I was walking through the Traboules, hidden passageways in the old quarter of Lyon, France, some of them dating back to the 4thcentury. The word “traboules” is a corruption of the Latin “trans-ambulare” (to pass through) allowing the inhabitants more direct access to the fresh water from the river Soane.
That evening the great city was under an intense heat wave and, as I was finding my way through buildings, courtyards and up and down staircases, the air just stood still but the cool, massive ancient walls provided some relief. Every traboule is different – each has a unique pastel color, a particular curve or spiral staircase, vaulted ceilings or Renaissance arches.
Lyon is an amazing town and it has changed a lot over the years.
“When I came here long time ago,” said the Dutch guide lady, “the city was grey and dirty. It is beautiful and green now.”
Lyon area, like most of the French metropolitan territories is rich. Phenomenally productive farmland, very inhabitable climate zone. Great rivers for industry and internal transport and a population far younger and aging more slowly than the European norm.
Remarkably, the French economy has always been held mostly in house, in stark contrast to Germany. The French know full well that should the Americans walk away from the Bretton Woods agreement, the global security that enables the European Union – which is at heart a union of exporters dependent upon global access – life will change. That obviously upsets president Macron, but it doesn’t overly hurt France.
And the Americans are walking away from providing global security. Consider this tweet by president Trump of June 24th:
“China gets 91% of its oil from the Straight, Japan 62%. So why are we protecting the shipping lines for another countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships...”
This new approach will dramatically re-shape the economies and political systems of global exporters, and what does the US need to do to trigger it? Not a damn thing.
But France is different - in a world without the Americans running things, it is by far in the best position to chart an independent course in the new order that is coming. It has easy access to the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, giving France – and France alone – fingers in every pot that matters to Europe.
The French designed the EU for strategic reasons and so never lashed their economy to Europe. They also have the longest and most active history of engaging in military interventions. French forces are capable, experienced, professional, never rusting on the shelves. One of the great things about having a strong national system with no international dependencies or exposures is that you can choose your battles rather than having them chosen for you.
Strong as the French cities are, Paris is stronger than all of them combined, giving the country centralization and unity. Again, in a stark contrast to Germany.
France is a country to watch, for all the good reasons.
The next day I was riding my motorcycle back from Lyon to Geneva through the Massif Central. The views were great, the heat brutal but I didn’t feel it as I was moving high speed.
It occurred to me as I was leaning down in curves, that it is the creative part of my life that I enjoy the most – the book and the essays, of which there are a lot here, something like seventy. The chance of a major break through is unknown, but I take the risk.
I was always a risk taker; it is impossible to change it now. And I don’t even want to.
The great actor Gary Cooper has this inscription on his gravestone: “he was lucky and he knew it.”
Voyons ce qui se passé. We’ll see what’s next.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler