LE MONDE
This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
Rue Amelot
Genevieve Mansfield

Manga Mon Amour: On French Passion For Japanese Anime

The visiting American writer pieces together how the French culture of comics (bandes dessinées) mixes with their deepening love of Japanese anime'.

PARIS — When I was in sixth grade, Cartoon Network aired episodes of the TV show Code Lyoko almost every day around 3 p.m. I was a loyal fan — watching practically every day when I got home from school.

In the show, a group of teenagers wage virtual battle against a virus-like artificial intelligence force that threatens to wreak havoc on the physical world. If I had to categorize it, I would place it loosely into the "anime-influenced Western animated series" box. Uninformed as I was, I had simply assumed the show was a real Japanese anime, when in actuality it was a French animated television series. Fast forward a decade: I had just moved to the Paris region and begun work as a middle school English teacher. About halfway through the day, it was time for free reading. As I told my students to take out their reading materials, I was struck as, one by one, virtually all pulled out the same thing: Manga.

This mainstream status in France surprised me after my experience in a U.S. middle school, where being a manga (or anime) fan was typically frowned upon. If you were looking to secure popularity, your book of choice might be the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, or the Uglies series. Manga was more of a niche interest, and as such, frequently viewed as "weird," indicative perhaps of some latent xenophobia. And yet, here were my French students — those aspiring to coolness and the wallflowers alike — flipping eagerly through their copies of Demon Slayer or One Piece.

Of course, in recent years anime and manga have entered more of the mainstream in the United States. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Michael B Jordan are open fans, to the chagrin of those who detest the thought of the genre being overtaken by "normies." But in France, the story is different altogether. Anime and manga are extremely popular, and have held a special place here for a long time, as noted in a recent article in Le Monde.

"All you have to do is look up and you'll see it all around the school," Solal, a 16-year-old highschooler in Brittany, told the French daily. "Tons of people wear anime-inspired t-shirts or sweaters. Some people even have phone cases with characters from their favorite series on them, while others might be a bit more discreet and just have anime on their computer screen."

Manga actually overtook the traditional BD style, becoming the most popular comic sold in France.

France is ranked, in fact, as the second largest consumer of manga outside of Japan. And it's a love affair that goes back decades, to 1978 to be precise, when it appeared on public television as after-school series.

Young viewers tuned into the public television channel of a production group called Club Dorothée to watch series such as Goldorak or Maya the Bee. These lower budget shows would pave the way for well-known shows like Dragon Balland Sailor Moon. Interestingly, anime as a genre was originally met with backlash, as naysayers decried the genre's tendency to oversexualize characters and portray too much gore and violence. And yet in some ways, the bad press served to make anime more popular, and as anime took off, so did manga.

France was already fertile ground for the manga market given its rich history of graphic novels, or as they are known in French: bandes dessinées (BDs for short). Cultural phenomena like The Adventures of Tintin (1929) and Astérix (1959) have marked generations of French people, with some in France even referring to BDs as the "9th Art." Every year, France hosts the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the second largest comic festival in Europe and the third largest in the world, after Japan's Comiket Festival. Several French government officials attend the event each year, and in 2019, Franck Riester, a former culture minister, even gave a speech where he likened the import of the comic festival to that of the Cannes Film Festival in cinema.

France was already fertile ground for the manga market given its rich history of graphic novels — Photo: Visual/ZUMA Wire

Thus, converting to manga was not that big of an ask for an already comic-loving culture. But by 2005, manga actually overtook the traditional BD style, becoming the most popular comic sold in France. And as manga and anime have taken hold of France, the French have started to create their own comics and series — à la française. Publishers that have sought to create "French-style" manga, or Manfras, tend to feature art inspired by Japanese manga while sometimes offering left-to-right reading styles or incorporating a bande dessinée-style hardcover. Their popularity is growing too, both in France and even in Japan, as evidenced by the success of Radiant, a French comic written and illustrated by Tony Valente, and published by Ankama, the French entertainment company.

Satoko Inaba, editorial director at the publishing house, Glénat told Le Monde that publishing houses have been overwhelmed by requests for publication in this style. "We have piles of projects coming in," he said.

This is where Code Lyoko, the show that grabbed my attention so much as an 11-year-old, fits in. Created by French animators Thomas Romain and Tania Palumbo, the illustration style in the show is an homage to manga iconography and drawing style, even though it is presented through 3D CGI animation. But the imagery is simultaneously inspired by scenes from the Paris area, from a Renault production plant in Boulogne-Billancourt to a high school in Sceaux.

Code Lyoko represents the way that manga and anime, adapted with a few French twists, has triumphed in France — to the point even of being beamed into living rooms in the United States, where the show dazzled at least one curious (and unsuspecting) middle-schooler, who could hardly have imagined she'd one day call Paris home.

Society
Le Monde

Bataclan Trial: Fighting Terrorism With Democratic Weapons

The trial opens this week of those accused of masterminding the Nov. 13, 2015 attacks at Parisian cafés and restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall. Le Monde's front-page editorial puts the court hearings into historical context.

—Editorial—

PARIS — Beginning on Wednesday, the French will spend months reliving a night from hell: the attacks of November 13, 2015, which plunged Paris into the abyss of mass terrorism.

The grim ordeal will unfurl through the judicial process. Nine months of hearings are scheduled to take place before the Special Assize Court of Paris — a courtroom inside the Palais de Justice, the busiest appellate court in France located on the Parisian island of Ile de la Cité.

The trial will be filmed for historical preservation, and exceptional security measures will set the scene for a judicial event to match the barbarous night concerned. Twenty defendants, 13 of whom come from the jihadist cell responsible for the operation, will answer for attacks that killed 130 people and injured hundreds more during three brutal hours at the Stade de France stadium, the iconic Bataclan concert hall and at the patios of nearby bars and cafés.

Only one member of the commando, Salah Abdeslam, remains alive. He will be in the booth, facing 1,780 people registered as civil plaintiffs.

Outside the temporary courtroom set up for the trial of the November 2015 Paris attacks — Photo: Lafargue Raphael/Abaca/ZUMA

The sheer quantity of investigation and examination carried out over five years by police and judicial experts will be delivered at the trial. It is now up to the court to retrospectively scrutinize the most deadly attacks ever carried out by the Islamic State in Europe. This will transpire through victims' accounts and testimonies, interrogations conducted by judges and lawyers, the evidence provided, indictments and, finally, judgment.

This is the ultimate weapon that a democracy holds against the threat of terrorist violence: the law, the whole of the law, nothing but the law. It's the moment when a citizen's status transforms from target and victim to artisan of a rational and ethical procedure — the judicial process. Last year, a similar trial for terrorist attacks targeting the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish supermarket Hyper Cacher, provided another example, alongside other past trials of tragic events in recent decades.

As circumstances would have it, the trials of the November 13 attacks open in Paris the same week as the U.S. and world mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It would be risky to establish a direct link between these two events as the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, which continues to stain the 21st century, has numerous ramifications. When looking at the murderous and totalitarian obsession of jihadist ideology, one cannot help but notice the differences in the responses of the United States and Europe.

American powers responded to 9/11 with secret CIA prisons and the abduction of suspects all over the world. Many were subsequently transferred to the military penitentiary camp in Guantanamo, which had been specifically opened for this purpose as it was outside the jurisdiction of American law — and far from the eyes of the public. Twenty years later, like a wound that's impossible to heal, this prison is still open. This is also what the November 13 trial should stand for: showing that it is possible to answer terrorism with democracy.

