September Potpourri: Arches, Ambassadors, Elections, and Addidas

At the end of each month, I select a handful of fun and informative Francophone news items that have come across my screen. Here are my picks for September 2021.

It’s a Wrap

Arc de Triomphe Wrapped
Arc de Triomphe Wrapped

In mid-September, one of Paris’ star attractions received a new skin. The massive Arc de Triomphe is currently draped in 25,000 square meters of recyclable silver-blue fabric, along with 3,000 meters of red rope. If you happen to be in or around Paris, there’s still time to visit the installation, which will remain in place through October 3. Otherwise, you can click on this link for a live shot of the Place de l’Étoile.

The project is the brainchild of Bulgarian artist, Christo and his life-long partner, the Morrocan-born Jeanne-Claude. Christo, who died last year at the age of 84, asked that his vision be carried out after his death. Christo’s nephew, Vladimir Yavatchev has been in charge of realizing his uncle’s dream. The cost of the installation is 14 million euros, which Yavatchev paid for by selling Christo’s preparatory drawings and other works of art.

Around 1200 people spent 3 months preparing for the giant wrap, which was unfurled in a single day as the following time-lapse video shows.

Everybody’s Doing the Ambassador Twist

Last month, France surfaced in the U.S. headlines when President Macron recalled his country’s ambassador in protest of a nuclear submarine deal that the United States signed with Australia. The deal undercut a previous contract between France and Australia, in which France was to furnish conventional submarines to the land down under. That story has been hashed and rehashed in the French and American press but fortunately, relations between the two countries seem to be on the path to recovery.

Interestingly, just as the French ambassador was returning to Washington on Wednesday, Algeria recalled its ambassador to France. Algeria is angered by France’s recent decision to reduce the number of travel VISAs granted to people living in the Maghreb. More specifically, France has cut the number of VISAs issued to Algerians and Morrocans by 50% and to Tunisians by 30%.

Schengen VISA and Algerian Passport (Mourad ALLILI/SIPA)
Schengen VISA and Algerian Passport (Mourad ALLILI/SIPA)

France’s decision is in retaliation to the 3 countries’ near refusal to reabsorb their own native citizens after they have been caught living illegally in France. According to l’Obs, between January and July 2021, French officials ordered 7,731 illegal Algerian immigrants to return to Algeria. However, only 22 of these people received permission to re-enter their native country. Morocco has a significantly better track record, accepting 25%. Apparently, this is far from an acceptable level of cooperation in the eyes of the current French administration.

No one seems to be happy with the French government’s unilateral action. Of course, law-abiding citizens of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco who customarily travel to France for business, or to visit family, feel unjustifiably punished. Within France, politicians on the right claim that Macron should have taken such actions long ago. Those on the left call the decision xenophobic and unwarranted. With the presidential election less than 1 year away, cynics on all sides accuse Macron of playing to anti-immigrant sympathies in order to garner greater populist support.

For now, France’s Minister of the Interior insists that “as long as [these countries] refuse to take back their compatriots, we will not accept their compatriots”, strong rhetoric that does not accurately reflect the new policy.

Speaking of the Election…

The French presidential election is 7 months away and the number of potential candidates is dizzying. So far, roughly 30 contenders have declared their intention to run and this figure does not include French President Emmanuel Macron who leads in the polls. The final slate won’t be announced until March 2022 even though the first round of the voting will be on April 10, 2022, with a second and final round on April 24.

Unlike here in the U.S., French elections are determined after two rounds of voting. Technically, if a candidate gains a majority of the popular vote in the first round, he or she wins and the second round is no longer needed. In practice, this doesn’t happen. The large number of candidates virtually guarantees that no one person will gain a majority. So, a second round takes place with the top two candidates from round one battling it out. In the last presidential election in 2017, Emmanuel Macron faced off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Once more, Le Pen of the Rally National (RN party, formerly Front National) finds herself second in the polls behind Macron and many pundits predict that these two will meet again in the final showdown. Others point to their own personal favorites to upset the perennial apple cart.

Caricatures of presidential candidates, by Luis Grañena.
Caricatures of presidential candidates. Current front runners: Macron at left, Le Pen at right.
By (Luis Grañena).

