It’s almost six months since my own personal Brexit and move to Paris. Reading back through my diary I come across a seven-point list that a friend gave me before I left London. It’s called “how to get by in Paris”.
1) Meet up with the key people (“I have the list,” he promised)
2) Read Alain Minc and Jacques Attali
3) Memorise the French constitution
4) Read analyst research reports on CAC40 companies
5) Find the three best bistros in Paris to take Lionel Barber [FT editor] when he visits — and the best martini
6) Obtain an exclusive with Emmanuel Macron
7) Understand that the relationship between growth and unemployment (the Phillips curve) is replaced by that between inequality and unemployment
The last point has still escaped me but the bistro search is well under way and I can confirm that the best martini in Paris is made by Colin at Bar Hemingway at the Ritz on Place Vendôme. (It’s served frozen at minus 22C but has “warmed up” to -18.3C by the time it reaches the table.)
Naturally, the thing that jumps out from the list is Macron. On Sunday night the former Rothschild banker came out on top in the first round of France’s presidential election; he will face far-right leader Marine Le Pen in next weekend’s second round. It is a remarkable rise for a man yet to celebrate his 40th birthday and who only announced his bid for the Elysée four days after I arrived in Paris. This was just the first of the twists in this extraordinary race — but more on that later.
The bistro search has included some of the usual classics including another of Hemingway’s haunts (which weren’t?) — the glorious La Coupole; and Brasserie Lipp in Saint-Germain. Apparently Lipp is the only restaurant in Paris where Coke is banned, and one where American tourists have been known to complain that when the waiter seats them at a table, it’s the last time he acknowledges their existence. Hemingway (yes him again) brings the brasserie to life in his Parisian memoir A Moveable Feast.
One place the quest for best bistro hasn’t yet taken me is Café de la Rotonde, diagonally opposite La Coupole. This famous bohemian establishment has been the talk of the town in Paris this week because it’s where Macron celebrated his victory on Sunday night. On Monday the French media seemed almost less concerned whether he would win the presidency than with whether La Rotonde is to be the new Fouquet’s. You’ll remember of course that the glitzy Fouquet’s on the Champs-Elysées is where Nicolas Sarkozy celebrated his second-round victory against Ségolène Royal in 2007, a move that helped to earn him the nickname “President Bling Bling”.
Given that La Rotonde used to welcome Russian revolutionaries such as Leon Trotsky, it seems more likely to me that Macron is trying to appeal to supporters of the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was knocked out with François Fillon, the centre-right candidate and erstwhile frontrunner, in the first round. “Governments are formed at Lipp — and broken at La Coupole,” goes the saying. History doesn’t relate what happens to wannabe presidents at La Rotonde.
On Sunday night I drew the shortest straw in French journalism: a press pass to Fillon HQ. Back in November Fillon won a landslide victory in his party’s primary and appeared to be on a fast track to the presidency. But his campaign was derailed in January by allegations that he paid family members hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers’ money for fake aide jobs, and it never recovered. Regardless, I found myself on Sunday evening in an overheated conference room in the 15th arrondissement among trays of cheese straws, ashen-faced old ladies and Republican party members going through the motions. As I looked up at the television screens flitting between the headquarters of the other three main candidates, I couldn’t help but wish that I was partying chez Mélenchon. Light jazz, Jimi Hendrix posters, and (somewhat incongruously for a communist), all in a trendy US-themed burger joint.
The following day, seeking respite from the election, I ventured out to Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris to interview Jacques-Antoine Granjon, the chief executive of Vente-privee.com, a €3bn French e-commerce company. I’m greeted by a giant David Mach gorilla made of metal coat hangers when I arrive in the building, a former print plant for Le Monde, which Granjon has filled with his eclectic art collection. Granjon is relaxed and chatty, all long dark hair. (He once declared it’s “better to have hair that is long and clean than short and dirty”. I quite agree.) Sitting in Granjon’s office under the gaze of a stuffed tiger, we mull on entrepreneurship, politics and the ephemeral nature of success.
Granjon then turns improbably to ancient Rome’s Tarpeian Rock. Close to the pinnacle of Rome socially and geographically, it was later an execution site for traitors and criminals who were flung off the sides. His mantra, he explains, is that “the Tarpeian Rock is close to the Capitol” — as in even when you are flying high you are always on the edge of the abyss. He sees the site as a cautionary tale against complacency.
My mind returns irrepressibly to Fillon’s sudden fall and Macron’s seemingly unstoppable rise as Granjon explains: “If you think it’s done, you lose. If you think you win, you lose.”
The author is the FT’s Paris correspondent
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