Putin in Paris – the spy who came in from the cold

I thought this was a catchy title. It came to me while watching the 7 pm news on television this evening. (The media is all over this significant event.) It came to me for two reasons: this surprising and unexpected encounter between the French and the Russian president at the Palace of Versailles has all the intrigue of a John Le Carré novel. And because Vladimir Putin, a deeply isolated man, has been shunned and exiled by Western world leaders to a “social Siberia” (for supporting the regime in Syria, for waging war against Ukraine, and for other transgressions.) A former spy, Putin is desperate to restore Russia to what he sees as its rightful place in the world, at almost any cost.

He’s also desperate for himself to come back onto the world stage, and be a player.

France_Russia_Rich

Look how eager Putin looks. He can’t get to Macron fast enough.

Enter Emmanuel Macron. No sooner is he sworn in as president (a role he has very adroitly slipped into), does he invite Putin to come to France. 

Why?

“It is essential to talk to Russia because there are many international issues that will not be resolved without a tough exchange with the Russians,” said Mr. Macron at last week’s  G7 Taormina summit, to which Putin was not invited.

Grateful for the invitation, Putin came. Putin will now be indebted to Macron. Macron hopes that Putin will now agree to concessions. Shrewd move.

It just so happens that a new exhibition is opening at the Palace of Versailles tomorrow. The exhibition marks 300 years of Franco-Russian ties since the visit of Russia’s modernising tsar, Peter the Great, to France in 1717 (link below).

From May 30 to September 24, 2017, the Grand Trianon will feature PETER THE GREAT, A TSAR IN FRANCE. 1717. Thanks to an exceptional collaboration between the Palace of Versailles and the State Hermitage Museum, the exhibition presents more than 150 works – paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, tapestries, maps, medals, scientific instruments, books, and manuscripts – two-thirds of which belong to the prestigious museum in Saint Petersburg.

“Macron’s meeting with President Putin will be an important first test of the French president’s commitment to reflecting human rights in France’s foreign policy”, Human Rights Watch said today. As a candidate, Macron flagged serious concerns about Russia’s disregard for human rights in domestic and foreign policy, and said that France should be demanding and rigorous in its approach to relations with Russia.

“There could not be a more important time for France’s leader to speak out strongly about the need for its Russian partner to recommit to liberty and human rights,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “President Macron’s meeting with President Putin will help give direction to the agenda for Franco-Russian relations for years to come, but the question is how firmly rights will be embedded in it.”

http://en.chateauversailles.fr/news/exhibitions/peter-great-tsar-france-1717

Make the most of the Louvre museum

louvre mummy

Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

The New York Times has produced a terrific Culture Guide, complete with photos, tips and helpful info, concerning the Louvre art museum (link below).

About the Author

Nina Siegal, originally from New York, visited Amsterdam ten years ago to do research for her second novel, “The Anatomy Lesson,” and ended up staying. She currently writes about culture for The New York Times.
I can understand how Nina would be seduced by Amsterdam, and Holland in general. As mentioned in an earlier post, I’m off to discover the delights of Delft and The Hague, in particular the Mauritshuis art museum, in August.
Here’s the link. Enjoy.

a simple handshake

“A handshake is a short ritual in which two people grasp one of each other’s hands, in most cases accompanied by a brief up and down movement (of the grasped hands.)”

How is it that Donald Trump can screw something up as common as a handshake? Well, he can and no-one, it appears, has taught him how to do it properly. Shaking another person’s hand is just another item on the long list of things that Trump can’t get right. As he blunders his way across the Middle East and Europe, the media is having a field day with his wayward body language, verbal gaffes and amateurism. And why not? The man is utterly utterly unqualified for the role of President of the USA. As are his family members. To call him an aberration is an understatement.

Kudos to President Emmanuel Macron for suavely controlling the clench.

macron two

It is not forgotten that during France’s April election, Trump supported Marine Le Pen and her National Front party. “Congratulations, great job!” he said to Macron at their sit-down.

