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A Self-Styled ‘Troublemaker’ Creates a Different Paris Museum

PARIS — François Pinault, the French billionaire, has never had much time for convention. “Avoid the paths already trodden,” has been his motto. Bored with acquiring Impressionist or Cubist works with surefire credentials, he said to himself four decades ago: “It’s impossible that we have become so stupid today that there are no human beings alive capable of creating tomorrow’s masterpieces.”

The fruits of that conviction are now on display in a contemporary art museum that opened in Paris on Saturday under the cupola of the Bourse de Commerce. With the Louvre to one side and the Pompidou Center to the other, this upstart in the cultural life of Paris combines tradition and modernity.

Once a grain exchange, the light-filled building has undergone a $170 million redevelopment conceived by the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who previously worked with Pinault at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. Ando installed a 108-foot-diameter concrete cylinder inside the central rotunda, creating a core display area while retaining the framework of the original.

“A palimpsest of French history,” as Martin Bethenod, the museum’s director, put it.

No layer of the palimpsest has been concealed. Restored 19th-century frescoes beneath the dome illustrate the global commerce of the time. Titled “Triumphal France,” they amount to a primer in the demeaning stereotypes of a Eurocentric colonized world where white traders did business with bare-chested African warriors.

The juxtaposition with the many works in the galleries below by Black American artists, including David Hammons and Kerry James Marshall, is potent. Their pieces, driven by reflection on the grotesqueness and lasting wounds of racism, seem charged by the setting.

Transience is a theme. Nothing lasts, yet nothing is entirely gone. At the center of the museum’s initial exhibition stands a wax replica of the 16th-century Giambologna statue “The Abduction of the Sabine Women,” three writhing figures intertwined. Created by the Swiss artist Urs Fischer, it was set alight at the museum’s opening on Saturday and will burn for six months, leaving nothing behind.

So a high mannerist masterpiece becomes an elaborate giant candle: Sic transit gloria mundi. The Bourse de Commerce itself has been rented from Paris City Hall on a 50-year lease — a reminder that the museum’s life span may not be eternal. Ando’s cylinder is designed so that it can be removed once the lease expires.

Pinault, 84, a self-styled “troublemaker,” has always been more interested in disruption than permanence.

Born in rural Brittany, he went on to parlay a small timber business into a $42 billion diversified luxury-goods conglomerate, including brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent. I asked him about time passing. “Well, I am like everyone: As you grow older, that issue gnaws at you a little, but I am not obsessed by the time that may be left to me,” he said in an interview. “I hope it will be as long as possible.”

How, he asked, can anyone take himself for important, confronted by the sweep of history? “Humility must be worked on with a pumice stone every day,” he said. “The ego is something that grows if you don’t apply weed killer.”

Behind him in his office at the Bourse de Commerce hangs “SEPT.13, 2001,” a work in black and white by the Japanese artist On Kawara. It is a reminder that the unimaginable can happen — that as Victor Hugo put it, “Nothing is more imminent than the impossible.” Yet life continues nonetheless.

For Pinault, the project represents a long-held ambition to house some of his more than 10,000 works by artists including Cy Twombly, Cindy Sherman, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Marlene Dumas in a Paris museum. That effort began about 20 years ago with plans, later aborted, to take over a disused Renault car factory in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

Although Sherman’s work is on prominent display — including a haunting photograph of a platinum-blonde woman, back turned, standing on a deserted American highway with her suitcase beside her in a shadowy half-light — the exhibition does not dwell on the giants of the Pinault Collection, as if the main aim were to jolt Parisians emerging from months of coronavirus lockdown with an injection of the new and little known in France.

Pinault said he had met David Hammons, a generally reclusive artist who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s, more than 30 years ago. Hammons learned that Pinault was the uneducated son of a peasant from a small Breton village. “He said we were alike, and I burst out laughing and told him, ‘Well, not exactly!’”

So was an unlikely friendship born. Its fruit is the more than 25 Hammons works on show at the Bourse de Commerce.

But what of those murals glorifying European colonization, with Christopher Columbus sweeping down from the sky in a caravel to find half-naked Native Americans? “We were convinced for a long time that we constituted civilization, the most evolved people,” Pinault said. “I never accepted that.” In the frescoes, he added, was “the beginning of global commerce, but dominated by Europe and France” — in short, “everything that a David Hammons detests.”

