Once Upon A Time In France: Macron Megabucks, Paris Flight, And Kiffe Keanu

Dreaming of Ax-les-Thermes

The U.S. will end its travel ban in a few weeks for European countries which means the French are giddy over the prospect of getting to visit the country that is the source of their moral and cultural decline. The vaccinated French who can scrounge up the bucks will arrive just in time for the heart of American football season and Thanksgiving, rituals that likely make no sense to them.

Of course, in a strategically poor choice of timing that reveals its own lack of cultural attunement, the U.S. will end the ban on November 8. Which as any beleaguered French parent will tell you is the day after the annual two-week school holiday known as Toussaint (All saints) ends. No doubt some hardy and well-financed business travelers will be soaring across the pond in November, and perhaps there will still be some enticing deals for the hoi polloi. But it’s not the biggest of Transatlantic travel periods.

On the other hand, I’m sure they could use a holiday of sorts from the babble of French politics which has become deafening. There is now a poll almost every day which primarily shows that President Macron’s support remains steady (and he is favored to win re-election next Spring), that terrifying right-wing trolls continue to dominate the public discourse, and that left-wing candidates are doing their best to dig themselves into a giant hole of irrelevance. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was officially anointed this weekend as the candidate who will lose the election for the center-left Social Party.

Last week, Macron tried to grab the campaign spotlight back using that time-honored benefit of incumbents: Making it rain money. At a lavishly produced event, the prez unveiled a “€30bn plan to ‘reindustrialize’ France and make it a global leader on green hydrogen, create new, smaller nuclear reactors and invest in French television series and video games to challenge foreign offerings on platforms like Netflix,” as The Guardian reported.

The event featured a logo whose main intent, I would presume, is to hypnotize citizens into voting for Macron, a novel and innovative strategy!

But in a strange attempt to make no new friends, the French president also engaged in a little French bashing (and trust me, no one knows how to self-flagellate like the French), by noting that his subjects are a bunch of lazy bums:

“When we compare ourselves, we are a country that works less than the others in quantity, this remains true. And so, we have an allocated amount of work that is not at the right level, both in the lifecycle and in cumulative schedules. (…) We need to have a country that produces more. "

“Get off your damn asses!” will make for an intriguing campaign slogan. Still, Marcon overall tried to rally his compatriots by also playing to their ego and sense of French Grandeur by calling for the country to become a global leader in medical research and green energy, and basically everything made under the sun. Naturally, this included a stirring video of France’s Greatest Innovation Hits! (The TGV! The Concorde!)

The personal highlight for me was in fact an article in The Spectator, the conservative British magazine, in which a triggered Jonathan Miller declares “Macronism is dead” and insists that he only may be re-elected because: “France may end up clinging to Macron as nurse, for fear of something worse. But French voters haven’t yet bought the suspiciously well-edited vision of the future he is selling.”

There is nothing as delightfully amusing as a sourpuss British pundit, still embittered by the tattered dreams of empire, trying to piss on the heads of their cousins across the Channel.

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Paris Flight

A trend that existed before the pandemic but accelerated with Covid was the exodus of families from Paris. But according to a new report by RFI, Paris’ elementary school population has shrunk by 6,000 kiddos over the past year:

The number of Paris schoolchildren has been falling steadily over the past decade, leading to the closure of several schools.

But the five-percent drop this year, to 113,000 students, is two to three times greater than in previous years.

"We're seeing both the structural phenomenon of lower natality rates" combined with "the effects of Covid and working from home," said Patrick Bloche, one of the city's deputy mayors.

As a result, the net loss has been 20 classes closed across the city this year, leaving an average of 21 children in each kindergarten class and 20 in primary schools numbers that other cities would dream of having, Bloche added.

"It's quite huge, we've never had so many pupils lost in one year," says the director of a school in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, which has 115 pupils this year, compared to 140 last year.

The reasons are all the usual suspects: Cost of living, small urban spaces, and now telecommuting. Though this hasn’t necessarily led to a reset in real estate prices, many are predicting that will happen eventually. While local leaders have been trying to make the city greener and more livable, it’s hard to escape the feeling that it will be hard to stop this hollowing out.

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Kiffe Keanu

Kiffe or Kiffer is one of these French words that I adore but that I am too timid to actually use casually in conservation. It basically means something along the lines of “to dig”: I dig you (je te kiffe.) It’s an informal way to say you’re really into something or someone. The problem is that I’m never really sure how into something this would suggest I am. Is it more “I like you” or “I think you’re awesome” or “I think about you every waking minute of my existence and can’t imagine life without you”?

So, better to be safe than watching the mortified look on someone’s face as they awkwardly back away.

I do feel safe in saying, however, that Paris kiffe Keanu Reeves. Paris Twitter lit up last week because the man who has made an improbable career out of being completely stoic and devoid of any emotion in every film he has made turned up in the city filming the next installment of the John Wick franchise. (Somehow, despite my pop culture obsessions, I have never seen a John Wick movie or a Fast and Furious movie.)

Of course, modern-day Paris is basically a movie set that also doubles as a place where people sometimes live and work. So it says something about the status of a movie star that they can actually make Parisians put down their baguette and espresso and take to Twitter to swoon.

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Dreaming Of France

Ax-les-Thermes is a village in the Ariege Department in the Occitanie Region. It is one of our favorite places to ski in the Pyrénées thanks to its spacious slopes and easy access by train or car from Toulouse. The Ax 3 Domaines is still one of the most beautiful ski stations in the Pyrénées with some of the most spectacular views.

If you need a change of pace, the Chioula Nordic ski station is outstanding. Chioula is located about 15 minutes from Ax-les-Thermes and offers 15 trails for cross-country skiing, 4 snowshoe trails, and even a sledding area.

Located downtown, Les Bains Du Couloubret is the perfect coda to a day of skiing. For €18.50, you get two hours of access to the thermal baths, where the waters run between 33 degrees Celsius and 38 degrees Celsius. There’s also a hammam and sauna.

If that’s too much, just dip your feet in the hot spring that runs through the middle of town.

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Great Reads

Villagers in Normandy are trying to block a new underwater communications project, though apparently the British are not familiar with the American slang “laying cable.” In the latest sign of the apocalypse, the French are eating more mozzarella than camembert. French officials and educators paid homage to Samuel Paty, the teacher who was beheaded last year touching off debates about free speech, immigration, and fake news. France is also still trying to atone for its sins in Algeria.

Finally, a new big-budget flick has just been released about that dude who made that big metal structure that accounts for 65% of all photos on Instagram. And Georgia O’Keeffe is getting her first exhibition in France.

Chris O’Brien

Le Pecq, France