Three underdogs that I’ll be watching and who seem to have sizeable support are:

Anne Hidalgo of the Parti Socialiste (PS party) and the current mayor of Paris. Hidalgo may be Macron’s closest ideological challenger but lies further to the left. Thus far, members of Macron’s administration have been running interference, quick to criticize Hildalgo’s more ambitious proposals such as doubling teacher salaries. Hidalgo has not yet received the official nomination of her party but she has received the endorsement of its chief.

Xavier Bertrand of Les Républicains (LR party) and president of the regional council of Hauts-de-France. There is fierce competition to become the LR party’s nominee and an official candidate won’t be announced until December. In the last presidential election, LR candidate François Fillon seemed well-positioned to win until a scandal broke, showing that he’d used public funds to pay his wife and children nearly $1 million. Hopefully, Bertrand’s record is clean but his party appears weaker than it was in 2017.

Eric Zemmour, French television personality, bestselling author, and pundit from the extreme right. Admittedly inspired by Donald Trump, the popular and often controversial Zemmour is considering a run for president. In September, with the release of his latest book, he captured enough media attention to end up higher in the polls than Hidalgo. Some believe that he could unseat Le Pen and make it to the final round.

The French prepare for 2022
The French prepare for 2022, [signs read: If it’s Macron,
If it’s Bertrand, If it’s Le Pen…]

The Remarkable Rise of Sneakers

I live near a college campus and have been decrying the lack of individuality in women’s attire for the last decade. First, it was UGGs. For a time, it seemed that UGGs were obligatory for all females under the age of 25. The craze was particularly disturbing when stuck at a pedestrian crosswalk, watching hoards of co-eds flock across the road with the ubiquitous sheepskins on their feet. Then came black leggings. Another unimaginative fad that lasted far too long and somehow captured the devotion of women of all ages. Now, it appears, sneakers are the latest must-haves for men and women alike. These rubber-soled lace-ups have become an essential element of every outfit—whether sporting a 3-piece suit or elegant evening gown.

While this trend lends itself to more variation than sheepskin boots or yoga pants, I’m just not a fan. My kids have convinced me that my tastes are antiquated but in my view, sneakers are for sports, or for anyone who has to be on their feet all day, or for old people whose bunions have become intolerable in any other form of footwear.

Proving just how wrong my fashion instincts can be, a new exhibit, documenting the history of what I call gym shoes, opens in Paris next month. Housed at the Musée de l’homme, Sneakers, les baskets entrent au musée chronicles the revolutionary ascent of the exalted sneaker, which according to promotional materials, has “conquered the planet.” The exhibit considers everything from the cultivation and eventual chemical fabrication of rubber, to examples of the iconic kicks that have come and gone throughout the decades.

Sneakers © Grailify on Unsplash
Doghouse A La Christo
“I wanted to wrap the dog’s house ala Christo. But I get the feeling he doesn’t have much artistic sense.”
Submarine Crisis
Submarine Crisis
France and USA Already Reconciled
Macron: “I definitely put Biden in his place.”
French vaccine skeptic
France Vaccine Skeptical
“Inject me with COVID. I want to be immunized against Pfizer.”
Scan your QR code
“Scan your QR code to view this work of art.”

Other Resources

  • NPR, Here’s Why The Arc De Triomphe Was Just Wrapped In Fabric
  • France24, Wrapping up the Arc de Triomphe
  • RFI, French ambassador back to Washington after submarine crisis
  • l’Obs, Crise des visas : l’Algérie convoque l’ambassadeur de France
  • l’Obs, Décision « nécessaire », « injustifiée » ou opportuniste : la crise des visas du Maghreb décortiquée
  • Le Journal de Dimanche, Présidentielle de 2022
  • ING, French elections: A Macron-Le Pen rematch is far from guaranteed
  • Sortir A Paris, PRÉSIDENTIELLE 2022 : QUI SONT LES CANDIDATS OFFICIELS ?
  • Wikipedia, Opinion polling for the 2022 French presidential election
  • The New York Times, From TV to the French Presidency? 
  • Sortir A Paris, SNEAKERS, L’EXPOSITION INÉDITE AU MUSÉE DE L’HOMME
  • Haute Living, 8 Chic Designer Sneakers to Wear With Your Snazzy Suits
  • StyleCraze, How To Style Converse Shoes With Dresses
  • Twitter, Deligne

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, French to English translator, mother, and lover of: books, travel, history, cultures, art, cooking, fitness, nature.