Future
David Larousserie and Alexandre Piquard

AI, Translation And The Holy Grail Of "Natural Language"

Important digital innovations have been put into practice in the areas of translation, subtitling and text-to-image.

PARIS — When asked about advances in language management through artificial intelligence, Douglas Eck suggests pressing the "subtitle" button on Meet, the video conferencing service used for the interview, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The words of this American engineer, who had come to Paris to work at Google's French headquarters, were then displayed in writing, live and without error, under the window where we see him, headset on. This innovation, unthinkable until recently, is also available for most videos om YouTube, the Google subsidiary. Or on the dictaphone of its latest phones, which offers to automatically transcribe all audio recordings.

These new possibilities are just one example of the progress made in recent years in natural language processing by digital companies, especially giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (GAFA). Some of these innovations are already being put into practice. Others are in the research stage, showcased at annual developer conferences, such as Google I/O (which took place May 18-20) and Facebook F8 (June 2).

Artificial intelligence generates 20 billion translations per day on Facebook

In the crucial area of translation, services such as Google Translate, which has expanded its offer to 104 languages, or the German competitor DeepL now make it possible to translate entire paragraphs in a coherent and fluid manner. Thanks to these advances, Google offers to translate the subtitles of YouTube videos.

Facebook has also come a long way. Artificial intelligence generates 20 billion translations per day on the social network (several dozen languages, including Wolof, are available), compared to only six billion in 2019.

Yann LeCun, Facebook's chief artificial intelligence scientist and a pioneer in the field, says, "This area is very important for Facebook. And we know that simultaneous translations in real time will be possible."

The dream of a machine translating live conversations is within reach. Google Translate comes close, but with a slight delay: You can speak in a language and have the other person hear or read the translation via a smartphone, and even listen to their translated response through headphones, if they are the latest in-house models.

The barriers between text and image are disappearing. With the augmented reality application Google Lens, students can scan a page from a textbook or a handwritten sentence with their smartphone and translate it or get additional information online. A tourist can understand a sign or a menu or get information about a monument.

It's all because software has learned to recognize subjects in images. Tomorrow, we could launch a search with a photo, Google believes. The American company OpenAI is exploring the creation of images from a text description. Its DALL-E prototype offers disturbing representations of invented objects: an alarm clock in the shape of a peach, a pig lamp...

These innovations help make digital technology more accessible to the disabled and illiterate. With the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria), Facebook is studying the simplification of forms, with pictograms and synonyms. In January, the company presented an automatic image description tool for the blind and visually impaired. Google has a voice recognition project for people with speech difficulties, called "Euphonia."

Now, artificial intelligence is capturing more complex sentences than before. Amazon claims that its voice assistant Alexa has, by 2020, learned to understand more variations around simple dialogue, ask questions about unknown words and even anticipate a user's "intent" — and suggest a timer, if they ask for tea brewing time. The Google search engine answers questions like: "Where does the Seine begin?" or "What political party is the newspaper Libération from?"

Pandu Nayak, vice president of search at Google, says, "We could, in the long run, handle queries with complex intentions." For example: "I've already climbed Mount Adams, and I want to climb Mount Fuji, how do I prepare?" The answer would be broken down into sub-queries, with links to training tutorials, gear, maps, videos or content translated from Japanese, although this work remains "very conceptual."


This wave of innovation is enabled by recent scientific breakthroughs in machine learning or deep learning. This technology competes with humans in the game of Go or image recognition. Its principle is to adapt the billions of parameters of a program in order to propose the best association between a set of known "questions" and "answers." In 2017, Google invented a new way to organize them to improve machine translations. Called "Transformer," it was quickly adopted by Facebook, the Chinese Baidu, the French-American Systran and the German DeepL.

"The last time there was such a breakthrough was five years ago, with long short-term memory [LSTM] architectures, used in voice assistants," says Douglas Eck, the Google engineer. In 2018 "self-supervised learning" was added to this breakthrough: Google showed that a Transformer could do without human supervision to "learn" a language. Until now, however, to find the right value for the program's parameters, software needed vast databases annotated by humans.

The system, named "BERT" (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), "learns" to fill in blank sentences, then proves to be excellent in grammar exercises, questions and answers. It inspired Facebook's system, named "Roberta;" then OpenAI's GPT-3, with its 15 billion parameters and 500 billion words ingested (100 times the English version of Wikipedia); and the Chinese system Wu Dao 2.0, which is already 10 times larger.

Thomas Wolf, co-founder of Hugging Face, a company specializing in the distribution of these models, says "Faced with too much information and text, we will increasingly need these language models to find our way around."

The prospects are promising, but also dizzying because these technologies will be used in headphones, in homes, in cars. The concerns have been gathered in an article co-authored by Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, two researchers in ethics whose dismissal by Google has caused controversy. The main concern is about the "biases" — racist, sexist, homophobic — that these softwares can reproduce, or even amplify, after training on masses of texts from the internet.

For example, chatbots can slide toward conspiracy themes. In response, Google says it excludes "offensive" parts of the web, such as certain forums, from its training data. "As these systems grow, it's our responsibility to make sure they stay fair," says Eck. Although he prefers to look for solutions "on a case-by-case basis" depending on usage, rather than trying to correct all biases in the datasets. Others, including the international collective Big Science, want to use a better documented and less biased body of text.

The main concern is about the "biases" — racist, sexist, homophobic — that these softwares can reproduce.

Another limitation of such software is its focus on the most used languages on the internet, which makes it less effective on "low-resource" languages, due to a lack of training data. Digital giants are trying to mitigate this imbalance. In October 2020, Facebook presented a software capable of translating 100 languages, without going through English, which is currently mandatory.

The "big language models" are also denounced for their gigantism. Gebru and Mitchell point out an environmental risk related to the energy consumption involved, even if the figures are debated. The authors, who describe current software as "stochastic parrots," say that investments should be made in less data-intensive models.

All agree that these systems do not really "understand" the language. "The results are sometimes bluffing, but we also see that the generated texts end up containing errors that are easy to see. These systems have no common sense or knowledge of the world, unlike children," says Yann LeCun, Facebook's chief AI scientist, who is looking for ways to improve.

In the meantime, the impressive growth of computer-assisted language will be accompanied by increasing questions. Discussions around social issues — will children continue to learn foreign languages — will be joined by regulatory debates. Like any complex algorithm, these software programs will have to be made more transparent and understandable. We can anticipate questions of responsibility in case of error: A Palestinian man was arrested because of a mistranslation in a Facebook post, Gebru points out.

The automatic moderation of content by algorithms can also infringe on freedom of expression and is the subject of regulation projects. In its rules on artificial intelligence adopted in April, the European Commission proposes to adapt the framework according to the level of risk involved. For example, it recommends that internet users be informed when they are conversing online with a software program and not with... a human.

Society
Hélène Jouan

Poutine, The Greasy Canadian Delicacy Tempting Global Diners

The Quebecois soft cheese fries drowned in brown sauce, wants to make it as the "next culinary trend" worldwide

MONTREAL — Some national culinary "treasures' were never destined for export, which only adds to their status at home. That's how many have seen poutine, a dish composed of soft French fries drowned in gravy and topped with molten cheese curds. It's found everywhere in Canada, from upscale restaurants in Montreal to fast food joints in Vancouver, from highway chains to village snack bars where they're served on traditional aluminum plates. It's a link that culturally unites an entire nation, alongside ice hockey and Leonard Cohen.

