TIME France

Oil Exec Who Charmed Kings and Dictators Killed in Plane Crash

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie Dies in Plane Crash
Christophe de Margerie, chief executive officer of Total SA, reacts during a Bloomberg Television interview on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tributes For Total CEO Killed When His Jet Hit a Snowplow On Russian Runway

Christophe de Margerie, the CEO and chairman of the French energy giant Total who was killed in a private plane accident in Moscow on Monday night, was fond of saying that one couldn’t drill for oil in pleasant, peaceful places — a riposte to environmentalists and human-right activists who have railed against oil companies for cutting lucrative deals with repressive leaders. “I’d be more than delighted to go find energy in Club Med,” he told TIME back in December 2009, seated on a private plane during an overnight flight from Paris to the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain. “But we’ve tried, and did not find it.”

It was a characteristically blunt statement in an industry that is famous for its opaque leadership rather than plain-talking executives. Unlike his peers, De Margerie, 63, seemed unconcerned about what he said publicly. Rather, he appeared to relish his image as an outsized personality whose common touch — despite his wealthy family background — won him friends, as well as some detractors, in difficult, even hostile, places. Explaining his personality, he told TIME that his lifelong shyness (“I hate going on stage, I’m really scared,” he said) had compelled him from childhood to become a keen observer of people, and that he had learned to “listen to people, from the hotel doorman to the King of Saudi Arabia.”

Tributes flooded in on Tuesday after news broke that De Margerie had died on his way back from Moscow where he had attended a gathering of foreign investors and met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at Medvedev’s country residence near the capital. The private plane in which De Margerie was traveling collided with a snowplow at Moscow’s Vnukovo International airport shortly before midnight, killing him and three French crew members on board. Russian investigators quickly blamed the operator of the plow (who survived unscathed), saying that the man was drunk, and adding that air traffic controllers might also have made errors. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov voiced President Vladimir Putin’s condolences, saying that the Russian leader “has long known De Margerie [and] had a close working relationship with him.” In Paris, President François Hollande said De Margerie had “brilliantly defended the level of excellence and success of French technology,” and praised his “independent character” and “originality.”

Indeed, it seemed hundreds of people across the world knew De Margerie — if only as the man with the abundant gray whiskers framing his corpulent cheeks, which had earned him the nickname of “Monsieur Moustache” among his employees.

De Margerie joined the company in 1974 fresh out of university, largely, he told TIME, because it was a 10-minute walk from his family home in western Paris, and because his youthful dream of becoming a motorcycle policeman had come to naught. He rose to head its crucial exploration and production department, helping to expand hugely Total’s operations across the world. He became CEO in 2007 and chairman in 2010. During his career the company faced several serious accusations of wrongdoing. He and other Total executives faced charges in France of helping then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein skirt the U.N.’s oil-for-food sanctions during the 1990s and although they were cleared, the company paid a fine in the U.S. And after an oil tanker broke apart and sank off the Brittany coast in 1999, spewing thousands of tons of oil into the sea and killing an estimated 150,000 sea birds, a Paris court ordered Total to pay more than $250 million in damages.

Apparently unaffected by these controversies, De Margerie steadily built Total into a giant company, opening new fields across the world — including in places from which other energy companies steered clear, like Burma and Yemen. Total is now the fourth biggest Western oil company, after ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, with nearly 100,000 employees in 130 countries and revenues of nearly $240 billion last year.

But De Margerie will likely be remembered most of all for his insistence that governments should as much as possible leave it to oil companies to decide where to operate. And it is that insistence that led him most regularly into fiery debates with activists, who accused Total of cozying up to dictators in order to win concessions that were worth billions.

De Margerie, unlike other oil executives, never shied away from the argument, telling journalists that the world could face a serious oil shortage — an argument that seems less urgent these days, with declining growth in demand for oil and sinking prices on the world oil markets. “Where is electricity coming from? Flowers?” he told TIME during the flight from Paris to Bahrain in late 2009. “Maybe some day. But what’s available now is from oil and gas,” he said.

De Margerie defended his decision to extract natural gas in Burma and pipe it across the country at a time when U.S. sanctions prevented most American business links with the military government, telling an audience of Columbia University students in 2009, “Who is telling us who are the cowboys and who are the Indians? People who have never been in those countries.” As such, De Margerie nurtured relationships even under sanctions — including in Russia, where Total has a $27-billion deal to produce liquefied natural gas in Siberia.

