All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

It won't go away....

'Hooke at Home'. For nearly forty years, until...Image via Wikipedia
I've tried all sorts....
Had a massive baking session .
Made a batch of banana wine.
Cleared the freezer....UFOs on the menu......unidentified frozen objects.
Read several books.
Watched the Chelsea Flower Show.
Waxed indignant about Morgan being chosen rather than Bopara.
Went shopping.

But it won't go away.
The thought of it rises oft like a malignant version of Parson Woodeforde's mince pie.
And this is what it is.

The French elite were very upset about the arrest in New York of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on suspicion of sexual assault.
They were very vocal.
They had a great deal to say in support of their friend.....but nothing to say in respect of the woman concerned except that, in the words of one of one of them, the whole thing was a fuss about was only a matter of a bit of fun with the maid.

'Trousser la domestique'

I was outraged when I first heard it and it has rankled ever since.

Quite apart from the startling revelation that the man concerned thinks that there are different standards according to one's status in life, it is the atmosphere of the men's smoking room that offends....

The willful blindness to the context of the remark.

Forget about fancies of the 'droit de seigneur' and the plot of  the Marriage of Fiagaro and think about the reality for the generations of girls from poor families sent out to work in the houses of the better off.

Not only were they poorly paid, not only were they fed and lodged at the minimum of decency, not only were they over worked, they were also at risk from the attentions of the men of the household.

That very respectable household, which would sack them should they be unlucky enough to become pregnant.
Not only did they lose their employment...they lost their character...and would inevitably lose their child as well.

Fiction is full of scenes of the 'fallen woman' returning home only to find the stern father barring the door to his house.....but does fiction ask why?
Because the father could not afford to welcome home his daughter in distress, neither in terms of feeding her and the baby nor in terms of the survival of the rest of his family.

The same respectable employers that dismissed a pregnant girl would refuse to employ anyone not of 'good character' - and a father who took in his pregnant daughter would lose his character by that normal, loving, charitable act, thus risking plunging his whole family into utter poverty.

It was thought - by the respectable better off - that the poor were basically irreligious and that they needed to be continually shepherded into the paths of attendance, hard work and social deference.
Is it any wonder, if that was the example of religion offered, that the poor were, indeed, irreligious.
They could see past the humbug, the smoke and mirrors, and see the reality....enforced drudgery all the days of their lives.

So where does she go, this pregnant girl?
To the bosom of the church, to expiate her sins by scrubbing floors and sweating in the laundry, giving birth in pain and squalor and losing the child as soon as it could be taken from her so that she could continue her a servant.
But a servant even less well fed and lodged, more overworked than before and continually confronted, humiliated, by treatment which was supposed to be the consequence of her 'sin'.

Does he think of all this, this man who speaks so lightly of a bit of fun with the maid?

And do we think all this is behind us in our enlightened age?

Perhaps we had better look at the plight of the poor women brought into Europe by, notably, rich Arab families, prisoners in the house, their passports held by their employers.
Their conditions are no better...perhaps worse....and I don't see society in general and governments in particular doing much about it.

There was a period when there was a concensus that the treatment of female servants had been unacceptable, that these conditions should never return, but with the growing division in society between those with money and influence and those without, it seems we are returning to the notion that you can place different values on people according to their status.

I cannot eat a thing that I have baked.
It sticks in the craw.

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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Oui, Oui, Monsieur

Defense d'urinerImage via Wikipedia
In a week which has revealed the French elite pissing all over the French people, I began to wonder what had happened to the great invention of Paris municipal architect, Etienne Vanderpooten, who in 2005 unveiled the French capital's answer to those (men) who urinate in public places.

It was a wall that peed back.

His theory was that a jet of pee is launched at an if it meets an sloping surface it is fired back at the launch pad, dampening the trousers.

So the Paris municipality tried it out in the 10th arrondissement, where there were supposedly the highest number of offenders. 
How they came to make this rating I have no idea. 
Municipal agents noting incidents in pocket books? 
Justine Putet peering from behind her curtains?
A coefficient?

Did it work?

