"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in elections (4)


Sarkozy, C'est Fini!


Sunday night, at Place Bastille, where at least a hundred thousand jubilant people gathered under an overcast sky to welcome a new president, it all came down to two chants.

Sarkozy, c'est fini! (SAHR-ko-zee SAY-fee-nee)!

Hollande gagne! (OH-lan GAHN-yea)!

"Sarkozy is finished," and "Hollande won."

So ended the hard-fought and often nasty election campaign which saw France turn for the first time in sixteen years to the Socialists, making the center/right Nicolas Sarkozy a single-term president. 

This was the scene a few seconds past eight p.m., when the TV station being broadcast on the stadium-sized screen at Place Bastille flashed François Hollande's photograph, over the percentage of votes (51.7%) that exit polls showed him receiving. The jubilation was reminiscent of Barack Obama's 2008 Grant Park rally on election night in Chicago:


In addition to our exclusive Paris Play video, here are faces of the evening captured in stills, with our impressions, and a word or two about what we think could come next.


A line of (mostly) women dancing and ululating with glee

A father and daughter celebrate


And plenty of time for silliness


Each time the screen showed a picture of the outgoing president, seen here conceding defeat, the huge crowd booed...


...or worse


The young and lithe climbed to the base of the famous Bastille column


Thousands upon thousands of revelers boiled out of the Metro stations...


...and boogied on to Place Bastille, swelling the crowd to at least a hundred thousand strong


He was disappointed that the police forbade him to ride his motorcycle into the huge crowd...


...while these folks on rue St. Antoine cheered the celebrants from their safe second-floor perch


The magazine L'Express was hot off the presses within two hours, while the president-elect didn't arrive to address the waiting crowd until 12:45 the next morning


There were plenty of homemade signs, and the crowd was overwhelmingly young


The ubiquitous image of Che Guevara, found wherever leftist internationalists gather


In 2008, when Obama and his supporters celebrated in Grant Park, they did so under a growing economic cloud, the result of the Bush administration's mishandling of the American economy, which meant the celebrations had to be short, because the United States was in crisis. The economy cast a pall that Obama still labors under; as he runs for a second term, the Republicans work to foster the lie that the Great Recession is the Democratic president's fault.  

Three-and-a-half years after Grant Park, incoming president Hollande labors under a similar cloud. The European economy is worse off than the United States' (though the entire world economy is yoked together), and France suffers from record high unemployment, as its citizens chafe at the austerity measures the European Union is demanding.

Hollande's victory flies in the face of that demand. He believes (as does American economist Paul Krugman) that austerity is a ridiculous policy in the face of a recession, and that economies must be nurtured with strong government measures to increase employment and strengthen social programs.

The UK newspaper, The Independent, which doesn't like Hollande, grumps that Sarkozy's defeat "...poses once again the question of whether any national leader, of any party, can impose the degree of austerity deemed necessary by the financial markets and remain electable." One of the messages that both left and right were united on this year was that "financial markets" were not governments; the French wanted French elected officials, not Brussels-based European Union bureaucrats, to make economic and political decisions for their country.

Whatever the next weeks, months, or years of a Hollande presidency have to offer, the basic question is, what kind of a world will this young will-be voter, carried by her mother to witness this critical historical moment, find herself in when she comes of age?





Is This Germany in the Thirties?

Faux Mexican wrestling poster; street art mocking the French presidential runoff


As we wait for Sunday's second round of voting in the French presidential election, when the center-right incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Socialist challenger, François Hollande, face off, mano-a-mano, the big story is still the fact that Marine Le Pen, the 43-year-old, far-right, anti-immigration challenger, picked up almost eighteen percent of the first-round vote April 22. This was a tad more than her father, Jean-Marie, received in the first and second rounds, respectively, as the National Front's presidential candidate in 2002.



Will she, or will she not endorse either remaining candidate by Sunday? some commentators still breathlessly ask.



No, she won't. She dislikes both parties, and positioned herself in a triumphal speech on election night (“We have exploded the monopoly of the two parties...”) as the successor to the failed policies of Sarkozy's UMP party, and the perceived "ultra-liberalism" of Hollande and the left in general. Imagine, for example, if U.S. Republican Sarah Palin had been a third-party candidate, and, having lost in the hypothetical first round, had taken a whack at both McCain and Obama. (Just for fun, further imagine the U.S. with viable third parties, instead of parties that are two sides of a coin residing in a lobbyist's pocket.)



