December 14, 2018

Letter from Paris: Je Suis en Terrasse — Reflections on Life After the Terrorist Attacks

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

For the second time in 2015, Paris was the target of the terrorists. But, in contrast to the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre, the attacks were not made in the name of an idea, like freedom of expression — especially of the press, or to single out the Jewish community, but aimed at French society as a whole. The blind rampage was intended to butcher the greatest number of normal Parisians having fun on a Friday night.

The killings took place almost simultaneously in five places obviously following a well prepared scenario acted by three professional and heavily armed commandos. Never before had the French been exposed to kamikazes. The carnage left 129 dead, 355 injured including more than 99 in critical condition.

Logo_French_flag

It all started at 9.20 p.m. at the Stade de France, north of Paris, on Friday, Nov. 13, where the Bleus were playing against a German soccer team in front of 80,000 spectators. President François Hollande was in the crowd. He left discreetly at half time. In spite of two explosions, the match went on uninterrupted to avoid the panic. Afterwards the public lingered on the lawn, still dazed. Spontaneously the crowd started singing the Marseillaise. Outside the stadium, the double suicide had left a scene of destruction. The social networks went to work. Taxis offered free rides. Twitter launched an operation “open doors” to disoriented people.

In rapid succession , the terrorists drove from one crowded place to another in the 10th and the 11th arrondissements to proceed with their slaughter: Le Petit Cambodge, the Carillon bar, the Cosa Nostra restaurant and finally La Belle Equipe on Rue Charonne,

An American rock group was on stage when four terrorists broke into the concert hall Bataclan packed with an audience of 1,500. They started shooting blindly at people. From the account of a seasoned policeman, the scene of horror was apocalyptic. Bodies were lying in pools of blood. After holding a group of hostages for three hours and using them as ramparts against the assault of the special forces, the terrorists blew themselves up, using their belts padded with sophisticated explosives.

Why was the 11th arrondissement again the main target of the terrorist attack? Since I live there, I have pondered over this question. Ann Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, gave some of the answers during an interview on TV. The 11th, she said with some pride, is a multi-ethnic, socially mixed population with large and visible religious communities. It has a distinct personality, rebellious and rather impertinent. The French call these types of people “bo-bo” (meaning bohemian-bourgeois.) It is an unpalatable cocktail for the IS (Islamic State).

The other reason why terrorists seem to be attracted to the 11th might be the availability of good hiding places in this working class arrondissement – the largest of Paris. Geographically the 11th is close to “difficult” suburbs. Finally, It is near the highway leading to Brussels. The inquiry has revealed connections between the authors of the Paris attack and the Molenbeek district, a hotbed of radical Islam in Belgium.

Eiffel_Tower_model_flowers

As it is often the case at time of crisis, people show their best side. It certainly was true with the French who rose up above their usual attitude of self-disparagement. Here are just a few examples — the police, the SAMU (ER), the Red Cross, the army, the BRI (brigade de Recherche et d’Investigation), the RAID (Recherche-Assistance-Intervention-Dissuasion) and other elite units could all be considered as heroes. Doctors and surgeons happened to be on strike on Friday Nov. 13, but returned to work with news of the killings. Some even volunteered in services other than their own. At the Pompidou hospital, dozens of volunteers waited three hours to donate blood. People living near the attacks opened their apartments to wounded victims.

François Hollande acted as a compassionate and strong president during the crisis and announced immediate security measures to reassure the population. He declared a etat d’urgence or highest state of alert, suspending temporarily individual liberties and including the delay of all street manifestations, of public gatherings and the closing of monuments, etc. It was a bleak sight for the tourists to see the Tour Eiffel lost in darkness. To emphasize national unity, Hollande convened a Congress made up of the National Assembly and Senate in solemn Versailles. It was the first time that had happened since the Algerian war in 1962.

The French colors appeared on monuments around the world in an amazing show of support. President Obama was the first leader to make a declaration; Angela Merkel, who marched in the streets of Paris on Jan. 11, extended her message of friendship; David Cameron declared – in French – Nous sommes tous solidaires. The Moscovites laid flowers in front of the French embassy in Moscow. In a different tone, Bashar al-Assad told the people of France: you suffered last night, but think of what the Syrian population has lived with during the past five years.

One detects an acceleration of terrorist attacks: Ankara in October, Lebanon and the crash of a Russian plane in November. IS is now exporting its war to other countries. It is an assymetric war since one side welcomes death. Zero security is impossible to guarantee. All one can do is to minimize the danger .

For the past 15 years, France has been on the front line of the war against radical Islam and acted alone in the Sahel, Mali, Nigeria, Chad. For the past two and half months, France has taken part in the air strikes over Syria. This is a brave but dangerous policy, probably untenable in the long term.

Bernard Guetta, specialist in geopolitics and commentator on France-Inter, described the Nov. 13 tragedy as a shock therapy, which might lead to a strong coalition able to defeat IS.

On Sunday, two days after the attack, the Parisions were still nervous. I was walking on the Bastille square when police cars suddenly cordoned off the avenue — rumor of an explosion spread. In a panic, people started running. I had to run also so as not to be caught in the stampede. Thankfully, it was a false alarm!

It is your duty as a citizen, a comedian joked on the radio the other day, to sit on the terrace of a cafe and have a drink to show you are not afraid. To-day, one does not say, “Je suis Charlie,” but rather, “Je suis en terrasse.”

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Letter from Paris: Fabulous FIAC Celebrates Contemporary Art Throughout Paris

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

She’s back! We’ve probably been asked more often about what has happened to Nicole Prévost Logan than any other of our wonderful writers. You see, Nicole takes a break from writing for us in the summer when she is living in Essex, Conn. But now she has returned to her house in Paris and (metaphorically) picked up her pen again … and we’re delighted … along with many of our readers!

fiac_2012_jardin_des_plantes

In late October every year, France attracts visitors from around the world to take part in the FIAC (Foire Internationale de l’Art Contemporain.) Multiple exhibits open, not only in museums, but also hors murs (outdoors) on the grounds of historical monuments like the Chateau de Versailles, or on public squares and parks like Place la Concorde or the Jardin des Tuileries .

For a few days, Paris becomes the capital of arts, fashion and design. The main event of the FIAC takes place in the Grand Palais and was attended this year by 75,000 professionals in the arts and owners of the 173 most prestigious galleries of the world. (not individual artists.) The high entrance fee was set at $40. The works exhibited were in all media – paintings, sculptures, videos, installations. Values of the objects varied from a few thousands euros to several millions.

What makes the specificity of the FIAC is that it expands every year and becomes increasingly accessible to the general public. The French minister of Culture and Communication Fleur Pellerin, who occupied the media center stage during the week, stressed the civic importance of the richness and diversity of culture open to all in the public space.

When walking around Paris it seemed impossible not to stumble over some work of art: on the banks of the Seine in the new Cité de la Mode et du Design, in the department stores or the elegant lobbies of five-star hotels palaces. In the historical districts of the Marais, or St Germain des Prés, unbridled art creations were the norm. The “off” art found additional space under white tents. Digital art celebrated its tenth anniversary near the Alexandre III bridge.

The “Outsider Art Fair” (art brut) – made up of the works of mentally disturbed , marginal or self-taught artists – placed its 38 stands in a private mansion. It included the works of the well known American artist Henry Darger whose permanent collection is in the New York American Folk Art museum.

To stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries was to be in for a great treat. One could admire whimsical, mostly thought-provoking artistic creations on lawns, near the two pools, along the tree-lined paths. Young and articulate art students from the Ecole du Louvre described the works to the curious passers-by.

Just two examples. Heimo Zobernig, who lives and works in Vienna, created a tall androgynous statue. The body was made of three pieces from three different sculptures scanned in 3D. The head, legs, and torso were assembled digitally, raising the question of figurative sculpture. On the Tuileries bassin rond, a transparent sphere, of about 10 feet in diameter was floating under the motion of a crystal chandelier hanging inside and spinning around. The artist’s intention was to show the hidden properties of objects by the incongruous mix of an inflatable toy, a scooter’s chain and a 24 volt rotating mechanism.

The visitor reaches the Place de la Concorde. Four pavilions mesmerized the crowds. They had been erected by St Gobain – the French company specialized in construction material for the past 450 years (it built the Louvre pyramid.) The pavilions showed the company’s innovations for the future: how can sensorial modules create thermic and acoustic comfort or a 21st house being built entirely from materials created by 3D printers.

After an absence of a few months, what better way than the FIAC to reacquaint oneself with the Paris scene?

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Letter from Paris: The Rise of Islam in Europe, Reactions and Results

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

As we were driving toward Baden Baden in Germany, our tour director pointed to the brand new mosque rising above the red-roofed houses. “This mosque was not there last year,” he commented. On a recent river cruise through five European countries — Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland – it was impossible not to notice the increasing presence of Islam — or at least our perception of it.

In the tense international context of conflict with the Islamic State, there is a feeling in Europe of being caught in a two-pronged threat, both from within and abroad. This is why many believe that it is more important than ever for the Muslims living in Europe, moderate in the majority, to speak up with a loud voice against Daesch violence.

muslim_womenThere are more than 40 million Muslims in Europe, which translates to an average of 8 percent of the population. France has the largest percentage with 10 percent versus 0.6 percent in the US. The Muslim inhabitants are mostly concentrated in urban areas, where they can sometimes reach 20 percent and even 30 percent as in Basel, Switzerland.

For an American readership it is hard to grasp the impact of such a concentration on the urban landscape. Living in Europe, one has to adjust to the changing profile of the Muslim community. Take, for instance, the recent announcement made by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris that the number of mosques existing today — 2,000 — in France needs to be doubled.

In early April, L’Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF — the Union of Muslim Organizations of France) held its 33rd annual gathering at Le Bourget, north of Paris. For three days, thousands flocked to this event, bringing their families and looking forward to do some shopping or attending seminars. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed some concern that the Muslim Brotherhood, which conceived this event, might exert too much influence on the crowds.

One forum attracted many visitors and one, an older man, said, “At the mosque, I am a Muslim — in the street I am a lay person. When I became French, I accepted the 1905 law of separation of Church and State and I respect the idea of a secular State.” A young lawyer retorted, “I was born in France, which gave me some rights. Today I demand that these rights be respected.” This heated exchange epitomizes the contrast of attitudes between generations of immigrants.

A disturbing trend is the radicalization of the European Muslim community by the Salafists – a conservative Sunni sect. They want Islam to return to its original form with a strict application of the Sharia. A journalist describes how, 20 years ago, a suburb outside Montpellier had a theater and drama workshops, where young people loved to practice on the stage. Today the theater is run down and empty. The Salafists have ordered the premises to be closed, and forbade the women to appear in public. Le Monde published an article describing the growing number of Salafists in Dusseldorf, but also stressing the distinction between Salafist true believers and “pseudo Salafists,” who are potential jihadists.

Once more France is in the line of fire for its military interventions in several parts of the world. Recently the screens of TV5 Monde, a television station broadcasting programs in the French language to 200 countries, turned black for 20 hours. One viewer, in Zarhle, Lebanon, said, “I am not even French, but for me the programs offered by TV5 Monde represent culture, a window onto the free world.”

One can only hope that the ongoing destruction of archaeological sites, the attacks on journalists and the hacking of channels of communication with their social networks, are not going to be followed by further cyber attacks.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A Letter from Paris: Munich Museum Celebrates Tragically Truncated Careers of Two German Artists

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

PARIS, FRANCE — The promise of two young men to become among the most important German artists of the 20th century was cut short when Franz Marc (1880-1916) and August Macke (1887-1914) were both killed on the front at the outset of World War I.

Animals in a Landscape by Franz Marc, 1914.

Animals in a Landscape by Franz Marc, 1914.

The Lenbachhaus museum of Munich, built at the turn of the (20th) century when Munich was the capital of German art, will hold an exhibit in May entitled. “Two Friends.”  It shows how Marc and Macke met in 1910, discovered their mutual works with enthusiasm and struck a friendship, which was to last until their death.

The eve of the “Great War” was a time of artistic explosion, not limited to the Impressionists, Cézanne and other great French masters. All of Europe, including the Russian giants like Malevich, or Tatlin, was set ablaze and the German schools of painting played an important role in the cross-pollinization of the art movements.

In 1905 Ernest Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) founded Die Brucke (the bridge) in Dresden. The human figures he painted are very distinctive with an angular and depraved look. The Nazis called him “degenerate.”  Die Brucke was part of a larger German Expressionist movement based at the Sturm gallery in Berlin and characterized by the rejection of any form of academism, the acerbic satire of the bourgeois decadence, and the crude, almost perverted, representation of the bohemian life the artists led in their studios.

In 1909, Wassily Kandisky (1866-1944) wanted to distance himself from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM — the Munich New Artist’s Association) painters and settled in Murnau, a small village on the edge of Bavarian Alps with a group of artists including his companion Gabriele Munter and Alexej Jawlensky. For Marc and Macke, it was a pivotal moment to meet them there.

Zoological Gardens by August Marc, 1912.

Zoological Gardens by August Macke, 1912.

Even before knowing each other, Marc and Macke had shared a love for painting animals, particularly cats. Both were fascinated by the artistic developments taking place in France. In 1907, and again in 1908 Macke was in Paris and visited the galleries of Bernheim-Jeune, Ambroise Vollard and Durand Rueil, to see Pissaro, Monet, Dégas, Renoir and Seurat. Marc travelled several times to France from 1903 onwards, spending long hours at the Louvre, where he was particularly attracted to Van Gogh’s paintings.

August Macke’s city scenes showed silhouettes of slim and elegant women, admiring the latest fashion at shop windows and a sophisticated urban population sitting at cafes or strolling leisurely in a park. Macke looked for harmony in humans and in nature. His colors were vibrant and the atmosphere serene in sharp contrast with the violent, even depressive paintings of the Expressionists like Otto Dix, George Grosz or Max Beckman.

Blue black fox by Franz Marc.

Blue black fox by Franz Marc.

Before being an artist, Marc had thought of becoming a theologian. In 1909, he left Munich for the wilderness of Bavarian Alps to paint animals and eventually moved closer to Murnau. He sought the essence and the purity of animal through a theosophical view of the cosmos. Instead of being naturalistic, his representation of deers or tigers was increasingly stylized. The young wild horses seemed to bask in their freedom. In 1911 Wassily Kandisky and Marc created Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, named after the themes of horses and cavaliers found in their paintings.

At a time when the abstraction was like a tidal wave – Picasso and Braque in France, Paul Klee in Switzerland, or Mikhail Larionov in Russia – it is not surprising that Marc and Macke were drawn to these new forms. Robert Delaunay and Italian Futurist Gino Severini became their inspiration.

But sadly this was to be a brief adventure, since both artists were killed prematurely in the war.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A Letter From Paris: A Look At Little (But Oh, So Powerful) Luxembourg

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

PARIS — Although Luxembourg is a minuscule country, with only 476,000 inhabitants, it is one of the world banking powerhouses occupying second place with 2.4 trillion euros under its management. It is one of the founding members of the European Union (EU) and has been an active participant at every step of its construction.  How did this happen?

