Wednesday, 20 November 2013

France is Floundering

The news here is full of how unpopular the Socialist President Hollande is and whatever the latest humiliation for his struggling government is today. Initially voted in because people voted against the right wing Nicolas Sarkozy, his first few weeks had promise. He appointed Jean Marc Ayrault as Prime Minister and that went down a treat.

Hornets fight over the remains of a windfall pear.
But then his current spouse, the political journalist Valérie Treirweiler, made an astonishingly public and unashamedly disloyal statement of support for someone running against his ex spouse Ségolene Royal, and it's all gone downhill from there. Ségolene has been shafted, now relegated to regional politics, and Valérie has been quiet as a mouse for months.

Common Wasps, like hogs at a trough.
Now he is completely overshadowed by his Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who seems to have a finger in every pie going. I can't decide if he is a nasty piece of work, or whether he really is the only one in the government who can get anything done. Several Ministers have had embarrassing scandals cut their careers short, including Jérome Cahuzac who was tasked with sorting out the tax system, only to have his secret Swiss bank account revealed.

Medlar fruit, known in French as culs de chiens.
Woe betide you if you are in business in France. The rumour mill is grinding constantly. It is impossible to plan anything as you never know when an attempt to change some crucial piece of legislation will be presented to parliament. Once it is public, then there are endless arguments and protests, ending up in the watering down of the proposals, and vaguer and vaguer announcements about when such legislation will actually come into effect. Young ministers such as Sylvia Pinel, are publicly contradicted by the no longer golden Ayrault. I don't have much love for Mme Pinel, as her Ministry for Trades and Tourism has caused me personally considerable angst. However, I was astounded when Ayrault undermined her attempts at business reform, behaving as if she was an inexperienced school girl and he the patronising headmaster. It is clear the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing, and that face is more important than the future of France.

And the really nasty wannabes are getting louder and louder. The far right Front National is doing well in the polls and ordinary people feel free to publicly taunt a Minister of North African background in a clearly racist way.

The one piece of legislation that has gone through as proposed despite vocal and unpleasant protests is the mariage pour tous law. Not long afterwards I had a rather bizarre conversation with my bank conseillère (client customer service officer) when we were chatting at the end of our meeting. 'Why,' she asked, had Hollande 'focused on this piece of legislation and been so determined to get it through?' 'After all,' she said, 'Gay people hadn't asked for it. What difference does it make? Who cares? Why is he not focusing on financial issues?' I sat there rather taken aback and wondered just how many gay people she knew (none, I assume...)

Almost completely shredded by bird attacks, this Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly struggles on.
All that is just the domestic politics. Internationally, France is trying to save the EU and the Eurozone. Unfortunately, it looks like Hollande and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel do not personally like one another. Their political backgrounds are so different it seems they may not be able to work together effectively.

Personally, I cannot understand why the Centerist Francois Bayrou doesn't gain more of a following as a Presidential candidate in France. My theory is he smiles too much.

 The distinctly unprepossessing parasitic fly Tachina grossa.
Feel free to chime in with your own litany of frustrations in the comments section...
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Lichen Outing: The Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine is holding an outing in Sainte Maure to look at lichens on Sunday 24 November. Meet at 2 pm in front of the mairie. Don't forget to bring your loupe.
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A la cuisine hier: Slow-roasted Shoulder of Lamb. I bought the lamb shoulder at the butcher in Preuilly. It weighed 1.5 kg and was priced at €15/kg. As usual we discussed how I was going to cook the meat and the butcher asked me if I wanted him to remove the bones. I said no, but he recommended removing just the shoulder blade itself, and I agreed (he also very kindly weighed it sans shoulder bone when he charged me). He told me that prepared like that it is called épaule d'agneau, façon gigot. 7-hour Lamb is a well known dish here, so he gave me the benefit of his opinion about how one should cook it. He says even for a leg 7 hours is too long and if you cook it that long you will end up with nothing. He says for modern legs of lamb in modern ovens 5 hours at 120°C is about right, and less for shoulder, which is not so thick. He is also an advocate of not salting prior to cooking, but after.

He has taken on an apprentice, who is about 16 years old I would guess, and was absolutely not going to interact with me. I asked him in my best embarrassing middle aged middle class patronising foreign lady manner if he was learning lots and got a grunt and a shrug (presumably Gallic) in response. He did however bid me au revoir when I left. Even for the callowest of youths it would be unthinkable not to do so.

Last time I was at the butcher's he was discussing the difficulties of taking on an apprentice with one of the local joiners. I thought he had decided against it because it would involve changing his opening hours and other logistical moves. Apparently an employer is required to give apprentices two consecutive days off, and the butcher closes on Thursdays and Sundays.
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A Vine Collection at Risk: The Institute of Agronomy Research (INRA) holds a unique collection of more than 40 grape vine varieties from around the world at Domaine de Vassal in the south of France. It is the largest reference collection of its kind and because of the way they are grown they are phylloxera free. Most importantly, this is a living archive, including many old and forgotten varieties, and is a gene pool like no other. Because of funding issues there is a proposal to move the vines which could impact very heavily on the collections survival. If you care about such things, please sign the online petition to save the collection on its current site. Thanks to Jim's Loire for alerting me to this situation.