Well, in 2009 Monsieur Vanderpooten noted that people (men) who used to use the area where the wall had been installed were now pointing Percy elsewhere.

Somewhere where the wall did not fight back.

Paris has built no more such walls, and, as far as I am aware, no other town council tried them out either.

But French walls need protection.

Here in San Jose, in the areas where homeless men sleep in cardboard boxes on the pavements, there is a reek of stale urine that has impregnated the walls and pavements despite the best efforts of shopkeepers and street cleaners to hose things down, and the smell always reminds me of my early trips to France, when you could smell Calais before the ferry docked and park walls stank. 
If you wanted to eat your picnic without losing your appetite you sat well into the centre.

I could understand if women were driven to use outdoor facilities....considering the indoor ones on offer where you have to cope with a light which goes out half way through the performance leaving you balanced above a hole in the ground clutching your handbag in case the violent flush carries it away under the door.

No wonder there is so much emphasis on gymnastics in French schools - and on the availability of laxatives in French do not need to add constipation to the list of hazards above.

However, French men seem to regard urinating in a public place not to be the resort of the terminally sozzled, unable to distinguish between a street sign and somebody's letterbox, but as a sort of inalienable male right, despite the growing availability of free loos.
There's even a dog loo round the back of the cathedral at Chartres.

And they're quite bold, these men.

I remember years ago in Caen seeing a butcher's shop with a sign on the wall under the display window which proclaimed

'Defense d'uriner'.  No peeing.

Who would take a risk of peeing there, in close proximity to an outraged butcher with handy access to meat cleavers?
Clearly enough to make the purchase of the sign worthwhile.

And it's not only in towns.
Holidaying in France, years ago, I had decided to eat my picnic in one of those vast laybys formed when a new road cut off a vast swathe of the old, winding one.
I was alone.
I perched on the bonnet and was happily eating my sandwiches when another car appeared.
A car with a French numberplate.

I cursed, knowing that the French, always wary in case another unexpected German invasion should burst through the Maginot line and be upon them before they could leg it for safety, like to laager up in car parks, and this was no exception.

With unlimited space available, it pulled up just in front of me, manoevring fussily so that I would have to reverse in order to drive on when I'd finished my picnic.

The driver got out, said
'Bonjour, Madame'
and proceeded to open his flies and have a pee.

It certainly did nothing for my cheese sandwich.

However with the 'phlegm' for which we Britanniques are famous in France I finished eating and reached for the thermos flask of coffee.

It would take more than a flash of something 'shocking' to disturb me.....

And, what's more, I'd seen more impressive specimens  in saucers of vinegar on shellfish stalls.  

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Eat your way round the world

Koshary: Egyptian FoodImage by mnadi via Flickr
When you travel, the guide books tell you about transport, hotels and restaurants, but if you want a real sense of a place, it's the food that matters.

I've found this on so many holidays....the recommended restaurants dull, or over priced, or just plain rip offs.
So much better to follow the locals at lunchtime...see where they eat, and, more importantly, what they eat.

Now there's a site to help you.

Click on a city...and you'll find a local dish.

Why not contribute suggestions from your own region? Just click on the site and take a look.

I've put this on my Costa Rica blog....but with a good thing like this, it's impossible to over egg the pudding.

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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Hush, hush, whisper who dares...

Marine Le Pen at the 1st of May National Front...Image via Wikipedia
A New York Grand Jury has decided that Dominique Strauss-Kahn will stand trial....but the jury of French opinion has already decided on his overall innocence.

Let us ignore for the moment the fact that that the jury is composed '1066 and All That' would have it, 'other barons who would understand'...... journalists, self proclaimed philosophers, politicians and nobody else in France can get their views heard, but just listen to what it is saying.

Yes, he is strongly attracted to women...this is part of the French culture after all...but what goes on in his private life has no bearing on his capacity in public employment.

He has been accused by a number of women of seriously aggressive 'attraction'? How come they have stayed quiet so long? They must be seeking to boost their failing careers.

He was the 'white knight' who was going to beat Sarkozy and put the Socialist Party in his problems in New York must be down to a plot.

