Wednesday, May 9, 2012

France Turns to the Socialists

     Louis Aumont (center) with his wife, Clare (left) and my cousin, MaryAnn (right) in Paris in 1994.

Government that lacks concern for the agonies of the little man often forgets how many little people there are!
by Charlie Leck

I have a friend in Paris who is an ardent Socialist. His name is Louis (Louie). I’ve written about him here before – years ago, however. He doesn’t speak English very well and I don’t speak French all that well. We end up doing most of our communicating with hand signals. I haven’t seen him for years, now. When I think about him, I miss his bright, sparkling eyes and his wide smile.

I called Louie le communiste. He would laugh at me and simply refer to me as le comédien américain.

Louie has a large head and large facial features. His heart is also immense. He’s kind, loving and gentle. He’s also very reasonable and just.

The French, I have found, after a period of living there and after many voyages to that nation, are unusually kind and generous people. They are also well-schooled and extremely intelligent.

Frenchmen don’t make very good criminals. I was climbing up some stairs out of a Metro station one day – four or five years ago – when a man came racing by me, taking two or three steps at a time. He awkwardly bumped into me and knocked me forward and I had to catch myself by putting my arms and hands out. As I did, I felt someone fumbling at my rear, hip pocket and I could tell my billfold had been extracted. I stood up quickly and saw a young man starting to race away down the stairs. I shouted out to him!

“Arrêter monsieur,” I screamed, “s’il vous plaît!”

He stopped, dead in his tracks, and turned to face me. It was but a boy – a teenager – and he dropped his head in embarrassment. In one of his hands he held my billfold. I stepped forward and pulled it way from him. I was angry, but I was touched by the boy’s humiliation and discomfiture. I spoke gently to him.

“Allez maintenant!”

He turned and ran down into the tubular shaped tunnels. I put my billfold into my breast pocket where it should have been in the first-place and I headed slowly up the stairs toward the daylight.

France has voted in a socialist President. It’s their first in nearly twenty years. Many of the expert observers here in our country are calling it a rebuff of the French policies of austerity.

“…policies that have caused misery around the continent while failing to remedy its currency and debt crises.” [Washington Post editorial]

Francois Hollande will now take up residence in le Palais de l’Elysée and one of his first goals is to significantly raise the income tax rates of the wealthy. He will also hire thousands and thousands of new teachers. It is wrong to think that Hollande is a radical. He, like many thinkers in the U.S., believes that the financial crisis in Europe is caused by a lack of spending and not by too much spending. He believes the economy needs stimulation and money put back into it – and money spread over a much larger percentage of the population. Let’s call it a “stimulus plan.”

Do not believe what some are tempted to tell you – that France is now in communist hands. That foolishness – as foolish as I was being when would call my friend, Louie, “un communiste.”

America will, however, now have an opportunity to be a spectator as France changes the formula for economic recovery. They will try to spend their way out of it rather than cutting every government expenditure in sight.

France and America have been following similar routes in the last few years. It has amounted to severe austerity. It isn’t that this movement was or is wrong; rather it’s just that it went too far, too quickly and with too little concern for the injury being done to the lower and middle classes in our wonderful nations. France will now be controlled, as least for a while, by a government more sympathetic to le petit homme.

The Tea Party should take notice!

Appended here is an essay (Back Down on the Farm) I wrote nearly twenty years ago about my friend, Louis Aumont and me… of course, it will only be interesting to my hard-core followers…