Gregarious, with a love of fine dining — his grandfather Pierre Taittinger founded the famed Champagne house of that name — De Margerie was known to be excellent company, no matter one’s views. During the all-night flight on the rented private plane he slept little, preferring to talk for hours about everything from politics to the latest celebrity gossip, and to debate which Bordeaux wine on offer in the plane was best. Back then, Total executive Jacques de Boisseson, who heads the company’s exploration and production operations in Russia, told TIME that his boss had a knack for breaking the ice even in formal meetings with heads of state — and even after arriving late, as he frequently did. “He changes a meeting with his personal touch,” de Boisseson said. “He can get very close to very different people.”

TIME France

Frenchman’s Beheading Raises Fears of Wider Fight Against ISIS

A portrait of mountain guide Frenchman Herve Gourdel hangs near a French flag outside the town hall in Saint-Martin-Vesubie, Sept. 25, 2014.
A portrait of Herve Gourdel hangs outside the town hall in Saint-Martin-Vesubie, France, Sept. 25, 2014. Patrice Masante—Reuters

French and other officials are wondering how widely they will need to fight in order to crush ISIS's growing influence

The videotaped killing of French tourist Hervé Gourdel in Algeria on Wednesday seemed at first yet another in a string of horrific beheadings of Westerners—the fourth since the chilling death last month of American journalist James Foley. Yet to Western officials, the killing bore another ominous signal too: That the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, could become far more complicated as the terror group’s clout expands across a region already awash in weaponry and riven by violent upheaval.

Far different from the three Westerners ISIS has beheaded in Syria – Foley, American journalist Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines–Gourdel, 55, was hundreds of miles from any lethal battlefront and seemed to have no expectation that he was headed into potential danger. A mountain guide from a small village near Nice, he arrived in Algeria last Saturday to hike in the rugged area of the country’s northeast Tizi Ouzu region. He was kidnapped one day later by a new group calling itself Jund al-Khalifa. The organization had broken away from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) just earlier this month and sworn allegiance to ISIS. It threatened to kill Gourdel unless France stopped its airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq, which began on September 19. A second, grisly video appeared on the Internet Wednesday, showing men with their faces concealed standing over Gourdel, one announcing they were executing him as a “message of blood for the French government.” The final shot shows one of the men apparently holding Gourdel’s severed head.

In the shocked aftermath, French and other officials were left wondering how widely they will need to fight in order to crush ISIS’s growing influence—and whether they might be drawn into another war less than two years after France fought a major air and ground assault against al-Qaeda to force them out of northern Mali. In an impassioned speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday just hours after Gourdel’s murder, a somber French President François Hollande made it clear that he would not call off France’s bombing raids on ISIS, saying, “It is not weakness that should be the response to terrorism but force.”

What kind of force might succeed is unclear, however. Just 16 months ago, Hollande declared France’s Mali war a success, saying his forces had effectively crushed AQIM and its allies. But in recent weeks, North African officials and journalists have said that ISIS’ rise in Syria, and its sweep across Iraq, could reenergize remnant fighters from France’s fight, many of whom slipped across Mali’s remote desert border with Algeria as French troops closed in. They said lethal battles might begin as different jihadist organizations vy for primacy in the region—perhaps by proving their lethality against Westerners.

“We will witness an internal war within the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” the Algerian newspaper L’Expression wrote earlier this month, citing “very well-informed sources,” and said that as groups compete to become the main jihadist organization in the region, ISIS-aligned organizations could begin assassinating those still affiliated to al-Qaeda who “could hamper the emergence of ISIS in North Africa.”

As it was, the first public assassination was Gourdel, a totally innocent Frenchmen—signaling that Westerners, even far from Syria, are now potential targets. On Wednesday, the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. terrorism monitoring organization, warned that Gourdel’s murder could be the start of a new pattern. “As the Islamic State has instructed its supporters all over the world to execute attacks, the beheading of this French hostage may not be the last demonstration of this nature,” SITE director Rita Katz said in an online commentary after Gourdel’s killing.

For France, there are compelling reasons to fight ISIS’ rise in North Africa. Millions of North Africans live in France, which has Europe’s biggest Muslim population, and Algeria, for example, is a cheap two-hour flight from Paris. French officials estimate that more than 900 French citizens have joined ISIS’ ranks in Syria and Iraq, many just this year, and are increasingly worried that some might return to mount attacks at home. The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday to stop foreign fighters from traveling to join ISIS, and from blocking them from returning back home.

But while Hollande strongly supported that resolution, French officials have shown how difficult it could be to enforce those measures.