His actions at the IMF which kept the Euro from risk of collapse displeased the must all be a plot.

Photographs of him in handcuffs are humiliating and degrading for a person of his importance. Doesn't the American justice system see the difference between him and some ordinary person?

And what's all the fuss about anyway? All he did - if he did anything - was to roll an employee in the hay.

And who is this woman? Who is a cleaner, an immigrant moreover, to complain about a man as important as Monsieur Strauss-Kahn?

I think that about sums up the position of the self appointed French jury.

I think the real problem is that revelations as to the nature of Monsieur Strauss-Kahn's attraction to women have given rise to the risk of an 'Emperor's clothes' situation.....where the hoi polloi begin to question the basis of authority of their masters.

And questioning authority in France is the ultimate crime.

As anyone who has done it is aware.

It's not just on the national scale, either.

A few years ago a drunken gendarme ran over and killed two kids who were riding their scooters back from a local fete.
Had it not been for the fact that he had damaged someone's car as he left the car park, and that that someone had pursued him, it is likely that the deaths of those two boys would have remained a mystery as the gendarme's colleagues did all in their power to help him...not even breathalysing him until mid morning on the day after the crime when he was still stratospherically over the limit.

Once again, the jury spoke...the local notables.

It was the fault of the organisers of the fete......but the bar served only pink wine, beer and water; the gendarme had brought his own bottle of whisky which he had downed in the course of the evening.

It was the fault of the parents of the two boys....both sets of parents were divorced...there was no stability in the home. Both boys were doing well at school and had a settled social life.

The gendarme wasn't on duty at the time. I should hope not!

He would lose not only his job but his pension. I didn't feel that factor weighed for much in the balance with the loss of two children to their parents.

But all these factors weighed with the court, which gave him the lightest possible sentence.....

In both examples it is clear that the authority figure cannot be seen to be at fault and I think a factor in the general supine acceptance of this by the French generally is the philosophy of the state, in which the state - and thus its representatives - embodies the will of the people.

So it's quite important that the people don't decide that their will doesn't coincide with that of the elite and their enforcers.

So the elite and their enforcers discourage questions.

As the women who have come forward with revelations about Dominique Strauss-Kahn relate, they did not proceed with complaints because there would be no future in so future for them, that is.

The whistleblower on the local council who revealed the maire's juggling with tenders for public works was sacked...six years later, the maire was given a token fine.

That's how it is.

The French elite gets away with a great deal by its self confidence...its elan.
They feel themselves to be unbeatable.....but so did the young French officers of 1914 running forward, sabres held in their white gloved hands, only to be mown down...and their men with the steady, organised and resourceful Germans.

Its attitude might be expressed in the words of another Dominique...Dominique de Villepin, Prime Minister at the time, I believe.

France is like a woman...she wants to be taken (by implication) by force....

Well, that's all right then.

You, a French politician, embodying the will of the people, decide what they want and give it to them.

You, a French man, decide what women want...and give it to them.

They don't like it?

Tough. What can they do about it?

The real tragedy of this unfortunate affair is that while the elite deploy their white gloved hands in defence of one of their own, an increasing number of people...the non-elite, the ones traditionally led to the slaughter...might decide that they can do something about it by reposing the embodiment of their will elsewhere.

With Marine Le Pen and her Front National.

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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The mentality of the maison close

This still is from 'L'Apollonide', a film showing at the Cannes Festival this year, dealing with the  existence - one cannot call it life - endured by the women in a late nineteenth century French brothel. A 'maison close'.
In other words, a skin flick with the word 'culture' veneered over it to make it all right to be seen watching it.

It was made in part by monies supplied by the Ile de France Region and normally the President of the Regional Council would have been at Cannes to attend the showing.....but 'events, dear boy, events'....have made him change his mind.

Monsieur Huchon does not think it appropriate to attend festivities while his friend Dominique Strauss-Kahn languishes in durance vile on the other side of the Atlantic...and, besides, he was shocked at the violence of the action and the images presented.
No..he's not talking about the film with its obligatory nudity and violence.
He's talking about Monsieur Strauss-Kahn being photographed in handcuffs.

