During the current lockdown here in Paris, boutiques and other stores are closed. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and bakeries are open. The latter provide what the French government considers ‘essential goods’, necessary for survival during the pandemic.
But, as our foreign correspondent David noted with this article from the Telegraph, there’s a contradictory wrinkle or two in the regulations, and a high-profile husband and wife disagreement as well.
Passions on both sides of the argument run high, bien sur. After all, this is France.
Enjoy. And thanks, David.
Are Books ‘Essential’ items? Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron clash over bookshop lockdown closures.
It was a shared love of literature that brought France’s power couple together.
Now Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron are at loggerheads over France’s love of reading, with the First Lady insistent that bookshops should remain open during lockdown while her husband Emmanuel has forced them to shut.
With France in nationwide confinement since last Thursday, the French president has ordered all shops selling “non-essential” goods to close for a month at least while leaving supermarkets, wine and household goods stores open.
The decision to count books as “non-essential” in the land of Molière, Victor Hugo and Jean-Paul Sartre has prompted howls of complaint from top authors, booksellers and publishers but also placed Mr Macron on a collision course with his wife, according to Le Parisien.
Mrs Macron, “a fan of culture, had hoped that bookshops would be spared from the lockdown guillotine,” said the capital’s daily. Her husband “supported” this view until last Wednesday when he “changed his mind” after being shown France’s rocketing infection and hospitalisation rates.
“It was untenable, he had to shut as many stores as possible,” one person present told the paper.
Like his wife, Mr Macron is a bookworm. He met her as a 15-year-old schoolboy when she was a French and drama teacher at La Providence, a private school in Amiens, northern France and they wrote a play together.
Mr Macon once told Nouvel Obs he had written “three novels and poetry”, none of them published. Mrs Macron, meanwhile, a career-long teacher, recently returned to the classroom in two adult training colleges, saying: “I want to give (students) a taste for literature”.
During the first national lockdown in March, her husband urged the nation to “read”, calling it “essential in the times we’re going through”.
But his decision to impose literary lockdown has infuriated France’s 3,000-odd independent bookshops, who asked why chain stores selling essential items were allowed to sell books while they had to remain shut except for “click and collect” orders.
In a letter to the French president published by Le Monde, a host of top cultural figures and writers, including Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano, urged Mr Macron to “choose culture”. While masks and gel were not available during the first lockdown, all sanitary measures were now in place to ensure the bookshop remains “a safe place”, they insisted.
The accompanying petition has garnered 185,000 signatures.
“Politicians wax lyrical about the idea that France is a nation with a literary exception,” said writer Sylvain Tesson, as he symbolically “turned the lights back on” in a bookstore in Montmartre in protest. “All of a sudden, one realises that it was all hot air.”
“Wine store open, bookshop closed: the symbol is strong,” tweeted Maxime Chattam, another novelist.
“To shut bookshops during lockdown is to confine people to ignorance,” wrote writer Serge Joncour.
The jury of Le Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious book prize, has chosen to put off announcing this year’s winner “until further notice” in protest.
Meanwhile, a string of provincial mayors have passed decrees flouting the national ban and authorising small shops, including bookstores, to reopen, citing unfair competition from chains and online stores, notably Amazon.
Amid calls from some writers for civil “disobedience”, the campaign this week prompted the government to ban big stores from selling books but the move has failed to quell the literary revolt with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo backing the call for independent bookshops to reopen.
“Culture is essential; it is a mistake to sacrifice it,” she said. “Parisians really consider their bookshop as an essential local store.”