On Tuesday—as Gourdel’s life hung in the balance—three French citizens known to have traveled to Syria boarded a flight from Turkey to Marseille without French officials’ knowledge, even though all three were well-known Islamic militants. One pilot in Turkey blocked the group from boarding his plane, fearing they were a potential threat to the flight. Turkish officials then put the three on a plane to Marseille. French officials, who had dispatched police to Paris’ Orly Airport to arrest the three, claim Turkey did not inform them of the change of destination until the group had disembarked in the southern French city and walked through passport control without notice. On Wednesday French Defense Minister Yves le Drian admitted in a radio interview that this week’s incident was “a huge foul-up” caused by muddled communications between Turkey and France.

TIME France

Sarkozy Eyes Return to Frontline French Politics as Hollande Stumbles

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy attends the inauguration of the Institut Claude Pompidou in Nice in March 2014.
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy attends the inauguration of the Institut Claude Pompidou in Nice in March 2014. Eric Gaillard—Reuters

With the Socialist incumbent's popularity ratings plummeting, the former President says he is “too passionate about public debate and the future of my countrymen” to remain on the sidelines

In May, 2012, when an ashen-faced Nicolas Sarkozy appeared before a roomful of crushed supporters to concede defeat to his Socialist rival François Hollande in the French presidential elections, he said: “My involvement in the life of my country will be different from now on.”

Now, it looks it might not be so different after all.

On Friday, Sarkozy finally made public what most French have assumed for months—that he would attempt to unseat the first Socialist leader France has had in 22 years by challenging the deeply unpopular Hollande in 2017. In a letter addressed to “mes chers amis” and posted on his Facebook page, he said he is “too passionate about public debate and the future of my countrymen to see them condemned to choose between today’s desperate spectacle and the prospect of hopeless isolation,” a reference to rocketing support for France’s far-right National Front. Sarkozy said the French should decide for themselves “about the strength and sincerity of my commitment to the service of France,” and characterized himself as a patriot pulled back into the fray, almost out of necessity, to rescue his nation from disaster.

Indeed, few French doubt that their country is in dire need of change. After two and half years in office, Hollande has failed to revive a severely troubled economy, whose unemployment rate, near 11%, is the highest in at least 15 years, and whose 4.3% public deficit is way above the European Union’s 3% target. Poll after poll shows Hollande’s support draining away, and one survey earlier this month put his popularity rating at 13%, the lowest of any French leader since World War II. In his twice-yearly press conference on Thursday, a chastened Hollande (whose bruises this month have included a vicious tell-all book by his former partner, Valérie Trierweiler) admitted to journalists he was struggling in office, saying, “It is not easy.” Yet he insisted he would remain in the Elysée Palace until the end of his term, rejecting a call by about 65% of voters in one recent poll that he resign the presidency.

Still, as miserable as the French are under Hollande, it is unclear that they would embrace Sarko, as the former President is known. In Friday’s letter Sarkozy said he would run for leadership of his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party—a necessary prelude to a formal presidential campaign. But he could face a tough task convincing the UMP that France needs him back in power. In fact, it is possible that his return could staunch the erosion in Hollande’s base, by reminding some voters that the current President might not be so bad after all.

Sarkozy was increasingly disliked—even hated—during his five-year term in office. As news filtered out this past week that he would run again, memories of that unpopularity resurfaced. The cover of one news magazine this week depicts Sarkozy as the Freddy character in the Friday the 13th horror movies, which are about a boy who is dead but keeps coming back. Sarkozy is shown in Freddy’s metal talons and black hat with the sinister headline: “SARKO 2: The Return.”

But that’s assuming he manages to mount a return. Sarkozy faces stiff competition for his own party’s nomination, including from former Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, who has recently won attention for injecting dynamism into the southwestern city of Bordeaux, where he is Mayor.

In fact, for Sarkozy, the primary race for his party’s nomination could be even tougher than his 2007 presidential campaign, which he fought against a tepid Socialist contender, Hollande’s pre-Trierweiler partner Ségolène Royal. Sarkozy won by promising dramatic economic and social changes, including cutting France’s oversized bureaucracy and scrapping laws that have stifled private-sector investment for years. In office, those plans hit a wall of resistance from lobby groups and trade unions, and many French blamed Sarkozy’s irascible style for aggravating the conflict. Voters ultimately judged him to be volatile and a bully, with a jarring fondness for expensive living. He married the wealthy singer-model Carla Bruni while in office, and a video camera once caught him on a rope line muttering under his breath to a modest-looking man in the crowd, “Piss off, poor asshole.” Overcoming this history will not be easy, and that’s before he confronts the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whom polls currently place as the most likely winner in the 2017 presidential race.

