Friday, 16 December 2011

Petty France

Oh dear, what a bore, I have to write another blog about this bally euro biz. The reason is the irrational attack coming from the Elysee Palace and the Bank of France, following Great Britain’s stand at the last summit in Brussels. One might add that Britain standing alone at this event was reminiscent of WW2 where, faced with Fascist dictators to the south and Nazi invasions to the north, the only country to remain free and to fight the Beast, was Great Britain.

But the problem now is not WW2, but, as I discussed in my last blog, WW3. This time it’s not a Hitler or a military confrontation that is the problem but the insane rush to spread the use of a common currency among nations that have not yet moved far enough along the path of economic, political and fiscal convergence to enable them to manage their economies in the straight jacket of a common interest and exchange rate. The situation is made worse by a panicking little tyrant who is terrified that he is going to lose his position as President of France in the next Presidential elections scheduled for April/May 2012.

His determined support for the euro and for the policies intended to prop up that currency are based on his desire to remain in power as French President, or if not that, then to get a plumb job in Europe after he leaves office. It is clear that EU jobs for sacked senior politicians in Europe are based on the degree to which those politicians have sustained policies that support the EU and its bunch of unelected plutocrats; the Commissioners and their huge staff of overpaid lackeys.

Sarko is in a dilemma. If he loses the elections, and it looks as if he will, (my private sources tell me his usual supporters are veering towards other candidates in droves) then he will probably also lose his rich wife (who everyone says was only ever there for the ride). When the photo-opportunities cease, we are told, she will dump him. Without her financial support and without his Elysee stipend, he is desperate to get a job in Europe. Like Tony Blair, Sarko knows that dropping out of high political office means one needs ‘friends’ in the international political job market. The soon to be ex-President of France may be desperate to seek other forms of remuneration. But since he has been treating his friends with a little less than friendship, (Gaddaffi, and Ben Ali of Tunisia were both Sarko ‘friends’) then one may expect he will have problems. Many of his other friends control the French media. They will do their best for him until the chances of his remaining President of France diminish to the point of no return. And there are only three months to go before that happens.

That’s why he is attacking the UK in every way he can out of sheer spite. The attack by the Bank of France on the British economy and AAA status is just one example of this. Sarkozy’s grand plan to position himself for the eventual Presidency of Europe has been foiled by the British veto. Perhaps D. Cameron was one of the recent Sarko friends who saw that he was being deceived by the ego-centred little guy in high heels whose determination to impose undemocratic controls on the budgets of all EU countries is only a plot intended to pave his way for a new job after May 6th 2012.

One may well ask, ‘Does such a person merit the chance to govern a leading European nation? Let alone aspire to play a role in the direction of the EU?”

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Is This World War 3?