Undeniably hearty and of questionable taste, it seems the meal was specifically concocted to be enjoyed after a hockey game or a snowshoeing trip at -20°C. Some Quebecois, however, are convinced that poutine is "the next global culinary trend," like the hot dog, the hamburger, pizza, tacos or sushi.

"Poutine has become international in less than 50 years, while pizza took more than a century to establish itself," says Sylvain Charlebois, a researcher in agri-food sciences at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and author of Poutine Nation, a book subtitled "The Glorious Rise of an Unpretentious Dish." Hot on the heels of his subject, he tasted poutine in Lille, Shanghai, Mooloolaba (in Australia), Dubai and Cleveland, "with a wine-based sauce and powdered mozzarella: disgusting," he says. "But this cultural appropriation is the price of fame."

Café Idéal, Warwick, the birthplace of poutine — Photo: La vraie histoire de la poutine/Facebook

Already adorned with lobster, pulled pork or breaded chicken in certain parts of Canada, the dish can be adapted to all gastronomic traditions — a "lobster, foie gras, golden flake" poutine at the prohibitive price of $417 per serving was even created in Toronto during the International Film Festival in 2018. "The simplicity of its recipe allows for all culinary fantasies," says Sylvain Charlebois.

However, its origins are 100% Quebecois. After several years of investigation, Charlebois is able to confirm that poutine was born in 1957: At Café Idéal, in Warwick (a town in the Montérégie of Quebec), a certain Jean-Guy Lainesse asked the restaurant owner Fernand Lachance to serve him cheese curds on his fries. "That will make you a damn poutine," Fernand allegedly retorted. Does the word originate from the English "pudding"? Whatever the case, Sylvain Charlebois believes that the popularity of this rural and working-class dish was "a symbol of rebellion" touted by French Canadians against the richer, more powerful and urban English Canadians of the time.

A trained saucier added gravy to the recipe.

It was not until 1964 that the "modern poutine" was born, when a trained saucier, Jean-Paul Roy, added gravy to the recipe. A few ambassadors ensured its success: A major Quebec City restaurant added the dish to its menu, Burger King began serving it alongside its traditional hamburgers — today it's considered a "must" in Canadian McDonald's — and one Ontario man took it abroad by launching the Smoke's Poutinerie franchise. The brand now has 120 locations and promises to open 1,300 more soon around the world, including 800 in the United States.

Poutine's growing success is a boon for Quebec. Luc Boivin runs a cheese factory in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and specializes in the production of "cheese curds," an essential ingredient in the recipe. Cheddar cheese is made from cow's milk, which has a rubbery texture the producer refines so the curds don't melt under the hot sauce. Boivin, who also has a chain of "poutine counters' in Quebec, is one of the dish's most ardent advocates.

A Burger King combination with poutine — Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0/Creative Commons

Since the day a poutine made on the French island of Corsica that featured local sausage became a hit, Boivin has been convinced the dish has huge international potential. But he feels is now urgent to protect poutine's identity in order to keep its heritage alive. "Just as the whole world knows that pizza is Italian, everyone should know that poutine is Quebecois," he says. The ideal would be for poutine to make it onto the UNESCO World Heritage list, a label that the French baguette now enjoys.

The cheese factory CEO is also aware that exporting his cheese curds, which are easy to freeze, is a big opportunity for his industry. He is trying to recruit his cheese-making colleagues to join a unified promotion and marketing campaign. In order to strengthen the brand image of the Quebec delicacy, which is still largely associated with the calories it contains, he is already imagining the creation of a "poutine brotherhood" based on French pseudo-medieval culinary guilds, to encourage new poutine recipes while preserving its identity. "When we associate poutine with Quebec like we associate the Eiffel Tower with Paris, the bet will have paid off," he says.

Society
Laure Stephan

Jordanian Women Break Workplace Barriers To Gain Independence

In a country plagued by economic crisis, women are entering professions usually reserved for men. Against societal expectations, they are striving for independence.

AMMAN — At the end of the production line at the Combaj factory, Inas Shenawi checks the packaging of detergent bottles. Neither her degree in accounting nor her previous work experience had prepared her to work as a supervisor in a factory. But the 34-year-old Jordanian has no regrets: Shenawi says she is thriving and plans to climb the ladder at the factory in suburban Amman, where she first began working in spring 2020.

The current harsh economic crisis in Jordan made her take the leap into a job not common for women, but one that assures her rights and stability. "I can support my family, ensure our dignity," says Shenawi. As a single woman, her role as family breadwinner became crucial after her father could no longer work because of a heart attack.

Nivine Madi, a 35-year-old Jordanian mother of two, values her financial independence. She works in the butchery department of the Kareem supermarket in Zarka, not far from the capital. She is the first female butcher in the country.

One of the obstacles to women's employment is what's called the "culture of shame."

But these women's monthly salaries remain low: above the minimum income (260 Jordanian dinars, about $360), but below the average salary (about $650, what a teacher earns). However, they consider their work beneficial.

Fatima Khashqa, a Syrian refugee who works at Safe Techno Plast, a plastic utensil factory, says she has more confidence in herself now. But it wasn't easy pushing open the doors of industries that, unlike textiles or food, do not have a tradition of employing women. Dua'a, a 22-year-old Jordanian, and Amal, a 20-year-old Syrian, remember the shock of discovering "a man's world" in the electrical appliances factory, Refco, where they were hired. Since then, they have gotten used to it, even if these jobs are not very socially valued.

The low employment rate of women in Jordan has been the subject of countless studies: The percentage of working women is less than 15%, a figure lower than in neighboring Arab countries. And it's not for lack of education. Enrolment in girls' school has been steadily increasing, and more female students are attending university than their male peers. When women do manage to enter the workforce, the majority are in skilled jobs. They are also very active in education and healthcare fields. Renowned women lawyers have even been pioneers in the fight for social justice.

A Jordanian women stands above a view of the Old Town of Amman — Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/ZUMA

But traditions are strong. For one, there's the persistent association between women and the home: 57% of Jordanians surveyed in 2014 felt that the children of a working woman suffered from this situation. Women also face various obstacles, such as access to reliable, safe transportation and discrimination that hinders their workplace integration.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the country's already existing economic crisis. Unemployment has reached 25% and is twice as high among young people. Because the labor market has not been able to create enough new jobs for more than a decade, various recent national initiatives have emphasized the vocational sector as a pathway to employment and emancipation. It's of growing interest to Western donors, who are focusing on women's employment as well as the integration of Syrian refugees — for political reasons in order to avoid emigration to Europe.

Nivine Madi, Inas Shenawi and Fatima Khashqa have been able to find their current jobs through vocational training provided by the Business Development Center (BDC), a Jordanian service organization financed by the French Development Agency (AFD). Women represent more than 40% of the people trained so far through the Tanmyeh ("development" in Arabic) initiative, which is part of a larger program to finance development projects in countries affected by the Syrian crisis (Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey). The majority of those who have found a job after their training have a contract and social security. They are also regularly monitored by the BDC team. But the challenge is to make these jobs sustainable.

It's a cultural barrier for women who come from conservative backgrounds.

One of the obstacles to women's employment is what's called the "culture of shame." Nivine Madi and Inas Shenawi explain that this represents the stigma associated with manual labor and the scorn cast on women who practice "unconventional" jobs. While working as a butcher, Madi had to deal with the harsh remarks of customers who felt that a woman didn't belong behind the counter, or even refused to let her serve them.

