“Everyone loves spring. Everything emerges and straightens up. It’s like nature’s erection.”
Violets, mauve crocuses and small yellow butterflies that match the primroses, almond blossom and mimosa – wattle to you. It’s spring, but about a month early. We’re eating broad beans and asparagus outdoors — at lunchtime anyway — and the days are longer, the sunshine brighter and the sunrises and sunsets deeper.
The house doesn’t smell doggy any more as we can throw open the doors and windows — and now the ground is no longer frozen the dogs are able to dig deeper holes to trip me up, but unfortunately they’re not large enough to plant trees in. Driving back after dinner last night a fluffy animal — not a fox or a badger, too big for a weasel, maybe a pine marten — ran all the way up the drive in front of me.
President Macron seemed stymied for a while, but now he is focusing on the EU May elections and what he calls “freedom, protection and progress”, having tried to speak to mayors throughout the country and launched a ‘Great National Debate’ in which over a million people have participated so far. Some reforms have been put on hold, but what is the government going to do with all that data? Anyway, perhaps it is the people who should be asking the questions and not the government. The President may gain support abroad, but there is cynicism at home.
The Gilets Jaunes — Yellow Vests — are still going strong. They’ve been out every Saturday since November 17, and have destroyed most of France’s speed cameras and ruined many small businesses. By mid-February the damage had been estimated at about 30 million euros, half of that in Paris. As Ross Clark wrote recently in The Spectator, “Macron is learning the hard way what happens to politicians who get too carried away with green taxes: the rise of the gilets jaunes has shown the hazards of unleashing policies designed around the needs of cities on to rural populations, for whom, for the moment, old-fashioned cars provide the sole means of practical transport.”
Meanwhile France is squabbling with her neighbours — quite apart from Brexit. First came a diplomatic row with Italy, and France withdrew her ambassador for a week for the first time since 1940. Apart from the Italian populist leaders’ support for the Yellow Vests, there are problems with the planned Lyon-Turin rail link as well as the merger between French shipbuilder Chantiers de l'Atlantique and Italy's Fincantieri. To make amends for that and ‘intemperate’ language on both sides, the Italian President has been invited to Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci lived and worked, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his death.
And then Germany — disagreements over the US$11 billion Russian pipeline Nord Stream II, an existential threat to the Ukraine. Now with Holland too, who increased their stake in Air France to 14 per cent without telling anyone.
In France, state funerals usually seem to cheer everyone up, but Brigitte Macron attended Michel Legrand’s without her husband and Karl Lagerfeld refused to have one at all — and has apparently left his beloved Birman, Choupette, the richest cat in the world.
Since Dolce & Gabbana terminally offended China with a mocking video, Gucci and Burberry have both tried to sell products so offensive that they have had to withdraw them, and now Decathlon has joined the club with a sports hijab, which created such an outcry that plans to sell it in France have been cancelled.
Then the French media was shaken up by senior journalists and PR executives in a Facebook club called the Ligue of LOL cyberbullying female journalists, writers and activists over the past 10 years.
On the bright side though, there are brilliant exhibitions on in Paris this spring: from Leonardo Da Vinci and the Italian Renaissance at the Beaux-Arts to Vasarely and Ellsworth Kelly at the Centre Pompidoux, and Franz Marc / August Macke at the Orangerie. Calder – Picasso is on at the re-opened Musée Picasso and the Courtauld collection from London is at the Vuitton Foundation.
Australia has finally agreed to buy 12 conventionally powered attack submarines for A$50 billion, custom designed by France’s Naval Group, which will build them in a new shipyard in South Australia. The first ships are to be delivered in the 2030s, the last about 20 years later.
Spring is here, spring is here
Life is skittles and life is beer
I think the loveliest time of the year
Is the spring, I do, don't you? Course you do