It’s Show Time for French Elections

This will get you up to speed on the state of things one month before the French election: The center-right Républicains and center-left Parti Socialiste have dominated French politics since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, and this year neither may advance to the final round. Among the Républicains, the two best known candidates went down in turn. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s comeback attempt was turned back early, then in the primaries’ second round, Alain Juppé was defeated by former Prime Minister François Fillon, who promptly became embroiled in a scandal that has brought his poll numbers down to 18%. He is currently polling in third place.

President François Hollande’s hapless governance has brought the center-left Socialistes’ prospects down with him, and the Socialistes have chosen to radically shake up their status quo. As on the center-right, the expected standard bearer, Manuel Valls, fell decisively in the primaries to a harder left candidate named Benoit Hamon, who proposes shortening the work week to 32 hours, and a tax on robots. He languishes in last place, most recently polling 14.1%.

The candidates most likely to finish one-two are Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Macron has positioned himself squarely in the center, having left the Socialistes to form a party called En Marche, meaning sort of “on the move,” or “let’s go!” While Macron, 39, is accused of a lack of policy heft, he is just about tied atop the polls with the leader of the Front Nationale, Marine Le Pen. Le Pen has worked hard on the “de-démonization” of the anti-EU, law and order party she inherited from her father, the holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen. The firebrand populist hopes to benefit from the rise of nationalism in the west, and from the “Trump effect.”

Here is one in a series of election ads (with English subtitles) that seeks to show Le Pen’s steely determination and patriotism:

The first round of the elections in Sunday, 23 April, with the top two candidates moving to a runoff two weeks later. Conventional wisdom suggests the rest of the political spectrum will close ranks against Le Pen, behind whoever emerges as her opponent in the second round, to be held Sunday, 7 May. More on that then.

Out in the Cold: France in North America

outinthecoldcoverrightsidePublication of the book is imminent. It’s called Out in the Cold (cover, left), and as we run up to publication I’m sharing some photos and excerpts here on the blog.

In Out in the Cold we explore up north: Svalbard, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and maritime eastern Canada, including a curious artifact, the last remaining French colony in North America, a tiny pair of islands off Newfoundland called Saint Pierre and Miquelon. That forgotten bit of France is where we are today.

FRENCH NORTH AMERICA

stp

I can’t recall ever having to call a taxi at an international airport, but they are good enough to hang a phone on the terminal wall for you to do so. He wants five Euros for the ride. That is correct; surrounded by Canada and 2,350 miles from Brest, the closest landfall in continental France, he wants Euros.

My conjured vision of a grand Place Charles DeGaulle isn’t quite so grand in reality, not to denigrate. La Place is dominated by the post office on the waterfront and a happy tourism office with bright little displays in the windows. Scarcely a two-minute walk away, the Hotel Robert, a former police barracks, is a throwback, a tiny reminder that once, personal honor trumped personal gratification.

I must sign a pledge, a strip of paper by which I testify that “I (fill in your name), pledge that we will not smoke in our hotel room.” With a space to sign and date at the bottom.

We live in an annex, down the stairs, across the street and back up the stairs, with fine blonde hardwood floors and two big picture windows overlooking a tiny waterfront promenade and green public space, common “saline sheds” for fishermen, and I can see a bit of the airport control tower across the harbor.

The park’s picnic tables and benches are a fine place to pop across (cars yield to people) with your morning coffee. Trees still budding on the 12th of June, yellow wild flowers and thistle all sway in the breeze on a rare, almost cloudless Sunday morning.

Besides the little ferry that runs fifteen or twenty at a time over and back from Ile Aux Marins, Fishermen’s Island, a zodiac laden with prospective whale watchers is the busiest ship in the harbor, tethered sailboats and Hobie Cats bobbing in its wake. In side-by-side dry slips the P’Tit Saint-Pierre sits under repair beside a smaller sailboat that ran into a problem just beginning a solo trans-Atlantic crossing causing a “famous German sailor,” a woman surnamed Joshka, an extended, unintended Saint-Pierre vacation. The parts for her ship must be summoned from abroad.

Bicycles make more sense than cars, but Saint-Pierre is full of boxy Renaults. Just the same, none of them drive very fast and Saint-Pierre town is one of those places with short stubby blocks built all in a huddle down at the water, buildings right up on the road so drivers must slow at every block to check around them. Pedestrians rule; cars defer.

•••••

Frederic Dotte drives up in fashionably torn jeans and a colorful horizontal-striped sweater, a journalist perhaps curious who would be curious about Saint-Pierre. He has agreed to show us around.

French through and through with a good command of English, he is far too good to us, meeting us at Place Charles DeGaulle, taking us to a lookout point at the top of the island, the radio and TV studios where he works, posing for pictures out front with his work satchel, glasses pushed up on top of his head, showing off his island, freely spending time with strangers.

As it happens, his wife is away enjoying a weekend with friends on Langlade, the southern island in the Langlade/Grande Miquelon duo just over Saint-Pierre Island’s spine to the west. Her absence serendipitously affords us a chance at some of Fred’s time, aside from his fielding regular calls from his sixteen-year-old son and chauffeuring around his daughter.

