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No Mona Lisa, no Venus de Milo, foreign press groans as museum strike holds

Text by Guillaume LOIRET

Latest update : 2009-12-08

Drenched, disappointed tourists outside the French capital’s landmark museums are making the news in the foreign press as a strike by museum workers dampens dreams of the ideal Paris vacation.

The strike affecting French museums and monuments that kicked off on Dec. 2 to protest staff reductions and budgetary restrictions continues to make headlines around the world.

“President Nicolas Sarkozy boasted last year that ‘these days when there's a strike [in France], nobody notices’,” wrote the correspondent for the British paper, the Daily Telegraph, before noting, with some irony, that tourists in the French capital these past few days had indeed noticed.

But the international press has focused most of its criticism on the consequences of the strike, highlighting the sadness of Paris without its museums. “It’s shaping up as a gloomy weekend for visitors to France, and I’m not just talking about the rainy Paris weather,” the Los Angeles Times’ Travel blogger commented on Dec. 4.

It's the place of Paris as the planet's top tourist destination that makes the strike all the more incovenient for visitors. As British daily the Guardian reminded readers, French museums drew 16 million visitors to their doors in 2008. According to the Financial Times, more than half of those people went to the Louvre.

Missing the masterpieces

Many of the foreign tourists who made their way to the Pompidou Centre, the Louvre or Sainte-Chapelle, only to find them closed, feel that their stay in the City of Lights was ruined.

In an interview with the Guardian, a London-based journalist in Paris for a vacation said he felt he had been “cheated out of it”. The paper also quoted a tourist from California who, after having “spent a lot of money on this holiday”, said her family had missed out on "the opportunity of a lifetime” when they found the doors of the iconic Musée d’Orsay shut.

It is exactly for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that tourists cover vast distances to see some of the art world's best known treasures. A BBC report featured a couple from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou who had always dreamed of seeing the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo up close. "There are some great paintings inside, some masterpieces," they said, standing outside, beside the infamous glass pyramid of a closed Louvre, before confiding that their trip to Paris would be remembered as a disappointment.

Saddest of all were perhaps Irish tourists. Quoted in the Guardian, Aoife Hoban and Paul Amond, already miffed that a certain controversial handball meant their team failed to qualify for the upcoming World Cup, arrived in Paris to find the Arc de Triomphe closed. They managed, however, to keep their eyes on the bigger picture: "It's a shame as we're only here for a couple of days….But Paris is great anyway," they said.

The Spanish press, on the other hand, found reason to rejoice. An El Pais journalist noted that, during the strike, the price of a ticket to get into the Louvre went from nine to six euros to compensate for days it was closed (the most famous of all Parisian museums has been on strike only intermittently since the start of the strike). And the Eiffel Tower, which is managed by the Paris town hall, has remained open - no small thing given that it is one of the world’s most visited monuments.

French culture minister's 'baptism by fire'

The foreign press might have been full of stories from rattled tourists but it hasn't explained the reasons behind the strike or that it was directed specifically at Sarkozy's policies and those of his minister of culture, Frédéric Mitterrand.

Belgian newspaper Libre Belgique was one of the few publications to contextualise the strike, presenting it as “the latest episode in a long and old series”.

“The reforms of the right wing are hard to swallow in the cultural world,” wrote the paper's France correspondent, Bernard Delattre, before explaining that less than six months after being named minister, Mitterrand was undergoing a “baptism by fire” that could cost him his legitimacy.

A culture blogger at the New York Times also pointed out that one of the policies targeted by the strike - government plans to replace any two civil servants who retire with only one new hire – would result in the loss of 400 jobs at the Pompidou Centre over the next ten years.



Date created : 2009-12-08