Tracy McNicoll

Stories by Tracy McNicoll

  • 'The Art of Shrinking'

    Mayor Jürgen Polzehl calls it "the art of shrinking." On the outskirts of the eastern German city of Schwedt, bulldozers have razed a series of 11-story prefab housing units, once known to residents as "The Wall" because the gray blocks obstructed the view of downtown. Built in the 1960s to house workers for the local oil refinery and paper mills, they were once celebrated as pinnacles of socialist achievement. Now 5,000 of the apartments have gone the way of socialism, and another 1,000 will follow. And that's just in Schwedt. All over Europe, there is a gathering backlash against the urban-planning ideals of the 1960s and '70s.Target A is the vast public housing known as les cités in France, Plattenbau in Germany and "council flats" in Britain. With its national populations growing only slowly or shrinking, Europe can afford to demolish housing. And these projects, hatched with so much social idealism, have become synonymous with poverty, unemployment and the kind of unrest that...
  • Living Little in Paris

    For all its august grandeur, Paris is remarkably petite. At 105 square kilometers, Europe's smallest capital is 16 times less roomy than London. The City of Light isn't even the biggest city in France--it ranks 113th, outdone by sleepy hamlets like Aragnouet and Guémené-Penfao. With a housing shortage feeding runaway real-estate prices, and a tenacious bureaucracy that just renewed a 1977 ban on buildings taller than 37 meters, living in Paris proper increasingly means living little. And that's making big winners of the ingenious entrepreneurs who are helping squeeze Parisians into their homes.Every quartier in the capital has seen apartment prices double over eight consecutive boom years, with some districts recording 150 percent jumps. As prices rise, spaces shrink: 54 percent of Parisian apartments are smaller than 42 square meters. In 2005, the average family with two kids buying their first apartment in Paris could afford only 32.7 square meters, down a half meter in just one...
  • The Good Life

    Bespoke tailoring used to be a luxury just for the guys. Now chic women are discovering that wearing a custom suit designed to conceal their flaws and flaunt their assets can make them look more soignée than a month of sweating in the gym. "You've only got to look at Marlene Dietrich to know how glamorous a woman looks in a well-cut suit," says HenryRose, who runs Stella McCartney's luxurious bespoke salon in Mayfair and counts Madonna among his clients. He works closely with McCartney to create slim, sexy pieces--often in vintage fabrics--featuring the designer's signature pink buttonhole (from £2,250; stellamccartney.com ).Intricate details are common. At veteran British fashion designer Paul Smith's bespoke atelier in west London, women can choose to have their suits lined with sumptuous Indian sari fabric or edged with colorful hand stitching (from £1,800; paulsmith.co.uk ). Across town in fashionable Spitalfields, hip tailor Timothy Everest makes elegant bespoke suits...
  • Real Absinthe

    Absinthe is back. Dozens of European distillers are conjuring up the "green fairy" for new palates, its fresh, meadowy taste reminiscent of pastis. The drink was banned in America and much of Europe early last century after allegedly inducing acts of insanity, including Vincent van Gogh's decision to cut off his ear. Yet no one even knows for sure what it tasted like back then.Now an environmental chemist from New Orleans named Ted Breaux claims to have re-created the original exactly, using a couple of hundred-year-old bottles of original Pernod absinthe to distill the recipe: a half-dozen-odd botanicals, including Spanish green anise, Alpine hyssop and absinthium. The result is Absinthe Edouard 72 (a staggering 144 proof) and Jade Verte Suisse 65 (130 proof), at $90 a bottle.Every period detail is correct. Breaux, 39, chose Saumur's Combier distillery in France, with the very stills used by Pernod in the 1870s. Even the obsolete driven-in corks are accurate. And what about the...
  • Flight Of The French