Breaking free from social norms is also a personal struggle. Because she is married, Fatima Khashqa — who came from rural Syria and studied through high school — was initially more embarrassed by the mixed gender training in the factory she was to join. It's a cultural barrier for women, Syrian or Jordanian, who come from conservative backgrounds and worry about their reputations or fear harassment.

Khashqa says she finally feels "safe" today. Her employer, Abdel Hafez Mouaffaq, an industrialist from Aleppo who runs the company Safe Techno Plast, has chosen to separate the spaces between men and women as much as possible in order to prevent the latter's reluctance to female colleagues.


Two women watch a film at a drive-in cinema in Amman, Jordan — Photo: Mohammad Abu Ghosh/Xinhua/ZUMA

"We only mix with the male workers we know, not with those who are passing through," says Mouaffaq. "In Syria, I already employed women. I think they have to work to take care of their children. Besides, women are more stable."

To help these women, some employers are looking for solutions. Before the pandemic, Mouaffaq sought to identify a place to open a daycare center, perhaps to share with other nearby factories. An amendment to the labor law expanded the requirements for companies to provide this service, a move considered essential by women's employment advocates. Another revision is that equal pay for men and women is now enshrined in law. But this change will still have to be enforced.

The crisis does not prevent the women from planning ahead. Nivine Madi is determined to open her own butcher shop, employing only women. Inas Shenawi aspires to become a commercial attaché in the company where she works, with a better salary. Fatima Khashqa would like to take further training. But already, she says, the progress at the factory is a stamp of success.

Society
Robin Richardot

Emily Out Of Paris: French Quartier Is Sick Of Netflix Show

The first season of the Netflix show Emily in Paris was a boon for some businesses in the French capital's 5th arrondissement, where it takes place. But with production returning for Season Two, many local residents are exasperated.

PARIS — At the foot of the Pantheon, in Paris's 5th arrondissement, the trucks are back. A few steps away, the small and usually quiet Place de l'Estrapade is animated by the coming and going of cameras, projectors and costumes. All the hubbub is because of a project called "Charade." That's at least what the many posters hanging around the neighborhood explain, but that is in itself a charade — a cover to keep the paparazzi at bay.

The real story is that Emily is back in town. Emily in Paris, that is, the hit Netflix series that first aired in October 2020 and is currently shooting its second season. The recipient of two Golden Globe nominations, the show follows the adventures of a young woman from Chicago who moves to Paris. It's marked by just about every cliché in the book, starting with the scenery.

"The Place de l'Estrapade is quite cinematic in its architecture. Everything lends itself to this glamorous and Parisian atmosphere," says production manager Jérôme Albertini.

Since May 24, the production has occupied the premises (already used for the first season, in August 2019) a few days a month. And among residents, annoyance swells with each return trip.

Laurence, who is 50, has lived here for 37 years, between the restaurant Terra Nova and the bakery. Both establishments are used as backdrops for the series.

"There is no compensation for the inhabitants who can no longer park, nor go out or return home freely," says Laurence. One evening, at the beginning of July, she had the misfortune of taking a souvenir photo with her phone. "A guy came up to me, demanded that I delete the photo and even took my phone to confirm the total deletion of this unfortunate picture," she says.

With Emily in Paris, we discovered the arrogance of blockbusters.

In June, her husband was simply looking for parking. With seven streets in the neighborhood and part of the Pantheon square closed off, he expressed his displeasure to a member of the production. "If you're not happy, you can go live in the provinces," he was told.

Virginie, a pharmacist a few blocks away, is equally fed up with Emily in Paris. She talks about problems with the production team because she is "not allowed to walk on their sidewalk." One evening, she and her husband were on their way to dine with friends at the Place de l'Estrapade when they were stopped.

"They didn't want to believe us," she explains. "Finally, a security guard escorted us to the door to check that we were going to the right place."

Lily Collins on the set of Emily in Paris — Photo: Official Emily in Paris Instagram Account: @EmilyinParis

Laurence says that people here are used to the presence of film crews. "But with Emily in Paris, we discovered the arrogance of blockbusters. Because they pay the shopkeepers and the parking, they think they have bought the whole neighborhood."

Recently, this area of the 5th arrondissement also became the set of La Page Blanche, an adaptation of the comic strip by Boulet and Pénélope Bagieu. "But they're at least more discreet than the American productions," says Stéphane, a hairdresser on rue de l'Estrapade.

Neverthless, Albertini, the Emily in Paris production manager, says no complaint has reached him, though he does recognize the inconvenience caused by the parking.

It is above all the shopkeepers who are the most satisfied.

"We would consider paying the parking for the residents to compensate them," he says. So far, though, the producers have made no effort to do so. As far as relations with the arrondissement's city hall, everything is also going well. And it's true that some residents find the filming "amusing" and are even pleased that it "gives life to the neighborhood."

But it is above all the shopkeepers who are the most satisfied. Tonka, a baker whose establishment appears in the series, understands that residents are frustrated, but doesn't hide the fact that it's been good for business. "I make my usual turnover thanks to the production's compensation without having to produce a single baguette," she says.

The bakery also benefits from the free marketing. Tonka still can't believe it: "It's unimaginable how many people it brought in. I don't know how much I would have had to spend to get such worldwide publicity."

It's the same situation a few feet away, at the restaurant Terra Nova, a key location renamed "Les Deux Compères" in the series. A new, young and trendy clientele has shown up on the establishment's red benches. Terra Nova has even added an "Emily menu" as a nod to the show.

Many are already looking forward to the release of Season 2. In October 2020, hundreds of Emily in Paris fans crowded Place de l'Estrapade to take pictures of the filming locations. They returned again this summer.

Maëlys, a 14-year-old living in Créteil, a suburb, is there to take pictures. Her mother Nérysa says, "She is a fan, we came just for that."

The teenager is a little disappointed not to have seen the star of the series, Lily Collins. This was her last opportunity to witness the shooting, which officially wrapped up on July 30. For the local residents, it didn't come a moment too soon.

Geopolitics
Morgane Le Cam

Jihad Rising: Will Afghan Failure Repeat Itself In Africa?

In Mali and elsewhere in northern and western Africa, al-Qaeda factions have been held back with the help of the French military. Fears are rising of a future pullout after watching the debacle in Kabul.

Iyad Ag Ghali did not wait for the fall of Kabul to celebrate the Taliban victory in Afghanistan. The jihadist leader of the West African branch of al-Qaeda (Group To Support Islam and Muslims, or GSIM) broke his long silence on Aug. 10, not having spoken since November 2019. In an audio message, he paid tribute to the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, for the withdrawal of the invading U.S. forces and their allies." He said the reversal "is the culmination of two decades of patience."

It is no coincidence that the Taliban's relentless offensive resonates to the far reaches of the Sahel region in northern and western Africa. When GSIM was created in 2017, Iyad Ag Ghali pledged allegiance not only to al-Qaeda, but also to Afghan Islamists. The Taliban and the Sahelian fighters are cut from the same cloth. "They share on-the-ground insurgency know-how, which is a byproduct of the al-Qaeda matrix," says Yvan Guichaoua, a researcher at the School of International Studies at the University of Kent in Brussels. "They also have the same ultimate goal: the application of Sharia law."

GSIM jihadists were not the only ones in the region keeping close tabs on Afghanistan's shift back into Taliban control. On Aug. 16, Malians were particularly disturbed to see images of Afghans clinging to military planes as they took off from the Kabul airport. For the past decade, Mali has been living under the threat of jihadists, sometimes those affiliated with al-Qaeda, other times with the Islamic State (ISIS). This is despite a French anti-terrorist intervention launched in January 2013 (first Operation "Serval" then Operation "Barkhane") at the request of the Malian government and under a mandate from the United Nations.

Even though public opinion toward French troops has become increasingly hostile, fears of a possible power vacuum remain. "Like the Americans who fled Afghanistan without asking for help, the French and the peacekeepers who are in Mali will one day run away and leave us face to face with the terrorist menace," said Cheick Oumar Konaré, a well-known Malian lawyer, in a televised debate broadcast on Africable on Aug. 15.

We should understand now what the consequences of a hasty, uncoordinated departure would be.

"Let's learn from this Afghan failure, while there is still time," says Tiébilé Dramé, who served as Malian foreign minister under Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, known as "IBK," who was overthrown by a coup d'état last year. "What lessons do the images from the Kabul airport teach us? For years, activists have regularly called for the departure of foreign troops, ironically also echoing the demands of warlords. But we must face reality. Foreign troops are doing a useful job. We should understand now what the consequences of a hasty, uncoordinated departure would be."

But this scenario is not on the agenda. Unlike the United States in Afghanistan, France is not about to disengage from the Sahel. Though President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of the Barkhane mission as an external operation on June 10, a "profound transformation" of the French military presence in the Sahel is set to take its place. The beginning of the withdrawal, at the end of 2021, will be gradual. While it will concern at least 40% of the troops (at a currently unknown date), between 2,500 and 3,000 soldiers will remain on the ground, operating within the framework of an international fight against terrorism.

Operation Barkhane troops in Tofalaga, Burkina Faso, in November 2019 — Photo: Philippe De Poulpiquet/Maxppp/ZUMAZUMA

However, the closure of French military bases in northern Mali (Timbuktu, Kidal and Tessalit) by 2022 is a concern. At the start of the war in 2012, Malian soldiers were forced to abandon some of their positions to a coalition of jihadist and rebel groups. Thiss begs the question: 10 years later, will these towns be retaken by the jihadists once the French bases are closed? The issue is on the minds of many observers because the Malian army, despite its nine years of Western support (i.e. training, weapons, funding), still seems unable to compete with an enemy that is spreading its influence southward.

In his Aug. 10 speech, Iyad Ag Ghali was quick to point out the "bitter failure" of France, arguing that victory was near. However, the battle is far from over for GSIM, as it differs from the Taliban in a few crucial ways. The group "does not have the government experience of the Taliban [in power in Kabul from 1996 to 2001] and remains, for the moment, the head of a jihadist insurgency with a very limited popular base," explains Rida Lyammouri, a researcher at the Moroccan think tank Policy Center for the New South. Another contrast is that GSIM does not have the unwavering support of a neighboring state, like the Taliban with Pakistan.

Even though the contexts and issues differ, Western interventionism nevertheless seems to fall into the same trap. "Whether it be a lack of specific knowledge of organizations or false interpretations: the experts fail to see the big picture," says Gilles Dorronsoro, a professor of political science at the University of Paris I and a specialist in Afghanistan who also conducts research on Malian institutions. "The same organizations produce assessments in Afghanistan as in Mali, and they typically come to the same conclusions. The circuit is closed. Part of the problem is that experts are judged by how they integrate decision makers and how much funding they can obtain rather than in building democratic institutions."

New political forces must emerge that correspond to the real aspirations of the people. This is scary for the West.

Elie Tenenbaum, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations also blames the effects of a "war economy" on undermining societal progress. "International aid increased suddenly, even though these countries did not have a state or government strong enough to manage it. This created an increase in corruption, a curse that has notably spread within the armies that makes the fight against terrorists even more complex."

Yvan Guichaoua says civilians have felt so disenchanted they have even switched over to the Islamist camp, less out of conviction than out of a lack of credible political alternative. "We looked the other way regarding their governance problems. And yet, these governments have been largely discredited by their own population," he explains.

"New political forces must emerge that correspond to the real aspirations of the people. This is scary for the West, because they will not necessarily be able to control them and their ideas could be similar to those of the Islamists, but they will be the only ones able to provide a sufficient counterweight," says Elie Tenenbaum, before offering a lesson from the Afghan crisis that could be useful in the Sahel: "Be modest in your ambitions. The international actors who are more focused on protecting their own interests must have their influence reduced to just enough to get by. The rest should depend on local actors."

food / travel
Ophélie Neiman

French Wine, Cancelled? The Sexist World Of France's Winemakers

Discriminatory comments and practices still reign supreme in wine cellars. But the women of the French wine industry are determined to break down old barriers.

PARIS — On June 8, a Paris court rendered a decision that satisfied both parties involved, though in very different ways. After the wine magazine En magnum published a caricature of a scantily clad woman promising a dazed male wine merchant that should he order a pallet of wine bottles, she would "take off the top." In response, female wine seller, Fleur Godart, filed a complaint on the grounds that she had been "publicly insulted because of her sex." The judges considered the action to be legally inadmissible because the caricature did not feature an "identifiable" person. Logically, the director of the magazine was pleased with the decision. But, surprisingly, Godart was also claiming victory.

For her, she had won in a sense because in rendering its judgment, the court qualified the drawing as sexist. "The misogynistic nature of the drawing was officially recognized," Godart told French daily Libération. "That was my main motivation ... I think that this will make magazines in the wine profession start to think twice before publishing drawings like this in the future."

Sandrine Goeyvaerts, wine merchant, author, journalist specializing in wines and spirits, poses for a photo — Photo: Creative Commons User Debby Termonia

In light of the #MeToo movement and evolving social attitudes, the importance of denouncing sexism has become a priority in various industries — and that includes the wine industry. Still, the challenge is all the more difficult in the world of wine, which has been overwhelmingly male in the past while now rapidly growing to include more women. On top of that, the industry itself is founded in many ways on sexist attitudes and beliefs towards women.

Take, for example, the age-old tradition of prohibiting women from entering wine cellars. The practice is rooted in a superstition that women's periods could make the wine go bad (powerful witches that we are). And, surprisingly, this tradition did not end in the Middle Ages: A recent female wine employee recounted her experience with a former manager on the Instagram account @Pay_tonpinard: "At the winery where I used to work, the general manager wouldn't let me access the cellar during the harvest season because "You never know, if you get your period, you'll screw it up." I told him that he didn't need me and my period to make his wine disgusting." The Instagram page, which encourages speaking out against harassment and sexism in the wine world, is full of similar anecdotes.

"But it's not just the vocabulary. It's also the way expressions are used," said Sandrine Goeyvaerts, a wine merchant and sommelier.

In reality, women have always been a part of the wine industry. But, they were mostly invisible. "Since the creation of modern vineyards, women have been used for small jobs in the vineyards, or for administrative tasks," explained Goeyvaerts. "But they have been excluded from the cellars, from every part of the process that is "prestigious' because even though wine is made in the vineyard, we always turn to the cellar master as the expert."

Wine is frequently qualified as feminine or masculine.

Goeyvaerts, who is a Belgium native, is the most prominent French-speaking feminist figure in the wine world. She is both adored and abhorred on social media, where just a single one of her tweets or photos can provoke hundreds of reactions. She co-founded "Women Do Wine," an association meant to bring together female wine professionals, and give them a larger platform to the media. She also published the book, Vigneronnes, in 2019, a collection of portraits of "100 women who make a difference in the vineyards of France." Her next book comes out in September, titled "The Manifesto for Inclusive Wine."