Fred works as a presenter at Saint-Pierre et Miquelon Première radio and TV, where they employ 87, making it the biggest private employer on the island, although it is a curious hybrid, a government institution dependent on profit, as opposed to say, the hospital, which employs more but not for profit. (Subsidies are everywhere. Construction industry workers get some pay in the non-construction season, which runs much of the year.)

“Winter is hard here,” Fred says. A simple fact. But he and his family have stuck it out for six years. Now with an eighteen-year-old daughter at school back in France and their younger kids here, he and his wife plan two more years on the island. They will return when it is time for their boy to go to college.

They own a home in southern France, a little town toward Switzerland. To get here they swapped jobs with a Saint-Pierrais journalist who rented their house in France, but they also bought a house here. They’re not overly expensive, he thinks, certainly cheaper than in France. €150,000 will buy you 1,500 square meters.

Architecture is a jumble, buildings built right on top of one another in that waterfront clapboard style you see in sand-scoured communities here clear across the continent to the Pacific northwest coast.

Part because it’s built for winter, part because everybody knows where everything is, Saint-Pierre merchants don’t fancy up their storefronts. It’s hard to tell if shops are open, sometimes hard to tell if they are even shops.

Some have display windows but some only offer a door to the street. If you have business somewhere you’ll find it. In a place Saint-Pierre’s size it won’t take long.

It is not quite high season (high and short, running from July maybe into September), so no one bothers to open on Sunday. Everybody knows it who lives here, and there are no tourists liable to pop in and buy something. When we leave we must arrange a taxi to the airport in advance because “sometimes on Sunday everybody disappears.”

•••••

Previous excerpts: Here  from the Faroe Islands, this one, naked and freezing, from Iceland and this from Svalbard, 800 miles from the North Pole.

Click the photo for a larger version on EarthPhotos.com. Out in the Cold will be ready for purchase this spring. My previous books are Common Sense and Whiskey, Modest Adventures Far from Home, and Visiting Chernobyl, A Considered Guide.

Populist Tide, Incoming

Not an endorsement but a prediction: Macron can’t hold up down the stretch and Le Pen takes the French Presidency on 7 May. For the record.

Be Careful What You Vote For

france

Today the center-right French Republicans have chosen the harder right of the two candidates to offer up to contest Marine Le Pen, if you assume as I do that the chances of the left to make it to a runoff next April are vanishingly small. François Fillon is an earthquake, I think, for socialisty France, in that their center right has chosen its most supply-side, trickle down candidate as their country’s best hope against the Le Pen scourge.

I’d say, with Brexit, Trump and Fillon, we see a trend. Three longish articles for you, first on next weekend’s Italian referendum, in which polls indicate a lurch toward populism.

After that, in March it’s the Netherlands’ turn.

And finally, it may not be too bold a prediction that by next autumn, Angela Merkel’s time may be past. You heard it here first.

The face of the western democracies this time next year is taking shape and I’m not sure how well we’ll get through it.

St. Pierre Panorama

Panorama of the capital St. Pierre, St. Pierre et Miquelon Islands, French Overseas Territory, a tiny little bit of land just off Newfoundland, Canada. Click it to enlarge.

SPEMPanoSmall

St. Pierre Harbor HDR

StPierre02Small

I’ll be posting a new photo most days for the next month or so from our June trip to maritime Canada, the French overseas territory of St. Pierre et Miquelon, Iceland and England. We start with the tiny harbor on tiny St. Pierre island, just off the southern tip of Newfoundland.

Photo Tour of Saint-Pierre, France d’Outre Mer

St. Pierre is a French territory near Newfoundland, Canada. Here are several relatively low-res photos from a short visit. Will post higher quality photos later on EarthPhotos.com.

StpSalines

“Salines,” old cod drying and salting sheds, now for boat storage.

Wreck

The 1971 wreck of the Transpacific on the Ile aux Marins, “Fishermen’s Island,” yielded looting of “hundreds of lawn mowers, juke boxes, engines, food, beverage… and part of the ship’s equipment : tableware, furniture, compass, wheel and bell.”

LaFranceOutreMer

France outre mer, France overseas.

StpIleMarins

Ils aux Marins. That’s Newfoundland in the distance.

StpCarpenter

Working on a summer house on Ile aux Marins.

StpHouses

Wind beaten architecture, Saint-Pierre.

StpPano

Panorama from above Saint-Pierre.

StpRooftops

Rooftops, Saint-Pierre.

StPierreHarbour

Tiny little Saint-Pierre harbour. HDR.

FlyingTheMail

Flying in the mail, Air St. Pierre flight from Halifax.

Buoys

Buoys.

BanqueSmall

STPLighthouse

Saint-Pierre lighthouse.

StPTown

Above Saint-Pierre.

StPRadio

France Télévisions / Saint-Pierre et Miquelon 1ère studio. Merci to our great host, journalist Frederic Dotte.

Show Biz St. Pierre

StPRadio

France Télévisions / Saint-Pierre et Miquelon 1ère studio. Merci to our great host today Fred Dotte.

Bonjour St. Pierre et Miquelon

StPTown

St. Pierre, the main town on the islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon, French territory within view of Newfoundland, Canada. Passports required and Euros spent. France in north America. Not too big, though. 21 people on today’s flight from Halifax. Had to call a taxi to leave the airport.

Friday Photo #46 – Nous Sommes Tous Français

FridayPhotoParis