random photos taken today – pollution, Christmas, and a donkey in the desert

This photo was taken today from the office tower where I work (16th floor.) I was so disgusted by the pollution, I took a picture. This is the view from my desk.

IMG_9733

Then I left the office at 6 pm and walked home. This is my route home. It’s pretty when the Christmas decorations are up. What I like best, though, is the absence of cars. It’s a pedestrian-only zone.

IMG_9738IMG_9756IMG_9744IMG_9751IMG_9758IMG_9775

Tomorrow night we have our office Christmas party, somewhere on the Champs-Elysées, don’t know where yet, it’s a surprise. The following night I’m going to make my way to the two big department stores – Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps – to take pictures of their Christmas windows.

And here, a completely random photo just sent to me this instant by my friend in Lille: me on a Jordanian horse in the 1990s (in Petra.) I was horrified by quite a few things when I was in Jordan.

juju on a jordanian horse

Their treatment of animals, for one thing. This horse initially had barbed wire in its mouth. Blood was trickling down its face. They were using barbed wire for a bit. I was so incensed by this barbaric treatment, I commanded them to use proper bits (or at least, rope.) If not, I’d lodge a major complaint with the Jordan Tourist Board, in Jordan and abroad. My Arabic-speaking friend translated for me. (I had my own horse when I was a teenager, a gelding quarter-horse called Sundance.)

Another oddity was the absence of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings in Amman. You’d see entire families crossing 4-lane highways, risking their lives as cars honked and swerved to avoid hitting them. It was absurdly uncivilized.

donkey

Then we took a long bus ride (5 hours) from Amman down to Aqaba. At some point, in the middle of the desert, a Bedouin waved down the bus. The bus stopped, the driver got out, there was some discussion, and all the passengers were watching through the windows. It turns out that the Bedouin’s donkey had collapsed in the heat. The Bedouin climbed onto the bus, took a seat, and the driver drove away, leaving the donkey behind. When I understood what had happened, I stood up and said loudly, “But what about the animal? Are you just going to let it die?”

The entire busload of people (my friend included) erupted into laughter. They found me and my reaction to be hilarious. And indeed that’s what happened. The bus drove off, leaving the poor donkey to die a terrible death, abandoned in the desert.

They found me hilarious, I found them primitive beyond words.

terrific photos of Saturday’s public demonstrations

pic

Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP

Since this morning, helicopters have been flying over my apartment building while police sirens wail. I’m trying to imagine the President of France barricaded in his Elysées Palace watching the TV screens, smug no longer. He’s scheduled to address the nation the beginning of next week. Up until now he’s been silent.

VIVE LA FRANCE !

VIVE LE PEUPLE DE FRANCE !

The most impressive TV images I saw today were of a dozen horses (ridden by cops) galloping down a narrow Marais street towards a group of protesters. Both the cops and the horses were wearing protective eye covering.

Here are some photos of today’s demonstrations –

https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/dec/08/gilets-jaunes-protesters-clash-with-police-in-paris-in-pictures

don’t come to Paris (more riots planned for Saturday December 8)

In an effort to quell the violence and anger of last weekend’s riots, President Macron’s government announced its decision yesterday to suspend, for six months only, the proposed increase in fuel and gasoline taxes. It also announced the suspension, for six months only, of an increase in electricity rates.

Not good enough. Too little and too late, the people say. They’re not asking for a suspension, but rather a cancellation of those taxes and rates. They’re also asking for a lot of other things. And so, more protests are planned for this Saturday December 8th (hopefully less violent, but there’s no guarantee.) I have a train to catch on Saturday morning. I hope I can make it across town, unimpeded.

Here’s my takeaway from the recent riots –

The young President Macron is only 40, but we see him as old. He has old ideas. During the election campaign he presented himself as an anti-Establishment progressive, but he’s not. He is the embodiment of Establishment. France has known far older presidents in the past, presidents like Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, for example, who presented the nation with young and progressive ideas. Even Mitterrand had his modern moments. But there’s nothing fresh or innovative about Emmanuel Macron.

“Mr. President”, said a naysayer in the Senate, “You are not reforming the country, you’re brutalizing it.” During his campaign speeches Macron promised reforms. We haven’t seen any reforms, only tax hikes.

As for climate change and the environment, Macron’s government has done nothing. A highly respected Minister of Ecology, Nicolas Hulot, resigned for that very reason in August.

The people are turning against Macron, in particular those with lower incomes. They are the losers, they feel, in a country run by elitists; a country where the gap between rich and poor just gets bigger; in a country where the rich get tax breaks and those with tiny pensions are subject to increased taxes on their sole and meagre incomes. They say they feel abandoned. Abandonnés.