When the artist was shown a video of the frescoes, and giant antique maps tracing post-slavery trade routes dominated by European navies, he asked that his “Minimum Security” installation, inspired by a visit to death row at San Quentin State Prison, be placed against this backdrop. The squeaking and clanging of a cell door seems to carry the echo of centuries of oppression.

“Some will criticize us and say it’s shameful,” Pinault said. “We could have hidden the fresco — you can always hide something, that is cancel culture. And here, a great African-American artist said, ‘Don’t hide it.’”

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the Pinault Collection’s chief executive, said: “When you show it, that does not mean you approve it. This was the image of trade at that moment, and you can’t think yesterday with the mind of today.”

Art is provocation. With almost Duchamp-like playfulness, Hammons challenges the viewer to think again, as with “Rubber Dread,” deflated inner tubes woven into dreadlocks. He reimagines detritus.

Kerry James Marshall, another Black artist whom Pinault has collected for years, seems to upend a whole Western tradition — Goya’s “Maya” or Manet’s “Olympia,” — with an untitled painting of a Black man, naked but for his socks, lying on a bed with a sidelong gaze, a Pan-African flag coyly covering his genitals.

Pinault said that his museum would not add much to Paris, but perhaps as a private institution it could move faster while the committees at state-owned museums pondered. “So perhaps you have a collection of things that would not otherwise be here.” Perhaps, yes. He was being modest.

He described himself as a restless nonconformist: “My roots are under the soles of my shoes.” When life presents something important enough to entice you into a journey, he suggested, “you have to take your suitcase, like that woman beside the road in the Cindy Sherman photograph — my favorite.”

He was 19 when he left Brittany for the first time and came to Paris. He enlisted in the army and went to Algeria, where war was raging. It was 1956. A parachutist, he was ordered to comb through villages looking for Algerian rebels fighting French colonial dominion. But the rebels were long gone; all that was left were houses full of women, children and older people. Pinault said he confronted his officer: “What the hell are we doing here? This war is already lost.”

“Shut up, Pinault,” he recalled the officer saying.

But he never has shut up. Instead, Pinault has made a fortune, a unique collection of contemporary art and a life out of anticipation. “Only anticipate” could be another of his mottos. As a result, Paris, sometimes a little set in its ways, has something different, disruptive and challenging on offer at the Bourse de Commerce.

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Coco’s Choice: A Charlie Hebdo Cartoonist’s Road Back From Hell

PARIS — For years after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, the most unbearable words for Corinne Rey, known as Coco, were, “In your place.” Other people couldn’t put themselves in her place at the satirical magazine. Others couldn’t know what they would have done.

On Jan. 7, 2015, Ms. Rey, a cartoonist, was leaving the magazine’s Paris offices to pick up her 1-year-old daughter from day care when she was confronted by two masked men brandishing assault rifles. They pointed the guns at her head. “Take us to Charlie Hebdo!” they shouted. “You have insulted the Prophet.”

In her recently published graphic novel, “To Draw Again,” Ms. Rey, 38, portrays herself as a small, trembling figure being tracked up the stairs by two immense featureless shapes whose weapons bear down on her. “That is how I saw them,” she said in a recent interview in Paris. “Monsters, dressed in black, huge, with no human trait.”

Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the terrorists, had a clear objective: to avenge Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by killing its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, and the staff. They prodded Ms. Rey at gunpoint toward the Charlie office.

the first to be shot. Ms. Rey hid under a desk. “I heard the shots, the Allahu akbar, and the silence afterward,” she said. “No screams. Not one. I remember the sounds, precisely, of chairs, of people getting up from their chairs, just as they were killed.”

In her book, a way to speak of and transcend the unsayable, Ms. Rey chooses not to portray the terrible scene of prone bodies. Instead there are pages of darkness, as if of dense tangled dark wire, the void left by her dead friends and colleagues.

killed a dozen people that day. It is hard to imagine a more brutal confrontation of a free press and the fanatic’s fury. The words of the Kouachi brothers, whom the police killed two days later, fill a page of the book: “We have avenged the Prophet. We have killed Charlie Hebdo.”

“I was left with terrible guilt feelings,” Ms. Rey said in the interview. “I had the impression of making a choice, when really there was none.”

