A retired pastry baker, Jean-Louis Micalet, who lives near Montpellier, was slightly overpaid by the state fund that looks after social security and benefits for independent traders and entrepreneurs. The sum overpaid amounted to a mere 22 cent, yet already, the fund has sent M.Micalet two letters, each of which cost 59 cent to post. Now, it has threatened action through the courts to recover the money, but at least M.Micalet has kept his sense of humour in the face of such bureaucratic zaniness.
He says that he’s perfectly willing to repay the money, in instalments.
Hardly surprisingly, the jobless rate in France continues to climb, for the ninth month in a row. In July, the number of people out of work in France was 3,424,000. President Hollande seems totally incapable of stopping the rot and he’s now had his last throw of the dice by scrapping the links with those on the left wing of his Socialist Party and the annual ‘bash’ of that party, in La Rochelle, seems to have achieved little. It’s no wonder that Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, says that Hollande is now the king with no clothes. She’s offered to form a political pact with him to govern the country, but that looks highly improbable and impractical, to say the least.
This week also see Valerie Trierweiler, the former partner of Francois Hollande, publish her memoirs, Merci pour ce moment. She was installed in the Elysée for 20 months before Hollande dumped her for a younger model, Julie Gayet, in an 18 word statement that showed neither regret nor remorse. Now the word is that Valerie’s book is going to do the dirty on Hollande-should make for riveting reading!
Christine Lagarde, a former finance minister in France and now the md of the International Monetary Fund, is now in trouble, as she is investigated for her role, when she was a minister, in the infamous Bernard Tapie/Adidas affair. At least she isn’t in trouble for any sexual carry-on, as happened to her predecessor at the IMF.
To add to all the political gloom, there’s always a constant stream of tragedies in France, whether in car crashes or fatalities from other causes. At the weekend, a gas explosion blew an apartment building at Rosny-sur-Bois, just outside Paris,to smithereens, killing at least eight people in the process. Then just the other day, as the TGV from Nice to Paris was approaching the station in Toulon, a young woman in her 20s rushed onto the track to save her dog, oblivious to the fast approaching train. An almost identical incident happened near Liverpool last week, when another young woman was killed by a train whilst trying to save a dog.
Then there’s that hardy annual, the weather, which has been exceptionally bad in France, especially in the south. On various occasions recently, the weather has been so bad at Nice Cote d’Azur airport that air traffic has had to be suspended. And on a couple of occasions in recent days, Air France flights from Nantes to Nice had to abort landings at Nice because the weather was so turbulent and divert, in one instance to Marseilles, in the other, to Toulon. There are also going to be lots of delays for the next 10 months on the rail line connecting Hyeres, Toulon and Marseilles, as a major upgrade takes place.
Elsewhere on the Cote d’Azur, there was a happy ending to a burglary. A house on the heights above Menton was broken into the other day and the gang of three criminals escaped with a lot of stuff. Unfortunately for them, the police were quickly on their trail and found a rucksack that one of the burglars had dropped, complete with a card bearing his name and address inside. The three were quickly rounded up and all their loot recovered. Police have been busy elsewhere on the Cote d’Azur, checking markets for forged items. Any items found on market stalls in places like St Tropez that are fake are not only confiscated, but land the traders selling them in hot legal water.
There’s also much controversy going on in Fréjus, where bull fighting is about to be reinstated, after the previous mayor had banned it for the past eight years. It’s a strong debate that brings forward strong arguments on both sides.
Also in the south of France, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who’ve been together for the past nine years, managed to get married at their chateau without it becoming public knowledge for five days. Let’s hope it lasts; they’ve done a deal with Hello magazine, which is a sure way of bringing on disaster. The Dublin papers had great fun with the wedding. At least two of them ran the headline: “Now they’re the Pitts”. The pair ,incidentally, are also known for producing absolutely superb wine at their chateau; it sells for about €20 a bottle but by all accounts, it’s scrumptious stuff.
There was more good media news from Nice in the last few days, with the successful staff buyout of the troubled Nice Matin group. Then along came Bernard Tapie, the majority shareholder of La Provence newspaper to announce that he too is going to take a stake in Nice Matin.
It’s a time for anniversaries. The last day of August was the 17th anniversary of the death, or murder, as many people continue to insist, of Princess Diana. There was such a hulabaloo at the time and for several years afterwards, but this year, it merited a few paragraphs and that was that. Today, September 3rd, is the 75th anniversary of the speech by Neville Chamberlain in which he declared war on Germany. Even after all these decades, it’s a chilling speech to listen to, and the way things are going in the Ukraine, it looks like it won’t be long before David Cameron has to make a similar speech against Russia.
At least, there are some fine new openings coming up soon in Paris. La Philharmonie de Paris, the futuristic concert hall in the dowdy 19th arrondissement, is due to open soon. It may have cost a whopping €381 million, way over budget, but it’s expected to be one of the finest concert halls in the world. The Orchestre de Paris will be the resident orchestra and the new hall will replace the venerable Salle de Pleyel in central Paris.
The new Louis Vuitton contemporary art gallery, a highly futuristic design, is due to open in the Jardin d’Acclimitation in the 16th,on October 16th and it will be one of biggest contemporary art venues in Paris. Then the renovated Picasso museum in the 3rd is due to reopen on October 25th.after an lengthy and anguished period of renewal. Then, not to be outdone, part of the Eiffel Tower has been getting a big makeover, ready soon. The first floor is getting a totally new look, including a glass floor,57 metres above ground level. For anyone with a head for heights, this should be quite an experience!
