Today I wake up at the epicenter of an ideological earthquake. The French rejected the European Constitution yesterday, 55 percent of the voters casting a “Non.” Here at the Deep Sun Café in Cannes, where someone forgot to turn off the free wi-fi connection offered during the Film Festival, everything looks the same. Boulevard Carnot, a main artery in and out of the city, is busy with buses, scooters, Meganes, Volkswagens, taxis, and vans. Pedestrians walk by talking on cellphones. A tourist pulls her luggage, the wheels clacking on the stones of the sidewalk. It looks like another warm, sunny day, the day after France was turned upside down.
“Le non a gagné et tout est bouleversé,” Le Figaro’s editorial concluded. The No won and all is turned upside down. France, one of the founders of the European Union, becomes the first country to reject the constitution. The Netherlands votes this week, and the No is leading there, too. So the dream of a strong, united Europe has been rocked hard.
My own highly subjective reading of this historic moment is mixed. I feel sad for France, because I am sure this vote will have the effect of further marginalizing a country with a proud history and culture. The ascendancy of a market-dominated world seems unstoppable, and probably a good thing for bringing more jobs and more democratic freedoms. But what’s lost as the world plunges ahead into the globalized future is also precious. One way that I picture the difference is to compare the dizzying crush of shoppers at Monoprix, a small-time Wal-Mart, with the image of a Frenchman strolling home with a fresh baguette under his arm, purchased at a small boulangerie. You can buy baguettes cheaper at Monoprix, I’m sure, although I’ve never been tempted to even price them. The world economy is headed for Monoprix and mono-lots-of-other things. It’s harder and harder for a country (or in the U.S., for a single state) to hold onto its identity, to keep vibrant the things that make it unique in the world. I’m not generally comfortable with such simplistic notions, but today seems to be a day for looking at large trends.
So a part of me resonates with the French and their “Non.” It was a stupid gesture by all rational measures. But this is France, after all, so it should be no surprise that the heart, whence spring fear as well as desire, got 55 percent of the vote yesterday.