‘France for the truly French’, ‘keep out the foreigners’, ‘we must revive national identity’, etc etc. All familiar battle-cries of a certain segment of the right-wing, foremost but not exclusively the Front National, which polled 30% in recent regional elections.
BUT–be careful what you wish for, mes amis.
During decades of life in Europe, and over ten years in Paris, p.d.v. has never experienced so much local color in Paname. Everyone here speaks French–only French! Gone are the chattering Italians, the parades of Japanese wearing identical bright-colored caps, the bumptious groups of American college kids. Oh yes, one used to love to complain about them, how they blocked the sidewalks. And pundits lamented the transformation of Paris into a semi-living museum to be gawked at by waves of tourists from the leading economy du jour–and there was/is truth to that. But now it’s a bit disconcerting to walk into a good restaurant without a reservation, and be offered a table. (Le Bistrot des Deux Theatres, only last night.) According to a trade group, 62% of hospitality professionals see business as way down over the year past. Worrisome, in a country that in 2014 was the world’s leading tourist destination, with tourism contributing 7.4% of GNP. And whose economy has flat-lined for years.
Rightly or wrongly, there’s unanimity about the cause: the Charlie Hebdo attack, followed by the Bataclan massacre. Even Le Monde, dissecting the brouhaha over Paris Opera Ballet Director Benjamin Millepied’s sudden resignation, mentions Natalie Portman’s security angst as a motivation for the couple’s leaving. P.d.v. has doubts. As a friend once observed, for any problem there’s a simple explanation–and it’s likely to be wrong. Statistically, is Paris a more dangerous destination than New York? Where in all history was one ever completely ‘safe’?
After the evils of 9/11, Americans were encouraged by their then President to, basically, ‘go out and shop, that’ll show ’em!’ No one has told Parisians to flock every night of the week to plays and concerts, but so it is: sold out. In Paris this winter one feels as secure as an infant in her crib, given the alert yet friendly gendarmes on every other corner. And, to be honest, it’s both novel and cozy to hear and speak mostly French… for however long the moment.