One wonders how a small group of ivory tower elitists can qualify as representatives of the people.

During a whirlwind visit to a region of France earlier this year, President Macron actually scolded a group of elderly pensioners who complained to him about his recent tax increase to their fixed retirement incomes. On another occasion, he told a young job-hunting horticulturist that all he had to do was “cross the road” to find a job (as a dishwasher in a café or restaurant.)

The people call Macron “president of the rich” or “King Louis XIV.” What he really is is a rather unimaginative civil servant turned banker. Before becoming President he worked for the investment bank, Rothschild, where he earned €2.9m and learned about debt restructuring, mergers and acquisitions. (The French have a deep anti-bank sentiment.) After graduating from the elite school, ENA (École nationale d’administration), Macron went on to become a finance inspector at the Ministry of Economy.

The only reason Macron won the presidency was because the man tipped to win – François Fillon, who served as Prime Minister under President Sarkozy – got caught up in embezzlement allegations. After Fillon was eliminated during the first round of presidential elections in April 2017, the center-right electorate clamored for heavyweight Alain Juppé to run (mayor of Bordeaux, former Prime Minister under President Chirac, Minister of Foreign Affairs). But Juppé declined. He had had enough of Paris and was happy at his job in Bordeaux. Meanwhile, no-one had heard of this young upstart called Emmanuel Macron who had formed a new political party based on his own initials. EM – En Marche!

The two remainers then in the run-up to the presidential elections were Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing National Front party. Macron become Prez almost by default.

People are sick of paying taxes. What’s more, they want to know where their tax money is going. They want transparency. They also want to put an end to the upper-class and blinkered political world of Paris “that only works for itself.” 

Les casseurs sont vous, le gouvernement !!” This is probably the most powerful phrase I’ve heard yet coming from the protestors. (The hooligans are you, the government!)

Update – Thursday evening and I’m watching the TV news. Shops are shuttering all along the Champs-Elysées and on other high-end shopping streets. The Eiffel Tower and many museums will be closed this weekend. A major soccer game has been cancelled. Monuments will be protected by army tanks. All this in anticipation of another violent Saturday. I’m wondering if I should cancel my trip to Lille. To get to the Gare du Nord from my apartment on Saturday morning, I have to cross central Paris …

Friday update – here’s a really good article in today’s The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/07/macrons-arrogance-unites-us-on-the-barricades-with-frances-gilets-jaunes

Friday night, 6:30 pm: Arriving at my local supermarket this evening to do some food shopping, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight before my eyes. A dozen men were hammering huge wooden panels onto the windows of the store. I wanted to run home and get my camera. Other stores were doing the same thing, all in fear of “casseurs” (angry, violent men who break things) storming the streets tomorrow, smashing windows and looting. Two weeks before Christmas, the big department stores will be closed tomorrow … unheard of! They’re also closing over 30 metro stations. And I’ve changed the dates of my trip to Lille. I’ll go the following weekend.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/07/armoured-vehicles-deployed-paris-combat-gilets-jaunes

 

Paris is burning

I’m interrupting my Christmas idyll to post news about the urban warfare that took place all day yesterday not only in Paris, but around the country. As I write this, France is considering imposing a state of emergency on it citizens. Last night I watched, stupefied, the images on television. Burning cars, tear gas, masked protestors, hordes of police, buildings in flames … the images resembled those from the May 1968 protests.

TOPSHOT-FRANCE-SOCIAL-POLITICS-DEMO-FUEL

Saturday December 1st. Central Paris.

I had planned, yesterday, to head over to Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps, the two side-by-side department stores on the boulevard Haussmann, to take photos of their Christmas windows. Luckily I didn’t go because of light rain. Those two stores were evacuated, neighboring stores were pillaged, and flames and violence erupted all around in that area.

ave de la grande armee

It appears there are two distinct groups: peaceful gilets jaunes (yellow vests) and hooligan ultra-rightwing and ultra-leftwing ‘casseurs‘ (violent anarchists who break things). ACAB graffiti tags (All Cops Are Bastards) used by rightwing extremist groups were seen around the city. And who has to clean this mess up? The city cleaners. Late last night, TV images showed the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and her colleagues walking the streets, shaking hands with the cleaners and thanking them for their efforts. I hope they get paid double-time and receive a big Christmas bonus.

FRANCE-SOCIAL-POLITICS-ENVIRONMENT-OIL-DEMO

riot police

Here are some comments (translated) from ordinary French citizens that I have selected from this morning’s comments section of Le Figaro newspaper –

It is high time to reform France in a framework more in line with the aspirations of ordinary French people. The technocrats who from their ministries “administer” France by reneging on the people, their wishes, their daily difficulties, their aspirations, will have to change before the current ‘peasants’ revolt’ turns to revolution!

