31 July 2013

Away on the Ile de Ré

... which is why there has been a long gap between posts this month.

The Ile de Ré is about halfway down the French Atlantic coast and is linked to the rest of the Charente-Maritime département (17) at La Rochelle by a road bridge opened in 1988 to replace ferries. I've never been able to understand the economics of the French seaside, almost deserted for much of the year and packed out for only eight weeks. How do the restaurants, ice-cream sellers and hirers-out of bicycles ever recover their capital costs? But they do, partly through seasonal pricing - it costs 16 euros to cross and return over the Ile de Ré bridge (below left) in the high season, but only 8 the rest of the year.

Although prices may have gone up over the years, the atmosphere of French coastal towns in season is still reminiscent of some of the films directed by Eric Rohmer (1920-2010), from The Collector in 1967 to A Summer's Tale in 1996, though none of the four which were set at the seaside* (the others being Pauline at the Beach (1983) and The Green Ray (1986) ) was filmed on the Ile de Re. To reinforce the sense of time stood still, particularly marked on Ré, there are plenty of Citroën Méharis about (above right), despite their production having stopped in France in 1988.

The island is a favourite with well-off Parisians, who have pushed up property prices in a manner familiar to those residents of Notting Hill who have a little place in Cornwall, and all too familiar to the Cornish as well. A small house in one of the pretty lanes lined with hollyhocks in the largest town of Saint Martin de Ré could easily cost well over 1 million euros and the island's harbours are full of appropriately sized yachts. To cater for this up market clientele, Saint Martin and the other smaller towns are full of chic boutiques and restaurants which open up for the season and close after September. The permanent population is only 20,000 but surges tenfold in the summer, so the islands' supermarkets (there are just a few) are larger than might be expected. There are also street and covered markets (above) in the towns. The challenge of meeting the increased demand in the summer for water, not so much for electricity, must be considerable, but infrastructure is a French speciality. The domestic broadband speed was as good as anything I've come across in the UK. Rural areas in France already seem to be getting service levels which are just promises from BT.

As well as offering beaches and sailing, the island is exceptionally cycle-friendly and easy to cross on pistes cyclables which run through vineyards and pinewoods. Traffic calming in the towns seems to have induced levels of consideration from motorists for cyclists and pedestrians which are only rarely encountered in the rest of the country. Cross-island expeditions by bike are relaxing, not too arduous - it's very flat and the towns, each with its own character, are not far apart - and provide an unusual chance to see primary producers of sea salt and oysters at their work (below).

This isn't a travel blog so I'll stop now - it's enough to say I would like to go back to the Ile de Ré, and also visit the nearby Ile d'Oléron, which, I'm told, is less bourgeois, more sauvage. But beware, French resorts are crowded in August, less so in July and September. The British presence on Re seems quite small by comparison with Dordogneshire, in or out of season. There are a few second homes which are UK-owned (or more likely owned by UK-controlled trusts), probably bought by bankers looking for something more sophisticated than Padstow or Salcombe - better weather for sure.

* La Collectionneuse, Compte d'été, Pauline à la plage, Le Rayon vert are the French titles.

UPDATE 27 JULY 2014 

I have it on good authority that the Ile de Ré is as enjoyable in 2014 as it was in 2013, although there seem to be more English and Irish visitors this year. Philippe Le Guay’s film, Alceste à bicyclette (Cycling with Molière), mostly set on the Ile de Ré, is currently on release in the UK.

14 July 2013

Espionnage? Nous?

President George W Bush is supposed to have confided in Tony Blair that “The problem with the French is they don’t have a word for entrepreneur”, but reportedly Alastair Campbell told the Washington Post that Blair never heard Bush say it. However, the French, it seems, do have a word for espionnage, so a post for Bastille Day.

