Showing posts with label Jacques Chirac. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jacques Chirac. Show all posts

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chirac style of handling rumors

An Australian article sent to me by my old friend Bruce Hudson was my first encounter with rumors about Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni [display]. There was however a basic error in that article when it evoked "the French media in a frenzy over speculation the singer and her husband are both having extra-marital affairs". The truth of the matter was that the rumor hadn't really surfaced at all in France at that time, so nobody was in a frenzy. Today, it's the president and his entourage (including his wife) who are in a frenzy trying awkwardly to quell tardily this storm in a presidential teacup. And they're simply not doing a very good job of stamping out this silliness. Sarkozy's weak point (his Achilles heel) is emotions. He never stops getting bowled over by emotional matters, which often get the better of his intellectual powers. Consequently, we cannot exclude the possibility that the people who launch rumors such as this are indeed smart guys who know exactly how to lead the president into a sticky mess.

This fellow, named Pierre Charon, is in charge of communications at the Elysées Palace. It goes without saying that he's a little upset by the apparently empty rumors that have been circulating throughout the world about the president and his wife. As for Pierre Charon, he's convinced that these rumors are part of a conspiracy. Funnily enough, back at the time when Jacques Chirac was the mayor of Paris, Pierre Charon was handling communications at the city hall. The weekly Nouvel Observateur of 29 September 2009 related a lovely anecdote revealing the art of Chirac in the face of rumors. The mayor found himself face-to-face with his director of communications at a cocktail party.

Chirac : "Monsieur Charon, I want you to accompany me back to the city hall."

Charon : "Certainly, Monsieur le Maire."

The two men got into the mayor's official automobile.

Chirac : "Monsieur Charon, I want you to do me a favor."

Charon : "Certainly, Monsieur le Maire."

Chirac : "I would like you to stop spreading gossip about my daughter Claude getting into bed with every guy in Paris." There was a long silence, then Chirac tapped his driver on the shoulder, saying: "Monsieur Charon will be getting out at the next red traffic light."

Jacques Chirac was a classy gentleman, so different to screaming Sarko, who wears his boring heart on his shoulder.

POST SCRIPTUM: Happily, in French, there's a nice succinct way of saying "I don't give a screw". The magic French formula for expressing explicitly one's near-to-zero concern for the private life of the president and his first lady: "Je m'en fous."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy hound

Late Saturday afternoon, my dog Sophia raced out into the dark and started to bark in the direction of the crest of the hill up behind our house. I could hear a faint tinkling indicating the presence of a hunting dog that had no doubt lost its way, so I started to call out to it with a few typical French terms. I judged by the intensity of the bell sounds, along with the direction of Sophia's regard, that the animal seemed to be zigzagging down the slopes towards us, and I soon glimpsed its shadow moving down along the road from my spring. Meanwhile, Sophia had stopped barking, because she concluded that the situation was hardly threatening. The hairy little gray and beige visitor with long drooping ears continued to sniff around everywhere, searching vainly for a recognizable odor. Finally, I coaxed it towards me and stuck a bowl of water under its snout. Being careful not to make a move that might frighten the dog, I soon got around to stroking its head and inspecting its collar, with a badge informing me of the owner's name. I quickly attached the dog to a chain and offered it a bowl of food... much to the disgust of Sophia, in no way an altruist, who no doubt found it alarming that her master might feed an alien animal. The visitor was not only lost, but thirsty and hungry. And now it had come upon a fellow who was giving it water and food, and attaching it in a way that indicated that he didn't intend to chase the intruder back out into the dark unknown. Consequently, within five minutes, I had made a firm friend. The dog started to wag its tail furiously with warm pleasure, and jump up onto me, licking my hands. As you might imagine, I was charmed into giving my new friend another bowl of food. For the happy hound, this was unexpected good fortune. After all, before then, it had been sniffing around up on the slopes in a place whose only occupants are my donkeys, which is hardly a successful achievement for a hunting dog. It even jumped up towards Sophia, indicating that it wished to play, whereupon Sophia barked gruffly at the intruder, in the harsh style of a stiff old aristocratic lady warning an excited young rural wench that she should mind her manners.

I phoned a local hunter, who then contacted the owners: two brothers from a neighboring village. Twenty minutes later, they arrived at Gamone. Everybody was happy. The joyful hunters and their lost hound were reunited. Meanwhile, the dog and I had become friends, no doubt because it had food in its belly. Even Sophia, stretched out in her big wicker basket in the warm kitchen, was relieved to find this unseemly intrusion being brought to an end.

Yesterday evening, another happy dog story unfolded on French TV. Host Michel Drucker was conducting a show with the immensely popular ex-president Jacques Chirac, celebrating his 77th birthday.

