Sunday, February 15, 2009

Paris as the seat of the EU Presidency

The European Union has a rotating presidency that changes every six months. Most travelers to Europe probably couldn't care less, but being in Paris while France held the presidency (from July-December, 2008), there were a couple noticeable changes to the city's landmarks.

Far and away the most obvious was the Eiffel Tower. Normally a brownish iron framework lit up at night in standard, yellow-hued lights, the French had decided to use their most famous landmark to advertise their leadership of the EU - by lighting it in blue and affixing a circle of stars to it to represent the EU flag.

I really didn't care for the new look, and I'm happy to say that it is now back to its old self. Had this been my first time to Paris, I wouldn't have felt the same sense of awe upon seeing Gustav Eiffel's masterpiece. To me, the blue Eiffel looked out of place, but I still thought the concept was kind of cool. The French Tricolor would have looked better, but that wouldn't have conveyed the right political message, and it was definitely interesting.

Far more interesting, for me, was what the French did to th
e Assemblée Nationale. Essentially the French equivalent of Britain's Parliament building or the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., the National Assembly houses the legislative branch of France's government in a columned building across the Seine from the Place de la Concorde.

What was interesting about the National Assembly was that the French had decided to use it as the canvas to show off Europe's greatest strengths and the work being done to solve some of the world's problems. This was accomplished by two film projectors on pillars on the Pont de la Concorde that faced the building. Blinders set in front of the projectors ensured that one shone on only the columns while the other shone only on the wall behind the columns.

At times, the columns would show different pictures from the back wall, with wheat grass rising on the columns as video of windmills - touting clean air and eco-friendly farming techniques - played to convey the message. At one point, the French Tricolor showed on the columns while the backdrop was blue.At other times, the images were combined to show something as a whole, like Delacroix's famous painting, Liberty Leading the People. A scene from the Revolution of 1830, the painting is considered by many to be the first modern political painting. It celebrates the people rising to fight for their liberty. I'm guessing it was put on the video program to remind people of the turbulent past that is largely behind Europe as it forges into the future.

Oddly enough, Delacroix's painting included Lady Liberty holding a gun, and just about everyone else is armed. Here, however, the French seem to have sanitized the image. Perhaps they aren't all that eager to remember the turmoil of the past.
Even though I didn't care for the Eiffel Tower's new look, it was nice to be in France and see what the French did to celebrate their leadership of the European Union.

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