Edward Snowden is the computer technician who used to work for a contractor to the US National Security Agency (NSA). After handing out NSA’s secrets he is currently in the transit area of Moscow airport looking for a country to take him in. I gave my simplistic view of such people when posting about Wikileaks over two years ago:
Listening to some of his [Assange’s] former associates the expression attributed to Lenin, ‘useful idiots’, came to mind. While it seems unlikely that the Wikileaks cables initiated the unrest which is spreading through the Middle East, we may well not yet appreciate all the damage that Assange’s activities could cause. The whole underlying principle seems dubious. A bank clerk who steals his employer’s money, even if to give to worthy causes, is a thief and goes to prison. Is that different from an employee who takes his employer’s confidential information and places it in the public domain?
Just how revelatory has the Snowden material been?  During the last few decades the role of Bletchley Park in handling signals intelligence has been woven into the UK’s mythological tapestry of World War 2 alongside the Battle of Britain and D-Day. It’s also widely understood that GCHQ is Bletchley’s successor, for example in the Mail on Sunday on 14 July:
Many of Britain’s top code-breakers and analysts are able to crack complex problems because they suffer from dyslexia, GCHQ has revealed. A spokesman for the Government’s top-secret electronic eavesdropping station in Cheltenham said last night that some of their most talented code-breakers have difficulty in learning to read or interpreting words. But this can actually help them crack codes, as they ‘see’ things those without the disorder do not.
So for many Britons it has been more reassuring than startling to learn that instead of intercepting radio transmissions, attention is nowadays being given to the information hurtling around the internet. The minority of people with a particular interest in this kind of thing will have come across, for example, Richard Aldrich’s GCHQ, James Bamford’s Body of Secrets and Patrick Radden Keefe’s Chatter, not to mention Bamford’s article last year for Wired about the NSA’s Utah Data Center, and won’t have been much surprised in principle about the technical capabilities apparent in the Snowden material. The legality of such data being acquired by states as far as the rights of citizens and international relations are concerned, I will leave to others.

In technical terms what do Snowden’s purloined PowerPoint slides, those which the Guardian first started to reveal on 7 June, actually add? Primarily the names and structure of programmes, the sort of voyeuristic detail which might fascinate because it is intended to be concealed but is now on display for all to see, a sort of NOFORN porn. The fact that large American corporations cooperate with the US government is surely no surprise. And although corporate logos are sprinkled across them, the slides are pretty dull. Only employees who need to master the detail could be expected to sit through such presentations.

The governments of many countries other than the US and UK are well-informed about the activities of NSA, with whom not just the British have links. More informed than they would be solely from the open literature, and more involved than they might want to reveal in public. So many initial overseas reactions to the Snowden leaks were probably calculated to soothe any domestic concerns being stirred up by privacy advocates rather than intended to be rebukes to the US. Triggered by an interview Snowden gave Der Spiegel, France demanded explanations from the US (Espionnage: la France demande des explications aux États-Unis, according to Le Point on 30 June). This met with some cynical responses, including a choice comment from Blogs of War which proposed 10 Short Outrage-Busting Reads on French Spying for President Hollande.

The French then seem to have decided that if their public needed reassurance, it should be that France was up with the hunt. Le Monde on 4 July (Gallic humour) ran an informative article, Révélations sur le Big Brother français:
Si les révélations sur le programme d'espionnage américain Prism ont provoqué un concert d'indignation en Europe, la France, elle, n'a que faiblement protesté. Pour deux excellentes raisons : Paris était déjà au courant. Et fait la même chose.*
which made all of us more au courant by providing graphics (below) and announcing the existence of a crack team of crypto-mathématiciens within the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE, an organisation which seems to cover the ground of the UK’s SIS and GCHQ).

The clear message from Le Monde was:
La France est dans le top 5 en matière de capacité informatique, derrière les Etats-Unis, la Grande-Bretagne, Israël et la Chine.**
So the French certainly have a word for it.

*If the revelations about the U.S. spying program Prism led a chorus of indignation in Europe, France only raised minor quibbles. For two good reasons: Paris already knew. And does the same thing.

** France is in the top 5 in terms of computing power [for NSA-type activities] behind the United States, Britain, Israel and China.


Back in May, before anyone had heard of Edward Snowden, a post appeared here about the impracticality of London turning itself into a city state. Quite by coincidence, among the assets it identified London having to leave in the rump England were GCHQ and the cables coming ashore in the UK, particularly in SW England. The latter were illustrated with a map obtained using an interactive graphic on the Guardian Datablog. It’s interesting to go back to the same graphic and take a look at the Pacific:

Not too hard to see why Snowden was in Hawaii. On the original, clicking on the green cable to the SSE of Hawaii, apparently going nowhere, reveals it to be Honotua which serves French Polynesia.


