Six months ago, when I first arrived in France, my ambitions to understand the country and the language were loftier than they are now. Every morning I’d read, or try to, the online version of a French newspaper –usually Nouvelle Observateur, sometimes Le Figaro. Since I understood very little of what I was reading, the political orientation didn’t matter much although it’s interesting that I managed to gravitate to the left (Le Figaro) and the slightly more centrist Nouvelle Ob as its known here.
These days I read, in English, a compilation of news about France on a site called WOW l’Herault (www.heraultwhatson.squarespace.com/news.) WOW is there on my iPad every morning when I wake up. Usually I have a quick look at the headlines while I’m still in bed. If I’m sufficiently awake by then, I get up and microwave coffee from the day before and take it back to bed while I finish reading. I get a sense of what’s going on in France as well as useful information about things to do and places to go here in the Herault. There’s also an interesting column, Rosemary and Wine, by a woman called Rosemary George who reviews local wines. Most of them are a bit too pricey for my budget, but I like to read it anyway. After that, I make fresh coffee and read the New York Times at my desk. Sometimes when I’m through–depending on the strength of the coffee and the content of the news– I need to reach for the Malox.
Today was one of those days. In the Times, extensive coverage of the heartbreaking tragedy in the Philippines following Typhoon Halyan and the ongoing Obamacare battle. The news wasn’t much brighter in WOW. France, it appears, is coming apart at the seams. Hollande, his popularity at 20-percent and slipping, was jeered during Monday’s Armistice Day commemorations in Paris; schools are bracing for strikes and protests and small businesses complain that they’re being “asphyxiated” by new taxes. Around the country, but especially in Brittany, anti-tax protestors wearing red hats (Bonnets Rouge, named after a 17th century tax uprising) have set fire to roadside radar cameras, vandalized toll booths and generally wreaked havoc. The atmosphere in France, WOW tells me, is ‘very tense’ even ‘explosive.’ Amidst a ‘rising tide of discontent and rebellion,’ an ineffective government is ‘lurching towards a crisis,’ which has prompted Far-right National Front Leader Marine Le Pen to call for a dissolution of parliament and new elections.
Outside my window, two women are in animated conversation. One has a baguette sticking out of her shopping basket. They stand close together, heads almost touching. I wish I knew whether they were talking about social unrest, I doubt that they are though. The vegetables at the epicerie looked at bit bedraggled yesterday, perhaps that’s it. It’s Wednesday, so kids are out of school, I hear them few doors down, chattering and laughing. French children have Wednesdays off, but there’s talk of changing that which is apparently another source of national discontent. The women move on, the church bells ring– or perhaps it’s the bells on the square, I can never tell the difference. I ponder some more on France’s ‘exponential crisis’ and the ‘simmering mood of the country.’ Here in the village, the most visible sign of protest are the anti-fracking bumper stickers and posters on some front doors. Gaz de schiste: non merci. Quite polite really and, so far I haven’t seen any red hats. I didn’t see any in Pezenas on Monday when I went for my French class. We did see a marching band –a small procession to mark Armistice day– but it was all very peaceful and quite touching. While I was in class, Joe listened to the mayor give a speech. It went on a bit long, Joe said, but no-one jeered. Who knows, if Hollande had been there, things might have been different.
Joe is sleeping on the couch, an upset stomach. I don’t think he’s read the news today so maybe it was last night’s chicken soup. If he manages to pull out of it, we’re leaving tomorrow for a road trip–Bilbao to check out the Guggenheim Museum then a look at the Basque country. On the way back, if time allows, we’ll stop in in the Dordogne to see some friends–people I met when I first arrived in France. I’m looking forward to it, although I read that the on-going protests–slow-motion traffic blockades, toll booth vandalism, fires etc. are likely to spread throughout the country. Southern France is specifically mentioned. Sometimes I think, I should just stop reading the news. Or maybe I’ll just confine my reading to Rosemary and Wine.