Still, 'L'Apollonide' comes at an appropriate moment.

Everywhere but in France, the revelations of Monsieur Strauss-Kahn's predatory ways with women which have been made in the wake of his arrest on suspicion of sexual assault have roused debate on the role and status of women in French life.
In France, of course, no such debate will take place.
The incestuous circle of politicians and businessmen who rule France from Paris will make sure of that.
With the help of their journalist hangers-on.

France is Looking Glass Land and to understand how it works you have to go behind the mirror it holds up to the world and delve in the dirt and fly droppings behind.

France, you will be told, has a mature attitude to sex and infidelity.
What does this mean?

Well, delving among the fly droppings it means that  in the world of those Parisian circles that rule the country women are a currency in the wallets of men.

At work the woman accepts the 'attentions' of her bosses....or she gets out.
Her husband accepts that she accepts the 'attentions' of her bosses....after all, he is 'attending' to the women who work for him.
That's the way the Parisian world works.

Like the song from 'Kiss me Kate', 'I'm always true to you, darling, in my fashion', where the lady boasts of her preference for diamond clips and Cadillacs over fidelity...where Mr. Harris, plutocrat, wishes to give her cheek a pat and a Harris pat leads to a Paris hat, French women in the ruling circles, far from believing the world well lost for love, believe the world is gained by granting their favours in  return for maintaining their foothold in the circle.
And their husbands agree.

Do these women care that this attitude makes life difficult for the young women entering the world of work, where, as the Hungarian woman who was the object of the attentions of Monsieur Strauss-Kahn at the IMF said
'I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't.'
Of course not.

They live in the 'maison close' of the life at the top of French society.....where life as the rest of us know it does not intrude, where all that matters is money, where people who believe in love and fidelity are regarded...with a Parisian 'immature'.

Well, immature I may be, but it feels a lot cleaner to live in the real world than to have to associate with men who are not only NSIT (not safe in taxis) but NSIL (not safe in lifts) and having to act as their plaything.

No Paris hat is worth that.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The World Turned Upside Down

equalityImage by saxarocks via Flickr
Produced during the English Civil War in reaction to Parliament's attempts to make the observance of Christmas  a solemn religious event rather than an excuse for bacchanalia, this tune was popularly supposed to have been played by the bands of the English regiments marching out under the eyes of the victorious American colonists after Cornwallis surrendered to them at Yorktown in the American War of Independence.

Unfortunately, thanks to the quota system for playing music on French radio, it is unlikely to be heard in France, but, at the moment, it would encapsulate the French reaction to the news of the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn  in New York.

And it would encapsulate the local reaction to a latecomer being turned away from a concert out in the wilds of La France Profonde, too.

As I have previously noted, local dignitaries have a habit of keeping everyone waiting when they attend an event, strolling in, well fed and watered, to take their free front row seats.
It is one of their inalienable rights.
So the world was indeed turned upside down when Monsieur Lepalfrenier, maire of his village, departmental councillor and president of the local association of communes, arriving at the usual interval of one hour after the advertised start of the theatrical performance in a neighbouring village, found himself and party turned away.
By the maire.

'Du jamais vu!' said Guy over the telephone, imparting the gory details. 'Unthinkable!'

A little background information might help to show the significance of this shattering event.
Since President Mitterand started a process of decentralisation of power in the 1980s, all sorts of bodies have sprung up in France....departmental councils, regional councils, local planning associations and groupings of communes for common supply of other words, the effect of decentralisation has been to supply an increased number of troughs in which local politicians can employ their snouts to best effect.

Lately, as part of a general shake up of local government, it has been decided - in Paris - that the rural associations of communes should be attached to those surrounding the local towns and, accordingly, it has been decided by the Prefect - Paris' man in the department whose job is to see what local politicians are up to and tell them to stop it - that the association presided over by Monsieur Lepalfrenier should be split between two local towns....Chiottes la Gare and Benitierville.