For now, Sarkozy is trying to portray himself as a new man, someone who has polished off the rough edges and mellowed through his years in political exile. In recent photographs, he is tanned and relaxed from a summer vacation in Bali, wearing an open-neck shirt and sporting a common-man’s stubble on his chin. In his Facebook letter on Friday, he said he is not the same person he was as president, writing: “I’ve been able to step back and analyze my term in office, to draw lessons, go back to our common history, measure the vanity of certain feelings, avoiding revenge or confrontation.” The combat, however, has only just begun.

TIME

Former French First Lady’s Tell-All Book Adds To Hollande’s Woes

Valerie Trierweiler in the gardens at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris in 2013.
Valerie Trierweiler in the gardens at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris in 2013. Thomas Samson—AFP/Getty Images

Valérie Trierweiler's account of her life with the French President has sparked controversy, as a new poll shows that his popularity ratings have sunk to 13%—the lowest of any French leader in about 70 years

Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes, meaning that it takes a cool, level head to deliver just the right sucker punch. That might be the most telling lesson from the scandal that has erupted this past week in France, over the former First Lady Valérie Trierweiler’s explosive tell-all book about her life with President François Hollande. “Thank You For This Moment” appeared in bookstores last Wednesday, with no forewarning to French officials, and its initial print-run of 200,000 sold out within days, inspiring countless front-page articles about the apparently callous behavior of a never-married president towards the women in his life. Yet there has been equally harsh criticism of Trierweiler, whose stinging words have sounded to many like petty whining, at least when compared with the severe economic crisis Hollande is struggling to fix.

To recap (if readers need reminding): Hollande’s domestic life imploded in spectacular fashion last January when the French gossip magazine Closer published photographs of him sneaking out of the sumptuous Napoleonic palace on his motorbike, to spend the night with his alleged lover, the French actress Julie Gayet. Three weeks later (hours after TIME interviewed Hollande inside the Elysée) Hollande declared his seven-year relationship with Trierweiler over, in a bland 18-word written statement. While the world lapped up the details, inside the palace, the couple spiraled into a private hell that threatened Trierweiler’s physical wellbeing, according to the former First Lady. Trierweiler, 49, describes the president frantically trying to prevent her from swallowing a fistful of sleeping pills the morning the news broke. “I swallow what I can. I want to sleep. I don’t want to live through the coming hours,” Trierweiler recounted to Paris Match magazine, where she has been a longtime staff writer; her book was splashed on the magazine’s cover last week. “I want to escape. I lose consciousness.” Trierweiler then spent a week in the hospital, with officials claiming at the time that she was suffering the effects of extreme stress.

Bad as that account is, other parts of Trierweiler’s book that take aim at Hollande’s battered political standing could be even more damaging for the French leader. Trierweiler casts herself as a working-class woman at sea within the cocooned political elite into which she was thrust—and with no empathy from Hollande. She claims the Socialist leader, who won power in 2012 by casting the then-President Nicolas Sarkozy as representing only the rich, was “bored to tears” when dining with her family in their low-income home, preferring, she says, to visit the Gayets’ grand chateau in southwestern France. “He campaigned as the enemy of the rich but the truth is that he despises the poor,” Trierweiler writes, saying that Hollande mocked the poor as “sans-dents” or toothless, referring to the cost of dental treatment.

The claims have put Hollande under withering scrutiny, even from reliably friendly sources. “Who are you François Hollande?” asked the weekend front page of the left-leaning Liberation newspaper, which supports the ruling Socialist Party. Inside, its editorial says that the president, most often vilified for being soft-edged and ineffectual, emerges in Trierweiler’s book as hard and cynical, adding, “The marshmallow president becomes the flint president.”

The new image will not likely help Hollande, who has overseen a worsening economy and rising unemployment. On Sunday the polling agency IFOP released a survey taken on Friday and Saturday (after Trierweiler’s book came out) showing that 65% of Socialist Party voters did not want Hollande to run for reelection in 2017. A separate poll on Friday by TNS-Sofres showed that Hollande’s popularity ratings had sunk to 13%, the lowest of any French president in about 70 years. And although only five percent of those IFOP surveyed named Hollande’s rocky private life as their top criticism of him, some believe Trierweiler’s revelations could well be a turn-off for many voters. “He looks like a man who really does not behave well at all,” says Colombe Pringle, a long-time observer of Elysée politics, and editorial consultant to the celebrity magazine Point de Vue. His bad behavior, she says, is “not only with his “toothless” remark but also in his daily life with women in general, and with her [Trierweiler] in particular.”

There is one woman to emerge stronger from this latest scandal: Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s far-right National Front party. This weekend’s IFOP poll showed that Le Pen would beat Hollande in a second-round presidential race, if the elections were held today—something that no far-right leader has come close to accomplishing in France. Delighted by the result, Le Pen told party members at a rally on Sunday that it “shows there is no longer a glass ceiling that would block our electoral victory.” Much could change between now and the next elections, which are two and a half years away, but for now, the upheaval in French politics appears a boost for Hollande’s foes.

