Posts

Showing posts from May, 2010

When a bottle of water becomes a bottle of wine...

That can only happen in France! Yesterday, I ordered a bottle of Badoit mineral water in a nifty Parisian brasserie - btw, I highly recommend it, "Les Ministères" rue du Bac, where they serve excellent traditional French fare (I had superb kidneys with an old-style mustard sauce). And it is frequented by a seriously eating French clientele, always a good sign in a touristy place like Paris.

But the bottle of water? Yes, I couldn't believe it. My attention was first attracted by a neat tag around its collar, annoucing that it is produced since 1778 - a respectable date of birth, by any means - and that it is "recognized for its digestive and exhilarating virtues" (sic). Exhilarating? Yes, "exhilarantes" in French, and that (aside from being good for your liver) also means, as it does in English, something that makes you laugh hard.

OK, that was my first laugh (a small one), but there was more (and better)to come.

I turned the bottle over and read the d…

Stieg Larsson's Trilogy: Another Black Swan in Literature!

Everyone's heard of that phenomenal blockbuster that's come out of Sweden: the Millenium Trilogy. The author is a Swedish newspaperman, Stieg Larsson, who by the way, is unfortunately dead - he died in 2004 at age 50 from a massive heart attack. We, in Europe, for once have been luckier than Americans in getting to know his work. The three volumes - crime thrillers featuring an improbable couple of mystery-solvers, a middle-aged investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his young bisexual hacker friend, Lisbeth Salander who's a mathematical genius and covered with tattoos - have been translated in all major European languages,since they were first published in 2005 (I read it in Italian). They became a hit in Europe well before arriving in America, a very rare event. Usually, it's the other way round, as notoriously exemplified by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code.

Now the third volume - The Girl who Kicked the Hornest's Nest - is coming out this week in the US a…

A neat fish restaurant in Paris: La Marée

Yesterday I tried again what used to be one of the classic fish restaurants in Paris back in the 1960s: La Marée. It's on the angle of rue Daru with the Faubourg St Honoré in an "art nouveau" building, and it has replaced what used to be until 1963 a pharmacy owned by White Russians.

By classic restaurant, I mean a comfortable setting, with wood panelling, almost (wow, the ugly word!) bourgeois but soooo "gemutlich", and with food that was always remarkably "true" - and by that I mean the best ingredients and careful, precise preparation.In short, a whiff of the sea. The last time I went there was some 15 years ago, it was still very good, even though the 1960s had become something of a lost decade. Then it changed hands in 2006, and I was curious to see whether it had maintained its original class...

Well it has! It's now run by a couple of very talented young people: Yves Mutin, the chef, and Stéphanie Bennassar who looks after clients in the …

Post-scriptum: The Euro is Saved but it still Hobbles on One Leg!

One whale of a fund is what it took to rescue the Euro: some €750 billion, nearly a $1 trillion, much more than what the American Government set up through the TARP to rescue Wall Street.

A very respectable amount of money - the level most analysts agreed on - and, not unsurprisingly given its size, it worked!

But if you look at the arrangement more closely, you realize that it's not a fund as such but a rescue mechanism: European governments don't expect (they hope) to have to actually put up the money. And, what is more important, they've given the green light to the European Central Bank to start acting as any central bank worth its name should, i.e. buy up bonds directly on the market to stabilize prices.

Seeing the positive reaction of the markets on Monday was a relief. The problem is that it could be short-lived.

Why?

Because the Euro still hobbles along on one leg only. It is still based on the Maastrich Treaty and on unrealistic parameters i.e. pieces of paper,…

Propping Up the Euro with an Emergency Fund: A First Step in the Right Direction

A first step, but a (very) small one.

I haven't seen the details of the proposed emergency fund (or mechanism) but rumours are that it would be around €70 billion.

If that is the right figure, it's peanuts! It's just about 10 percent of the TARP launched by the US Treasury to save the American banking system from collapse after Lehman Brothers had defaulted in September 2008. I know that the Greek crisis - around some €130 billion, give or take a dozen - is much, much smaller than Lehman Brothers which was "worth" some $600 billion. But €70 billion is puny if it's supposed to prop up the Euro, considering that Portugal and Spain are certain to be the next target of speculators. And then Ireland, Italy...

In short, a fund is a first step in the right direction...assuming that all Euro-zone finance ministers have understood that the said "direction" is setting up a European-wide Treasury or Ministry of Finances, like the US Treasury.

But has the Eu…

How to Fix the Euro and Avoid a Double Dip Recession: Change the Maastricht Parameters!

It sounds like what the French call “l’oeuf de Colomb” – Columbus’ egg: the great man was asked how to stand an egg on its head and he simply cracked the bottom to keep it upright.

Here too we need to crack the bottom to keep the Euro upright and avoid sliding again in a deep recession – making it a double dip recession, the kind that is most frightening, because the second dip could be far worse than the first caused by the fall of Lehman Brothers. To those outside the Euro-zone who are gleefully watching the Euro collapse and congratulating themselves for not having joined in (and here I’m thinking of the British in particular), beware! If the Euro-zone area goes into an economic tailspin, it means European markets for British, Chinese, Japanese, American goods etc will dry up. International trade is a two-way street: if you block one end of the street, the traffic stops. So any excessive weakening of the Euro is highly contagious worldwide. I don’t need to go on, I think you get th…