Our Man In Paris: The politics of the name game

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The Independent Online

The Quai François Mitterrand will be one of the grandest addresses in Paris but no one will live there, except a handful of pigeons and down- and-outs. The city of Paris, amid some controversy, has decided to rename the right bank of the Seine alongside the southern wing of the Palais du Louvre after the late Socialist president. Until now, the stretch has been called the Quai du Louvre and, for a short distance, the Quai des Tuileries.

To one side of the thoroughfare is the river. To the other side stands the world's largest and most imposing museum. Some would say that this was the perfect place to name after François Mitterrand: an exalted street with no residents. Mitterrand was a stunning orator, a great and sinuous politician, but an aloof and patrician personality, who led a secret, second life for all 14 years of his presidency.

The controversy about the re-naming was stirred partly by right-wing politicians on the Paris city council, who thought that this was a good opportunity to tease the Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoe. Delanoe was elected two years ago as a Mr Clean, who would scrub away the scandals associated with the two previous mayors (including Jacques Chirac).

Why, the right-wing councillors shrieked, was Delanoe honouring a man like Mitterrand, who had been immersed in financial scandals, doubtful friends and political manouevres? Even the Greens - allied to Delanoe - joined in. Why honour a man like Mitterrand, who approved an act of anti-ecological state terrorism, the attack on the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour in 1985?

A second front against the Quai Mitterrand was mounted by traditionalists and some residents of the First Arrondissenment, who argued that it was wrong to change historic street titles. The Quai des Tuileries has had its name since 1731, the Quai du Louvre since 1804.

Mayor Delanoe gave the same response to both groups: it is a tradition in Paris - and France as a whole - to rename streets after great statesmen and national figures. Mitterrand deserved to be remembered, if for nothing else, for his grands travaux (great works) in Paris, including the glass pyramid that surmounts the new underground access to the Louvre. The Louvre quays were the perfect memorial to a man who had done much for Paris and for the arts.

In truth, this is a somewhat lame argument. It used to be traditional to rename streets after French, and international, public figures, but it is a tradition no longer. There are many Parisian streets named after 19th-century and early 20th-century French leaders (but no Avenue or Boulevard Napoleon). There are four Parisian streets named after American presidents (Washington, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy), one named after a British prime minister (Winston Churchill) and one after a British king (George V). There are also Parisian streets for artists and writers, from Bizet to Balzac and Gershwin to George Bernard Shaw.

However, the only French politician of the Fifth Republic (post 1958) to have a street or square named after him in Paris - against his own, strict instructions - is Charles de Gaulle. Even now, 23 years later, no Parisian calls the Place Charles de Gaulle by its official title. It remains the Etoile.

There is no street for the late President Georges Pompidou (although he does have the modern arts centre, always known as Beaubourg). There is nothing for ex-President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, but perhaps he has to wait until he is dead.

Mayor Delanoe's greatest ally in the battle for the Quai Mitterrand was his long-time political enemy - and Mitterrand's long-time political enemy - President Jacques Chirac. The Elysée palace gave instructions to the President's centre-right supporters on the Paris town council that they must abstain, rather than vote against the name change.

President Chirac, 71 this year, has an obvious vested interest in reviving the tradition of political street names. Which part of the capital's real estate does he fancy for his own posterity, one wonders?

I would, respectfully, suggest the Rue Vaugirard on the Left Bank, the longest street in Paris. It goes on for ever; it is full of twists and turns; and finally it leads nowhere in particular.

Something fishyÿs going on in the wine business

Blending wines from different, celebrated vineyards has generally been regarded in France as a barbaric (ie American and Australian) practice. A celebrated French wine-grower has gone one better - or worse. Bernard Germain, who owns 18 châteaux in the Loire and Bordeaux areas, is marketing a wine blended from some of the finest dry and sweet white wines of the Loire.

He calls his concoction "Sushiwine". It has been specially designed to go with Japanese raw fish dishes. Dry wine goes reasonably well with sushi, he says, but tends to be overwhelmed by the taste of the soya sauce. By adding the liquorice taste of sweet wines to the subtlety of the dry ones, he claims, you get a perfect sushi wine.

The result is already on sale in Britain, Germany and France, but the true test will come later this year when Germain tries to wean Japanese sushi-eaters off saki, Coca-Cola and beer.

Bring them to book

Mostly, I stick up for France and the French, who get a mercilessly unfair and mendacious press in Britain and now the United States (with some honourable exceptions). Sometimes, however, I despair.

Brigitte Bardot's latest book, Un Cri dans le Silence, is a choleric rag-bag of illiterate and vicious attacks on immigrants and homosexuals, muddled up with child-like sentimentality about animals. What can you say about a nation that has lifted such a book to the top of its non-fiction best sellers' list?