SINCE MOVING TO EUROPE in 1986 and living 17 miles from a French village for five years, I have watched the decline of France. I remember taking day trips to Metz and Verdun where my purchasing power was 20% greater than the locals. Now I have around 35% greater buying power compared to an average Frenchman, according to Nicholas Bavarez's bestseller La France Qui Tombe.
When in Venice for the opening of the 51st Biennale I heard that the French tycoon François Pinault had adandoned his palns to build a €150m rival to the Tate Modern on the island in the Seine that once housed Renault's Paris plant and that he has bought Palazzo Grassi in Venice to display his art there.
In Adieu á la France Qui S'en Va, Jean-Marie Rouart points to the slump of bars and cafes, down from 150,000 to 60,000 in 15 years. Disneyland draws twice as many visitors as the Eiffel Tower and seven times the number who go to the Asterix fun park. As Rouart points out, Frenchmen rail at McDo's but so many eat there that France is now McDonald's best overseas market.
All these numbers are part of French self-examination--questions about themselves, of Europe and of their leaders. It could mean months of snarling strikes once the protest season opens in September.
Brian Moynahan -- "The Rotting Republic" in The Sunday Times Magazine, July 24, 2005.