Letter from Paris: February 14, 2024 News Digest

Letter from Paris: February 14, 2024 News Digest

Happy Valentine’s Day from Paris! For a dose of romance, here’s a look at “love in the Louvre.” Paris is also celebrating the Chinese New Year with lots of festivities: the Musée Guimet in the 16th is showing off a spectacular light show on its facade, the 13th arrondissement will host its famous parade on Sunday, and the Jardin d’acclimatation is welcoming visitors with the “Festival Dragons et Lanternes.” What better way to usher in the Year of the Dragon?

In exciting Olympics news, the medals have been revealed. And they’ve got a chunk of Eiffel Tower metal nestled inside. That’s right, the winning athletes will take home a historic piece of Paris as a souvenir. Each piece weighs 18 grams, and never fear- they weren’t lopped off from the monument. As explained by NPR, “The 330-meter (1,083-foot) tall tower is made of 18,038 iron parts. But it’s also getting a bit long in the tooth. Built for the 1889 World’s Fair — which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution — engineer Gustave Eiffel’s tower was only intended to stand for 20 years. Instead, it just goes on and on — thanks to a bit of rejuvenating surgery from time to time and constant care… [The pieces] were cut from girders and other bits that were swapped out of the Eiffel Tower during renovations and stored for safekeeping.”



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The medals were designed by celebrated French jeweler Chaumet. As CNN reports, the brand’s “parent company LVMH signed a major sponsorship deal with Paris 2024 last summer. Like all designs since the 2004 Games in Athens, the reverse of the Olympics medal features an image of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. The Paralympics medal, meanwhile, is decorated with a graphical representation of the Eiffel Tower, as if viewed from below.”


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The city of Paris has unveiled its only purpose-built Olympics venue, with an inauguration ceremony on Sunday. France 24 points out that the 8,000-seat Arena Porte de la Chapelle has “sparked regeneration hopes for a Paris drug hotspot”; this “area of the capital [is] hoping to shed its reputation for crack-dealing and crime.” Situated near the Peripherique ring road delineating the border of Paris proper, the new arena will host badminton and rhythmic gymnastics during the Games. “Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who launched her re-election bid from Porte de la Chapelle in 2020, has made the new arena a core part of a 500-million-euro ($540 million) makeover of the district. Other regeneration efforts include tearing up the main thoroughfare, which serves as a major route into central Paris. The space for cars has been dramatically reduced, while granite-edged cycle lanes, footpaths and hundreds of trees have been added, reflecting the eco-minded political priorities of Hidalgo’s 10 years in power.”

In other Olympics news, the city is expected to scale back the size of the opening ceremony crowd from 600,000 to 300,000 spectators along the banks of the Seine. The Telegraph reports that this because “a failed recruitment drive left it with a municipal police force half the required size.”

Robert Badinter in 2007. Photo credit: Denis from Paris, France/ Wikimedia commons

Robert Badinter, a respected defense lawyer and former Justice Minister who was behind France’s abolition of the death penalty, has passed away at the age of 95. To quote Reuters: “A lawyer and human rights activist, Badinter introduced major law reforms after Socialist Francois Mitterrand, a previous self-professed opponent of the death penalty, was elected president in May 1981 and made him justice minister. Introducing a bill to abolish the guillotine was one of his first actions as justice minister.”

As reported by The New York Times: “He achieved this in the face of wide public support for the death penalty at the time. The fight against capital punishment stood at the core of his lifelong defense of human rights against oppression and cruelty. It was also under Mr. Badinter’s watch, in 1982, that France decriminalized homosexuality.”

On X, President Emmanuel Macron wrote: “Lawyer, justice minister, the man who abolished the death penalty. Robert Badinter was always on the side on enlightenment. He was a figure of the century, a republican conscience, the French spirit.”

Bad parking in Paris. Photo credit: Rob Lee/ Flickr

In a crackdown on SUVs, Parisians have voted to triple parking fees on some large sport utility vehicles (weighing 1.6 tons or more). The initiative, writes The New York Times, “is the latest move by Mayor Anne Hidalgo to reshape the French capital with environmentally conscious and pedestrian-friendly policies.” The price tag? “People with those vehicles will have to pay 18 euros, a little more than $19, for the first hour of public parking in central Paris, and 12 euros in the French capital’s outer neighborhoods.”

The Guardian asks: “will other cities follow the Paris decision?” The vote “has been hailed by many as an inspiration for cities across Europe trying to make their streets safer and their air cleaner as sales of heavy vehicles soar.” However, a very low voter turnout — only about 5.7 percent of eligible voters— may indicate that “the public still needs to be won over.”

Lead photo credit : Couple in Paris

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BP's expert editorial team includes some of the city's top English-language journalists.