PARIS — Nothing ruins the cheese course more than the smell of burning tires.
Yes, it seems, the hour of camembert and brimstone is at hand. Angry mobs are burning Michelins at the picket lines. Congestion at the gas pump. Travel chaos as metro and rail lines strike. Power outages and the River Seine flooding its banks.
This should have been a golden moment for France, hosting the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. Normally, a month's worth of games in major cities around the country would have been a good little moneymaker, not to mention moral-booster. But hooligans have left a wake of destruction, injuries, and arrests. Sirens wail, helicopters whir, horns blow, as the roaring masses march on. And we ask ourselves: Is it the protesters, the soccer fans, the hooligans or the jihadists this time? Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries begins to play in our heads and we wonder whether the police will ever be able to go home and get some sleep.
Because, yes, the cops in France have been working triple-overtime since ... Wait, when did it start? It was before the Nov. 13 attacks. Or was it Charlie Hebdo in January 2015? You can actually trace it back to Mohammed Merah — the type of delinquent-turned-terrorist that has become so utterly banal these days — who slaughtered grade-school children, among others. That was back in spring 2012.
Rain and worse
But the sky keeps falling, literally. The rainiest month on record and mid-June flooding in Paris just seems like a natural extension of the new, muddy normal. Time to move the paintings at the Louvre up to the attic. Ship the migrants back to Turkey. Bulldoze the "Jungle" again at the Channel crossing city of Calais. Chase more migrants out of their various Parisian squats. Stop up new immigration routes from Libya, Albania and every other opening pore along the sweltering borders.
It might seem surprising that the protesters carry on when there is so much distraction. Presumably there will be two more uprisings before the end of the month. Against what might be considered human decency or at least for a self-serving concern for the public good, the unions still did not cancel last week's protest after yet another terrorist incident, when a couple — both employees of the police — were stabbed to death at their home in front of their three-year-old child. This occurred the evening before the protest, and the angry anti-government mob kept at it, even attacking Hôpital Necker, perhaps the most well respected, pediatric hospital in France where coincidentally, the newly orphaned toddler of the just-murdered, police couple was being treated.
So, when did the days of Bordeaux wine and Gauloises end? Can they ever come back? It's not just the many players in the important tourism sector that hope so. It's not just the cops and the millions of first, second and third generations of moderate Muslims who have lived in relative peace for so long in neighborhoods next to Jews, who have probably been the most nervous for the longest. It's everybody now. This is what happens when all systems are stressed. The French coffers have run dry: Double-digit unemployment will do that, particularly in a country that relies so heavily on its tax base. An important catalyst for this economic decrepitude was the enactment of the 35-hour workweek in 2000, passed in a haze of leftist optimism. But it is just one of many factors that have made foreign investors run for the borders.
The French Left's stigma against big, bad business has ended up meaning no business. Small and mid-size companies often choose not to grow because a new employee represents crippling welfare and administrative costs. The most inefficient employee gets tenure. Doctors hand out medical leave so that employees can easily have a month's worth of time-off in addition to the five weeks they already have. There is no flexibility to labor laws to help businesses cope with market changes.
Reform would be a key in the economy's ignition. That would free up revenue to tackle the pressing issue of homegrown terrorism in a more meaningful way than just hoping a police state will do the trick. Whether the European Union breaks up or not, a viable France would be a godsend to an ailing and increasingly extremist-prone continent.
It is a relatively simple idea, but it seems not to have been communicated to the general public in an effective way. Nicknamed "Flanby" after a flaccid, industrial pudding, French President François Hollande may currently be viewed as the least effective European leader since Nero.
A grand total of 7% of the population would like to see him run again for president in 2017. But if he were to push through real reform, Monsieur Hollande might shed his Flanby nickname. And perhaps, the sky would stop falling on France.
This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, which includes pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any other language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris that we call home. Send ideas and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.