The capital occupies a spectacular site on a rocky ridge overlooking the precipitous ravines of the Petrusse and Alzette rivers. From the Roman streets (Cardo and Decumanus) intersecting in the Marchė aux Poissons (fish market) to the all-glass museum of contemporary art designed by I. M. Pei, a visitor to Luxembourg can admire many periods of architecture including the ducal palace built in a rare 15th century Spanish-Moorish style.

Luxembourg's Ville Haute has a stunning location

Luxembourg’s Ville Haute has a stunning location.

After centuries of domination by neighbors, including France, the Netherlands and Belgium, the 1839 Treaty of London granted the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg both its independence and definitive borders. Grand Duke Henri is the incumbent ruler of the reigning Nassau-Weilbourg dynasty .

The vocation of Luxembourg was at first to be an impregnable fortress. In 963, Count Sigefroi chose the rock of Bock to build a fort. When, in 1684, Napoleon laid siege to the town, he turned to his renowned military architect Vauban to expand the fortifications, which are still visible today, with ramparts, towers, tunnels, bastions and casemates (military blockhouses), all dug out of the cliffs.

Luxembourg has also enjoyed another vocation — to be chosen sometimes as the ruler of Europe.  In 1308, Count Henry VII was elected King of Germany by the Prince Electors and soon afterward crowned as head of the German Holy Roman Empire.  Since December 2014, the EU President –  its highest executive – is Jean Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

Luxembourg has been closely associated with the process of unification of Europe. Robert Schuman, born of a French father and a Luxembourg mother, was among the founding fathers of Europe.  In 1947, the BENELUX convention, which created a customs union, was signed between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.   In 1950, Schuman and Jean Monet from France created the ECSC  (European Coal and Steel Community). In 1957, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium signed the Treaty of Rome, creating the EEC (European Economic Community).

The 1985 “Schengen Space”  agreement, abolishing borders within Europe, took its name from a small Luxembourg village. The ‘quartier européeen’ has sprung up as a small Manhattan on the Kirchberg plateau with the sky scrapers of the European institutions like the European Investment Bank, the European Court of Justice, and most of the 150 international banks emblematic of modern Luxembourg.

In the 19th century, the discovery of iron ore brought Luxembourg into the industrial age. On the eve of World War I, it was the sixth producer of steel in the world.  But, with the decline of steel metallurgy after the 1970s, Luxembourg had to reinvent itself and turned toward financial activities, which today constitute more than 30 percent of the country’s GDP.  In 2001 the “Clearstream” scandal raised the suspicion of tax evasion.

Currently the trend is toward increasing transparency in the banking business. In early March of this year, during  an official visit to Luxembourg by French president Hollande, “tax optimization” was discussed. It was decided that, by 2017, the exchange of information will become automatic between the two countries.

The policy of Brussels, led by Juncker, is to launch a program of “quantitative easing” or QE (similar to the one carried by the Federal Reserve in the US), of 3,000 billion into the European economy. Countries are now scrambling to qualify for the bail-out funds by presenting their most innovative projects.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Greece Given Four Month Debt Deal Extension … But Then What?

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

During the last week of February 2015, intense negotiations took place between the Greek government and the three members of the “Troika” – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Central European Bank (CEB) and the Eurozone. On Feb. 27, the Bundestag, by a massive majority, approved the four month extension of aid to Greece.

It looked very much like a “déjà vu”scenario: Greece deep in debt, Greece kept alive thanks to several rounds of loans, Greece repeating its promises to curb public spending, and put a stop to fraud, corruption and tax avoidance. The creditors, however, wanted to give the new government of Alexis Tsipras. a chance to prove itself. The objective was to strike a compromise between austerity reforms and measures granting some respite to the most vulnerable segment of the population. The Greek government had five days left before running out of money.

Greek President Alexis Tsipras

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Greece joined the Eurozone on Jan. 1, 2001. Before 2000, the Greek deficit was about 13 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP.) By some miracle, in order to meet the criteria for joining the European Union (EU), the deficit was brought down to 3 percent, or more precisely to 3.07 percent. Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other organizations, pondered over the figures. The situation was confusing, especially after the Goldman Sachs experts helped Greece with some “creative accounting” by deducting currency swaps and derivatives amounting to 2.8 billion from the calculation of the deficit.

Before 2012, Greece’s creditors were mostly private banks, such as the Société Générale in France. In March of that year, the banks agreed to cancel 70 percent of their loan or 107 billion. In 2010 and 2012, the “Troika” granted two rounds of loans, amounting respectively to 110 and 141 billion. Germany supports 30 percent of the Greek loan, France 23 percent (or 40 billion) and Italy 20 percent. The participation of the Eurozone members is proportional to the size of their population. The loans’s maturity is 30 years, 10 percent of the loan carries zero interest and the remainder has interest as low as 2 percent in 2015. It is important to note these facts in order to counter a lot of disinformation available on the internet.

The discussions, held in Brussels, went well until the disastrous final press conference when the new Greek minister of finances Yanis Varoujakis posturing as a cool Bruce Willis, (to use the Le Monde expression) first demanded that the “Troika” change its name and then asked for a “restructuring” of the debt. His tour of European capitals, ending in Berlin (where he should have started) was not much appreciated by the German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schauble, who commented, “We agreed not to agree.” Varoujakis retorted, “We did not even agree not to agree.”

At a time when refugees and migrants try desperately to reach Europe, the immigration policy of the Tsipras’s recently-elected Syriza party is quite unsettling. Their plan calls for the retention centers, where refugees and migrants have been held until now, to be turned into “open centers;” to grant citizenship to 150,000 second generation children born in Greece; and to provide housing, schooling and medical care. How are these programs going to be financed? The wall built to protect the border between Turkey and Greece fell into disrepair after recent floods. Maintaining this wall is not a priority announced the government.

There is pretty much a consensus about Greece’s inability to ever pay back its debt. The creation of the European Funds of Stability and Finances in 2013 to “mutualize” the debt will help Europe absorb the Greek default with more serenity.

But it is far from a done deal. In four months, before your know it, there will be fierce opposition to write off the debt. Countries like Portugal or Spain are struggling through austerity and are are not about to continue bailing out Greece.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: ‘Loi Macron’ Indicates a Sea Change in French Politics

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

In January 2015, in a forceful declaration, French president François Hollande officially announced a break with the Socialist program, which had been the basis of his 2012 presidential campaign. It was a sharp turn toward a more liberal, market-oriented policy. The Loi Macron, named after the young (33-year-old) Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron, was to embody the new trend.

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron

Expecting that the law would not pass, the government decided to use a joker – the article 49.3. It was a gamble since, in the event that the motion de censure (vote of no confidence) of the opposition succeeded, the government of Manuel Valls would be disavowed and fall. But the motion de censure received only 234 votes when it needed the absolute majority of 289. The law passed.

The article 49.3 is included in the constitution of the Fifth Republic. It allows the government to act in force to push a text through the Parliament without the need of a vote. It is a powerful but dangerous device. It has been used 82 times since 1958.

The last time was in 2006 when Dominique de Villepin, under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, tried to promote the Contrat Premiere Embauche, or CPE (first hiring contract). The students demonstrated in the streets. Shortly thereafter the CPE received national funerals. The champion of article 49.3 was Michel Rocard who in the late 1980s used it 28 times.

After 200 hours of consultations and 1,500 amendments granted by the government, it looked as though each article had been accepted separately. And yet, by the time of the final vote on Feb. 17, the far right (Front National), the far left (Front de Gauche), most of the right (UMP), and the 40 Frondeurs, or splinter group from within the Socialist party, joined in an alliance to put road blocks to stop the government’s proposal. Manuel Valls and Emmanuel Macron made their concluding speeches among jeers and interruptions. On the face of many deputies could be seen a rather despicable sarcasm.

In fact, the manoeuvre of the government deserves to be applauded since, to push a text in force, was the only way for the Executive to succeed. The Loi Macron reperesents an enormous task attempting to reform the fabric of French society. It meant dismantling the century-old system of privileges and protected niches enjoyed by whole segments of the population, including the five million civil servants, known as notaires — in France, notaires are a specific type of French attorneys overseeing all legal transaction while collecting taxes on behalf of the government, doctors, veterinarians, taxi drivers, auction houses officials, etc.

All the professions are regulated and benefit from a a special satus. The right to work on Sundays, and allowing intercities busses were hard-won victories. Only indirectly, the Loi Macron dealt with unemployment and ways to jump-start the economy.

The law is insufficient and has its defects, but is a step in the right direction. It represents a real effort to bring changes and to satisfy Brussels. Angela Merkel, in Paris for more discussions about the Ukraine, expressed her satisfaction.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Minsk 2 – Another Truce for Ukraine … Maybe

From left to right, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petroshenko.

From left to right, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petro Porosnhenko. Photo credit EPA/Maxim Shipenkov.

After a 16-hour long marathon of negotiations on Feb. 11, and a great deal of suspense, Angela Merkel and François Hollande wrenched out a hard-won agreement for a cease-fire in Ukraine from Petro Porosnhenko and Vladimir Putin starting on Saturday, Feb. 14 at midnight. All parties to the agreement were extremely cautious and hoped that “Minsk 2” would last longer than “Minsk 1” signed in September 2014.

More than 5,500 people have died in the conflict during the past 10 months, which makes it the deadliest in Europe since World War II. There was a sense of relief that the agreement went through and thus a disaster had been avoided. In the morning, Putin joked that he had had better nights but felt satisfied.

To continue the negotiations rather than slamming more sanctions on Putin, as some Washington pundits advocate, was the objective of Minsk 2. Sanctions have a cost for Europe (for example, the Russian government retaliated to earlier sanctions by blocking the import of produce from Western Europe.) More dangerously, they exacerbate the nationalism of Putin and enhance his popularity in Russia.

In the face of a threatening strategy of Daesh* making well planned inroads to destabilise Europe by recent acts of terrorism, Russia and the European Union (EU) have a common enemy. For decades, the extremist Moslem opposition in Chechnya and Central Asia has been a great fear for the Russian government..

The talks in Minsk started in a polar atmosphere. Throughout the night, Petro Poroshenko’s and Vladimir Putin’s teams moved like a choreographed ballet. Early in the morning, Putin left the room, slamming the door, only to reappear a few minutes later. The Franco-German duo is to be credited with an unflappable tenacity to reach an agreement. The two worked perfectly together. Merkel needed Hollande since she wants to avoid making foreign policy decisions alone and prefers,“Leading from the center,” to use a formula coined by the German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen.

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Minsk 2 includes modified provisions to make the process move forward. The buffer zone – cleared from all heavy armaments – has been widened from 30 km to 70 kms. The European Council for Stability and Security will be monitoring the application of the agreement. Putin expressed his demands for the autonomy of the Luhansk and Donestk regions..

The EU widely considers that Ukraine is both a corrupt and failed state. It cannot afford to help it financially nor envisages its adhesion to the EU any time soon. Kiev does not want to lose the industrial and mining Donbas region, but its action is disorganized. For many months, Putin has claimed that he never intervened in the conflict taking place in Eastern Ukraine.

One wonders whether he really controls the Russian separatists, so different from the sophisticated Maidan crowd. The Donbass miners and blue collar workers are products of massive transfers of population forced by the Soviets at the time of the German offensive to compensate for the relocation of highly skilled workers to the Ural Mountains. Another headache for Putin is the presence among the Russian separatists of clans whose leaders have political ambitions .

It is hard to understand Putin’s strategy. Obviously he does not want NATO to choke him nor nuclear misssiles to be installed in the area. He does not have the means to support the Donbas. His priority should most likely be to allow a corridor from Rostov on Don, through Mariopol on the Sea of Azov and then leading to the Crimea. At present his only access to the Crimea is through the Straits of Kerch, which is some distance away.

*The new nickname for ISIS widely used in France, Australia and some other countries because ISIS supposedly dislikes it intensely — it is a loose acronym of the Arabic description of ISIS, which does not acknowledge any statehood for the organization but rather can be roughly translated as, “One who crushes something underfoot,” or, “One who sows discord.”

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Patrick Modiano receives 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature

Nobel_prize_for_Literature_2014

…”all those wasted years during which one did not pay enough attention to trees, to flowers”…) says the main character in Modiano’s latest novel ‘Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier’ (which translates roughly as, “To avoid getting yourself lost in the neighborhood”)

France had the distinctive honor of receiving two Nobel prizes in 2014: Jean Tirole was the recipient of the Prize for Economics for his work on the financial crisis and the banking system while Patrick Modiano received the Prize for Literature. He will join an illustrious pantheon of writers from Gunter Grass (Germany) ), Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Gabriel Garcia Marques (Columbia) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Soviet Union) to Albert Camus (France) or Ernest Hemingway (USA). Modiano is the 16th laureate from France, giving that country the largest number since beginning of the Nobel awards in 1900.

The press release issued by the Swedish Academy of Sciences selected the French writer, “For the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation.” The prize was a recognition of his abundant literary production (30 novels) centered on the protagonists’ search of their own past, in the urban setting of Paris, going back to World War II.

He writes like a sleep walker, plodding through a mysterious, sometimes disjointed sequence of events looking for his lost childhood when he was tossed around from one home to another. Since his first novel, ‘La Place de l’Etoile,’ published in 1968, he has created a world where autobiographic notes are interwoven with the “bad dream” of the Occupation.

Modiano is a tall (6′ 6” ) man of 69 with a kind face and fluttering hands as he speaks. During a 45-minute acceptance speech in Stockholm, his modest personality must have made him endearing to the distinguished audience, particularly when he dedicated his award to his Swedish grandson.

A writer, he said, is usually a poor speaker, who leaves his sentences unfinished, because he is used to editing his text over and over again.

He explained that he belonged to a generation when children were not allowed to speak up and, if they were given a chance to speak, they expected to be interrupted at any time.

During an interview he gave in his study, surrounded by thousands of books, he asked, “Why would I write another book when so many have been already written?” Then he added, “It is probably at the sight of his own bookcases that a discouraged Scott Fitzgerald took up drinking.”

He claims, with incredible modesty, that “It is with bad poets that one obtains prose writers.”

According to Alice Kaplan, head of the French department at Yale University, Modiano can be labelled as the Marcel Proust of modern times.

Claire Duvarrieux, head of the ‘Books’ department of the daily newspaper, Liberation, describes the works of Modiano as a collective memory of France during the war, the German Occupation, collaboration, the persecution of the Jews and finally, the war in Algeria.

With Louis Malle, he co-wrote the scenario of Lacombe Lucien in 1974, one of the best French “New Wave” films.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.
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Letter From Paris: Marcel Duchamp at the Pompidou Center

Marcel Duchamp i(1887-1965) is well known in America.  Most people have heard of his readymades like the famous (or infamous) Fontaine, which is, in fact, a public urinal.  Stiglitz immortilized the original in a 1917 photograph before it disappeared for ever.  The bicycle wheel set on a kitchen stool is a familiar sight for MOMA vistors.

Nude descending a staircase No. 2

Nude going down a staircase No. 2

Since his first trip to the US in 1915, the artist made multiple visits to that country, avoiding the two World Wars.  He acquired American nationality in 1955.  It was at the 1913 Armory Show that his cubist painting  ‘Nu Descendant un escalier No. 2′ (Nude going down a staircase No. 2) became a huge success.