While Ms. Le Pen may not be a kingmaker, there will also be the question of legislative representation in France's multi-party Assembly and Senate further down the line, and perhaps even pressure on Sarkozy (if re-elected) to consider National Front politicians as cabinet members. That's not bloody likely either, according to most pundits, but there are some talking heads who say, "Hey, why not give her a shot? She's got no program other than anti-immigration, trade protectionism, anti-NATO, and ultra-nationalism; give her party some responsibility in a cabinet and watch them tank." Ms. Le Pen has served as a member of the European Parliament, representing north-west France.





Meanwhile, the 'tween elections period was marked by a bit of political theater here in town yesterday (May Day), a ritual that Le Pen's National Front party performs every year, but since this was an election year, their event--a parade and wreath-laying--was bigger and better, and quite well-organized. While the trains didn't run on time (the parade was late), there were dozens of contingents of National Front supporters bussed in from all over France, and the number of blue, white and red national flags made it look like a Nixon rally (had Dick been French).



The ritual political theater, started by Ms. Le Pen's father, who founded the Catholic-based party in 1972, involves placing a floral wreath at a truly gaudy gold-painted statue of Jeanne D'Arc, the national heroine of France, across from the Louvre on Paris' Right Bank.




We at Paris Play found this odd, since we know May Day as an international left-wing celebration, and since May first is known here as Fete du Travail (Labor Day, which is akin to the holiday in the U.S. in September), to honor the labor movement and its successes. Labor is a powerful force here in France, and the 35-hour week and an early retirement age are practically sacrosanct. In late 2010, during his first term, Sarkozy successfully pushed the legislature to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, but a Socialist president with a heavy political debt to labor may work to drop it back down.




Anyway, this is the 600th anniversary year of Jeanne D'Arc's birth, and the fortuitous coincidence of it being an election year in which the National Front did well, made the party's ritual tweaking of left-wing noses even more of an event this year. Marine Le Pen AND Jean-Marie showed up for the wreath-laying, and Paris Play estimates that ten thousand National Front members attended the event, and the party rally in front of the Garnier Opera House.

(Our crowd estimate: We counted 300 people passing a single point during one minute, and the crowd kept passing for one half-hour. Later on Tuesday, we attended the annual left-wing, Left Bank May Day celebration, which coincidentally happened to meander by our block. As we write this post, the crowd is still passing, after some hours. Hundreds of thousands. However, none of the photographs in this post are from that parade. We found the right more fascinating.)



Are we in Germany in the 1930s, as some would have it, and are these the faces of fascism? Or is this just a bunch of scared and angry (and happy to have made a political tremor) French nationalists enjoying the first really sunny Paris day we've had in weeks, since the false spring of late March? We hate stories that end "only time will tell," so we won't say that.

We will note (our friend Mort Rosenblum of Reporting Unlimited tipped us to this excellent New York Times analysis) that there is a rising tide of extreme right sentiment all over Europe, but it appears to us that the National Front is still more of a Le Pen family personality cult (witness the generational hand-off) than a political party (think of a far-poorer populist Ross Perot), and that Marine is just a more attractively packaged and more muted version of her father.

4 May Update:  Perhaps Nicolas Sarkozy read Paris Play's assessment of the Le Pen family party and found himself in agreement with our conclusion, when he called it the Le Pen family business







Here are four short, uncut, high-definition videos of marching, singing, chanting, etc., that will give you even more of the sense of being there. Think of them as uncut newsreel footage. They are Flash, so you might not be able to view them on Apple mobile devices:





In Paris, We All Drive Caddies

A photograph of centrist presidential candidate François Bayrou adorns a supporter's caddy at the Bastille marketplace. Bayrou is expected to get around ten percent of the vote in the preliminary round of voting April 22, and could be a spoiler in the May 6th second round, if he endorses the right-wing Sarkozy instead of the Socialist Hollande.