In Paris, from where I am watching the European drama unfold, the Eurozone crisis is causing an underlying hysteria. Comment has been that without the Euro, France would have been in poor shape. We now have the hideous possibility that the Euro will crash and everything will revert to the former currencies. They can then be picked off one by one by the markets. The Euro has been the Euro Forte. And there are huge political overtones and undertones to this. We go back again to WW2.
Remember the story about the little princess who was cursed in her cradle by a nasty witch who turned up at her Christening? She was supposed to prick her finger on a needle and fall asleep for 100 years. She was locked away in a castle, far from sewing needles. But guess what! She managed to find an old crone somewhere in the upper rooms of the castle who was sewing. And guess what, again, thanks to Fate, she managed to prick her finger and fell asleep for 100 years.
Well, it took a mighty prince to hack his way through the forest and enter the castle to awaken her with a kiss. I’m not sure the same thing will happen to the European Union. It’s pricked its finger all right and it’s been fast asleep and dreaming for decades. It’s almost 100 years since World War 1 began. World War 1 led directly to World War 2. Shall we take a closer look at the historical scenario?
The political developments before and after World War 2 have been to try to avoid, at all costs, the possibility of any other conflict in Europe based on nationalist rivalries. Hence, and see my recent blog, ‘A Walk in the Woods,’ the altruistic attempts during the 1930’s and post war by Jean Monet to begin a long term diplomacy for a European Union. At that stage no one, except Winston Churchill, said they intended to bring about a United States of Europe. The aim was only to prevent further wars.
So, back to the fairy tale: the little princess, Europa, was put away in a tower in Brussels where no one could possibly let her get hold of a needle with which to prick her finger. But Fate, took a hand. Somehow, she did prick her finger and fell asleep for 54 years. Meanwhile the EU became more and more powerful, more and more burocratic and sucked in more and more money from its vassal states. Countries queued up to join the super state, which soon launched the common currency, the Euro and member states rushed to surrender their own currencies to become part of the Eurozone.
With all the desperate attempts of certain nations, Germany and France in particular, dedicated to the prevention of the collapse of the Euro, that lynchpin of the European Union as a State and its ticket to becoming a Super State controlling fiscal, monetary and budgetary policy in its vassals, the Euro has fallen into the hands of a big and nasty dragon. It’s called Reality.
To take a step away from the fairy story, let’s say the Euro drama, or Eurogeddon as some are now calling the present global financial horror based on unrealistic financial planning by several nations, is beginning to look like Fate. The creation of the EU and all the attempts to avoid another world war starting in Europe, have, like some wicked fairy prediction, produced the very conditions for a global war that it was intended to prevent.
The war is not, at present, one involving armaments but one involving the financial underpinnings of the State of Europe, as some Eurocrats would like it to be.
Once again, we have to ask about the Reality Principle involved in this mess.
The spectre of a European financial meltdown involving mega-debt default by governments and widespread banking collapse followed by liquidity crises, company bankruptcies, unemployment on a scale hitherto never envisaged, riots, economic and structural collapse, can never for a moment resemble the catastrophies of World War 1 or World War 2. Or can it ?
So much for a dream. I am afraid the worst may be upon us. We are only half way through the long sleep. The Treaty of Rome was signed on March 25th 1957, just under forty years after the end of World War 1 in 1918. 2014 will mark the 100 years’ anniversary since the start of World War 1 in 1914. Are we into fairy stories here?
Wake up Princess Europa. Your Prince is not the IMF, not other European countries, not China or the Arab States, certainly not the US which is in even more horrific deficit than any European state, not Magic Money that makes gargantuan national debts go away. The Prince is actually the Dragon called Reality.
If the so called democratic nations who depend on capitalism for their survival, really understand the principles at stake, they will stop sucking all the money in the marketplace into their state spending sprees and leave the vast proportion of global funds to the free enterprise system.
Capitalism will only work when the State has withered away; and democracy will only work when the State has relinquished its hold on spending.  Karl Marx did mention the fact that the State must wither away. That goes as much for free enterprise as for socialism, And that goes especially for the European Super State that is seeking more and more powers to control the taxation and budgets of democratically elected national governments.
Maybe the World War 3 of the Euro’s demise would be worth the trauma if the lesson is learned that super states and super-currencies can’t work unless they are truly democratic in every way. And that includes their public spending programmes.
Democracy has a long way to go. But the war in Europe will continue until these ultimate lessons are learnt.
Will the Euro collapse? I’ve a feeling some lovely Fairy Godmother may turn up right at the end of the story and the poor old Reality Dragon may have to go back into its cave for another long wait. Hmmmm…