Some critics have labelled Marcel Duchamp as the creator of modern art while others say he destroyed it when he advocated “non-retinal” painting.  Volumes have been written about him.  In an amazingly short time – since he abandoned art for chess at age 36 – he was able not only to produce art, but also to integrate into it the latest discoveries  of science and modern technology.

The Marcel Duchamp exhibit at the Pompidou Center just closed its doors after several successful months.  It was a monographic approach consisting of about 100 paintings  and drawings little known in France (most of them are part of the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) covering the 1912 to 1923 period and leading to his main creation, ‘Le Grand Verre.’

Born in Normandy, Duchamp belonged to a talented family of six children.  The mother was a distant figure, which may explain his alienation from women.  ‘Sonate,’ 1911, represents the three sisters playing musical instruments.  The mother stands stern and erect . Strangely enough she seems to be enjoying the concert, although she is deaf.

He had a deadpan sort of humor and provocation was his tool.  He enjoyed playing  tricks on the Regardeurs  (viewers), giving wrong titles to his works.  He relished plays on words, for example, he called himself Rose Selavy (Eros – that’s life) in the photograph Man Ray took of him.  To put a moustache and a goatie on Mona Lisa was a virtual iconoclastic gesture and he made it even more outrageous by giving it the title of LHOOQ (if  the letters are pronounced in French the meaning is shockingly vulgar) .

Duchamp joined his two brothers Jacques Villon and Raymond-Duchamp in the Puteaux group of Cubists.  ‘Dulcinea’ and the ‘Joueurs d’échecs’ are among his superb cubist paintings.  Borrowing the technique of chronophotography and cinema, he introduced time and movement in ‘Jeune Homme Triste dans Un Train 1911-12,’  where the real accomplishment was to show a person in a train in motion while also suggesting his sad mood.

La Mariée mise a nu par ses célibataires,’ meme (also called Le Grand Verre) was his major work.  It consists of two free-standing glass panels.  In the lower register, nine Moules Maliques*  (an officer, a gendarme, a priest, etc) stand beside a chocolate-crushing machine, which rotates non-stop.  By means of sexually-related devices, gas travels up toward the mariée, who is hanging limply at the top, having gone from the virgin to the bride stage.  The work alludes to the universal themes of erotic love and the inaccessible woman.

* I am not even attempting to translate these nonsensical words!

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Ten Days Later

US Secretary of State John Kerry pays his respects at the makeshift memorial in Paris to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

US Secretary of State John Kerry pays his respects at the makeshift memorial in Paris to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

Ten days after the assassination at the Charlie Hebdo office including the magazine’s editor and leading cartoonists, France is on high alert. Threats against persons and acts of vandalism are multiplying. The Jewish community is scared, the Muslims feel stigmatized, the Catholics are worried. It would be exaggerated however to describe – the way a Fox News journalist claimed – that certain areas of Paris, such as the 11th arrondissement, are dangerous and should be avoided. Incidentally, the journalist quickly withdrew his remark.

Prime minister Manuel Valls and minister of the Interior Bernard Caseneuve have launched maximum security measures: the Vigipirate alert system (at first created by president Giscard d’Estaing in 1978) now includes 10,000 troops from the Foreign Legion, the army and the police. They are positioned throughout France to protect monuments, schools and places of worship, as well as strategic points like airports or railroad stations. On Thursday, Francois Hollande was on the air force carrier Charles de Gaulle in Toulon to review the 2,000 troops before their departure for manoeuvers in the Indian Ocean. France has currently nine Rafales in Jordan and two Mirages in Saudi Arabia.

The criminal investigation has been fast and efficient. In lightning speed, they uncovered more ramifications of the jihadists’ organization, extended to their families, friends and acquaintances, with the “Buttes-Chaumont connection” at the center. The Belhoucine brothers are on the list of suspects. A large number of individuals have been taken for questioning and nine are currently in police custody . In the Paris region, five caches of weapons have been located and searched.

Reinforcement of the legal system to control the jihadists’ travels and activities is being studied by the government. Measures such as the creation of special files on terrorists similar to the ones kept on sexual offenders and withdrawing the French nationality of returning jihadists are being considered. Voting on a new law should take place as early as the beginning of February. Control of internet has become a priority. The social networks constitute a counter culture expressed in simple manichean terms to be accessible to the largest possible numbers. Calls for violence and hatred never stop.

The recent events have marked the French. On Wednesday, January 14, after a powerful speech by the prime minister at the National Assembly, all the deputies stood up to observe a minute of silence. Then one voice started singing the Marseillaise and soon everybody followed in unison. The last time this happened was on November 11, 1918! At the Institut du Monde Arabe and during all the official ceremonies, the president and the prime minister reiterated their basic point: the French government is not against Islam nor the Muslim population. Around the world, French diplomatic representations and economic interests are under attack. The TV news shows the fury of violent mobs shouting their hatred in the streets of Niger — quite a contrast from the calm of the people in the streets of Paris on January 11.

Laicite (secularism) is a specificity of France, and the outcome of a tumultuous history, starting with the 16th century wars of religions, opposing monarch and church. It took a whole century for the Catholic Church to accept the separation of church and state in 1904. That principle was enshrined in the first article of the 1958 constitution at the outset of the fifth Republic. It is alien to most of the other countries and should be “formatted” (to use a computer science term) in order to be understood beyond our borders.

US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit to Paris, saw the places where the violent attacks took place on January 7 and used warm words (in French) to express his support of France.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

Our French correspondent Nicole Prévost Logan was in Paris last Wednesday when the horrific shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office occurred and for the subsequent days of terror in the environs of Paris. This column reflects her thoughts on the tragedy. She writes:

Je_suis_Charlie_v3

They were a talented, irreverent, friendly and humorous bunch of cartoonists and journalists. They were like family. We knew them by name. Charb, Cabu, Wolinski (Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski) and the others were also incredibly courageous. Round the clock they had to be protected by police and body guards. In 2011, their office was blown up in an explosion. Charb, leader and editor-in-chief of the Charlie Hebdo weekly satirical newspaper, was on the ‘Wanted’ list of Al-Qaeda as someone to be eliminated.

On Wednesday, January 7, at noon, I was walking by the Bastille, near my apartment, when police cars, ambulances, Red Cross vehicles, fire trucks – their sirens howling – seemed to be converging on the square. Strange, I thought. When I met my daughter for lunch, she told me that the entire editorial board of Charlie Hebdo had been shot. Being “connected” with her smart phone, she was able to follow every minute of the crisis

The crisis lasted for three days with the pursuit of the two Kouachi brothers by tens of thousands of police and special forces. Two more attacks (related, as it turned out later) occurred in Montrouge and Porte de Vincennes with the taking of hostages by a third terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly. Seventeen people died during the 72 hours, including four Jewish hostages who had been held in a Kosher supermarket.

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb.

The emotion in France was intense. The French have always relished their iconoclastic derision aimed at everyone … women, Jews, Moslems, blacks, no exceptions … and their making fun of politics, religion and other serious topics.

The tragic end of an entire editorial staff of a newspaper at the point of a gun in the name of a principle explains the incredible shock wave of sympathy with spread around the world in a few hours. A journalist from Los Angeles said in his grief at the talent lost that, in one throw, more cartoonists were killed than the total number existing in the US. The victims have become the heroes, for having pushed to the extreme the right to say, write or draw anything in a free democratic society.

One may quote Voltaire, “I may not agree with what you say but I will fight to death for your right to say it.” Humor rather than violence or a call to violence, this was their motto. This weekend France became a libertarian banner and the world seemed grateful to France for doing what no one else dared to do. This attack and the planet’s reaction that it triggered can be seen as a fight for a secular state threatened by obscurantist developments, both in the regions where ISIL is taking hold and against terrorism anywhere in the world.

The French opinion from all parties, (except the Front National) is that President François Hollande managed the crisis superbly. He was on the front line at all times. He scared the police forces beyond belief when he came to the Charlie Hebdo street barely one hour after the attack, even before the area was made secure. Hollande was at the helm of the operations and gave the green light for the two final assaults to be perfectly synchronized. He addressed the nation several times, avoiding grandiloquence and photo-op opportunities.

Instead of being belligerent and declaring “at war” status, what he stressed was the national unity and the need of inclusion of the overwhelmingly moderate Moslem population (about four million or 6.8 percent of the population, by 2012 figures.) He urged the leaders of that community – imams, clergy, intellectuals and associations – to speak up and to join the march organized on Sunday. Hassan Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque of Drancy, a neighborhood with a majority of immigrants, declared on television, “What they have done is not Islam, we strongly condemn their acts.” This is important because the problem of “integration” in France (one remembers the hostility caused by the ban on the veil) is a difficult process.

For three days, men in black, super-equipped with helmets, bullet-proof vests, shields and heavy arms, occupied our television screens. We learned more about the elite groups which carried out the assaults. In Dammartin-en-Goële, it was the GIGN (Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale), part of a 400-strong military elite corps based in Versailles. At the Kosher market of the Porte de Vincennes, RAID (Recherche pour Assistance Intervention Dissuasion) is part of the police. It was the first time ever that GIGN and RAID collaborated.

A question was immediately raised: how was it possible that Cherif and Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, young French men with murky pasts of convictions, prisons terms, and, most of all, trips to Syria and several months training in Yemen with the most dangerous groups of Al-Qaeda (AQPA) in the Arabian Peninsula, included on the US “no fly list,” could have been overlooked by the DGSE (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure)? Pierre Martinet, one of the heads of the DGSE explained that the data about all these people has been collected, but they do not have the manpower to put several thousands potential terrorists under surveillance.

Gilles Keppel, a Middle East specialist and professor at Sciences Po) revealed that France has been designated as the prime enemy. There are about 1,200 French Jihadists, the largest group in Europe. The era when terrorists learnt how to fly planes is over — today the social networks have created another situation when Al-Qaeda is less an organization than a system. Private individuals make decisions, hence the difficulty in controlling them.

In an interview Monday morning, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, summarized the priorities: control the calls for violence on the internet; in prison, separate radical islamists to prevent their radicalization of other prisoners; and intensify the coordination of intelligence agencies within Europe and around the world. The Socialists are reluctant to introduce legislation comparable to the Patriot Act in the US at the expense of the rule of law.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand together in defense of the right to free speech.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand in solidarity in defence of the right to free speech.

Sunday, January 11, saw the march of the century. Forty heads of state participated in the demonstration. François Hollande led the march, accompanied by Angela Merkel and 40 other heads of state. Some commentators wondered whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s presence was politically motivated or, as for the others, to defend the principle of freedom of expression.

Four million people were on the streets, almost half of them in Paris. The crowd, including many children, was calm and disciplined, sang La Marseillaise, and applauded the police – probably for the first time in French history.

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Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: The Magic of Merkel

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

She has been the German chancellor for 13 years, longer than any of her predecessors since the creation of the country in 1949.  Forbes magazine puts her #1 on the world’s list of powerful women.

The key to understanding Angela Merkel and the successful way she runs her government lies in her upbringing.  She was born in 1954 in Hamburg.  When she was three, her father – a Lutheran pastor – moved the family east of Berlin in order for him to head a home for mentally disabled children.  Growing up in one of the most repressive countries in the world, she always feared being spied on by the East German State Security Service – commonly known as the ‘Stasi’ – and was careful not to put the life of her family in danger.  No wonder the wire-tapping of her cell phone last July hit a raw nerve.

Between a distant father and the dreary atmosphere of East Germany, she found security and stimulation in hard scientific work.  She obtained a doctorate in physics and wrote her thesis on quantum chemistry.  She also became an excellent Russian speaker — a skill she has used in her relations with Putin.  Her Polish ancestry – her mother came from Gdansk (formerly Danzig) – will undoubtedly make her close to the new president of the European council, Donald Tusk.

She is a shrewd politician, pragmatic enough to adjust to changes.  She likes consensus and has accepted a coalition between her Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU – Christian Democratic Party) with the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD – Social Democratic Party).  She treats politics like a science , taking a long time before reaching a decision, thus giving a comforting stability to her performance.  She wants power, but hates being in the spotlight.  This is why she preferred the “Merkozy” (Merkel-Sarkozy) days to being alone in dealing with the European Union.

Merkel has a difficult task to accomplish.  Her obsession with the rule of balanced budgets is creating austerity, which many members of the Euro zone now reject.  Her policy is increasingly being criticized by economists.  Emmanuel Macron, the new French Economic Minister, and Wolfang Schäuble his German counterpart, strongly disagree with her positions and think that growth is more important than austerity.  Marcel Fratzscher, professor of macro economics and finances at the university of Humboldt, also thinks that the priority is to invest in the crumbling German infrastructure.

Germany is perceived abroad, and particularly by the US, as carrying Europe financially.  However, this assessment should be corrected by keeping  in mind that the European Central Bank capital is made up of the contributions from the national banks.  The Deutsche Bundesbank contributes 19.99 percent, Banque de France 14.1 percent, Banca d’Italia 12.3 percent and so on. The burden of the debt is shared by all the countries of the Euro zone.

On Dec. 10, 2014, Angela Merkel was reelected by an astounding 99 percent of the votes as head of the CDU, which she has led since 2000.   After a 10-minute-long standing ovation, the party members proceeded to enjoy three more days of the Cologne Congress.  Today, an overwhelming  64 percent of  Germans would like her to run for a fourth mandate as chancellor in 2017.

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Chinese Make Increasing Inroads into France

china-france-300x161Chinese president Xi Jiping , wearing oversize headphones, appeared on the cover of the French weekly Nouvel Obs on Dec. 4.  “Are they spying on us?” asked the magazine.

The same week, huge parabolic antennae showed up on the roof of an inconspicuous building four miles from Paris.

Some people found the picture rather amusing and did not take this disclosure too seriously.  But not everybody.  In fact, the way China is making inroads into the French economy is somewhat disturbing for many.

This week, the International Monetary Fund announced that China surpassed the US as the largest economy in the world.  The sheer size of this sub-continent, which represents over one fifth of the world population, is rather frightening for a small country like France.  The economic strategy of China starts with the creation of partnerships with foreign companies, then a growing participation in their capital, and finally their acquisition.  It is by absorbing the ideas, the know-how and the technology of older countries, that China was able to race to the number one slot.  French officials and heads of private companies facilitate China’s grand design.

Economic relationships between the two countries have existed for years, but what is new is its accelerating pace.  In 2007, China had no high-speed trains.  Then it turned to France (Alstom), Germany (Siemens) and Japan ( Shinkansen) to obtain the transfer of their technologies.  Today China has the longest fast train network in the world.

In 1992, Donfeng Motor Corporation and Peugeot-Citroen, the leading carmaker in France entered in a joint venture and started manufacturing cars in China.

In March 2014, China Donfeng became an equal share holder of Peugeot-Citroen, thereby bringing to an end the 200-year-old family dynasty.

France sold the idea of Club Med and the Shanghai-based Fosun company is currently fighting to win a bid for its acquisition.

For the French, it feels like selling the family jewels when they see their prestigious wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, along with their chateaux, being bought by the Chinese.

