On a more serious note, the Champagne region has just been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, because of its vineyards and wine cellars. The Avenue de Champagne in Epernay was picked out for especial mention, because of all the great Champagne houses there, and so too was the village of Hautvilliers, where Dom Perignon invented the double fermentation process used to make Champagne.
It’s a worthy honour for the region, while another wine region has benefitted in similar fashion, the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune, south of Dijon. At the same time as these two great wine regions in France were being given this special status, so too were other places around the world, like the botanic gardens in Singapore, two sites in Iran, a sacred mountain in Mongolia and a fortress and the Heysel Gardens in south- east Turkey. It’ s a rare honour, one that always does wonders for tourism.
Elsewhere in France, especially in the north- west, farmers have been out protesting that too little is being done to protect them. Producers of beef, milk and pork complain that under the present system, what they are paid for their produce doesn’t even cover the cost of producing them. “Paysans en detresse” is just one of the slogans that were to be seen everywhere at the end of last week, together with piles of manure outside supermarkets, burning barricades and all the other paraphrenalia of street protests, an ‘ art’ that has been well and truly honed to perfection in France.
Elsewhere, the all too familiar French bureaucratic incompetence is in full swing. In Provence, new sets of trains are being delivered to try and improve a poor rail service in the region. The trains were meant to connect with the Italian railway system, but it didn’t work out that way. The new train carriages were made too high to pass through the tunnels that link France and Italy, so now work has to start on heightening the roofs of those tunnels. Utterly ridiculous all because someone couldn’t get their calculations right!
The beginning of the week saw yet another example of staggering incompetence. The army base at Miramas in the south of France, not far from Aix en Provence, is used for French overseas army operations. On Monday, it was discovered that someone had managed to steal a large quantity of explosives as well as denotators from the base. Given that France is on such a high level of security, it seems incredible that the theft could have happened in the first place; goodness knows to what use all the stolen explosives will be put to.
Tempers too have been sizzling in the record temperatures in recent days. Last week, Paris was hotter than it has been since 1947 and the tremendous heatwave, followed by the inevitable storms, made for even worse traffic jams at the start of the summer holiday season, when many people insist on heading off on holiday at the same time. The same thing happens every year, despite the fact that so people start their holidays at the same time that many hours stuck in massive traffic jams are their first taste of vacation. It’ s strange and I say it every year that in France, where logic is so important in philosophical discussion, that no-one has ever applied a little logic to staggering the holiday season. That of course would be far too radical!
Of course, the heatwave did bring some benefits! On Sunday, the Swiss performance artist Milo Moiré, who likes to perform in the nude, did so in front of the Eiffel Tower, and encouraged tourists to take selfies. The tourists who saw her performance were delighted, but the police weren’t as they arrested her. However, she was released without charge. Last year, one of her artistic stunts, which I wrote about on this blog at the time, happened at a festival in Cologne. She filled eggs with ink and acrylic paint and plopped them out of her vagina to create artworks on canvas.
The heat created something else strange last week, when a stable girl at a riding centre in the Val de Marne discovered a 74 year old man busy having sex with a pony. He too was arrested, but the police didn’t press charges, due to insufficient evidence.
No wonder the bees gathered in force on a house in Saint- Maxime in Provence the other day. It’ s estimated that 20, 000 bees had created a swarm, but eventually, after the queen was captured, the rest followed her. Bees are so like humans! There’ s also a more warming nature story from Paris, where citizens have now been given the right to plants flowers, shrubs and vegetables in public places, under a plan from the Mayor’ s office to make Paris greener. But people won’ t be able to grow cannabis! But another environmental story from Paris isn’t such hot news.
The Canal Saint- Martin in the north of Paris has long had an almost mythical status, a remarkable stretch of water through the rather dowdy and downmarket 10th arrondissement. But in recent years, people have been dumping so much rubbish into the canal and along its verges that these days, it’ s more tip than hip. Local residents are getting together to devise a social media campaign to highlight the problem, but it’s clearly something that the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, should address aggressively.
On the political front, an opinion poll the other day produced some curious results. People were asked for their preferences among left- wing candidates for the next presidential election. The present president, Francois Hollande, could only manage a humble fifth place, but people put Dominique Strauss- Kahn in second place, with close on 40 per cent choosing him. DSK may have been indelibly linked with a whole series of sex scandals- if he had to list all his hobbies, it seems as if attending orgies would be his number one choice- but all this obviously hasn’t damaged his standing with the French public!
Also on the political front, Jean-Marie Le Pen has won a court’ s blessing to rejoin the party he founded, the Front National, from which he was expelled recently. Of course, both far left and far right are on a roll at the moment, making political capital out of the Greek situation. The Front National in particular is opposed to both the EU and France’ s membership of the eurozone. Needless to remark, if they ever got their way, France’ s withdrawal would precipitate the breakup of the EU, which is already in very dangerous waters.
