Photo of the Week

ParisUpdate-JohnGoodmanforFrenchPresident

Humor on the hoardings spotted before the first round of the French elections: “John Goodman (Jean Gentilhomme) for President,” the candidate of the “Nice Peoples' Party. That would make a change. © Paris Update

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Paris Update What’s On

Links to events happening this week in Paris.

Silent films from Switzerland?

ParisUpdate-train300

> They’re rare, but they do exist and can be seen at the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, Paris, through May 2.

Retail heaven
> You can buy just about anything at the century-old Foire de Paris, a gigantic pop-up store. Porte de Versailles, Paris. April 27-May 8.

Voices from the North
> The Pølar Festival celebrates Northern European culture with films, concerts, talks and more. Various locations, Paris, through April 29.

Photo walk
> Eight Paris galleries hold special photography shows and events for Parcours Fotofever. Various locations, Paris, through May 1.

Photo shows galore
> Le Mois de la Photo has been moved from autumn to spring, with 96 exhibitions taking place all over the greater Paris area. See Web site for locations and dates.

Art videos
> The theme of this year’s Videobox Festival is “noise and movement.” Carreau du Temple, Paris, April 27-29.

French film with English subtitles
> Lost in Frenchlation shows Nicolas Boukhrief’s La Confession, preceded by a themed cocktail party (€4.50). Studio 28, Paris, April 28.

Virtual reality
> Drop in on Saturday or Sunday from 2pm to 8pm for a free virtual trip at the VR Express festival. Forum des Images, Paris, through June 30.

Dance in historic sites
> Monuments en Mouvement offers free dance performances in national monuments like the Pantheon in Paris, the Abbaye de Cluny and châteaux. Various locations, through Oct. 21.

African culture festival
> The 100% Afriques festival showcases dance, theater, music, fashion, design, art, food and more from all over the continent. La Villette, Paris, through May 28.

 

Hot Topics - C'est ironique !

 

A Peek between the Balance Sheets: France's Ministers Reveal their Wealth

Even Money Deserves a
Little Ski Vacation...

Paris Update Le sacre coeur paris france

Should we be worried? In a recent survey, seven out of 10 French government officials identified this as the Matterhorn.

Notice to readers who don’t follow French politics because there’s no iPhone app for it yet: we’ve been having a little scandal around here recently. It all started late last year when accusations began emerging that the now-former budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, had a secret Swiss bank account for the purpose of evading taxes.

In response, Cahuzac adopted the time-tested strategy espoused by Lance Armstrong and Richard Nixon: after months of hotly and repeatedly denying any wrongdoing, he finally announced on April 2 that he was, in fact, technically, if you insist on looking at it from a purely literal point of view, guilty as Judas.

In these times of high unemployment, low spending power, austerity and general economic tetchiness, the revelation tended to make the current Socialist administration look less like the “people’s government” it purports to be and more like the Gambino family. So President François Hollande had all of his ministers release public declarations of their personal wealth to prove that no other members of his cabinet had any Swiss bankbooks in theirs.

Neglecting to adopt the time-tested strategy espoused by John Gotti and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they all cheerfully complied, and the results were made public last week. Not surprisingly, the typical disclosure looks something like this:

Name: Jean-Yves R. Souvent
Position:
Minister of Accountability, Transparency, Honesty, Fair Play and No Cheating Even With Crossed Fingers

Real estate holdings: Three houses on the shores of Lake Geneva, three speedboat docks
Value:
Oh, not that much, really. Like about 20 or 30 grand, around in there. Give or take. I think.

Investments: 16,540 shares of common stock in Bill Tell’s Dirndls, Lederhosen, Cuckoo Clocks & Alphorns Ltd.
Value:
€1,575,599

Other tangible assets: 812 kilograms of Gruyère
Value:
€27,560

Outstanding debts: Remaining payments on five silver fondue sets, two snowmobiles, six mountain bikes and yodeling lessons
Value:
€54,780

So, reassured that their country’s high officials were without exception forthright and principled, the French population breathed a collective, Merlot-laced sigh of relief and went back to filling out their tax returns.