    The Belgians call them "fiscal refugees," but these refugees wear Chanel. They are runaways from high taxes in France. Officially, France has lost, on average, one millionaire or billionaire taxpayer per day for tax reasons since 1997, when the government started trying to track capital flight. Privately, economists say the number is much higher. "The statistic is stupid," holds French economist Nicolas Baverez. "It's as if, to count contraband, you only counted what people declared at the border."While much of Europe has revised its tax codes, France's fiscal inertia is virtually begging its rich to leave. Holding dear its commitment to egalite and fraternite, France has bucked the trend in the European Union, where most member states have dropped the wealth tax since the mid-1990s. France went the opposite way in 1997 by abolishing a cap that limited the wealth-tax bill, which kicks in at incomes over 720,000 euro, to 85 percent of a taxpayer's income. The result: some pay more...
  • A World Of Digital Dim Sum

    In the beginning, our entertainment landscape looked a lot like a big family dinner. Everybody piled around the TV, and we all ate whatever the major networks were serving up. Maybe we squabbled between courses, but everyone came away largely satisfied, stuffed and lethargic.Now iPod-shuffle ahead to 2005. Entertainment is increasingly bite-size, intense, portable and on demand. The experts call it "snacking," and say there's much more to come. We've become savvy grazers in everything from personal electronics to food to travel. The world is our tapas bar, and mobile TV may just be our next patatas bravas.In some countries--like Britain, Italy and Cyprus--there are more cell-phone subscriptions than there are people. And observers say the age of television in our pockets has just begun. Already our cell phones are becoming portable TiVos. On Vodafone, Britons can watch two-minute highlight reels as soon as five minutes after an English Premiership football match ends. In France,...
  • Tough Europe

    It's a safe bet that the typical American's image of the European shopping experience is of quaint little shoppes, not of "hard discounters" who compete on price even more brutally, and with fewer frills, than Wal-Mart. Yet these cutthroat chains, led by companies like Aldi and Lidl, are on the march across Europe, and spreading from there to America, which raises a very interesting question. If European capitalism is, as most economists would argue, softer and less competitive than the American version, why is Europe the breeding ground of the hard discounter?The basic idea behind these bare-knuckle retailers dates to 1960s Germany, says Boris Planer, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Planet Retail. After World War II, low-income Germans were looking for low-income prices. And hard discounters met their needs with reliable if spartan simplicity. Lidl, for example, has a bring- or buy-your-own-bag policy, and if you want a cart, you have to rent it. Yet by the early 1990s, stores like...
  • Spirits: Just Don't Drive

    After nearly a century's absence, absinthe is making hearts grow fond again all across Europe. In trendy bars and apartment soirees from Barcelona to Bristol, young professionals are mixing the famously hallucinogenic elixir of Belle Epoque painters and poets. Dozens of European distillers are conjuring up the "green fairy" for new palates, its fresh, meadowy taste reminiscent of pastis. Skeptical? Perhaps you're wondering, "Won't absinthe, van Gogh's liquor of choice, drive me to lop off my ear in a psychotic fit?"A valid question, indeed. After all, the drink was banned in Switzerland after it was deemed the cause of a triple murder-suicide a century ago this week. Much of the rest of Europe followed, blaming the mysterious concoction of plants for the depravity of its devotees. Banned by America in 1912 and France in 1915, no one even knows for sure what it tasted like back then. But an environmental chemist named Ted Breaux from New Orleans has made it his mission to find out....
  • THE KING HAS NO QUOTAS

    THE BACKLASH AGAINST CHINESE TEXTILE MAKERS HAS REPLACED OLD TRADE DISTORTIONS WITH NEW ONES.
  • LESSONS OF THE LOGAN

    When the French voted no to the European constitution, they were rejecting the specter of a borderless world in which foreign goods, Polish plumbers and even British politicians would be handed a growing role in French society. This sentiment was expressed most clearly by incoming Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin in June, when he declared: "The French know it and say it forcefully: globalization is not an ideal, it cannot be our destiny."Yet within days, a new invader arrived in France by popular demand. It was the Logan, a boxy family sedan that Renault conceived as a "world car" to be built in the developing world, for sale in the developing world, at a price as low as 5,000 euros. A founding member of the French industrial elite that has fallen on hard times, Renault saw the Logan as critical to its future, projecting sales of 1 million a year, or 25 percent of Renault's total, by 2010. But the man who championed the Logan, Renault ex-president Louis Schweitzer, never...
  • NOTHING IS FOREVER

