President Macron’s letter to the people of France

The President of France has penned us a letter. We can be sure that his wife Brigitte, once a professor of French literature, approved the final draft.

In response to the riots and general upheaval of the last two months, Emmanuel Macron says he wants to transform the anger of the people into solutions. And so a new form of governance has emerged (so we’ve been told), a governance called “participatory democracy“, an exercise that seeks to involve citizen participation.

The first step was to place a “cahier de doléances” (a register of grievances or a ‘complaints’ book’) in every single Town Hall around the country. Since December 8, people have been going to their local Town Hall to write their gripes into the book. Here’s a copy of one book from the town of Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac in the Aveyron region, population 550.

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“Everything increases except wages”, one person wrote. “With the cost of living constantly rising and the social minima permanently stagnating, it’s obvious that fewer and fewer people can live properly.”

Another person wrote this – “We need to spend money wisely, and the politicians must set an example. If I were young and healthy, I would have participated in the Yellow Vest demonstrations. I would have demanded a reduction in excessive state spending, a reduction in the excessive number of Senators, deputies and useless officials. I would have shouted against excessive state spending by the former presidents of the Republic (and their ministers.) This is especially why I would have liked to join the protest marches: to rail against those who create the misery of some in France.

Here’s the beginning of President Macron’s letter which I translated into English for you (I couldn’t resist inserting a few comments of my own. As you can imagine, the chattering classes in the media and on political talk shows have analyzed, criticized and decoded this letter to death) –

Dear Frenchwomen, dear Frenchmen, my dear compatriots,

In a period of questioning and uncertainty like the one we are going through, we must remember who we are.

France is not a country like the others. (it isn’t?)

The meaning of injustice is sharper than elsewhere. (it is? sharper than, say, in Syria or Iraq?) The need for mutual aid and solidarity is stronger. (how do you figure?)

Here in France, those who work pay for the pensions of retirees. Here in France, a large number of citizens pay income tax, sometimes a lot, which reduces inequalities (but you gave a huge tax break to your rich friends … so does that mean that inequalities have escalated?). Here, education, health, security, justice are accessible to all regardless of their situation and wealth. The vagaries of life, such as unemployment, can be overcome, thanks to the effort shared by all.

This is why France, of all nations, is one of the most fraternal and the most egalitarian. (Fraternal? Those recent riots with scenes of people getting their heads bashed in didn’t look too fraternal to me.)

It is also one of the freest, since everyone is protected in his rights and in his freedom of opinion, conscience, belief or philosophy. (I think that some Muslims who are banned from wearing certain Islamic clothing would disagree with you there, Mr. President. Oh, I see that you carefully omitted “freedom of religion”.)

And every citizen has the right to choose those who will bear his voice in the conduct of this country, in the drafting of its laws, in the major decisions to be taken. Everyone shares the fate of the others and everyone is called upon to decide the fate of all: it is all that, the French nation. How can we not feel pride in being French?

I know, of course, that some of us today are dissatisfied or angry. Because taxes are too high for them and public services too far away, because wages are too low for some to be able to live with dignity, and because of the fact that our country does not offer the same chances of succeeding based on the place or the family someone comes from. (And why is that?? So you’re admitting that a Mohammed from the burbs or Algeria doesn’t stand a chance.) All would like a more prosperous country and a more just society. (Isn’t that your job?)

This ambition, I share it. The society we want is a society in which to succeed one should not need relationships or fortune, but effort and work. In France, but also in Europe and in the world, not only a great anxiety, but also a great trouble has won the spirits (We have a lot of ‘trouble’, can you be more specific?). We must respond with clear ideas.

Taxes are at the heart of our national solidarity. Taxes finance our public services. They pay our teachers, firefighters, police, military, magistrates, nurses and all the public servants who work for you. But taxes, when too high, deprives our economy of resources that could be usefully invested in companies, thus creating jobs and growth. And it deprives workers of the fruit of their efforts.

This is why I proposed and I launch today a great national debate which will run until March 15th. In recent weeks, mayors have opened their town halls so that you can express your expectations. I have received the first feedback which I will take into account. We will now enter a larger phase and you will be able to participate in debates near your home or express yourself on the internet to put forward your proposals and your ideas. In France, overseas and with French residents abroad. In villages, towns, neighborhoods, on the initiative of mayors, elected officials, community leaders, or ordinary citizens … In parliamentary assemblies as regional or departmental.

a New Zealander’s take on Paris

I stumbled across this video and thought it was well done. I agree with everything she says. When expat Parisian residents hear someone say that Paris is the city of glamour, romance and love, we want to roll our eyes (as we step in dog poop on the sidewalk, fight off pickpocketers, or dodge teargas from riot police) and say ‘Oh puleeezz.’

Living in a city for a long time and visiting it as a tourist are two entirely different experiences.

