Paris in the springtime: April showers bring May glowers

To the English, it's damp, but to the French, it's just plain rotten.

It may be heretical to suggest that the French are like the English. But in one respect at least, they have recently come to resemble their ancient enemies across the channel: All anyone in France talks about these days is the weather.

They can be forgiven, for the French have been suffering from some extremely English weather. In Britain they would call it "damp." The French, more forthright, call it pourri - rotten.

In Paris, it rained for 25 of April's 30 days. Visitors dreaming of Paris in the spring huddled under gray skies and umbrellas as they queued like wet rats to go up the Eiffel Tower or into the Louvre.

The whole country has experienced the soggiest winter on record, with nearly twice as much rain as normal since October.

"It has been filthy weather all the time," groans Dominique Escale, a scientist at the French meteorological office. And the gloom has seeped into the national mood.

You can feel it wherever you go. Shopkeepers are grumpy. Bus drivers, peering past their constantly flapping windshield wipers, are bad- tempered. We all get up in the morning hoping for a bit of blue sky, and we all start the day disappointed.

It has come to the point where even thunder and lightning are almost welcome as a relief from the monotony of straightforward rain.

The national mood is bad news for the government.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has had a rough few weeks dealing with public discontent, which has spilled over into the subject of a spate of industrial lay-offs by companies that are doing well, but simply want to restructure. This strikes the French as unfair, and the Socialist-led government has been caught between its desire to foster business and its traditional concern for the casualties of capitalism.

Mr. Jospin is also suffering from the impact of endless stories from the north of France, where the river Somme burst its banks and flooded nearly 3,000 homes. Whole towns and villages have been under water for weeks, and though it might seem unreasonable to blame the government for the weather, local residents have their suspicions.

Jospin was heckled by angry flood victims when he visited the town of Abbeville last month. Many there believe - wrongly - that the prime minister deliberately ordered water from the Seine to be diverted, so as to spare Paris from bad flooding at the expense of towns along the Somme.

Jospin's personal popularity has slumped in the past few weeks, just as he girds himself for battle in presidential elections a year from now. By then, he can hope, the weather should be better.

Not that meteorological experts are making any promises.

"We don't really know why it has been raining so much, and we don't know much about the future," admits Ms. Escale.

While better weather has been predicted in the north, rain is expected in the south. "Everybody gets their turn," she says.

As for Paris, scattered showers are forecast for seven days out of the next eight.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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