The idea of giving him a dog had emanated from several people in Chirac's circle of family and friends, including his wife Bernadette.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jacques Chirac to stand trial

For the first time ever in the history of the Fifth French Republic, a former president will be put on trial. It's alleged that, when he was the mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac used public funds to pay the salaries of 21 alleged municipal employees who were in fact his political agents.

Shortly after learning that Chirac would be brought to trial, former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal provided a surprising demonstration of the unusual state of current political feelings in France by saying publicly on radio that Chirac should be left in peace. One has the impression that the regal behavior of Nicolas Sarkozy—including above all his recent legal pursuit of Chirac's former prime minister Dominique de Villepin—is causing a lot of people to look back upon Chirac's presidency with fond nostalgia.

On 30 December 1941 in Ottawa, Winston Churchill evoked defeatist French generals who had expressed their belief that, within three weeks, England would have her neck wrung, by the Nazis, like a chicken. He pronounced simple words that drew applause from members of the Canadian parliament: "Some chicken, some neck."

In the context of the Clearstream affair, Sarkozy recently blurted out that the individual who tried to smear him through falsified computer listings would be "hung up on a butcher's hook".

Seeing the popularity of Dominique de Villepin, who's starting to look like a presidential candidate for 2012, I'm tempted to paraphrase Churchill: "Some carcass, some cut of meat."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Deplorable habit

French youth are shocked to discover retrospectively that the former president Jacques Chirac once had a deplorable habit.

Even at public meetings, when he should have been paying attention to what was being said, he was constantly taking or making calls on his iPhone. Observers affirm that Chirac was such a heavy phoner that, at times, smoke could be seen coming out of his iPhone. It can be said today that Chirac's phoning habit was therefore dangerous, because everybody knows that iPhones tend to explode from time to time.

[Click the image to see the original photo.]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Retired presidents prefer blondes

I don't usually include French-language videos in my blog, but this one is a must, and you don't need to understand French to appreciate what's happening. Jacques Chirac is attending a dull meeting at which his wife Bernadette is to make a speech. Just as Madame Chirac is about to start speaking, Jacques suddenly notices that a young blonde lady has nowhere to sit, so he immediately insists that she be seated next to him.

In turning around at a certain moment, Bernadette was able to pick up the goings-on of her galant husband as if he were the proverbial raw prawn on an Aussie fruit tree. (Apologies to Kevin for borrowing this convenient Antipodean style.] We see the amused reactions of two spectators of the Chirac video: the politician Jean-Louis Borloo and the yachtsman Olivier de Kersauson. The commentator draws attention to the exact moment at which Jacques, whispering in the ear of his young neighbor, is caught out by a stern-faced Bernadette, turning around to see what's going on behind her back. The commentator cries out the slang term gaulé, which is the French verb for fruit picking.

French people love this kind of stuff, which is like a scene from the popular théâtre des boulevards. In the regular popularity polls, I predict that Jacques is going to jump at least five points as a consequence of this delightful video.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rural roots

Once, when I was chatting about family-history research with my father-in-law Jacques Mafart, he told me that such investigations would inevitably be dull and fruitless in the case of his ancestors. "Although I don't have many facts concerning my early ancestors in Brittany, I'm fairly sure they were all members of ancient Breton farming families who rarely moved far away from the villages where they grew up." As an Australian, whose ancestors had left the Old World and sailed out to the Antipodes (just as I had made the reverse trip—in largely more comfortable conditions—in 1962), I wasn't accustomed to the notion of ancestors remaining fixed in the same place and leading the same kind of agricultural existence for generation after generation. I was conditioned into considering that ancestors were primarily, if not necessarily, pioneers who spent their time jumping from one spot on the globe to another, and changing constantly their lifestyles. To put it bluntly, in spite of all my personal family-history research, I had never really learned the profound everyday sense of the concept of roots. Rural roots...

Napoleon Bonaparte described England (borrowing an expression invented by the Scottish economist Adam Smith) as a nation of shopkeepers. I don't know if anybody got around to making such a sweeping generalization, but France might have been described, at that time, as a nation of farmers.

Today, as you cross the French countryside in high-speed trains that are a modern marvel of engineering, you can still see to what extent France has remained a great agricultural nation. Rural France is a vast patchwork quilt of pastures, fields, woods and vineyards, crossed by a dense networks of highways, roads, lanes and tracks. Seen from the windows of a train, the French countryside is a splendid visual poem, evolving subtly at all times of the year. Personally, whenever I travel by train in France, I never bother to bring along something to read, because it's always an intense visual pleasure for me to spend my time watching the magnificent landscapes. The various buildings on each farm property, even when glimpsed fleetingly for a few seconds, tell stories. You obtain at a glance a train's-eye view of what kind of a family it is: their basic agricultural activities, their relative prosperity or poverty, the nature and state of their residence, their life style...