Rahaf and Zineb need our help

When I read certain blogs written by privileged Western white women who complain a lot, and then read about the plight of a terrified Rahaf barricaded in a hotel room in Thailand, it is starkly clear that their problems are not quite the same. Frankly, I’m tired of listening to the PWWW (privileged white woman’s whine.)

Rahaf fled her family and Saudi Arabia. Thankfully, and largely due to social media supporters worldwide, she is now in a safe house under UN protection. She is seeking asylum in Australia, and Australia should help her. The fact is, there are thousands of women like Rahaf and it’s tragic. The full story is below and it’s chilling. Which brings to mind another woman I’ve been interested in lately, a journalist here in France. Her name is Zineb El Rhazoui. Known as the most threatened woman in France, she is also the country’s most protected citizen. Everywhere she goes (here in Paris), she is accompanied by a police escort. The French government is protecting her. Women like Rahaf and Zineb are very courageous, and I admire them.

Zineb was a Charlie Hebdo journalist. Yesterday, January 7, marked the four year anniversary of the day the two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, forced their way into the offices of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. To “avenge the Prophet Mohammed”, they gunned down 12 people. Zineb happened to be out of town that day. Since then, she is an ardent and vocal advocate for the right to publicly examine Islam more closely. Is Islam really a religion of peace and love? She dares to ask these questions. She has also publicly declared her atheism. Because she dares, and because she says she’s an atheist, she receives thousands of death threats from French and non-French Muslims. Which is why she has bodyguards.

As for Rahaf, she fears her family will kill her for renouncing Islam, a crime punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s sharia law. UPDATE: She has been granted asylum in Canada.

Zineb and Rahaf’s dilemmas only highlight my privilege. How lucky I am to be a free and independent woman, born in Canada and living however, wherever, and with whomever I please! Personal choices, all. It is I who chooses how I live, not some cultural or societal or religious diktat. But really, when you think about it, it’s a roll of the dice. I could have been born an oppressed person in a freedom-less, tyrannical, misogynistic country. Luckily I wasn’t. And I treasure my luck every day.

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Zineb El Rhazoui, freedom-fighter

From Wikipedia

Zineb El Rhazoui was born in 1982 in Casablanca, Morocco to a French mother and a Moroccan father. She has dual French and Moroccan citizenship.

Growing up in Morocco, she routinely asked critical questions about the subordinate status of women under Islam. In secondary school, she made a point of wearing black nailpolish and low-cut blouses to school, where her teacher was a conservative man with a long beard. “As a woman in a male-dominated country, you sooner or later face a choice. You can comply, let yourself be cowed and shut up, or you can fight.”

Here’s the article in today’s The Guardian concerning Rahaf al-Qunun –

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/08/rahaf-al-qunun-saudi-woman-under-un-protection-as-australia-urges-asylum-claim

Update – granted asylum in Canada:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/11/canada-and-australia-in-talks-with-un-to-accept-saudi-asylum-seeker-rahaf-mohammed-al-qunun

January, shades of gray

How many shades of gray are there? When I look up to the winter sky in Paris I can think of many: pewter, pearl, slate, stone, dove. You get the picture. When I first moved here I was disheartened by the long, unbroken stretches of gray days that befall Parisians during the winter season.  This is, after all, northern Europe.  I missed (and still do) those invigoratingly cold but sunny days in Canada where temperatures drop below zero, but the sky is magnificent, blue and cloudless. Not so here. Just endless gray and cold, but not freezing days.  No ice. No snow. No drama. Just dull, boring gray.

That’s what it’s like today. I’m stretched out on my chaise longue, huddled under a blanket, a mug of creamy coffee at my side. I’m going to save my pennies, I’ve decided, and try to go to Barbados at the end of this year. The last time I was there was in the 1990s with my parents. Barbados isn’t cheap, and flying there from Europe is costly. My sister has the timeshare there, inherited from our parents who purchased weeks 51 and 52 way back in the late 1980s. But she has not once invited me to stay there.

The beginning of January is like a bottle of fizzy Perrier gone flat. All the sparkle and effervescence of December gone, we start a new year in a shroud of gray and uncertainty. Will Brexit go through? Will Trump be quelled? Will the gilets jaunes prevail? Will world poverty be eradicated?

Back to Barbados, and because I haven’t much else to report right now, here’s a popular blog post I put up in March of this year –

https://julietinparis.net/2018/03/15/the-north-point-surf-resort-abandoned-hotel-in-barbados/

a belated birthday dinner (in Paris) and New Year’s greetings

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We’re both Capricorns on the cusp of Sagittarius. We’ve both been living and working in Paris for a long time. Saturday night we went out for dinner to celebrate our respective birthdays (we were born on the same day, not the same year.) I had been to this restaurant once before. It’s called Le 6 Paul Bert, sister restaurant to the Bistrot Paul Bert up the road. I recommend them both.

