Must Paris reinvent itself?

In this odd book, the Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper narrates his experience as an expatriate ‘uptight northern European’ living in Paris with his family. His American wife, Pamela Duckerman, also a journalist, is the author of Bringing Up Bébé, a culture-shock memoir about having children in Paris and discovering French child-rearing ways, which are often radically at odds with American ideas and habits. Impossible City touches on some of the same territory (Kuper’s French acculturation through his children’s schooling and socialising), but it aims at a more comprehensive portrayal of rapidly evolving 21st-century Paris, warts and all; or, as he puts it, in a phrase that some may find

Germanophobia is growing in France

There was a time earlier this century when few politicians in France would dare criticise Germany. The country was the powerhouse of Europe and Angela Merkel was the de facto president of the continent. Today there is political mileage to be had in attacking Germany, and the assaults have increased this year as campaigning intensifies ahead of June’s European elections. Relations between the two countries are at their lowest ebb in decades In an interview last week Marion Maréchal, the European candidate for Eric Zemmour’s Reconquest party, said that as far as Germany is concerned, ‘France is looking more and more like a battered wife who can’t manage to leave

What we owe to the self-taught genius Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon were both taxonomists, born in the same year (1707), but apart from that they had little in common and never met. Buffon was French, Linnaeus Swedish. Buffon was suave, elegant, tall and handsome (Voltaire said he had ‘the body of an athlete and the soul of a sage’), whereas Linnaeus was a bumptious little man (under 5ft), who was widely regarded as uncouth. Buffon’s funeral was attended by 20,000 mourners but Linnaeus died almost forgotten, after suffering from a brain disease for 15 years. Yet the Linnaean system of taxonomy has survived much better than Buffon’s, which was hardly a system at

Adrift on the Canadian frontier: The Voyageur, by Paul Carlucci, reviewed

At the core of Paul Carlucci’s debut novel is a protracted medical experiment conducted by one human on another. Set on the Canadian frontier of the 1830s and inspired by historical record, the book takes the strange case of Dr William Beaumont’s tests on Alexis St Martin’s digestive system and spins a marvellously dark yarn around them, exploring the uses and abuses of an innocent. Alex is the innocent in question – the voyageur of the title. Our journey with him starts in raw boyhood, finding him living at the back of a Quebec harbour storehouse. His mother is dead, his beloved petit frère also. His grief-stricken father has sailed

Gavin Mortimer

Macron vs Putin: this summer’s Olympic battle

Dixmont, Yonne Last summer, Emmanuel Macron lashed out at France’s constitution because it prevents him from running for a third consecutive term in office. It is, he told his entourage, a ‘disastrous stupidity’. The majority of the French people would disagree. Macron’s approval ratings are dire, and a poll at the start of this month revealed that the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic has the support of only 7 per cent of the under-35s. Should anyone be surprised? Immigration is out of control, farmers have marched on Paris and teachers are at the end of their tether because of classroom intimidation. Anti-Semitic acts have surged since

Letters: the real problem with a Labour super-majority

Good trade-off Sir: I applaud your excellent editorial (‘Trading in Falsehoods’, 6 April) – a succinct and insightful essay on the role of Great Britain in the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. All are agreed that slavery in any form was and is reprehensible. As a white and proud Barbadian, initially educated there, I contend that some of my ancestors, who were probably slave owners, did not believe that they were involved in anything immoral or sinful, but were serving the economic interests of the Empire as they saw it at the time. You rightly point out that the huge cost in treasure and lives incurred by Britain

The plot to bring down Emmanuel Macron

Last week Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the Olympic aquatic centre that will host the swimming and diving events at this summer’s Paris games. The President was delighted with what he saw, boasting to the press pack that the centre is ‘exemplary from an environmental point of view’. Macron’s party expect the Republicans to make their move in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, from a financial point of view, the centre is anything but exemplary. The initial estimate in 2017 was that the centre would cost €70 million to construct, a figure that was soon revised to €90 million. the final expenditure was €188 million. It is not just the Olympic aquatic centre