Monsieur Lepalfrenier waxed wroth.
His reaction could be best expressed by quoting from Sellar and Yeatman's presentation of 'The Witan's Whail', dealing with King Canute's attempts to impose upon his council his views on outfangthief.

'Wroth was Cnut and wrothword spake
Well wold he win at wopentake.
Fain wold he brake frith and crake heads
And than they shold worshippe his redes.'

You get the general idea.
Monsieur Lepalfrenier was not pleased.
His association would be split between two towns with their own ideas on development...and Monsieur Lepalfrenier would lose one source of his emoluments.

Now, one of the success stories of his association had been the installation of a business park just outside the village of St. Boulot which had attracted a number of firms and which had thus created a significant number of jobs in the area.
Under the proposed changes, the commune of St. Boulot would find itself annexed by Benitierville - which had its own, larger, business park - and the maire of St. Boulot reckoned, with some reason, that his pet project would be left to wither on the vine in favour of its bigger neighbour.
Monsieur Lepalfrenier agreed with the maire.

So the long planned inauguration of Zone B of the St. Boulot business park by Monsieur Lepalfrenier in the presence of local politicians and the prefect promised to be interesting.
What would he say?
Would he 'swinge..this illbegotten lot?'

He rose.
He thanked the assembled dignitaries for their presence.
He said that he thought that the disappearance of his association would be, overall, a good thing, harnessing rural communes to the powerful motors of towns like Chiottes la Gare and Benitierville.

In the silence which followed he shook hands all round and left before the vin d'honneur.
'Du jamais vu!'

Once the dignitaries assembled had collected their breath and their thoughts, there was but one question....
No, two questions.

How much had he got..... and from whom....?

It will not surprise you to know, then, that the theatrical presentation from which he was excluded was held in the village hall of St. Boulot.

With all this going on locally it takes something pretty big to attract attention elsewhere, but the policemen of New York have managed it.
They have taken Dominique Strauss-Kahn, boss of the IMF and ex French finance minister, into custody on suspicion of sexually assaulting and imprisoning a chambermaid at his hotel in New York.

There seems to be general stupefaction that he was taken into custody at all.....after all, he wouldn't be in 'garde a vue' in France  -  a few telephone calls would suffice to push the whole thing under the carpet.

And as for being photographed in handcuffs on his transfer to the court...well, Eva Joly, ex investigating magistrate herself and now ecology party bigwig, saw fit to say that it seemed that the American police didn't seem to appreciate the difference between the boss of the IMF and any other suspect.
Well, no, it seems they don't.
Good for them.
'Egalite' before the law and all that.

The American judicial system has had to be explained.
Notably in 'Le Figaro'.
It's a pity that the journalists concerned hadn't  read the relevant post from Maitre Eolas before informing their readers that under the American system, it was up to the accused to prove his innocence.

No one has all the details of the incident and speculation would be improper but there is one thing upon which the French establishment, whether right or left, is united.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is the victim.

Perhaps they could explain this to the Americans, who persist in thinking that the victim is the woman bringing the complaint.

But for the French establishment to understand that a chambermaid and an ex minister have the same weight in the scales of justice the world would indeed, need to be turned upside down.

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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Unfulfilled Promises II

Cancan recorrido isabel cacciaImage via Wikipedia
Some time ago I looked at the heading of this blog and discovered that while I had covered most of the attractions advertised  I had not dealt with the subject of snails.

So I dealt with snails.

As it is now the month of maying when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of barley break, it is time to deal with sex.

Now, I am aware that I do not mix in the sort of circles where the women spend all day laying on makeup with a trowel only to take it off with a chipping hammer at night or deciding which dress to put on in order to take it off for the 'cinq a sept' - the time when any self respecting French mover and shaker visits his mistress.
The mistress' husband will be doing likewise and in my view this explains the whole restaurant thing in Paris...with all this cinq a septing going on, no one has time to cook.