When we lived in Los Angeles, where we had to drive to get anywhere, Richard would refer to our car as the two-ton backpack. We'd strap on the two-ton backpack to go shop at Whole Foods in El Segundo, or schlep to Home Depot on Jefferson Boulevard, or to bring home a stack of books from Small World Books on the Venice boardwalk.

Here in Paris, we have no car.  Don't need one; don't want one; don't miss one.



But we still go to shop, at any of three long-established local fresh produce markets that are within walking distance, or either of two supermarkets, any of three local pharmacies, any of three hardware stores, the shoe repair shop, four good bakeries, three butchers, the dry cleaners, etc. The neighborhood survives here, and so (fingers crossed, Paris is also being gentrified) do the small shops that help give a neighborhood character and convenience.



And, like everyone else here, we drive a caddy.



If you've been where the urban poor and aged live in the United States, you've seen these caddies, sort of a laundry hamper on wheels, used to tote necessary goods if one doesn't have a car.  And in really sad cases, some people's caddies are large stolen metal shopping carts that serve to hold the only possessions they own.



Here in Paris, there's no social stratification; caddies are not the sole preserve of the aged, the poor, or the homeless; we all drive them, rich, poor, male, female, old, young, Muslim, Christian, Jew--name your demographic, and you drive a caddy.



Many come in Henry Ford's basic black (our choice; we're not flamboyant), but you can find one at the department or hardware store to suit just about any taste, from polka dots, to Tartan plaid, to laminated posters of Ganesha.








Even postal service letter-carriers drive caddies.







And, reflecting another social difference between Paris and Los Angeles, we don't lock our caddies when we go to the store.  People leave them outside, or queue them up at the market entrance while they shop. Yes, we leave them unattended, in a city of 2.5 million people.





We Live In a Political World

Although this is an election year in France, our Dylan-inspired headline doesn't just refer to electoral politics.

Everywhere we turn in Paris, someone's making a statement about something, on sidewalks, walls, fence posts, Metro stations, parked and moving cars, etc.



We've collected some of the socio-political comments we've seen in the last year, which we present below without much comment, only simple translations. Given the fact that it would be rude and presumptuous for us, as immigrants to a new county, to pretend we're au courant on all the nuances, and capable of trenchant commentary, we'll let you simply see what we see.

We see that Parisians live and breathe in a climate where rights--of women, immigrants, minorities, corporations, animals, babies, etc.--are constantly being discussed, debated and argued.



France is reeling, as is the world, from the current economic crisis, and European radicalism being what it is, there's more anti-American and anti-capitalist sentiment on display. And, as we know from American politics, when the economy is bad, demagogues turn against immigrants and against internationalism. Environmental safeguards also take a turn for the worse.


Dechets: waste (toxic, nuclear). OMG: agribusiness, Monsanto. Marées noires: oil spills. 

We can report a few facts about French electoral politics:  Center-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy is running for a second five-year term as president, but he is running behind the Socialist challenger, François Hollande, by as much as fifteen points in some opinion polls. The first round of elections is April 22, with the second round on May 6, if no candidate gets a majority. No candidate ever has. The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, whose father led the National Front party for years, ranks third in the polls with around seventeen percent, but she does not yet have the required number of signatures from local mayors around the country (yes, that's how you qualify) to get on the national ballot.




Please remove your brain before entering.



Notre corps nous appartient: Our body belongs to us. Autonomy, abortion and contraception, free and without charge.


Couples, parenthood, stays, change of civil state. Lesbians, gays, bis, transexual and intersexes want equal rights.


Abas, Nazis, Zionists, fascists, racists! Palestine will live! Will conquer!




Progress in the USA. (An electric chair)



Profits are big in order to pay for your health.


Advertising two days of anti-capitalism demonstrations.


To preserve our health and the future of the planet, leave behind nuclear power.


Get involved. Kick him out.


Do something for liberty at Place Stalingrad on May 28th.


You have to get tough, but without losing your tenderness.


No on the government's proposed austerity plan.



Solidarity with the revolt of immigrants against the borders.


"Banlieues" are the suburbs just outside Paris, many of which are heavily immigrant, and in which major protests and riots occurred in the last decade.




The financial sector is killing us.