Bienvenue tous le monde to the new mid-week update on politics and life in France here on Continental. Covid news as usual. I’ve pushed it toward the back if only to preserve the fiction that the virus isn’t the dominant fact in our present lives.
Weird Scenes Inside The Gold City
“First of May 2021. Rue de Rivoli is empty, the crows have the trash cans to themselves. The traditional privatisation of Jeanne d’Arc by the extreme-right begins at 9:30, and apart from twenty five photographers, no one seems to know what’s going on. Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella place a clutch of flowers at the foot of the horse and speak to the press for ten minutes before leaving. No militants nearby, the chirping of birds is audible. No grand speeches this year, Place de l’Opera is deserted, everything is on-line. The last campaigns took place on-line and because of Covid and its constraints, the next one is gently planned ‘without contact.’ ”
Napoléon died two hundred years ago today, in exile on the tiny island of Saint-Helena. This afternoon President Emmanuel Macron, formerly the Jupiterian president now testing his populist make-over, will give a discourse on the Emperor, something that has already inspired polemics on many sides.
Meanwhile the French and English are making threatening noises, this time over the island of Jersey, that’s Guernesey in French, the largest of the Channel Islands but more accurately 65 square kilometers nestled between Lower Normandy and le nez du France, Brittany, hence not in the channel at all, really, but still worth throwing a tantrum over.
Return to Napoléon for a moment. The debate revolves (without ever resolving) over the difference between a commemoration and a celebration. Which is it ? We are reminded that the Emperor was responsible for retreats from two of the revolution’s greatest achievements, the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women, not to mention being a dictator who involved France in endless wars which killed a large percentage of the French population, only slightly less than that of the First World War a century later.
Let’s give the stage to the historian Natalie Petiteau, author of Napoléon Bonaparte, La nation incarnée writing in Libération.
“If to commemorate is to remember as a society, to celebrate leads to praise, to extol. Napoléon has no need of glorification : the way his shadow is written into our culture after his reign suffices to assure him a omnipresent glory. And despite the existence of hostile currents, the probable success of the expositions dedicated to him in 2021 will doubtless testify to this. France has a mania for celebrating centenaries, bicentenaries and others.
“If this commemoration revives debate when it aims at a celebration, that is because the years 1799-1815 are before all else assimilated, by many of our compatriots, as years of incessant war. If they are first of all meaningful in the continuity of the wars of Europe against France in the Revolution, these wars were, in fact, prolonged, from 1807 and in the Spanish war, by Napoleon’s inability to conclude a peace that did not exalt the glory of his Empire.
“Certainly, women had succeeded in making their claims heard during the French Revolution. But the elites, small and large, finally triumphant in 1799, wished a social pacification which could not be done without a strong dose of conservatism. How many men dared to see in their wife their equal before the law ?”
At the same time that the number of patients in hospitals and emergency rooms in France is going down for the first time in months, six cases (as of yesterday) of the highly infectious Indian Covid Variant have been detected in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, two in Bouches-du-Rhone and one in the Lot-et- Garonne (a man recently returned from India)...essentially, spread over many points in the country. (Two cases in Guadaloupe as well.)
This comes on the heels of the Elysées’ cautious, detailed announcement of a schedule for reopening the country, which proceeds in stages. The first has already happened on the third of May, with the end of restrictions on travel and reopening of schools and universities. (That means our relations can now drive from Fontainebleau legally, just as she’s been doing throughout confinement-curfew-ten-kiloms-travel-limit. A ritual misdemeanor enacted all over France.) The next step is on the 19 of the month when the curfew will be moved back to 9 p.m. and the terraces of restaurants and museums will reopen with restrictions (six persons only to a table). On the ninth of June, the crufew slides a little further into the night, to 11 p.m. Restaurants and sporting venues can throw open their doors. Tourists with Covid-documentation will be able to enter the country. And finally, on the thirtieth of June everything will be reopen, there will be no more limit to persons entering a sporting event, etc., everything except the discos. (What in the world does Macron have against dancing ?)
This is an announcement. A public service announcement, as they used to say on American TV when they canned the usual programming, by the same president who has announced the light at the end of the viral tunnel nine times already. We’ve been here before. In fact, we were here last summer. Only the dates and the vaccines have changed. It is wise to read the small print.
Like an insurance contract, Bonnefoy says, you have to read the fine print. Which says, ‘Re-openings applicable except in case of deteriorating departmental conditions.’
“Meanwhile far away in another part of town”.... in Strasbourg, a move to lift the patents on Covid vaccines was debated in the European Parliament. At the same time that even Brazil’s Senate voted for and there is pressure all over the world to do so, the European Parliament voted against. Tabulation of French representatives is below. It’s one thing to admit that, at the same time many people in Europe are in favor of nationalization of the pharmaceuticals, too many representatives are in the pockets of Big Pharma. The president’s party, En Marche, and the conservative Répubicains, predictably voted against lifting the patents. Greens and la France Insoumise voted for, with Manon Aubry leading the charge. But the much diminished Socialists, a shadow party with six representatives, split down the middle. Did the purse get in the way of the conscience ? Weren’t they just talking about an all-left alliance ? They can’t even convince themselves of it.
The bill lost 450 to 162. Jean-Luc Mélenchon posted the French participation.
And yes, in yet another spin off from Brexit, in the dispute over fishing rights in British waters, France’s Minister for Maritime Affairs, Annick Girardin, has said she was “revolted” by the UK government’s behavior and was ready to retaliate. Is she proposing to invade ? That would make for some summer, post-restriction fun. (Thousands of troops on board but no dancing, eh.) No, Madame la Ministere stopped short of that, saying she might, would, could conceivably shut down the power to Guersney, which gets its electricity from France via underwater cable. She sends her regrets. You can read all about it in the Guardian.
On Friday we’ll take a close look at the General’s Revolt last week and the protest against a windfarm off-shore the Cotes d’Armor, near Saint-Brieuc, to see what two very different events have to tell us about upcoming elections, this year and next, in France. And, is the Acropolis being ruined by concrete ?
With any luck I’ll be one of the early visitors to the new Vaccinodrome opening at the Porte des Versailles later today. Macron visits tomorrow and so will I.
Keeping our eyes open for art of all kinds (not easy to see right now) the marvelous and perverse Toshio Saeki show closed at Galerie Da-End on rue Guénégaud in Paris.
Male Gazes meet Female Fury in the work of Toshio Saeki. ‘Jyaki-Haku,’ seriegraphy.