Saturday, March 1, 2014



During his recent state visit to Washington, President Hollande may indeed have polished his country's luster a bit when he reminded the United States of France's readiness to send troops to Syria (while the U.S. backed out at the last moment), and of the important role France is playing in Africa where last year it helped run Islamic terrorists out of Mali and where it currently has troops on the ground in the strife-torn Central African Republic. Bravo France. 
[Now if the promised help of some EU countries (troops) and of the US (drones) materializes soon, the threat of genocide in the CAR may yet be averted.]

After the Franco-American love-fest in Washington and the Best Buddies show of presidents Obama and Hollande, the French contingent traveled on to San Francisco where François Hollande met with 300 young French entrepreneurs who had created start-ups there. In an awkward compliment Hollande used their example to demonstrate how creative and imaginative young French entrepreneurs are, forgetting perhaps for a moment that all this young talent had left France precisely because their creativity could not flourish in the French business bureaucracy and with the punishing tax policy that stifles entrepreneurship here. 


Speaking of the difficulty of doing business in France, remember the issue of Open or Closed Sundays for the sector of home-improvement stores (blog 10/11/2013)? That finally seemed settled by a government decree issued on December 30, 2013 that allowed home-improvement stores to open on Sundays until July 2015 when a definite ruling would be made. Well, it is not to be. On February 12th, the French Supreme Court (Conseil d'Etat) issued a judgment that put into question the legality of this decree and suspended its implementation because this involves a temporary exception to a permanent public need and "poses a serious threat to the principle of a weekly day of rest for workers, guaranteed by the constitution, which day of rest is generally taken on Sundays".  

Closed on Sundays - until further notice

The two workers' unions (CGT and Force Ouvrière) who had filed suit against the decree because they saw it as a Trojan horse for spreading Sunday work to other sectors, called the Court's ruling "a return to normal". To others, however, this ruling turns the "right" to rest into an "order" to rest which prevents numerous employees from earning extra money on Sundays while being guaranteed a day of rest on another day of the week.

Minister of Labor Michel Sapin announced immediately that the government will prepare a new Open-Sunday decree for the home-improvement sector, and this time as a permanent exception to the Sunday-rest law rather than a temporary one.

Change is hard to come by in France. In the meantime, home improvement stores remain closed on Sundays. Again. At least for now. We think. 


Just as we had begun to appreciate the absence of Silvio Berlusconi from the Italian parliament and a return to relative seriousness and hope, an internal coup by Matteo Renzi, brash young mayor of Florence, toppled fellow PD party member Prime Minister Enrico Letta who had led the fragile coalition government for only ten months.

After he won a vote of confidence in the Senate and the lower house on February 22nd, Renzi, 39, became the youngest Italian prime minister ever, and the third non-elected one in a row.

Enrico Letta - Out
Matteo Renzi - In

He appointed a cabinet of eight men and eight women, younger and presumably better equipped than the old guard to implement the "radical, decisive choices" outlined in his ambitious program. These include a new electoral law, reforms of the labor market, the judiciary and the public administration, as well as a 2-digit cut in employment taxes to stimulate growth. And all that, if we are to believe him, before this summer.

Renzi's Cabinet with President Napolitano

It's a tall order, but can he deliver? Critics say his program is short on detail and on how he is going to pay for all this. They call his gender-equal cabinet a stab at "political correctness" and its youth (average age 48) a worrisome lack of experience.

Given that the old guard has not done so well in the recent past, "experience" may be less of an asset here than youthful vigor and a certain impatience with the status quo. Clearly, Renzi is a young man in a hurry. If he fails, he will fail quickly. Then again, he might just pull it off.