An article, Ex-MI6 deputy chief plays down damage caused by Snowden leaks, by Richard Norton-Taylor and Dominic Rushe which appeared in the Guardian on 12 September is worth reading in full; extracts:
A former senior British secret intelligence officer on Thursday played down any potential damage done by the leaks to the Guardian of the spying activities of GCHQ and America's National Security Agency, apparently contradicting claims made by UK security chiefs.  
The leaks, by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were "very embarrassing, uncomfortable, and unfortunate", Nigel Inkster, former deputy chief of MI6, said. While Inkster said it was too early to draw any definite conclusions about the impact of the leaks, he added: "I sense that those most interested in the activities of the NSA and GCHQ have not been told very much they didn't know already or could have inferred."  
... As for the impact of the revelations about the capabilities of the NSA and GCHQ on allies, Inkster said the reality was any government with a national communications system also had a national signal intelligence capability.  
"The tears that have been shed internationally have been of the crocodile variety," he said in an apparent reference to US allies, notably Germany, which have expressed concern about the activities of the NSA and GCHQ and the extent of their ability to intercept communications.  
Inkster was speaking at a press conference at the launch of the latest annual Strategic Survey published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He left MI6 after the invasion of Iraq and subsequently criticised how Britain "got dragged into a war". He is currently director of transnational threats and political risk at the institute.  
He added that "the degree and scope" of surveillance and eavesdropping by the NSA and GCHQ was a surprising. "I must say that in the space of five years, the technical ability of what the NSA and GCHQ can do is remarkable in getting their arms around a massive surge in communications data."

12 July 2013

Falkirk – an unlikely Falklands

It is part of modern British political mythology than Mrs Thatcher only won the 1983 election because of the resurgence in her popularity which followed the favourable outcome of the Falklands campaign in 1982. For David Cameron to be confident of securing a Conservative government after the 2015 election, he needs something similar (to see the size of his problem put Con 40% Lab 35% and LD 13% into Electoral Calculus). For the moment Cameron is having a good try at hanging the trade unions around Miliband’s neck, particularly after the shenanigans concerning Labour’s candidate for the forthcoming Falkirk [by-election] reselection.

Will it do the trick? At PMQs on 3 July Cameron mentioned the Unite union 8 times and Unite’s General Secretary, Len McCluskey, 6 times. On 10 July it was 8 and 2 times respectively, but by then Miliband had taken appropriate action both tactically with regard to Falkirk and more widely in floating the idea of a new relationship between Labour and the unions.  Miliband also moved onto the offensive at PMQs, asking some pointed questions about Tory funding. Unlike the Falklands, union funding and Falkirk do not seem the sort of issues which move substantial numbers of voters’ minds and, moreover, there is a slight risk that Miliband may come out of it well as a strong reformer and avoid being labelled a weak placeman of the unions.

Anyway the whole thing seems just a bit stagey. Of the four volumes of Alastair Campbell’s Diaries, the first, Prelude to Power 1994-1997, concentrates on the task faced by the Leader of the Opposition as an election approaches. It’s also the one which covers the time before Campbell became a civil servant (of sorts) so presumably its content was determined entirely by his judgement rather than being subject to the official protocol which would have applied to the later three. Pugnacious by nature, Campbell had no hesitation in recording the combative relationship which prevailed most of the time between Blair, Labour’s last permanent Leader of the Opposition, and the PM of the day, John Major. But he also mentions the mysterious occasions when Blair disappeared for discussions with the PM. Either Campbell wasn’t told what these were about, or he didn’t choose to write about them. He reports that on one occasion Major threatened to publish private correspondence between himself and Blair – again we are not told what about (page 380).

Almost certainly that’s the way things have always been done and there are good reasons for such arrangements continuing. For example, recently it was reported that Miliband had attended the National Security Committee (not for the first time) in late June for a discussion on Syria and why not? However, perhaps the lesson to be drawn is that governments and oppositions from time to time make common cause without necessarily telling the public or the media all about it. I can’t help wondering whether in this case the cause might turn out to be that of funding political parties out of taxation – the main ones of course.