One political development in France has had very little coverage. A delegation from Armenia, headed by it prime minister, was in Paris last week. He had words of praise for France, saying that France has a unique place in the political agenda of Armenia. In 2001, France became the first country in the world to recognise the Armenian genocide 100 years ago, in law. Now, a new law is being prepared in France that will make it an offence to deny the genocide. What is also little known is the continuing dispute over the independent Armenian country of Karabakh. which is close to Armenia. Heavily armed Azerbaijan claims Karabakh yet even though the conflict has been going on for the past 20 years, with no resolution in sight, it’ s one world conflict that one sees rarely if ever mentioned in the world media. It’ s the same of course with all the current turmoil on the Chinese stock market: out of sight, out of mind!
The person who took over from DSK as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, another French politician, is now in hot water of a different kind. Christine Lagarde has been running a strong campaign to try and get Greece to sign on the dotted line, but those with inside knowledge say that she’ s made such a mess of things that her career at the IMF is headed in the same direction as that of Sepp Blatter at FIFA. These days, one could be forgiven for thinking that the IMF and FIFA were interchangeable.
People in France have always loved ridiculing their politicians and for years, one of the favourite spots on Canal + was a 10 minute segment called Les Guignols d’ Info. The guignols were puppets depicting French politicians and the slot was used for years to mercilessly pillory them. Now, some billionaire businessman who owns the channel, Vincent Bollore, has decided the channel has gone too far in its mockery and derision of politicians, so he has scrapped the puppets. Just shows what happens when billionaire business people are allowed to pull the strings in the media!
Talking about the media, I was astonished the other day to find a typo on the Le Monde website. They had a story about Greece and managed to spell corruption with three ‘ rs’. This is the first time I’ve spotted a typo in Le Monde, their proofreading is so meticulous. A sign of changing times!
There was sad news, too, from the French media, specially France 2 television. A 26 year old reporter Lucie Bouzigues, who had been working for the channel for the past two years, suddenly collapsed and died; the reason for her death was immediately unknown but one of the presenters on the channel said on Twitter: “ je suis submergé de douleur” .
The other day, July 3 to be precise, was the anniversary of the death in Paris of the American performer, Jim Morrison of The Doors. He was buried in Pere Lachaise and his grave there has been the site of continuous veneration ever since, something he barely achieved in his lifetime.
In the meantime, the three year old from Provence, Léa Baba, who has captured everyone’ s good wishes in France, battles on. At the end of June, she had a 10 hour heart operation in Paris, then at the end of last week, she caught a severe infection in the hospital and remains critically ill.
But on the good news front, the Bac results have come out this week and plenty of teenagers around the country have had good reason to celebrate. Another piece of good news came from the south. The Stade du Ray, which had been home to the Nice football team, has been empty since the team relocated elsewhere last year. Now massive redevelopment plans have been revealed for the old stadium and if passed, it’ s hoped that everything will be unveiled in 2019. In Toulon, also on the south coast, €3 billion plans to develop a floating island in the harbour have been announced, with shops, restaurants, apartments and even a gigantic aquarium.
On the international front, the Greek crisis rumbles on without resolution. It’ s probably going to end in catastrophe for Greece, although there’ s always the prospect of a helping hand from Russian president Vladimir Putin. But it doesn’t just affect Greece; expect troubles in the eurozone to start getting worse and worse. This is really the point where the eurozone starts unravelling. The political opinion polls got the Greek referendum result hopelessly wrong last Sunday, just as they did with the UK general election results two months ago. So expect the political establishment in Brussels to keep getting everything wrong as far as sorting out the situation in Greece is concerned!
The Dutch have been taking a hard line on Greece and recent news from the Netherlands was hardly encouraging. A concert took place in The Hague last week and it was attended by a respectable businessman in his early 40s from Aruba, a Dutch enclave in the Caribbean. He was totally innocent, but local police suspected he was carrying a weapon, which he wasn’t, and in their efforts to subdue him, managed to kill him. Then followed several nights of intense rioting by immigrants living in The Hague. But then I’ve long thought the Dutch have double standards. On the face of it, you couldn’t find a more liberal country in Europe, where just about anything goes. But underneath the surface, the Dutch are really a bunch of control freaks and crypto-fascists!
Here in Ireland, Old Moore’ s Almanac has been going for the best part of 200 years and it has long been a Bible, especially for the farming community. Every year, it makes a series of detailed predictions for Ireland and the rest of the world on a month by month basis. It turned out that virtually every prediction in made in June, for well- known people as well as events in Ireland and around the world was totally accurate.
No- one has yet caught up with its prediction for this November. Old Moore is predicting a major air disaster in Ireland, one that will precipitate a general election. Let’s hope they get that one wrong!
I leave the last word this week to a two year old girl in Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire in the south- east of England. She apparently picked up the phrase from a Chinese- made crying doll that had been bought for her at Toys R’ Us. The girl came out with her first words the other day, “Fuck it”. Sounds like an appropriate motto for the times that are in it!