Saturday, October 23, 2010


Well, they did it: the French Senate passed the pension reform bill raising the retirement age to 62 and the availability of full benefits to 65.  The vote was 177-153 and there are still a couple of steps to go towards implementation, but the path is now charted out.  The unions had already called for two more strike days even before the vote (October 28, November 6) - what will the response be now?  Will there be a revolution on the scale of May 1968? I'm always a little amazed to remember that May 1968 only lasted for two weeks ("only" for anybody who lived through it, I'm sure) - it's the scale that was huge: 11 million workers mobilized into strikes. It truly was the world upside down. Charivari: boisterous, heretofore disallowed actions, messy propositions.

A time when the little man can be King. Or Royal Pumpkin Carver (yes, that is a knife in the pumpkin's eye). Halloween is the ultimate ritualized charivari.  The low becomes high, power is powerless, the powerless are powerful, street talk is political speech - but then (and this is the trick of survival of charivari) everything goes back to the way it was: boys are no longer pharaohs, girls are no longer witches, De Gaulle's party (it turns out) came out stronger than ever in the June 1968 elections.  The world "righted" itself - except in America, where, that same month, JFK was shot.  Louise de Savoie (1476-1531) would have looked to the stars for explanation.  There's one mystic touch in French Senate elections that I return to: each vote is cast in the form of a plastic card which is weighed not counted. The cards go into yes-no-abstain urns, and the urns are then poured out onto scales - whichever side the scales tip to is the side of right.  Where did that ritual come from? Sounds Roman, doesn't it?  Human will decides the precarious balance of social justice.

Will the unions lose the hard-won victories of the November-December 1995 strikes?  All I remember in the haze of archival research and being completely crazy in love with Mac was walking all over Paris, eventually shoving him on the last train out of Paris (from the Gare du Nord), and then connecting the dots (walk, bus, bus, train) to Belgium so I could make my way to him in Germany.  I had no political consciousness except to admire the will it took to make the government backtrack.  The small held the big.  But I don't know this time if power is just a matter of will.  The Economy seems constructed as a bigger power, above all governments, driving all things.  A real beastie, hungry and insatiable.  And so it faces off with Charivari.


  1. Watching these past weeks of unrest here in France from up close, and watching the spectacle of the Tea Party in the US.... it's really much of the same thing. Drop the labels of left and right: what you have are two groups of people with unrealizable longings for a past that never was and a future that never will be; unable/unwilling to find any good in the other side and therefore unable/unwilling to find common ground; determined that their specific grievances are sacred (and even the most secular can regard their beliefs as sacred); oblivious to facts, figures, statistics, details, nuances; prone to conspiracy theories of every sort; intent on creating as much havoc as necessary in order to prove how ineffective are their opponents; incapable of devoting an iota of their collective ire towards addressing REAL issues of social injustice....

    As absurd as it is to listen to a Beck or a Palin or a Limbaugh spit out the word "socialism" like a 4-letter invective, it's just as absurd to listen to the labor unions here masticating "capitalism," and getting the same idiotic gut response from their minions. Who is out there burning tires and blocking highways to protest the deportation of the Rom or the appaling inegality of opportunity for France's substantial minority population? The battle cry-- what really makes the blood boil-- is Business, Enterprise, Industry, and most ridiculously, Genetically Modified Corn and if there were any corn and soybeans native to France that might be contaminated by evil pollen.

    If the strikers that blocked the Nantes airport last week had been protesting anything even remotely of value or interest, I would have left my car on the highway and joined them. As it was, I left my car on the highway, walked the rest of the way to the airport, got on my airplane which miraculously took off despite the air-controllers slowdown, had a delightful week with my daughter and grandchildren, and came back yesterday to a calmer France waiting for something else to erupt over. Also miraculously, the strikers didn't set my car afire along with the piles of tires they were burning (evidently, air pollution is only evil when the smoke is pouring out of capitalist chimneys), and nor did any distraught motorists drain my gas tank since all the service stations were out of fuel for the week, and nor did the gendarmes tow my little Clio away. In fact, the strike saved me €70 in parking fees. Vive la Gauche!

    That the French are capable of making enormous sacrifice-- and have done so for good cause-- to assure the social values which define this nation.... bravo! That's one of the huge reasons for loving it here. THESE strikes, however, were just Tea Party, and the agendas of Tea Parties wherever they may be are cause for concern. The only tea party I would like to have is with you and your family, here on my little island (which just won first prize for all the Morbihan in the category of eco-jardin!!) with some really good chocolate cookies. Ah!

  2. Oh Hoorah! You are home safe and sound - and with 70 extra euros (that's at least one nice meal out at La Table d'O, non?). the thought of Our Own Tea Party assuages much of the fear and fury of last night's election results - you're the best! more soon (off to Austin, TX tomorrow - who knew?)