I love reunions, reconciliations, rapprochements, consolidations, alliances, coalitions, engagements and weddings. They all contain a sign of peace and while they are not always evidence of love, in many cases they demonstrate the power of reason. That’s why I find myself rejoicing at the announcement that American General Motors plans to acquire 7% of French Peugeot. It’s the nicer side of globalization: a marriage of convenience and — even better — perhaps also a marriage of love.
GM (which in this instance could stand for Grand Marriage) has always loved things French. Perhaps this is because it was co-founded by William C. Durant who also co-founded Chevrolet with Louis Chevrolet of French –Swiss descent. Chevrolet later merged with GM, which baptized its prestigious machines with French names like DeVille, Biarritz, Orléans, LaSalle, Pontiac and Corvette. The name of its iconic brand Cadillac, synonymous the world over with luxury, elegance and quality, is borrowed from the French explorer Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac who founded the city of Detroit — another French name.
Undoubtedly, we are a car civilization. The automobile is an ordinary object in our spoiled world, a dream in the barren parts of the planet and a nightmare at a quarter to nine a.m. on the 101 freeway in downtown Los Angeles. We find cars a convenient instrument to go to the stores and take back home the stuff of which probably we bought too large a quantity at our local Costco. A car is more practical than a backpack and a bicycle, but more polluting — as we are told by ecology — and more expensive, as we can see by the price soaring at the pump.
OK, it’s our way of life. But some of us are in love with automobiles. They admire the beautiful machines, their engineering, their design and their power, regardless of the speeding tickets and hefty insurance premiums they may have to face.
Installed in a former butcher shop, where not much has changed since the nineteenth century except for a few recently added scars on the wall to render it even more authentic, Bistrot Paul Bert in Paris must be one of the most bistro-ish bistros of the world and possibly one of the most emblematic. The bistrot — with a ’t’ or without — is now a part of our lifestyle and an indispensible component of a gastronomically civilized city. We are well used to its format: the zinc bar, banquettes, white marble top tables, chalkboard menu, waiters clad in black aprons, steak frites and blanquette de veau, and the house red wine.
“The ways the bankers have kind of toppled the way money is distributed and taken most of it into their hands is as good as Stalin or Hitler and the evil guys,” star restaurateur Mario Batali declared at a recent panel sponsored by Time Magazine. No surprise Mr. Batali got a lot of flak, especially, of course, from bankers and the like. The restaurateur realized belatedly that quite a number of his clients in his twenty fancy establishments might very well belong to or be associated with the banking industry because, according to his own terms, bankers “… have taken most of the money into their hands,” and thus can easily afford the hefty bills. Some talked vigorously of boycotting Batali’s restaurants. Deterring such a well-heeled clientele is not good business practice in these uncertain times.
Sorry, oops, my mistake, went Mario, who said through a spokesperson, “It was never my intention to equate our banking industry with Hitler and Stalin, two of the most evil, brutal dictators in modern history.” So we get the message: these two guys are really bad, but bankers are OK. OK, but not angels?
After hearing President Obama‘s recent speech advocating raising taxes on the wealthy, law professor Richard Epstein of New York University disagreed, claiming that society would be better off if we “let the rich get richer.” I am always ready to help academic luminaries, but sadly, there’s not much I can do for the professor. I have indeed come to know some beautiful people here and there, but they never asked for my permission or my help in accumulating another layer over their thick bank accounts. They managed to do it, anyway.
Seriously, how would the recommendation work in the world of restaurateurs and food? Would we get a better restaurant because the restaurateur is richer? What would happen if the restaurateur is “only” if one can say, rich and not really richer? Would he still do the job to our satisfaction? Would we miss something?