With roots like that, it's hardly surprising that one of the biggest happenings of the year in Paris is the agricultural show.

For politicians, it's a must to show up and be photographed at the Paris agricultural show... otherwise they run the risk of losing the support of the vast hordes of electors with rural roots, including those who still live on the land. In years to come, no doubt, politicians will find it more worthwhile, from an efficiency viewpoint, to be seen at technology shows. For the moment, though, it still pays to drop in to the biggest farm in France. Jacques Chirac—seen here in 1975, when he was the prime minister—played a major role in elevating this annual visit to the rank of a sacred ritual.

Charles de Gaulle had evoked jokingly the difficulties of governing correctly and calmly a nation that produces 246 varieties of cheese. Chirac, on the other hand, took pleasure in taking the reins of a nation with countless varieties of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, etc. Young people laughed at Chirac when he referred to a computer mouse (apparently an unknown item in his personal environment) by the rural term designating a field mouse. But everybody forgave the French president for not being a computer geek. On the other hand, people would have been discouraged without the reassuring image of Chirac fondling farm animals, and chatting with rural folk as if he were one of them... which he was, in a way.

For Nicolas Sarkozy, the obligation of visiting the agricultural show, and trying to caress tenderly the nose of a cow as if it were a woman, is a cross he must bear.

The president knows full well that nobody in France is likely to imagine their president as a rural lad, so he doesn't have to take himself too seriously... which is fine for everybody, since the phenomenon of Sarko taking himself seriously is even more unpleasant than stepping into fresh cow shit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Father and daughter find work

Hard times. In France, as elsewhere, the employment situation can be grim. Today, we were reassured to learn that a famous Frenchman and his daughter have both taken on new jobs. But the individuals in question have never really been—as it were—on the breadline.

In virtue of his status as an ex-president of France, Jacques Chirac has become automatically an operational member of a prestigious top-level body called the Constitutional Council, whose role consists—as its name indicates—of making sure that newly-voted laws respect scrupulously the French constitution. Rarely has the Council's verdict been awaited with as much impatience as today, because the wise and august members [including another ex-president: Valéry Giscard d'Estaing] were called upon to examine a novel law of a controversial high-tech nature which enables DNA testing to be used as a possible yardstick for determing whether a particular non-French individual can be considered as an authentic genetic member of such and such an existing French family. Not surprisingly, many French citizens were shocked by the idea that genetic science might encroach upon human questions of that nature. Be that as it may, the Council decreed today that all is well with this new law.

As for Claude Chirac, who used to handle public relations for her father, she has been offered a challenging role in charge of communications for the gigantic group named PPR run by François-Henri Pinault, which includes major French enterprises such as the Fnac, Conforama and La Redoute, along with luxury businesses such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga.

Claude's job would appear to be remote from the preoccupations of her mother, Bernadette Chirac, celebrated for her sponsorship of a French charity operation that consists of collecting small change in the form of pièces jaunes [brass coins]. The Chiracs are a closely-knit family whose ideals were forged in a context that incorporated above all the malady (nervous anorexia) of Claude's elder sister.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Destruction of computer files

Clearly, the only efficient tool for trashing computer files is a hammer. The destruction process should of course encompass, not only the computer's internal memory and hard disks, but all the CDs that might have been used for backup. Then, to make doubly sure that nothing whatsoever remains to be read, I would recommend pouring hydrochloric acid over all the smashed-up stuff. Finally, it wouldn't be a bad idea to conclude with petroleum fuel, but be careful not to get burned when you set fire to the debris. Last but not least, you might put all the charred remains in a hessian sack and drop it discreetly into a deep and swiftly-flowing river.

The French general Philippe Rondot did not take these elementary precautions, and that's why a police laboratory has just recovered the data in 39 supposedly-trashed files, still lurking in his computer, containing some thirty thousand pages of notes. Wow, that intelligence specialist was a prolific writer! Meanwhile, we naive outsiders imagined that spies kept most things in their heads, and only rarely resorted to the use of techniques such as invisible ink.

In any case, the outcome of this massive data recovery is that things don't look nice for the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin nor, for that matter, for Jacques Chirac... who has already made it clear that, in keeping with French law, he refuses to be interrogated concerning affairs that took place during his presidency. As I pointed out in my post of 26 May 2007 entitled Chirac has some explaining to do [display], the affair is complicated, but it all boils down to determining whether or not these gentlemen attempted to frame Nicolas Sarkozy with the help of fake documents suggesting that Sarkozy had stashed away money in a foreign bank. Stand by for future installments...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Chirac has some explaining to do

We've heard a strange financial allegation concerning Jacques Chirac, former president of France. Apparently he has an account at the Tokyo Sowa bank, and the balance of the ex-president's account would appear to be 45 million euros. Now, that's a hell of a lot of spare cash, and people are obviously wondering where it came from.