    There isn't a spot of shade, for trees would obscure the sightlines of the surveillance cameras. Guards patrol the streets, almost empty but for the Hasidim in their overcoats and black fedoras, and the Gujaratis in suit jackets. Above their heads, banners fly from lampposts declaring Antwerp's diamond heritage, since 1447. But make no mistake: the world's diamond capital is on the defensive. In an increasingly globalized business, where a diamantaire can shatter his prize on the cutting wheel in one misspent moment, new rivals have arisen to challenge all facets of the city's centuries-old dominance--first India, then China and now brash Dubai....
  • 'C'est Pas Possible'

    The military band was there; the stage lights flashed on and off in a celebratory rehearsal and the giant screens set up in front of Paris City Hall captured a swelling crowd of thousands. Every speculative mention of France winning its bid for the 2012 Games elicited a "Pah-rree!"--clap-clap-clap. And every live satellite shot of the rival British crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square, 220 miles north, drew cheerful booing. All that was left, hoped French personalities paraded via the screens, was "le sacre"--the consecration. But, at 1:48 p.m. local time, just as International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was handed the winner's envelope, the heavens opened and rain fell hard. Still, buoyant Parisians hung on his every word, until the last one: London. And then, shock."C'est pas possible, c'est pas possible," hummed one shocked spectator, "it can't be." Others could only clap their hands to their mouths. Some suddenly noticed the rain, struck up their umbrellas and...
  • 'Shock Ticket'

    "An Explosive Tandem," "A Shocking Duo," "The Brother Enemies." The French press has made France's new government sound like a superhero death match. In one corner, the new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, familiar to Americans as the arrogant, suave, silver-maned intellectual who confronted the United States at the United Nations in the lead-up to the Iraq war. In the other, his new second in command, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy: arrogant, scrappy, hyperactive and hell-bent on winning the presidency for himself. After a resounding "non" to the European constitution sent French politics into crisis Sunday, President Jacques Chirac surprised everyone by naming these bitter political rivals, de Villepin and Sarkozy, to lead a new government. The presidential race of 2007 has now begun. The only question is whether it will look like an elegant duel among gentlemen or an all-out barroom brawl.France's firm weekend rebuff of the European constitution was followed yesterday by...
  • Back From the Brink

    A decade ago, one wondered how the sun itself still managed to rise over Rwanda, let alone planes bearing tourists. Over three infernal months in the spring of 1994, the country saw at least 800,000 of its citizens slaughtered. But that bloody recent history hasn't stopped tiny Rwanda, landlocked deep in the heart of Africa, from hoping for 70,000 tourists a year by 2010. (The year of the genocide, it had 61.) When the government launched its tourism drive back in 2001, it was understandably cautious. "We didn't know how the world would react to Rwanda talking about tourism rather than genocide," says Rosette Rugamba, director of the Rwandan Tourism and National Parks Office. "We thought it would take four years of PR rather than real marketing."To lure tourists, Rwanda might have tried to hide its brutal legacy, steering them toward its mountain gorillas instead of its mountains of skeletons. Instead, it acknowledges both: the striking beauty and varied wildlife of the "land of a...
  • BACK FROM THE BRINK

    A decade ago, one wondered how the sun itself still managed to rise over Rwanda, let alone planes bearing tourists. Over three infernal months in the spring of 1994, the country saw at least 800,000 of its citizens slaughtered. But that bloody recent history hasn't stopped tiny Rwanda, landlocked deep in the heart of Africa, from hoping for 70,000 tourists a year by 2010. (The year of the genocide, it had 61.) When the government launched its tourism drive back in 2001, it was understandably cautious. "We didn't know how the world would react to Rwanda talking about tourism rather than genocide," says Rosette Rugamba, director of the Rwandan Tourism and National Parks Office. "We thought it would take four years of PR rather than real marketing."To lure tourists, Rwanda might have tried to hide its brutal legacy, steering them toward its mountain gorillas instead of its mountains of skeletons. Instead, it acknowledges both: the striking beauty and varied wildlife of the "land of a...
  • Le Pen's Last Laugh?