Why Thames Water is the pariah of post-privatisation capitalism

‘It would have been ideal not to have so  much poo in the water,’ said Oxford captain Leonard Jenkins after losing the university boat race to Cambridge last Saturday. Thames Water blamed high groundwater levels after weeks of rain for sewage discharges that are a less unpleasant alternative than ‘letting it back up into people’s homes’. But no one’s listening to the excuses – for the failing utility, that is, not the dark-blue crew. Thames Water is the pariah of post-privatisation capitalism, facing a charge sheet of poor service and financial opportunism of which rising tides of river filth are merely pungent symbols. The argument that water should never have

Don’t tell them but the French didn’t in fact invent etiquette

When dining in France, it is considered rude to finish the bread before the main course has been served, and ruder still to slice the bread with a knife, lest the crumbs land in a lady’s décolletage. In China, you should never place your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, and in Bangladesh you may eat with your fingers, but should avoid getting sauce above the knuckles. If you are guilty of any of the above, may I direct you, politely, to a new documentary on the World Service. The programme takes aim at many outdated traditions (including those that resign women to the kitchen), but the conversation is

War on words: is Scotland ready for its new hate crime law?

51 min listen

On the podcast: Scotland’s new hate crime law; the man who could be France’s next PM; and why do directors meddle with Shakespeare?  First up: Scotland is smothering free speech. Scotland is getting a new, modern blasphemy code in the form of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which takes effect from 1 April. The offence of ‘stirring up racial hatred’ will be extended to disability, religion, sexual orientation, age, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. The new law gives few assurances for protecting freedom of speech writes Lucy Hunter Blackburn, former senior Scottish civil servant. Lucy joins the podcast, alongside Baroness Claire Fox, unaffiliated peer and

With Diana Henry

41 min listen

Diana Henry is a critically acclaimed, multi-award winning cook, food writer and author of 12 books including the classic cookbook ‘Roast Figs, Sugar Snow’, which has just been updated and re-released twenty years after it was first published. Diana also writes for newspapers and magazines, and presents food programmes on TV and radio. On this podcast Diana shares childhood memories of her mother’s baking, how ‘Little House on the Prairie‘ influenced her writing and when, on a French exchange trip, she learned how to make the perfect vinaigrette. Presented by Olivia Potts. Produced by Linden Kemkaran.

How Africa fell out of love with France

On Wednesday last week, a new Gabonese military junta installed itself, having ousted President Ali Bongo, whose family have ruled the country since 1967. Just two days earlier, the French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech to his ambassadors in which he spoke of an ‘epidemic of putschs’ in what was formerly France’s greatest sphere of post-colonial influence. Although most of these states have been independent for decades, Paris kept them firmly in the French orbit There have now been six coups d’état in francophone sub-Saharan Africa in three years – Mali, Chad, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger and now the small but wealthy nation of Gabon. France’s whole African policy

Letters: The Lucy Letby killings shouldn’t mean we lose trust in all NHS managers

Murder mystery Sir: I once made a diagnosis of a very rare condition too late to cure the patient. She was nevertheless grateful and thanked me, though my conceit evaporated when she asked: ‘What took you so long?’ I suspect the managers at the Countess of Chester Hospital must feel as I did (‘Hospital pass’, 26 August). Murder was not on the top of their differential diagnoses. Many senior clinicians who have had leadership roles in NHS hospitals bear the scars of conflicts with management, though perhaps not as deep as those of the Chester paediatricians.  We would nevertheless acknowledge that most managers are dedicated, conscientious professionals committed to the

