My Paris Stories

Of Cows And Men

1000 exhibitors from 35 countries will be present this year, 650,000 visitors will have the chance to meet 3500 animals over nine days – and quite a lot of prominent French politicians as well. How long will Nicolas Sarkozy stay for this time? And will Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF boss and possible socialist candidate in 2012, show up as well? Will Madame Aillot-Marie, France’s Tunisian Travel Affairs Minister come, in an effort to repair her image?

It's a place where careers go wrong as well

You might think: hey, come on, this is ridiculous! But it’s not: the "Salon d’Agriculture" is the place where future leaders of France are born and where they fail. At the "Salon", Sarkozy damaged his career when he insulted a citizen who refused his hand-shake (he said "Casse-toi, pauv’con" which is, forgive me: "Piss off, asshole").

Chirac, the champion

Others, like former president Jacques Chirac, built their whole national reputation at the agricultural fair by tapping bulls and caressing sheep for hours and hours, before entering a brutal culinary decathlon. Chirac was a champion in swallowing sausages and beefsteaks, lamb chops and turbot chunks in a row, then blue cheese and goat cheese, then oysters and mustards and chocolates and cakes, all by the kilo, and we don’t count the numerous glasses of white and red wine and Cognac and Eaux-de-vie – Chirac got them down without even blinking in front of the many TV cameras covering the event.

You can follow Chirac in the pavillons 7.1. and 7.2. where 30 fake regional restaurants are setting shop at this year’s "Salon", 80 farmers and 150 wine growers show their art accompanied by 100 craftspeople who represent the miraculous diversity of French food production. The latter will also be celebrated during the General Agricultural Competition running alongside the fair where gold and silver medals go to poultry breeds, nut oils, honey products, smoked trout, pear cider or Camembert cheese.

The first live cow seen at the fair

You could admire the "best young shepherd 2011" as well. Or give a round of applause to the "best cheese-making craftsman" of the year. You could fill travel bags with trustworthy information delivered by Danone, McDonalds, Carrefour or LU (the biscuit giant). Most guests, however, just come to get stuffed and/or drunk as a skunk which, in France, is considered an appropriate way to kill some time on a winter weekend.

Whatever your choice, the grand agricultural fair of Paris won’t let you down. Many children of Paris have seen their first live cow or pig out here, at Porte de Versailles. And a lot of other people have come to understand what "France" really means only after visiting this show. It’s huge. It’s packed. It’s weird. It’s great.

Salon Internationale d’Agriculture
Open daily from 9 to 19h until February 27th.

Candy, the official mascott on her official visit to Paris - Photo: AFP, Eric Piermont
AFP, Lionel Bonaventure