One moment we are at Saint Sulpice, looking for a little street that will take us to l’Eglise de Saint Germain. Pigeons soar by us at shoulder height, scanning the ground for treasure. Paris is alive with the calm and quiet of a Sunday morning in the closing days of summer. The air is cool and the faint tintinnabulation of church bells approaches us from all directions. Les boulangerie are open for a few hours and long lines of Parisians are waiting for fresh baguettes and croissants. Neighborhood bistros are scrubbing down from a Saturday night of hard drinking. Little autos are parked, two wheels on the sidewalk, narrowing to a meter our passageway along the ancient buildings on la rue Bonaparte. An elderly woman is exercising a tiny terrier that dutifully shits, bigger than we ever believe it could, in the street along the curb. My littlest daughter giggles and looks away.
But, most of Paris is sleeping. A few elderly couples make their way toward mass at Saint Germain des Près.
L’Eglise and its gardens are striking in the dull, morning light. Standing in the little courtyard, in front of the church, we are bathed by the sound of the great organ.
It is Paris. It is September. It is beautiful.
In another moment, on the same day, we are back in my town, rolling down the gravel road toward the mailbox that hails us and bids us welcome home. The big car grinds the rock beneath its tires and churns up dust in big, ugly billows which drift behind us.
I will awaken in the morning without warm croissant and brioche. I’ll plunk an English muffin in the toaster and pour a bowl of Raisin Bran. I am back down on the farm again.
And, it is good, and peaceful, and quiet. There is grass in need of mowing. Flowers must be pinched and freshened. Some hedges need trimming. All the trees are showing signs of winter’s approach and remind me that it is time to do a chore list. The farm is to be readied for winter. The sheep must be moved to fresh pasture. Paddock fences ought to be mended before it is too cold to strike hammer upon nail.
It is not Paris, but memories of the city of lights will warm me for months. It is not l’Hôtel Ritz I will remember, nor the Champs Elysées, nor the warm afternoon in Neuilly. It is the love and joy in the little back alley house on la rue Lecourbe that will build fires in my heart all winter long. ‘Tis the remembrance of putting my arm round the broad, wide shoulders of Louis, the socialist, and hearing his deep, true laugh, that will bring happiness into my soul during the bleak, dark days of January.
I love Paris, but not the Paris that most travelers know. I like the little streets in Cité Trévise, near Gare du Nord, where tenacious, persistent men of labor dwell. And, I like the little garret on Boulevard Voltaire where my friend, Claire, lives. I return to Paris again and again so I can argue with Jean Marie about this and that. Le Musée d’Orsay. I love it. He does not. The new pyramid entrance at Le Musée du Louvre. It descends a few stories down to a magnificent wonderland of marble and stone, mixing modernity and the ancient, original walls of the outer city. Breathtaking! Jean Marie shows disdain for it. His lips flutter and sputter and pulse like a motor boat as he dismisses the gigantic achievement.
“One must climb,” he says. “A grand entrance is always above. You enter and go up to be astonished, as the old entrance did. To go down is not right. You must believe me!” Jean Marie knows. He is certain. He speaks from his soul — from deeper than his soul. He pours me more wine and laughs at me.
“You are a real American!” He says it affectionately. It is not a criticism. “So you can not understand!”
This is the Paris I love. I could sit quietly near Saint Séverin for hours with big Louis. He speaks no English and I can say nothing in French. Yet, he laughs with me and slaps my back and breaks off another hunk of fromage for me. He lifts his glass of wine and points to a big piece of sky. He winks long and hard. I nod, to explain that I have that same chunk of sky at home, in my town, down at the end of my dusty farm road. And, that cloud! I point it out. I have seen that very cloud form over my farm before.
Oui,” he says, “j’ai compris.” He laughs and, with an open hand, slaps my leg firmly, just above my knee.”
The visit to Paris is too brief, too filled with demands, and quickly ended. There has been no time to see George. It is always fun to bend an elbow with him. I took him once to Harry’s American Bar. He was overwhelmed with discomfort. We drew back to Café Bleu, in Cadet, where men laugh like men and women watch their derrières.
Nor could I find Gigi at Chez Gustave. So, I left a little note. It said simply: “Charlie was here — Charlie etait ici!” I felt maudlin about not seeing her. So, I walked back to my hotel via la rue Saint Denis. I passed the doorways where the women of the night would stand, later in the evening, to ply their trade. They were not there, so I pretended they were smiling at me, calling to me.
I stopped by the big museum on la rue Beaubourg and watched a mime try to imitate my stare. I laughed at him and he laughed back.
I took one more quick look at the wondrous cathedral on the île Saint Louis and then found the Boulevard Saint Germain and my way back to the hotel.
I love Paris and my moment there again was good. Now I must cut back the trees that are pushing in against the hay fields. And, the big thistle bushes near the pond need to be chopped down and cleared away. It is not Paris. It is this little town between here and there in America’s cold heartland. I am glad to be back home in my town. Soon I’ll get to chat with Millard and I’m due to sear some lamp chops with Ed. I’ll tell them both about Paris — about Jean Marie and Louis. I’ll tell them again about Gigi and how sad I was not to see her. I’ll slap Ed soundly on the back and point up to a big piece of sky and swear to Christ that I saw it also in Paris — near Saint Séverin.
Ed will hoist his glass. He’ll chuckle and say, “How yuh gonna keep ‘em down on the farm?”

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