French Presidents don't seem to confine themselves to the ritual hours.....the only person who knew where the bucolic Chirac was after dark was his chauffeur...and as he was out driving Chirac from one cow's bottom to another no one could ask him anyway.
Oddly enough, Giscard d'Estaing, seen as a far more aloof figure - well, until l'Ex saw fit to write that damn fool novel about Princess Patricia of Cardiff - drove himself to his assignments...thus the collision with a milk van in the early hours of the morning.
While the least said about Felix Faure the better.

Presidents didn't tend to be seen in my neck of the woods....except for Giscard d'Estaing when my views on sex in France have been formed and informed by my life in the backwoods of la France Profonde where female animals should be born with iron bloomers and the market in wellingtons shows a steady demand.
However, the pigs won't squeal and the ducks are exercising their right to silence so we'll have to make do with sex between people.

My first intimation of what went on in the rural scene was noticing a table in the local bar-cum-newsagent permanently occupied by three ladies...grandmother- all elastic support stocking and bits of salmon pink corset visible through the blouse - mother - where the varicose veins suggested that the support stocking would be making an imminent appearance - and daughter, whose real features were invisible under the make up.
They always seemed to be there...if not all three then at least the other, meeting Monsieur Untel, source of all information, in the square after buying my newspaper, I asked him about them.

They were, he explained, the local prostitutes. Didn't we have them in England?

Yes we did, but not in the newsagents.

So how do you know where to find them?

They hang about on street corners.

How uncivilised. The English always were a bunch of hypocrites.

Yes, but tell me....they're not the most appealing to look at.....why...?

Because the local chaps are about the same sort of ages and think of them the way they were when they were's a sort of habit, really...the looks don't matter.

So that was that, then.

These ladies used to take their customers home, which was why there were always at least two of them at the table at any one time, but in the last place where I lived the encounters took place in a rather smart wooden cabin further down river alongside a I discovered when walking the dog.
From sniffing and snuffling along he suddenly put his nose up in the air and headed for the open door of the cabin at a rate of knots.
Screams, shouts, dog ejected, door slammed shut.
This was clearly not the time to offer apologies, but I asked my neighbour's daughter in law who owned the cabin and she put me in the picture, which accounted for the cars parked up by the calvary at the top of the footpath.
I kept the dog on the lead until the cabin was well behind us on later walks.

My next encounter with the beast with two backs had been when I was picking grapes.

I had been accepted on Papy's team by then and quite looked forward to the afternoon seemed to be over too quickly, somehow, so when Papy announced that Denise could do with some help to get her grapes picked I was happy to go along with the rest.
Papy took us in his van, along with his dog, the buckets, the secateurs and the bottles and mustard glasses and unloaded us at a parking spot alongside the vines behind Denise's bungalow.
There were quite a lot of cars and there seemed to be more men than usual in the picking parties already at work, but that apart it was business as usual...just more varied gossip as people from different ends of the commune met up.

We were all at work when the shutters and window of a room in the house flew open.
A naked man clutching his clothes leapt into the garden and came running through the vines, closely followed by Denise in a similar state of nature but not clutching clothes.
It was like a sequel to 'le dejeuner sur l'herbe'...the sylvan setting, all of us clothed and the naked couple legging it towards the parking area.
They got into a car and as it sped away another man came round the corner of the house.
Clothed this time.
Denise's husband.

Where's Denise, then?

Clement's just given her a lift to the shop.

So that was Clement, then.

Nothing more was said.
Clement and Denise, clothed, returned and we all went on working until it was time to clean up and enjoy the supper Denise had prepared.
I noticed she had changed her clothes again but, all through the evening, nothing was said.

I saw Jean at Papy's the next day, and he had obviously heard all about it because he said

Picking grapes was a bit more exciting yesterday, by all accounts! Clement was nearly caught with his trousers down!


You don't want to get the wrong idea about Denise...she just likes a bit of life, that's all and that husband of hers is a miserable old stick. It could have been any of us in Clement's place!

Which accounted for the number of men among the dedicated to giving Denise a bit of fun in her life and not averse to giving her a hand to get her grapes picked either.

I don't know if Papy was or had been one of the band of brothers...but by that time his interests were centred in his store of pornography, the pride of the commune and the surrounding area.
He lent them out in a sort of rural version of the circulating library.