Friday, 18 November 2011

Praise the Dead

In France we have just passed through two weeks of mourning. That is between November 1st and November 11th.
This is a heavy period. November 1st, “All Saints Day” is for remembering your personal dead and a pall of grief hangs over the country. People buy chrysanthemums in pots or in cut bunches to place on graves. I was, in my first year in France reprimanded by a florist when I asked for potted chrysanthemums at a different season: in London one bought them to decorate the house during the winter months. I remember their distinctive scent in my drawing room. I did not associate it with death. But I live in a country where such symbolism is not transmutable. Chrysanthemums mean remembrance of the dead.
November 11th is quite different. The dead are the dead of history. Whereas in the UK this day is a moment to pause with pride to remember the victorious dead, with poppies, in France it is a moment of terrible grief. There are no poppy sellers in the streets of Paris.
To know the difference between the suffering of France and the UK of WW1 for which November 11th is the Armistice Day one need only take a long walk around parts of rural Normandy where every hamlet has its War Memorial. This is also true in the UK, but somehow it has never had the emotional impact for me to read a list of war dead in the UK compared to reading such a list on an isolated cenotaph in the heart of rural Normandy. Why? This gives one pause for thought. Is it worse if the war took place on your own nation’s soil? The terrible losses for France in that war and the fact that the blood of the slain, yes and English blood also, soaked the soil of northern France, changed her history for the decades that followed. In France Germany and elsewhere in Europe, it was the source and cause of the political errors that led to WW2. France was not alone in making the political misjudgments that allowed Hitler to build a powerful army. The British government was equally to blame. But then, when WW2 came, Britain is protected by the Channel, and this gave time to rearm. Too quickly, France could only capitulate. Would a powerfully armed France with strong political leadership have been able to resist the Nazi invasion? If only: but the realities were otherwise. I have read what Antoine St Exupery wrote when he was a pilot in those early days before De Gaulle went into exile in England, the days in late 1939 and early 1940 when French pilots were flying against the Luftwaffe in Eastern France. He wrote that their calamitous attempts, in terms of casualties, to stem the Lufftwaffe’s onslaught was “like trying to throw a glass of water on a forest fire.”
This history is also behind the terribly poignant sadness of November 11th here in France. It is also behind the desperate attempts being made by France and Germany, especially Germany, to save the Euro and with it the European Union that is the phoenix arisen from the ashes of these two terrible wars.
I can only say that the terrible sadness of the losses of WW1 and the Nazi occupation in WW2 still lingers in the hearts of French people, handed on from one generation to the next: that and a terrible sense of defeat. On November 11th, I find it hard to hold back my tears at the thought of those tragic years and their historical consequences. November is a sad month in Paris.
I prefer to think of November 1st as the Celtic New Year, the beginning of life after the disquieting night of Halloween when the earthbound dead walk abroad. And as a part Celt, that is how I celebrate that day. Death passes into history. Life is reborn.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Just Another Business Deal or How I Met Ghaddafi

So the boys with the briefcases are being urged to get back into Libya as fast as they can. Is this their finest hour? Or is it NATO’s?
I have been in doubt, since the first French Mirages entered Libyan airspace on their mission of mercy, about the validity of NATO’s participation in Libya’s tribal struggle. To create a ‘no fly zone’ to protect the civilian population wasn’t it? That has seemed a transparent excuse for getting into this fight. Clearly NATO forces were fighting against Ghaddafi’s superior weaponry, and civilians were being as much injured and killed by the rebels and by NATO as by the dictator’s army.
Now that Ghaddafi is dead, I am in even greater doubt about NATO’s intervention. Clearly without it the rebels would have failed to gain any advantage. They lacked the firepower and organisation of Ghaddafi’s forces. I have not watched the apparently horrific visuals of war in this conflict. But I have become more and more disturbed by the involvement of NATO in this civil war. I have thought that the Western powers had no idea what they were getting into and I am now even more sure that they did not know it: or even that they know it now.
When Obama backed off, no doubt on the advice of the CIA, and his opinion pollsters he left the field open to Cameron and Sarkozy. The latter appeared to be pursuing a private revenge against Ghaddafi. The former seemed to believe he was doing something noble. But now Cameron urges the briefcase brigade to do their stuff among the ruins.
Of course, Ghaddafi was a legitimate target thanks to his involvement in terrorism—the IRA and Lockerbie. He was an individual target, an enemy and a nuisance. Much better to let other Libyans kill him, and to help them do it, than to use assassins.
I have long taken and interest in Ghadaffi, since the day in August 1969 when I met a Libyan diplomat on a train and was invited to meet him again later for a drink with some of his friends in a Grosvenor Square hotel bar. I was a very young journalist. The group I met were all young Libyan officers and our host was the managing director of an important British arms manufacturer. I was also in politics as a Liberal Parliamentary candidate and I may have mentioned this. I think the arms salesman spotted me for the trouble I might cause. Anyway, I did not see my train buddy again, but two weeks later, on September 1st, I heard that King Idris of Libya had been deposed in a bloodless coup and that a group of young officers led by Muhammar Gaddafi had taken over the country.
The penny dropped. The MD of the British armaments company had been making the necessary hardware available to the young officers for their coup. Was Gaddaffi among the group? Yes, as a lissom 27 year old Major. But the British arms salesman, a well-fed forty something with a jolly laugh, was just another man with a briefcase.
Somehow, the wheel has come full circle.