Berlusconi with wife Nr. 2
Since we are in Italy, how can we not think of Silvio Berlusconi? He was barred from the Senate in November 2013 after his appeals ran out and a Milan court convicted him of tax fraud and sentenced him to a four-year prison term, subsequently reduced to one year and converted to house arrest or community service, to begin in April 2014, because in Italy people over 70 cannot be sent to jail (blog 12/02/13). Meanwhile, he is still fighting several criminal convictions, including one in Milan for paying an underage prostitute for sex, and one in Naples for paying a €3 million bribe to a senator to make him switch sides and join Berlusconi's party. This does not disqualify him from leading his Forza Italia party and keeping his hand in politics, as he did recently when he made a deal with Matteo Renzi in the formation of a post-Letta coalition government.  

Berlusconi with wife Nr. 3?
On February 20th, Berlusconi's divorce from second wife Veronica Lario was finalized in a Monza court, five years after she had filed for divorce on grounds of his "consorting with minors". Initial alimony payments were set at an unprecedented €3 million per month, but were later reduced to €2.1 million/month - approximately 34 million dollars per year - which should keep Veronica comfortable for a long time to come. He is now free to marry his 28-year-old girlfriend Francesca Pascale who reportedly has already ordered her wedding dress.

What will we read about first: his next wedding or his next conviction? For the time being, there is no quiet retirement in sight.


Did you know that the most-stolen car in France is the Smart? For the second year in a row, French car magazine Auto Plus listed the Smart as the most stolen car based on statistics from 15 insurers and banks, representing 20 million cars in France. 
One of the smallest cars made, the 2-seater SmartForTwo is a popular city car that takes barely more parking space than a motorcycle and has low fuel consumption. That makes it attractive to buyers, but what is its appeal to thieves? "Very little resistance to burglary", according to Auto Plus, and the fact that "its parts are worth gold".

So what about the second most stolen car, the German 4X4 BMW X6, with its very sophisticated computerized locking system? In fact, that turns out to be its weakness since hackers have found a way to freeze its anti-theft device.
Can't win against a determined thief.


The 2014 Michelin restaurant guide has just been published, and quickly drew commentary. Noted restaurant critic Gilles Pudlowski feels that Michelin focused too much on young chefs to the detriment of established older chefs. This year saw only one new three-star awarded: to 39-year old Arnaud Lallement for his restaurant L'Assiette Champenoise near Reims. Six new restaurants earned two stars and 57 got their first star, including young chef Oscar Garcia of La Table d'Uzès who is just 25. 

As always, some restaurants lost stars this year, but then there are those who in the past few years have given back their stars (most notably Senderens in Paris, and Olivier Roellinger in Bretagne, three stars each), followed by some one-star restaurants who have found that the cost, both financial and physical, is simply too high. Most of these chefs have continued cooking and turned their fancy restaurants into more affordable brasseries, cutting down on caviar and crystal but also on stress.

But the most surprising new food phenomenon in France today is the success and rapid expansion of food trucks. Far from the usual "fast food", it's generally fresh, often organic, and of respectable quality. Right after Kristin Frederick, a native Californian, graduated from a Parisian cooking academy, she started the first food truck in Paris in 2010. Her Camion Gourmand was so successful that she soon had competition and today food trucks are a familiar sight in Paris, as well as in Lyons and increasingly in other cities.

The latest to join the trend is famous chef Marc Veyrat who in early February 2014 opened three food trucks in Paris and plans to expand to 15 trucks throughout France by next year. Veyrat, known for his signature black hat, twice had a three-Michelin-star restaurant until a skiing accident stopped him in 2009. He grows his own organic foods.
Marc Veyrat

Orders can be placed in advance and an SMS tells you when it is ready to be picked up. The food trucks, which can be fixed or ambulant with itineraries posted on the internet, are much appreciated by city workers who want healthy food at a reasonable price but don't want to "waste" time in a sit-down restaurant. 

Did I say France never changes?  Guess I have to take that back.


  1. Imagine the FRENCH buying from a food truck! I bet it's marvelous. AnneMarie, you always have a fascinating point of view!

  2. Thanks Kittie. It's a bit of a shock, isn't it? What's next? A Michelin Guide for truck food?