En magnum's cartoon that led Godart to sue the magazine for sexism — Photo: Instagram User @paye_tonpinard

In a phone interview, Goeyvaerts explained that she wanted to write about the language of wine, and how it influences behavior. "It's not just the vocabulary. It's also the way expressions are used," she explained. "There are the clichés that wine is frequently qualified as feminine or masculine. A powerful or structured wine is always linked to manliness. But for me, a strong frame makes me think more of a house, just like power makes me imagine a car. But nonetheless, the clichés about the feminine and the masculine persist." It does not take much effort to notice how descriptions of wine borrow largely from the feminine repertoire: the wine has a dress, thighs, even suppleness. "When we use these terms, we give the impression of paying homage to the woman by speaking of her curves, her flesh," she says. "But the wine does not personify a woman herself, but the pieces of woman ... a reductive view of the fragmented parts of her body, which is very symptomatic of the heteronormative male gaze."

All of this reinforces the idea that women in wine are still seen as exceptions, described using metaphors and clichés: "We are treated like unicorns. The media feels compelled to single us out ... to talk about my nail polish or to point out aspects of my femininity in ways that aren't always comfortable." Yes, it is time for wine to be inclusive too.

Economy
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

A Birds-Eye Look At The Global Cryptocurrency Revolution

The products originally of America's tech industry, Bitcoin and other digital currencies have since been adopted around the world. Nigeria, Vietnam and the Philippines now have some of the highest rates of cryptocurrency use, and many local entrepreneurs and governments are trying to cash in by building their own domestic coins.

Not all of these attempts have been successful. But some are providing innovative solutions to adapt to specific needs and forge local competitors in the global economic marketplace. From Cambodia to El Salvador, here are five examples of where crypto could prove to be the currency of the future.

Africa

In 2018, Afro was created with the goal of becoming Africa's first cryptocurrency, with founders that include lawyers, tech experts and artists. While Afro has only signed a treaty with one African country, Côte d'Ivoire, it now boasts 10,000 transactions a year. And there are other African cryptos looking to gain ground across the continent, including NuruCoin and Akoin (yes the coin of Senegalese-American singer Akon).

  • Fondation Afro is currently in talks with central banks in countries including Benin, Burundi, Cameroon and Tanzania. The absence of clear regulations, together with fears around the instability of crypto has slowed its development. And yet, unlike in the rest of the world, small commerce, rather than financial traders, has led much of cryptocurrency's growth in Africa. As David Nataf, the co-founder of Fondation Afro, tells Jeune Afrique, "We are laying the foundations. It's a bit like when the internet started out, it's brand new."
  • Afro has set its sights on Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa, where large populations might be interested in a currency that more easily facilitates remittances, an important component of many African economies. Cryptocurrencies can speed up transfers and lower transaction costs. Exchanges can be conducted with just a smartphone, which is significant given that they are the main (if not only way) many across the continent access the internet.
  • Fears of pirarcy persist — note the case of the two South African brothers who disappeared with $3.6 billion from their crypto investment platform. But technology like Afro could potentially help the 80% of Africans who don't have bank accounts "leapfrog" in terms of development by going past traditional monetary systems.

Asia

With some of the world's most advanced digital currencies, many Asian countries are looking at how technology can fortify existing currencies and payment systems. These central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) provide a more formalized (and potentially stable) way for paperless transactions, but also raise fears around government surveillance.

  • In October 2020, Cambodia launched a blockchain-based mobile payment system called Bakong, named after the Angkor Wat temple. The digital wallet facilitates payments with QR codes and even works for those without bank accounts. Serey Chea, managing director of the National Bank of Cambodia, tells Le Monde, "Our goal is for this platform to help strengthen financial inclusion and reduce social inequalities, as very few people have a bank account in the countryside [more than 75% of the population lives in rural areas]."
  • When it comes to the world's second largest economy (and the place that invented paper money), China is hoping its e-yuan can be a powerful competitor to Bitcoin. China has already cracked down on cryptocurrency mining and the e-yuan is a departure from the governmentless cryptocurrencies that aren't bound to local laws or monitoring — essentially eliminating the anonymity of crypto purchases. In October 2020, a test run of 10-million e-yuan was given to 50,000 Shenzhen residents to spend in 3,300 partner shops. Since then, 200-million e-yuan have been distributed.
  • Elsewhere, the Philippines has approved 17 cryptocurrency exchanges and, similar to many African countries, many are focusing on facilitating remittances. Satoshi Citadel Industries created its remittance unit Rebit to support the some 2.3 million Filipinos working abroad sending billions of dollars of money back home each year. Given that the Philippines and many other developing economies still have smaller demands for Bitcoin, the returns can end up being greater than the invested amounts.

Latin America

Amidst economic turmoil caused by the pandemic and widespread inflation, many Latin American countries are exploring the potential of cryptocurrencies for more durable development. Politicians from Paraguay to Mexico have even taken part in the "laser eye" meme to express their support of this technology.

  • In June 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to adopt Bitcoin as its legal tender. The goal is to help the struggling Central American country (which has experienced low GDP growth) through modernization and digitalization. President Nayib Bukele — the man behind the "Bitcoin law" — says he hopes El Salvador will become a hotspot for Bitcoin mining, supported by its vast geothermal resources. The government is even offering $30 in Bitcoin to any citizen who starts using its new crypto wallet, Chivo.
  • El Salvador is not alone in the craze, with many of the region's largest economies leading the charge: In Brazil, the Mercado Bitcoin exchange traded $5 billion in the first quarter of 2021, and the Bitso (Mexico) and Ripio (Argentina) exchanges are also expanding. Brazil also announced early this year that it's launching a Central Bank Digital Currency.
  • On a broader level, Latam Coin Protocol is hoping to improve the regional economic outlook with its Latam Coin. More than just a cryptocurrency, Latin Coin Protocol also includes a charity with the goal of social and productive development. Given that Latam Coin launched just this past June, it's too early to tell if it will prove to be a powerful crypto player.
Geopolitics
Ghazal Golshiri

Next In Kabul: Locals Brace For Taliban Rule

In the western part of the Afghan capital, inhabitants live in fear, but they are still not prepared to accept Taliban takeover.

As the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday and President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan, Reuters reported that the Islamist militants are close to taking over the country two decades after they were overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion. Over the past week Le Monde spoke with locals in the Afghan capital about their fears of what Taliban rule would mean:

KABUL — As you enter Pule Surkh cultural center's cafe in a western district of Kabul, the reality of daily life in Afghanistan hits you immediately. The entrance walls are adorned with a dozen photos of young women and men, some smiling, some wearing serious faces, eyes fixed on the camera lens.

"These are journalists killed by the Taliban," explains Shahed Farhosh, the 29-year-old who manages the cultural center. "This is Sami Faraz. He was dispatched to cover the aftermath of an attack on a stadium in western Kabul [in 2018]. He started broadcasting the images live. But the second bomber blew himself up next to him. After that, everything went black. No more pictures. No more sound."

Farhosh then points to the other pictures and tells the story of each journalist. He stops. "The photo of Dawa Khan Menapal is missing here. I am going to add it soon."