Monday, 17 October 2011

A Walk in The Woods

A Walk in the Woods

Shortly before Christmas in 2004 I was walking in the woods on the fringes of the Forest of Rambouillet, west of Paris. It was beginning to get dark and I realized that I was lost. I took a narrow path in the direction of the fading Western sky and found a large sign, which directed me to the house of Jean Monet.
The house lay in a hollow on the side of a road. An L shaped manor, it is since Monet’s death. a museum, but as it was now past 4.30pm I was not able to visit it. I took directions from the caretaker and walked back along the road to the house of friends where I was staying. But the next day, I returned to Jean Monet’s house and visited the museum. Monet, the son of Monet the painter had a romantic history and love story but his greatest claim to fame lies in his role as the idealistic founder of the European community.
I walked through the house, not a large one, but a charming place. I saw letters that moved me, from De Gaulle, and from Winston Churchill, who at that time advocated a union of France and Great Britain. I’m rather glad that never took place: the war would in any case have made it impossible to pursue.
The political developments after WW2 among those nations who wanted to avoid any such catastrophe in the future have led to the present predicament, namely, the European Union, a monster of burocracy without effective democratic controls.
As someone who was a candidate in the first Parliamentary Elections to that European Union and a believer in European democracy, I am now disheartened.
But I have been disheartened for many years. The EU has become a mega-catastrophe. The democratic element is pathetic. The rapid enlargement is causing enormous problems and the expansion of the Eurozone may turn out to be fatal, not only to Europe but to the entire world.
The creation of multiple billion funds to bail out overspending governments is one thing, but when those proposed bail out funds reach the multiple trillions, we must know that so much capital is being withdrawn form the global market place that enterprises must become the poorer for it. Enterprises must also suffer from lack of investment. So must the Third World and so must the individuals who want to borrow to buy a place to live at today’s exorbitant prices.
This past weekend the G20 finance ministers met in Paris. One heard barely a squeak from their deliberations.
Harking back to the previous meeting in February, this is what Reuters reported:
‘The ministers stated in February that they wanted to see medium term fiscal consolidation plans that are differentiated according to national circumstances, the pursuit of appropriate monetary policy and the enhancement of exchange rate flexibility, sustained global demand, increased potential growth, job creation, global rebalancing and measures "to reduce excessive imbalances and maintain current account imbalances at sustainable levels by strengthening multilateral cooperation." They agreed on a set of indicators for focusing on persistently large imbalances that require policy actions. Work continues on indicative guidelines against which each of the indicators will be assessed. They want the guidelines to take into account national or regional circumstances, including large commodity producers’
OK. This makes mega-sense. While there are pressures inside the EU to make Eurozone countries part of a fiscal and political union, this communiqué does not suggest that the disparate economies of European nations should be subjected to tight surgical conformity. Would it not be even wiser to admit that a community of individual nations with widely differing economic and political structures and goals should not belong to a single currency block that limits their use of such devices as Exchange rate flexibility?
Clearly, the Eurozone must face these issues and those governments whose leaders are desperate for their own survival should be dissuaded from trying to persuade the others that political and fiscal uniformity are the solution to irresponsible economic  mismanagement.
Jean Monet, I apologize, but your ideals have hit the reality rocks.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Have You Been DSK'd Lately?