In contrast to Le Pen’s buoyant speech, the woman at the heart of the roiling scandal—Trierweiler—quietly slipped out of France on Saturday, flying to Madagascar with a photographer on an unnamed assignment, according to the conservative Figaro newspaper. Politicians of all stripes have condemned Trierweiler for sullying the office of the president, by revealing prurient details best left unknown. “It is a disgrace for France,” Le Pen said of Trierweiler’s book. Even from over 5,000 miles away, Trierweiler might be wondering whether her tell-all book will backfire on her, leaving her as isolated as the two-timing president. “It will be very difficult for her to continue leading her life and being a journalist,” Pringle says. “I think she will pay a very high price.”

TIME europe

Europe Considers Getting Tough on Russia After Plane Disaster

A man looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine.
A man looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman—Getty Images

European leaders have been reluctant to impose heavy sanctions on Russia. That may now change

Correction appended, July 18 2014

With Europeans reeling at the calamitous downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet on Thursday, European politicians have already begun debating whether they have fallen short in applying pressure on the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. European leaders have for months tiptoed around imposing muscular sanctions against Moscow for arming Ukraine’s separatists as they try to protect the continent’s deep economic ties with Russia. The Obama Administration has taken a harder line, this week introducing a tough new round of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. European leaders have thus far tried to give diplomatic negotiations with Putin a chance to work, while approving some of the sanctions the U.S. has implemented.

President Barack Obama on Friday called the shootdown “an outrage of unspeakable proportions,” and said at least one American had died in the crash. And at the U.N., U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power outlined evidence pointing to Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine as having launched the missile, possibly from the arsenal recently supplied by Moscow. Like Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, she ruled out any possibility that Ukraine’s military had been responsible, as Putin has claimed. With Russia emerging as a likely culprit in the disaster, European leaders are now doing some soul-searching and discussing what their next steps should be.

It could take weeks or months for investigators to prove who exactly fired the missile that appears to have taken down MH17 over eastern Ukraine at an altitude of 30,000 feet, killing all 298 passengers and crew, most of them Dutch.. But the lack of firm answers hardly matters: The calls for tougher action against Russia have come swiftly, even before investigators have reached the wreckage strewn across a rural area of Ukraine near the border with Russia. “The time for illusions is over, the illusions that we can bring Russia over in a diplomatic way, that is finished,” Karl-Georg Wellmann, a German member of parliament from the ruling Christian Democrat party, told TIME on Friday. “Russia is leading a hot war in eastern Ukraine, delivering artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft missiles,” he said. “This is not a game, it is a reality.”

Since Putin sent the Russian military into Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula more than four months ago – then annexed it – the U.S. and Europe have differed over how to punish Moscow for violating international agreements that have held since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

So far, E.U. sanctions include freezing assets and banning travel of those officials deemed to have been directly involved in the Crimea operation and in backing armed militia in eastern Ukraine. The 28 E.U. countries have split over how tough the sanctions should be, with Scandinavian countries and former Soviet allies like Poland wanting stiff action, while southern European countries like Italy and Spain are balking at the hit on their own economies that action might bring.

But Europe has not — as yet — imposed sanctions that might cause real pain to Russia’s economy, or its own. Such sanctions might include blocking Russian companies from using E.U. banks or stopping European technology from being used in Russia’s critical oil and gas industries. French officials have resisted calls from Baltic states to cancel a €1.2-billion ($1.6 billion) deal to sell two Mistral-class amphibious warships to Russia. In fact, Russian seamen arrived in the French port of Saint-Nazaire just last month to begin training on the vessels, the first of which is due for delivery in October. With Thursday’s tragedy, E.U. leaders might now ratchet up the pressure on French President François Hollande to reconsider. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Berlin that by contrast to the French deal, Germany had scrapped a lucrative deal to build a shooting center in Russia.

On Wednesday — just one day before the airline disaster — Obama announced the new round of American sanctions against Russia, targeting a much broader network of government officials and business leaders and freezing the assets of key Russian companies, including the giant energy firm Rosneft, with which E.U. countries have billions of dollars worth of contracts. In Brussels, E.U. leaders voted to tighten European sanctions as well, but failed to name the companies, instead giving European technocrats until the end of July to draw up the list.

