When History Repeats Itself

Parc Monceau Gustave Caillebotte Commons wikipedia.org
Parc Monceau
Gustave Caillebotte
Commons wikipedia.org

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.

Pavillon de Chartres Pavillon de Chartres Parc Monceau scholarsresource.com
Pavillon de Chartres
Parc Monceau

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.


45 thoughts on “When History Repeats Itself”

  1. I have never been to Paris…in fact, the only places I have been outside of my native Montreal, Quebec are Ontario, New Brunswick and New England, U.S.A. Someone who has been to London told me that they didn’t enjoy it. Since I myself live in a big city I understand that people aren’t overjoyed about large cities…traffic, noise, etc. I would love to go to Kent, England, though, as my father’s parents are from there and from the many photos I have seen on the web it looks like a great place. I guess that’s why it is called the Garden of England.

    1. Linda , e mail me and I will put you in touch with a friend from Kent who is into genealogy. She would love to help you find your ancestors.
      I loved and still love London where I worked for many years…but Paris leaves me cold.

  2. What many people forget (don’t know?) about nuclear power is that the cost of digging up the wretched uranium, building the power stations,etc etc is in the billions. And the production of the power is not exactly “clean,” Physically or morally.
    Indonesia would like nuclear power stations. Heaven forfend! Japan still insists Fukushima was well-built.
    Paris? I know some cute little places, nowhere near the tourist hang-outs.But I don;t think I want to go back…I like my memories unsullied. 🙂

    1. Super museums, exhibitions, but not a place that turns me on.
      As for nuclear power, yes, I’m all too well aware of the underlying costs as well as the dangers, especially the habit of covering up ‘accidents’….thus I’m for nuclear power using thorium.
      But the military like their depleted uranium….

  3. Excellent article Helen – a panaché of Parisian history and good old Helenesque sharp cynicism – just what the doctor ordered this morning 🙂 I’m not a fan of Paris, either – the best of France is elsewhere for me, too. The green movement do make me smile at times – you probably get more radioactivity from a single X-ray than from a life of living beside a nuclear power station. Transport will soon be so expensive that we’ll all go to ground, grow our own veg and raise a couple of pigs in the garden. Now that’s what I call green – the Good Life, version Elysée 🙂

    1. What fascinates me is the egoism and selfishness of the EELV partners in the current French government….Hollande can break every promise made to them and they’ll still be there lapping up the freebies.

      I’ve never been happy about the state of repair of current nuclear power stations….representing unions in respect of ‘accidents’ at Sellafield cures one of confidence in the management of those sites, as does the rate of leukaemia in the Veron peninsular around Chinon….but uranium is not the only possibility.

  4. Wheels within wheels and all shackled to the dubious engine of business. Money is the true black gold here. Alas, I don’t think a victory for commonsense is on the horizon anytime soon. If ever.

  5. I don’t know why so many Brits have problems with French paint. We’ve used it exclusively and only once had a problem (and that turned out to be our fault as we had misunderstood how to use one particular paint).

    I think you can start breathing again by the way. All the environmentalists I know are increasingly concerned with global social issues as well as strictly natural environmental. It doesn’t do to believe everything in the newspapers. There are hundreds of small changes going on that will revolutionise our use of energy and how it is supplied. Germany is one place that’s got the hang of it, but it has also benefitted from a set of lucky circumstances (lots of abandoned military spaces to set up solar arrays, a climate that is ideal for photovoltaic, etc). I don’t have too much problem with nuclear, but the real way forward for most places is off-grid, and that’s a much bigger infrastructure change for western society and business model.

    1. French paint….a nightmare.
      Leo was taught how to prepare surfaces by a master painter in the U.K. when he was young and was always meticulous; he used old fashioned ‘professional’ paint in the U.K. you know, the sort that runs and forms a drip given half a chance…not a problem.

      But in France! You could get paint marked suitable for outside woodwork, prepare and apply properly and it would be off within a year…..and I can bear witness that hanging out of a fourth storey window to unhitch full length oak shutters to bring them in for prep and painting was not my favourite part of the annual works calendar.

      The best paint we bought was at Aldi – German paint. It covered and it stuck. We used to trawl every Aldi int he area once it made its appearance.

