Sunday, September 28, 2014

Around Town ~ les journees du Patrimoine

It all started innocently enough.  We invited our Upstairs Neighbors down for a little apero.

Conseil d'Etat ~ les journees du Patrimoine

Jude and I had plotted and planned a way to keep the boys happy, distracted, and busy.  We picked up a few DVDs from the library and hoped one of them would keep things calm.  I planned to watch the videos with them as another way to keep the peace.

What we couldn't plan for was what would happen should one of les enfants be a Bringer of the Plague, and the timing couldn't have been worse.  Les journees du Patrimoine were coming and I wasn't going to miss it.  Unless I was on my Death Bed, that is.

Each year the third weekend in September is set aside as a very special two day event.  All across France, places of history and importance that are normally off limits to visitors open their doors wide.  Millions of visitors see places they'd not usually see.

Conseil d'Etat ~ les journees du Patrimoine

This year our Across the Hall  Neighbor invited Jude and I to his place of work over in the 1eme.  He'd give us a personal tour.

In our conversation group we were strongly encouraged to visit the ambassador's residences of Romania and Poland over in the 7eme.

We would spend Saturday with our Across the Hall Neighbor and Sunday visiting the residences.  Or so we thought.

As the week ground on I became sicker and sicker.  By Saturday I was a mess.  The Little Virus Vectors of our Upstairs Neighbors have delivered a Plague of Apocalyptic Proportions.  Damn them!

Conseil d'Etat ~ les journees du Patrimoine

Come Saturday afternoon I resolved to suck down as many throat lozenges as it took to get through the tour.  We couldn't miss this as our Across the Hall Neighbor is a director of some importance within the French government.  It was an honor to be simply invited.  I girded my loins, packed my lozenges, and we set off.

On the other side of rue de Rivoli from the Louvre sits the Conseil d'Etat.  There is so much history in this one place (as we came to learn) that it's hard to know where to begin.

An all to brief overview goes something like this...  Cardinal Richelieu had his residence built near the king's so the king would have easy access to advice on how to run the state.  The Ducs of Orleans lived here with their family for a short time.  Moliere's first Comedie Francaise was located on the site.  There were several fires and the building was rebuilt each time in a different configuration.  Emperor Napoleon formalized the functions of the Conseil d'Etat soon after he took power.

Conseil d'Etat ~ les journees du Patrimoine

The Conseil d'Etat is an interesting institution.  It's only responsibilities relate to government administration and laws pertaining to government.  Nearly everything else (civil order and other non-governmental non-administrative law) is handled by individual Maries and the Prefecture de Police.

The Conseil d'Etat has three primary functions.  It helps craft language for future law that fits within the framework of constitutional and related law.  It oversees the process where law is contested.  It ensures the administration of government complies with French law.

Looking at this from a US point of view, The Conseil d'Etat is an advisor to the law making process and would arbitrate any disputes that might arise.  Alas, there is no real US equivalent.  Could you imagine a process or function that would help write US legislation to make sure it fit the language of the constitution and all related law before Congress, Big and Monied Interests got their hands on it?

Conseil d'Etat ~ les journees du Patrimoine

The Conseil d'Etat has a similar function to the US Supreme Court, but only for things related to the administration of government.  It is the final arbiter in cases where a contest arises.  It seems to act as a Fine Toothed Comb for administrative law.

As our neighbor was explaining how the Conseil d'Etat worked I asked how political influence was managed.  Afterall, in the US all it takes a sufficient money and a sensitive ear for legislation to be written in your favor (business and monied interests love the US process for how easy it is to manipulate).

It turns out, political influence is managed, as you might guess, rather differently here in France.  The President of the Conseil is appointed by the President of France.  It is a life time position.  It is strictly a-political.  How this can be, I have no idea, but our neighbor assures us this is the case.

Conseil d'Etat ~ les journees du Patrimoine

We had the opportunity to see the Vice President of the Conseil.  He is a tall man of pleasant continence and seemingly abundant patience.  He seemed to answer every question put to him.  There were a lot of people who had questions, from the looks of things.  I couldn't help but notice the beauty and precision in his use of the French language.

Toward the end of our tour we asked about recruitment policies and how France found the right people for this kind of job.  It turns out recruitment is rather straightforward.  The top five students from Institut d'√©tudes politiques de Paris each are given clerical positions in the Conseil.  Only the very best and very brightest are allowed into this ancient institution.

Conseil d'Etat ~ les journees du Patrimoine

Just as I felt like I could take no more and that the Dreaded Plague was having it's way with me, we thanked our host for the generosity of his time and knowledge, and bid adieu to our Across the Hall Neighbor.  I struggled back to the Metro and then to Home and Hearth.

The Romanian and Polish Ambassador's residences will have to wait another year.  The best I could do was stagger to a pharmacy to beg for relief and to schedule a doctors appointment for Monday.

Tuesday we would leave for Saint-Malo.  Dreaded Plague and all.


  1. Cool! Thanks for the lesson on the Conseil d'Etat. I wonder how they prevent special interests from influencing the Conseil? As you say, money talks...

    Hopefully you've recovered from the plague!

    1. I think what we see as special interests in the US are something very different here. Not that it doesn't happen, just very different.

      The Dreaded Plague is slow to subside, but we're getting there. :-)