But with Europeans counting their dead, politicians predict more focused action against Russia, especially if investigators confirm the claims by U.S., E.U. and Ukrainian officials that the rebels are to blame. “The climate for further measures against the Russian leadership will be different after this,” says Joris Voorhoeve, an advisor to the Dutch Foreign Ministry on peace and security issues, and a former Defense Minister. “If it is proven that the missile is of Russian origin and if it was not just a serious and bad mistake by the Ukraine government, which is not very likely, I think the position of the Netherlands government will be for further sanctions against Russia,” he said by phone from the Dutch capital The Hague on Friday. “There is general distrust of Putin and the circle around him.”

Correction: The original version of this story misrepresented Ambassador Samantha Power’s comments about the origin of the missile that brought down Flight 17.

TIME Travel

Paris: What to See and What To Skip

FRANCE-PARIS-MOON-FEATURE
The Eiffel Tower in Paris on Feb. 13, 2014. Ludovic Marin—AFP/Getty Images

Tourists have long cherished Paris’s spectacularly preserved traditions and history, from its Napoleonic architecture and wrought iron bridges over the Seine River, to the dozens of artisanal chocolatiers and cheese-makers who can describe their products with passion and precision.

All that is still there and it wows millions of visitors every year. But now a new generation of Parisians, whose cultural references come as much from Manhattan as Molière, is ripping up the city’s old-world conservatism and experimenting with entirely new ways of eating and living. And for those of us who live in Paris, it’s a hugely welcome change.

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Young couple looking at map on Alexandre III bridge in Paris, France. Jean Luc Morales—Getty Images

Call it le backlash.

For those who have already visited Paris, now is a good time to return. This time, consider skipping the Louvre and hitting the streets. One counter-intuitive rule of thumb about what’s new in the city is to choose places that use English to advertise their hipness; for many Parisians, it’s a not-so subtle dig at their old-fashioned French-centric upbringing. Hence, ‘le popup’ and ‘le speakeasy’ signal new, interesting places to shop and eat. Both have proliferated recently on the trendier Right Bank side of the Seine. (That’s right, the right bank is the hip side now.)

The new speakeasy Blind Pig, which is set to open on June 24 in the Marais neighborhood, promises in its announcement that it will offer “charme brooklynien,” no translation needed. There will be no maestro in residence in the kitchen, but rather a revolving cast of fast-food chefs who have taken French cuisine’s attention to detail and freshness and tweaked it to reflect a far more casual, experimental era. “Just as Paris has influenced other major world cities with its bistros, so the Anglo-Saxon world has truly inspired Paris,” says Alexandre Cammas, founder and president of the French online magazine and guide Le Fooding, which now holds events in New York too.

Cammas says Paris eating has drastically transformed since a decade ago, when it was “frozen” in place, with hundreds of cookie-cutter bistros and brasseries offering dishes that have not evolved in decades. Tourists still pack the better known among those establishments every night, perhaps for lack of knowing where else to go, or because their sentimental literary history lures the romantics back time and again. Cammas’ advice (in saltier language) is, save your money for new eateries where you will meet locals, not other tourists. In addition, the service is likely to be far friendlier than the tourist haunts, which tend to feature surly responses from waiters who know they will likely never see you again.

Far different from the myth, Parisians do in fact walk the streets in sneakers, and eat while doing so too. “Paris has places for chic, gentrified, fast food that proves that street food can be really delicious,” Cammas says Since wandering the old alleyways and majestic avenues in any case the richest visual experience Paris can offer, you can now combine that with sampling excellent French food on the go.

François Flohic—Courtesy of Septime

On weekdays, try Chez Aline, which is situated in a former horse butcher and now prepares gourmet lunch boxes, or gourmet kebabs from Grillé, near the Paris Opéra. For those who cannot snag a reservation at the high-end restaurant Frenchie, run by chef Grégory Marchand (formerly at the Gramercy Tavern in New York), it now has a takeout section nearby called Frenchie To Go (in English, bien sur). And for indoor dining, Cammas recommends the neo-bistros Chateaubriand and Septime.

But perhaps the best way of all to sample traditional and new French cuisine is in city’s many superb open-air markets. The all-organic Sunday market on the Left Bank’s Boulevard Raspail attracts hundreds of tourists as well as chefs and foodie Parisians. There you can sample individual shucked oysters, wines, saucisson, bite-sized tartelettes, fresh-from-the-farm produce, or dishes prepared in the market, including soups and paella. Then fill your bag and head to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens or the river to picnic.

Bicycle And Electric Car-Sharing Schemes Ahead Of Paris Mayoral Election
Velib’ bicycles in Paris on March 13, 2014. Balint Porneczi—Bloomberg/Getty Images

To work off all this eating, hop on a Vélib bicycle. Paris’s share-bike system began in 2007 as one of the world’s first, and there are now about 20,000 bicycles at stations across the city, including on the riverbank itself—a not-to-be-missed new Paris destination. Since the Vélibs are part of Paris’s public transportation system it costs roughly the same as a metro ride.

