Letter from Paris: January 17, 2024 News Digest

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Letter from Paris: January 17, 2024 News Digest

The cold weather continues in Paris, with a frightful wintry mix of snow, ice, and rain hitting the capital last night and today. This means more time indoors for Parisians to debate (over a warming bistro lunch) the implications of France’s new government. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, the youngest in the history of the Fifth Republic, recently announced his new cabinet picks, and he only made one major change at the foreign ministry. Many of the other ministers have remained unchanged, including two seen as divisive and controversial: Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti. To quote the Associated Press, “Stéphane Séjourné, 38, has been named as France’s foreign affairs minister, succeeding Catherine Colonna. Séjourné is the head of Macron’s Renaissance party and the leader of the Renew Europe group of liberal, pro-European lawmakers at the European Parliament. He also is Attal’s ex-partner. Attal, France’s first openly gay prime minister, made their relationship public when he first joined Macron’s government in 2018.”

But perhaps the biggest brouhaha is connected to the appointment of Rachida Dati, 58, a member of the conservative party, as the culture minister. “Dati, whose outspoken personality and flashy style has made her well known among the French, was a justice minister under conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy. Governments under Macron’s presidency, since he was first elected in 2017, have included figures from both the right and the left.”

Rachidi Dati. Photo credit: Thesupermat / Wikimedia commons

Parisians are also avoiding the bad weather by flocking to museum exhibits. At the Musée d’Orsay, the Van Gogh show has been a smash hit— now fully booked for the remainder of the exhibit. Also ending soon is the spectacular Azzedine Alaïa show at the Palais Galliera (Musée de la Mode), and the magical light spectacle in the Jardin des Plantes (this year’s theme is the jungles and tropical forests on four continents).

Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1889. Exhibit photo: Hazel Smith

Did you hear how the Paris Mint had to melt down 27 million coins? That’s right. The European Commission said that the E.U. stars were too hard to read on the coins, so the Mint had to remake them. As reported by The Washington Post, “Un sou est un sou (every cent counts) goes the French idiom — just not when the European Commission disagrees, as the Paris mint found out in a recent blunder.” Read the full article here.

In Summer Olympics news, Paris 2024 has chosen its torchbearers. The Olympic Flame will arrive on Marseille on May 8, aboard the three-masted ship Belem, before beginning its journey across France. There are 10,000 torchbearers for the Olympic Torch Relay, “of all ages, 50% are women and 50% are men, [representing] 100% of the French departments.” Note that the Paris Games (July 26 to August 11) will be the first international sporting event to align with the Paris Agreement. To quote Paris 2024: “The carbon footprint will be reduced by 55% compared to the London Games, with 95% of existing equipment and new construction adapted to the impacts of climate change. As for the Olympic village, 9,000 trees will be planted there. Once the Games are over, 6,000 residents will be able to live there.”

Olympics. Photo credit: Bryan Turner/ Unsplash

The age of online shopping has transformed many people’s habits, even in France. La Poste is experimenting with new changing rooms installed in post offices, so that clients can pick up their orders and try on their purchases — returning them immediately if they don’t fit. The idea is to help people avoid making lots of trips back and forth. Le Monde and Agence France-Presse report that “the stand-alone changing room [is] in the shape and canary yellow color of a French mailbox… Inside is a chair, mirror, and shelf to place your package for on the spot returns.” Could the experiment also bring in more traffic? “Like other national post offices, La Poste seeks to compensate for the drop in letter traffic over the years by boosting its parcel business.”

A La Poste letter box in Paris. Photo credit: Donna Alvita / Wikimedia commons

Author Andrew Martin penned a terrific piece about his love for the Paris Metro in the latest issue of Travel + Leisure magazine. He doesn’t just describe the research he conducted on the Grand Paris Express project for his recent book about the Paris métro. But he reminisces about his decades-long affair with it. A particularly poignant passage: “But for me, nothing feels more Parisian than the old métro. So on a recent Sunday afternoon, I took one of my favorite rides to nowhere. I began at the Campo-Formio station, under the Boulevard de l’Hôpital in the 13th Arrondissement. Its entrance is one of the fewer than 90 surviving enclosures designed by Hector Guimard, the famed Art Nouveau architect. Most of these, including the one at Campo-Formio, are surmounted by a pair of Art Nouveau lamps. They remind me of giant plants — lily of the valley, perhaps, except that the “flowers” are red and, when illuminated at night, resemble dragon’s eyes.” Read the full article here.

The Wagram metro station, with the distinctive Art Nouveau entrance by Hector Guimard. Photo credit: MOSSOT/ Wikimedia commons

Lead photo credit : By Jeanne Menjoulet from Paris, France - Paris under the snow (February). Wikimedia commons

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