Letters to Paris: 'Staying Hopeful'

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By Xander Brett, Third Year, History of Art and French

The Croft Magazine // In this weeks edition of Letters to Paris, Xander discusses his return to France, Macron's leadership during the Covid-19 outbreak and the life of Parisian designer Pierre Cardin.

While England shuts down in a final push, I can return as planned to Paris for the start of a new term on 25th January. Strict border controls mean the new variant has so far been barred most entry to France. The second lockdown I escaped in November was, it seems, strict enough, and they’ve also escaped a post-Christmas surge. Obviously, however, the virus remains. President Macron self-isolated from 17th to 24th December, stabilising his condition a few days after a positive test. He returned, however, to a barrage of criticism over France’s slow vaccine roll-out. While the European Union approved and delivered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on 21st December, just 516 people in France had received it by 1st January. In the UK, the total was 188,553. Macron’s roll-out has been so slow, in fact, some have even questioned whether he’s jealous of foreign ingenuity and is waiting for a French version to be created.

Paris | Epigram / Xander Brett

In the run-up to Christmas, we were shown images of lorries piling up at the crossing to Dover. Understandably, when confronted with a highly infectious strain, France panicked and put up the shutters. The reaction was perhaps, as cynics suggested, a chance to show the disruption of a no-deal Brexit. But it was also done out of genuine fear, and a desperate desire not to destroy their meticulous shutdown efforts. The Brexit deal is a good building block, though it also lays bare security issues. It’s not wrong to say getting the agreement passed saw extreme pessimism from the French. Along with cynicism over shutting their borders, commentators questioned whether Macron was willing to bet on a no-deal causing Prime Minister Johnson to cave into European demands in order to stave off domestic resentment. Whether true or false, the schemes clearly backfired with our efficient contraflow system and, of course, the successful agreement on Christmas Eve.

As you’ll have noticed, written Letters to Paris articles are now fortnightly, though the podcast episodes are still weekly. So there’s still much catch-up to be done here. In last week’s podcast you can hear a full explanation of the French political system, but I’d like to end this article by remembering the quintessentially Parisian designer Pierre Cardin, who died last week aged 98. Born to French wine merchants in Treviso, Italy, Cardin and his eleven siblings moved back to France after Mussolini’s rise to power. Sadly, they escape one tyrant to be inflicted on another, with the Nazis ready to take France just a few years later. During the war, Cardin joined the Red Cross as a tailor, before following the advice of a fortune teller and turning up at the workshop of fashion designer Jeanne Paquin. It was there he met the legendary film director Jean Cocteau. After working as a costume designer on his productions, he felt ready to start up on his own, having made connections with Christian Dior. His subsequent ready-to-wear collections brought high fashion to the middle classes, his futuristic designs inspired Yves Saint-Laurent and his suits supplied the Beatles. He was bon viveur indeed, and a Frenchman who will be sorely missed in these disorientating times.

Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett


Listen to Xander's weekly Burst Radio podcast 'Letters from Paris' here.

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