Phew!

It was hard to concentrate on anything other than the election yesterday, and even though the result was not surprising, it was a huge relief.
I know that for many the notion of voting for someone who is more at home in the world of finance than at the barricades was a bitter pill. The day before the elections, my friend Dessa and I were lunching at our favourite little place (very much the home of le Vigan alternatives) and much enjoyed the heated conversation by eight friends at the next table on whether they should vote the next day and why. Eventually the entire little restaurant was involved when one of them stood up and asked: “Who is going to be voting tomorrow?”
Margaret and I could not vote of course, but we could not resist turning up at the old school in Serres for the (very) local count. It was a bit like taking part in a game of lotto: our neighbours and friends sat round a huge table with pencil and paper, which they marked appropriately each time the deputy mayor, Yves, announced ‘Macron’ ‘Le Pen’ or Blanc. And every time a score reached another ten, they all called out.
Not an arduous job, as there were only 74 votes cast in Serres. But the result turned out to reflect in microcosm what we learnt later was happening over most of France: 42 votes for Macron, 22 for Le Pen and there were 10 ‘blancs’. With each successive election the Front National vote has been creeping up and this was the highest yet. Initially our socialist friends were ticking them off: Mme Léo, the nice old pied noir, the couple from Marseilles, Denis who comes from Nimes ….. But now they know the numbers include some of them.
I then went up to Bréau to find out what the figures were in the main polling station. They were similar: 111 for Macron, 50 for Le Pen and 20 blancs. Amazing to think that there are over 70 people in our tiny commune who vote Front National. A friend who lives in a nearby commune which is more remote and rural – with not a foreigner in sight – but with 35% of the population voting for Le Pen, commented that now he reckons every third person he shakes hands with is an FN supporter.

The proportions were very similar across France, with some notable exceptions like the extreme north of France as well as little pockets along the Mediterranean which voted for Le Pen. The Le Pen vote was high – 45% – in our département, the Gard, because the east end, on the borders of the Rhône is another FN hotspot.
So now we can turn to the question of how Macron will form his government and what will happen in next month’s elections for the legislature, the Assemblée, and whether he is going to be able to change things – or whether he will stall.
Being France, peope do not talk so much about the details of what he proposes for the economy, security etc. Rather they discuss in general ‘la malaise de la France’. Like a sick patient for whom the cure is not quite clear.

The capacious Smart car

I’m loving my new little car. I have become a complete convert to automatics and enjoy its easy maneouvrability. I enjoy parking in tiny spaces (not as tiny as I had hoped, given the huge, heavy doors), and I take great pleasure in driving along with the roof open.

One compromise I thought I was making was a drastic reduction in what I can carry.  Until I came across this red twin outside La Main Verte – the annual May Day plant and flower market in the Le Vigan. The couple were busy putting three fair-sized trees into the boot!

So maybe this is the answer, if ever I can take up my cello again, I shall simply have to drive around town with the cello case sticking out of the roof – and hope it does not rain.

Between two gross political traumas

What a surreal time this is: listening to Theresa May’s disgusting performance posturing against the EU on the steps of Downing Street, and a few hours later, hearing even more horrible and dangerous stuff from Marine Le Pen.
Last night’s two hour marathon between Le Pen and Macron was dire. Marine Le Pen’s strategy was clearly to go on the attack, taunt Macron, tarnish him by association with the socialists and get him to lose his cool. But he didn’t. He gave back as good as he got, and his facts were clearly better researched.
Le Pen goes in for arousing emotions rather than presenting tight economic arguments. Insofar as she charged against islamism, the EU and all things foreign, and the weakness of the outgoing socialist government, she probably reached out to her already receptive audience. But not much in the way of a coherent programme.
Macron was forced by this aggression to respond in kind, exchanging brutal putdowns and having to interrupt to correct. But he kept his cool and convinced people that despite his youth and relative political inexperience he could deal with aggression.
The total ineptitude of the two journalists supposedly presiding meant that on occasions all four were talking at the same time. So any chance of an intelligent debate was clearly out from the first minutes.
Macron nevertheless came out of this debate well – discounting whether one agrees with his anodyne ‘libéralisme’. The polls say he should win on Sunday— but so much depends on what the Fillon and Mélenchon supporters do, and how many people will abstain or hand in a blank voting paper (‘voter blanc’). Many Fillon supporters are likely to vote for Le Pen, Mélenchon supporters are more likely to not vote. So it is a bit nail-biting.  I have been taken aback by how many friends here who voted for Mélenchon in the first round are not voting for Macron.  I bumped into one in the supermarket this morning.  “How can you take that risk?” I asked. “Even if you don’t like Macron, surely you do not want to risk Le Pen winning?”  She shrugged her shoulders and replied: “If the Front National doesn’t win this time, they will next – if we continue to vote in people who support big business and the finance system. Nothing will have changed.”

Our end of the departement du Gard is historically more left wing (unlike the Eastern part, towards the Rhone, which is staunchly FN), but with more FN each year.  Our little commune of Bréau is typical in how it voted in the first round: Jean-Luc MELENCHON 29,05 %, Emmanuel MACRON 25,68 %, Marine LE PEN 19,59 %. But my view south is of the commune of Pommiers; very rural, hunters and farmers and not an immigrant in sight – and yet there, the voting was Marine LE PEN 34,62 %, Jean-Luc MELENCHON 30,77 %, Emmanuel MACRON 17,31 %.  Scary how the picture is changing.

With any luck Macron will win on Sunday, even if this only means staving off the threat of victory by the FN for five years.  So on Monday I can return to being angry and depressed about Brexit. In the last 48 hours Theresa May has taken us even further from making a reasonable settlement.  The rhetoric on both sides now means a huge gulf has appeared before negotiations have even started, with an alarming trading of insults.  I’m not saying that the 27 are blameless, but let’s pray Theresa May calms down and that some sort of negotiating plan is worked out before it is too late.

We are nearly 11 months on from the referendum and I find I am still physically upset by what is happening.  Add Trump, Syria, climate change, failed shoulder surgery (so far) and shingles, and I am not in a good place. I suppose the only answer is to keep fighting (what? against whom). I’m taking sustenance from my youngest cousin, Lucy Seton-Watson.  I have – against my better judgement because I don’t really like Facebook – become her FB friend, and am thoroughly enjoying a daily diatribes against Brexit, Le Pen, Trump … …   So, the answer is not to despair, to remain informed and discuss how to get ourselves out of this hole. Or these holes.