McCluskey is an interesting man who seems to like SW France. Described by Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) on 10 July:
Mr McCluskey — an opera buff, who loves attending Glyndebourne and visiting French vineyards (“St Emilion is my favourite wine and such a beautiful village”, he told me when I interviewed him a couple of years ago),
he is a left-winger but with right bank tastes, and tastes which extend beyond red wine according to the Spectator’s Steerpike on 13 July:
The wine waiters at Claridges are taking a keen interest in the investigation into malpractice in Falkirk. And they’re hoping that Unite will be fully exonerated. Len McCluskey likes to celebrate political victories at the hotel bar with a glass of pink champagne. His most recent visit was in July 2011 after Rupert Murdoch’s ‘humblest day of my life’ admission before a Commons select committee. McCluskey toasted the press mogul’s self-lacerating words by downing a bottle of pink fizz with his old mucker Tom Watson. As they say, nothing’s too good for the workers to subsidise.
(Actually it was “most humble day of my life”.)


A few hours after this was originally posted, a typically elegant article by Matthew Parris for today’s The Times appeared on their website, Guess who’s going to pay for politics? You!  He expands on the theme that “The political parties will ask the taxpayer to pay their bills once unions and tycoons have walked away” and that:
The very notion will be massively unpopular. There will have to be a tacit deal between party leaderships not to break ranks and exploit public indignation.
My notion was that the “tacit deal” is rather nearer than he seems to think. Parris is, of course, much better–informed than I am, just as he is a much better writer.


Matthew Taylor was Tony Blair’s Chief Adviser on Political Strategy when he was Prime Minister and then became Chief Executive of the RSA in November 2006. On 9 September he posted on his blog Party funding – the future is out there (no thanks to me). This extract describes a past attempt at a “tacit deal”:
Back in 2006, working for Tony Blair and having previously written a think tank pamphlet on party funding, I was asked to explore a new funding settlement. The precipitating factor was the cash of honours allegations which led to several Labour advisors being arrested and placed on police bail.  
Although the negotiations were behind the scenes, agreeing a basic package with the Conservatives (newly led by David Cameron who was keen to show his statesman-like credentials) proved relatively straightforward. Although historically the Tories have relied much more than Labour on high value donations, Cameron knew how toxic this issue had been for his own Party and how dangerous it could one day become again.  
… The deal we had careful put together was sabotaged by anti-Blair elements in Labour’s ranks. There is little doubt that they did so on the instruction of those around Gordon Brown – who was at the time keen to grasp any stick with which to beat the Prime Minister.

11 July 2013

UK Trident at a Sovereign Faslane?