      I believe very little of what I see in the mainstream press….and I am aware of what is happening in Germany – through German friends who refer to the Greens as the Green terrorists once they get into power.
      Not, of course for sensible policies as on photovoltaic, but on policies like declaring an area to be woodland and not only prohibiting further building but also on insisting that houses in such a zone can not be sold in order to prevent people from living there in the future.
      This is anecdotal, but I’ve no reason to disbelieve them.

      A super nuclear system was the Pebble Mill project in South Africa, providing local energy: what happens? The government prefers to buy in conventional nuclear power systems from France. One suspects more bunce for the politicos….

      And while I see individuals very concerned about social issues as well as the natural world i don’t see that echoed in the political parties who seek power in their name.

  6. I used to like Paris, and at one point was pretty familiar with it.

    Living in Spain changed my perspective though. Apart from the fact that when I trid to speak French, out popped Spanish by default, the food was terrible at the railways stations.

    I remember, in my 20s, standing at the Gare du Nord, having breakfast and chattering away happily to a waiter. Last time, there was nothing remotely appetising and as for Austerlitz? Arriving there to get the sleeper back to Madrid (note no ‘plane but more on that later) I had planned on getting something to eat. Dear me. Absolutely terrible. And what a soulless station with rude waiters.

    Arrived at Charmartin the following day to smiling Spaniards, fresh orange juice, better coffee, and my heart leapt. I joke not.

    I caught the same train another time, somewhere past Paris, can’t remember the route, and a Spanish railway person jumped off the train, grabbed my baggage and escorted me to my – shared – cabin. I felt I was home already. I like France, but it has lost its attraction for me over the years. Too long in Spain I guess.

    I’m a green. Last time I flew was last century. I walk, cycle or use public transport. The vehicle is only used to transport a) dogs – not allowed on public transport or b) work materials. There is a limit as to how much you can pile on a sack barrow and carry by hand, even two of you. You know I’ve got chickens (well did, before they died eventually at a ripe old age), grow my own veg without pesticides, re-use and recycle and scavenge.

    I don’t agree with nuclear power. I worked for the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate when I was with HSE. I can’t repeat anything more than was public knowledge at the time (OSA) but we had to deal with enough stories about leaks and missing canisters for me not to be a big fan of it. To say the least. As for X-rays, re the comment above, I avoid them for exactly that reason, eg mammography, as well as not wanting to have my not very large breasts painfully squashed. I wouldn’t live near a nuclear power plant. Bad enough having Franco’s refinery across the border from us.

    I do agree with renewable energy. I agree even more with people not being so greedy and consuming less.

    I also do consider the poor in all countries. When I could, I gave to homeless people in our Spanish town. OK it’s not much, but I didn’t walk past them and ignore them, and we took the time to speak to them too instead of treating them like detritus. Here in Gib, Partner is currently trying to get work for a guy who was laid off before Christmas. He rents a cabin on a boat because that’s all he can afford. I don’t eat meat, primarily for animal rights issues, but also because of the environmental impact. There would be more food to go around if more people ate less meat.

    I think my life is as green both practically and ethically as pretty much anyone’s.

    Finally, people have problems with paint because they didn’t spend time as an indentured apprentice learning about the different properties of paint and what should be applied when and where and how to prepare the surface. And people invariably don’t want to pay either a) for good quality paint (especially ‘green’ paint ironically) or b) for professional to apply it correctly. With which I shall go and finsih cooking breakfast.

          1. Goodness, I wish I could get myself together so well before breakfast!
            You clearly put your lifestyle where your mouth is….we too try to put back what we get which is why the green politicians, both party and NGO, infuriate me so much with their glib agendas.
            As to nuclear power, as commented above, I was all too well aware of the slipshod practices…..but uranium is not the only possibility.
            Painting – explained above…..
            Meat eating..yes; we keep chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep and cattle. But no waste. Nothing. if you’ve killed an animal to eat then you are obliged to used everything you can.

          2. Well, I’m flagging now 😀 Nuclear power isn’t just slipshod, back when I dealt with it, it was unpredictable. 30 year ago it was uranium or uleaveit.

