Sunday, May 10, 2009

Back in Paris

I must apologize for the hiatus in blogging while I was in Grenoble: the days were too full and the connections too short. The colloquium on "Reinventing Democracy" was a great success, with more than ten thousand entries recorded over three days. I will have more to say about some of the sessions when I get back to the States. For now the only point I want to make is that it was extraordinary to see such a large public turn out to hear a series of lectures about politics. This morning, at the final session, I made room for an elderly couple to take the end seats so that the woman, who is afflicted with phlebitis, could keep her leg elevated. Her husband proceeded to tell me his life story, w"hich included two years in the maquis, as he put it, and a large debt to the French educational system, which had trained him in "micromechanics." He regretted what he perceived as a decline he perceived as a decline in the schooling available to a boy like him, the son of a peasant.

One other point: Tocqueville was struck, when he visited America, by the invisibility of the state, which in the France of his day was omnipresent in daily life. It still is. The colloquium took place in Grenoble's MC2, a vast cultural complex built with state funds (distributed through the region, I believe). There was also a reception in the splendid Musée de Grenoble, another state project, at which the mayor and a regional councillor spoke. We traveled to and from the hotel in the very efficient and modern tramway built by the city, and of course between Paris and Grenoble on the state-run railroad. Perhaps the public was passionate about a colloquium on democracy because the evidence of the state's activity is so clear.

The cover of the latest Economist depicts the French model as the current champion of Europe, though the article inside predicts that it won't last long. It's one of the magazine's more jaundiced and predictable pieces, but you might read it if you're in the mood for a bit of British conservative cheek.