Saturday, March 30, 2013



First the good news:  French airplane manufacturer Airbus beat rival Boeing in a bid to build 234 medium-range jets for Indonesia's budget carrier Lion Air, a record order for Airbus in this rapidly expanding Asian market. At a signing ceremony with the presidents of Lion Air and Airbus at the Elysée Palace on March 18th, a beaming President Hollande announced that this contract, worth 18.4 billion euros ($23.8 billion), would create 5000 jobs in France over the next ten years.

Unfortunately, bad news was soon to follow.
March turned into a month of turmoil in Italy, where the late-February elections resulted in a deadlock which to date has not been resolved;  and in France the late-March unemployment figures showed another increase, for the 22nd consecutive month, bringing unemployment to just under 11% today. Instead of a hoped-for improvement following some of Hollande's initiatives, these bad numbers caused a loss of confidence in the government's job-creating policies and President Hollande was called upon to explain himself.

François Hollande in the hot seat
In a long prime-time interview on French television he tried to lift the prevailing mood of gloom and to reassure those who fear that France is on a downhill slide with a shrinking job market and a loss of purchasing power. "I have a box full of tools to combat these problems and I mean to use every single one of them" was the answer, which according to the morning-after press does not seem to have reassured either the right or the left. Forced by the financial crisis and by Europe to reduce public spending, which the socialists who put him in office find difficult to accept, he was quick to point out that he would not touch the generous allocations familiales (child premiums) but may have to ask people to work longer before retiring (currently at age 62) because our life expectancy is longer.

He also announced that his planned 75% tax on the rich, which was rejected by the constitutional court, is back in a different form:  this time, those executives who earn salaries of more than €1 million will be taxed at 75% on the portion above 1 million but it is their employer who will pay the tax. This came as a surprise to employers and made Laurence Parisot, president of the MEDEF (association of French businesses), ask: "what about those who are self employed, such as artists, who earn more than one million by their own efforts? Are they also taxed at 75%?" She called the measure "strange" and one more anti-business move at a difficult time when French companies already are over-burdened by social charges. 

Overall, Hollande's policies were seen as mini-measures considered by the left as insufficient and by the right as deepening the crisis. Before this television interview the president's approval rating was at an all-time low of 22%. So far, nothing indicates that his explanations have improved his standing.

We just came back from The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) which takes place in Maastricht, Holland, every year in March. Here, in the midst of the impressive floral decor and the wealth of museum-quality art on offer, one may be excused for asking: "What crisis?"

For ten days, some 260 exhibitors from 20 countries sell their vetted best here to museum directors, collectors and art lovers, and as always I felt I was in a virtual museum where you are allowed to touch and where experts are happy to answer questions. Yes, they really are willing to take that charming Brueghel off the wall so that you can see the back, or to let you take pictures everywhere. About 5 billion dollars worth of art from all periods is on display here antiquities, illuminated manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, silver, china, furniture and objects about 35,000 items in all.

Peacock brooch, 120+ carats

And if you like jewelry, this is your candy store, with eye-popping creations that some may find beautiful and others vulgar. One particular piece a peacock pin at Graff Diamonds, London  had a price tag of $100 million, which may or may not include a bodyguard. Alright, it buys you 120.81 carats of colored and white diamonds, but where does a girl wear it? 

Every year there is one particular crowd pleaser, which this time was Jeff Koons's Metallic Venus at Gagosian Gallery. At nearly nine feet and 1200 kilos of shiny blue-green stainless steel she was hard to overlook. Even with a price tag of $6 million, the burly security guard stationed next to it seemed de trop. Who would run off with this big girl?

Metallic Venus, Jeff Koons
One of the exhibitors told me "the crisis" did have an effect in that buyers were more cautious this year than usual and sought the security of big names, both in old masters and in modern art. Even so, top pieces sold at top prices, perhaps because after a few lean years museums' coffers seem to be flush again with new endowments and quite a few of them the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam, the Wadsworth Atheneum of Hartford, CT, the Mauritshuis in The Hague, the Getty Museum of Los Angeles and others bought paintings and rare objects for their collections.

A smallish airport near Maastricht which can accommodate 400 private planes during the fair saw only 120 private planes this year. Perhaps some of the Russian oligarchs with money in Cypriot banks decided to stay home this year.


Yesterday, Good Friday, was the first day of the Easter exodus when the French leave in droves to spend two weeks away from home. A weekend rouge has been announced on the roads, and airports and train stations expect big crowds. It seems like only yesterday that French school children returned from a two-week winter break, resulting in similar traffic overload.


The French have more time off than anyone else I know and they just don't like to stay home. Employees have a minimum of five weeks paid vacation a year, augmented by overtime (over 35 hours a week) paid out in additional days off. School children have nine weeks of summer vacation plus four 2-week breaks throughout the school year. Attending school only four days a week, a French primary school student spends a total of 144 days per year in class, according to an OECD study, compared with a European average of 187 days.  

Vincent Peillon, Minister of Education
With their 4-day-a-week school schedule French kids have 6 hours of class per day which according to child psychologists it too much for young minds, and Vincent Peillon, Minister of Education, has announced a plan to shorten the school day and go back to the 4-1/2 day schedule to alleviate class work and bring the French system in line with other European countries. 

But nothing is simple in France, least of all les réformes. A number of school areas have already announced that they will not implement the new system in September 2013 (e.g., Marseilles, Lyon: NON) while others will (e.g., Paris, Nantes: OUI). After an initial year of two different weekly schedules, all schools are expected to follow the new rules by September 2014, but several teachers unions, mayors and even parents have already indicated that they have not said their last word yet. Expect confusion, and stay tuned.


The latest computer term to have entered the French language is "liker" which is the act of checking off the like box on Facebook. One French respondent wrote that he had "liké" a certain item. His use of the Facebook "thumbs-up" sign helped those of us who have trouble with English verbs conjugated in French. Now the only thing I still need to find out is how to pronounce "liker". 
Do you say like-ay or leek-ay?    


(*)  Read about Easter in Provence in my book Taking Root in Provence by clicking here:


  1. Well, I am a liker of your writing!

    Of course, the art fair at Maastricht was very interesting. Lovely that the Blue Venus garnered so much attention.

  2. Yes, but Venus had stiff competition from some other sculptures, including my favorite of a large steel female head with intricate head-dress by Spanish artist Manolo Valdez. A-M

  3. The French bureaucracy does boggle the mind, de temps en temps. I read an article today in The Telegraph (UK) about the 400,000 "norms" including bakers having to measure baguettes! Never mind, I still want to live there!
    Anne-Marie, I loved your book and know I will refer to it many times over. I noticed that your individual pieces were listed on the Bonjour Paris website. Brilliant!
    Happy Easter!

  4. Thank you, Patricia. Yes - some of my early pieces have appeared on Bonjour Paris.
    As for the dreaded French bureaucracy, other than the cost and effort to obtain a French driver's license, we have found it quite manageable. I think the trick is: don't work here. :-) A-M