But the most unsettling development so far just took place on Dec. 4.  Emmanuel Macron, Minister of the Economy, signed an agreement with a Chinese consortium granting it 49.99 percent of the capital of the Toulouse airport.

It is a disastrous business move by the French government.  Toulouse is the country’s fourth largest airport.  Extensive work has just been completed at a high cost.  The airport has been a money-making undertaking, so why sell it for a dismal 308 million – the price of one Airbus?

The answer is simple: France is under extraordinary pressure from Brussels to lower its deficit.  It needs money.

The new giant facility will handle 20 million passengers a year, multiplying by five the number of Chinese tourists visiting France, with direct flights to several Chinese provinces.  Anybody, who has ever been to the “pink city” (pink is the color of the stone) on the banks of the Garonne with its quaint historical districts, will feel shocked by this decision.

Besides, Toulouse is the European capital of aeronautics as well as an important center of nuclear and spatial research.  A large Chinese presence in the neighborhood understandably makes some people nervous.


HeadshotAbout the author:
 Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: The UK and Europe: Divided, We Stand Together … for the Moment

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

France and the rest of Europe look at the United Kingdom with some envy: the UK is currently enjoying a three percent growth in its economy, unemployment as low as six percent, a paired down number of civil servants and the dynamism of the City as a world financial center.  No wonder young entrepreneurs and students are flocking to Britain from the continent.

This week the spotlight was on Prime Minister David Cameron.  On Nov. 28, he gave a resounding speech to an industrial audience in the West Midlands.  The main thrust of his message was to stress the inability of his country to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees and job seekers.  He announced that, if reelected in May 2015, he will renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU).  In the case of refusal, he would organize a referendum on “Brexit” (the colloquial expression for British exit).

To control immigration, his demands include the expulsion of  immigrants still jobless six months after their arrival in England and a four year waiting period for new immigrants before they can receive benefits, tax  credits or social housing .

David Cameron’s position in regards to the surge of immigration should not be singled out. An increasing flow of migrants is taking place around the world, from Australia  to America.  In Europe, the phenomenon is compounded because of several circumstances: sub- Sahara persons fleeing for political or economic reasons, refugees escaping the Middle East military conflicts and finally, the recent surge of migrants from Eastern to Western Europe (228,000 this year — the highest number ever registered.)

According to the “Schengen Zone Agreement”, Rumania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, had to wait until Jan. 1, 2014, to enjoy full rights to travel and apply for work within the Schengen space.  This explains the spectacular increase in the number of immigrants from those countries to England during the past nine months – increases respectively of 468 percent of Rumanians and 205 percent of Bulgarians.  Government corruption, hard to integrate “Romas” and a lagging economy in both those countries explain why other EU members are reluctant to open the flood gates too soon.  This week David Cameron sent a special message to the Polish Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, to reassure that his demands would not apply to job seekers from her country.

On Nov. 25, the Pope, speaking in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg,  admonished the Europeans for being too egoistic and urged them to coordinate their immigration policies.  The Mediterranean, he said, should not become a cemetery.  Stressing human dignity, the Pope puts immigration at the center of his message.  The choice of Lampeduza as his first trip out of Rome was symbolic.

David Cameron is under pressure from the Euro-skeptics  and the conservative UKIP (UK Independence Party).  It is clear he is ready to moderate his demands since he does not want to sever links with the EU.  The desire to negotiate is also strong on the other side of the English Channel.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Gambling on the Impressionists

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

One could describe the exhibit as intimate.  Only 80 paintings hang in the small rooms of the Musée du Luxembourg, some of them never seen before.  The style is familiar. the colors are soft, the scenes are peaceful — we are in the Impressionists’ world to meet old friends: Monet, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Eugene Boudin, Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt.

poster for Musee_de_luxembourg_ExhibitThe title of the exhibit is, “Paul Durand-Ruel. The Impressionist Gamble – Manet, Monet, Renoir,”  and it tells the endearing story of the first art dealer in history … and also one of the most influential.

The artwork is stunning: in “Le Pont à Villeneuve -la-Garenne,”  Sisley creates the fluidity of the water by using multicolor brush strokes and in Renoir’s dance scenes, 1883, couples twirl around happily, women’s eyes bright, their ruffled dresses contrasting with the dark suits of their older escorts.   “Liseuse” by Monet  shows a young woman sitting on the grass, enveloped by vegetation, spots of light dots her pink dress and in “Le Foyer de la Dance,” Degas’ dancers warm up, others are stretching, while, in the foreground, a little old lady, slouching in a chair is reading a newspaper.  Nearby another painting is identical, except for the empty chair — the little old lady is gone.

The story behind the artwork is equally fascinating.  Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) became an art dealer by accident.   Attracted to a military career, he entered Saint Cyr  (equivalent of West Point) but  renounced for medical reasons.  He was struck by the paintings of Eugene Delacroix exhibited at the 1855 Exposition Universelle (World Fair). He became fascinated by the artists who were refused access to the official Salon of the Academy of Fine Arts because of their innovative techniques.

In 1871, Paul met Monet and Pissarro in London where they had taken refuge from the Franco-Prussian war.  After his return to Paris, he visited Manet in his studio, liked his work so much that he bought 23 of his paintings at one go.  The Luxembourg exhibit includes two of Manet ‘s major works:  “Clair de Lune at Boulogne” and “Le Combat du Kearsage et de l’Alabama.”

Left alone after the his wife’s death, he turned his art dealership into a family business with his five children.  He opened galleries in London, Brussels, New York and later, Berlin.

In 1874, a group of young artists – who were given, at that time, the collective term of ‘Impressionists’ – showed their work for the first time together in the studio of   photographer Nadar.

Durand-Ruel fought to help the artists, both morally and financially, and became their friend. He borrowed money to purchase their paintings. He offered his living room on Rue de Rome to a penniless Monet and lent him money to move to Giverny. Years later, when he was rich and famous, Monet wrote, “We would have starved to death without Paul. ”

In 1886, the American Art Association invited him to organize an exhibit in New York.  It was a success and became the first official recognition of the Impressionists.

One cannot help compare the story of such a life to the speculation around art today and to the giant art fairs (like Art Basel) when  intermediaries are commissioned by owners with deep pockets.

The exhibition at the Musée de Luxembourg continues through Feb. 8, 2015.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: New European Union Commission Leadership Faces Rocky Road

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Nov. 1, following the mandate of Manual Barroso (2009-2014) from Portugal, the 12th Commission of the European Union (EU) moved into its headquarters at the Berlaymont  in Brussels.

The selection process of the Commission – the key institution of the EU and a formidable machine employing 25,000 persons – has greatly changed since its beginnings in 1951.  The mandate was shortened from nine years to five ;  whereas the president of the Commission used to be designated by the Council of Ministers (equivalent to the present European Council), he (or she) )  is now elected by the Parliament.  A major turn in the composition of the Commission took place in 2004 with the addition of 10 new members from Central and Eastern Europe.  The present rule assigning one commissioner per country creates an odd situation: Malta, with a population of 400,000, has the same representation as Germany with a population of 82 millions.

Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxemburg, a member of the European People’s Party, was elected by the Parliament with 422 votes out of 751 as the new president of the Commission.  Angela Merkel strongly supported him.  Linguistically and culturally he stands half way between France and Germany – a real asset for the most important official of the EU.

Upon his return from the G20 summit meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid November, Juncker had to face the “Luxleaks” crisis exposed by the press.  Forty international newspapers, including Le Monde, the Guardian and the Suddentsche Zeitung, investigated the tax breaks granted by Luxemburg to 340 multinationals, like Google, Apple or Amazon.  Yuncker’s critics said that, while he was serving as prime minister and minister of finances, Luxemburg became the leading tax haven of Europe.  To put an end to these practices, the “rulings” – holding companies and other devices used for tax “optimization” – were suspended.  As the new president of the Commission, Yuncker reaffirmed his commitment to fight tax evasion.

The post of commissioner of economy and budget was given to Pierre Moscovici, the former French minister of economy. The choice seems ironic since France almost flunked the rule imposed by the Pact of Stability and Growth requiring a deficit of 3 percent of the GDP (France’s deficit has reached 4.4 percent)

The new High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs is Federica Mogherini , 41,  a diplomat with an impressive record.  Her intention to improve relations with Russia was not appreciated by some of the Eastern European countries.

Tibor Navracsics, a former minister with the ultra conservative Hungarian government was to become commissioner of culture, but his nomination was voted down by the Parliament.

It is a tumultuous time for the new team of the EU.  In the guidelines he presented to the plenary session of the Parliament in July 2014, Jean-Claude Yuncker set his priorities as follows: a plan of public and private investment of 300 billion over three years to stimulate the economy, harmonizing budgetary policies of the member states and coping with the explosive surge of refugees.

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Tunisian Election Outcome Offers Remarkable Example to Countries Dealing With Terrorism, Violence

TunisiaTunisia did it again!  This small country in North Africa was the one to start the Arab Spring in December 2010.  On Oct. 26 of this year, the parliamentary elections marked the return to some degree of normalcy after a difficult period of assassinations and violence.

The latest elections revealed a “collective intelligence,” to use the words of a French political scientist – the result of a well established civil society.  Instead of a single party hijacking the political scene, the people voted for several parties.  The liberal party Nidaa Taures won with 38 percent of the votes.  In order to reach a majority of 109 seats in the parliament, it is willing to form a coalition – quite unusual in this part of the world.

The Islamist party Ennahda secured second place with only 28 percent of the votes and 69 seats — or 16 seats less than in the previous election.  Wisely it  conceded defeat.  How to explain the resistance of the population to the Ennahda program?

The answer lies for a large part in the key role played by women.  They spearheaded the resistance against the strict enforcement of the Sharia or moral code, which limits their rights in many areas: inheritance, divorce, veil and regulations on clothing, custody of children, adultery sanctioned by stoning or “honor killing,” right to travel, right to open a bank account, and access to higher education, etc.

In the text of the constitution approved in January 2014,  Ennahda had reluctantly agreed to replace the expression “complementarity of men and women” by “equality for all.”  A journalist had the nerve to make the following extraordinary comment, “This was a small victory for a few Tunisian feminists”.

The “Personal Status Code,” which was installed by president Habib Bourguiba in 1956,  had given empowerment to Tunisian women, thus making them the most emancipated in the Arab world.  This revolution was at the center of his program in order to model his country on Kemal Ataturk’s vision of a secular  and modern country.  Incidentally, it is interesting to note that both Turkey and Tunisia have almost identical flags.  Bourguiba is said to have remarked at one time, “… the veil – that odious rag.”

Tunisia can be considered to-day as a bulwark between a dangerously chaotic Libya and an Algeria unable to control terrorism (on Oct.14, a  Frenchman visiting the rugged mountainous area south of Algiers, in order to train young Algerians to become mountain guides, was taken hostage and  beheaded two days later.)   In other words, Tunis is of great importance not only as a model of democratic process coexisting with a moderate Islam but also, one hopes, as an oasis of stability for the whole area.

HeadshotAbout the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Picasso in Paris – A New Museum Opens

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

After five years of over-budget restoration, the Picasso museum in Paris reopened on Oct. 25.  It was worth the wait — the new museum is spectacular.

I decided – like the rest of Paris, it seemed – to go to the opening.  The logistics to handle the thousands of visitors passing through the magnificent courtyard of the XVII century Hotel Salé  (thus nicknamed because the owner was a salt tax collector) in the Marais was the best I have ever seen in France.

The renovation has doubled the exhibition space.  The museum gives a feeling of openness thanks to the series of rooms opening onto the garden; wide thresholds and corridors facilitate the flow of visitors.  The classical architecture – grand stairs, loggia with arched windows and baroque haut-reliefs – coexist with modern minimalism.

The walls are stark white, allowing the creations of Picasso to literally explode.  The lighting of weathered bronze and white resin is imaginative, but discreet.  The upper level, which houses the private collection of the artist, was carved out from the original attic.  The enormous wooden beams constitute a stunning setting for Cezanne, Matisse, “Le Douanier” Rousseau (a nickname given to Rousseau related to his occupation as a toll collector), or artifacts from the South Pacific.  The exhibit spans the long life (1881-1973) of the artist.

At an early age in Malaga and la Corogne, Pablo Picasso showed his precocious talent.  His supportive father — an art teacher — acknowledging the genius of his son, put down his paint brushes in 1895 and never painted again.  In the first room of the museum, the portrait of “L’homme à la casquette” reveals  the virtuosity of the 14-year old.

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A self portrait, 1901, showing a middle-aged man (although Picasso himself was only 20 when he created the piece) belongs to his “Blue Period.”  A gaunt, almost emaciated acrobat  (1905) with elongated hands and sad eyes is part of the circus world which fascinated Picasso.  In 1906, he begins working on the Demoiselles d’Avignon.  Gertrude Stein, foresaw the importance of what was to be one the major works of the 20th century and bought most of the preparatory sketches of the unknown young artist.  The painting hangs today at MoMA in New York City.

A voyage to Italy in the early 1920s inspired Picasso to return to the classicism of ancient Rome.  In La Course, painted 1922 in surprisingly small dimensions, two gargantuan women run on the beach, their  heads touching the clouds.

Women – whether wives or mistresses – are his sources of inspiration:  Fernande, Olga, Dora Maar, Marie Therese, Françoise, Jacqueline – each of them represents a new start.  Picasso reinvents himself continuously and keeps experimenting with new techniques and media.

There is a recurrent theme of violence in his depictions of bullfights, wars and erotic scenes.  He deconstructs his models and reassembles them in a shamble of distorted strokes which have become his trademark.  Les Amoureux, 1918, is the most irreverent and humorous example.

Picasso’s sculptures – made of crude recycled material and always full of humor – are interspersed with the paintings, which gives the visit a lighter angle. In September 2015, an exhibit on “Picasso the sculptor” will take place at MoMA.

Nicole Prévost Logan headshot

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Tragic Death of Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, Stuns France    

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On the night of Monday, Oct. 20 , the visibility was poor at the Vnukovo  airport.  The control tower had given clearance to the Falcon private jet to take off.   A few seconds after leaving the ground, the pilot saw a snowplow on the runway but was unable to avoid it.  The landing gear caught the roof of the vehicle, flipped over and crashed a few yards away.  There was just one passenger on board – Christophe de Margerie, CEO of  the world’s fourth largest oil producer.

The late Christophe de Margerie.

The late Christophe de Margerie.

The news hit France like a bomb.   At Total’s headquarters in the district of La Defense employees were stunned.  The country reacted as if a chief of state had died.  Tributes poured in from everywhere.

Total has a capital ranking second in the CAC 40 (the ‘Cotation Assistée en Continu’ is a benchmark French stock market index) and employs more than 100,000 people in 130 countries.  It is hard to believe therefore why such a company – the jewel of  the French economy –  should have so many detractors in France.  The day after the accident, the conservative daily Le Figaro published an article entitled, “The man who wanted the French to make peace with Total”.   That man, Christophe de Margerie, was a charismatic  and jovial person, full of warmth, direct but tough .

De Margerie came from an aristocratic family that could be described as representative of, ‘vieille France.’  Family members occupied prominent positions in the world of high finance, diplomacy (his cousin was ambassador to the US) and the arts.  He was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, the founder of a champagne empire.  Several of his relatives own and live in an elegant apartment building tucked away in a garden, behind massive walls and a monumental gate, right at the heart of the Faubourg St Germain.