But the story got me wondering: what if some of France’s historical leaders had been held to this same standard of answerability? What would their personal wealth declarations have looked like? For example...

49 B.C.E.
Name:
Julius Caesar
Position:
Emperor of the Known World

Real estate holdings: The known world
Value:
5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, 4,000 silken tunics, 3,000 hides dyed scarlet and one goat

Investments: Venture capital for a security startup with a patent for a dagger-proof toga
Value:
120 roughly ovoid, crudely stamped coins

Other tangible assets: 60 pounds of salt, one horse, one sword, one shield, one shiny plumed helmet and one general’s uniform (some water damage)
Value:
61 pounds of salt

Outstanding debts: Poker night losses owed to Brutus and Cassius
Value: 40 pieces of silver

1694
Name:
Louis XIV
Position: State

Real estate holdings: 700-room palace in Versailles, plus servants’ quarters, stables, fountains, grounds, gardens, orchards and one outhouse
Value: I am also the budget, so I don’t have to answer that

Investments: R&D in mirror design
Value: The astonished admiration of everyone who sets foot in the hallway

Other tangible assets: The Hope Diamond
Value:
One helluva hot night in the sack with Madame Pompadour

Outstanding debts: At least she said she was Madame Pompadour
Value: Huh? Oh, sorry, I’m still thinking about that night — it just occurred to me: Madame Pompadour won’t be born until after I’m dead. Who the heck was that woman?

1788
Name: Louis XVI
Position:
Beloved king of all of France (for life!)

Real estate holdings: Versailles Palace, Sainte Chapelle, La Conciergerie, Bastille Prison, the Louvre and everything in it
Value: 1,243,000 francs (estimated)

Investments: Seed money for a palace bake sale to raise funds for the poor (the wife’s idea)
Value: 50 (fifty) francs

Other tangible assets: One neck, intact
Value: 1 (one) hill of haricots

Outstanding debts: Well, my advisers say that I owe the commoners a little more human consideration
Value: Let me see, I guess that would be worth about... Oh, let’s worry about this later

1793
Name: Maximilien de Robespierre
Position: De Facto Chairman of the Committee of Public Safety

Real estate holdings: Versailles Palace, Sainte Chapelle, La Conciergerie, Bastille Prison, the Louvre and everything in it
Value: Don’t ask

Investments: Controlling interest in Robespierre Baskets ’n’ Caskets Inc.
Value: Your life if you ask me that again

Other tangible assets: Three guillotines
Value: With depreciation for wear and tear, about 12 francs

Outstanding debts: Fees owed to Madame Lafarge for a scarf, three sweaters, seven potholders, a stocking cap and four pairs of gloves
Value: 240 francs

1813
Name:
Napoleon Bonaparte
Position: Divine and Invincible Eternal Sovereign of France, Spain, Italy, the Lowlands, Switzerland, Bavaria, Saxony, Prussia, Poland and Russia

Real estate holdings: Europe
Value: 1 gold Napoleon (or 158 gazillion francs)

Investments: 3.5 million soldiers’ lives
Value: My personal glory

Other tangible assets: A really nifty crown
Value:
2 gold Napoleons

Outstanding debts: Nine more installments on an island getaway timeshare
Value: 75,000 francs (seems like a lot, but it sounded like a good investment)

Meanwhile, back here in reality and the 21st century, the ministers’ actual declarations were at times prosaic to the point of poignancy. Of the 38 ministers (yes, 38 — apparently it takes a village to run the country), only eight have a net worth exceeding a million euros, four own no property at all and two declared assets of barely €100,000. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault declared his 25-year-old Volkswagen as being worth €1,000, and we learned that two ministers ride scooters. Must make for quite an impressive motorcade.

So, for the moment at least, the public’s doubts are assuaged. And no doubt Jérôme Cahuzac, out of a job and under investigation, is gnashing his teeth and regretting, with every fiber of his soul, one thing: that he couldn’t have traded his Swiss bank account for a hot night in the sack with Madame Pompadour. Or whoever she was...

David Jaggard

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