For Jacques and Lionel

photo: bistro pizza patacca, pl leon blum

As long as you are eating al fresco in Paris,
it may as well be in a pizzeria.

Springtime In France

Paris:- Sunday, 30. May 1999:- Something strange is going on. The sun seems to be favoring France with a smile. It is certainly springtime in France for Jacques and Lionel.

There is a nasty war going on in Europe not very far away and France is in it up to its neck. National cops got caught red-handed in a game of arson in Corsica. Unemployment is still impossibly high, salaries are stagnant, taxes are high and rising, and a litre of super is a centime short of seven francs at the pump.

Workers about to be unemployed by state oil concern Elf marched on Paris, to disrupt glad profit tidings by the company. National museum workers are on strike - not for more money - but for some extra hands. Courts are choked with official corruption cases. There are so many demos in Paris every day that theyphoto: fountains, louvre, on strike form waiting lines until there's room for a new one. Paris football team, PSG, lost its socks, shorts and jerseys last night to a triumphant wine-red Bordeaux.

While it's on strike, sitting outside the Louvre is cool - and calm.

Yet, in opinion poll after poll, the popularity ratings of President Jacques Chirac and his opposition-party Prime Minister Lionel Jospin are consistently scored at no less than a 60 percent approval level - with Jacques in the lead, but take-the-heat Lionel right on his heels.

There is no doubt France is in its usual mess, but the French like the way Jacques and Lionel are doing their jobs.

This is unprecedented. Normally all the French approve of nothing; right, wrong, perfect or otherwise. The better it is, the worse the ratings. It is some sort of national trait. If things are momentarily sunny, there is a horizon black with impending doom.

For some unknown reason, this is not how it is today. Both Jacques and Lionel have so many problems on their hands that they are in the air more often than on the ground; let alone in Paris.

Since the Balkan war started, the President has been on prime-time TV six times, to explain what France is doing there - somebody in the Elysée Palace is paying attention and letting us know they are.

For all of Lionel's trips, he still manages to be on the TV-news nearly every evening; shown humbling the opposition parties in the Assembly National - with forceful and intelligent speeches.

The completely total disarray of the mainstream opposition parties cannot be the only answer for Lionel's popularity; andphoto: bistro au cadran du 11e this same disarray seems not to ruffle a hair on the President's head. He is the de-facto leader of the main RPR opposition party. He knows who he is; they're forgotten who they're supposed to be.

Jacques and Lionel don't take credit for the fine weather, but they may as well.

With the European elections coming up soon and most countries currently having socialist governments, their leaders gather together in the 'country of the week' to hold joyous campaign meetings. Last week it was France's turn and the party was in the Palais des Sports, with warm-up done by Tri Yann, a Breton rock group.

Smiling Tony Blair is seen everywhere; Lionel has taken smiling lessons and is nearly at Blair's high level. Gerhard Schröder should be taller and take smiling lessons, and old sozis like Portugal's Mario Suarès, Spain's Felipe Gonzales, Ireland's John Hume - all smilers - and France's own champion - no, ace! - smiler, Jack Lang, are on hand looking like a rock group called the Continental Kings of Grin.

Meanwhile, France mainstream parties of the right are subdividing themselves into groups of meaningless initials, only to form new and strange groups a week later, with new meaningless initials. It is not only hard to understand, it seems to be pathetic. Their grins, when they can turn them on for the TV cameras, look fake.

So, okay, Lionel benefits from all this. It looks like the Pinks are on a roll. Robert Hue, France's Communist leader, evenphoto: psg boutique, champs elysees looks wistful because his job is to provide a semblance of Red opposition; but in his heart of hearts he'd probably like to be on a winning team for a change. Be on stage with the smilers.

PSG fans were in the Champs-Elysées shop buying club stuff on Saturday - before the game.

The only real opposition to the Socialist steamroller is our favorite Trotskite Arlette Laguiller, who is so far left she makes Robert Hue seem blue. While the PCF is making deals with - gasp! - non-communists, Arlette is pure Red and proud of it.

The papers, the ones I read - if I have time - say that the European elections are a ho-hum affair and we voters couldn't give a hoot.

Somebody is missing something here. In principle, neither the President nor the Prime Minister have any reason to be as popular as the polls say they are. If it was only one poll, I'd say it was a fluke - but the same scores keep showing up in poll after poll.

Here it is, 1999. Maybe there are more changes going on in Europe for the final springtime of the 20th century than we realize. Maybe we are going to steamroller this old continent right into the first century of the third millennium with nary a look over our shoulders as we pass the magic 2000 number.

Who knows? Why are these guys smiling?

Minimal Sports News

Saturday was ball day in Paris with two important matches taking place - one football and the other rugby. PSG lost to Bordeaux and all the red and black Toulousians won their rugby match, and there was dancing down south all day today.

Tennis is also on the evening's TV-news, with the 108th edition of the French Open. I never watch this unless the Williams sisters are on and I happen to be looking at the TV at the same time. Unluckily for me, neither seems to be the case.

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