***

France: is this not the country in which 90% of the world population would like to live? With a system of benefits and handouts unique in the world where health care is provided for everyone, where various and varied allowances are available (APL, RSA, EDF tariffs, single parents’ benefits, etc. etc.), where education is free, where the right to protest is recognized, and where the press is free? When one reads about our rebellious climate, what must the people of countless countries that do not have a quarter of the rights and living conditions enjoyed by the French think?

***

Macron is paying for his blusters. He cannot escape with impunity the people’s revenge following his arrogant manner and remarks. The French have come to get him and hold him accountable. Without agreeing to all the vandalism, I can understand their anger that has turned into hatred. By continuing to not listen, to utter empty words, to prevaricate and speak a double language has today become unbearable. A political answer is urgent and indispensable NOW, its content will have to exceed by far what they should have said two weeks ago. But I fear they will remain in their technocratic postures, with the risk that this mutinous climate will turn into a revolution.

***

It is not only the increase in fuel prices that has triggered these riots…!
But also the injustices of which the “socialists”, are largely co-responsible, all the taxes, paid for by those who work honestly …!
– the real workers (workers, peasants, artisans, …), no gifts, minimum wage, many unpaid hours, and a “justice” hard and unyielding!
– the parasites (thugs, idlers, spongers of the system, …), lots of gifts, winners (with allowances and state benefits) who often fare better than those who work, and a “justice” soft & lax!
How to accept that we pay footballers hundreds of millions of Euros?
The recent Marseillais scandal in which decrepit apartment buildings collapse (with the inhabitants inside), while only blocks away are magnificent new and expensive football stadiums?
How to accept corruption and money laundering by world-name big banks?
How to accept that Renault’s rogue CEO, currently in prison in Japan, can receive five million euros for each day of his life?
Or that bosses receive 80 million euros a year while the workers earn minimum wage on temporary contracts? Or that Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron spend 300,000 Euros to change the carpet of the presidential residence?

***

On this Sunday morning I can still hear police sirens in the distance. All night long – and all day yesterday – they were wailing.

One of President Macron’s errors was to abolish taxes on the controversial “wealth tax”, otherwise known as the ISF. The solidarity tax on wealth (Impôt de solidarité sur la fortune or ISF) was a direct annual wealth tax imposed on those living in France having assets in excess of €1,300,000. The amount of these taxes brought in over 5 billion euros per year to the state. Its idea was to be “redistributive,” helping narrow the gap between rich and poor, hence the name – “solidarity tax.” The majority of French people demand that this tax be reinstated and that the proposed increase of gasoline tax and all other tax hikes be cancelled.

Here are two articles and analysis on the subject in the London-based The Guardian –

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/03/paris-streets-riots-violence

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/02/paris-riots-worst-unrest-decade-with-shops-and-cars-set-alight-gilets-jaunes

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/02/france-is-deeply-fractured-gilets-jeunes-just-a-symptom

Christmas yule logs


buche one.jpg

 

As a kid, I waited all year long for Christmas.

Throughout December my blog posts will be devoted to Christmas, my favorite celebration of all. Why do I love Christmas and December so? Don’t all Capricorns?

There’ll be Christmas lights and decorations around Paris (including department store windows), the Christmas market in Lille’s town square, and then, later in the month, Christmas in London.

Yule logs, called bûches de Noël, are big in France over the Christmas holidays. Light and creamy, they concorde beautifully with a glass or two of sparkling wine or champagne. Prepared in every pâtisserie around the country, they come in different sizes and flavors. My favorite flavor is chestnut. I was watching Melissa Clark make her yule log (with the help of a pastry chef) and thought it would be fun to compare her log with the log of a French chef.

What Melissa didn’t do, once the sponge cake was rolled up, but what the French chef did before it was rolled up, was to brush it generously with syrup made from sugared water and Cointreau. This moistens the cake and gives it added flavor. If children are eating the log, then substitute the Cointreau with a mixture of sugared water, orange zest and vanilla. The French chef rolled his cake a lot tighter than Melissa did hers (I thought her roll-up was too loose.) He also used a silicone cake pan. But what’s really interesting is the icing (or frosting, as Americans call it.) The French chef used a pastry piping bag and piped lines of icing onto the cake. This is niftier than using a spatula. He made the whole operation look, well, effortless. Either way, the end result of both logs is a decorative and delicious work of art.  