Martin Vander Weyer

The joy of French motorways

The news that Heineken, the Dutch brewer, has sold its business in Russia to a local buyer for a token $1 – at a loss of €300 million, but with job guarantees for 1,800 Russian workers – raises moral issues about when and how multinationals should withdraw from pariah states. A database compiled by Yale professor and corporate responsibility campaigner Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, tracking 1,586 foreign operators in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine, counts 534 as having made a clean exit versus 219 (including BT and some smaller UK-listed companies, alongside a plethora of Chinese names) ‘digging in’ for business as usual. The rest, global brands and pharma giants among

Enforce the borders, stop the boats, save lives

Rishi Sunak has failed in his pledge to ‘Stop the Boats’, and the £480 million deal he signed with France in March is nothing more than a gargantuan waste of money. In fact, the French have intercepted fewer migrants in the Channel this year than they did in 2022. If the Prime Minister is truly committed to stopping the boats he must look to Australia and not France for inspiration. It is ten years this summer since Australia solved its own small boat problem. It did so with determination, courage and a refusal to be cowed by howls of outrage from those who champion a borderless world.  The people smugglers will be

The ‘historic’ national dishes which turn out to be artful PR exercises

In 1889, Raffaele Esposito, the owner of a pizzeria on the edge of Naples’s Spanish Quarter, delivered three pizzas to Queen Margherita, including one of his own invention with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, their colours taken together resembling the Tricolore. The Italian queen loved the pizza, and Esposito duly named it after her. In that restaurant today hangs a document from the royal household, dated 1889, declaring the pizzas made by Esposito to be found excellent by the queen. And so was born the Pizza Margherita, a dish now synonymous with Naples. The queen’s seal of approval in the wake of Italian unification, which had proved difficult for Naples, came

The weaponisation of Jane Birkin

Jane Birkin, who died this week at the age of 76, appeared to be a delightful woman – attractive, adventurous and stoic. Nevertheless, I had to look twice at the Daily Mail headline on Monday which screeched ‘Jane Birkin, a true style icon who put today’s trashy celebs to shame’. Are they talking about the same Jane Birkin, I wonder? The one whose first film role, when still a teenager, was as a naked, nameless model ‘romping’ in a threesome with David Hemmings and Gillian Hills? I mean, talk about nice work if you can get it – but pretty ‘trashy’ if you want to fling around words like that about

Love in idleness: The Four Corners of the Heart, by Françoise Sagan, reviewed

Do not be alarmed. You have not suffered a blow to the head. Françoise Sagan, the author of the 1954 phenomenon Bonjour Tristesse (published when she was 18; two million copies sold), is indeed no longer with us. She died in 2004, aged 69. Yet here is her brand new novel, recovered by her son Denis Westhoff from the mass – and presumably mess – of her papers. Perhaps better described as an unfinished story, there’s a romantic charm, innocence and otherworldliness to this book of a kind unlikely to be found in a contemporary novel. But it’s also an uncomfortable read in parts, no matter how ironic the text

The fine art of French rioting

Marseille One of the benefits of holidaying during a riot is you feel remarkably safe. Ruffians have no interest in you while they can be having fun at the expense of a much more exciting foe, the police. And besides, there are Lacoste stores to be raided: they have no time for your wallet. The other major benefit is you can get a table anywhere. We had the best seat in France last week: the first-floor balcony of La Caravelle, an old-school bar overlooking Marseille’s historic port and the perfect vantage point for taking in the fine art of French rioting. The choreography unfolded in fits and starts. The police vans

Jonathan Miller

Why Europe riots

Montpellier A spectre is haunting Europe. In France, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and even Switzerland, the rule of law is being challenged by the rule of gangs. Disaffected young people cut off from society feel nothing but nihilistic contempt for it. Higher temperatures and social media are creating a heated summer. Judging from recent events in Paris and Stockholm, this year could be the worst so far. The rise of gang violence is associated with immigration. Europe has shown itself incapable or unwilling to control the influx of migrants, some of them genuine asylum seekers, others simply opportunists. Nor have European politicians succeeded in dealing with the problems created by immigration,