other parts of France, yet other schools were open, with teachers, but few or no students showed up. Some shops and companies closed, in keeping with tradition, while others opened for business … but with fewer staff. Without the holiday Monday, tourists simply didn't travel and sightsee as they were used to doing: 40% less at Mont-Saint-Michel, for example.

The government studied the situation, issued a cacophonic report and moved the goalposts. It said that in 2006, celebrating the holiday would be "optional". Each business and its workers could together choose a different holiday to express solidarity (i.e., work), but if they couldn't come to an agreement, le lundi de Pentecôte would be a holiday by default. So during the year, discussions were undertaken in government offices and businesses and shops throughout the land to come to some kind of agreement as to whether le lundi de Pentecôte would be a holiday, or not – and, precisely, for whom.

According to media reports, this year approximately 60% of French workers, including almost one in two in the private sector, did not work on Pentecost Monday 2006. Many civil services were closed (no mail !); schools were closed, too. Most transport was unaffected; however, as is usual in France, heavy trucks, with the exception of those hauling perishable goods, were prohibited on the roads during the weekend, and the ban held good through the lundi de Pentecôte. Hence, while construction sites were open and functioning on Monday, no trucks were allowed to deliver wet cement. Generally speaking, the Pentecost weekend went off without a hitch. On the roads, compared to the same holiday weekend in 2006, accidents dropped by 8%, injuries by 10%, and deaths by 24%.

The quality of life in France is indeed strange and wonderful: in 2006, from May 1st to June 5th, there were five calendar weekends. Thanks to public holidays, three of these were three-day weekends, while one additional weekend was a long, four-day weekend.

Amerloque has been spending a lot of time at his farm in Normandy. There is always something to be done; the long holiday weekends are ideal for starting and finishing a precise task. Gardening is always needed; fortunately Mrs A appreciates trees and flowers and so Amerloque is generally more than happy simply to observe and kibitz.

This year he and Mrs A called in a professional woodsman since an old, old apple tree had fallen over during the winter winds. Cutting it up into firewood with a gasoline-powered chainsaw is not part of the Amerloque family's skill set – nor do any of the family members want it to be. As in most endeavors, practice makes perfect, and using chainsaws is no exception. It's cheaper and safer to call in a professional to do the job than to learn by oneself, with perhaps dire and – in the chainsaw world - irremediable consequences.

The wood-framed dwelling and associated buildings require as much maintenance – if not more ! – as a wood-hulled family sailing craft and its associated rigging and sails. Repairs on walls are impossible during the rainy season, which generally ends in late April or early May, so Amerloque waits until May to start mixing torchis. After having checked and replaced any wood showing severe deterioration, the Amerloque family stuffs the torchis into the recesses in the walls and covers it with a thin layer of lime-based plaster. This has been going on for some years now (since the house was erected several hundred years ago, as a matter of fact: Amerloque is just a 'caretaker' ...) and will continue as long as the buildings are standing.

Motoring to Normandy and back did not prevent Amerloque from listening attentively to the media commemoration of the French referendum on the European Constitution, which took place a year ago. The Brussels eurocrats apparently couldn't care less about the French people's vote and the economic destruction being wreaked in France and in other countries thanks to "Europe": they're acting as if nothing had happened, as if there had been no massive rejection of their "constitution".

In a news brief on the French Yahoo site, in an article about the addition of the eight new member countries in 2004, titled "Two years later, the EU hails the success of the enlargement" (Deux ans après, l'UE salue le grand succès de l'élargissement), the EU refers to the new members:

… Already strong before 2004, their growth has increased since then. In the last quarter of 2005, when the GDP of the entire euro zone was growing 1.4% over one year, the new countries posted growth figures of 11.1% in Estonia, 10.5% in Latvia, 6.9% in the Czech Republic, and 7.6% in Slovakia, according to the Eurostat institute.

Amerloque cannot help but smile. The Eurocrats have a simple way of programming "success". Here is an imaginary "sell", one that symbolizes the recent "enlargement", at least in Amerloque's view:

EU Representative: "Hail, Prospective European Union Member !

So, you want to join the EU, eh ?

Do you realize that in exchange for all that money we will be giving you outright – billions and billions and billions of euros over many years - you will have to construct new, modern factories ? That you must build new, modern infrastructures? That you will be able to attract new investment by setting (almost) artificially low tax rates ? That in certain fields, depending on your size and your people(s), you will leapfrog current member countries' capacities and leave them in the dust ? That you will have to bootstrap your country up to a far higher standard of living, at our expense ? That many of your highly trained people will emigrate to the older EU countries and dislocate the job markets ?

Oh, yes, and – we know that you really don't care about this, but we'll ask you anyway … Did you know that the richer countries of the European Union will see their economic growth stagnate, their public services go down the drain in the name of 'competition', their manufacturing economies turn into unstable consumer economies, their standard of living drop ?

So you don't give a damn about that other question, in that second paragraph, and just want your big fat check ? Well, here you go, pal. We knew you'd see it our way ! Welcome to Europe !"

Amerloque feels that the imaginary hard sell is not as far removed from reality as it may appear. Two more countries (Romania and Bulgaria) are lined up to join soon - it is obvious even more countries want to join the EU. They'd be insane if they didn't. When your next-door neighbor, who used to make a habit of regularly beating the crap out of you, invites you over for free barbecues, every day of the year for the foreseeable future, while your own house is demolished and rebuilt up to the most modern standards, wouldn't you go over and chow down at his expense ?

That's Europe, today. One wonders just how long it can last.


Text © Copyright 2006 by L'Amerloque
Image © Copyright by Amerloque