In anticipation of the French presidential elections on April 23 and May 7, 2017, I browse one of my old notebooks seeking comments on the previous electoral duel. Not so difficult, the presidency in France is valid for five years, sometimes to the disappointment of many.
The ballot that would give us Hollande, was in full swing. Traditionally the Front Nationale of Marine Le Pen is very strong in the South of France. This election was not different. On Sunday, April 22, the elimination round was completed reminiscent of nominations like in Big Brother. Sunday, May 6, the winner would be announced. (The elections always fall on a Sunday in France.) The central theme of the campaigns was somewhat strange: “The national identity.” No, but -dis donc-, the most chauvinistic nation experienced an identity crisis!
Every nation has its navel, as the Greeks had Delfi and the Incas their Cuzco in the Andes. It got me thinking where the navel of the southern French might be located. I think Mouriès in Les Alpilles would make a decent chance. More precisely: the bistro in the village. Here was born, and it’s no joke, on April 1 of the year 1551 Baptistin Honore Petalugue, inventor of pastis. Who would dare deny this fact as a milestone in the Mediterranean history? Behind the counter of the bistro stood a Dalida, who radiated a clear J’attendrai, ready to pour the petits jaunes.
Not convincing enough? Well, in the same bistro another and more recent French hero was a frequent visitor. Eric ‘The King’ Cantona, French football star far beyond French borders, came here incognito to enjoy his plat du jour. And he was right because they served a regional cuisine that was decent, stripped of all frills and unpretentious. Just the way we like it on holidays. Cantona, born and raised in Marseille, is also echoing Petalugue and on his turn attached his name to the pastis. He is the designer of a bottle of Ricard 51 that came on the market as a collector’s item in limited numbers.
And for who would not agree with my arguments should know that Ernest Hemingway surely would. He stayed at the Inn for quite some time. Furthermore, I can add thousands of olive trees in the area, a well-stocked tabac, an avenue of plane trees in the center, a great olive oil mill, and the passion for bulls that grows intenser as you draw deeper from here southward. If you descend to Provence for your next holiday, then Mouriès is worth a detour.
I write this piece in the past tense. The bistro was closed in recent years, and during our last passage in 2017, it was still the case. What once was the beating heart of the village, lies neglected and became the symbol of the melancholy with which the French struggle these days.
I’m wondering whether a candidate as Macron, who likes to perform in exciting young cities like Toulouse, can guide these small dormant communities into the 21st century.
This story was published earlier on Medium in the publication Carnet de Voyage.
Update #1: Macron faces Le Pen in the final round on May 7th.
Update #2: He won.