I can’t remember how many times I have been to Paris (I do recall the first time was in 1976) but I returned on Tuesday for the first time since autumn 2018. It was, as ever, an enjoyable experience, the journey on Eurostar to the Gare du Nord (see photo of the station on the home page) taking 135 minutes and being way less hassle than flying. But the timing of my trip meant I was arriving in Paris to find it the capital of a much-torn country.
You will be aware that Emmanuel Macron was elected to serve a second term as President of France last Sunday. He comfortably beat Marine Le Pen, who was invariably and correctly categorised as ‘the Far-Right candidate’, but most commentators suggested he was widely regarded as the least-bad option. The friend with whom I had lunch agreed with that.
“This was the first time in my life I did not vote in the second round of the election,” he said. (In the first round he had voted for Valérie Pécresse, the Republican candidate who performed dismally.) “You cannot vote for Le Pen but I cannot support him. I am not in favour of ‘Frexit’ but I do not like that Macron wants France always to be subservient to the European Union. Also that Macron has perfected the art of fence-sitting. He will say something like ‘on the one hand we must reduce our reliance on petrol, but on the other we must realise that some people cannot afford to give that up so easily’.” My friend also disliked that Macron’s victory rally was preceded by the playing of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, rather than traditional La Marseillaise.
Away from the politics, the Gare du Nord is a terrific location in which to arrive in central Paris, not least because of its proximity to Montmartre. The famous basilica of Sacré Coeur is no more than a 20-minute walk, albeit one that is seriously uphill and involves a lot of stairs, which means that so is the prospect of an agreeable lunch at a local bistro. But back to the politics, again. I asked my friend why the vitriol aimed at Macron by the graffiti-sprayers in the Place de la Republique would be expressed in English (if a misspelt version of it) rather than in French? “I think it’s what we sometime call the Netflix phenomenon,” he replied. “Everyone in France knows what ‘fuck’ means in that context because we’ve heard it said so often on our TV screens, usually with an American accent.”
Gosh, and the French used to get annoyed about people saying “Bon weekend!”