Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Elysian fields

In spite of their curious reputation of arrogance (akin to the ridiculous notion that they wear berets and eat frogs' legs), the French don't normally boast too much about themselves. Even though they might consider themselves the most intelligent people on Earth, the French rarely evoke nationalistic concepts such as lifestyle, pride and welfare to anywhere near the same extent, say, as Americans and Australians. If the French are indeed chauvinist, they keep this fact relatively quiet. They're a tactful people. It's not by chance that French has always been labeled the language of diplomacy. The sense of intellectual nuance has always impressed me greatly in this magnificent land of Descartes, Voltaire and Sartre. I love a subtle country...

In Greek mythology, Elysium was the homeplace of the gods. In France, TV journalists rarely resist the temptation of designating the Champs Elysées as "the most beautiful avenue in the world". In reality, it's a symbolic central axis of the French capital... like Oxford Street in London, or Martin Place in Sydney. The difference is that the Champs Elysées is not only symbolic and central; it's aesthetically splendid!

As I write these words, Nicolas Sarkozy is moving towards the "Elysian fields" of France to display himself (there's no other way of putting it) in front of the population of Paris. It's more than an image. It's a symbol.

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