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A glass of Krug at A’s apartment, then a quick walk to the restaurant with A’s friend who joined us.

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I had smoked eel with kale as a starter. 14 euros.

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Followed by venison and celeriac purée with an apple slice. 32 euros.

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A’s friend ordered the pithiviers de pigeon below. Pithiviers is a town in the Loire region whose specialty is savory (meat) or sweet (almond paste) wrapped in puff pastry and baked.

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For dessert I had a bergamot-flavored lemon tart with meringue. 9 euros.

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Portions are small in this restaurant, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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Perusing the extensive wine list (below). This restaurant has an excellent wine cellar. When I last ate there, on December 31st a few years ago, I drank a stellar Saint-Joseph 2012 (Côtes-du-Rhône). This time we drank a young wine from the Loire.

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Tonight is New Year’s Eve and, by choice, I’m spending it quietly at home. I hope to be in bed and asleep before midnight. I have no desire to mingle with the gilets jaunes and the 300,000 tourists and revellers expected on the Champs Élysées tonight. I left the office today at 4:30 pm, picked up some food and drink at Marks & Spencer – a slim bottle of pink port, blinis and tarama, wholemeal bread and Devon coffee cream for my breakfast tomorrow morning. In another store I purchased three DVDs, one of which I’ll watch tonight: Phantom Thread with Daniel Day Lewis; The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) with Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas and Gloria Grahame; and the original Mildred Pierce (1945) with Joan Crawford.

Thank you for reading my blog. My biggest readership audience is in the U.S.A., followed by France, Canada and Great Britain, other European countries, and Australia.

I wish you all happiness, good fortune and good health in the year to come.

a friendly reunion of old friends, Soho, and my favorite bookshop

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So my two childhood friends, Kathy and Claire, came to meet me at my hotel. We hugged, kissed and chortled in the foyer. And then we stepped back and had a good look at one another. It’s a strange sensation re-uniting with friends after an absence of nearly three decades. Despite the fact that I’m not as slim as I was, we were all recognizable to one another. I gave them a quick tour of the hotel and then we trudged up the flights of stairs to my room. We sat down, started talking, and a funny thing happened: it was as if those three decades melted away. Oh, sure, each of us had lots of news and events to recount (sadly, the deaths of all of our parents); but the ease and familiarity and feel-good sensation was definitely present. It was a nice feeling.

I was very spoiled that day (and the next day.) It happened to be my birthday, and they showered me with gifts then took me to the theater (The Barbican) to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, a Shakespearian ‘bawdy’ comedy set in a modern-day setting. It was lively and spirited and silly at times, and thoroughly enjoyable.

The next day Kathy and her husband took me to lunch to a fab restaurant called The Lighterman (link below.) Their daughter joined us and we were four. It was a British menu, so it seemed fitting to order a large platter of fish and chips. Christmas Day was spent at Kathy’s house. Her husband cooked the entire meal.

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On another day, I wandered round Soho looking for The Photographers’ Gallery. I wanted to view a photo exhibition entitled Roman Vishniac Rediscovered. As I studied the black and white street photos of Berlin, Vienna and other European cities during the mid to late-1930s, the two words that came to mind were “disturbing” and “important.” Russian-born Vishniac used his camera to document his surroundings. His photographs chronicle the rise of Nazism in Germany, the insidious propaganda swastika flags and military parades, which were taking over both the streets and daily life. There’s a sense of menace and foreboding in the photos. I always think that photographs and other testimonies from that era are a marvellous history lesson. Schoolkids should be taken to these exhibitions.

Later on, I visited one of my favorite bookshops located in Bloomsbury. There’s a tea salon on the premises. I had a slice of boozy fruitcake served with brandy cream sauce and tea. Other cakes were called lemon myrtle sponge with bourbon-soaked kumquats and chamomile cream, and gluten-free pomegranate almond cake with citrus frosting.

Do you want to know something?

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I eat better in London than I do in Paris. Food in London is international and inventive, whereas in Paris it’s either same-old, same-old trad (yawn) or burgers. (A burger-fries trend hit the country about six years ago.) What’s the most popular eating establishment on the Champs-Elysées right now? Five Guys! London is a world-class, innovative and cosmopolitan city. Which is why Brexit perplexes me. It runs counter to an outward-looking global perspective. (By an overwhelming majority, Londoners voted to stay in Europe.) Why does this nation want to turn inwards and cut itself off from the EU? What’s so awful about being European?

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Books! Books! Books!

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The British Museum is at the foot of this street. While in Soho, I stumbled across another great restaurant located at 135 Wardour Street. I recommend it. It’s called Princi (Eat, drink and live Italian). You walk in, select your meal from the counter, then carry it to a table. There are Princi locations in the States too. Link below.

https://thelighterman.co.uk/

https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/

https://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/

http://www.princi.com