A short term thrill can still be seen, until September 13th., the Grandes Eaux Nocturnales at the palace of Versailles. It’s a stunning sound and light show, using the fountains in the palace gardens. On a more down to earth note, the European Beer Fair is taking place in Mulhouse from the 11th to the 14th of March. And of course Mulhouse, a very industrial city, has two absolutely wonderful permanent attractions, the museum devoted to old railways and the one given over to vintage and veteran cars. Both are mind blowing experiences.
On Radio 4 the other day, there was a very interesting Archive on 4 programme about Captain Leonard Plugge (what an appropriate name!) who set up a string of commercial radio stations in mainland Europe in the 1930s. One of those was Radio Normandy at Fécamp, which was much more popular over large parts of southern England than the BBC, especially on Sundays. One of its announcers was a young Roy Plomley, who went on to present Desert Island Discs on the BBC for so many years. The Plugge story is fascinating and the biography of him is well worth reading.
I’m also indebted to Radio 4 for a programme the other day on double entendres, which was very funny. One joke told was about a young lady called Samantha who was going out for the afternoon to enjoy ice cream with an Italian gentleman. We were told that Samantha liked nothing better than to lick the nuts off a Neapolitan! I hope that these two programmes are a sign that Radio 4 is starting to return to its old form. I also heard an interesting piece of music on Radio Suisse Classique, the French language classical music service of the Suisse Romande. It was the fourth symphony of George Onslow, the Anglo-French composer who lived from 1784 until 1853.He was very popular in his day, considered the French Beethoven, yet these days, is practically forgotten.
Meanwhile, on the international front, I saw the Facebook page of two Femen supporters in Egypt, who came out against the IS, in the strongest possible terms, yet their protest didn’t even merit a mention in the mainstream media. One of the women was photographed naked, squatting on the flag of IS, and letting her menstrual blood flow over the flag. The other woman was fully clothed in traditional Arab dress, but she was making a very rude gesture with one of her fingers and right behind her was a little heap of shit on the flag that she had just dropped. It was a very provocative piece of propaganda, especially in the Middle East, yet typically, the media just didn’t get it.
Nearly all attention is concentrated these days on Ukraine and Putin’s intentions. It’s very likely that Russian forces will soon help clear a way to the south coast of Ukraine, thus giving Russia a land link to Crimea. Then it’s quite likely that Russian air and land forces will sweep in over the rest of Ukraine, with scarcely a murmur from the somnolent White House and the rest of the West. The president of Lithuania was one of the few awake to the dangers; she said the other day that Russia and Europe are now at war. I reckon that the Russian advance in Ukraine is likely to happen very quickly, for the simple reason that we are now in September and by November, the Ukrainian winter will have started to set in, making further advances very difficult. The Russians don’t want to get bogged down in Ukrainian mud and snow over the winter.
It’ll be interesting to see whether France is going to go ahead with delivering the two helicopter carrying warships that it is building for Russia. One is ready and is due to be delivered next month, while the next has yet to be completed. No wonder that the other day, The Guardian ran an article headlined “RIP the new world order”. It was born in Berlin in 1989,with the collapse of communism, died with the Lehmann Brothers in 2008 and was laid to rest in eastern Ukraine in August 2014, according to The Guardian.
With so much concentration on Ukraine, one story run by the Daily Telegraph the other day got totally overlooked. Quoting a well-known Wall Street analyst, the story said that she believed that there is about to be a sudden and catastrophic collapse in the value of American stocks, which will lose 60 per cent of their value, bringing them back to 2007 levels and precipitating another global front. This same analysis has been doing the rounds in Wall Street all summer and no-one has taken much notice.
Here in Dublin, there’s another story showing the true face of the banking industry. An elderly couple, depending on the husband’s state pension and income support from the government, had been renting a house in west Dublin for the past 15 years, for €800 a month. The man who owned the house eventually went bankrupt and the Irish-based bank that was owed the money, and is itself owned by the Dutch Rabobank, called in the receivers. The couple refused to vacate the house, but last week, bailiffs turned up an evicted the couple onto the street still in their nightwear. They can’t find anywhere else to live, because of soaring rents and all their possessions are locked in their old house.
They are currently living with friends, but so far, haven’t been able to get a new home for themselves. The Dutch bank in question, its receivers and their bailiffs must be congratulated on their tactics, which many reckon aren’t too different from those of the Gestapo. And anyone who thinks that the Dutch establishment is oh so liberal should think again. It’s quite capable as being as neo-Nazi as anyone, when the occasion warrants it. The reaction to this particular situation by the authorities has been absolutely lamentable. The government indeed officialdom generally in Dublin was fast asleep at the wheel, as usual, snoring its head off, totally unconcerned and uncaring. It’s happy to comply with all the legal niceties, but that’s as far as it goes.
But then aren’t most governments exactly the same; they’ll help the rich, famous and well connected but when it comes to helping ordinary people, well, they can just go and whistle down the wind. The current French government is displaying its incompetence in spades-how long before the dam breaks?
Just to end a strange story or rather non-story about the Irish media. Last week, Claire Grady resigned as editor of the Irish Independent and left its owners, Independent News & Media. When she got the job, in August,2013, it was big news and rightly so, the first time a woman had been made editor of the Irish Independent, which is the biggest selling daily in the Republic. Yet over the past few days, the story of her leaving has just died the death. It has all been in sharp contrast to what happened in the UK media last January when Tony Gallagher was fired as the editor of the Daily Telegraph. The story generated hectares of coverage, online and in print, yet the Grady story in Ireland disappeared into a well of nothingness, as so often happens with locally important news stories here.