Flow Restaurant Guillaume Leroux—Courtesy of Flow

One year ago, Paris closed its Left Bank river-level road to traffic, and now “les berges,” as the 2.3-kilometer (1.43 miles) path is known, is one of the city’s most dynamic spots, no matter the weather. You can cycle, run, rollerblade, picnic, play chess, watch skate-dancing, and from midday to midnight you can also sink into one of the orange deck chairs at the new Flow restaurant with a bottle of rosé, and watch the passing spectacle. You can even learn how to garden, draw graffiti on the chalkboard wall, take kickboxing or swing-dancing lessons, and for kids there are fencing and boxing lessons, wall-climbing and labyrinths. Check the daily program online.

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A woman enjoys the sunny weather near the Louvre Museum pyramid in Paris on May 16, 2014. Patrick Kovarik—AFP/Getty Images

Finally, if you cannot imagine a trip to Paris without visiting its great museums, you can now begin at the Louvre Museum at the eastern limit of Les Berges, and then walk, run, cycle or skate along the water westwards, emerging at the Quai Branly Museum, with its extraordinary collection of emerging-world artifacts and art.

Le eating:

  • Chez Aline: 85 Rue de la Roquette, Paris 11. Tel: 01.43.71.90.75. Open weekdays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Sat and Sun.
  • Grillé: 15, rue Saint-Augustin, Paris 2. Tel: 01.42.96.10.64. Open weekdays 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Closed Sat and Sun.
  • Frenchie restaurant: 6 Rue du Nil, Paris 2. Tel: 01.40.39.96.19. Open weeknights only. Two seatings at 7 p.m. and 9.30 p.m.
  • Frenchie to Go: 9 Rue du Nil, Paris 2. Weekdays 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Sat and Sun: 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
  • Chateaubriand: 129 Avenue de Parmentier, Paris 11. Tel: 01.43.57.45.95
  • Septime: 80 Rue de Charonne, Paris 11. Tel: 01.43.67.38.29. www.septime-charonne.fr
  • Boulevard Raspail market, Paris 6: Between Rue Cherche-Midi and Rue de Rennes: Non-organic food on Tuesday and Friday 7 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. All-organic food on Sunday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market also has clothes, jewelry, cosmetics and wooden toys. http://www.mairie6.paris.fr/mairie6/jsp/site/Portal.jsp?page_id=39

 

Le seeing and doing:

  • Vélib bikes: Check map of depots, and buy a 1-day ticket (€1.70) or a 7-day ticket (€8).
  • Les Berges river path: Access from the Left Bank quais or bridges between Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower.
  • Flow: on Les Berges near the Alexandre III Bridge, Paris 7. Tel: 01.45.51.49.51. Open 12 noon to 12 midnight.
  • Louvre Museum: 162 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or 9.45 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday). Closed Tuesday. €12 entrance. Book ahead and skip the long lines.
  • Quai Branly Museum: 37 Quai Branly, Paris 7. €9 entrance. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.

Les no-no’s:

  • Stay away from large bistros which attract hordes of tourists, and whose menus have not changed in years.
  • If you are physically mobile avoid taxis, which are fiercely expensive and often unavailable. You are usually a few blocks from a métro or Vélib station.
  • Use your Paris guidebook with great caution, allowing it to tell you only about famous buildings and sites, and not where to eat, drink, or shop. For that, follow Parisian blogs.
  • Do not feel obligated to spend your time visiting the Louvre and Orsay Museums, or the Eiffel Tower. Indeed, sadly Parisians themselves rarely do. There is a wealth of art and history to be seen simply by walking the streets of central Paris, and for a bird’s eye view of Paris, take the elevator to the top of the Montparnasse Tower in Paris 5.
TIME France

France’s Far Right Could Benefit From Sarkozy’s Legal Woes

Nicolas Sarkozy
Sarkozy's legal cloud puts his political future in doubt Kenzo Tribouillard—AFP/Getty Images

The former French President is under investigation, putting his political future under a cloud—and giving Marine Le Pen an opening

Even in a country where political scandals are a constant, the French were stunned to see their former President Nicolas Sarkozy hauled into a police station on July 1 for 15 hours of interrogation. Sarkozy was brought before judges well after midnight that day, where he was formally placed under investigation for corruption and influence peddling, relating to suspicions that Sarkozy had tried to wrest information from a senior judge about a legal case being built against him. An exhausted-looking Sarkozy was shown on television in the back of a police car, clearly shaken by his ordeal. “Is this normal?” Sarkozy asked in a national television and radio interview on the evening of July 2—his first such Q&A in two years—that had millions of viewers spellbound. “I’m profoundly shocked at what has happened.”

