Travel Days Home

After starting out in April with a month in Vietnam and a brief stop in Thailand, then spending the brief Finnish summer by Lake Saimaa, and brief excursions into Russia, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and a brief bump through Paris (here, the state of the Notre Dame Cathedral today)

it’s time to head back to the farm in Appalachia. We’ll be bouncing through Dublin, Ireland at the weekend, then back to the US next week.

I’ll be working up a post on Viktor Yanukovich’s Межигір’я residence in the meantime, and you can see all the photos we’ve posted over the course of the trip on the EarthPhotos.com page Around the World Slowly, 2019.

Hotel rooms and apartments and a 13 inch MacBook aren’t the ideal environment for post-producing photography, so over the course of the coming autumn, once we get back to a big desktop computer,. we’ll have much more photography and commentary from the eleven countries and four months we’ve spent on the road.

And be sure to look up my next travel column at Three Quarks Daily on Monday.

Weekend Reading

Windy and gray on our side of the hill today. Looks like an indoor weekend in the southern Appalachians.

The theme of today’s weekend reading recommendations is big European countries in turmoil.

 

The UK:
The Divided Kingdom by Helen Dale
Labour’s Brexit trilemma: in search of the least bad outcome by Laurie MacFarlane
How Ireland Outmaneuvered Britain on Brexit by Dara Doyle
France:
Notes on the Yellow Jackets by Claire Berlinski
Macron Fans the Flames of Illiberalism by Pankaj Mishra
Two Roads for the New French Right by Mark Lilla
What Will Follow Emmanuel Macron? by Sarah Jones
From Sans Culottes to Gilets Jaunes: Macron’s Marie Antoinette Moment by Sylvain Cypel
Italy:
How Macron gave Italian populists a boost by Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli
The Dangerous New Face of Salvini’s Italy by Walter Mayr

Enjoy your weekend. See you next week.

The Runoff

On yesterday’s elections: 1. the French have rejected both traditional parties in an election for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic. And 2. the pollsters largely got it right, which is more than can be said for their British and American counterparts these last couple years.

While the next two weeks are potentially fraught, for the moment the idea of a functioning European project survives. But headlines like

“Macron to ‘blow Le Pen out of the water’ in final round of French election – Not even a terrorist attack could increase Front National’s chances, experts believe”

in this morning’s Independent are exactly what forces of moderation don’t want to see over the next two weeks. Because, as Der Spiegel explains,

“if only a fraction of those who believe that Macron’s victory is a given end up staying home on May 7, then Le Pen has a shot at becoming France’s next president. Because there is one certainty that has survived: Front National supporters will turn out in force.”

While the periphery frays (Brexit, the Turkish referendum), you can at least make an argument this morning that the core still believes in the European idea. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with this ‘blow her out of the water’ kind of loose talk. Two delicate weeks lie ahead for an entirely untested would-be leader in a world full of surprises.

French Election Watch

A good “if you only read one article about the French elections” article: Extremists on Left and Right Push France to the Brink in Spiegel Online.

Excerpt:

(Marine) Le Pen was asked in a recent TV campaign special what she would do if the French voted to remain in the EU in a referendum she has said she would hold. She normally has an answer ready for whatever question might be asked, but this time she said nothing for a long moment, before responding: “I would resign.” When the moderators then asked what the point of a referendum is if she wanted to determine the outcome beforehand, she became angry and quickly switched to her favorite topic: the media’s vicious attacks on Le Pen and her party.

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.