    Will Jean-Marie Le Pen get the last laugh? He sent French voters screaming into the streets to keep him from the presidency in 2002, but France's notorious far-right curmudgeon is all smiles now. Long derided as a bigoted, anti-European Union outlier by the French press, the ever-populist Le Pen is now palpably enjoying the view from the leading side of the polls--on France's referendum on the EU Constitution. The vote, scheduled for May 29, has become the biggest populist issue for the right wing since immigration. NEWSWEEK's Tracy McNicoll sat down with Le Pen at his office chateau outside Paris to discuss the anti-Europe movement. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Recently, poll after poll has put the anti-constitution vote ahead in France. And you've said that a "no" vote will probably win.Jean-Marie Le Pen: The government will use every means possible and imaginable [for a "yes" win]. Now, in confidence, the prime minister tells us that ... it's a French Europe that we're trying to build--a...
  • 'An Illegal, Immoral Order'

    When his unit of the 82nd Airborne Division was getting ready to deploy to Iraq last year, U.S. Army Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman started fighting a battle of his own--in Canada. Hinzman, 26, was the first of at least eight U.S. soldiers to apply for refugee status there in the last 15 months. Many are already veterans of the post-9/11 wars. One earned a Purple Heart on his first tour in Iraq. Hinzman himself served seven months in Afghanistan. But all risk prison sentences in the United States for desertion if they are forced to return. Hinzman's lawyer, Jeffry House, who is himself a Vietnam-era draft evader, estimates about 100 U.S. soldiers have opted for the snows of Toronto rather than the Sunni Triangle, and have been watching the case closely. Last Thursday, Private Hinzman, his Vietnamese-American wife and infant son saw their refugee claims rejected. Next stop, Canadian federal court and the beginning of an appeals process that may take years. NEWSWEEK's Tracy McNicoll spoke to...
  • RACING ON THE EDGE

    If Lance Armstrong has come to define the American champion abroad--single-minded, unwavering, respected but not loved--then Bode Miller is the anti-Armstrong. The 27-year-old American skier is, above all, not single-minded. One day he's hellbent on victory, the next he's pursuing skiing's equivalent of "the perfect wave," an esthetically beautiful but not necessarily winning run. Even Europeans, tired of Austrian dominance on the mountains, are cheering him on. While the Austrians are skiing's consummate technicians, Miller is the opposite. "He's an artist," says Gilles Brenier, head of the French men's alpine team. "Bode unleashes everything he has, gives everything to the limit--it's the inspiration of the moment--and voila, the canvas is painted."Miller, a relative unknown before his two-silver-medal turn at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake, is having a breakout season. He has won six World Cup races while becoming only the second man in history to win in all four racing...
  • The Gentleman Thief

    In the end, the "gentleman thief" broke down like a boy. Stephane Breitwieser, 33, who carried out some of the brashest art thefts the world has ever seen, sat sobbing in a French courtroom earlier this month. The scene would seem to be the closing chapter in the bizarre tale of a narcissistic loner driven to theft by an obsessive passion for art--and of a mother who destroyed much of the treasure, worth $30 million to $40 million, according to the London-based Art Loss Register. Breitwieser was convicted Jan. 7 of stealing more than 200 works of art from museums around Europe; his mother was convicted of receiving them. Their disappearance, declared the French indictment, is a "colossal loss to the heritage of humanity." But questions are now being raised about just how much of Breitwieser's haul is really gone for good.The young Frenchman's phenomenal stealing spree spanned seven years and seven countries. He pilfered from small, underfunded and understaffed museums from France to...
  • The Ides Of September

    Forget the Olympics. A country like France prefers a more dramatic tale, ripe with flawed characters and complex moral questions. From the beaches of Normandy to the Cote d'Azur, French vacationers have been transfixed by a real-life tale whose plotline features an outcast prodigal son arising to challenge his aging former mentor, the most powerful man in the nation. "It's the serial of the summer," says Carole Barjon of the Nouvel Observateur."It" is the political struggle within France's ruling party--and it looks set to erupt in full flower in September. At stake: the battle lines for the 2007 French presidential election. At the beginning of the month, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to announce that he will run in November for the leadership of Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire, the political movement of Jacques Chirac. The president has already told his ambitious minister to stuff it. Ministers can't wear two hats. "If this or that minister is elected president of...
  • SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

    We the Media by Dan GillmorComplaining about the media is a popular pastime but no one did anything about it, says Gillmor, until Weblogs came along. The California-based columnist explains why the legion of blogs--several million to date--are on a collision course with big media as it slides steadily toward cheaper and dumber news. Gillmor's world is one of heroes (the journalists and concerned citizens taking the press to task one HTML link at a time) and villains (the Disneys and Microsofts using copyright law to stymie innovation and freedom of speech). Like the best blogs, Gillmor's primer is occasionally scattered, but its insights are indispensable.Frenchy by Benjamin Cros (in French)Political thrillers about persecuted minorities in the American South may be a subgenre all their own. But the hyphenated Americans under threat in Cros's first novel are novel indeed: Parisian-Texans. As anti-French animosity roils to a fever pitch in the Lone Star town of Hornflat, the Duchenes...
  • TOO BOUNTIFUL HARVEST

    Wine is culture. It is also history, especially in France, where some say it is a link to God. Is it, however, food?A strange question, perhaps. But as the first ripe grapes are plucked around France this fall, the government will decide. While alcohol cannot be advertised, food can. Picture Viagra-like adverts for older drinkers highlighting the cardiovascular health benefits of a glass a day. Or hipper spots trying to lure back youth who have switched to mojitos. The hope is that they will solve France's deepening wine crisis.The $9 billion French wine industry is in trouble--not the elite vintners of Bordeaux and Burgundy, but the lesser names that make up some 80 percent of the country's production. This year's harvest, weather permitting, looks good--and big. Selling it is the tough part. The more there is, the tougher it becomes--and this at a time when many of the country's second-tier wine makers are struggling to survive. "The French wine industry is in a really bad place,"...
  • CROSS-CHUNNEL FUSION

    Paris? London? What's the difference, when you can hop a train after work as if it were the Metro and be in one or the other in time for dinner?This autumn, the superfast Eurostar celebrates its 10th year, darting between the twin capitals in a scant two-and-a-half hours. Eclipsing distance--not to mention centuries of history--Eurostar has made Paris a virtual suburb of London. As for London, it's the hip new arrondissement northwest of Paris.At least, that's Eurostar's take on the Chunnel "commute." With a cheap new 35 euro Paris-to-London fare--less than a taxi to Heathrow airport--it's marketing the cities as neighborhoods. Touristic cliches like Big Ben and Piccadilly are out. Instead, Parisians are invited to pop over for the Notting Hill Festival or go clubbing at the likes of China White, a Soho nightspot so chic with young Parisians that half the staff are French. To Londoners, Eurostar pushes Paris Plage, the uber-cool Seine-side beach.Call it tunnel fusion. The casual...
  • Q&Amp;A: Springboard For Terror?

    In a nation plagued by a vicious five-year-old civil war, the northeastern Congolese town of Bunia has become a byword for appalling anarchy--and another tough challenge for the United Nations. The U.N.'s understaffed peacekeeping force, MONUC, has been unable to prevent tribal militias, which often include armed children, from committing acts of genocide, rape and cannibalism. In some cases, fighters are said to wear human organs as talismans. ...
  • Rage In The Streets