Over 10 pages of “To Draw Again,” she evokes her self-interrogation in a maelstrom of captioned images: “And if I had screamed for help? And if I had tried to flee? And if I had pushed them down the stairs? And if. And if. And if …”

One absurd image, of her kicking her massive assailants in the face, conveys that there was no if, just as at Auschwitz, in Primo Levi’s memorable phrase, there was no why.

beheading last October of Samuel Paty, a history teacher in a Paris suburb who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech, affected Ms. Rey deeply — proof that the battle for which her friends’ lives were lost continues in France.

“Paty is somehow a member of Charlie, almost a colleague,” she said. “He wanted to explain what freedom of expression is. Explain that blasphemy is not a crime in France.” Explain freedom of opinion and thought, too. Explain freedom itself.

A middle school in France refused to be named for Mr. Paty for fear of being attacked, she said. “I, too, am sometimes afraid, but I transcend that fear.”

I asked Mr. Fieschi whether Ms. Rey had changed since the devastating day known simply as “7,” much as 9/11 became an American shorthand. “More than change her, I think it revealed her,” he said. “It deepened her. Her simplicity lost its naïveté. She always fought for freedom. She does so even more now.”

Ms. Rey is uncomfortable with the idea of victimhood. She does not want to be seen that way. She has fought to emerge from an unimaginable place. By depicting Coco’s choice in her book, she has helped herself lay that choice to rest.

In 2018, she had another child, a boy. “I am a mother,” she said. “I draw, and that is my passion. Charlie did not die; it lives. I am a little better, even if the absentees around the table are always there.”

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Thousands of French Police Protest in Call for More Protection

PARIS — Declaring that their work has become increasingly dangerous because of the government’s failure to address France’s underlying social problems, thousands of police officers protested in Paris on Wednesday in a show of force that left politicians scrambling.

Police union leaders demanded tougher laws for violence against officers and stiffer sentences against convicted criminals as thousands massed in the rain in front of the National Assembly, issuing warnings to political leaders who were present but were not invited to speak.

“Your presence is an important sign,’’ Fabien Vanhemelryck, the secretary general of Alliance Police, a right-leaning union whose members appeared to dominate the protest, said from a stage next to a giant screen. “It must not be a sign of future elections, but a wake-up call, a sense of responsibility, of change and a return to safety.’’

The protest, organized by 14 police unions, came after the recent killings of an officer and a police employee, even as pressure has been mounting to reform a force often criticized for its brutal tactics and racist behavior.

theme of crime already dominating the political debate a year before the presidential election, the protest drew leaders from nearly all of France’s political parties. The criticism of official policy put the government of President Emmanuel Macron in an awkward situation and threatened to overshadow a rare nugget of good news on Wednesday, as restaurants and cafes partially reopened nationwide after months of pandemic restrictions.

Gérald Darmanin — the powerful interior minister and head of the national police — joined the demonstration as officers called out to him, “We need your help.’’

In a rare instance of a minister joining a demonstration critical of his own government, Mr. Darmanin said he was simply expressing his solidarity while political rivals said he was effectively protesting against himself. Mr. Darmanin has spearheaded the government’s efforts to fend off a challenge from Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader and Mr. Macron’s main challenger.

issue of crime has directly affected the fortunes of French politicians and parties in the past two decades, and is expected to do so again in the coming months, as France tries to pull itself out of the ravages caused by the pandemic. On Wednesday, some political figures on the left joined the protest and talked tough on crime, even though the government’s statistics do not show the kind of criminality conjured by politicians.

Fabien Jobard, a political scientist specializing on the police.

Protesters began by paying hommage to Eric Masson, an officer killed in the southern city of Avignon during an antidrug operation, and Stéphanie Monfermé, a police employee killed in a terrorist attack at a police station in the city of Rambouillet, near Paris.

The number of police officers injured while on duty has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, jumping from 3,842 in 2004 to 6,760 in 2019, during a year marked by violent Yellow Vest protests, according to figures from the interior ministry.

Mr. Macron has recently stepped up efforts to respond to police concerns. He pledged to recruit 10,000 additional police officers by the end of his current five-year term and went on a ride-along with officers in a drug-dealing area of the city of Montpellier.

pushing back on proposals to reform their methods, such as banning chokeholds, and to open themselves up to greater scrutiny for racism. Police unions also recently broke off monthslong talks with the government on potential reforms.

