A photograph, taken in June 2014, has become emblematic of Anne Hidalgo’s Socialist rule of Paris. In the picture stands Queen Elizabeth II, then 88, in Paris to unveil a plaque at the Marché aux Fleurs, near Notre Dame. The Queen, in addition to her usual black handbag, carries her own plastic umbrella. Next to her, the newly-elected mayor, dressed in a cream outfit, has her hands free while a city official holds a large umbrella above her perfect blow-dry.
The Spanish-born Hidalgo, 62, now about to announce her candidacy for the 2022 presidential election, is a woman untouched by self-doubt. Any criticism of her stewardship of the capital — where she was re-elected last year, between lockdowns, by only 17 per cent of registered voters — she ascribes to an ‘extreme-right cabal’. A close protégée of the former president François Hollande, Hidalgo has adopted his capacity to block out criticism and his skill at machine politics, even among the ruins of France’s shattered left.
But the City of Lights is today demonstrably dirtier, uglier, more dangerous, and harder to navigate than when Hidalgo came to power. Since last winter, Parisians have expressed their mounting outrage at the state of the city on social media, posting pictures with the hashtag #saccageparis (#wreckingparis).
There are photos of overflowing rubbish bins (‘Parisians are dirty’, the Mayor explained); crabgrass and bald patches replacing carefully-tended flowerbeds and lawns (‘watering plants is ecologically-dispendious’ according to a Hidalgo deputy); videos of rats under tunnels or on the banks of the Seine (no comment); littered squares of earth at the base of the city’s trees replacing the nineteenth century rose-shaped wrought iron protective grilles (‘the city encourages Parisians to plant and tend vegetation in these newly-freed spaces’); huge concrete girders to be used as seats installed in historic squares while the city’s classic dark green benches are left or sold off (‘Paris is beautified every day by contemporary design’); and, everywhere, more concrete, in rough blocking barriers, painted yellow and abundantly graffitied, disfiguring major thoroughfares like Avenue de l’Opéra or Rue Royale under the guise of ‘materialising’ cycle lanes.
The vandalism of Paris under Hidalgo’s reign does not stop there.