In one video, we watch how he literally elbows his way toward the front of the group, shoving aside Dusko Markovic, the prime minister of Montenegro. Once there, he stretches out his neck like a rooster before peevishly peering down at Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaitė. He’s a joke, and no-one can take him seriously. (The joke here in France is that Emmanuel Macron speaks better English than he does.) I can imagine Trump’s staff showing him large maps of the regions he is visiting. “Now, see this little country wedged in between France, Germany and Holland? That’s Belgium, its capital is Brussels, and it’s where we’re going next.”

Before becoming President, Trump called Brussels “a living hell-hole” because of Muslims living there.

When world leaders talk to him about global issues, what on earth does he say? He’s a real estate developer! On the other hand, if anyone wants advice on tax breaks, he’s your man.

From The New York Times –

“Trump’s New York career: He used his father’s, and, later, his own, extensive political connections, and relied on a huge amount of assistance from the government and taxpayers in the form of tax breaks, grants and incentives to benefit the 15 buildings at the core of his Manhattan real estate empire.”

“Since then, Mr. Trump has reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants and other subsidies for luxury apartments, hotels and office buildings in New York, according to city tax, housing and finance records. The subsidies helped him lower his own costs and sell apartments at higher prices because of their reduced taxes. “Donald Trump is probably worse than any other developer in his relentless pursuit of every single dime of taxpayer subsidies he can get his paws on.””

UPDATE – Just how much of a thuggish asshole is he? Speaking at the G7 meeting in Sicily today, Donald Trump called the victory of Greg Gianfortea “a great win in Montana” just one day after Gianforte was slapped with an assault charge for body-slamming a Guardian reporter.

Trump ‘complained to Belgian PM of difficulty setting up golf resorts in the EU’

The US president said his view of Europe was based on experiences trying to do business, according to an account of the Brussels meeting.

Trump, Saudis and Wahhabism

Wahhabism is the reactionary branch of Islam from Saudi Arabia said to be ‘the main source of global terrorism’.

In July 2013, Wahhabism was identified by the European Parliament as the main source of global terrorism.

Wahhabism has become increasingly influential, partly because of Saudi money and partly because of Saudi Arabia’s central influence as protector of Mecca.

The members of the Saudi ruling class have applauded Wahhabism it for its Salafi piety – i.e. its adherence to the original practices of Islam – and the movement’s vehement opposition to the Shia branch of Islam.

In the 1970s, with the help of funding from petroleum exports and other factors, Saudi charities started funding Wahhabi schools (madrassas) and mosques across the globe and the movement underwent “explosive growth”.

The US State Department has estimated that over the past four decades Riyadh has invested more than $10billion into charitable foundations in an attempt to replace mainstream Sunni Islam with the harsh intolerance of its Wahhabism. EU intelligence experts estimate that 15 to 20 per cent of this has been diverted to al-Qaida and other violent jihadists.

The movement now has worldwide influence inspiring the ideology of extremists worldwide.

trump curtsy

beautiful gardens

I’d like to have a tranquil garden in which to sit, write, read and have barbecues with friends. Here in Paris, a garden is a luxury. Everyone I know lives in an apartment with a teeny-tiny balcony overlooking a noisy, congested street. I crave nature. It’s true that where I live there are parks and the river nearby, so I can’t complain too much. But still, what with the warm weather coming and all …

Here are two beautiful gardens we can only dream about.

goings on: The Rolling Stones, The Cranberries, Lionel Shriver

Remember The Cranberries, the Irish rock band from the 1990s? They’re coming to France to play one single concert in a fabulous venue: the antique Roman theatre in the southern town of Orange.  I loved The Cranberries. The idea of sitting under the stars on a hot summer’s night (the night of Sunday August 13th) listening to Dolores O’Riordan singing sounds tempting indeed.

But I’ll be in The Netherlands in August, visiting the cities of Delft, The Hague and Antwerp.

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Roman theater built in the 1st century, Orange (Vaucluse) France 

Le_Théâtre_Antique_d'Orange,_2007

The Rolling Stones – 19 October 2017 at the U Arena in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris.

