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France

World's biggest farming fair opens in Paris

Video by Nicolas GERMAIN

Text by Gulliver CRAGG

Latest update : 2009-02-23

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to inaugurate the farming fair on Saturday, a nerve-wracking experience for someone struggling to match former President Jacques Chirac's renowned popularity with farmers - and cattle.

Ask a French person about the Salon de l’Agriculture, and the reaction will usually be enthusiastic. “A great occasion to sample food”… “a chance for the kids to see farm animals”… “a way for us to get back to our roots”. In the land of gastronomy, agricultural roots are important. And the French love the Salon.

 

Perhaps its most astonishing power, though, is the power to make even left-wingers speak kindly of Jacques Chirac. The one thing everyone agrees upon about the former president is that he really had a way with a cow. Chirac, originally elected in a rural constituency, loved the Salon. He is expected to visit again this year even though he is no longer president.

 

The enthusiasm and charm he brought to the event is markedly lacking in Nicolas Sarkozy, whose political career has been strictly urban. Last year, Sarkozy’s first appearance at the Salon was a PR disaster. He lost his temper with a heckler, and the phrase “Casse-toi, pauvre con” (“Piss off you jerk” is a polite translation) entered French folklore. The nation is on tenterhooks to see how he will perform this year – but with his popularity at an all-time low, some of the Salon’s visitors will surely be tempted to say the same thing to him!

 

But though that might be the talk of Paris, the atmosphere among the farmers and traders putting the finishing touches to their stands on Friday was one of great joy and bonhomie. Farmers clearly relish the chance to get together in Paris once a year and chat about their respective regions and produce. As cattle were unloaded and washed, there was a palpable sense of excitement.

 

Despite an early start and a four-hundred kilometre journey, the owners of Al Capone and Aucuba, two 1.5-tonne Charolais bulls, were beaming as they opened the gates of their van to let the beasts out: “We’re from Vendée, land of the sun!” As well as cattle of course, there are also thousands of sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and rabbits. I didn’t see any frogs, though. Maybe tomorrow.

 

Over the course of the week we’ll be visiting the Salon several times, patting the animals, looking out for the myriad political and media personalities expected to show up, and enjoying the food and drink. We’ll also be looking into why, while unemployment in France soars, the farming profession is desperate for new recruits, at how the global economic crisis is affecting farming, and at attempts to make agriculture more environmentally-friendly.

Date created : 2009-02-21

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