16 comments:

  1. I like your analysis of the current French political situation. I think the UMP right is becoming the center in France, trapped between the mainstream socialists and the far left, on one side, and the Front National extreme right on the other. The former centrists like Bayrou really have nowhere to go.

    As for same-sex marriage, I'm still trying to find out if our NY marriage is recognized here or if it needs to be registered somehow in France to become legally sanctioned. I've talked to our mayor and she says her assistant is getting training on such matters. The next step is for me to go to the mairie and ask some questions. And also to get a translation of the marriage certificate from the State of New York.

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  2. Thank you for that delightful, amusing insight in to French politics! Rather similar to the current scene in the UK with personality over policy. I am taking rather more interest in the French scene as we hope to be moving permanently to Chambon in January!

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  3. Ken: I agree. Like so much of the western world there is nothing to distinguish the main parties now.

    Poseidon: how exciting for you! Good luck with it all, and don't hesitate to get in touch if you want to meet up for coffee (you can email us via our profiles -- link on the right side bar).

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  4. How well your text fitted the pictures Susan. Or is it the other way round?

    When you finished with a "distinctly unprepossessing parasitic" fly I felt the words could so easily also be applied to a number of politicians over here. The worry is that if our current right get turfed out they might also be replaced by an equally dysfunctional left.

    Belated congratulations to Simon and yourself on
    the rejuvenated hallway.

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  5. John: glad you noticed the care with which the photos were chosen :-) Dysfunctional is the word alright -- for politics everywhere at the moment it seems.

    The hallway is entirely Simon's good work. I just make approving noises.

    I hope your journey went well yesterday.

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  6. I too was thinking along the same lines as John... a sting in the tale aka tail for Hollande who evidently spoke an English sentence misusing the word "business" as far as I can understand. He seems to lurch from one disaster to another... if only he were to make business easier here and employment easier in France then i think there would be growth...I can understand the protection of all that we love as Francophiles but it is already lost in many places. Christmas has appeared in French shops and we are not ŷet in December? I remember fondly arriving to rural France several years ago with not a noël deco in sight until Christmas Eve when everyone did their shopping for food and gifts or so it seemed. Now look at it all and UK gets even worse with consumeristic nonsense.
    There is no such thing a s a decent politician working for the community of a country.
    BUT faith we have to have!!, I was told in Leroy Merlin on Monday that it was normal for prices to augment but when I told Madame that my pension wasn't she shrugged the Gallic shoulder!
    Well done Susan for an eloquent dip into French politics..

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  7. Have signed the petition - it's just down the road from me! Thanks for alerting me.

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  8. Thanks LJ. Every little bit helps.

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  9. I have signed the petition.

    The right name in French for the Mespilus germanica tree is 'Néflier' and the fruit is a 'nèfle'. I have never heard it called 'cul de chien' until today.
    According to Wikipedia cul de chien [or cul de singe] is vernacular to Morvan, a small mountainous area in Burgundy.

    'Nèfle' was my father's favorite fruit.

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  10. chm: I know they are usually called neflé but it suited my purpose to refer to them as 'dogs' arses' here.

    Thanks for signing the petition.

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  11. I admire you, Susan, for that brilliant analysis of French politics at the present. It's very depressing isn't it? I tried to collate the photos with the text but in the end I thought they may not be all that symbolic. I don't think butchers' apprentices these days are very motivated. Most of them end up in supermarkets it seems.
    The tradition in France among butchers has always been that the sale of the butcher shop along with the goodwill is what enables them to have a decent retirement but many are afraid now that they simply will not be able to find a buyer. That is the case of our butcher in Chaumont, for example. There is always the hope that a good apprentice may turn into an interested party. Obviously not the case here!

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  12. About the nèflier. We have them too but the deer love them so, since they aren't particularly tasty (though mixed with apple compote they give a slight tang), we leave them to it. "Cul de chien" (or even "cul de singe - monkey's arse) is regional it seems (Lorraine, Morvan, Lyonnais, etc.). Also called mesle.

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  13. Our neighbors have a néflier and they call the fruits nèfles. I've never tasted them because the neighbors come down from Blois soon after the first frost and pick them all.

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  14. Fraussie: The photos weren't chosen to match particular individuals, just as oblique comment on the general situation. Politics worldwide is depressing at the moment. I doubt I'd feel any better if I lived in Tony Abbott's Australia. The really depressing thing is that people you know must have voted for these guys, and that there isn't a really credible alternative.

    I think the butcher is planning for succession in fact. The apprentice has only been there a week -- I'm sure he will come out of his shell with time. A lot of butchers and bakers prefer to work within the safety of the salaried supermarkets rather than have the endless hassle of running their own business btw.

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  15. I did enjoy the synthesis of text and photographs.....very much indeed!

    Medlars were called open arse by my grandmother's neighbour in the south of England....and cul de chien went perfectly with the post...

    Did you see that Ayrault is promising a new vision for taxation next year...only to be promptly slapped down by Hollande who was - as usual - abroad at the time.
    Anything to avoid addressing the AGM of the Maires of France...

    I said that the man was a recipe for disaster when he was elected. I think I'll change my name to Cassandra.

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  16. Fly: I haven't seen Hollande's reaction. How do these proposals get to be public before all these arguments are thrashed out? It's a crazy way to run a government.

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