Posts here last year speculated as to whether the Trident base at Faslane in Scotland might be relocated to the South West of England and how much such a transfer might cost. The first post touched on one way the issue could be avoided:
So, if the SNP secured a majority for independence and entered into negotiations, they might at least offer some form of transitional period for Whitehall to make other arrangements. But the RN remaining permanently would require the SNP to offer HMNB Clyde a status akin to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas … and the question arises as to whether an independent Scotland might one day change its mind and renege on an agreement made back in 2015. Such a prospect might lead Whitehall to conclude that a new Trident base within 10 years was an unavoidable consequence of Scottish independence.
Not having come across anything about Sovereign Base Areas since, today’s Guardian lead story by their chief political correspondent, Nicholas Watt, MoD fears for Trident base if Scotland says yes to independence Whitehall looking at plan to designate home of nuclear fleet as sovereign United Kingdom territory, came as a surprise:
The British government is examining plans to designate the Scottish military base that houses the Trident nuclear deterrent as sovereign United Kingdom territory if the people of Scotland vote for independence in next year's referendum. In a move that sparked an angry reaction from the SNP, which vowed to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons as quickly as possible after a yes vote, the government is looking at ensuring that the Faslane base on Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute could have the same status as the British sovereign military bases in Cyprus.  
… The Ministry of Defence is officially working on only one option for the Faslane base ahead of next year's Scottish independence referendum – a defeat for the SNP, thereby guaranteeing the survival of the base that has housed the nuclear deterrent since the Polaris era in the 1960s. An MoD spokesperson said: "We are confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain a part of the United Kingdom." But MoD officials are starting to examine a two-stage process to ensure that Britain could continue to station the Vanguard submarines at the deep-water Faslane base and store the nuclear warheads at the nearby Coulport base on Loch Long.  
The British government would first tell the Scottish government after a yes vote that it would cost tens of billions of pounds over many years to decommission the Faslane base and to establish a new base in England or Wales to house the nuclear fleet. These costs would have to be factored into severance payments negotiated with the Scottish government before full independence is declared around two years after the referendum.
Watt has since run a follow-up story on the Guardian website, No 10: MoD sovereign territory plans for Trident base not credible MoD proposal to designate Faslane as UK sovereign military base if Scots vote for independence sparks Whitehall row:
Downing Street has dismissed as not "credible or sensible" a proposal to designate the Faslane base, which hosts Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent, as sovereign United Kingdom territory if the people of Scotland vote for independence in next year's referendum. No 10's dismissal of the idea followed an overnight row in Whitehall after the Guardian reported that the government was examining plans to ensure that the Faslane base on Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute could have the same status as the British sovereign military bases in Cyprus in the event of a yes vote.
The likelihood of a Whitehall row being substantiated by:
… a defence source said that the idea of designating Faslane as sovereign UK territory in the event of an SNP victory was being taken seriously. The source said: "It would cost a huge amount of money, running into tens of billions of pounds, to decommission Faslane. Those costs would be factored into any negotiations on an independence settlement. The sovereign base area is an option. It is an interesting idea because the costs of moving out of Faslane are eyewateringly high." A version of this was emailed to the BBC, which ran a story on its website overnight with the headline: "Faslane Trident base could be in UK after Scottish independence". The MoD emailed the BBC to say: "The sovereign base area is an option. It is an interesting idea."
As far as the cost of relocation is concerned, the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor has a companion piece, The uncomfortable costs of moving Trident Relocating the Trident base to another port could cost at least £20bn and take 20 years to build:
Whitehall planners and independent thinktanks alike have contemplated the prospect of having to move the Trident base to Devonport in Plymouth, or Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. However, moving the base to another port could cost at least £20bn, Professor Trevor Taylor, of the Royal United Services Institute, recently told the defence committee.
Rather higher than Admiral West’s £2.5 billion figure which I thought reasonable. Here is the relevant part of the evidence given to the House of Commons Defence Committee, chaired by James Arbuthnot, MP on 18 June:
Q228 Mr Holloway: …. Clearly, they [the SNP] plan to get rid of Faslane and Coulport. What would the costs be, apart from the obvious ones? Aren’t there some enormous costs regarding concrete cradles and things? Can you tell us a bit more about that?  
Professor Taylor: I haven’t been to Coulport-it’s too sensitive for me. However, from what I understand about what goes on there, the cost of moving those nuclear installations to a new site would be very extensive. It is the weapons storage and then the submarine docking. There is some evidence on what the docks at Devonport for the Trident submarine cost to build.  
Chair: I was in charge. It was horrendous.  
Mr Holloway: Is that because they have to be able to withstand an earthquake or something?  
Chair: Yes.  
Professor Taylor: And accidents of various descriptions. And obviously the weapons storage-  
Mr Brazier: What of various descriptions?  
Professor Taylor: Accidents of various descriptions-leaks. The safety arrangements-the Chairman could speak better on those than me. I find it difficult; if I were to give you a rough figure, I would say the starting figure would be £20 billion, but that is really just an absolute guess. It would be that order of amount that we would have to find, I think. There are various efforts under way. I don’t think anybody has come up with a satisfactory answer about precisely where you might move the facilities to. I don’t have an answer on that- ...
Anyway, £20 billion sounds like a very good figure for negotiations with a Scottish government.


