Once Upon A Time In France: Triomphe Tissue, M&S Meltdown, And Champagne Capitulation

Dreaming of Saint-Malo

Following a mini-holiday last week in Paris, we happened to pass the Arc de Triomphe on our way to catching the regional train back to our suburban nest. There are so many similar monuments across Europe that I often regret not having been born in time to get the franchise on this particular market. Whatever delight the Paris version may promise and whatever mystical romantic pull it holds for tourists tend to be overshadowed for me by the tempest of cars swirling around the traffic circle giving it a Death Race 2000 kind of feel.

On this particular Saturday morning, we noticed a dozen or so hardhats on top of the Arc which seemed like a dizzy and terrifying job. There were various wooden beams covering some of the facades and statutes and ropes and pullies dangling from on high. This is wholly unremarkable in a country that invests hundreds of millions of euros every year in preserving its Patrimoine. Rare is the major architectural gem that you can visit in France that doesn’t have at least some scaffolding obscuring its wonders and making that perfect Instagrammable pic so elusive.

What I didn’t realize that day was that the buzz of activity was actually the beginnings of an art project to wrap the Arc in fabrics in an hommage to the late artist Christo.

Such stunts over the years have frankly left me unmoved. Far more entertaining, in this case, were the reactions.

As you can imagine, the French had some opinions.

One Conservative politician tweeted: “Emotional thoughts for the tourist from the end of the world who has spent all his savings to afford a few days in Paris and who falls on this giant tarp at €14M which completely covers the Napoleonic masterpiece and national treasure that he had been promised.”

I suppose the good news is that there still aren’t many international tourists coming to Paris at the moment, so the crushing disappointment of not seeing the underlying monument should be minimized. Also: Is the Arc really at the top of anyone’s list for why they want to visit Paris?

Still, that didn’t stop some from seizing on the art project as a symbol of France’s decline and the destruction of its values (at least they can’t blame Americans for this one!) and the general mismanagement of Paris by Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Which reveals more about the ascendancy of the Culture Wars in French politics than it does about the decision to stick the Arc inside a shower curtain.

As one Twitter user tweeted about Hidalgo (who has officially declared that she’s running for president next Spring in a futile bid to unite the left): “She allows drug addicts (and) dealers room to take drugs quietly, rats as big as cats, trash cans everywhere and so on, one more shit, a big trash bag covering the triumphal arch that goes without saying.”

Of course these days it’s hard to know who is real on Twitter who is a bot. But the drapes come off the Arc in a couple of weeks, so the original in all of its exhaust-darkened glory will once again be visible and ready for its Instagram close-up.

Marks & Spencer Meltdown

For about 2 years, my wife commuted from her job in Paris, splitting her week between there and Toulouse. This challenging living situation came with a big silver lining: Each Friday before she boarded the TGV at Paris’ Montparnasse station to return, she’d shop at the Marks & Spencer and come home loaded with goodies such as REAL bacon, cheese scones, and various other delicacies that we missed from the U.S.

M&S is a British brand, but it had come to fill this tiny void in our French-American lives. It’s an even bigger lifeline to the British who live in Paris and miss their British food thingies. Particularly the sandwiches which are extremely popular.

Alas, earlier this year M&S stores in Paris were reporting empty shelves post-Brexit. Now, apparently, the logistics have gotten so bad that execs are contemplating shutting down all their French stores.

Naturally, British politicians and company execs are blaming this on those tricky Europeans who fooled them into holding a vote on Brexit and then suckered them into passing it. M&S execs have referred to “draconian” shipping rules, which are actually just the shipping rules that already existed before the U.K. pulled out of the E.U.

In any case, it appears my streak of never eating a prawn sandwich no matter how much you pay me will continue until the end of time.

Champagne Capitulation

Nobody needs another reason to be angry at the Russian government these days, but Putin decided to concoct one anyway this summer. His government passed a law that said the label “Champagne” could be used by sparkling wines made in Russia and that French producers had to add the words “sparkling wine” to their bottles.

This may seem like a minor nuance, but the good folks of France’s Champagne region were incensed. The Champagne industry association called for a boycott of Russia as talks began to resolve the dispute.

The term “Champagne” has protected status in 120 countries. Adding “sparkling wine” seemed like heresy to main here. Plus, there is the practical cost of changing labeling.

But this week the industry association called off the boycott so the bubbly can flow again claiming they had made their point. Next on tap: A likely appeal of the matter to the World Trade Organization.

Dreaming Of France

Saint-Malo is a coastal town in the Ille-et-Vilaine Department in the Brittany Region. The town, once a haven for pirates, is best known these days for its beaches, as well as a departure point to catch a ferry to the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. Its walled city center (known as La Ville Intra-Muros) offers loverly strolls over cobblestone lanes, and an assortment of top restaurants, spas, and hotels. For the family, there is an aquarium and the château of Saint-Malo.

Great Reads

In other beverage news, True Fruits caused an uproar with its rather graphic label for a drink that targets school kids. This prompted The Local to explore why the French are so much more liberal with their use of the f-word":

“One of the reasons why the French seem to use the word so much is that they just don’t get the weight of ‘fuck’ in English.

While ‘fuck’ has undoubtedly become more widely used in English speaking countries in recent years, there are still plenty of situations where you wouldn’t use it, especially in anything concerning children.”

Squint hard to find the butt farting.

Meanwhile, thieves stole 10 million euros worth of jewelry from a store in Paris in broad daylight. France Today explored Burgundy. And The New York Times profiled CNEWS, the French equivalent to Fox News, which has been stoking the aforementioned Culture Wars. Its most popular on-screen personality, Éric Zemmour, was forced off the air this week after a French regulatory authority ruled that he was acting like a presidential candidate and therefore CNEWS would have to offer equal time to other candidates.

Eight long months to go before the presidential vote.

Le Pecq

Chris O’Brien