So the alleged Depraved Sex King (DSK) went on TV in Paris on Sunday night to be interviewed by a friend of his and his wife’s to explain the mystery of the New York Sofitel drama. He denied that there had been any violence whatsoever-these being, he said, only the words of the New York Prosecutor-- and he said that the whole matter was simply a morale lapse.
Judging from a poll I saw, some quarter of the respondents believed him. These are probably the same people who some months back thought he was innocent. They were nearly all male and socialist. Another quarter had not seen the broadcast, but a solid 54 per cent said they did not believe the ugly old buzzard and found him insincere in his interview. In fact, you could say they refused to swallow it and spat it out on the carpet.
Comments in French newspapers alleged that this was just more of the same old cosy cuddle of politicians and the media and that the suspect should never have been interviewed by so close a friend of his wife and himself.
The fifty or so feminists who turned up to blockade the TV station were, one feels hardly representative, either of feminists or the majority of females (and many males) here who feel absolute disgust that this fat old gargoyle got away with something that would have landed a less powerful man in an American jail for some fifty years.
That there are two outstanding legal actions by apparent victims against this alleged beast seemed not to matter at all. He dismisses the claims of attempted rape made by the journalist/novelist Tristane Bannon as imagination and calumny. Really, why would anyone want to imagine being raped by this thug? Well some might, I suppose. But isn’t that just more of his arrogance, and his vanity?
Even Tristane’s mother, a socialist regional deputé who dissuaded the young woman from making a police complaint about what happened to her when she went to interview DSK in an apartment—which turned out to be furnished only with a mattress and a TV-- admitted to the police inquiry that she too had once had sex with the fiend and that it was pretty rough, even one might say brutal. She didn’t try it a second time, evidently.
Tout Paris knows the accounts that have been circulating for years about DSK’s sexual behaviour. One of his favourite haunts, a swinger’s club called Les Chandelles is in my quartier. You are obliged to take a partner to these clubs. Some men take prostitutes, others their mistresses and a few their wives. But, I doubt if Madame DSK has gone in to one of these on her husband’s arm.
So his remarks that his little flutter in the Sofitel was more, really, a moral fault mainly affecting his relationship with his wife—and I could see the fear in his eyes as he said this—are no more than an insincere attempt to gain public sympathy. Was he apologizing to anyone, to his wife or to the chambermaid Diallo? Certainly not.
As the French press commentators wrote, he was arrogant and insincere. And need we add, probably untruthful?
So why would a wife put up with this? During the latter days of the New York farrago, word was out that Anne Sinclair, the heiress and former TV journalist was getting to the point of no return over her husband’s sexual behaviour.
What I don’t understand is why would any wife put up with this, never mind paying the huge bills associated with keeping the man in luxury to save him from his cell on Rikers Island? So she is an heiress? Frankly, all the more reason let him sit out his time in jail and save the money and her face by finding someone new.
But, evidently Ms Anne Sinclair alias Madame Dominique Strauss Khan was having fantasies about being First Lady in 2012. Surely those are over now?
DSK is never going to be President of France, and even considering the selection of low grade candidates available for that august post, the citizens of France, and the female employees of the political institutions especially, may heave a sigh of relief that DSK is not going to be in the running.
Better still, if Madame DSK divorces her humiliating husband that will give one signal of hope at least to the oppressed females of this country (especially the poorer ones) that this whole debacle has been a step in the direction of the idea of female dignity. As for the politicians they treat it as a divine right of kings to maul and bonk their female staff. Maybe some of the girls enjoy it. Or they prefer to keep their jobs.
Males rule. Right?