Controversies over deadly and brutal police interventions sparked widespread protests against the police last year. A contentious security law empowering the police drew thousands of protesters to the street as video footage revealed the brutal beating of a Black music producer, Michel Zecler, inside his own Paris studio by officers.

recent poll showed that 27 percent of respondents said they regarded the police with “anxiety’’ or “hostility.’’

“The police play a very strong role in protecting the political regime in France,” Mr. Jobard, the police expert said, adding that they often “feel that politicians are using them as a firewall, as a shield.”

Despite the intensifying debate on insecurity, crime in France rose in the 1970s through the mid-1980s before declining and stabilizing. Government data show that nearly all major crimes are now lower than they were a decade or three years ago.

France’s per capita homicide rate — 1.16 per 100,000 people in 2018 — was about the same as most parts of Britain, according to data from the European Commission, while Germany’s rate was 0.76. France’s rate was far lower than that of the United States, which was five per 100,000 people in 2018, according to F.B.I. data.

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With Official Housing Scant, French People Open Their Homes to Migrants

PARIS — Walking home one night several years ago in a suburb of Paris, Raphaël Marre was horrified to see a group of migrants and asylum seekers sleeping on the street outside his home.

Why wasn’t the government housing them? he wondered. After witnessing the same scene for several weeks, he and his wife decided to do it themselves, signing up with a nonprofit that links migrants with people in the Paris region willing to open up their homes for a few nights.

“That was a triggering moment,” Mr. Marre said. “We thought, ‘This can’t be happening, we have to do something.’”

Five years after a migrant crisis that convulsed Europe, France is still struggling to accommodate the thousands of people who have applied for asylum in France. And Mr. Marre is still welcoming them into his home.

France, and much of Europe, was facing a large influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, driven from their homes by war and economic deprivation.

introduced an initiative that would create 4,500 new spaces in 2021. However, it is “still far from enough to meet the needs,” said Ms. Le Coz.

France’s struggle to accommodate migrants and asylum seekers has become particularly conspicuous in the streets of the Paris region. In what has become a seemingly never-ending cycle, the police regularly clear out hundreds of migrants and raze their tents and shacks, often offering them no alternative but to move somewhere else.

Utopia 56 relies on a network of volunteers, private citizens, parishes and private companies that have sheltered nearly 3,000 people during the pandemic.

Xavier Lachaume, 31, and his wife have hosted eight families in their apartment in Saint-Denis, a northern Paris suburb, since January. For now, visitors stay in their spare bedroom for a couple of nights, which they plan to turn into a room for a baby they expect in coming months.

82,000 asylum applications in 2020, according to Eurostat, Europe’s statistics agency. First-time applicants declined more than 40 percent from 2019, a drop partly attributed to the coronavirus. But Mr. Manzi predicts another surge once the pandemic passes.

President Emmanuel Macron told Brut, an online news site, in December that “the slowness of our procedures means that” asylum seekers “can indeed find themselves for weeks and months” without proper accommodation.

right-wing politicians and conservative news media increasingly drawing a link between illegal migration and terrorism. Mr. Macron’s government has adopted a tougher approach on immigration, hoping that lures voters away from the far right.

Mr. Sanogo said he had arrived in France in 2016 after fleeing Ivory Coast, citing continuing turmoil stemming from the 2011 civil war that tore apart the country, and has lived in a series of workers’ hostels, making money off the books as a construction worker. His wife and their 9-year-old daughter joined him last month, but they were not allowed to stay in his hostel, forcing them to sleep in the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris.

Mr. Sanogo, 44, said his asylum application when he arrived in 2016 had been rejected because he did not make the request in Italy, where he first arrived in Europe, as he was supposed to do under E.U. rules. But he said he had an appointment with a lawyer to make a new application in France, this time with his family.

As he boarded the Metro with his family to go to their hosts, Mr. Sanogo recounted how he had made his away from Ivory Coast to Libya, were he said he was beaten up and robbed by traffickers, and eventually made it to Italy after a perilous boat trip across the Mediterranean.

Mr. Sanogo seemed grateful for Mr. Marre’s hospitality, but mindful that it was only for a night, said he had hidden a bag full of clothes and sheets on the outskirts of Paris.

“If we have to sleep outside,” he said.

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Eurostar moves to double its London-Paris service to two trains a day.

