Welcome to PROVENCE TODAY, a blog about life and politics in France.
In our search for the ideal place to retire, my husband and I settled in Aix-en-Provence in 1998 and have never stopped learning about this fascinating country that has become our permanent home. While this blog deals with the socio-political aspects of France, my book "Taking Root in Provence" focuses on the pleasures and paradoxes of daily life in sunny Provence.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
BUSY JULY; FIRST CHASSÉ-CROISÉ; BAD NEWS A-COMING; FIRST WORLD WAR; HOLIDAYS
BYE-BYE BUSY JULY
The hectic month of July is behind us:operas, concerts, conferences and master classes in Aix
were followed by four wonderful plays in Avignon and a sigh of relief that in the end the
social conflict of the Intermittents
did relatively little damage to these two main summer festivals. The source of
the conflict, however, remains unresolved for now and will have to be addressed
before year-end if the 2015 festival season is to be saved.We cross our fingers.
The highlight of the 2014 Avignon season was probably the
18-hour-long performance of Shakespeare's Henry VI that drew a sell-out crowd
from 10AM to almost 6AM the next day. For every one of its three shows! With five
interruptions of one hour each, the exhausted but euphoric actors finished
their marathon performance to a long standing ovation of an admiring public most
of whom had stayed until the end. "Better than Game of Thrones" said
one young spectator.
The newly nominated Festival Director, author-actor-director
Olivier Py, summed up his first season this way: "It was a stressful time
but it was beautiful". It was also costly, since the twelve performances cancelled
due to strikes cost the Festival €300,000 in lost ticket sales, something that did
not unduly worry the Avignon regulars who generally support the intermittents and vowed
to be back next year, come what may.
Similarly, Bernard Foccroule, Director of the Opera Festival
in Aix-en-Provence, declared himself satisfied with the 2014 season that
despite a difficult start and two canceled performances managed to bring the
Festival back into the black after a dip into the red last year. With ticket
sales of close to 95 percent this year, things look good for next year when some BIG
names are on the program, such as Sir Simon Rattle, Peter Sellars, the talented
Katie Mitchell and others.
Meanwhile, the first big chassé-croisé
of the summer, when juillettistes and aoûtiens (July and August vacationers) cross
each other coming and going on the north-south highways of France, broke all
records on "black" Saturday, August 2nd, with hundreds of miles of
traffic backups on all major north-south roads and blistering waits of up to
one hour and a half at toll stations. It's a familiar sight on this biggest annual
holiday weekend, yet nobody seems willing to forego one day of a holiday
rental. Similar difficulties are to be expected every Saturday of August in the
southward direction, with another "black" peak on Saturday 16 August
in both north and south directions. Don't say I didn't warn you.
BAD NEWS A-COMING
A surprisingly optimistic President Hollande in his July
14th television interview was followed last week by a rather pessimistic Prime
Minister Manuel Valls who − before the 2-week summer break of
government ministers − announced that the post-holiday return (la Rentrée) will be a difficult one in economic terms. For the
eighth month in a row unemployment figures rose in June, and the effects of
Manuel Valls, worried
the Pacte de
Responsabilité (blog January 5, 2014) between the government and French business leaders have yet to be seen. Nevertheless, this Pacte is
the right government response to youth unemployment, according to Valls, who
further warned of a risk of deflation before things will change for the better.
Reforms, reforms, reforms - that is what we need and what we are working on, he
said, as he asked for people to be patient. "We are working hard and we will succeed".
As members of the Cabinet each went their way on a 2-week
holiday "in France and within several hours from Paris so as to be
available", François Hollande is taking his own summer break at La Lanterne, the presidential retreat in
Versailles, where he intends to celebrate his 60th birthday on August 12th with
WORLD WAR ONE
Hartmannswillerkopf cemetery, Alsace
This month marks the one hundredth anniversary of the start
of the First World War, called la Grande
Guerre in France, which killed 18 million people. On August 3rd, for the
first time ever, French President Hollande and German PresidentJoachim Gauck met at the large WW-I cemetery
in Hartmannswillerkopf, Alsace, where they honored the 30,000 French and German
soldiers buried there. They signed a joint declaration and laid the first stone
of a Franco-German memorial building to be opened in 2017. "The terrible battles
fought here make of Hartmannswillerkopf a sacred site in memory of the
sacrifice of those fallen here, and the new museum will stand as an emblem of
Franco-German friendship and a symbol of its reconciliation", read the
Declaration signed by both leaders. The meeting was sealed with a long embrace between the two men.
French and German presidents, holding hands
(Am I the only one to think that this looked a bit forced?
The Germans, like the Dutch, are not huggers and both men seemed to be
following a script for the journalists and photographers).
During this government recess and with most of the French on
vacation, the month of August tends to be quiet, not to say somnolent. In fact,
I feel a bit somnolent myself and will sign off here with a promise to report
back to you as soon as everyone starts stirring again.
As I climb into my hammock, is that a distant plane I am
hearing?Or a buzzing fly?Or my buzzing cell phone?Or.... ZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzz.