Big Cities on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


Cool interactive map by the Financial Times today, showing how overpopulation in some megacities is reaching critical levels. Central Paris‘ population today has 2 million, having lost 1 million since the 1920s, however its metropolitan area comprises around 11 million, many of these inhabitants outside the central core have not even been born in France. This imbalance -which is also economic- between the center and the periphery, is a time bomb.



Lagos, in Nigeria (photo), is a city suffering overpopulation. Mexico DF is home to more than 24 million souls. LA‘s almost 16 million are mostly dependent on cars for mobility. The world’s largest conurbation is still greater Tokyo (photo), a city that sits on one of the most active seismic faults on the planet is also very vulnerable to tsunamis. Cities continue to evolve and some of them continue to grow out of control, making them very difficult to manage and causing an almost unbearable strain.



Christine Lagarde

When French president Nicolas Sarkozy asked Christine Lagarde to join his cabinet in 2007, as Minister for Economy, Industry and Employment, she was already the first ever female Chairman of Chicago-based global law firm Baker & McKenzie. She is a respected antitrust and labour lawyer and today, as first female Managing Director of the Intenational Monetary Fund, she’s considered the 9th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine (2011) and part of a very exclusive club of women that include Dilma Rousseff or Angela Merkel. She certainly looks the part, poised and elegant, calm and reassuring, reflexive and charming, her skin looking permanently tanned in contrast with her silver hair.

After Dominique Strauss-Kahn‘s very public downfall and resignation, as a result of a sex scandal  -to the deep embarrassment of France; Christine Lagarde was immediately mentioned as a possible successor, and she received the support of Britain, India, the US, Russia, China and Germany. The Telegraph once described her as “the woman with no enemies”. From her first day on the job she had very complicated issues on the table, and her no-nonsense style was evident from the start and some statements she made angered many, especially in Greece. It was in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, where she basically described Greeks as rampant tax dodgers and ruled out any breathing space from the austerity measures the country faced.

She is a hard-working woman, with a strong and elegant presence, firm in her convictions and obviously someone who speaks her mind. She is an outsider to politics in France, because she did not attend the prestigious École Nationale d’Administration, where most high-ranking French officials and politicians are groomed. She also never distinguished in math, being a Managing Director of the IMF who is more a lawyer than an economist. Being an outsider gives her a better perspective of things probably.

She was born Christine Madeleine Odette Lallouette, and her parents were both teachers. She studied in a girls’ school in Maryland, US; she got a degree in Law in Paris and a Master’s Degree in political science. She also worked as an intern at the United States Capitol, as congressional assistant to William Cohen. She has divorced twice, but no one really knows much about her two ex-husbands. They are not even mentioned in her official biography, which shows how fiercely she controls her public image. She has two sons, is a vegetarian and never drinks, although she did have a glass of champagne in an airport when she found out that had been appointed IMF boss.

Being French, there’s the issue of the elegance too. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who laughed at a similar question once, asking the interviewer if she’d ever ask that question to a man; Christine Lagarde has no problem talking about her wardrobe. In an interview with Vogue, she confessed that gets her clothes from three places mostly: Chanel, Ventilo and Austin Reed.

One of my favorite phrases by Christine Lagarde is that men, when left to themselves, make mess of things. Which is, well, as we all know, completely true. She is a strong believer in gender equality and has said that women are better than men when it comes to managing tasks and common sense. This is why she wants to hire many more women than men while she’s MD of the IMF.

She was always an overachiever. Many don’t know that as a teenager, Christine was a member of the French national synchronized swimming team, for example, or that she sang backing vocals in a ska band called “Les Messages Mixe” before getting married.

As Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde faces incredible challenges, like world economies on the brink of collapse, especially in Europe. She still has four years to go, but it will not be an easy ride for sure. Saving the Euro will be no easy task. The journey will be full of dangers and crises. And we need strong leaders in times of uncertainty.

Will Miss Lagarde be one of those leaders we so desperately need? Will this elegant and competent French woman be able to help fix the mess that we men created?

Louis XIV

Louis XIV‘s reign was long, 72 years. He continued the transition from feudalism started by his father Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, and took advantage of the urgent need for law and order at that period to create a very centralized state. He had considerable success controlling the aristocracy who had participated in the Fronde rebellions some years earlier. He achieved this basically by making Versailles the center of political power and moving his whole court there.

The king required all nobles of certain rank and position to spend part of the year at Versailles, which inevitably prevented them from developing their regional power. He established a strict court etiquette at Versailles in which everything revolved around the king. His famously ceremonial Levers are a manifestation of these rituals that tired and irritated everyone involved.

Louis XIV wore high heels and made it fashionable for both men and women to wear heels around the palace. No one could wear heels higher than those of the king, however, and only his immediate family was allowed to wear red heels. Christian Louboutin‘s red soles can be traced back to Louis’ Versailles. Catholic Popes also use red in their shoes, but this can probably be traced further back in time, though, all the way to the Bizantine emperors.

At the beginning of Louis XIV’s reign, his treasury was almost bankrupt and he had to urgently address this issue. This meant getting of rid of Nicolas Fouquet, the Surintendant des Finances. Not necessarily lavisher than his predecessors, he however miscalculated terribly when he organized an opulent inauguration for his spectacular new château at Vaux-le-Vicomte. This party at Vaux-le-Vicomte was attended by the king and the rest of the court. Fouquet’s ambition became all too apparent, so Louis, sensing a threat, had him arrested a few days later -by a captain of the royal musketeers named d’Artagnan– and he was accused of embezzlement and misappropiation of public funds. After a long trial he was finally sentenced to life-imprisonment at the fortress of Pignerol. There, he enjoyed the company of another very famous inmate, a man called Eustache Dauger, better known as the The Man in the Iron Mask.

Louis XIV had a younger brother who, despite being second in line to the throne of France, was never groomed to be king. The story of Phillip I, Duke  of Orléans is fascinating, for he was raised as a girl, a uniquely unorthodox way to prevent him from having any ambitions to be king. This didn’t stop him from getting married, however, or having mistresses, many children, and even becoming a brave general in battle. Phillip’s progeny survived the French Revolution, unlike Louis XIV’s, and today many royal houses in Europe are populated by descendants.