Consider it a small victory.

Eurostar, the sleek and speedy high-speed train service that ties London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other cities, will increase its timetable on May 27 to two trains per day on its once heavily traveled Paris-London route, up from just one round-trip train per day imposed during the pandemic.

The service is increasing slightly as governments in Europe plan to slowly lift longstanding national restrictions on travel designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. From a peak of running more than 60 trains a day, Eurostar cut service during the pandemic to one daily round trip between London and Paris, and one on its London-Brussels and Amsterdam routes.

The Brussels-Amsterdam route will remain the same with one train in each direction per day, a spokesman said, adding that Eurostar will adapt its timetable should demand increase, which still depends on travel restrictions across its routes.

Eurostar’s future has been thrown into turmoil as pandemic measures led last year to a 95 percent slump in ridership, creating a cash crunch and pushing the iconic company to the brink of bankruptcy.

sold its stake in the rail company, last month declined to back a broader financial rescue package.

A spokesman for Eurostar said that it had no new details on a financial rescue, but that “conversations are still progressing.” The spokesman added that it was “too early to predict a recovery to prepandemic levels — this would be very much dependent on the easing of international travel restrictions which are yet to be confirmed.”

Eurostar trains will maintain some vacant seats onboard to allow for social distancing. The company said it was advising riders to check with their embassies before traveling, and to consult the company’s website for the latest information.

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The Dream: International Travel. The Reality: Chaos and Confusion.

Governments, tourism boards, airlines, hotel companies, travel agencies and cruise operators, along with tour bus drivers, housekeepers, local guides, pilots, restaurateurs, museum operators, bed-and-breakfast hosts, entertainers, caterers, fishermen, shopkeepers and bar owners — in short, all the people standing to profit from tourism dollars — are facing extreme economic pressure not to lose out on another tourism season. The past year without travel, when international arrivals dropped from 1.5 billion to 381 million, was devastating. For many, another similar year would be unthinkable.

And so an already stressed system has been forced to confront an existential quandary: Do countries opt for continuing international lockdowns, or do they increase the risk of disease and court much-needed tourism revenue? New Zealand, which, through a combination of stringent lockdowns, border closures and strict quarantines, has all but eliminated the coronavirus from its shores, has staked its claim at one end of the spectrum. Greece appears to be claiming the other.

There are no easy answers, no universal solutions. In many cases, the onus will fall on individual tourists — the fortunate and vaccinated few, plied with incentives and feverish for travel — to thoughtfully navigate the ethical considerations.

Of all the variables, only one thing seems inevitable: The choices we make, whether to venture out or huddle close to home, are unlikely to bode well for the individual workers — the unfortunate and unvaccinated many — who, by dint of circumstance, are vulnerable to both the virus and the teetering fortunes of a hard-hit industry.

“I do think we’ve learned important lessons over the course of the year about how to engage more safely in public spaces,” said Dr. Fortune, who emphasized that it’s important for vaccinated travelers to continue testing, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“I think the real danger,” she added, “is that the most vulnerable people are the ones who have the least ability to mitigate risk.”

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The Embers of a Long-Smoldering Revolution Are Stoked in France

PARIS — On a recent chilly morning, a hundred people flocked to a tiny square near the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, at the top of the hill in Montmartre. They were not the usual tourists drawn by the breathtaking panoramic views over Paris, but left-wing demonstrators celebrating the 150th anniversary of a revolution that started right where they stood.

“We’re here, we’re here!” a guitarist sang, playing a tune popularized by the Yellow Vest protesters who have in recent years faced off against the government of President Emmanuel Macron, as red flags and banners fluttered around him.

Mr. Macron, the guitarist sang, was equivalent to his 19th-century predecessor, Patrice de Mac Mahon, who crushed the revolution they had come to commemorate, the Paris Commune of 1871 — a cataclysm that still consumes many on the French far left.

“All the just causes of today were initiated by the Commune, by our forefathers,” said Frédéric Jamet, 61, who proudly described himself as a “Yellow Vest veteran.” Around him were other protesters wearing yellow vests, communist militants wrapped in red scarves and a handful of amused students and curious retirees.

series of social movements in recent years, the story of the Paris Commune has made a comeback, with protesters making connections between today’s struggles and those of a century and a half ago. “The Commune” has inspired calls for greater political representation for people across France, been used to highlight contemporary economic inequalities and even emerged as a reference for some feminist activists.