    Just as night fell and the Ramadan fast was set to break last Tuesday, murder shattered Antwerp's fragile calm. A deranged white neighbor shot Mohamed Achrak, 27, as the popular young teacher stood outside his parents' home. As word spread, stunned kids on the streets of Borgerhout, an immigrant-heavy enclave of the Belgian city, summoned others on mobile phones and headed for its main drag. Soon they were smashing car windows and shopfronts, dodging tear-gas canisters and hurling stones at police. By late the next day, 160 were in jail. But it's the arrest that came last Thursday that municipal officials and police say is the important one. To hear them tell it, Dyab Abou Jahjah, an Arab leader, had been waiting for just such an incident. He swooped in to rally the young crowds and, according to police, incited them to riot.The violence came as a shock to many in Belgium's tight-knit Muslim communities, and older and more established members quickly condemned it. But last week's...
  • Hooked On Hookahs

    It's midnight in Paris, and the crowd is growing outside the Left Bank's Paradis de l'Orient cafe. "A half hour to get in?" complains one would-be patron. A cafe employee shrugs apologetically. Sounds of clapping and singing--and the smell of fruity smoke--waft into the street. Some decide to leave, but others choose to wait it out. The big attraction? The chance to smoke a bubbling Middle Eastern hookah pipe--and the glamour of being on the cusp of a trend.Of course, the water pipes known as hookahs, narghiles, sheeshas or hubble-bubbles have been around for centuries. But the smoking experience that was once the domain of old men in Middle Eastern cafes is now attracting new and younger audiences all over the world. Cafes from Kiev to San Diego are offering hookahs to their patrons; Paris alone has more than 50 sheesha cafes with evocative names like the Bagdad Cafe and Salon Egyptien.As more and more Westerners suck down tobacco laced with molasses and fruit flavors, some Arabs...
  • Sniper Hunt

    Could the sniper terrorizing greater Washington be a military cadet from France? While French law-enforcement authorities have alerted American counterparts to their concerns about a missing 25-year-old trainee officer, evidence linking him to the shootings is thin. The missing second lieutenant, whose Slavic-sounding name has been withheld at his family's request, was due back from a hiking trip in Canada and the United States by September 2. However, his family has not heard from him for more than seven weeks and he has not returned for his second year of training at the Ecole Militaire Interarmes of Coetqidan, an elite officer training school in Brittany. His last credit-card transaction took place in the United States last August.French authorities alerted Interpol about the cadet over the weekend. Meanwhile, local newspapers have seized on the speculation under headlines like, "A GOOD SHOT FROM COETQIDAN HAS DISAPPEARED" and "ON THE TRAIL OF A DESERTER."The missing man has...
  • West Meets East

    It's midnight in Paris, and the crowd is growing outside the Left Bank's Paradis de l'Orient cafe. "A half hour to get in?" complains one would-be patron.A cafe employee shrugs apologetically. Sounds of clapping and singing--and the smell of fruity smoke--waft into the street. Some decide to leave, but others choose to wait it out. The big attraction? The chance to smoke a bubbling Mideastern hookah pipe--and the glamour of being on the cusp of a trend.Of course, the water pipes known as hookah, narghiles, sheeshas or hubble-bubbles have been around for centuries. But the smoking experience that was once the domain of old men in Middle Eastern cafes--and sometimes women in the bathhouses known as hammams--is now attracting new and younger audiences in both East and West. Cafes from Kiev to San Diego are offering hookahs to their patrons; Paris alone has more than 50 sheesha cafes with evocative names like the Bagdad Cafe and Salon Egyptien.And as more Westerners indulge in smoking...
  • The French: Not Just Blowing Smoke

    A Sunday evening. The regular patter of French television commercials is broken by silence as a white-on-black message accosts 15 million unsuspecting viewers: "Traces of cyanide, mercury, acetone, and ammonia have been discovered in a widely consumed product." Within hours 1 million viewers call the toll-free number offered for more information. Those who got through were politely informed that "the product... is cigarettes."This new campaign, launched by the French government, was inspired by the highly successful campaign of the American anti-tobacco group The Truth, whose on-air antics have included lining the doorsteps of tobacco companies with long trails of body bags. The French ads represent a paradigm shift for anti-tobacco ads in the traditionally smoke-loving nation. Previous campaigns were well conceived and humorous, claims French media analyst Claude Dognin, but he believes this one will leave a deeper impact. "The smokers were really frightened this time," he says....