Taliban militants are seen inside Ghazni city in eastern Afghanistan, only 95 miles from Kabul — Photo: Xinhua via ZUMA Press

Menapal was killed last Friday, August 6, by the Taliban. He was a former journalist who had served as deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Two days earlier, the insurgents had vowed to carry out "retaliatory" operations against senior government officials in Kabul in response to aerial bombardments by the Afghan army.

Since May, the Taliban have been on the offensive as international forces have withdrawn. U.S. troops' departure, agreed to in the February 2020 peace agreement between Washington and the Taliban, is set to be completed by August 31. On August 8, the Taliban seized a large part of the strategic city of Kunduz in the north. The movement has now claimed several regional capitals, four of which it captured in just three days. More than half of the country's territory is now in the hands of its fighters. Never before have the inter-Afghan negotiations in Doha seemed so far from a peaceful settlement.

"Afghanistan has become the land of the dead," sighs Farhosh. "There is no way of knowing what lies ahead." Before the fighting intensified, the slender young Afghan was optimistic enough to rent this building and turn it into a cultural center. The Pule Surkh neighborhood, known for its open-minded attitude, as evidenced by the freedom with which women dress in public, is home to several lively streets filled with cafes and restaurants. It could have attracted a loyal and sizable clientele for Farhosh's community center. But the Taliban's rapid advances and targeted killings have ruined his plans.

Girls are forced to marry Taliban fighters.

Reports are spreading online about the horrors committed by the Taliban in their newly acquired land, further spreading public panic. Farhosh, who has three younger sisters, explains that just like under the last Taliban regime, women cannot go out on their own and must be accompanied by a male guardian. They can't work either. "Those who break these laws will be whipped with a cable. Some girls are forced to marry Taliban fighters," he added. "A few days after one girl's forced marriage, she came back and asked her father, 'Did you give me to one man or many?'"

In the afternoon, after work, his friends come to drink tea. But their conversations revolve around the war. "We are all in a daze. We look at each other and ask, "What should we do?" As for me, I've decided to carry on like this and keep doing what I can. If I have to, I may even take up arms. Whatever happens will happen. Even if it means death."


Activist and entrepreneur Nilofar Ayoubi — Photo: Nilofar Ayoubi Official Facebook Account

It was this resilience and desire to live in the moment that led him to join the crowds chanting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great" in Arabic) on the Kabul streets the night of August 3. Rahmatullah Nabil, the former head of Afghan intelligence, posted on social media asking the public to show support for Afghanistan's exhausted soldiers. His goal was to boost soldiers' morale, many of whom have been worn down by the intensity of fighting, lack of supplies and authorities' poor management of the crisis.

Nilofar Ayoubi climbed to the roof of her building and sang with her neighbors. For the past few days, along with some 400 other women, this 26-year-old entrepreneur has sought out ways to change the bleak picture that is Afghanistan today. The group launched a campaign on social media using the hashtags #AfghanLivesMatter or #SanctionPakistan, before a United Nations Security Council meeting on August 6. "The goal was for the UN and the international community to react and help prevent the situation from deteriorating even more," says the tall, elegantly dressed woman.

They will burn down everything we have built in these 20 years.

Since the fall of Kunduz, Nilofar Ayoubi has begun to lose hope. "That city is my homeland, and many of my family members still live there," says the mother of three young children.

Her uncle's car was shot at as he tried to flee Kunduz with his children, leaving it riddled with bullet holes. It was her own uncle who reported to her what happened in Kunduz: the Islamist fighters set fire to many commercial centers and houses, destroying the infrastructure of the city. "If the Taliban come to Kabul, they will burn down everything we have built in these 20 years. As I look around, I wonder, what could I take with me? My three children and maybe some clothes."

Furious at President Ghani, who she sees as living "in a bubble," Ayoubi now finds herself defending the former warlords she once despised for their atrocities, opportunism, corruption and nepotism. This includes Abdul Rashid Dostum, the influential general from the north of the country, and Ismail Khan, who was able to mobilize militias in Herat to prevent the fall of the city a few days ago.

"I don't forgive them for their past, but at least today they don't disappoint us. They are fighting so that Afghanistan is not lost," says the entrepreneur. "Ghani doesn't care. He has surrounded himself with corrupt people, economically and morally. They all have foreign passports and can leave whenever they want."

Coming from a wealthy family, Ayoubi has the option of moving to Turkey or the United Arab Emirates, but is not ready to leave."We are caught between the Taliban on the one hand and the state on the other," she says. "Even if there is only 30% hope, I will stay in Afghanistan."

Society
Rémi Dupré

Messi In Paris: Qatar's Long Game With The Argentine Icon

The legendary soccer star of FC Barcelona has signed up with the Parisian club, owned by the Emirate since 2011...and just in time for the World Cup slated next year in Qatar.

PARIS — Despite his inexhaustible fortune, did Sheikh Tamin Al-Thani ever think he would be able to acquire such a player to add to his sporting showcase? Ten years after buying Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG), the Emir of Qatar can now see the Argentine prodigy Lionel Messi, the best footballer of (at least) this century, don the jersey of the French capital's club.

On Tuesday, after five days of negotiations, the longtime FC Barcelona star agreed to play for the team coached by his compatriot Mauricio Pochettino: he signed for two seasons, with an additional year as an option (for an annual salary of over 30 million euros, excluding bonuses).

The 34-year-old striker, who left Barcelona at the end of his contract for budgetary reasons, landed at Le Bourget airport to a standing ovation from several hundred supporters. During a theatrical farewell to the supporters of Barcelona (the 'socios blaugrana') on Sunday, he was initially inconsolable, but quickly dried his tears.

Ici, c'est Paris (This, is Paris) was written on his white T-shirt, chosen for the momentous arrival. The six-time Ballon d'Or winner made a detour to the Parc des Princes, the PSG stadium, to pose with his new jersey and then greet the Parisian fans, before settling in at the Royal Monceau Hotel for the official welcoming press conference.

Could the directors of the Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) fund have celebrated their decade at the head of PSG better than by recruiting the four-time Champions League winner and Barcelona's all-time top scorer (672 goals in 778 games)?

Calling it a "planetary event," the president of the Professional Football League (LFP), Vincent Labrune, emphasized that the deal was the "fruit of the strategy of the PSG management." In this case, the Argentine, who has only played with one club since his arrival at the Barcelona training center at the age of 13, becomes the new shiny object for the oil emirate on the chessboard of sports diplomacy.

PSG is building a brand. Soccer is secondary in all this.

The transaction crowns a decade of pharaonic investments made by Tamin Al-Thani to build a brand whose notoriety is supposed to consolidate the image of Qatar across the globe. "The stages of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2012), David Beckham (2013), Neymar (2017) and now Messi have been essential and decisive in enabling the club to become a major global franchise," says Alain Cayzac, former president of PSG (2006-2008) under the American group Colony Capital, who has remained close to the Qataris. "We send a signal when we want this kind of player to come to Paris."

"PSG is building a brand, not a club," laughs a team insider, familiar with the storytelling built by QSI. "Soccer is secondary in all of this, it is a by-product."


Lionel Messi playing soccer while he was still a member of the Barcelona team — Mike Egerton/PA Wire via ZUMA Press

Messi is a whole different level from a marketing point of view, and the Emirates is going all-in to arrive in style at the World Cup, which will be held in Qatar in November and December 2022.

From a sporting point of view, Messi's recruitment is supposed to enable the club to win the Champions League before the World Cup. And to achieve this goal before Manchester City, the other new rich of the continent, owned by Sheikh Mansour of Adu Dhabi since 2008 and tormentor of PSG during the last European campaigns — defeat in the quarterfinals in 2016 and in the semis in May 2021.