Mamie showed me the chamber of horrors one day while he was out and the books I picked up seemed rather dull except for one which featured a priest in the confessional with a female flipped the pages at speed and got an early version of animation.
It reminded me of a book I had had since a child, where you flipped the pages to reveal Bradman demonstrating the cover drive....but Bradman offered more variety.

It must have been in the blood with Denise.
Her real father was a chap who had been maire for years before the war and who could aptly be called the father of his saw likenesses everywhere, far outstripping the best the postman or the garde champetre could do.
But Denise let the commune down in one respect. She let one man get away.

Despite taking part in the dentist's amateur dramatic troupe her charms had failed to fascinate him.
He was far more absorbed by the cavities of the wife of the owner of the chateau in the next commune and, one day, the two of them ran away together to that haunt of vice, La Baule, never to return.
No dentist and no more Feydeau farces for the village.

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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Magouille of Maires.....

La Faute sur mer digue 3Image by Sénat via Flickr
Most maires like the sound of their own voices...give them a vin d'honneur and they're away....usually for what seems like hours... while those present shuffle and cough as a hint that it's time to cut the cackle and get down to the business of the day, which is to attack the tables laden with bottles and glasses.
The speech is the tax you pay for free drink and, as with all taxes in France, it is too high.

You have to pity Sarkozy, though...he had to attend the maires'  national conference and the power of the oratory was such that he dropped off to sleep.
No vin d'honneur for him then.

While tedium seems to be obligatory, some maires display other talents.....talents variously described  as...

Arranging things....or

Promoting their commune's interests....or as I see it


There are also maires whose peculiar talent leads them to aptly be known as the fathers of their communes, but that's a different story.

To return to the arrangers of things....

For some years now, local councils have been obliged to seek tenders for projects costing serious money, rather than just passing it to the local guy on the grounds that as he was paying the Taxe Professionelle to the commune he was entitled to anything the commune had to offer in terms of the folding stuff.
Or doing it on a Buggins turn principle if there was more than one eligible firm.
Or putting the job Jacques' way as he will in return plaster the walls of your daughter's house with the 'surplus' materials.

Needless to say, this system does not always suit the arrangers of things, so they 'arrange' not to do it properly, which may account in some way for the spick and span 'arrangement' of the arrangers' houses and gardens....

Depressingly, in France this appears to be accepted as the norm, and people just shrug if it is mentioned...
What else, after all, can one expect?
Well, personally I expect a great deal better but I didn't grow up in France.

Recently a case has come to light where a whistleblower denounced a maire and his commune's financial director for questionable dealings with tenders for public works....quoting twelve instances.
This happened six years ago and in the meantime the whistleblower has been sacked.
No vin d'honneur for him either.

You can judge the lack of importance attached to questionable dealings with public money by the time it has taken the prosecuting authorities to get round to prosecuting, although you have to take into account that the prosecutors are appointed by the government and that the political complexion of government and maire are as one.

These things matter more than you might think...

I remember the local bypass.
It was to bypass a town which voted right wing.
So, under a right wing government the finds were voted and works started, involving a forty mile detour unless you knew that you could nip up the lane just before the roadworks and emerge on another main road leading to town.

Then the government changed to a left wing one.
The funds were diverted to start a bypass for a town which voted left.
The forty mile detour to get to the right wing town stayed in place for years...until the government changed again and the funds returned to finish the job.

Still, in this case, after due deliberation and after the maire stood down at the last elections, the prosecutors decided to go ahead with one charge from the original twelve, relating to the development of a housing estate in the commune.
Getting wind of this, one of the firms who had lost out on the tender jumped in on the act, claiming 50,000 euros in damages, this being the value of the works in question from which it would appear that they had been illegally excluded.

The by now ex maire, his financial director and the firm to whom the tender was awarded appeared before the prosecutor, who proposed to deal with them under a fairly recent procedure by which you admit your guilt, the prosecutor proposes a sentence which you accept and you just pass before a judge to have him or her confirm or alter the sentence.
Saves public money and does not give rise to indiscreet enquiry as to why the prosecutor is not asking many questions of the accused... .