            But be honest about painting, Leo hasn’t spent 40+ years in the trade has he? VOC has made a big difference. Companies have really struggled to catch up, maybe that was it?

            But where does the food for your animals come from? Can you feed them from your ground? If so, that’s fine, classic self-sufficiency.

          3. No, he hasn’t. But he certainly knows how to prepare surfaces upon which Aldi paint would stick and French paint would not.
            He was lucky in one way when young…he met a number of old fashioned apprenticeship served craftsmen who were kind enough to teach him as well as just doing the jobs he had asked them to do….

            The animals feed from the finca. No point otherwise! Everything from sugar cane and camaroon grass to bananas – stems and all.
            My earlier reply was cut off by the server going down…better feed it a few bananas….

  7. The Greens still have an uphill struggle to convince people they have solutions for everyday economic and social problems and aren’t just obsessed with cycling, recycling and tree-preservation. They could have attracted a lot of support here in the UK by pointing out all the natural anti-flood measures that would have protected homes, farms and other businesses, but they didn’t see their opportunity.

    I went to Paris as a teenager but have never visited since. My clearest memory is of accidentally locking myself out of my hotel room and trying to explain my problem to the receptionist in very bad French.

    1. Little stunts like the London taxi takeover tarnish the image…and where are the protests from the Greens? Nowhere.
      There are so many decent people trying to respect their environment…and let down by those who claim to lead them.

  8. Interesting post, Helen. There is much about France that I don’t understand. This adds to the list. As far as the Green movement and thorium reactors, it will never endorse them. It would mean letting the facts get in the way of a good propaganda point, namely that all nuclear energy is bad. I’m very much in favour of taking care of our environment, but I try to look at the big picture and not a particular agenda.

    1. To judge by what my French friends say there’s a lot about France that they don’t understand either…and they’re not too pleased about it!
      As I commented above, I liked the idea of the Pebble Mill project…..but that would mean relinquishing a little control by central governments – and they don’t like that….

  9. Well I knew what I was going to say and then you said this in your reply to another comment above “And while I see individuals very concerned about social issues as well as the natural world i don’t see that echoed in the political parties who seek power in their name.”…and I can’t really put it better myself.

    We find Turkish paint pretty awful too. It doesn’t seem to last long (not for us anyway, or perhaps we don’t prepare surfaces properly) and can never find colours we like.

    1. I remember paint when I was a child…my father always had a proper painter and decorator to do work around the house because the stuff was a nightmare to use…and then I moved to France years later and found the self-same stuff!

      The Greens…whether political parties or NGOs strike me as a self righteous, self appointed elite.
      Just another easy way to get to power – like Blair joining the Labour Party.

  10. It’s all such a mess. Opinions are as varied and plentiful as there are people (and commenters). Nations follow different paths, rarely do even allies (except possibly for the UK government and the US) agree on what is the least harmful solution to any environmental or economical problem. The bottom line always wins. Clout is reserved for the Haves, never the mass of Have-Nots.

    My grandfather was a founder member of a regional trade union, he almost lost his life. His influence made me into an international trade union worker. He warned me that I would become disillusioned. I have.

    I love big cities, or rather, I loved them when I was younger. Now the countryside is much more suitable for me as a domicile. It also means that I am far away from the ‘centres of activity’ and I can stick my head in the sand (mud, at present) and pretend that I can’t change anything anyway, not even by voting.

    You still get very agitated, good for you – we should never stop caring – but my energy levels are depleted, much like DU, but contrary to DU, they cannot be made into horrible weapons.

    I am mainly confused, nowadays. Green, blue, red or whatever colour paints the picture, it’s all black to me. And I don’t mean the church. Which is yet another kettle of rotting fish.


    1. I wish I could translate my agitation into something practical…but we Have-Nots don’t even have a voice these days.
      I’m crossing my fingers for the election here in April….if the ruling party candidate gets in it will be a catastrophe both economically and socially for Costa Rica’s ‘Have-Nots’…the other candidate won’t set the world alight, but at least there is a chance that he will try to stop the rot.

      There are cities I like…London is constant delight as is San Jose here…but Paris has never done anything for me….
      The delight here is to be able to live in the country and not be far from civilisation.