He joined Total about 40 years ago and was named CEO in 2007.  In 1995, he became the head of Middle East Total, which explains his particular interest for that part of the world.  The Jubail giant refinery inaugurated in 2013  by Total and Saudi Arabia, is but one example.

The main criticisms against the company concern its huge benefits, which do not profit the French economy because the company pays practically no taxes in France.  The ‘marée noire’ (black tide) caused by the oil spill off the coast of Brittany in 1999 has not been forgotten.  In 2010,the decision to close the Dunkirk refinery and the associated firing of more than 1,000 workers outraged the opinion.  Finally, de Margerie’s policy of creating joint ventures with Russian companies Loukoi, Novatek or Gazprom and his rejection of the sanctions enforced by the West have isolated him.

De Margerie wanted to project a positive image and show his concern for the environment by encouraging renewable energy.  In recent years, signs of transformation of the company had been noticeable, particularly in the reduction and higher selectivity of investments.  The question now is whether de Margerie’s successors, Thierry Desmarets as chairman and Patrick Pouyanné as CEO, will bring changes to the company’s strategy or maintain the course.

Nicole Logan

Nicole Logan

About the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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“Letter From Paris” is Back! Amidst Economic Depression, Two Nobel Prizes for France Lift the Communal Spirit

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

We are delighted to welcome back Nicole Logan, who has returned to Paris for the winter from her summer home in Essex.  She writes our weekly, “Letter from Paris,” which gives a unique insight into France and the French.  Today she writes about the depressing state of the French economy and contrasts it to the tremendous excitement that winning two Nobel Prizes has brought to the country.

It is the time of year when financial laws are voted on and budgets submitted.  The 2015 budget represents a triple hurdle for France since the country is under scrutiny from the European Union (EU) Commission in Brussels headed now by Jean Claude Yuncker from Luxemburg; the Eurogroup (made up of the ministers of finances from the 18 members of the euro zone) and led by Jeroen Dijsselbloem from the Netherlands; and finally by the European Council, presided over by Herman Van Rompuy from Belgium.

Will France meet the criteria set in the 1992 Maestrich Treaty, namely an annual deficit of less than 3 percent and a public debt no more than 60 percent of that GDP?   It is most unlikely, since the latest figures stand at a 4.3 percent deficit.  François Hollande is criticized for not having used the two years respite, granted in 2013, to undertake structural reforms.  Instead, he has limited his action to carry out an austerity program by steadily increasing taxes on the most vulnerable individuals like retirees, wage earners or small entrepreneurs.

So to-day the French government is scrambling for ways to reduce its expenses by 21 billion Euros.  Three sudden measures have shocked public opinion:  closing of the Val de Grace hospital, an historical institution in Paris, the military base of Chalon, and the oldest air base of France in Dijon.  More savings are on the table but promise to provoke violent confrontation since they are all considered as untouchable taboos.

Given the fact France’s economy is the second of Europe, the widespread opinion is that it cannot be allowed to fail.  Imposing sanctions of 0.02 percent would make it even more impossible for the country to pull out of a recession with dire consequences for the rest of the continent.  Behind the scenes, the new French Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron and his German counterpart are at work on the elaboration of a common investment policy.

Two Nobel prizes have just been awarded to French nationals. This unexpected news has definitely lifted the spirits here.

Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano received the prize for Literature, following in the footsteps of Camus, Sartre and Gide.  Several of his many novels take place during the German Occupation of France. One of them inspired Louis Malle for his outstanding 1974 film Lacombe Lucien.

The Nobel prize for Economics is particularly interesting because it rewards  not only an individual, but also an institution.  Jean Tirone, born in 1953 and a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique, holds a PhD from MIT.  In 2007, he founded  the Toulouse School of Economics (note that this name is in English), inspired  from an American model.  It is today one of the world’s 10 most important centers for economic research.

Tirone belongs to the school of economists using a rigorous scientific and mathematical approach.  His research is centered on the regulation of free market economy.  Tirone’s nomination follows the phenomenal success of Thomas Piketty ‘s ” Capital in the Twenty First Century” published in 2013.

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About the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris:  Van Gogh at the Orsay Museum

During the last four years of his life, Vincent Van Gogh produced a phenomenal number of works. But it was also the time when he suffered episodes of madness, which were to lead him to suicide in 1890 at the age of 37.

The Orsay museum chose this period of intense creation and of psychological despair to present the current exhibit entitled, “Van Gogh/Artaud. The man driven to suicide by society.” This new approach to the genius of Van Gogh is through the eyes of Antonin Artaud, a poet, actor and artist, who suffered serious mental illness, was interned nine years and underwent shock treatment.

In 1947, he had a chance to see a major retrospective of Van Gogh’s works at the Orangerie museum. He wrote, “Van Gogh was not crazy, he was saying a truth that society could not accept.” He went on by denouncing the prejudices of morality and science, which were unable to fit genius and madness within the accepted norms. Throughout the exhibit, the paintings and drawings of Van Gogh are commented upon in poetic terms by this troubled soul mate.

Visitors study the Van Gogh paintings in the new exhibition of the artist's work at the Musee d'Orsay.

Visitors study the Van Gogh paintings in the new exhibition of the artist’s work at the Musee d’Orsay.

The exhibit opens in a very dark room, with incoherent sentences scattered on the black walls with a back drop of moaning sounds. Forty six of Van Gogh’s strongest works have been selected along with some graphic works. The visitor travels through four periods of the Dutch painter’s life – in Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy-de-Provence and Auvers-sur-Oise.

Several among the more than 40 self portraitsVan Gogh painted throughout his life are — for the public — like a brutal confrontation with the artist. They certainly are not an exercise in complacency, but a harsh and almost merciless exercise. American art historian Meyer Schapiro remarks that, for Van Gogh, creating a self portrait was a form of therapy and a way to reconstruct his inner self. The artist used it to protect himself from crises of instability.

In contrast, portraits of ” La Berceuse” and “Père Tanguy” express the peaceful and introspective mood of the models. In both paintings, the background — floral in one, Japanese etchings in the other — shows his attraction to pure decorative and aesthetic considerations reminiscent of Matisse’s. The portrait of Dr. Gachet, at first his psychiatrist and then his friend, seems to radiate kindness, but also melancholy. Van Gogh writes, “This man is in as bad a shape as myself. He wears the sorry expression of our times.”

After the tragedy of the night of Dec. 23, 1888, when he had a fight with Gauguin, who was visiting him in Arles, Van Gogh sliced his left ear. At his own request, he was admitted to the Saint-Paul hospital, near Saint-Remy-de-Provence. However, he was authorized to go out and, on those occasions, painted some of his most powerful landscapes.

His trees are soaring into the sky and dwarf the silhouettes of people. In “Cyprès avec deux femmes“, June 1889, the tormented volutes of the trees are an ominous shape hovering over two young women walking. In “Arbres dans le jardin de l’hopital Saint -Paul,” October 1889, the twisted trunks tower over a barely visible woman carrying a red parasol. His “Foret de pins au declin du jour ,” (Pine forest at dusk) December 1889, is a frightening scene, where the trees are beaten by the wind. They are outlined on an acid yellow sky and a smoldering orange sun.

During his last months in Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris, he painted farm houses with red tiles or thatch roof, giving them a quaint and welcoming touch. Only the sky, scratched with jagged lines, reveals the artist’s tension.

The most important work of the exhibit – “Champ de Ble avec Corbeaux” (Wheat field with crows) – is projected on a screen, drawing the onlooker into the heavy yellow mass of wheat swaying under a stormy sky. The tracks on the path combined with the birds everywhere create a harried movement with little time to spare.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Two Local Elections — Two Remarkably Different Outcomes

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Local elections have just taken place in Turkey and in France. The outcomes of the elections speak a great deal about these two countries .

Primeminister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, already in power for 12 years, is showing no intention of stepping down. His aura at the polls was barely affected by the scandals and accusations of wrong-doing. Particularly the violent repression of the popular manifestations on Istanbul Taksim Square, the allegations of frauds directed not only at him, but at his family, the murky circumstances of score settlings.

His recent strategy includes the taking over 85 percent of the main TV channel and the curbing of social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Nevertheless Erdogan’s party, the AKP (Party of Justice and Development), passed the test of the polls with flying colors, not acknowledging the distress of the public opinion. These events did not speak much for the democratic system of that country and should constitute a red flag for the 28 EU members next time Turkey knocks at their door.

In contrast, the French municipales (local elections) were a reflection of the French opinion’s strong disapproval of the policy of the Francois Hollande government and brought on major changes.

The municipales, are always an important and colorful event in France, when mayors and council members of 36,500 communes (towns) are elected for six years. But this time they turned into a tsunami, which modified the political landscape of the country. The vague bleue (blue wave ) showing the gains of the Right and even the vague bleue marine (navy blue wave ) named after Marine Le Pen, head of the far right Front National. Just a few figures: in 2008 in the towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants, the Left had 509 mayors and the Right 433. In 2004, the Left was reduced to 349 and the Right grew to 572. Emblematic was the town of Limoges, which had voted socialist since 1912, and turned conservative.

Paris resisted this tidal wave and remained socialist. Incumbent Mayor Bertrand Delanoe had groomed his assistant Anne Hidalgo to be his successor. Together, they engaged in an intensive and efficient campaign. The Mayor of Paris is elected according to a special system of voting in three rounds. The first two rounds each Parisian vote for the mayor and council in each arrondissement. Then mayors and councils vote for the mayor of Paris. The fight to the finish between Anne Hidalgo and her conservative opponent Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet , was fierce, to say the least. The former won by 53.34 over 44.06 percent.

The map of Paris to-day is made up of two halves: a blue west, and a red east. With 11 versus nine arrondissements, Hidalgo leads but not as much as Jacques Chirac did in 1983 when he won all of them. These results will be important in the next senatorial elections since the members of the Senat (high chamber) are elected by the mayors.

Barely 24 hours after the closing of the polls, president François Hollande appeared on TV. He declared that he had heard and understood the people’s message of disapproval of the policy he conducted since 2012. He reassured his audience that appropriate measures would be taken.

A day later he announced the remaniement (reshuffle) of the government. The soft spoken, kind-looking prime minister Jean Marc Ayrault was replaced by tough and energetic Manuel Valls, former minister of the interior. The number of ministers was trimmed down from 38 to 16 and the parity men/women respected. The new ministers are more experienced and some of the “heavyweights” remained, like Laurent Fabius, at the Foreign Affairs desk.

The decision concerning Bercy (ministry of Finances and Economy) was crucial given the urgency to reduce the budget deficit and increase the competitivité (competitiveness) of the French industry. The new prime minister Manuel Valls decided to split the responsibilities between two ministers: Michel Papin handling Budget and Finances , Arnaud Montebourg becoming minister of Economy. This will be a “hot” area since France has to work in a partnership with Brussels.

Ségolène Royal The second spectacular move was the nomination of Ségolène Royal as the minister of Ecology, Sustainable Industry and Energy. She will rank as number three in the new cabinet. She is an old timer, particularly in the environmental field. Her appearance in the courtyard of Hotel de Matignon made quite a splash. Royal is a highly educated woman, used to be Hollande’s companion for 29 years, the mother of their four children and the last contestant for the presidency against Sarkozy in 2002. Her appointment will be helpful to Valls’ government because she brings her strong connections to the lower working class with her.

The outspoken Housing minister Cecile Duflot left the Matignon in a huff and a puff , showing her overwhelming dislike for Valls. Her colleagues in the Green party at the Assemblée Nationale, were upset by her move as they were willing to work within the cabinet.

The overhaul of the new government was greeted by salvos of criticisms and gibes from the UMP and naturally from the extreme parties – this is normal in France. However, the composition of the new government was interpreted, by more unbiased analysts, as the determination to follow the road map set out by François Hollande at the Jan. 14 press conference and to keep the course on the Pacte de Responsabilité, but to implement it with more determination, more speed and more pedagogy.

Failure is not an option and Brussels will not ease off the pressure.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Following a New Silk Road

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Nicole Prévost Logan

The presidents of the United States and of China were in Europe this week. It was the first visit of a Chinese president to the European Union’s (EU) headquarters since 1975. He will meet with the presidents of the Council, Herman Van Rompuy, of the Commission, Manuel Barroso and of the Parliament, Martin Schuls, showing a nascent interest in Europe as a political entity.

However, Europe has been the largest trade partner of China for a decade, with German leading the pack. Why then did president Xi Jinping choose France as one of his four stops in Europe in spite of that country’s small trade and investment with the Middle Kingdom ? The reasons are historical, cultural, the Chinese’s attraction to gastronomy and good wine, and, finally, the desire to acquire more areas of French “savoir faire” and state of the art technology, heretofore unexplored.

Xi Jinping and his beautiful star singer wife Peng Liyuan opened his three-day state visit in Lyon, the French silk capital, and announced his intention to promote a “new Silk Road.” Started with French King Francis I, the silk-making industry in Lyon was flourishing by the 17th century. In the 1920s cultural ties developed between China and France. Chinese students entered French universities, among them several future political leaders. In 1964 General Charles de Gaulle was the first Western chief of state to establish full diplomatic relations with the Middle Kingdom.

In this file photo, Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan wave to the crowd.Mutual interests in literature, cinema and art have created special bonds between Chinese and French intelligencia. Chinese fans of the “Nouvelle Vague” films (new wave) are sometimes more knowledgeable about the names of the directors that the French themselves. The 1992 film “l’Amant‘”(the Lover), directed by Jean Jacques Annaud, based on the 1984 novel by Marguerite Duras, was a huge success in France. The plot is the affair a “Chinaman” struck with a young French girl on a ferry boat crossing the Mekong river. French readers cheered on the high school “Joueuse de Go” (Go player) character created by author Shan Sa, whose courage symbolized the determination of the Chinese population fighting against the impending invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese in 1931.

But the objectives of the Chinese president and of his cohort of businessmen and investors who accompanied him were more down to earth: they were here for serious business. Both by making inroads into the French industry and by opening their own market to French goods in order to tilt the massive trade deficit between the two countries. The car company Dongfeng just acquired 14 percent of the PSA’s (Peugeot-Citroen) shares. The Chinese have been trying to take over 46% percent of Club Med’s (touristic villages) capital.

Whether it is nuclear energy or aeronautic technology, automobile industry, or fast trains, the transfer of technology has always been a touchy point for the French. The most striking example of this situation is the TGV (Train à grande vitesse) or fast train which was designed by Alstom in France in the 1970s and was further developed jointly with other Western countries. Now the Chinese network is ten times longer than the French and in July 2013 ”Harmony Express” surpassed the speed of the French trains.

On a televised program, a spokeswoman for the Chinese government was asked the question about transfer of technology. She said that the Chinese now are pretty much caught up, ( which is certainly true with telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE) and that now their policy was veering toward “partnership and cooperation” – language to be expected from a government spokeswoman.

The Chinese love France. Millions of tourists speed through the most famous halls of the Louvre. The growing middle class and the wealthy are increasingly fascinated by luxury goods. They are not satisfied anymore by the pirated brands one finds all over the world. Now they can find the real stuff 72 percent cheaper in France than to the system of “detaxe“ at the airport, avoiding also import duties into China.