The ex maire and his financial director happily accepted the slap on the hand of a 1,500 Euro fine each and walked away.
The boss of the firm concerned didn't.
He can expect a nasty day in court, not so much for what he is supposed to have done, but for not being cooperative.

The judge confirmed the sentences, but refused to allow the firm which had lost out on the tender to start proceedings to recover from the three 'defendants' the 50,000 Euros they reckon winning the contract would have earned them.

Their lawyer is most annoyed.

The court is unmoved.

The ex maire is still in the same political party.

The financial director still holds the same job with the commune.

The whistleblower stays sacked.

Why does this annoy me?
Why don't I just show how integrated I have become by shrugging?

Because it's my money and the money of people like me that these chaps are messing about with.
There is a system which is supposed to eliminate is defied...and the perpetrators walk away with just a slight dent in their well filled pocketbooks.

I haven't forgotten the interesting case of cronyism in another commune where an historic building was to be restored.
Apart from the usual performance in which the departmental architect of Batiments de France (think English Heritage) reduced a thirteenth century interior to something resembling a kitchen from Bricodepot, it stuck in my mind because of the electrical installations...or, rather, the lack of them.

The building was set well away from the village, out in the fields and all the restoration work was carried out using a generator.
Including provision for power and lighting in the building.

Some months after the job was finished, EDF rolled up and dug up the road to the village to provide power.
The spotlights in the roof could be used.
I said it was like a kitchen from Bricodepot.

Some months after that the fields between the building and the village miraculously acquired planning permission and were bought by the commune to set up a new housing estate....

Who was the lucky owner?
The then maire's wife's cousin.

Mark you, I could just be getting a bit cynical here.
The commune in question was in hillbilly country, and it demonstrated the ability of the French to be in the forefront of technical advancement.
Long before anyone had come up with cloning from biological material the hillbillies had come up with it by decades of inbreeding.....everyone in an age cohort looked like everyone else in that cohort and everyone was closely related to everyone else.
So it might be difficult to avoid doing a favour to someone to whom your wife was related.
But the timing of the arrival of  EDF still leaves me wondering....

And then there are cases where cronyism has fatal consequences. But not for the cronies.

The local council of La Faute sur Mer on the Atlantic coast, scene of 29 deaths when the sea breached the defences and overran a housing development, is one to keep an eye on, thanks to the close links between those owning land which was well known to be liable to flood, those awarding planning permission to build houses on the said land and those involved in marketing the said houses.

According to the maire's of the best known and accordingly expensive in France... the deaths lie at the door of the Prefet, for not ordering an evacuation in time.
Personally I think that the responsibility lies with those who knowingly or negligently made that land available for housing, but we'll see what the prosecutors make of it all.....just don't hold your breath waiting for them.
La Faute sur Mer votes the right way.

Not that it acts the right way.
Most of the people who bought houses on that development were not local....mostly townspeople looking to retire to the most of the dead were not from local families.
The survivors and the families of those who died have started an association to push for an enquiry into the events leading to the deaths and for proper compensation for those whose houses have been declared to be only fit to be destroyed.
Local people do not appreciate the activities of the association.....graffiti painted on the walls of houses owned by members...more graffiti on the walls of the cemetery where most of those who died in the floods were buried, encouraging locals to support the maire.....and, horribly, a woman visiting her father's grave spat on and insulted.

This illustrates the 'us and them' mentality so prevalent in French country communes where until relatively recently there was little social diversity and where the 'incomers' be they French or foreign, were regarded as prey, for the benefit of locals.
That a 'local' can feel in a strong enough position to spit on and insult the grieving  daughter of an 'incomer' tells you all you need to know about where power lies in la Faute sur Mer.

It also illustrates why the elimination of cronyism has an importance greater than that of misuse of public money.......
Cronyism defies the spirit of equality, equality of treatment.......

But what am I thinking about?
This is France....where equality is only a word painted above the door of the mairie.

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