France shifts to the right

The citizens of France expressed their profound dissatisfaction last night – loudly, clearly and unambiguously – in the second and final round of municipal (town hall) elections.   Fed up with the dithering François Hollande and his party’s broken promises, not to mention the inept handling of the multiple crises that have gripped the nation for far too long now – recession that lingers while other countries are on the upturn, persistently high unemployment (especially youth unemployment at 26.5 percent), factory closures, political scandals, corruption charges and tax hikes – electors demonstrated their animosity towards Hollande and his party by voting against the government or by not voting at all.

It should be noted that France is a harshly punitive society.

Among the top reasons given in a poll for why Hollande is unpopular: he hiked taxes, he lacks vision, he mishandled fiscal discipline, he didn’t push through structural reform and, overall, he lacks solutions strong enough to pull France out of crisis.

The right-wing National Front

Results from Sunday’s voting showed the anti-EU National Front party of Marine Le Pen (daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen) taking control of 14 towns across the country, plus one district in Marseille. The issues that underpinned the National Front’s victory in Henin-Beaumont, a depressed former coal mining town in the north of the country, are the same as those in the south: unemployment, poverty and crime, but also disillusionment with the perceived failures and cronyism of the existing political establishment, at local and national levels.

It is in the poorest cities with the highest crime, immigration and unemployment rates where the National Front presence is the highest:  the southern city of Beziers, for example: 16 percent of the workforce is unemployed and a third of the population lives with a net household income below €1,000 ($1,400) per month.

Back in Paris, the freshly-elected (Socialist) mayor of this city is a woman:  Anne Hildalgo, but no-one cares about gender. Man or woman, we just want someone competent to tackle some of the preoccupations of Parisians today:  the construction of additional and affordable housing, more day-care centers (crèches), fewer automobiles, reduced air pollution, more public toilets to discourage drunkards and partygoers from urinating in the streets, cleaner sidewalks….and all this without raising taxes.hollande

beautiful music

Baroque music Marais 26 mars 2014 023

What better place to listen to 17th century music than in a 17th century church?  

On Wednesday night a friend and I went to the Church of Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux in the Marais to listen to an exceptional concert organized by the Venetian Centre for Baroque Music.

I love baroque music.  And I love old churches.  To combine the two was sheer delight. And the old church (built between 1685-1690) – full of atmosphere and lit only by candles – was an acoustic marvel.

Baroque music Marais 26 mars 2014 014Baroque music Marais 26 mars 2014 010Baroque music Marais 26 mars 2014 018Baroque music Marais 26 mars 2014 022

I tried to videotape a segment of the concert, but there was not enough light.  I’m surprised that these photos came out.  Fortunately I found the same group of soloists on Youtube so that you too can listen to this sumptuous soothing music.  Marc-Antoine Charpentier is the name of the 17th-century composer whose concerto they are singing.  Enjoy.

Ensemble Correspondances, choir and orchestra – Sébastien Daucé, harpsichord, organ & direction

SOS pollution

paris-air-pollution-m

There we were last weekend, rejoicing in the glorious, windless, clement weather when instead we should have been deeply concerned.  Why?  Because that glorious weather is poisoning us.  According to Airparif, the pollution watchdog organization here, a third of the country is on maximum pollution alert caused by, among other factors, unseasonably warm weather. The average temperature this week is 19°C (66°F).  On March 12, 2013 the temperature in Paris was -1°C.

A lack of wind, cold nights and warm days have increased dangerously small particles from traffic, factories and heating systems in the region around Paris, northern and eastern France, Brittany, the Loire and Burgundy.  Airparif takes readings of air quality from a hot-air balloon that rises 300 metres above each city.

In an extraordinary public health emergency measure, all public transportation in Paris and its surrounding suburbs will be free for 3 days – starting tomorrow morning (Friday March 14th) to Sunday night.  Velib’ rental bikes and electric rent-a-car Autolib’ will also be free. Parking tickets will not be issued over the weekend and free residential car parking will be enforced. All this to encourage Parisians to leave their cars at home over a 3-day period and walk, cycle or take public transport instead.J228VjNHealth authorities have issued warnings for small children, seniors, asthmatics and people with other respiratory illnesses to remain indoors. Intense sporting activities are also discouraged.  The dangerous levels of fine particles and nitrogen dioxide also cause eye irritations. On Monday, I had to go to an ophthalmologist to get a prescription for an eye wash for my burning, itching eyes.nuage_pollut bis

I was curious to know how Paris air pollution compared to other cities.  Here are some statistics (not very recent, I’m afraid) based on annual mean PM10 (particulate matter with diameter of 10 micrometers or less) –

Paris

38

2008

London

29

2008

Glasgow

24

2008

Berlin

26

2008

Athens

41

2008

Rome

35

2008

Milan

44

2008

Naples

44

2008

Tel Aviv

60

2009

Tokyo

23

2009

Amsterdam

24

2008

Madrid

26

2008

Stockholm

28

2008

Geneva

22

2008

Chicago

22

2009

Los Angeles

25

2009

New York City

21

2009

Santa Fe

6

2009

Seattle

16

2009

Montréal

34

2008

Toronto

21

2008

Vancouver

12

2008

Calgary

26

2008

Istanbul

59

2008

Beijing

121

2009

Cairo

138

2008

Delhi

198

2008

Tehran

96

2009

Ahwaz (Iran)

372

2009

Sunday walk, 8th arrondissement

Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 082So I left the Parc Monceau and strode down the boulevard Malesherbes with its wide sidewalks to the Place Saint-Augustin.  I then continued down the lower half of the boulevard Malesherbes and ended up in my old stomping ground, the rue Boissy d’Anglas. I used to work on this street. There’s this old shopping arcade that my colleagues and I used to slip into on our lunch hour. Ten years ago it was kind of shabby and run-down and contained some interesting boutiques and inexpensive snack bars. Today it’s all polished and gentrified.  (I preferred it when it was shabby.)Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 061Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 041Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 059I snapped a few shots.Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 046Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 054Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 055And then a funny thing happened.  I was standing in front of the window of the Christofle boutique on the rue Royale (closed on Sunday) admiring the sterling silver rings, when all of a sudden a (disembodied) human hand appeared and started straightening the boxes. What a hoot! And such beautifully lacquered nails.Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 065Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 070This ring was designed by Andrée Putman, famous French interior and product designer, who unfortunately died last year. Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 069From there I ended up on the Place de la Concorde.  Such a beautiful day.  All of Paris was outdoors.Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 073Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 078I wanted to cross the road and view the Robert Adams photography exhibition, currently showing in the Jeu de Paume gallery, but the crowds dissuaded me.  I’ll go another time.Paris, Sunday March 9, 2014 079