Monday, 19 September 2011

C'est Brigitte!

“Brigitte Bardot, Brigitte Bardot” the cry goes up from the poissonnerie staff as I ride up on Daisy Belle, my Paris bike. This has been going on for a few years, but partly due to the months long closure of the nearby swimming pool for repairs and the beastly cold of the last winter, they have not seen either me “Brigitte” or Daisy Belle in almost a year.

Now after this absence, Guy the handsome, tall, curly headed owner of this fresh fish shop, chief of a family business and star of what often tends to be a cabaret production in the famous Rue Montorgueil, steps out from behind his cash desk and embraces me warmly. “Je t’ai manqué beaucoup,” he says (I’ve missed you terribly) with what look suspiciously like tears in his eyes. I am impressed. Guy never smells of fish: he only handles the money, of which there is no doubt plenty since his poissonnerie is the best in the centre of Paris. “Ah BB,” he sighs. “But it’s not Jean Pierre you like is it, he asks? It’s me isn’t it?” JP is his brother, although when I ask Guy to confirm this, he turns away: “No. He’s my father.” Ah jealousy!

This is all part of the slapstick showbiz display of this poissonnerie. On a Saturday evening, half an hour before closure they stand outside calling out the bargains on offer. “Three Tuna steaks for five euros; five fillets of Lemon Sole for ten.”

The nickname “Brigitte Bardot”—due no doubt to dark eyeliner and blond tresses—goes back several years when Guy and Jean-Pierre took a fancy to me. Now the entire establishment personnel refer to me as “Brigitte Bardot.” Clients turn their heads and stare as I step over the wet tiles in my dainty high-heeled sandals. Staffers run to serve me. Guy is all over me. Can this be Brigitte in person? I have not checked out her site but I suspect Brigitte is completely vegetarian thanks to her wish to protect animals.

I have often felt the same, but after weeks on Tofu I have been awakened by night dreams of intense hunger for grilled salmon. Some of my absence from Guy’s emporium has been due to the attempt to struggle by on vegetarian protein, balancing this with that and that with this, but to no avail. One feels light and clean, but, alas, broken nails and repeat dreams of grilled fish point to nutritional disorders for me if I don’t start biting the fishy flesh again. So I have returned to Guy’s poissonerie. I must admit that another reason for staying away was that he kept trying to make assignations for a passionate date. I told him I was otherwise engaged. He, I believe still has a wife. However, he hasn’t given up, yet.

So “Brigitte,” is my name there and I’m not insulted. This star has been the most extraordinary phenomenon: her youthful images still live in the French psyche. I know another man who, when finding me in the supermarket says that when he sees me he thinks for a moment he is seeing yesteryear’s Brigitte Bardot, his ideal woman. Yes, there are many men in France aged, say 50 and more who remember, from the days of their youth, this star who lit up the world. Young men too, in the street, say, “Hello Brigitte,” to me. Her beauty and sexuality haunt us still. During August, a huge black and white portrait of her, aged perhaps thirty with her bleached blonde locks, her black eyeliner and her inviting smile, looked down from the wall of the Musée d’Orsée facing the river and the quai where I walk often in the evenings.

Glamour of the past, glamour of images from the days of black and white film…these are far more interesting and wonderful to men than paparazzi shots of the so called stars of today who seem less attractive than many a supermarket cashier.

Brigitte is not the only legendary name I hear on the lips of passing males as I walk or cycle along. A guard in the Tuileries greets me as “Madonna”. Other men call out the name of ‘Arielle’, another French blonde actress, as I pass them, riding Daily Belle through the Louvre’s courtyards. Women also point this out to me.