But besides his shock, Sarkozy, who lost his reelection bid to President François Hollande in 2012, might already be plotting his next political move—a move that could involve casting himself as the victim rather than the villain in his latest legal drama. As the French absorbed the newest accusations against Sarkozy, the ex-president has emerged in this week’s blanket media coverage as a lone wolf up against the establishment. That’s an ironic twist for a politician whose image as the consummate insider partly led to his reelection defeat. Two days after Sarkozy’s 15-hour police grilling, Sarkozy watchers say they believe he has several options ahead—not all of them bad. “He could become chief of the opposition in fighting both Hollande and the judges,” Christophe Barbier, editor of the French newsweekly L’Express, told TIME on Thursday. “That seems the most probable solution.”

Sarkozy has faced so many investigations since winning the presidency in 2007 that he and his lawyer had tried to avoid surveillance by using prepaid telephones registered in other people’s names. Police tapped those phones, however, leading them to focus on whether the two men tried to wrangle details about the case against Sarkozy from a top appeals-court judge—the subject of his grilling on Tuesday. The charges could lead judges to bring the case to trial, with Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog potentially facing a five-year sentence and a $680,000 fine if found guilty. To say the least, that would hugely complicate Sarkozy’s ambitions for a comeback against the beleaguered President Hollande in the 2017 elections.

Even if the former president beats this new investigation, however, it is not his only legal battle. Last year, investigators finally dropped charges alleging that Sarkozy took advantage of the aging billionaire L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt by taking millions of euros from her to fund his 2007 presidential bid. But they are still probing allegations that Sarkozy sought some $68 million for his 2007 campaign from then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi—the investigation in which he is now suspected of interfering with the senior judge.

But this week’s grilling cuts to the heart of a deeper issue, and it is one that rankles French voters: whether the alleged behavior of Sarkozy was just business as usual for the country’s famously cloistered elites. It could be “simply part of the bullying tactics of people in power that have been tolerated so far,” says Agnès Poirier, author and columnist for the political magazine Marianne, writing in the Guardian on Wednesday. Sarkozy, says Poirier, has regularly demanded information from officials about investigations against him, including once calling the head of the French intelligence service. “If nothing else, this new episode is shedding some more light on “‘le système Sarkozy,'” Poirier said.

Still, Sarkozy is hardly ready to hang it up politically. After laying low for Hollande’s first year in office, he has spent months angling for a return, and has said he intends deciding his next moves—including a possible presidential bid—by summer’s end. Enraged and combative on television on Wednesday night, Sarkozy nonetheless worked hard to dismantle the image of himself as someone accustomed to special access. He called the new charges “grotesque,” but quickly added, “I’m not demanding any privilege.” His voice dropping to a low rasp, he said, “If I have made mistakes I will face the consequences.”

Yet some of the consequences of Sarkozy’s legal battles are already contributing to the deep disarray of French politics. Sarkozy fares much better than President Hollande in most polls, and the former president is popular among many UMP voters, with supporters mobbing him on the sidewalk after his interrogation on Tuesday. Yet the UMP is locked in its own struggle for power. Jean-Francois Copé was appointed as leader only after bitter infighting. Since he resigned in May three former prime ministers have been running the party in an awkward, interim arrangement, as they wait to see what Sarkozy will do.

In fact, there is only one clear winner in this political upheaval: Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, which won the most French votes in the European Union elections in May, and which grabbed nearly one-quarter of the votes in France’s municipal elections last March, largely by slicing off support by disaffected UMP-ers. Pitching the two major parties as corrupt and ineffectual, Le Pen has soared in the polls. She told TIME in May that she believes she is headed for the top, that she intends running for president and that she believes that “the National Front will be in power within 10 years.”

Barbier, editor of L’Express, believes that much will depend on whether Sarkozy can cast himself as a new man: calm and reflective, rather than the volatile, temperamental man the French remember from his time in office. “If he is more calm, more tranquil, if he goes into it in that style,” Sarkozy could perhaps prevail, Barbier says. He believes Sarkozy’s first move might be to take back control of the UMP, and knock it into shape, ready for the presidential race in 2017.

Sarkozy’s makeover might already have begun. After a mostly combative TV interview on Wednesday night the former president struck a more conciliatory tone afterwards, tweeting: “I love my country passionately and I am not a man to be discouraged.” His supporters hope that passion and tenacity will be enough to carry their man through.

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