Once Upon A Time In France: Tilting Right, Tragic Trial, And Tour De France

Dreaming of Auch

The second round of France’s regional elections was held Sunday and served to confirm a couple of larger trends.

First, Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party once again dramatically underperformed compared to its poll numbers. The RN failed to win a single region as it seemed poised to do so just a few weeks earlier. Phew.

The RN even blew its best chance in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region where its candidate had a slight edge after the first round of voting last week. Traditional conservative candidate Renaud Muselier of Les Républicains. won 54.9 % to 45.1 % over the RN candidate in a race that was expected to be a nail-biter.

The other trend, however, confirms the rightward drift of France. Overall, candidates on the right scored the biggest chunk of the votes. Candidates on the left still managed to win several regions, but their national standing remains diminished.

What any of this means for the 2022 presidential election is anyone’s guess. Particularly because abstentions remained high.

President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party failed to make much of a dent in the regionals, but he personally remains relatively popular as French presidents go. Le Pen also is unlikely to vanish from the scene. And as for the right, the mainstream conservatives are divided. Les Républicains are still trying to figure out how to pick a candidate. And meanwhile, two winners of the regional elections had quit LR and seem likely to run on their own as independent conservatives.

With a broad spectrum of legitimate candidates running next year, the vote could be so split that it’s easy to imagine any combination of 2 candidates winning the first round with less than 20%. Macron’s best hope for re-election would probably be the scenario where he and Le Pen finish as the top 2 and then face each other in the second round of voting.

As if the scenario is not chaotic enough, there seems to be a grassroots movement to draft Eric Zemmour, the right-wing demagogue who has gained national prominence thanks to his incendiary appearances on the right-wing news channel CNEWS. On Monday, #DemainAvecZemmour was trending on Twitter, with tweets featuring people putting up posters across the country supporting his candidacy.

Zemmour has made his name with his anti-immigrant stances, his calls for a return to “traditional” French values, and blaming global warming on things like rising birthrates in Asia and Africa. Much of this show of grassroots support has a coordinated feel, both with the posters and on Twitter, which suggests he’s got some kind of shadow organization pushing his candidacy.

All of this points to an ugly 9 months until the presidential elections. It seems less of a question now of whether France will swing to the right, and more a question of how far.

Tragic Trial

For the past few years, the case of Valérie Bacot has gripped the nation. Bacot has been facing charges of murder for shooting and killing her husband Daniel Polette. Or rather, her stepfather-rapist-turned-husband.

Bacot had said she killed Polette out of desperation after years of abuse. Last year, Bacot published a book Tout Le Monde Savait (Everyone Knew) that recounted her ordeal, which began when Polette was seeing her mom and began to rape her at the age of 12. Polette was charged and when to prison at the time, but returned home on early release and continued to abuse her.

She later became pregnant with his child, moved in with him, and eventually married him. As The Washington Post reported:

She spent the next 18 years in what she has described as “hell.” The couple eventually married, but the abusive relationship became increasingly violent, she recalled in court, and Polette forced her to prostitute herself. Bacot said Polette made her wear an earpiece during sexual encounters with the men so that her husband could give her instructions.

Before the killing, Polette suggested that he might sexually assault her daughter, according to Bacot, and he threatened to kill Bacot herself, waving a firearm in front of her, Bacot said. Her children said they repeatedly tried to alert French police to Polette’s threats — an accusation authorities have denied.

Bacot’s cause was embraced by France’s version of the #MeToo movement. The scandal of the growing number of domestic killings and the rate of domestic violence has become a hot-button issue. Many called for leniency in her case.

As The Guardian noted:

Bacot’s story is one of more than two decades of almost continuous abuse to which first her own mother, then other family members, and finally the police turned a blind eye. When her children tried to report their father to the gendarmerie, they were told to go away.

The case has once again highlighted the failures of the French authorities to deal with widespread domestic abuse against women in a country that has one of the highest rates of femicide – classed here as the murder of a woman by a current or former partner – in Europe. Bacot killed her abuser; in the majority of cases it is the woman who dies. So far this year, at least 55 women have been killed by a current or ex-partner in France.

Bacot could have faced life in prison, but prosecutors instead called for a lighter sentence. This week, a court sentenced her to 4 years, with 3 suspended. With time served, she walked out of the court a free woman.


Tour De France

In another small step toward normalcy, the Tour de France kicked off this week. Unfortunately, the start was less than smooth. A German woman holding out a sign smacked some of the riders causing a massive crash:

You can watch a video of the pile-up here.

Twitter avatar for @MondomoogMichael O @Mondomoog
“Several cyclists continued on the race with injuries including bloody arms and legs.”
buff.ly/3dg08rJ The woman who caused a crash at the #TourdeFrance will be sued once police find her, official says

Authorities are still searching for her. The race is back on track and is scheduled to end in Paris on July 18.

Dreaming Of France

Auch is the unofficial capital of Gascony, located in the heart of the Gers Department in the Occitanie region. This hilltop town was once home to Henri IV before he became King of France. Today, it offers the perfect place to discover the rich Gascogne cuisine and begin exploring the area’s Armagnac industry.

The city center is dominated by the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie which overlooks a plaza lined with restaurants. On Saturday mornings, the plaza is humming with a farmer’s market as people shop and then settle onto one of the terraces for such delicacies as foie gras, magret de canard, and just about anything you can imagine cooked in duck fat. Wander the narrow streets to sample local products, or head down to the Gers River where a paved path offers the perfect setting for a bike ride or a stroll.


Great Reads

The Washington Post has a compelling photo essay about a McDonald’s that was seized by employees and turned into a food bank. Brits facing a post-Brexit June 30 deadline to apply for a residency permit got a reprieve when the deadline was extended to September. The onslaught of Parisians buying homes in France’s Basque country is prompting a backlash.

And finally, Arles, a city in the south of France, officially welcomed the Luma Arles arts campus. The centerpiece is a twisting, shimmering tower designed by Frank Gehry. In a town known more for its Roman monuments, the new structure is drawing the expected controversy, according to The Architect’s Newspaper:

…the response to the Luma Arles Tower—or, simply, the Tower—from online commentators has been highly complimentary, more often than not confounded, but never ambivalent. The social media shellacking has involved snarky comparisonsgrimace face emojis, and Photoshop-aided cheekiness.

Chris O’Brien

Toulouse, France