The planets are aligned.

For the president of Olympique Lyonnais, Jean-Michel Aulas, "the planets are aligned": "QSI wanted to give itself the means to reach the top, politically and athletically, the year of the World Cup." And that competition is one that Lionel Messi dreams of finally winning with his national team.

Winning the French Ligue 1 title is a must now, after the recruitment of Messi and other stars at the end of their contracts, such as former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos of Spain, AC Milan's Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and Liverpool's Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.

In the midst of the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 and the end of the conflict surrounding the aborted Super League project, which pitted the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) against a number of secessionist clubs (Juventus Turin, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid) in April, the arrival of Messi in Paris illustrates the rise in power of PSG and its influential president, Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, on the continental scene.

"The investor States [Qatar, United Arab Emirates] have managed to take a form of power on the sporting and political levels," says Aulas. These last two terrible years have given them the means to take the strategy to the logical end."

As the embodiment of Barcelona for more than two decades, doesn't Messi risk denting his legend as loyal team player? "The club and its vision are perfectly in line with my ambitions," said the Argentine, who has never hidden his desire to leave Europe one day to finish his career in the United States.

"Messi, in Barcelona, is an almost authentic work. In Paris, he becomes a commodity," says another source familiar with the PSG's inner workings. He joins a club that is "més que un club" [more than a club, Barcelona's motto]." The showcase of a state, whose ambition, well beyond soccer, seems insatiable.

Society
Nicolas Santolaria

How The Octopus Conquered Humanity

In the midst of an ecological crisis, the octopus has become an object of fascination. This animal, once terrifying to the human imagination, is now recognized for its intelligence and ability to live in symbiosis with nature.

PARIS James Reed was devastated by a work-related burnout and in desperate need of someone to guide him. The wildlife documentary filmmaker was exhausted by film shoots, unable to take care of his son and felt like a dried-up spectator watching the world fly by. It was the early 2010s and in a last-ditch attempt to find existential meaning, he turned to his childhood passion for diving. Floating among the underwater kelp forests, he met an unexpected mentor — and his life took an unlikely turn. While gradually beginning to feel alive again, Reed crossed paths with a small, fearful octopus."I felt that this creature was really special, it could teach me something, it had a particular trick. So I had this crazy idea: What if I went there every day... every day without exception?"

Which is exactly what he did, always in the company of his video camera. My Octopus Teacher, co-directed with Pippa Ehrlich and released on Netflix in 2020, is the purposely uplifting tale of an encounter between a human being with nothing to cling to and an octopus with many suckers.

"It taught me to feel that we're part of this place, that we were not just visitors," narrates the voice of Reed, who has fallen in love with a creature in perfect symbiosis with her environment.
His film, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary on April 25, is an invitation to recognize other forms of intelligence. When presented with these emotionally-charged images, it seems incontestable that this strong-armed and cunning being knows how to play and strategize. This animal intelligence is all the more humbling as the little octopus, whose mother dies shortly after its birth, must learn everything by itself without the natural transfer of social knowledge.

"In Jules Verne's time, the octopus was an evil beast. This was because it was morphologically very different from us, a frightening prospect. Today, we realize that it's closer than we thought," says neurobiologist and philosopher Georges Chapouthier, author of Sauver l'homme par l'animal ("Saving Man Through the Animal World"). "There are already similarities when it comes to its aptitudes, vision and prehension. She [the octopus] is able to unscrew a jar, to reach her goal by way of a detour and to use coconuts as a shield. While we have long thought that intelligence was the prerogative of vertebrates, the observation that complex cognitive abilities can be developed in other groups invites us to put things into perspective."

Navigating troubled waters at the confluence of reality and myth, this blue-blooded animal is, as writer and art historian Pierre Pigot points out in his book Le Chant du Kraken ("The Song of the Kraken"), "a creature of the rift and the threshold," which "reappears when civilization becomes afraid of its reflection in the mirror." As humans begin to understand that their hegemonic rationalism is leading them straight to catastrophe, the need to re-establish an intimate dialogue with other living beings arises. For this, we need tutors and mediating entities. Consequently, the furious squid that haunted the imaginations of the 19th century has given way to a kind of "octobuddy" that we would gladly invite to drinks.

What does the octopus have to teach us?... Perhaps, quite simply, how to believe.

As a means of reconciliation between the human and the animal world, our slimy new friend is suddenly everywhere. Is it a coincidence that we've started playing Squids Odyssey on our smartphones — a game whose heroes are adventurous little cuttlefish — and that our subway neighbor is reading Erin Hortle's novel, L'Octopus et moi ("The octopus and I")? Is it just a coincidence that our children are watching the Octonauts, an animated series in which one of the main characters is an anthropomorphic, oceanographer octopus? Is it a coincidence when our colleagues have been embellishing their messages with tentacle emojis for weeks, or teleworking at the Parisian bistro Le Poulpe?

"Through education, what we have learned above all are the abstract and technological cognitive aspects, which we find in languages or mathematics and are carried out by the left hemisphere," says Chapouthier. "But humans also have emotional aptitudes leading to altruism and empathy, which we do not develop as much and is perhaps one of the defects of our societies. However, the essence of an animal thought is a thought without language, a thought of emotion, something that should be within our interest because it allows us to reconnect and leave the moral bankruptcy of the human species behind."

James Reed, Pippa Erlich (left) and Marlee Matlin with the Oscar for Documentary Feature — Photo: Matt Petit/AMPAS/ZUMA Wire/ZUMAPRESS.com

Today, talking about octopi on LinkedIn is not an aberration. Quite the contrary: it is now inspiring, just as the late Steve Jobs' turtlenecks were in their time. "It immediately creates sympathy and adds value," says Caecilia Finck-Dijoux, 50, who specializes in business consulting. "When I founded my company with my partner, we were looking for a name related to the sea. As we are both divers, the octopus appeared an obvious choice to us. But, in French, the word has a soft side. So we chose the English term and we called ourselves 'Octopus Marketing'. It seemed interesting to us to identify ourselves with this animal that has several tentacles because, through our consulting activity, we bring additional arms to the client. In addition, like the octopus, which is forgotten in its environment, I love to blend into the processes of companies where I intervene."

But what does the octopus have to teach us — or reteach us — anyway? Perhaps, quite simply, how to believe. Where our species only sees dead ends, this contortionist becomes a master of escape driven by "An almost Kafkaesque conviction: there is always a way out," says philosopher Vinciane Despret, author of Autobiographie d'un poulpe ("Autobiography of an octopus"). They possess an admirable drive for life that expresses itself through a singular way of inhabiting the world, based on camouflage, behavioral mimicry and the science of dodging. If the octopi suddenly start to write, it would not just be propelled not by their poetic nature but rather due to a new threat forcing them to evolve.

"The question of extinction has been haunting me for some time, and that's what I've been trying to unfold in a non-tragic fictional mode. All these animals that are disappearing, that we won't see anymore, how are we going to leave something of them? This is what haunts me," confides Despret. Her octopus-fiction is all the more disturbing considering that, in reality, the genre's animal muse is not really in the process of disappearing. In fact, the population of cephalopods has increased immensely in the last sixty years.

Surfing on the expressive potential of ink — and foraying into other mediums — the octopus acts as a muse for another species, creatures who produce creative output on a massive scale in order to ward off their fear of extinction. We'll let you guess which one.