12 Comments

  1. Wonderfully written and informative roundup, as usual!

    I can’t say that I always enjoy Christo’s work but I appreciate the scope of it. That time lapse video is really lovely, actually!

    Great to read this analysis of the presidential election too. I’m so interested in following how it turns out. Also interesting that Macron is leading when there was such anger against him in recent years over the pension issue, among others. The last time we were in Paris we were memorably tear gassed thanks to the Gilets Jaunes protests.

    But here’s hoping Le Pen doesn’t stand a chance!

    • Thanks Rennie. I took a look at some Christo’s other installations and agree that the scale is one of the most impressive aspects. The Arc is my favorite among those that I saw.

      Yes Macron’s substantial lead is surprising given all the grievances. But the French tend to complain. I don’t think Le Pen can win but this Zemmour fellow? Maybe.

  2. I don’t know what kind of leverage France has over the Maghrib countries, but they clearly need to do something. The power to regulate immigration is one of the inherent characteristics of a sovereign state, and laws which are not enforced are meaningless. It seems absurd and manipulative for Algeria and Morocco to deny entry to their own citizens.

    I don’t follow French politics very closely, but Macron seems to have done a decent job on the issues I’m familiar with. The clash over the Australia deal is unfortunate, but from what you say, it doesn’t seem to be lasting. The name Zemmour sounds to me like it could be of Arabic origin. If the far-right candidate is of immigrant decent, in a way that’s a tribute to France’s success at assimilating immigrants.

    I think the clothing styles of any era tend toward faddism and homogeneity, just different looks at different times. Shoelaces are a pain, but sneakers are at least comfortable. I can’t blame women, at least, for avoiding high heels — they always look terribly uncomfortable to me (and a bit dangerous on stairs).

    Personally, if I were to visit Paris, I would be disappointed to find the Arc de Triomphe covered in plastic. It’s one of the prime must-see structures in France, and that includes the sculptures on the sides, which apparently are not visible right now.

    Thanks as always for doing these round-ups!

    • Yes. I had never even thought of the possibility of people not being able to get back into their country of origin once they’d left. I guess when you don’t have official travel documents/ID of any kind, all kinds of problems arise.

      Zemmour identifies as French of Berber origin. His parents were Algerians Jews who fled to France during the war of independence. You make a good point about him being popular despite his roots, but he is extremely vocal about opposing immigration of Blacks, Arabs, and Muslims.

      The sneaker fad is really quite practical and some would say fun. I’m a victim of my ow n 70s formation. As I recall, earth shoes (a must-have in junior high) were pretty darn ugly.

      Oh man! It would be bummer to arrive in Paris for the first time and find a draped Arc de Triomphe. I hadn’t thought of that. It is a magnificent structure, and extraordinarily ornate. We don’t have examples of intricately carved stone like that here in the US.

      Thanks for sharing your perspectives.

  3. Thanks, I always look forward to your monthly recap. I didn’t know there was a live cam on l’Arc de Triomphe, cool!

  4. Always enjoyable potpourri, Carol.

    I once experienced Christo’s drapes in New York’s Central Park. They were orange canopies, and they played with the light changes from time of day and weather. It was an unusual sensation, more personal than I’d anticipated.

    But I, too, would have been really bummed out to reach Paris and find a swathed Arc.

    I’m very glad Macron is in the lead; I hope it continues. That trumpian wannabee sounds as frightening as Le Pen.

    • The Central Park work sounds nice Annie. Thanks for stopping by. Hope your recovery is going well.

      Yes, Zemmour sounds like he wouldn’t be better than Le Pen. I wonder if he has a better chance than she does for two reasons: 1) he’s not part of the establishment. Her father was a major political figure and she also has a long career in politics. Lack of experience is a plus for many voters these days. 2) He’s a more popular gender than Le Pen. Sigh.

  5. Submarines, ambassadors, the election… As a blogger friend so aptly put it: “there are some deeply strange people running the roost.”
    Bonne semaine.

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