Saturday, September 29, 2007

It could only happen in France

The following true story is perfectly trivial, but it's amusing in the sense that it could only happen in France. It starts with a typical photo of Nicolas Sarkozy, in a hurry, taken on 12 September 2007 as he leaves the weekly Conseil des ministres at the Elysées Palace.

Journalists confronted with this image [taken by an AFP photographer] were intrigued to notice that Sarkozy was carrying what appeared to be a handwritten paper. Once the photo was enlarged [no doubt on a computer screen], the contents of this document could be easily examined and analyzed. Surprise! The round handwritten letters had obviously been penned by a female, and the document appeared to be a personal letter that started out as follows: "I have the impression that I haven't seen you for ages, and I miss you..." The short letter indicates that the writer and her husband will be away from France for a while, then it ends on a highly personal tone: "I'd love to succeed in seeing you during the following week or weekend. Millions of Besitos." Although I'm not familiar with this kind of language, I would imagine that "besitos" are little kisses. My God, everybody thought, this is as good as love notes between Charles and Camilla! Was it imaginable that the president of France, leaving a ministerial meeting, was carrying an open love letter under his arm, for everybody in the world to see? Was this another example of the Sarkozy shock style (like spending a few days on the luxury yacht of a friend, or jogging in front of press photographers) aimed at startling mildly the world in general and his French compatriots in particular?

Next step in the puzzle. Journalists had no trouble in identifying the woman who wrote the letter: Isabelle Balkany, a 60-year-old local-government personality, and the wife of Patrick Balkany, a member of parliament. The Balkanys have always been close political associates and personal friends of Nicolas and Cécilia Sarkozy. Was it thinkable that Nicolas Sarkozy might be involved in a romantic relationship with the wife of a prominent politician?

Following step. Isabelle Balkany quickly explained to curious journalists that she was indeed the author of this letter, but that it was addressed, not to the president, but to his wife, Cécilia Sarkozy. "I'm simply an old friend of Cécilia's." Fair enough. But, in that case, why was Nicolas walking around with Cécilia's personal mail, opened, in his hand?

Final step [for the moment]. Here we move into higher realms of expression, which can only be appreciated if you know how to read and write immaculate French. I'll try to summarize the situation. There are certain tiny linguistic details in written French [as in written Latin] that reveal the sex of the individual to whom the letter is addressed. For example, if you see the sentence "Tu es désirable", you don't know whether it's a male or a female who's being described as desirable. But, if you see "Tu es beau", you know it's a male who's being described as handsome. And, if you see "Tu es belle", you know it's a female who's being described as lovely. Well, in the context of the affectionate communication written by Isabelle Balkany, there's a tiny word, vu [past participle of the verb voir, to see], whose spelling would normally indicate the sex of the individual to whom the letter is sent. If Isabelle Balkany's sentence "I have the impression that I haven't seen you for ages, and I miss you..." were intended for a female receiver, such as Cécilia, then the tiny word should have been written with a final e, as vue. In fact, it's written as vu.

Maybe this simply means that Isabelle made a spelling mistake. Maybe she speaks and writes French, as the saying goes, like a Spanish cow. If not, it's Nicolas who may have made a faux pas by strutting out of the ministerial meeting with a private love letter under his arm... unless, of course, he did so deliberately. Who knows? In any case, as I said at the beginning of my article, this delightful storm in a wine glass could only happen in France.

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