Lionel Shriver introducing her new book, The Mandibles, at Shakespeare and Company bookshop – Monday May 22, 2017 at 7 pm.

Shriver’s timely new novel about American decline. A frightening, fascinating, scabrously funny glimpse into the decline that may await the United States all too soon, from the pen of perhaps the most consistently perceptive and topical author of our times.

I’ll leave you with Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries singing Ode To My Family, a beautiful video filled with lovely Irish folk, young and old.

Paris gossip: Brigitte, hats, etc.

Here’s what all of France was talking about today: Brigitte Macron, brand-new First Lady of France whose husband was sworn in yesterday as Prez, wore an outfit exactly the same color as Melania Trump’s outfit on her husand’s inauguration day. Why? Pourquoi ?

Analysts are busy analyzing the significance of this seeming coincidence.

Macron-and-Trump

At least we were spared those godawful elbow-length gloves. A major fashion faux pas, they wouldn’t have passed public approval here. At all. If elbow-length gloves aren’t made of fine leather, aren’t snug-fitting and aren’t of a dark color, don’t do it.

It’s a shame that women, other than queens and duchesses, no longer wear hats. Brigitte Macron could have really wowed us with a totally different outfit in a totally different color (powder blue is so namby-pamby and indecisive, don’t you think?), topped with a stylish hat. Like these, for example –

hat one

mademoisellechapeau1

pink hat

fascinator

this is called a fascinator. I think it’s lovely, especially the color

Hats, big or small, make a marvellous statement. They suggest confidence and individuality. But then again, not all women can wear them. You either have the head and face for it … or you don’t.

§§§

The next thing all of France was talking about this morning was this: who will President Macron choose to be his prime minister??? All morning long, bulletins were dispatched over French TV and the internet, blaring –  l’annonce de la désignation est imminente !! (the announcement of the appointment is imminent!!). The whole nation was whipped into a frenzy. At the office, everyone was checking the internet and their iPhones every five minutes, and I kept running down the hall to Reception to look at the big TV screen. After my fourth run down the hall and back again, I suddenly realized how ridiculous we were being. The French media was playing us and we had fallen into their trap.

“I don’t care who the next prime minister is!” I said to my colleagues and went back to work. This week is the company’s AGM (Annual General Meeting) of Shareholders. I’m the organizer, so I’m busy. And then in the afternoon it was announced. The new prime minister is a man no-one’s heard of. Edouard Philippe. Who? The nomination, we’ve been told, is a shrewd one because he’s a “juppéiste“.

new pm

France’s new 46 year old Prime Minister

What’s a juppéiste, you might ask? No, not someone from Jupiter but rather a politician who’s a follower of Alain Juppé. It turns out that progressive Alain Juppé has reached cult status in France. He himself was prime minister to President Jacques Chirac from 1995 to 1997 and later Mayor of Bordeaux. (In between there was a criminal conviction for abuse of public funds, but this ‘incident’ seems to have been erased from the French collective memory.) Never mind that Juppé was, literally, the most hated man in France during the period from ’95 to ’97 because he wanted to push through major social reforms (there were massive transportation strikes and protests that paralyzed the entire country for two whole winter months.) I remember walking to work every single day and home again (two hours each way), falling into bed every night too exhausted to eat, only to get up at the crack of dawn the next morning to trudge through snow-covered streets to get to work. (If anyone reading this knows Paris, at that time I lived in Courbevoie and worked at Place St. Augustin!)

But I’m digressing. Flash-forward to now and Juppé, at the age of 71, is regarded as a respected elder statesman and sort of mandarin. This fellow who was nominated today to be Prime Minister is, as I said, a protégé of Alain Juppé.  46 years old, he’s the Mayor of Le Havre and member of the centre right-wing Republicans party. Macron desperately needs to strengthen his fledgling party, République en Marche, and by appointing someone from the right he hopes to persuade others from Juppé’s party who will stand as MPs in June’s parliamentary elections. 

Tonight President Macron is dining with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and on May 25th he’s scheduled to have “a long lunch” in Brussels with Dump, Hump, Frump … I mean Trump!