Monthly Archives: June 2013

Goldmine discovered in Ireland

Seems like then politicians have all disappeared for the silly summer season. The background work for an European banking agreement has run into difficulties. Expectations have been dulled by the participants, that countries such as Ireland, which was bullied into guaranteeing the rogue banks, will be able to participate. Being the Golden Child of the European recovery, gets Enda Kenny lots of “pats on the back” from our European masters, but the hard dividend is a different matter!

While we wait for our masters to return from Playa del Rey, San Tropez, or Garmish Partenkirken, Paddyspiigs has discovered a Goldmine in Ireland to share :-

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See No Evil

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the late...

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the later Queen Marie Antoinette of France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fed up with being hassled by courtiers in Versailles, Marie Antoinette built, safely within the grounds of the palace, a pastoral idyl, a farm called La Hameau de La Reine. Here she lived out a fashionable fantasy of the nobility of that time – to get back in touch with nature, and with simple things. She would dress in peasant clothing, and attend to peasant tasks, including milking the cows. However, this was far from a real farm. It was a tableau vivant. A contrived tapestry. A conjured scene where the real servants spent their time washing and cleaning the farmyard and the cows, so that there was a surgically sterile environment for Marie Antoinette to play out her fantasies. The cows would be walked up and down before she arrived, to clear them out of any bodily substances that would otherwise spoil the pleasures of the Queen, as she sat on her oak milkmaids stool, catching milk in the Manufacture Royale fine porcelain pot.

No doubt Marie Antoinette thought that she was communing with the peasants in one way or another, by doing this; but unfortunately for her, the peasants considered that her sterilised environment was a mockery of their lives, and they hated her even more for it. The addition of a Temple of Love did not help her cause, giving rise to wild rumours of orgies, and other derring-do! Whether or not the queen lost her head in the Hamleau, she certainly lost it on October 16th 1793, at the tender age of 37, ten years after the Hamleau was built.

The first moral of this story is that ten years is a long time in politics. The second moral of the story seems to be that if you have lost touch with the people, the last thing you should do is sanitise their misery!

I was reminded of Marie Antoinette this week when I found that the new aristocracy (in this case represented by the G8, meeting in Lough Erne) will not have to distress themselves looking at the squalor of recessionary buildings in Co. Fermanagh, as they whiz through on their way to the Five Star Resort and Golf Club. Thankfully they will not have to stop for a lamb chop or a rasher in the village of Belcoo, though they might be tempted to do so looking at the wonderous window display. But alas, like the Hamleau de la Reine, the village of Belcoo is a sham. The shop windows are false, the stocked shelves are a mere illusion, the prosperity and bon vivance is a fantasy. Thanks to the Northern Irish Government, the place has been covered in fake sticker-art, to make the village appear as happy as a fake French Hameau in the late 1780’s. The speeding nobility will probably have no more appreciation of the irony, than the ill-fated queen did.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

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Austerity fallout for Germany

It seems that the horrors of the European Economic collapse are being realised in Germany

Eurovision Song Contest (2)

Eurovision Song Contest (2) (Photo credit: geirarne)


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Quo Vadis? Italy at the crossroads

What can be made of Italy? Here is the third biggest economy in the EU, and it is sinking slowly in a sea of debt, neglect and bureaucracy. No other country quite encapsulates the romance of Europe.

Despite its quirky

Map of Italy with EU flag

Map of Italy with EU flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

trains, and appalling TV (thanks Silvio), Italy has always had a special place in the European heart. Italy is the capital of style. Italians ooze that elusive ‘something’ that Northern Europeans can recognise but not emulate.  We love the Tuscan landscapes, and the Umbrian hill towns, Capri, Sorrento, and wonderful Rome itself. We crave the sun drenched evenings, and the simple ‘ambulare’. We love the culture, not just the historical stuff of Roman Legions, or operatic heights, but even more so, the frisson of illegality, of Don Corleone, of borderline resistence to authority. We love imagining a spook at every corner, and a Don in every town. The food, the wine, the community… Such an Idyl, such a life!

On top of this Italy has been one of the industrial powerhouses of Europe, and has seen its GDP more than double between 2000 and 2008. Since then the wheels have started to come off. Like many perfect storms there are many elements, and it isn’t just debt in Italy’s case (although debt is a major problem, now 128% of GDP; thats about two and a half trillion euro to you and me). It seems that the Godfathers on every street corner, are neither  elusive nor romantic. Public works and politics are contaminated at every level by some very non-romantic people. The Ndrangheta butchers are spreading their Calabrian style gangsterism throughout Europe. Rubbish chokes the beautiful city of Naples. Judges and police are assassinated. Public contracts are tainted, and public works are corrupted. The black economy thrives.

The political system appears to have ground to a halt. The cumbersome system of electing a Government makes finding a political solution near impossible.  What other country could throw up a choice between a clown and a septegenarean accused of soliciting underage girls a quarter of his age? What other country could allow such a man to monopolise the media, and dictate the political agenda?

The price for all this is human and very real. Unemployment has doubled in the last five years to three million(12%). Youth unemployment rate is over 40%. Some 89% of youths aged 18-24 are relying on their parents. In a sad statement, Prime Minister Letta announced a Government program to reduce Yourth Unemployment to 30%, and suggested that this was progress. Italian industrial production is down 25% as austerity and debt takes hold. Even the (reverse) takeover of Chrysler by Fiat, seems to be a retreat from Italy by the car giant. Though this would have a far more symbolic than real effect, the optics are terrible.

While Italy is a member of the “PIIGS”, it does not really belong. It is  a founder member of the E.U.. It is in the G8. It is a military-industrial giant. It is synonymous for most of us cold-fish, with being the essence of Europe. If it fails, it is not a Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal or Slovenia. If it fails, so does the concept of European Economic Unity.

English: Portrait of Giacomo Puccini

English: Portrait of Giacomo Puccini (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WIll Italy muddle through? There is a real tragedy worthy of Puccini at play here. Those of us who love Italy for its romance and charm will be hoping that the heroine doesn’t succumb in the last Act!. Those who care for Europe should be equally concerned.



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