Nicholas Watt has taken his Guardian story a stage further today with an account (Trident submarine base: No 10 disowns MoD's Faslane sovereignty proposal Whitehall row and SNP anger ignites over report of plans to make naval base UK territory if Scots vote for independence) of argy-bargy between the MoD, Number 10 and Alistair Darling, who heads the anti-independence Better Together campaign.
It is understood that a senior official from Darling's Better Together campaign telephoned the No 10 Scottish referendum unit late on Wednesday night to express deep alarm about the Faslane plan. The group was assured that the No 10 unit was equally appalled that the private thinking of the MoD on such a sensitive matter had entered the public domain.
An interesting exchange on Twitter between Watt and a Scottish former defence minister:

5 July 2013

David Inshaw’s ‘The Badminton Game’ in Bath

A painting by David Inshaw (born 1943), The Badminton Game (1972-73), is currently on temporary loan to the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, not far from its setting, Devizes (Wiltshire, SW England). Inshaw was a member of the 'Brotherhood of Ruralists' group of artists active in the area from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, as was Peter Blake. The work is described in the Gallery's press release as both “rarely seen” and “iconic”. The latter aspect of its reputation must be on the basis of reproductions, as relatively few people ever set foot in 10 Downing Street, which is where the painting seems to have spent most of its time on display since its presentation to the Tate collection in 1980.

The glossy fortnightly Bath Life magazine gave the loan a full page in its current issue (above). I’m sure they had no intention of their comment being as pointed as it might read – “so that people in the West may view it without charge”. Unlike the Gallery’s previous exhibition of works also in public ownership, the Art Council’s Henry Moores, then.


Andrew Lambirth, the Spectator's art critic, interviewed David Inshaw, who still lives in Devizes, just before his birthday in March.


4 July 2013

Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Midnight’

Nearly 20 years ago I was so taken with Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) that I imported a copy on a Region 1 DVD. It was the story of a youthful brief encounter in Vienna in those last few years when homo sapiens was without Google, Facebook or Twitter.  Any of these would now make the lovers’ subsequent inability to reunite almost improbable. Nearly ten years later in 2004, I didn't like Before Sunset, their eventual and not so youthful reunion in Paris, as much – though I still bought the DVD.

So, despite Before Midnight’s good reviews, it was with some trepidation that I went to find out what had happened to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in the years since. The answer turns out to be primarily his divorce, their twins, their careers in Paris and his son now being an adolescent in Chicago. All of which, in one form or another, they take with them on holiday to Greece. For one night they find themselves alone as a couple and, after one of their talky walks, settle down to a fine old row. Delpy acts the part superbly, and delivers a hatchet-job on the male ego that I fear many women will appreciate. She gives an unsparing and self-confident performance, far better than in her own 2 Days in New York, and her self-indulgent flight of fancy at the end of Before Sunset. The earlier major set-pieces in the film, the journey back from the airport and supper with friends at the villa, do not come off so well.

I thought Before Midnight definitely worth seeing and, yes I will be buying the DVD. A few minor points which might be of interest:

  • The Before series may not end as a trilogy. There are three people in this filmic (non-) marriage: Linklater, Delpy and Hawke, who script it and more together, and a further film has not been ruled out apparently. The way things were left before midnight it may be Before Midday next, the relationship’s High Noon, or, more optimistically, an appointment at the Mairie
  • Apparently the couple appeared briefly in Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) which I've never seen. Nor have I seen Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia (1954, aka Journey to Italy), I wonder who has. Some cinéaste reviewers seem to think it is the gold standard for a film depicting a long-term couple’s relationship and not matched by Before Midnight
  • Patrick (“Paddy”) Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was a British soldier and travel writer whose romantic upper class life provided plenty of material for Artemis Cooper’s biography published last year. His house in the Peloponnese was used as a location for some of Before Midnight, and details of the others in this and the previous two films may be of interest to Before Sherlockians. 
  • Finally, why is Jesse so messily dressed? Unlikely for an author in his forties with an international reputation living in Paris – surely Celine would have taken him to Le Bon Marché.

3 July 2013

Fresh Air 2013

Hard to believe, but it was two years and 210 posts ago that I wrote about the biennial show of contemporary sculpture being run by the Quenington Sculpture Trust. Now, once again, the riverside gardens of Quenington Old Rectory in Gloucestershire have been made available by Mr and Mrs Abel-Smith for the 11th show, Fresh Air 2013, which started on 16 June.

There are about 150 works by more than 90 artists on display - so, many good things to see before the show ends on 7 July. Here are some which caught my eye. First, two ingenious responses by Kathy Kilpatrick and Lewis Davidson to the opportunities provided in the Old Rectory's garden by an avenue of trees and a dry-stone wall (below).