      What bothers me is the level of lying – deliberate lying – by an elite that seems to have become self appointing, and that elite includes the Greens.
      And as we ‘Have-Nots’ don’t have a voice there is no way to bring the liars to book.

  11. Nothing changes. One sector is happy, one is not. At any given time the outs can delineate the sins of the ins, probably to the last penny. One vision is promulgated for thirty years; the next vision takes over. If we care, down here at the lowest rung, we may put a puny shoulder against the wheel that is stopped and try to add a little momentum. And someday someone may say, Ah, they did try, didn’t they! Or, everyone will be dead or mutated from climate change. And, our puny shoulders will be ashes in the wind.

  12. I’m like you; I only ever cross Paris to get to somewhere else, and it is not a pleasant journey. I last spent a couple of days there back in 2004 I think. I enjoyed it, but city living is not for me.

    French green politicians are all mouth and stupidity. The lengths they’ll go to (esp Duflot) to come up with some stupid idea, and then implement it, is quite incredible. They are a danger to the country.

    1. It’s an abdication of responsibility and shows, to my mind, that a government which undertakes this sort of agreement has lost sight of thr government/citizen relationship.

        1. How true!
          Look at what the major banks have been up to….selling products they knew to be rubbish…and they get a tap on the hand, not gaol.
          Madoff is only behind bars because he ripped off the rich……

  13. I’ve never felt “at home” in Paris and thus never given it a chance – I’d rather be in Brussels if I have to be in that bit of Europe. As for the rest of your fantastic post – it makes me want to ditch all communications with the outside world and live in a yurt.

    1. Brussels is great…a real pleasure to spend time there!

      Even a yurt will be no protection….some PC nitwit will come along and accuse you of exploiting and abusing the cultural heritage of an ethnic group and probably try to tax you in mare’s milk…

  14. Interesting historical notes there.
    The greens in Germany forced the end of nuclear power.
    Germany imports electricity from France, electricity made by nuclear power!

  15. I arrive to the post late and find the comments here cover so much of what I think too – I am becoming so cynical as I mooch into my mature years….but it is so incredibly frustrating to see what’s going on. It could be Paris (where I was moved off the steps of the Gare du Nord under threat of a large hosepipe at about 5.30am – I was 17, had just arrived off the overnight train and was waiting to for a train to Nevers) but it could be anywhere. I get very angry at the waste and want in the world but feel utterly helpless to change things. Axxx

  16. Fascinating and thought-provoking post and comments, Helen. Apart from a quick evening coach tour at the age of 16 en route to somewhere else, I’ve only been to Paris once and that was for a long weekend with DH 30 years ago. The weather was grey, but we still walked everywhere we could and had a wonderful time, though I’ve never been tempted to go back again. I’ve “done” Paris and much prefer Prague.:-)

    As for your discussion of nuclear power, I will admit to a gut dislike of the legacy we’re leaving for future generations and the appalling cost of building and decommissioning nuclear power stations. Yet other fuels for generation have their problems, so I can’t offer any easy alternatives. We try to do our bit by installing photo-voltaic panels on the roof and always buying the lowest consumption items and most fuel-economical car, but it’s a drop in the ocean. What I do know is that politicians as a breed done’t have the answers and indeed are part of the problem. Sigh….

    1. And here is the problem: you do your bit and so do a lot of other people genuinely concerned about how we fuel the way we run our world.
      Yet the businesses who control the running of it give lip service at the most to making changes…and we have no control over them.
      They are more powerful than national governments, whose members – if they have kept their noses clean – end up working for them while top civil servants work hand in glove with them.
      In our lifetimes we have seen even the limited power – so hardly won so recently – stripped again from ordinary people and peaceful protest met again with state brutality.
      There are moments when I wonder if we will have a repeat of the years of the White Terror….all dissent is terrorism which permits draconian response.
      I never thought that I could envisage the return of Lord Braxfield ..’Let them bring me prisoners and I will find them law…’ but with the secret courts and the inability of a person accused under terrorism offences to know the evidence against him then Braxfield has risen from his grave and walks among us.

      It makes me sick to the heart.

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