During the many years we lived in Africa with the American Embassy, in the 1960s and 1970s, I had a chance to observe that, in those days, the Chinese lived in spartan compounds totally secluded from the local population , working on Guinea tea plantations or building a soccer stadium in the Gambia. They have come a long way. To-day they visit France to do their spring shopping and buy Chambertin ou Chateau Lafitte wine, Hermes silk scarves or Vuitton bags.

Agribusiness is a field where improvements would be welcome. One remembers the problems China suffered a few years ago with contaminated powder milk. The Chinese are very fond of foie gras and cheese. They have just discovered the “Jambon de Bayonne.” It takes many hours of preparation and manual work to prepare the dark red ham meat. The traditional “savoir faire” has existed since the 13th century in the south west of France. Its commerce is labeled “IGP” (Indication Geographique Protegéee) or geographically protected. Pork is one of the main food staple in China and there the huge market is promising. Will the transfer of “savoir faire” be followed by the loss of the brand?

During the elegant dinner at the Elysees palace and the following night at the Opera Royal of the Chateau de Versailles, what was president François Hollande thinking of – 18 billion euros of new contracts or the difficult political situation he is in right now after the disastrous (for him) recent local elections?

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Mr. Putin, You Have Much To Lose

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

At the foot of Mount Mithridates, in eastern Crimea, stood the ancient city of Pantikapeion founded in the 7th century BC by Greek colonists.  It is where King Mithridates killed himself in 63 BC by the sword since his body was immune to poison.

In 1992, I joined the archaeological expedition from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts led by Dr. V. Tolstikov, head of the department of near eastern antiquities, and Dr. Michael Treister, curator, in order to publish an article in Archaeology.  That season the Russian team was researching the acropolis and a vast architectural complex with a colonnade dating from the 2nd century BC.  Below the steep cliff, one could see modern Kerch and the Russian shore of the Krasnodar region across the five kilometer-wide Cimmerian Bosporus.

The scholars from the Pushkin museum were among the many Russian, Ukrainian and foreign archaeologists who have long been researching the rich strata of human occupation on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  They have also studied the Scythian civilization, whose “kurgans” (tombs) contained the famous gold treasures.

The Institutes of Archaeology in the major cities, like Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, the universities and most of the museums, have their own expeditions. For instance, Odessa conducts regular excavations in Olbia, one of the major “emporia” (commercial trading post) for the export of cereals, fish and slaves to Greece and for import of Attic goods to Scythia.  On the outskirts of Sebastopol, the ancient Greek city of Chersonesus has been excavated jointly by teams from Ukraine, the University of Texas and the German Institute of Archaeology.

Archaeologists, historians and other specialists exchange the results of their finds and publish joint papers in scholarly journals.  The Center for Research on Ancient History, located in Besançon in eastern France, is an invaluable source for the Black Sea region and has collected works from scholars, irrespective of their nationality. Periodically, a Black Sea symposium, which attracts several hundred scientists, meets in Vani, Georgia.

After this long description of the archaeological scene in the Black Sea region, the question arises: what is going to happen to this fruitful scientific collaboration currently happening across the borders ?

During our sail along the Black Sea coast in 1991 (see the Feb. 8 Sochi article posted on this site), we saw dozens of wind turbines near Evpatoria in western Crimea.  Today Ukraine and Russia have ambitious plans to create a wind farm of 3,000km2 for a grid power of 16,000 MW.  Aeolian energy is readily available in this area, thanks to the shallow waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

On March 20, Le Monde published an article entitled, “Antonov mirrors the break between Russia and Ukraine.”  The article explains how the plane was built with technology and software from Dassault Systemes, employs 16,000 Ukrainian workers, but 40 percent of the parts are Russian.  On March 22, a Moscow official announced that the extension of the capital’s subway had to be put on hold since they could not take delivery of some of the construction material ordered from the Ukraine.  In the art world, a Paris galerist told me they were expecting difficulties in the near future.

Human, cultural and economic ties between Ukraine, Crimea and Russia are so interwoven that the break up of the Ukrainian territorial integrity and the announced sanctions from the West are bound to have serious consequences.

Vladimir Putin is supposed to be an excellent chess player.  One assumed that each one of his moves was made according to a planned strategy.  This does not seem to be true anymore.  He has won the Crimea, but what about the long term waves he is making?  Problems are going to catch up with him.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Week Like No Other in French Politics

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the center of an extraordinary week in French politics.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the center of an extraordinary week in French politics.

It has been a week out of the ordinary in French politics, to say the least. A summary of the sequence of events may help the foreign reader in deciphering the situation.

It all started March 2 with a few revelations about the UMP (Union for Popular movement) right wing party. Jean François Copé, UMP president, was denounced in the weekly magazine “Le Point” of surfacturation (over billing) of expenses incurred during the 2012 electoral campaign. A “dot.com” company had obtained the contract without preliminary invitations to tender. Copé, looking wan and thin, reacted almost emotionally to the attack. He announced that all the accounts of the UMP would be locked in a sealed room contingent upon the other political parties as well as the media, doing the same .

Then, on March 3, the whistle-blowing satirical newspaper, “Canard Enchainé,” reported that Patrick Buisson, a collaborator of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, recorded the latter’s conversations. Buisson was part of Sarkozy’s first circle and his closest adviser. He made the recordings himself for hours on end, from morning to evening, with an old-fashion dictaphone carried in his pockets. Some of the recorded conversations took place just prior to a planned cabinet reshuffle — in other words, they were politically sensitive.

The question was: who gave the recordings to the press? Buisson’s lawyer vouched that his client did not. But what was suspicious was the fact that Buisson told his son (father and son have been estranged for two years) that those recordings were a “life insurance” and that cela peut toujours servir (One never knows, it might be useful someday)

But this was just the beginning. An avalanche of revelations, which followed – all involving the wiretapping of Nicolas Sarkozy to hamper his return to the political life – was even more serious and turned into a full blown political crisis reaching the top level of the Executive and of the Judiciary.

Four legal cases or “affaires,” which had been dormant, were resurfacing now: the 2008 arbitrage-granting of 403 millions to businessman and former minister Bernard Tapie by the Credit Lyonnais; the “retro- commissions” obtained from Pakistan after the Karachi terrorist attack in 2002 ; the alleged financing from Libyan president Gaddafi in 2007 ; the funds given by Liliane Bettencourt, one of the richest women in the world and heir to the l’Oreal company.

These four affaires share the common factor of suspicion in involvement of the illegal financing of Sarkozy’s electoral campaigns of 2007 and 2012. Last October, Sarkozy was cleared and received a non-lieu (no ground for public prosecution) in the Bettencourt affaire.

On March 6, the headlines of the daily “Le Monde” were a bombshell: the former president’s phone had been tapped since April 13 by orders of the judges d’instruction ( investigating judges running preliminary inquiry) – a totally unprecedented occurrence in the French Republic. In early March, the judges opened an inquiry for traffic of influence and corruption against Sarkozy, his lawyer Thierry Herzog, and Gilbert Azibert, general counsel at the Cour de Cassation (highest judiciary court in France).

An aggressive perquisition (search) was conducted in Herzog’s Bordeaux residence. Ten police and judges showed up at eight in the morning. The lawyer’s computer and his portable phone were seized. The taking of the former president ‘s personal “carnets” (agendas) created a great commotion. In a television talk show, the president of the Bar commented that these actions were reminiscent of the Stasi.

Up to that point it was all bad news for the former president. The socialist government had remained prudently quiet. The wiretapping of Sarkozy was legal (he did not have immunity any more) as long as there was a suspicion of infraction. However, the accumulation of proceedings against him was beginning to be seen as harassment. By coincidence, Eliane Houlette was appointed in the new position of “National Financial Attorney” on March 3 in order to deal with corruption and tax frauds. The first case was to be Sarkozy’s.

Then the blame game seemed to move from the opposition to the majority. As a journalist commented, the government turned this gold – Sarkozy on the run – to lead, with the government violating the independence of justice. The Garde des Sceaux or Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, a high-spirited and smart woman, born in Guyana, was put on the defensive and even accused of lying.

Did she know the content of the recordings? When did the prime minister and the minister of interior (Secretary of the Interior) know? Their evasive and even conflicting answers made them appear guilty when their main sin was probably just to be disorganized.

By the end of that memorable week, “Le Monde” published a letter, co-signed by the most eminent members of the judiciary corps, calling for moderation. The letter praised transparency, but said that lawyers were not above the law, and that wiretapping was only legal if carried out by independent judges. It also demanded a return to one of the basic rules of the French (and American) institutions – the separation of power between Executive and Judiciary.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: US Academy Awards Spark Thoughts on ‘Le Cinéma Francais”

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The ceremonies of the 86th “Oscars” and of the 39th “Césars” took place this week within two days of each other. In comparison with the glamorous and giant show of the American Academy Awards, the French Césars seemed almost like an intimate affair. But for the French it is very important as a way to evaluate the status of the film industry and for professionals in this field to reassert their contribution to the country’s Culture (note that ‘Culture’ is usually spelled with a capital “C” in France.)

In recent years – and this a very personal opinion – the French art of making films has been losing its edge as a leader in the industry, as it did for instance during the days of the Nouvelle Vague associated with the names of François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard in the late 1950s. Nowadays, the subjects of the films are so specifically French as to be un-exportable. Too often they turn into crowd-pleasers with simplistic plots and actors, who seem to have become the pet actors for the foreign market.

“The Artist,” which received multiple prizes in several countries in 2012, is the best illustration of this remark. It catapulted Jean Dujardin from a second tier actor in France to a star. Moreover, giving the award to a silent movie represents a negation of what makes French films special — that is, the thought-provoking ideas (such as Men and Gods, 2011) or the humor (such as the Intouchables 2012.)

Cecile de France, hostess of the 2014 Césars was most entertaining. She kept the proceedings at a fast pace and had several funny quips. She remarked, “Nobody’s perfect ” about the Belgians. This obviously alluded to her own origins and also to the fact that the director of the best foreign film was Belgian. Taking advantage of sexual orientation as the main theme of the evening, she addressed the audience thus, ” If there are any heteros in the theatre, it’s OK. There are still a few among us who are.”

Francois Cluzet, the President of the Cesars, as he appears (left) in Les Intouchables,François Cluzet (the lead actor pictured above, who plays a wealthy quadraplegic in the Intouchables), who was the chairman of the ceremony, made a few political comments to support the ongoing crusade of the intermittents du spectacle (show business workers) to defend the exception française (French exception.) For them, special unemployment benefits are at stake.

Guillaume Gallienne’s,”Les Garçons et Guillaume, à Table was voted as the best film and received five Césars. Gallienne is a societaire from the Comedie Française, the prestigious theater company founded in 1680. He developed the idea of his film from the one-man show he created. It is a funny, but mostly touching, story of a boy, who was brought up as a girl by a chain smoking and insensitive mother.

Mocked at home by his two older brothers and ridiculed by all, he survives years in French and English boarding schools. He continues to be the suffering nice guy always wearing a big smile on his face, until one evening at a roof party. The hostess calls out, ”a table, les filles et Guillaume” (“dinner’s ready, girls and Guillaume.”) He finally realizes he is not a girl. The film is centered on the brilliant acting of Guillaume, who also plays his mother, using the same voice.

The day after the Césars, Alain Resnais, a monument of the French cinema, died at age 91. He will be remembered by many movies, including, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, 1958 (after a story by Marguerite Duras) and ” Last Year in Marienbad“, 1959 (after a novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet, who was the champion of the Nouveau roman.)

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The Complex Conundrum of Ukraine

The future of Ukraine remains uncertain and the problems multiple.

After three months of violence opposing the people of Kiev and the government of Viktor Yanukovich, the situation culminated in a bloody clash on February 19, leaving over 60 dead and hundreds wounded. Why did the confrontation last so long? The West holds part of the responsibility. Some voices from abroad were just throwing oil on the fire, such as an inflammatory piece of Bernard Henri Levy entitled “Vive l’Ukraine Libre” in the Huffington Post. Besides, the European Union’s position was unclear and some of its members made unattainable promises.

The EU may have been slow in acting but when it did, its stand was tough enough to force the Ukrainian government to back down. Brussels mandated the ministers of foreign affairs of Poland, Germany and France to act as mediators, then announced immediate sanctions -cancelling visas of government officials, freezing assets of Ukrainian oligarchs abroad. At the same time, Angela Merkel, the chief mediator, was on the phone with Putin, both of them conversing in Russian and German. As early as five days after the peak of the violence, a few signs of appeasement began to turn the situation around. US secretary of state John Kerry said what needed to be said: there should not be a partition of Ukraine; the Ukraine should not be put in a position to have to chose between Europe and Russia. Even more promising was the statement made by Sergei Lavrov , the Russian foreign minister: “We want Ukraine to be part of the European family in every sense of the word” .

The Yanukovich government collapsed overnight. In rapid succession, the mayor of Kiev, the minister of defense ,the whole police force of Lviv in Western Ukraine, the president of the parliament and 40 of its deputies defected. Calm returned to Maidan square. One thousand policemen were escorted peacefully out of the city by the insurgents. An interim coalition government was rapidly formed and general elections were to be held before the end of the year. As to president Yanukovich, he just vanished.

Ukraine is not an easy country to govern. The politicians’ class is rampant with corruption and can be violent. Since it acquired its independence in 1991, at the implosion of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine has been in a state of turmoil marked by the “orange revolution” of 2004. The government’s way to deal with the opposition has been either to poison its members ( every one saw on the television the pock-marked face of former president Viktor Yuchtchenko allegedly poisoned by dioxine) or throw them in prison (prime minister Yulia Timoshenko was condemned to seven years behind bars in 2011). Fights in the Rada (parliament) are not uncommon. Seats in that assembly are for sale to the price of one million dollars. Deputies may be offered a large amounts of money to change camp.

Therefore it is not surprising that the people, who put their lives on the line during the civil war, refused to trust their politicians. The reaction -or rather the lack of reaction- of the crowd when Yulia Timoshenko appeared in a wheel chair on Maidan square and made an emotional appeal, is very revealing.. One might have expected a wild clamor of support. Bu no, it is not what happened. The people stood, almost frozen, listened to her politically-clever words but did not seem to buy her message.

Many foreign pundits, apparently influenced by the continuous media coverage of the events on Maidan square, seem to forget the other half of the Ukrainian equation -the Russians. It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the fact that Ukraine is part of the historical past of Russia and also of its culture. Therefore it is not only Putin who refuses any interference in the territorial integrity of Ukraine , it is also the Russian people.

Historically and culturally Ukraine is the cradle of Russia. The Russian nation started as a Kievan state. In the 10th century AD, Slavic prince Vladimir ruled over a huge territory including Novgorod, was baptized in 989 and absorbed the Byzantium culture. The magnificent mosaics and icons in St Sophia cathedral, completed in 1041, attest to those beginnings.