Did Ruth Moilliet make use of 3D printing techniques in creating Bud (below, stainless steel and aluminium) and if not doing so yet, what would she be capable of if she did?

Natalia Dyas’s Thorn Tree (below), with its 500 porcelain thorns, poses thorny (sorry) questions about art imitating nature.

Finally, this photograph nowhere near does justice to Tobias Ford’s Poise, a study of force and tension in mild steel. He is currently a BA degree student at Hereford College of Art and I would be surprised not to hear much more of him in years to come.

The weather forecast for the remaining days of Fresh Air 2013 could hardly be better and the standard of all the work is high, so do go if you can.

1 July 2013

Patrick Rotman’s ‘Le Pouvoir’

Having read reports in the UK about Patrick Rotman’s documentary Le Pouvoir (ie 'Power') after it was released in France in May, I was glad to get the opportunity to see it in a cinema recently. Rotman and his crew filmed François Hollande for the first eight months or so of the latter’s presidency which started in May 2012. Most of the time was spent in the Elysée palace but they also travelled with Hollande to the UN in New York and to Brussels. I thought it was a fascinating film even though my limited knowledge of French politics, particularly within Hollande's Parti Socialiste (PS), meant that many of the nuances probably escaped me. (Think of most French observers being oblivious to the undercurrents of a meeting between David Cameron and Boris Johnson.)

What struck me were things like the protocol and pomp and circumstance of the presidency, the slightly faded gilt grandeur of the Elysée, the cavalcade of Citroën C6’s whenever ministers came and went, the nearby officer with the briefcase, the obviously elite entourage, the presidential aircraft and, although I am used to French habits, the time spent hand-shaking and double-kissing (of women by men). And there is something slightly awkward about Hollande – he certainly doesn’t have the born to rule manner of certain old Etonians and all too often looks the odd man out (below at the G8 meeting in the UK last month). On the other hand, on one visit he seemed to have a surprisingly sure touch with ordinary young people.

Just after seeing Le Pouvoir, an article appeared in the July issue of Prospect magazine by Christine Ockrent. In Invisible republic (in print; on their website as What’s Wrong with France) The travails of François Hollande are a symptom of France’s deeper malaise, she makes some crisp comments about the president and his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande’s problem is that although he has mastered the language — unlike Sarkozy, he went to the right schools — he simply doesn’t convey authority. During the presidential campaign in 2012 he tried hard to lose weight and look younger; now he dyes his hair too dark, the way older men do, and his waistline has expanded — though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Georges Pompidou, who was rather stout, is now remembered with fondness for his short but successful presidency. In fact, Hollande behaves exactly the way his friends describe him to be in private: good natured with a great sense of humour, a sharp mind and a quick tongue — the kind of jolly, clever fellow one is always pleased to have dinner with when he comes to Paris. He’s like your favourite cousin from Corrèze, the province which has elected him as enthusiastically as it once did Jacques Chirac.
She goes on to criticise France’s “system of énarques et polytechniciens” in terms similar to Peter Gumbel’s which I posted about last month. Hollande’ s “right schools”, by the way, were political science at Sciences Po, economics at the HEC business school and ENA.  Ockrent, described by Prospect as “a journalist and a former Editor-in-Chief of L’Express” is the partner of Bernard Kouchner. When considering her opinions, it is worth knowing (as Prospect readers presumably don’t have to be told) that while latterly a minister under Sarkozy, Kouchner was previously involved with the highest levels of the PS.

Rotman (born 1949) has made documentaries about various French politicians including François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Lionel Jospin. A British equivalent might seem to be Michael Cockerell, but he provides a voice-over commentary and interviews his subjects (eg Boris Johnson) whereas in Le Pouvoir Rotman merely observes without expressing opinions himself. The film has been referred to as a fly-on-the-wall documentary (eg in The Times (£) on 15 May) but as the faces around the table at Hollande’s first ministerial meeting - so many of them, so many C6s - reveal, the cameras were clearly evident and not exactly welcome. Direct cinema or cinéma vérité would probably be a more accurate description. It seems unlikely that Rotman’s film will appeared subtitled for Anglophone audiences – if it did, I would want to see it again.