Paris has never appealed to me: I regard it as a place to slog through to get to somewhere more interesting and am relieved that I have rarely had to stay there for more than a couple of days.
I must be a provincial at heart – not even that gem of a book ‘Paris des Pas Perdus’ by Alain Rustenholz can enthuse me enough to check out whether or not the Eiffel Tower is painted in three different shades of grey to make it look as if it tapers.
For one thing I would have to pay an entrance fee and for another I much preferred to return home to see my own Eiffel Tower…the metal spire of the village church designed by Eiffel and destined to become the subject of a French rural version of Bleak House as the village, varying departmental architects of Batiments de France and a firm of painters slugged it out in the courts for years to see who was to take the blame for the paint peeling off it and who was to pay for the solution.
I could have told them the answer: they must have used that wonderful French invention – non stick paint.
It would peel from my shutters in under a year, so no wonder it peeled from the steeple in two.
Still, were I to be lumbered with a longer stay in Paris I think I could seek solace in the alleys of the Parc Monceau, still not all that different from its depiction by Caillebotte above.
Quiet today as when he painted it, but not many years before it had been one of the sites where the supporters of the Paris Commune were shot by the troops of the bourgeois French Republic in May 1871….those rounded up had their hands inspected to see if they had been firing weapons and those thus incriminated were sentenced to immediate sentence of death by firing squad by an ad hoc military tribunal.
This building at one end of the Parc Monceau is one of the few remains of the Wall of the Farmers-General, built in the late eighteenth century to encircle Paris at the behest of the ‘Ferme generale’ – the corporation of private individuals who collected most of the taxes on behalf of the government.
The royal government had long since given up the task of tax collection by that time.
It had hived off the function to the Ferme generale whose members would bid for the chance to collect a particular tax in a particular area….thus the government was guaranteed a certain income, and the members of the Ferme generale were guaranteed a whopping profit as – thanks to their spirit of solidarity – the bidding process was not exactly competitive.
They collected all sorts…taxes on land, taxes on that most basic of commodities, salt….and taxes on everything that entered Paris.
Thus the wall.
After a brief moment of revolutionary madness when the tax on goods entering Paris was briefly abolished before being rapidly reinstated, the wall remained – not to disappear until Paris was torn apart by Baron Haussmann in the 1860s, its narrow insanitary streets being replaced by the wide boulevards we see today and as the wall disappeared so did the tax which gave birth to it.
The wall had long outlasted its progenitors however: prominent members of the Ferme generale having filled the maw of Madame Guillotine the new French state took taxation into its own hands.
No more middlemen.
Well, not until recently, that is.
The previous government of France, that of Sarkozy, signed an agreement with a private company, Ecomouv which enabled that company to organise a system of tax collection on the usage of particular stretches of road by heavy goods vehicles in return for a fixed tariff to be paid to the French state.
Once the system was due to come into force there were protests – notably in Brittany whose hauliers claimed that they were being penalised for being at a distance from Paris, out on their peninsular.
Several of Ecomouv’s installations were destroyed and the Hollande government promptly announced that implementation of the tax would be postponed.
In the meantime, journalists at ‘Marianne’ have uncovered an opinion of one of the civil servants most closely involved with the Ecomouv concept that the infrastructure as set up not only enables the company to monitor heavy goods vehicles – but all vehicles
And not only that…with the technology available road pricing can be put into place.
You’re a rich bugger – your company can pay for your use of a road rendered empty by price fixing and lay it off to tax.
You’re a minister or high civil servant – the public purse can pay.
It all makes me think that the Green lobby has a great deal for which to answer.
Why do we use inefficient wind power when we can use nuclear power?
Because nuclear power produces spent uranium which has to be stored…or used in the military weapons which have made a devastation of Iran.
But if we use thorium we don’t have that problem.
Except that governments don’t see it as a problem. They like having depleted uranium available for military purposes.
Where is the Green lobby here?
What do we propose to do to enable people living in the country to access the services they need?
Public transport? Don’t make me laugh!
Elderly neighbours in France were already limiting their trips to town for shopping before I left.
Carbon exchange credits…what does that do apart from permitting polluters to continue to pollute?
I’ll have time for the Greens when they stop taking ‘planes to conferences; when they take into account the lives of the poor in first world countries and when they disassociate themselves from money raking enterprises.
But I won’t be holding my breath.