Dozens of commemorations of the revolution’s 150th anniversary have been organized since mid-March — they will continue until late May — revealing the old beating heart of revolutionary Paris, with debates raging in newspaper columns and at City Hall over the legacy of an event marked by violence.

bloody week,” while Commune fighters executed dozens of hostages and set fire to several historic buildings.

But it is perhaps the tragic and ephemeral nature of the Commune that has most fueled the fascination with this revolution today, its existence too brief to have led to disillusionment.

Mr. Deluermoz said that because the Commune involved so many different elements of revolutionary movements, it had fueled a wide variety of analyses.

Nuit Debout protests in 2016, a French version of the Occupy movement, renamed the Place de la République in Paris as the Place de la Commune. Yellow Vest protesters in 2018 chanted slogans like “1871 reasons to believe.”

“The problem is that we are experiencing things, injustices again, that’s what’s awakening the spirit of the Commune,” said Sophie Cloarec, pointing to the new economic insecurity and exploitation engendered by the gig economy.

Ms. Cloarec, on a recent Saturday afternoon, was participating in a feminist march honoring women who played a major role in the 1871 revolution. Around her, groups of women were papering walls with posters of famous female Commune fighters, such as the teacher Louise Michel or Victorine Brocher, who kept a canteen during the siege of Paris.

It was the latest sign of the revolution’s enduring resonance, as feminist groups are emerging as a powerful force in France against the backdrop of a delayed #MeToo movement.

Mathilde Larrère, a historian of 19th-century French revolutions, said the Commune “was a feminist movement because women embraced it” to obtain new rights like better access to education and pensions for unmarried widows.

Jean-Pierre Theurier, a member of the Association of the Friends of the Commune, said he had been surprised by the renewed public interest in the revolution. He said more people were attending the walking tours he organizes in the Père Lachaise cemetery, where a bloody battle took place between the graves and where some 150 Commune fighters were executed; bullet holes are still visible on some walls.

Paris City Hall in February, when conservative city councilors accused the left-wing majority of exploiting the anniversary to political ends while ignoring the Commune’s own acts of violence and destruction. Historians and politicians then clashed over the need to commemorate the event, and the French press took sides.

But perhaps the fiercest attack came from the least expected side: the left.

On a chilly March morning, City Hall officials organized the first commemorative event, gathering about 50 Parisians at the foot of the Montmartre hill to carry life-size silhouettes of famous Commune fighters. Anger roared above them, in the tiny square near the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, where left-wing demonstrators had organized their own event, boycotting the official celebration.

“You Versaillais!” a man shouted to the crowd down the hill, using the name given to people living in Versailles, the city where the central government regrouped during the Commune, and the home to French kings until the French Revolution of 1789.

“Those down there, they’re the privileged few,” said Mr. Jamet, the Yellow Vest veteran.

Standing a few feet away, Catherine Krcmar, a 70-year-old seasoned leftist activist, smiled as she watched the protest around her. “Revolutionary Paris is not dead,” she said.

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In France, an Ever-Extending Labyrinth of Covid Lockdowns

PARIS — Three French lockdowns, and counting, over the past 13 months have been many things, among them a rare opportunity for the formidable national bureaucracy of about 5.6 million public servants to display their gift for the complication of lives.

With the announcement of the third Paris lockdown last month to try to control the spread of the coronavirus, an apotheosis of the absurd was reached.

A dense, two-page version of the notorious “attestation,” a government form to be completed anytime one leaves home, was so convoluted that it tied the Interior Minister’s spokeswoman in verbal knots trying to explain it. The document had metastasized with each lockdown into an ever more ungainly monster.

over 100,000 people in France have died from it, and more than five million have been infected — was not immediately clear.

The sheer intricacy of the bureaucratic obtuseness overwhelmed me. I could not help wondering whether some fraction of the many hours devoted to coming up with such regulations might have been better used speeding the vaccines to more people. France has up to now underwhelmed in getting its population vaccinated.

The country’s shoe repair stores are open, even if you can’t buy new shoes. Its florists are open, but not kitchenware stores. Its frozen goods shops are open, but not gift shops. Bookstores are open now, although they were closed in the first lockdown. All restaurants, bars and cafes are closed. Mr. Macron has suggested that some easing of restrictions will start on May 3 — maybe.