The cultural heritage of the Russians is also linked in many ways to the Crimea. The great Russian poet, Marina Tsvetaeva joined other writers, like Osip Mandelstam and Andrei Bely. in the writers’ colony of Koktebel, in the eastern part of the Crimea. The short story “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov, which takes place in Yalta, is practically memorized by every Russian child in school. Based on a Pushkin’s poem, the ballet entitled The Fountain of Bakhshisarai (a town in central Crimea) is part of the permanent repertoire of the Bolshoi.

The violence which started in Simferopol only one week after the end of the uprising on Maidan square is a reminder that the situation remains explosive in the area.

What will be the outcome of the Ukrainian crisis ? A federation of autonomous republics, similar to the Crimea whose status was recognized by Russia in 1997 but only for a period of 10 years?

Another thought. Joseph Beuys, (1921-1986) is probably the best known artist in Germany to-day. As he was flying with the Wermacht in 1944, his plane was shot down over the Crimea and saved by a Tatar “shaman” . Beuys’ installations and other works are inspired from that unique experience. This is what Ukraine may need- a Tatar shaman .

Editor’s Note: This piece was written prior to the invasion of Crimea by the Russians.

 

 

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Letter From Paris: Monsieur (le President) Hollande Goes to Washington

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

For the first time in 20 years, a French President was invited for a State visit to the United States. François Hollande was greeted with the highest honors, including a colorful pageant on the White House Lawn.

There was no better way to emphasize the historical ties between the two countries than a visit to Monticello, the plantation of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. Jefferson, ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789, was an ardent francophile. But he was also a brilliant statesman — particularly when he bought Louisiana from France in 1808, which probably represented the best real estate deal of all time.

In happier days, French President Francois Hollande and then companion Valérie Trierweiler. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The logistics of the official dinner at The White House were the source of an intense “buzz” as to who would be sitting next to the American president in the absence of a French “First Lady,” after the recent break up of Hollande from his long-time companion, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, shown above together in happier times.

The meeting of the two presidents in Washington had a strong symbolic importance aimed at reinforcing their respective statures on the world scene. France is one of the staunchest allies of the US today. It has an aggressive foreign policy demonstrated by military interventions in Mali and Centrafrique and the essential role it played during the international, ongoing negotiations regarding Syria and Iran.

Last summer the attitude of Obama was widely interpreted a slap in the face for Hollande when the latter was left high and dry after his offer to provide military assistance to the US against Syria. Laying out the red carpet in such a manner on this visit might be interpreted as a form of gratitude toward France.

Most of the difficult questions were asked during the press conference, but both Obama and Hollande chose to avoid contentious topics; criticisms were muted. The resentment felt by France and the rest of Europe about the NSA surveillance was not brought to the forefront. However, Obama did express his discontent about the untimely presence of a group of French businessmen in Iran even before any agreement was signed with that country.

Unlike Sarkozy, Hollande was not invited to speak in front of the US Congress. This is not entirely surprising since the presence of a socialist leader could have ruffled too many conservative feathers.

Since the major press conference Hollande gave at the Elysees palace on Jan. 14, it seems that a government plan to turn around the French economy is developing. The declaration of a “Pact of Responsibility” between the state and the private sector, by waving the obligation to finance social benefits (a reduction of 49% of the cost of labor), constitutes a substantial stimulus for the economy.

This new policy was reaffirmed by Hollande’s remarks made during his stay in California. In fact, many thought he looked as if he were becoming more “Liberal Democrat” by the hour. The exposure to Silicon Valley, dynamic French companies and start-ups, successful young French computer scientists, the stimulating atmosphere of flexible working conditions and the surprising remarks about “crowdfunding” were all, in the minds of many, like fresh air blowing from the West coast.

The French President enjoyed having lunch with the CEOs of giant internet companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Mozilla and Twitter. In 1984, the French President Francois Mitterand similarly enjoyed meeting a certain Stephen Jobs, then 29-years-old.

The stay in California triggered a real “digitalomania” (my own neologism) in France. The media offered multiple talk shows about robotics, artificial intelligence, bio genetics and the like. Analysts pointed out that the information technology was the key to the restructuring of the French economy.

While a major snow storm impacted 49 out of the 50 American states, the French president, flying the northern route, ended his short, but definitely positive, visit to the United States.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: There’s Something About Sochi

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

xxii-winter-olympics-logoAfter a few weeks of a media coverage of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games saturated with predictions of terrorist attacks, confrontations and unpreparedness, it felt a relief to watch the opening ceremony on Feb. 6 proceed without any significant hitch.  The smiling and happy faces of the athletes parading inside the stadium before the beginning of the show were the promise of two great weeks on TV. (Close to four billion viewers watched the last winter games of Vancouver).

The sheer number and size of the national teams are astounding. Compared to the 250 sportsmen from 16 countries who participated in the first Winter Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix, today more than 3,000 people make up the delegations from 87 countries. Women have come a long way since the 1900 games when their appearances were limited to tennis and golf.

The German president of International Olympic Committee(IOC), Thomas Bach, defused the feared boycott caused by the Russian government’s homophobic position.  He declared that no discrimination would be tolerated toward any group of people.  President Putin of Russia made the shortest -10 second – speech of his career when he declared open the XXII Winter Olympic Games.

The opening ceremony was a grand scale production – Russians have always been good at those – that evoked the nation’s history.  It started with a short film showing Slavic tribesmen in a small vessel.  Actually the scene looked rather like ancient Greeks on their mythical quest to find the Golden Fleece on the distant shores of the Caucasus.

After a romantic 19th century program exalting Russian literature, music and ballet , the post-1917 era was introduced by dozens of young dancers wearing costumes straight out of a Malevich painting. The message was clear: the Russian establishment had reconciled itself with abstract art which had been vilipended for so long.

The host country of the 2014 games had to show its pride in the most glorious event of its history: the orbiting around the earth of the adulated “cosmonaut” Yuri Gagarin.  The patriotism toward the country’s achievement intensified when five heroes of the past walked in, bearing the Olympic flag.

Among them was Valentina Tereshkova , the first woman in space in 1963 (she was a beautiful young woman when I met her at a reception given at the French embassy in Moscow in 1965).  The youthful appearance of tennis champion Maria Sharapova, who trained at the Sochi sport center until the age of seven, was obviously directed at the modern audience.

The Sochi games have been organized at a high human, financial and environmental cost: corruption, expropriation of local population, damage caused to the “Sochi National Park” and to the “Caucasian Biosphere Preserve”- a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Nordmen Firs, which are the tallest trees of Europe (close to 300 feet high) grow in those areas .

Some of the blogs against the Sochi project have been so vitriolic as to be uninformative.  It is better to read well-researched pieces like the one published by David Remnick. Remnick was the Washington Post correspondent in Moscow in the 1980s and now is the editor of the New Yorker.

Soviet and Russian leaders have cherished the sub-tropical coast of the Black Sea. Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov and Yeltsin all had their summer residences in Sochi prior to Putin.  It was on his return from his dacha in Pitsunda, in what is today Abkhazia, that Nikita Khrushchev was overthrown by Brezhnev on Oct. 15, 1965. Gorbachev’s dacha was located west of Yalta in the Crimea (we were boarded by an armed patrol craft for allegedly sailing too close) .

We circumnavigated the Black Sea on our 44-foot ketch in the summer of 1991. We had obtained visas for Sochi.  In retrospect, our visit to Sochi was a preview to the 2014 games.  In an outdoor theater, we happened to watch the production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” by the Rock Opera St Petersburg Theater.  It was the first Russian-staged production of that musical.  There will be a repeat performance during the games.

We stayed at the very busy new marina called coincidentally the Center of Sailing Sports or “Olympic Centre.”  Or was it a premonition on the part of the Russians that there would be Olympic games one day in their town?

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: All Things Braque and Beautiful

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The Georges Braque retrospective in Paris – the first in 40 years – just closed its doors after four months at the Grand Palais. Braque is best known for being one of the creators of cubism. But it would be an error to overlook the rest of his creative life, which was in constant metamorphosis from “Fauvism” at age 24 to his art studio and magnificent birds series from the 1930s onwards. He was one of those rare artists to be recognized during his lifetime since honors were lavished on him.

Georges Braque (1882-1963) was a tall, handsome man with a quiet manner. Instead of joining his father as a painting contractor, he left Normandy and moved to Paris to study art. Soon he joins the Fauves (Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck) and his paintings at l’Estaque, or La Ciotat, on the Mediterranean, are an orgy of colors.

Then, after a two-year period, with the same apparent ease, he absorbed the geometrization of nature approach that Cézanne was the first to introduce. The old master had died just one year earlier. Braque turned houses and vegetation into stylized shapes, devoid of any detail. His colors are muted.

In 1907, Braque went to the Bateau Lavoir studio of Picasso in Montmartre. Since 1905, Picasso (two years his junior) had been feverishly working on the “Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Braque sees the preparatory studies Picasso had done, and is stunned.

From that time until the beginning of the Great War, a relationship – unique in the history of art – is formed between the two artists, based on mutual stimulation without any trace of rivalry. They were like mountain climbers roped together, to use Braque’s own words. Braque’s “Le Grand Nu” of a heavy set woman, with a distorted body, the face like a mask, shows the same understanding of African art that Picasso imbued.

In 1908, art critic Louis Vauxelles commented that Braque’s painting were reduced to cubes — thus, the word “cubism” was born. Braque and Picasso were about to create the most important aesthetic revolution of the 20th century.

In the next few years, cubism evolved through several phases: “analytic” with the de-multiplication of the object into facets, absent of perspective. A second phase, called “hermetic”, followed. It is austere, to the point of being illegible, with colors reduced to camayeux (monochromes) shades of grey and ochre. During the final “analytic” phase, the artist introduced clues to help the onlooker: letters from wine bottle labels or newspapers, or parts from a piano, guitar or mandolin (Braque had a passion for music.)

During this period, Braque and Picasso were also to invent totally new techniques to be emulated by many other artists: first the method of “collage ” using a variety of materials like sand, metal shaving, ground glass or dirt. In his key painting titled, “Compotier, Bouteille et Verre, “(fruit dish, bottle and glass) of August 1912, he introduced the method of “papiers collés” (glued papers) serving as “trompe-l’oeil.”

In 1914, Braque is called to the European front. In May 1915, he is seriously wounded in the Artois battle and undergoes brain surgery. After coming out of his “trou noir” (black hole), he begins a long convalescence. Not surprisingly, given his personality, he feels no bitterness, nor anger .

He returned again to cubism, but this time his paintings are vibrant with colors and, in spite of their abstraction, easier to read.

In the 1930s, his series of still life paintings in his art studio setting is so complex as to be called “studio landscapes.” A charming chaos seem to lift fruits and objects and pile them on the ubiquitous “guéridon” (round table.) An exuberant humor replaced the austerity of his pre-war cubism. American collectors, like MOMA or the Phillips gallery, are enthusiastic about his new works.

In the mid 1950s, the artists introduces a new theme : a bird floating above the apparent disorder of the studio. In “Nid dans le Feuillage” (Nest in the foliage), the bird flies over an eerie mountainous landscape toward a nest lit in a frigid light. The emptiness of his very last painting,”Sarcleuse,” is overpowering. Under a black sky, golden wheat undulates in the breeze. The metal wreck of the “sarcleuse” (agricultural machine) left on the beach is a final message of human activity.

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: ‘French-Bashing’ Doesn’t Add Up If The Numbers Are Wrong

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The latest round of “French bashing” has been circulating on the internet, touching a nerve among the French social networks . On January 3rd, Newsweek journalist Janine di Giovanni published on the magazine’s website (Newsweek has ceased to appear on news stands for around a year) an article titled, “Fall of France.” She is a successful correspondent covering the war scene in the Middle East, but her only qualification to write about France is that she has been living in Paris for 10 years. Two days later, the Newsweek editor reiterated its attack on France in another article, this time, “How a Cockerel Nation became an Ostrich.” That article, in fact, repeated the recommendations addressed by the European Commission to the nine countries of the EU (European Union), France among them.

Di Giovanni’s general message is that the decline of France has greatly accelerated under the Socialist government of François Hollande and that the “French model” of a providence state (the author calls it a “nannie state”) is not sustainable. This is not an original point of view and the French themselves are frequently criticizing their own system and trying to modify it. The American-born journalist has written an entertaining and clearly poorly researched article. She backs her arguments with a mixture of true, false and, sometimes, outrageous information, which make the piece quite entertaining.

Challenges, a well-established French weekly magazine dealing with economy, and reliable web sites, such as Decodeurs.com, have gone to the trouble of analyzing point by point di Giovanni’s story.

The most glaring mistakes she makes concern the excessive taxes. She writes: ” Since the arrival of the Socialist President François Holland in 2012, the income tax and social security have rocketed. The top rate is 75 percent and a great many pay in excess of 70percent.” In fact, in 2011 (that is under Nicolas Sarkozy) the top income tax bracket was 43.7 percent and today it is 45 percent. The tax of 75 percent is only paid by the very rich with an income of over one million Euro.

By decision of the Conseil Constitutionnel, the tax of 75 percent is not considered as a separate tax bracket. It has only been paid by 11,960 households. Furthermore, the tax is not paid by the individuals, but by the firm which employs them. Finally the Newsweek journalist may have mixed up income tax with the amount paid by the employer (including social benefits), which resulted in a doubling of the numbers.

Commentators had a field day with some hilarious statements made by di Giovanni. There is no word for entrepreneur in French, she claims. Apparently she forgot that the word entrepreneur is French! Another is quoting the price of a liter of milk as being six euros when it is only 1.33. An online reader commented that the author must shop at the most expensive gourmet Grande Epicerie of the luxury department store of Bon Marché.

From her bourgeois apartment near the Luxembourg garden in the 6th District – the most expensive in the capital – she has a strange perception of what real life is like for the working population. Talking about nurseries, for instance, she writes that they are free, can be found in every neighborhood and provide free diapers. In fact, only some 13 percent of the middle class can afford nurseries and they have to pay roughly 9 percent of their income for using them.

The French seem to regard such “bashing” as stimulating … and it certainly keeps them on their toes.

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Pope for the People

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

After nine months as the leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics, what changes has Pope Francis made in the people’s lives ? That question can be answered on different levels.

On Christmas Eve, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was absolutely packed, with standing (and sitting on the ground) room only. Believers and visitors from around the globe wanted to share the most important time of the church year. The senior prelate of the cathedral, who was celebrating the Eucharist, instead of standing solemnly at the lectern to give his homily chose to walk through the nave all the way to the back of the church. A photographer and a sound engineer followed the priest as he mixed with the people in order to record the event for the nationwide televised program.

From the very start, Pope Francis has been reaching out to the people, with simplicity and a joyful manner. His popularity was immediate and the crowds on Saint Peter’s Square multiplied. There is definitely a heightened fervor among the faithful and his style is spreading through the churches.

To understand the impact of Pope Francis on more substantive levels, one has to study his exceptional background. Born from Italian immigrants in Argentina, he is the first pope coming from the New World. At the same time, he has strong ties with Europe since he wrote his thesis in German. Besides that language, he speaks French English, Italian, Portuguese, and, of course, Latin.

But the most important factor is that he is the product of two intellectual currents existing in the catholic church: Jesuit and Franciscan. To become a Jesuit, one has to study theology and philosophy for 15 years. This Catholic order, founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1534, follows a strict obedience to the doctrine. At the same time, as a significant departure from his intellectual origins, he chose to be called Francis – a first for a pope.

