Between a delightful gathering at Robert Mundell’s home at Santa Columbo outside of Siena, Italy (July 7-11), and my return to Juba in newly independent South Sudan, Ito and I have been hanging out in Italy, France.
Mundell’s annual gathering of about 40 economists discussed the reform of the international monetary system. Participants included: Edmond Alphandéry, Domingo Cavallo, Jacob Frenkel, Steve Hanke, Nicolas Krul, Ronald McKinnon, Bill Middendorf II, Aleksei Mozhin, Robert Pringle, to name a few. Christine Lagarde was still on the participant list but didn’t attend having just taken up her duties as the new Managing Director of the IMF, but Rodrigo de Rato, former Managing Director of the IMF and former Vice President for Economic Affairs and Minister of Economy of Spain, was there, as was Min Zhu from China whose appointment as a Deputy Managing Director of the IMF was announced a few days later.
During the two days of discussion, I summarized the paper I had presented earlier at the G-20 High Level Seminar on the Reform of the International Monetary System in Nanjing, China; the Astana Forum, in Astana, Kazakhstan; and the Central Bank of Argentina in Buenos Aires, Argentine on a Real SDR World Currency Board: http://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/23/
From Siena we traveled by train to Milan for two days during which we saw Verdi’s Attila at the world-famous opera house, la Scala (see picture). The opera is not one of Verdi’s best but the la Scala production (co produced with the San Fransisco Opera Company) was outstanding. We had not been to la Scala since its renovation a few years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Scala
We traveled on by train to Lyon, France, via Geneva Switzerland to visit Scot Thompson and Louie Pangilinan. Scot has swapped his beautifully compound in Bali with a family with places near Lyon and Paris for the month of July. The house near Lyon is about ten miles north along the Saône River in Cailloux sur Fontaines. The French weather was too cool to use the swimming pool at that house, but Scot and Louie took us on several day trips to some wonderful spots.
The first was to the Château de Fléchères about 20 miles further north. The Château was built from 1606 to 1625. If you are interested you can learn more of its history and see pictures here: http://www.chateaudeflecheres.com/en
In a more easterly direction we visited the medieval village of Perouge, which developed in the 14th and 15th century: http://www.francethisway.com/places/perouges.php
On Monday (July 18) we took the train from Lyon to Avignon in Provence where we were met by Nicolas Krul. He drove us to his beautiful estate in Ménerbes about an hour’s drive southeast of Avignon. Nicolas and I continued the economics discussion we had started during Mundell’s gathering in Siena, and enjoyed two lovely bottles of Sauvignon blanc and a wonderful lunch prepared by his charming wife Meher.
On Tuesday (July 19) Scott and Louie drove us to the other house they had the use of in a southern suburb of Paris. On the way we visited the Basilique de Vézelay and amazing medieval village and cathedral built between the 9th and 13th centuries and from which the 2nd and 3rd Crusades were launched: http://www.burgundytoday.com/historic-places/abbeys-churches/basilique-ste-madeleine.htm
The next day was spent at the Palace and gardens of Versailles, for which no words are adequate: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage. The next three days we explored the usual sights of Paris.
France has changed a lot since I visited it the first time in 1960, over fifty years ago. 1960 was only fifteen years after the end of WWII, which to me at the time seemed centuries earlier. In fact, fifteen years is less than the time from the collapse of the Soviet Union and now, which seems to me like yesterday. Among the pleasant surprises are English (as well as French, of course) announcements on trains and the number of French who can speak English. Even the information booths in rather out-of-the-way places were staffed with people who could speak English and they were very friendly and helpful. At the odd hour of 3:00 pm (between lunch and dinner) we wanted to eat before taking the train from Versailles and Paris. The Brasserie was no longer able to prepare pizza or make a sandwich (out of bread), but happily prepared us a salad with chicken, wanted to know if we were British or American and whether we enjoyed our lunch.
Even Parisians are often friendlier, but not always. Our train from the Eiffel Tower to Saint Michel ended at Invalides because of repairs and we were told that we would need to complete the trip by a bus waiting upstairs. We wandered around underground for a while trying to figure out how and where to go up to the street level. We asked at another Information booth. The lady insisted that we must go “up, UP!” All and all, however, it has been a very nice trip.
We travel to Amsterdam for three days today (Saturday) before Ito returns home and I return to work in Juba, South Sudan. Hopefully I can lose there some of the weight that I gained here.