Things That Make You Go Hmmm... Le Grand Plan

Grant Williams  |

Nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees lies a tiny town that boasts a mere 176 inhabitants.

The town centre consists of just two narrow streets, there is little agriculture in the surrounding area, wild orchids grow in abundance, and the air is as fresh and clean as you will find anywhere on earth.

Looking down upon the sleepy little hamlet is the mountain from which the village takes its name. At 1,320 m, Bugarach stands out against the skyline in stark relief to its surroundings, and its shape is eerily familiar to science-fiction fans the world over as many believe it inspired the mountain that Richard Dreyfuss would fashion out of mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

As tiny as it is, Bugarach has always had an attraction for the... how shall I phrase this? Quixotic exotic quirky dreamy starry-eyed weird. Yes, that's it. Just plain weird.

(UK Guardian): The village has always attracted people with esoteric beliefs, they were here before and they will come afterwards, but this is something quite different," [Jean-Pierre] Delord [mayor of Bugarach] says. This corner of southern France has long been a cauldron of mystic fables and occult conspiracy theories. Nearby Rennes-Le- Chateau, described in the Cadogan Guide as "the vortex of Da Vinci Code madness", is famous for its riddles of hidden treasure and a supposed cover-up of Jesus and Mary Magdalene's married life in France. All around is the countryside of the Cathars, the mysterious and persecuted medieval heretical sect, who have now inspired a local tourism drive. Nostradamus is said to have spent some of his childhood in nearby Alet-les-Bains.But back to that mountain, which is also something of an oddity to even the most-informed geologists in that somehow the lower layers of rock are younger than those at the top:It is also host to a bewildering number of caves. Strange sounds from underground and odd light effects at the top have for decades seen the mountain likened not only to a UFO landing pad, but a "UFO underground car park", with regular spaceship vrooming and revving allegedly heard from within. UFO believers often travel here, looking for bits of spaceship amid the mountain rock. It has been claimed that the former French president François Mitterrand came here by helicopter to investigate.But as kooky as all his seems, in a little over two weeks, Bugarach is likely to be the focal point for all the world's media for the simple reason that it will be literally the only place on earth.

Why? Well, for that you can blame our old friends the Mayans.

According to a prophecy/Internet rumour, which no one has ever quite gotten to the bottom of, an ancient Mayan calendar has predicted the end of the world will happen on the night of 21 December 2012, and only one place on earth will be saved: the sleepy village of Bugarach.

You think "goldbugs" love a conspiracy? Well, the visitors to Bugarach are in a league all of their own:

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...rumours of the impact on Bugarach got more outlandish, helped by media that couldn't resist the saga of a rural doomsday. Planes from America were said to have been fully booked for December with passengers who had only bought one-way tickets, hippie cults were claimed to have built bunkers beneath the village, and half-naked ramblers were said to be seen wandering up the mountain in procession, ringing bells. This turned out to be far from true. But as D-day approaches, the rumour has created a heavy atmosphere among villagers, who are keen for all of this-though not the world itself-to end.Bizarre in the extreme. But perhaps, just perhaps there is some method in this madness, a little foresight in the folly. It could be that this is all part of Le Grand Plan. We will get back to that a little later, but for now let's concentrate on Les Deux Françoises.

The mention of François Mitterand segues nicely into today's topic du jour, which is those lovable funsters in France, specifically their government and the sparkling prime ministers that the French tend to elect in times of crisis.

Mark Twain once said that France is miserable because it is filled with Frenchmen, and Frenchmen are miserable because they live in France. Perhaps that is the reason why they elected l'autre François - M. Hollande - last year. It's hard to say. But this past week, a run-of-the-mill an extraordinary outburst from one of Hollande's cabinet (specifically, the grandly titled Minister of Industrial Renewal, Arnaud Montebourg) harkened back to the dark days of Mitterand's Socialist government of the 1980s.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard takes up the story (but of course he does):

(Ambrose Evans-Pritchard): Thirty years have passed since French President François Mitterrand launched Europe's last great wave of nationalisation, seizing the banks, insurance groups, arms makers and steel industry in the culminating debacle of the Collectivist era. 
The whole world has been living in an era of privatisation ever since. 
So it seems like a strange step back in time to hear France's minister of industrial renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, threatening a "temporary public takeover" of ArcelorMittal's steel operations in the Lorraine plateau-purportedly to save the blast furnaces of Florange and their 2,500 workers, so sacred in the Socialist Party catechism. 
It is even stranger to hear him say "we don't want Mittal in France anymore."

Is it, Ambrose? I don't know...

By Grant Williams

This is an outtake from Things That Make You Go Hmmm, a free weekly newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore. Each week Grant draws on his 26 years of financial experience in the Asian, Australian, European and US markets to bring readers his analysis of economic and world affairs. Register today and get Grant's insights – ranging from eye-opening to mind-boggling – delivered free each week to your inbox.

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