We went up to Paris on the train on 8 February. Simon needed to renew his Australian passport and the classic car show Rétromobile was on so we stayed a few days in the big city.
We took the 'slow' train up, which pootles along the Loire Valley at a mere 200km per hour. This train has a number of carriages with old fashioned style compartments. We ended up in a compartment with another couple. He was reading the popular weekly satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné.
We got chatting and I felt confident enough to ask him to pose with the newspaper so I could photograph it/him. I thought it was a good opportunity to write about a paper that is a household name in France. It's the French equivalent of the British Private Eye or the American Onion. Curiously, there is no Australian equivalent that I am aware of.
The edition he was reading was particularly juicy. Presidential candidate François Fillon had just informed everyone that he had done nothing wrong by paying his wife tens of thousands of euros from public funds as his 'assistant', and what's more it's nobody else's business how much he chose to pay her. He is not going to renounce his candidature so his party can just put up and shut up is his attitude. Technically, apparently, this is true, in that what he did isn't illegal, but it has shocked and disappointed the French public to the core because it sure isn't in the spirit of public service, and he has campaigned as the 'squeaky clean corruption free' candidate.
The man on the train was disgusted with Fillon's behaviour, and disgusted that this sort of rort was even possible in France. He was sure it wouldn't be tolerated in Germany, Britain, wherever. The headlines in Le Canard enchaîné say things like 'the investigators found no material indication of Penelope doing any work, but there is a record of her redundancy payment', and 'one more proof that Fillon knows how to cash in!'.
Le Canard enchaîné is based in Paris and specialises in political and business investigative journalism. It was founded in 1915 and was a direct response to the closure due to censorship laws of Georges Clemenceau's paper L'Homme Libre. The name of the paper is a clever multiple word play, which can be interpreted as 'the censored paper' or 'the inside whisper'. Today the paper is non-aligned politically, anti-clerical and anti-aristocracy. It is fully funded by subscription, features a good number of satirical cartoons, some reporting on the arts and social issues and interviews (some real, some satirical inventions). The paper does not take advertisements and is privately owned (partly by the employees). It pokes fun at anyone in public life, especially politicians, giving them nicknames and relies on anonymous sources who are clearly very well placed in government circles. Investigations carried out by Le Canard enchaîné in the past have included details of Paris Chief of Police Maurice Papon's role in the Holocaust and corruption during Jacques Chirac's time as mayor of Paris. As a result of the way it is run it is one of the most highly regarded, widely read and influential newspapers in France.
I have to admit, I don't read it. Satire is fun in small doses, but an entire newspaper devoted to the art is not my thing. Despite having immense respect for its longtime editor Ian Hislop, I didn't read Private Eye either, when we lived in England.
So, who is hidden behind this paper? A well educated, politically aware, middle class, interested and interesting, humorous, late middle aged French man, a good sport about being photographed with his newspaper of choice, with a daughter who lives in Cirencester (England) and who was travelling to Paris on the train with his wife. He took my business card and checked out Days on the Claise on the spot! I really enjoyed meeting him and his wife and it made the train journey much more fun.