President Macron, riots, Brexit, a Saturday night rant

The video below of Larry the cat went viral because it provided us with a moment of levity in this mad, mad world. Because we’re sick to death with the world right now: with Trump especially, but also with injustice in general. With stupid violence and stupid killings; with that barbaric and backward Saudi Arabia and their senseless war with Yemen in which thousands and thousands of children and other innocent civilians are dead or maimed (and no-one cares.)

It appears that a Saturday night rant is in order. Excuse me while I rage.

Sick to death of Western arms being sold to repressive regimes in the East: in 2017 the UK made £12.bn from arms sales to the Middle East and Africa. And no-one cares. Sick to death (literally) of air pollution and environmental disasters. Sick of misogyny and fragile male egos needing to belittle women in order to feel important. Sick of greed, fraud and corruption. Have you read about Carlos Ghosn, the French head of Renault-Nisson-Mitsubishi? With stock options, he earned 15 million euros in 2017. But he allegedly under-reported his earnings and used company funds for personal expenses. Today he’s sitting in solitary confinement in a Tokyo prison cell measuring 5 square meters.

Sick of President Macron’s condescending, elitist attitude – why do all French presidents morph into monarchs once they get into office? – while he hikes the price of gasoline and taxes in a country which already imposes one of the highest tax rates in the world … in a country where the rich just get richer and the poor poorer.

Why do we pay a ton of taxes (taxes were even increased on retiree pensions) when behemoth companies like TOTAL, GOOGLE, DANONE, SUEZ, MICROSOFT, etc. pay no income tax whatsoever?

No, this isn’t a war zone in Syria, this is the Champs-Elysées, today –

smoke champs

See astonishing photos below of violent riots that took place today, mere miles from my apartment on the Champs-Elysées.

protestors

Today on the Champs-Elysées.

 

Sick of 10 Downing Street and having BREXIT shoved down our throats even though the majority of Britons now wish to cancel it (the million or so British nationals living in Europe didn’t even have the chance to vote!) As for me personally, I was thrown out of the French Prefecture de Police in September while presenting my dossier to the authorities. (I’m trying to apply for French citizenship, not on a whim but because one of the consequences of Brexit will be the rescindment of my European citizenship.) Why was I thrown out of the Prefecture de Police? Because my birth certificate wasn’t legalized. It took me three months to get another appointment. I’ll be going back in December, lugging a dossier the size of a small suitcase.

“I could write a book on this,” I complained to a friend before pausing and adding, “Wait a minute … I am writing a book.” But my book is not a starry-eyed account of a clichéd “glamorous, romantic” Paris. Paris today is a decidedly unglamorous and irritable place (and the air pollution is really bad.)

Astonishing photos here:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/nov/24/gilets-jaunes-protest-against-macron-policies-in-paris-and-across-france-in-pictures

Here, ordinary French citizens explain succinctly why they are protesting –

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/24/paris-fuel-tax-protest-macron-france-poverty

 

 

Drouot auction house

IMG_5137

Decades ago, I had a Parisian boyfriend named Raoul. Raoul was a snob and a sophisticate (which is not the same thing as a sophisticated snob). On Saturday afternoons he liked to meet up with his equally snobbish friends at Drouot. I was invited to tag along. Like him, his friends were journalists at either Reuters or AFP (Agence France Presse.) 

Back then, I was far from being a sophisticate. Before Drouot, the only auctions I had ever attended were in country barns in rural Ontario (my family had a weekend farm east of Toronto.)

Raoul had a penchant for Persian and Oriental rugs and would bid on them at Drouot. These rugs below remind me of him. Incidentally, Drouot is pronounced “Drew-oh”, the “r” in the back of the throat.

IMG_5106IMG_5108IMG_5107

Look at these beautiful pressed flowers over a hundred years old.

IMG_5112

Drouot is fun because anyone can just walk on in and attend the sales. Entrance is free. There are several rooms upstairs and sales occur simultaneously. There’s a lot of activity and people milling around. If you like beautiful, eclectic things and objects of historical value, I suggest that you go. Sales usually start at 2 p.m. Here below is the sale of postcards. A few years ago, a postcard dated October 1899 and signed Guillaume Apollinaire sold for 8,000 euros.

IMG_5123IMG_5134IMG_5113IMG_5114IMG_5109IMG_5125IMG_5132IMG_5103

You can also bid via telephone and internet.  Closest metro stop is Richelieu-Drouot on lines 8 and 9.  There are some good restaurants and bistros in this bustling area: Au Petit Riche on the rue le Peletier, Chartier at number 7 rue du Fauboug Montmartre, 75009 Paris. And there are the passages to explore as well. Make a day of it! 

http://www.drouot.com/