This symbolic choice made him the spiritual heir of St. Francis of Assisi. This background explains why he combines an unshakable attachment to the traditional doctrine regarding, for instance, the celibacy of priests, the excommunication of divorcees or the rejection of abortion, with his intent to be the “Pope of the Poor” and his openness to others.

His first action will be to put the Catholic Church in order, following a number of human and financial scandals, which have shaken it over many years. Probably the easiest reform to implement will be to reorganize the Vatican’s administration and reduce the size of the Curie. With his own dislike for ostentation, he, himself, will be the best role model.

Finally, he has an immense potential of influence in international affairs. He seeks dialogue with both Judaism and Islam. Vatican specialists describe him as the most charismatic and powerful personality in the world, particularly after Nelson Mandela’s death.

It remains to see whether — and how – he will exercise this influence.

Nicole Prévost Logan, resident of Essex Meadows in the summer, Paris in the winter.

Nicole Prévost Logan, resident of Essex Meadows in the summer, Paris in the winter.

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Merkel Warms French Hearts

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

The integration of Europe moved forward this week following important events.

On Dec. 15 Angela Merkel was reelected for the third time as German Chancellor. Her victory was made possible with the coalition of her Christian Democrat party (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD).

The composition of her new government gives an indication on the future policies of Germany. Among the nine CDU ministers, Wolfgang Schauble will remain as the indispensable minister of finances and as such will guarantee a certain continuity. The crucial post of economy/energy will be occupied by an SPD member. So will foreign affairs, to be headed by pro-European Walter Steinmeier. It is interesting to note that for the first time a woman will be in charge of Defense: Ursula von der Leyen, 51, is close to Angela Merkel, French-speaking and a mother of seven. The ministry of immigration is also to be headed by a woman who, even more significantly, is of Turkish origin.

There is no deep ideological difference between the CDU and SPD parties. French analysts stress that it would be a mistake to assimilate the German social democrats to the French socialists. The former are “center left” rather than “left”.

According to tradition, Merkel’s first official visit abroad was to France. Her next stop was Brussels to attend the summit meeting of the European Council. Arduous negotiations led to important decisions – as important, some experts say, as the creation of the Euro currency.

Merkel will not abandon her general policy of financial discipline, but will relax her hard austerity line. Germany’s economic policy will be slightly less liberal. A minimum wage of 8.5 euros is to take effect within three years. The new program will reduce the number of “poor workers” and should give a boost to the domestic consumption. It will also alleviate criticism expressed by other European countries of unfair competition on the labor market.

A banking union and the European defense were the main topics of discussion. The creation of a banking union is intended to put a stop to the bailout of failing banks at the expense of the tax payers. So far financial support for countries in trouble like Greece or Spain has been supported by only 27 percent of Germans, and even less – 20 percent – of the French.

Merkel has always been against the “mutualisation” of the sovereign debts. The new directives give greater power to the Banque Centrale Européenne (BCE – Central Bank of Europe) over the banks in order to prevent speculative investments. The BCE will also oversee the creation of a “funds of resolution,” financed by the banks, which will amount to 55 billion by 2026. Brussels will only intervene in case of urgent crisis. Obviously it will be hard for many of the states to lose sovereignty over their own budget.

The other subject of discussion in Brussels was the European defense. For Germany, defense is almost a taboo and most European states – except France – are unwilling to interfere in foreign military conflicts. Some progress though was made in specific areas such as cyber security, refueling of planes in the air, the use of drones by 2025 and controlling piracy along the Somalian coast. A limited amount of logistical and financial support is likely to be welcomed, particularly by France, who acted alone in both Mali and the Republic of Central Africa.

The Franco-German ” couple” appears now to be returning to center stage. As seen from France, the new developments are generally well-accepted by economists and other specialists. Overall, they seem to be impressed by the pragmatic behavior of the Germans and believe the German vote was a smart one – indeed, a rare mark of approval to be found in French opinion of German politics.

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Letter From Paris: Seasonal Signs in the City of Light … and Beyond

The Champs-Elysees in Paris with Christmas lights (file photo.)

The Champs-Elysees in Paris with Christmas lights (file photo.)

France is very festive at this pre-Christmas time. I just returned from a short visit to the village of Sanary Sur Mer on the Mediterranean. The grandiose gold and silver decorations contrasted with the bright colored “pointus” (small fishing boats) tossing about in the port.

Our next stop was Aix-en-Provence, which was also getting ready for the holiday season. It is a pleasure to look for shops wandering through the pedestrian streets of the old town and discover the 17th century architecture with its elegant courtyards and stairs. Rows of prefabricated chalets selling glühwein and regional pastries lined the Cours Mirabeau (the heart of the city) ending in an illuminated fountain. A hot chocolate in the old fashioned terrace of the Grillon cafe was a must.

If Paris ever deserves its name of the “City of Light,” it is at Christmas time. Each arrondissement has its own style of illuminations. They range from the elegant avenue Montaigne where trees and lights match the costly look of the main fashion houses to the more popular Bastille (where I live), which turn into an amusement park offering a stomach -curdling ride in the highest contraption of Europe.

The sight of the Champs Elysees is spectacular. This year the decorations consist of blue lights circling the trees. The computerized lighting of the Grande Roue (ferris wheel) overlooking the Place de la Concorde makes it look as if it is exploding in the sky. For many years, it has offered the best view over the city.  The Eiffel Tower stands aloof and sparkles for a few minutes every hour on the hour.

The Eiffel Tower decorated for Christmas.

The Eiffel Tower decorated for Christmas.

Borrowing a tradition which used to be more common in Germany and Central Europe, Christmas markets are now found every where in Paris. Their alpine look make up for the absence of snow. The esplanade of the Hotel de Ville attracts visitors with free skating ring and merry-go-round.

And, of course, there is the Christmas shopping, including the most popular toy of the year: the clone. I thought it was a good time for me to discover the latest and largest shopping mall in downtown Paris. The modernistic glass facade of Beaugrenelle is part of the group of skyscrapers built in the 15th arrondissement by the Seine river. As a sign of times, the budget of many families been has been reduced to 300 euros per person. As a result, shopping online and the use of newly-created second-hand supermarkets have exploded.

Oysters, foie gras and a good bottle of champagne are still the favorite with the French for their reveillon (meaning ‘the eve.’) On the 25th itself, the celebratory meal will be planned around a goose and end up with a bûche de Noel (Christmas log.)

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: ‘La Conversation’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

La Conversation” is the kind of play Parisians love: a brilliant exercise of actors just talking and conversing on all the subjects of their time.

The scene takes place in the Tuileries palace in 1802 between First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte and Second Consul Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès. Bonaparte is a young general of 34, impatient to acquire more power. Vladimir d’Ormesson, dean of the Academie Française (a learned assembly of 40 “eternal” members, whose role is to perfect the French language), wrote an imaginary dialogue carried out in an elegant style.

The tempo of the conversation is rapid. The topics move from the mundane to the lofty. At first, Bonaparte discusses food, then becomes animated when telling a funny anecdote of a family fight over a shawl. The conversation touches on Bonaparte’s relations with women, including a beautiful blonde he met in Egypt during the 1798 campaign. When he speaks about Josephine, it is with a tangible emotion.

Although Bonaparte’s seven siblings are hard to manage, he acknowledges how much they serve his ambition of becoming a ruler over Europe. A current exhibit at the Marmottan museum shows the striking personalities of his three sisters. Elisa, grand duchess of Tuscany, is an enlightened patron of the arts and a powerful brain. Caroline, the wife of dashing general Murat, is the ambitious and plotting queen of Naples. Princess Pauline Borghese was so incredibly beautiful as to be called the “Venus of the Empire”. She was also very generous and sold all her assets to accompany Napoleon during his exile on St. Helena.

The conversation flows along revealing Bonaparte’s personality, his ambitions and his accomplishments. Cambacérès just acts as a sounding board. Meekly he expresses opinions which are swiftly bulldozed by the first consul. Bonaparte is proud of his military victories like the Pont d’Arcole, or Marengo. He considers himself at the service of the French and for them has created a legal and administrative system (which still exists today.) He brought down the monarchy of the Ancien Regime and wants power, but not as a king. He looks at Rome, and what does he see? Ceasar and the Empire. Yes, this is what he wants: be the emperor.

In the small theater, a captivated public savors the references to their common historical past. The uninterrupted conversation is a refreshing break from the modern world of texts and smart phones.

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A Letter from Paris: Art Déco in the Air

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

“When Art Déco seduced the World” is one of the most popular exhibits of this season in Paris. It celebrates the artistic movement which bloomed in the 1920s and the 1930s. Monuments of that period can be seen around the world — from Moscow to Shanghai or Brussels and particularly in New York City.

What is Art Déco? In the lineage of late 19th century Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement, it is a celebration of “total art” forms with the use of multiple materials: glass, wood, ceramic, wrought iron, and the introduction of reinforced concrete. The style even included the production of furniture featuring textiles and fashion made famous by designer Paul Poiret.

The architecture and sculpture were characterized by geometric and stylized forms. Completed for the 1937 international exhibit, the Palais de Chaillot, also called Trocadéro is probably the most imposing monument of Paris and is built along classical, but very sober lines. It replaced the much-maligned neo-moorish former Trocadéro.

Art Déco was the artistic expression of modernism. It was emblematic of the relief felt after the end of World War I. Artists had a field day applying their creations to the most visible buildings of urban life like swimming pools or stadiums.

But what they enjoyed most were the department stores. Their elegant cupolas, grand staircases, decorated with colorful ceramic, their crystal chandeliers dazzled the new consumer class. In Paris, the department stores multiplied, including Le Bon Marché, La Samaritaine or Le Printemps. Les Galeries Lafayette even orchestrated the publicity stunt of a small plane landing on its roof.

Modern times meant an ever faster pace of life. Nothing was more dashing than a Bugatti sports car surrounded by elegant “flappers” ready to take the wheel. The new era also meant traveling the world. On May 29, 1929, the Normandie, the largest, most luxurious ocean liner ever built, made its maiden voyage from Le Havre to New York. The ship turned into a “floating embassy” — a showcase for the diffusion of French art around the world. Lalique, the master of glass carving, created the panels of the Normandie’s first class.

In New York, the 14 original Art Déco buildings of the Rockefeller Center still stand. One cannot miss the Alfred Janniot’s sculpture placed above the entrance of the Maison Française. The gilded bronze bas-relief represents the meeting of the American and the European continents.

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Letter From Paris: Immigration Woes, Thanksgiving in France

Nicole Prévost Logan in Paris.

Nicole Prévost Logan in Paris.

The pressure of immigration into Europe is growing. Thousands of immigrants are seeking refugee status for economic or political reasons. The television showed an incredible scene of young men climbing over barbed wire like swarms of insects, falling down, being shot, to be followed by hundreds more. It was not a scene from the July 2013 Brad Pitt’s science fiction film “World War Z,” but of the electrified fence erected by the Spanish government to protect its borders from African migrants. Other walls exist around Europe. The next one will run along the Bulgarian-Turkish border.

The tragic drowning of 300 people near the Italian island of Lampedusa in October shocked the European opinion. The problem of immigration, if studied case by case, and not in terms of statistics, triggers strong emotions.

It was also the theme of “Welcome,” a 2009 French movie . A well-educated and determined 17-year-old boy from Kurdistan wants to join his girlfriend in England. For weeks he is stranded in an inhospitable refugee camp near Calais, in the north of France. During his first attempt at crossing the Channel hidden under a truck, he is caught by the police, almost asphyxiated by CO2 fumes, his head inside a plastic bag. His next plan is to swim across the English Channel. With the help of a compassionate coach, he learns how to do the crawl. At his first attempt, he is pulled out of the water by fishermen and brought back to France. He tries again, but, just in sight of the British coast, a police boat spots him. He drowns, while trying to escape.

Western Europe represents an Eldorado for all these asylum seekers. By granting various allowances to the new migrants, France has become particularly attractive . But its social structure is becoming unable to absorb the ever growing numbers. This year there were 70,000 requests for asylum as compared to 60,000 in 2012.

In October, the Affaire Leonarda (the case of Leonarda) illustrated the problems with the immigration policy in France and caused a political crisis. Leonarda is a 15-year- old daughter of a Kosovo national (Kosovo is located in the Balkan Peninsula of Southeastern Europe and recognized as a sovereign state by 106 member states of the United nations, though its status is still disputed.) After living in Italy for 17 years, with his Italian wife and seven other children, the man decided to move to France in 2009.

Since then he has made four attempts to obtain refugee status, all of which were rejected. The work load of the French judicial courts make the process so slow that the family had plenty of time to settle in France and put the children in school. Time was on the side of Leonarda’s family given the rules on naturalizations: children born in France of foreign parents become French automatically at age 18 after spending five years in France.

In mid October, as Leonarda was getting off the school bus, the police arrested her and sent her back to Kossovo with the rest of the family. The public opinion reacted in a fury, blaming the Socialist government of breaking the sacred rule of non-violation of the schools.

To the surprise of many, President Francois Hollande was the one to address the nation on TV. He started by saying that the police had broken no law in arresting Leonarda, nor used any violence. Then, during the last two minutes of his speech, in an unexpected switch, he concluded that, because of humanitarian considerations, he would let Leonarda return to France, but alone – an impossible situation for a 15-year old. His position satisfied almost no one.

A brief word on a more cheery subject — American expatriates in France are very attached to Thanksgiving and celebrate it between friends and relatives, usually on the weekend

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Letter From Paris: Taxing Times in France

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In spite of lively street scenes in Paris, crowds strolling in the Tuileries gardens, restaurant terraces full of people enjoying a copious lunch and long lines at museums and movie theaters, the ongoing austerity measures imposed by the Socialist government contribute to a morose mood in France .

In the past two years, new taxes have multiplied. More people have to file income taxes, some retirees are struggling to survive on their pensions, the Taxe sur la Valeur Ajoutée (TVA – the equivalent of sales tax in the US) on restaurants — after being lowered — is going up again to reach 10% next January. Corporate taxes have also increased.

The population was encouraged to invest its savings into special accounts. Promises of a guaranteed interest of 3 percent on these savings accounts have gradually vanished. It is today below 1 percent.

The northwest region of Brittany is in in uproar following a new “eco-tax” imposed on truckers, fishermen and farmers.

A tax of 75 percent on annual incomes higher than one million will hit particularly the stars soccer players, who threatened to go on strike for one week-end in November. When one knows how fanatic the public here is about its soccer matches, one might expect violent scenes.

The TV series called “A Village Français,” now in its third season, continues to enjoy top ratings. It shows how the average French people behaved during the German occupation. It depicts the whole spectrum of the population, ranging from despicable collaborators to courageous “resistants” with — in between — the vast majority just trying to survive and protect their families. The show is done with honesty, avoiding black and white judgments. By 1943 the French became more daring , as their spirits were lifted by the London broadcasts.

This is a great idea: for a small fee, courses in the English language are offered to the passengers riding the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV – high speed train) from Rheims to Paris – a facility to be extended to other railroad lines.

About the Author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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