Resemblance to stars of stage and screen seem to be more exciting than the reality of today’s actual women. The desire to acquire the glamour of past stars spurs present day actresses or models to pose in imitations of yesterday’s icons, from Marylin Monroe to Jackie Kennedy. We are drowned in images and the image takes over from the real person. Until recently, I had a good portrait of myself in my passport. However the passport expired and the new rules for ID photos obliged me to get something digital that makes my face look like a poached egg. It passes under the scanners at the Eurostar passport control with no comment, or even a glance at my real face: but when the old photo was there any male French immigration officer who looked at my passport would usually nudge his colleague and show it to him. “Quelle belle photo?” he would say and bow me through the barrier with a lecherous smile.

What are we lacking? The present digital photo mania has become the fast food equivalent of meals that need to be OD’ with ketchup and chilli sauce to give them any kind of flavour. The Internet sends instant images around the globe. A bland tofu like indifference has replaced the arresting moment of a beautifully lit portrait. Ah, nostalgie: an old photo of a never to be forgotten beauty, stops us in our tracks.

And a dish of grilled wild salmon beats tofu any time.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

August Night in Paris

August Night in Paris

I have just walked for half an hour from rue Beauregard in the Sentier to my home, if I can call it that, or that place where I keep my possessions and may sleep, bathe, eat, work.
I walked through streets untouched by Baron Haussmann’s regular eye, through
alleys where the buildings curve and bulge against the force of gravity, where windows open onto the night without concern for architectural conformity.
Is this where, alone and aware of no sound other than that of my shoes against the paving stones I fall in love again with a city that has long since lost my affection?
Yes, from the window of a friend’s apartment high among the roofs I saw a girl lying on a couch, alone, while another, several windows away puffed her cigarette into the silent street.
I passed among the empty arcades of a long lost city where dreams draw breath but only sleeping vagabonds breath the scent of roses. Under the night sky or under the shadowed arches of a hidden world I found again the beauty that eludes one in the day.
The city remains an enigma. Far more beautiful and wonderful than the one where people surge in daytime, I love this night-time city that is almost empty of humanity. I feel its history, know its suffering and its joys. I am part of its beauty in the silent night.
I long for nothing, for no one. This is the time of being. The empty streets of Paris in August at night. Sudden gusts of scents that live only at night. The scent of flowers from balconies or hidden gardens, the light from windows where the late night’s leisure preludes a sweeter sleep. This is the city in her reality. I love no other city save this one.

Yet, I can only catch glimpses of this secret city that exists like a ghost haunting the urban daytime, peopled by the colonized beings of another culture. Why do I say that? The Parisian, perhaps the French, mind is no longer itself. It has been taken over by the pulp products of Internet and TV news. That is why the city, with only its sprinkling of souls, the ones left behind by the rush to the beaches, can emerge and reveal its hidden self. The girl alone on the couch dreaming of her lover, the woman puffing her cigarette into the scented night, I, as I walk through the winding old streets of the Sentier and through the poised arches of the galleries of the Palais Royal into the Place Andre Malraux, whose fountains are the most Parisian in all Paris. Now sparkling with red and blue underwater lights put there by some freak of a city administrator, they splash over the cherubim of an earlier fantasie in this most Parisian of all open spaces.

The hidden city has revealed itself to me a few times in the past. A moment in winter at the bottom of the rue Moufftard where a staircase climbs and the iron balustrade curves upwards; a moment in the Place Marche St Honore at 1 am during a strike, where the café terraces were devoid of their usual chattering yuppie crowd. I walked in there on a warm autumn night, having tottered some way on three inch heels: a waiter was sweeping the leaves and cigarette ends away from the now bare terrace of his café. The little trees, the straw backed chairs piled high, the shuttered windows of apartments, his greeting and his smile seemed to pull me back into an old movie, perhaps Irma La Douce.

I’ve puzzled about this strange connection with an older, perhaps also fictional, Paris and now the explanation leaps into my mind. The absence of cars is one glorious wonder. The absence of the people is the other: and it is the people and their minds chock full of global media messages that destroy the soul of this city and send it back into its secret hiding place.

