Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday 19 May 2016

Parisian politics - afterthought

As the referendum debate in this country (I'll be out of the country again, so I'll be voting early, though not often) becomes more and more chaotic farcical,  I'm reminded that there was a European Day outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris.

 In part some display panels about what sort of projects in France EU money has been spent on, in part a fair with stands for all sorts of EU institutions and pressure groups to hand out the usual flyers and goodies, in part some entertainment and some serious talks (that looked less enticing):

And someone was selling a book of jokes based on national stereotypes, the cover handily showing you who makes fun of whom. Not surprisingly, most people seem to tell jokes about their neighbours (though somehow the Danes and Portuguese get overlooked). But why (apparently) do Hungarians tell jokes about Scots?

Sunday 15 May 2016

Parisian politics

I wouldn't have expected the London local elections to feature very highly on the news agenda in France, but it certainly appeared in the TV news headlines, and in at least one fairly high profile studio discussion programme (at about the time of day when British channels show soaps, magazine shows and house-and-garden makeovers). For over an hour, a solemn panel of experts and journalists (among them two British correspondents who more than held up their own in French) chewed over the significance of the son of an immigrant Muslim bus-driver being elected. The fact of his also being a party loyalist with a fairly solid, if uninspiring, record as a dependably safe pair of hands as an MP and government minister rather seemed to take second place.

If anything, the French experts rather played down their own country's record of relative diversity - both the present mayor of Paris and the Prime Minister were born elsewhere (albeit only next door in Spain, but all the same....). An interesting example of priorities came when asked if something similar could happen in France: the French experts all looked a bit doubtful and someone said something like "Well, there've been a couple of Muslim ministers", as though that didn't really count.

Meanwhile, I passed by the Place de la République one afternoon. Traditionally the place for protest meetings, it's recently been taken over by overnight encampments, mainly protesting about controversial current proposals for changes to the labour laws.

In the daytime, however, there weren't many people around, some viewing the palimpsest of memorials for the terrorist attacks, of protest slogans and banners, and a small group of people protesting that "Public space is not for sale" (relating to what in particular, I didn't stay to find out). Otherwise, there were a few stalls set up, some to promote particular causes, but one advertising boxing classes: though the demonstrative presence of riot police parked up in the surrounding streets might suggest a more political motive for that too.

Friday 13 May 2016

Parisian miscellany

What better way to take advantage of the quiet streets of the Parisian public holiday last weekend (not to mention the fantastic weather) than a leisurely bike ride downsome unfamiliar side streets, noting en route how Rue de Paradis is only slightly more attractive than Paradise Row in London, that the Society for the Future of the Proletariat once promised a golden sheaf, and to wonder why and how the Porte St Denis was supposed to glorify Louis XIV by a headless warrior.

Eventually the road led to the newly-revealed revamp of Les Halles. There's been a long and not very happy record of attempts to develop something to replace the old cast-iron market halls. A not much loved shopping centre and public space on top of the underground railway interchange has had a new treatment of the previously rather poky, uninspiring entrance and surface levels, after several grand plans and false starts.

A view right through from one side to the other  has been opened up, under a canopy in a sort of metallised buttery yellow. Perhaps it's supposed to make you think the sun's shining even if it isn't, but if so, the designer's bets are hedged by the patterned glass that casts a sort of iridescent shadow that suggests it's raining, when it isn't. Looking down on the sweep of stairs and escalators into the complex below, I couldn't help thinking of Jacques Tati's comedies of a dystopian futuristic technology.

Much of the shopping centre is being renovated, and looks like any other, so the sunshine called me further on towards the river, where the curse of the lovelocks has moved on to another pedestrian bridge, and eventually to the little garden round the Tour St Jacques. Here the sun had called out more people than you might imagine could fit in, but also - and more importantly - the flowers:

Friday 6 May 2016

I intend to, thank you

This poster greeted me in the metro, one of a series of bilingual puns to advertise a language school. All very amusing.

Not too sure about the accent the students will end up with, though - if a Brit is any position to comment on such matters....

Thursday 5 May 2016

Vote! Vote! Vote!

30 pages of manifestoes
and instructions!
Never mind the sideshow across the Atlantic, today is election day in London and other local authority areas across England (and for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern  Ireland Assemblies).

As it happens, I'm in Paris today, so I've aready voted by post. And it's a bit (but only a little bit) more complicated than the usual cross in a box against one candidate.

In London, we get one ballot paper for the Mayor (cross in the box for first choice and second choice), another for a London Assembly member for the constituency (there are 14), and a third paper for a top-up vote for a party list for the remaining 11 Assembly members, to go some way towards to making the overall result more proportional (both of those just the one traditional cross in the box) - and each of the papers a different colour.

On top of that, with a postal ballot, the envelope they go back in has an additional section to confirm a matching security detail (to prove I am the person who asked for the vote), then the whole lot goes into yet another envelope. And off it all went in due time.

Besides the usual major parties, far right extremists and single-issue campaigners, the ballot papers had some interesting new names and descriptions. For the Mayor's post we are also offered the opportunity to vote for the One Love Party, which is nowhere near as exciting as it sounds, being a play on the name of their candidate (and, I suspect, only member), a Mr Love, who is apparently a film producer, claims to be the Emperor of Jammu Kashmir and proposes something called techno-progressivism to solve all the world's problems. Oh, and flat pack skyscrapers and six new bridges for East London. There's also a Polish prince who is a property developer, so claims to have the answer to London's housing problems: when he's not challenging other party leaders to a duel.

The top-up ballot paper for the Assembly includes the House Party, which is also not as entertaining as it sounds. It looks like another one-man band interested in the housing issue (let's face it, the situation's bordering on the insane and someone needs to get a grip on it), and keen to uphold and expand the principle of social housing. I don't doubt I'd agree with most of what he says about it online, but although he's apparently a journalist, it's hardly got a snappy headline or a summary of what he'd want to do about it all.  Indeed, it's a prime candidate for an internet abbreviation I've only recently come across - TL:DR ("too long: didn't read").