Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Workers (And The Nobility)

Right now, as I sit typing this, I hear sirens, odd noises, chanting, French rock music, and those vuvuwhatzises being blown. No surprise, of course: France is having another of its general strikes today, so there will be noise.

This one I saw coming. Nicolas Sarkozy, in one of his rare moments of sanity, has proposed that the retirement age be raised to 65 from 60, where it is now, as a means of stimulating the economy. As someone who would have been forcibly retired by now under the current rules, and who feels like he has a lot of good work still in him, I think this is a wonderful idea.

These folks don't:

Or, to be precise, some of them don't. Some are buying food at McDonald's and some are, as I was, taking pictures. The folks with the red CGT (Conféderation Général du Travail, which my dictionary tells me is a "French trade union," which is pretty obvious) banners are the organizers here, and under their umbrella, as far as I can tell, are a lot of unions of various types, including health workers, researchers, and performers:

It's been a good day not to do anything. Our save-the-library meeting was postponed a day because the trams and buses aren't running, Air France is operating on a very reduced schedule (although the long-haul flights are happening), the mail wasn't delivered today (although it was picked up at the mailboxes, I noted), and even the market this morning was thin on merchants, although the vicious storms we had starting last night may have had something to do with that: parts of the area are code red on the France Météo map, while most of it is code orange. 

And although one of the purposes of these huge demonstrations (there were delegations from all over the area) is to show unity, various shades of political opinion are very much tolerated. This gentleman, for instance, was, unlike the folks carrying a banner demanding retirement at 55 and 40 hours' pay for a 35-hour week (really, what are they smoking?), endorsing something very close to my own opinion: 

So basically it's a day out in the big city for the country cousins, a chance to make trouble without being punished, and an excuse to play Fela records from big sound systems because, as all of us who live here can attest, France in 2010 is so very much like Nigeria in 1973. 

* * * 

From the proletariat to the nobility, now. For some months, a property has been on the market that, except for the possibility of a ghost, seems like it might be a good investment. 

Here it is, 10 rue de l'Argenterie:

Actually, you can't see much of it in this picture, but the archway is old, old, old. It's also got a historical marker which I will (accurately, this time) translate for you:

13th to 17th Centuries

The Kings of Aragon lived here, and here, Jasques III, in 1343, killed his page, Bernard de Roquefeuil, for spilling a little wine on his doublet. 

The house has been reconfigured. 

It's a great midtown location on a colorful shopping street and a great investment opportunity, as well as a chance to brag "I live in the palace of the Kings of Aragon. Right across from the wine shop." 


  1. I don't like to take issue but there are two minor points that I would like to contest...

    1). Manifestations are great fun (if you are working, and thus have a day off work) and give everyone a much needed excuse to shout and wave banners and talk bollocks about politics - if Sarkozy had any sense he'd give us yet another Bank Holiday just so that we could do all that and get it out of our system in an organised manner! You are, of course, totally correct when you say that... "Basically it's a day out in the big city for the country cousins, a chance to make trouble without being punished!"

    2). My second point is that, here in rural Brittany, we don't play Fela records from big sound systems. Partly because I imagine that Fela records (whatever they are, I'm sure I've never heard one) probably haven't come to rural Brittany yet! In that respect I imagine that Brittany 2010 is more like Nigeria in 1923?

    All the best


    P.S. I can't be the only person who is patiently waiting for the next installment of The Lunkerhead Saga, can I?

  2. I think the the new retirement age proposed by Sarkozy is sixty-two, not sixty-five.

  3. Anon, you're right, as I discovered after posting. Still, 65 makes more sense to me as an American.

  4. And when you think there are other European countries talking about raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, France really does have it pretty good.

    However this is a nation where you have to give the people something to protest about, otherwise they'll never be happy.

  5. I like "Federation du Spectacle" on the one sign — I don't know the literal translation but it kind of jives with my memory of the French love of scenes or grèves in general, which seemed to happen nearly every other week when I lived there.

    Sort of tempted to sell all my limbs and buy that rue de l'Argenterie place.

  6. The Federation du Spectacle is powerful: they shut down the Avignon Festival one summer. It's a performing arts union, which also includes stagehands, and it's got this wonderful feature where if you work a minimum amount of time, stated by the agreement with the government, you get paid for the time you're not working, which, in things like opera and theater and so on, when there is a defined season, means you don't have to worry about the time the season's not on.

  7. Sarkozy has been talking about this since he was elected, with no progress that I know of. Is he really going to work for it this time?

    After reading about all the strikes in France for years, it finally dawned on me that they are very different from the strikes in the US, where strikers stay out until they either get what they want or stop asking for it. In France the only point seems to be to demonstrate how many people have some interest in the issue. I hate to say it, because I really like France a lot, but it does play into the stereotype of the ineffectual French for whom talking is more important than accomplishment.

  8. How much is asked for the Palace of the Kings of Aragon? I know, if I have to ask, I can't afford it ...

  9. Hey, Brian, call the realator: +33 (0)4 99 52 22 62. Sign's been up a while, so you can probably bargain!

  10. In Tokyo (way back in 1986), a "strike" meant that the express subway trains didn't run any faster than the regular trains.

  11. What's even worse are the La Poste people who are protesting that their retirement age will be raised from age 55 to age 60.

    They supposedly get to retire early because their job is extremely dangerous.

  12. Anonymous, the US system is in almost every respect very adversarial and, considering what an ungovernable, disintegrating basket case the country has become, I think we should be glad things are done a bit differently elsewhere, at least if we care about that elsewhere.


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