Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Paris

I went to Paris this weekend with Josh and Lori, who are both also recent transplants to London from New York City. As you can imagine it was a weekend of esoteric New York references. We took the train there which was really nice, I loved not having to fly. I was a bit annoyed that we had to go through this extensive passport and immigration check on both ends though, because you don’t have to do that on most inter-country train routes elsewhere in the EU.

It was a great time to be in France because they are gearing up for round two of their presidential election, which I’ve been writing about in this blog. The atmosphere is quite heated and everyone is abuzz about it. France had an 86 percent turnout for the first round of elections, so really everyone you meet has some kind of opinion on it. The contest for the second round is for Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, who would be the first female president of France, and conservative Nicholas Sarkozy, who was the interior minister under conservative president Jacques Chirac, who is now retiring.

There were posters and flyers everywhere, and tons of people running around handing out campaign literature (all for Segolene, Paris is solidly Socialist). Actually the whole time we were there I only saw one poster for Sarkozy, and someone had drawn a little Hitler mustache on him. The rest were all for Royal. Actually it was funny, the two friends I was with didn’t know anything about the French election, and Lori thought the posters were ads for some kind of beauty product. “Easy breezy beautiful cover girl!” Because, as you can see in the photo, Segolene is hot!

I used every opportunity to chat up people we met about the election. It seemed most people, especially people we met at gay bars, were Segolene supporters. But we did make a new friend Mattieu, who took us to this spot under a bridge on the Seine where all these university students hang out to drink beer. Here’s a photo (ah the joys of having a camera phone). Mattieu is a Sarkozy supporter, and the reasons he gave for this support I thought sounded totally rational and reflect my own opinions on the race. If France is looking for change, Sarkozy inspires a lot more confidence that he is the candidate who can bring that change, whereas Segolene seems more like the status quo. Ironic when you consider that Sarkozy was actually a part of the conservative government that has done basically nothing for the past five years. In fact the last five years of conservative rule have seen nothing but social tension and economic struggles. But Sarkozy has billed himself as an “outsider,” and for the most part the characterization has worked. And considering he seems to not be a big fan of Chirac and was actually working behind the scenes to overthrow him while he was interior minister, this may not be an audacious claim to make. But in the debate coming up in a few days, Segolene really needs to emphasize that Sarkozy is part of the ruling party of the last five years and shoot down this "outsider" label.

In general I was very impressed with how excited and engaged everyone was with the election. In the US what I mostly hear in the runup to an election is how sick everyone is of it, as if they’re angry that this democratic exercise would take time away from their nightly Friends reruns. Coming from a country which struggles to get a 40 percent turnout for elections, I was certainly impressed with French civic participation.

Actually, funny story. Me and Lori were sitting outside of a bar in The Marais, and this group of college-age boys came down the street getting people's attention and giving them pieces of paper. “Ugh,” Lori exclaimed, “here come the twinks with their flyers!” I confess I thought the same thing, as they resembled the army of pre-pubescent looking boys who accost people with flyers on Old Compton Street in London.

But then the boys started shouting “Segolene! Segolene!” and gave Lori a flyer. “What is this Segolene place?” Lori demanded. I burst out laughing when I saw the flyer, a promotional brochure outlining Segolene’s policies and platform. Of course the cynical New Yorkers assume a group of young gay boys are doing something stupid and frivolous. In fact they were young campaign volunteers working for change. For the rest of the weekend every time we saw campaign flyers we would say, “damn twinks with their flyers” and share a good laugh at ourselves.

This trip to Paris was much better than my last one, which was in the winter with awful weather. I went for a week by myself on my way back to New York after living in Prague, and I was depressed because I didn’t want to be leaving, so I spent the whole time moping. This time was much more fun, and the weather was great.

Some observations about Paris. The Paris metro is 1,000 times better than the London tube, although still not as good as New York’s I don’t think. It’s just below the surface like New York’s so getting down to the tracks is easier, and switching trains is a breeze. They also have the RSS trains which run on the same metro system, which are big trains that make only a few stops in the city so they’re sort of like express trains.

We all speak French but out of the three of us Lori’s was the best. She also hasn’t taken French since high school and I was surprised by how good hers was, and it made me realize that mine is really bad! I think also when you’re with a person who’s a better French speaker than you, you tend to kind of tune out and let them handle all the talking, because I was much better with the French last time I was there.

I’m making the final preparations for my big Germany-Denmark-Sweden trip in 2 weeks. It will be about half working and half pleasure, so in total it should be pretty exhausting. But the nice thing is since I’m working I can actually stay in hotels rather than hostels. I made some sort of public map on google, I’m not sure how it works but here’s a link to it. I’m not exactly sure why you would want to share maps, but I guess this is an instance where you might want to do it.

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