Thursday, March 27, 2014

Visiting VIPs and diplomats

Well, elections came and went, although there’s a second round now coming up for any election in which a single candidate didn’t win by an absolute majority (that’s how elections normally work in France). I haven’t been keeping track of it, although I note that several candidates seem to have a platform that consists mainly of being passably cute this time around. Women are still rarer than men in French politics and somewhat of a novelty, although that is improving.

The weather turned a bit chilly again, but today it was seasonal. A bit more pollution because of another inversion layer.

It took forever to get to work this morning because the entire area around the Champs was blocked by police for the visit of the Chinese president. Why the whole area must be blocked for two days just for the visit of His Highness is a mystery to me. They wouldn’t even let pedestrians cross the avenue at street level yesterday, which is unusual. But the president was nowhere to be seen. It delayed me by an hour, since I must cross the Champs as part of my daily commuting.

It’s interesting to see how much more elaborate security is for visiting heads of state than it is for the French head of state. I’m not sure whether this represents wildly exaggerated courtesy for the former or simply a tacit acknowledgement that the latter is not one of the world’s major movers and shakers. (Although France has the second-largest economy in Europe, after Germany and is technically a leading world power.) An entire neighborhood is sealed off for the Chinese president, but apparently the French president gets around on a scooter sometimes, at least while visiting his girlfriends, according to media reports I’ve encountered.

One nice thing about the Champs being blocked is that it’s incredibly quiet. All you hear is the myriad footsteps of pedestrians on the avenue—minus the deafening traffic noise that usually afflicts the city (the one thing that the travel guides don’t mention about Paris is the noise).

It’s also interesting to see how the security around embassies reflects the importance of the countries they represent. The greater the influence or the higher the profile of the country, the more paranoid the security of the embassy tends to be. So naturally embassies of the United States and Israel are fortresses of paranoia, while some other countries are so insignificant that you can walk right past their embassies without noticing their existence. In some cases I suspect that the cost of running the embassy in Paris represents a substantial portion of the entire government budget for certain small nations.

Sometimes the diplomatic corps of the smaller nations are manifestly stuck up as well. You can just see it in the way they carry themselves. Apparently a post in Paris is a tremendous perk, and actually living in a country with running water and electricity counts as life in the fast lane for the foreign service of these banana republics. Every country in the world has an embassy in Paris, no matter how small. Even if the country must sell its entire yearly crop of bamboo or borax to pay the rent, it will still have its pint-sized embassy, filled with corrupt diplomats with egos so large that they can barely fit through the front door. You can bet that the used Mercedes out in front probably cost the country half of its yearly GDP.

Anyway, I should try to take more pictures, but it’s still usually dark outside by the time I head for home. Spring is here, but I work late. The useless move to summer time (DST) will occur on Sunday, so it will be a bit lighter in days to come.

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