April 14, 2023
Dear Frenchly Readers,
Moments ago, as I write this, constitutional judges in France delivered their decision on whether Président Emmanuel Macron’s bill for pension reform was, in fact, constitutional. (The bill was enacted by the French president on March 16th of this year by his evocation of Article 49.3 of the French Constitution.) The judges have ruled that it was indeed. And they have approved the bill. There will be no referendum. The retirement age in France will change to 64, from 62. Outside, where the judges were deliberating, protesters had erected barricades of trash earlier today. Yesterday, there was another massive strike in Paris; the Louis Vuitton headquarters was “stormed.” It’s hard to say what will happen next, though protestors appear to be gathering. (Though, things aren’t ground to a halt by any means: scaffolding is going up and buildings are being refurbished to get ready for the 2024 Olympics; work continues on the Notre-Dame and it will reopen on schedule in December.)
We fly to Paris on Monday (see note, below*). We have friends from our sons’ school who are already there whom we will see next week. So far, they seem unfazed by the protests. The mom wrote me this morning that trash is being cleaned up though they are seeing, “big police shows of strength, but no clashes. No visible protests. Both yesterday and today were strike days, but there was no disruption either to RER or museums, even though we got a notice that there would be disruption…” Instead, they are excitedly telling us about all the food they are eating and what they are wearing in Paris’ quixotic April weather. (On the packing, I’ve got tips! This week, I wrote about what to pack and what to expect from yourself and your children when you go to France, or anywhere. You can find that, below.)
While I roll up jeans and sweaters, trying to make them small in a large duffel bag, I have been thinking about what is really at issue for the French who are protesting; there is so much in the world that feels untenable, I am interested in the oomph behind this movement. To deny that many people in France feel that their basic French, and human, rights have been overthrown by the despotic flick of their President’s capitalism-thirsty pen, would be oversimplifying in a callous way.
Recently, I was struck by a photo of protestors near a bridge over the Seine with a sign that that read, “We want more time to see art, be in nature, make love, enjoy our families.” Around the same time I saw that on Twitter, an advance copy of a new book arrived in my mailbox. It’s called The French Art of Living Well. It comes out in May from St. Martin’s Press. And though you might feel guilty reading something so charmed with all that is happening in the world, it’s actually a wonderful and pleasurable journey though the basic French concepts of living with intention and joy and, also, more simply. The author, Cathy Yandell, uses France as her platform from which to describe slowing down, enjoying small moments, taking the time to take in art and nature, and enjoying food and good company at the table.
She describes some funny French food statements like, “raconter des salades,” which means, “to tell salads” or “spin yarns” (Emily Nunn is that what you do in your Dept. of Salad?); or “occupe-toi de tes oignons,” which means, “occupy yourself with your onions,” or, “mind your own beeswax.” Perhaps the most poignant French food phrase that gets to the money part of how the French think about their lives is “mettre du beurre dans les épinards,” or put some butter in your spinach. In other words, earn some extra money, because we’re gonna need it. There’s a lovely wartime double entendre there about adding some fat to your humble spinach to make it stretch (this, it seems to me, is the antithesis to the hollow American Dream, which is built on the basic idea of bigger, fatter steaks, and always more, more, and more).
It’s important when reading the sensationalized American press about France to remember that the French are aware that the money, after all, that is needed to keep the retirement age at 62 will have to come from somewhere. The question is, how does any country shift away from a global capitalistic system that prioritizes military might and business over the long and happy life of the regular citizen?
À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:
There’s a new-ish museum in France dedicated to the history of eight centuries of “gastronomy,” the strangely unappealingly wet-fart-sounding word, which just means, “good eating,” in French. According to Le Monde this morning, “La Conciergerie de Paris remains the last home of Marie-Antoinette before the guillotine…” The same article goes on to explain that the museum’s “aim is to show the plural role of Paris, both as a melting pot where gastronomy was structured and developed and as a place of power where cuisine takes on challenges that go far beyond the pleasure of good food.”
Speaking of the pleasure of good food, if I weren’t going to be packing all weekend, cleaning my house to get ready for our house sitter and eating whatever is still left in the fridge, I would be tempted to whip up some of David Tanis’ leeks vinaigrette (or “asperges du pauvre,” which means, “poor man’s asparagus”) with some Provençal chickpea pancakes a.k.a. socca à la Kate Christensen’s Bouffe. I might even pop the cork on some nice rosé, and spend the weekend in the garden, transplanting nettles so that I can make nettle soup later this spring. If I really wanted it to be a perfect weekend, I’d make some almond financiers from Cat’s recipes, below, in a muffin tin and set them out on the table for a spring weekend of in, out, crash, bam goes the screen door. If it got quiet, I think I’d sit down in the sun with the new book Eastbound, which Debra Spark reviewed for us this week in Le Bouquin. She wrote to me that it’s “gorgeous and intense.”
Or, take a minute to read Philip Ruskin’s piece about taking in a movie and a meal in Paris—no matter where you are, you will be interested in the different movie houses he describes and where to eat after. Also, and to continue our theme, here, of “l’art de vivre,” or enjoying the good life, the French view a good movie and a nice meal after as an everyday pleasure. Philip’s article, therefore, is aspirational armchair traveling at its best, and you will be living the good life just by sitting down with a cup of tea to read it. (FYI parents: He also picks out some great theatres for kids’ movies in Paris, too.)
Later this weekend, maybe I can talk you into an Ozon film while cuddled up in bed with the windows open to the spring air—Andrea Meyer has the newest one, Everything Went Fine, and a list of his other notable movies in her new Le Ciné. She says of his movies, “All these years later, there are images (one involving a toothbrush) that I haven’t been able to scrub from my mind.”
To recover from an Ozon film, these goats are one woman’s best friends in southern France.
And, in case you were wondering, Emily is everywhere. According to a very important story this morning from the Times, Emilys have proliferated in the media.
******There will be no Le Weekend for the next two weeks. Cat Rickman will continue with her very enjoyable and all new Wednesday NL—keep reading! She is so fun to read! I will be back in two weeks with all kinds of new stories and ideas for you from Paris to Lyon and back.
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