When the people leave, the city becomes itself again: the hidden city, to be discovered only at night when the chatterers, the yuppies, the bewildered, yes they are bewildered young things whose world has been supplanted by another, colonized by the leap in hyper space and cyber space, are gone to the trendy resorts, taking with them their concerns about the body beautiful, l’amour and la mode.

But I know now what I am searching for in this city…passing backward through time into a present devoid of people, whose head-space is the blockage to the discovery of the hidden city.

Secret city, I have the key to your soul. August night opens the door.

Your accent is gorgeous, so chic...

Forget Galliano in the Oubliette: The British are the Fashion!!

I heard a female voice behind me saying, “Bonsoir”. I was walking in the Tuileries, my local garden, and I thought it was one of the Guardians. A bit early for them to be asking me to leave, I thought: they usually start chucking out half an hour before the hour, which in summer is 11pm. But it wasn’t a Guardian, it was a young woman on a bike with her boyfriend also on his bike. The Guardians would have told them to get off and walk. Anyway, they both stopped and she started talking to me, so friendly, I was astonished, then the girl introduced herself and her boyfriend and when she heard my accent asked me where I was from. I told her, I’ve lived here for eleven years but before that I lived in London and a few other places. I didn’t mention Africa, and the US, especially. Most people who start conversations with me here want to know if I’m American. I hasten to deny that. Not because I have any prejudice myself but because many French don’t like Americans. Let’s not go into gratitude here. Americans have done their stuff for La France. Anyway, I would prefer to be taken for who I am, a true Brit. And, the Brits are really à la Mode at present.
But the voice, coming initially from behind my suede trousers and vintage leopard print shirt was undeniably friendly. I explained my mission in the Tuileries –to walk an hour or so before dinner and the girl commented on the adorable nature of my accent. This is common. Whereas I would like to speak in an upper crust Parisian accent, the fans tell me “Don’t make any effort to change it,” because as they all say, it’s considered charming. The young couple and I chatted of this and that and they buzzed off on their bikes. They seemed quite sober: so I assumed they were simply being friendly, and that in itself is rare, or has usually been so. Except, I have found more and more French total strangers acting in this friendly way. I’m frankly gobsmacked, after 11 years in this grumpy city.
But, there have been a few experiences lately that have lead me to believe that Parisians are coming out of their shell. I have been waltzing in and out of the local Monoprix supermarché in my trendy St Honoré quartier for a decade now and although I have been on ‘Bonsoir” terms with a few of the local habitués, it has never gone further than that. However all of a sudden I am being plied with phone numbers and invitations to take a drink or dinner. No, no don’t get me wrong, the men have been doing this all through the eleven years, but now its women, who I assume can’t possibly have any other designs than to listen to my accent. Anglo pals of mine have noticed the same syndrome.
Is this because the English are now suddenly the fashion? One of my building’s residents came down in the lift and as I got in I spoke to him. “Ah, vous êtes Anglais” he said. Votre accènt, c’est un peu chic. Well, yes indeed, we are, but, could there be something else going on?
The French, thanks to their hideous recent history which perhaps no one in the UK can understand since the divinely protected Albion was never invaded by the Nazis, are crippled in terms of trusting fellow humans, especially foreigners.
I saw the most wonderful play at the Thèatre de Madeleine a couple of months ago. It was based on the historic fact that in August 1944, the Swedish Ambassador persuaded the German Gauleiter of Paris to rescind Hitler’s order to blow up all the historic monuments of the city as the Allies and the French Army arrived to liberate it.
I was moved to tears by the play and its historic origins and the emotions of the French people around me, many of them old enough to have been teenagers during that evil epoch.
I am now delighted if there is some chance that Parisians are awakening to the idea of friendliness as they are possibly coming out of their long period of mistrust and isolation. I’m also enjoying being in the fashion very time I open my mouth!