One sign I recently passed in a shuttered beauty salon read: “Contrary to ‘hairdressers,’ it seems we are not essential to well-being. Injustice!”

As for lingerie and underwear stores, deemed nonessential and so closed, they have embarked on a national protest involving sending lacy panties every day to Prime Minister Jean Castex from all over France.

I know there has to be a logic to what’s open and what’s closed. France, after all, still has a commissioner general for planning, as if the Soviet Union had never disappeared. The country proceeds with methodical purpose based on the analysis and forecasts of highly trained public servants, formed in elite schools.

Still, an overwhelming question grips my entire being: Why these apparently arbitrary rules?

I asked a Castorama store assistant to explain why, for example, the lamps I coveted were off limits while I could buy a crepe maker.

“I don’t really know,” she said. “But, of course, you can always use a candle.”

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In the Latin Quarter, Paris’s Intellectual Heartbeat Grows Fainter

PARIS — With their bright yellow awnings and sagging iron shelves, the Gibert Jeune bookstores, which sell cheap secondhand books, have been a fixture of the Latin Quarter in Paris for over a century, a mainstay of the neighborhood’s shabby-chic intellectual life and beloved by tourists too.

“So old and unchangeable,” said Anny Louchart, 74, a longtime customer who was recently rummaging through boxes of paperbacks at one of the stores, her voice filled with nostalgia.

But a sales assistant told Ms. Louchart that four of the store’s seven outposts in the area, including the one she stood in, would soon close, hard hit by a drop in sales because of the pandemic.

robbing their city of its soul has not spared the Latin Quarter, where fashion stores and fast-food restaurants have taken over many of the spaces once occupied by ancient cafes, bookstores and movie theaters. The neighborhood’s appeal has driven up rents, causing a once-vibrant student life to crumble.

Figures from the urban planning agency Apur show that 42 percent of the Latin Quarter’s bookstores have vanished in the past 20 years, and Paris’s open-air booksellers are also fighting for survival.

But the news of the closings of the Gibert Jeune bookstores — an institution that seemed immortal to many people — has sounded an unusual alarm. It strikes at the very heart of the neighborhood’s identity: access to culture at an affordable price.

Three Gibert Jeune stores just closed, and the fourth was expected to follow suit in the next few days.

student-led “May 1968” protests that took place there.

Ernest Hemingway wrote that Paris and its Latin Quarter allowed “a way of living well and working, no matter how poor you were.”

Michel Carmona, a historian and geographer specializing in Paris, said that the cultural erosion of the Latin Quarter started in the 1980s and was intertwined with the gradual decline of student life. “Cheap bookstores, cafes and movie theaters are primarily for students,” he said.

He added that residents of the neighborhood were increasingly “transit people” — wealthy foreigners eager to have a pied-à-terre or tourists renting Airbnb apartments.

At the heart of this dynamic lies a paradox: Gentrification uproots the same bohemian charm that draws people to the Latin Quarter.

Latin Quarter Committee that lobbies the authorities on defending the neighborhood’s cultural identity.

In an attempt to help, the Paris authorities said they had acquired the premises of some struggling bookstores and offered them rents slightly below the market rate.

In a statement, the leadership of the Gibert Jeune chain said that “the Covid crisis, with the emptying of the Latin Quarter of Paris,” had been the final straw.

apocalyptic” since the start of the pandemic. The gloom that has settled over Paris has been perhaps most conspicuous in the Latin Quarter, whose very heart — the cafes, restaurants, theaters and museums — stopped beating amid government lockdown restrictions to fight coronavirus infections.

The temporary shutdown of these cultural pillars has resonated among local residents as a dress rehearsal for the near future. Cafes and theaters have not reopened since the fall, when a second wave of infections was taking hold in France, and many fear that some will have gone out of business by the time restrictions are lifted.

On the Rue Champollion, a cobbled, narrow street close to the Sorbonne, the lines of film buffs that once stretched out on the sidewalks in the middle of the day are nowhere to be found today. The three art-house movie theaters there were closed for the lockdown

One of the theaters, Le Champo, has been displaying extracts from its guest book — “the memory box,” as it called them — behind its closed windows. A 2018 message left by the prolific screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who died last month, read: “For Le Champo! So many years later … and how many more years to come?”

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