The global context in which this bank account has come to light is referred to, in France, as the Clearstream Affair, since it concerns a Luxembourg clearing house of that name.

Everything started in 2001, with a judicial inquiry into alleged commissions associated with the sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991. This inquiry was assigned to a celebrated French magistrate, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, who had already handled several high-profile affairs. He was appreciated for his competent style in terminating the case of the 1996 murder in a French youth hostel of an English schoolgirl, Caroline Dickinson. This case was finally solved, after nine years of futile investigations [click here to see the BBC timeline], thanks to the diligence of an alert US immigration officer.

In January 2004, the French prime minister Dominique de Villepin called upon a mysterious general, Philippe Rondot, well-versed in intelligence affairs, to do some detective work in the domain of the frigates affair. Then, a few months later, an anonymous individual sent the judge Van Ruymbeke several documents that claimed to name prominent people whose illegal commissions concerning the Taiwan frigates had been paid into secret accounts at the Clearstream bank. And one of these named people was Nicolas Sarkozy.

Finally, after numerous investigations and incidents, it emerged that these alleged Clearstream documents were forgeries, and the identity of the forger was revealed. And it was during these investigations, in May 2006, that the Canard enchaîné weekly newspaper revealed the anecdote concerning Philippe Rondot's discovery of the president's mysterious bank account in Japan.

In France, the most famous magistrate in the financial corruption sphere is Norwegian-born Eva Joly. A few days ago, she made life more uncomfortable for the ex-president by declaring publicly that she hopes that French justice opens an inquiry into Chirac's alleged Japanese bank account. So, many observers predict that sparks will start to fly after June 17, when the ex-president's penal immunity terminates.

This question of a mysterious bank account has nothing to do, a priori, with the other affair [click here to see my previous article on this subject] for which Chirac might have some explaining to do: salaries paid to fictitious employees at the city hall of Paris, in fact money directed towards Chirac's political party.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bye-bye, Jacquot

Tomorrow morning, the new president of France will be sworn in. So, this evening at eight o'clock, Jacques Chirac spent five minutes on TV saying Au revoir to the nation, and conveying his best wishes to Nicolas Sarkozy.

What will History retain of Chirac's twelve years as the head of the French Republic? Everybody praises Chirac for his honesty and courage in acknowledging retrospectively the criminal role played by the French government of Vichy during the Occupation. In a different domain, he remains admired for his opposition, right from the start, to the absurd war in Iraq. But there were failures in Chirac's presidency, notably the negative outcome of the French referendum on Europe.

Concerning Chirac's personal future, many news commentators have been borrowing the image of former US president Bill Clinton as a likely role model. That's to say, Chirac could well transform himself into a kind of itinerant ambassador promoting themes such as sustainable development [click here to see the Wikipedia page on this subject] and the economic evolution of Africa.

Unexpectedly, on the eve of the new presidency, there was some nearby rumbling of legal artillery concerning a dark era in Chirac's past, when he was the mayor of Paris. The National Division of Financial Investigations at Nanterre summoned Alain Juppé, Chirac's former right-hand man at the city hall of Paris, as a witness in the context of the affair concerning individuals who were paid a salary by the city hall while working in fact for Chirac's political party. Juppé was condemned for this affair in 2004, whereas Chirac himself has never been troubled up until now, because of his presidential immunity.

If ever this affair were to explode at the start of Sarkozy's presidency, it would create a delicate and embarrassing climate, to say the least. As we all know, judges throughout the world have no special respect for former presidents... even in the USA.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Maybe a whitewash for Chirac

Everybody in France is familiar with the time-honored satirical weekly named Le Canard enchaîné (the duck in chains)... including people who've never actually read it. Long ago, tabloid newspapers were referred to disparagingly as ducks because their content was likened to a quacking noise. [In English, too, fake doctors are called quacks, probably for the same reason.] The great statesman Georges Clemenceau [1841-1929] edited a newspaper called L'homme enchaîné (man in chains). When the Canard enchaîné was founded in 1915, its name was a humorous allusion to Clemenceau's newspaper. These days, in the title of the newspaper, the "ears" on either side of the name (which generally present a topical pun) feature ducks.

The Canard enchaîné has just thrown a spanner into the electoral works by suggesting that, "according to informed sources" (as the saying goes), the candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has promised Jacques Chirac that, after his re-entry into civilian life, the ex-president will not be pursued by the law for misdemeanors allegedly committed back in the days when he was the mayor of Paris. Naturally, both Chirac and Sarkozy immediately rejected this allegation, but there's a good chance that it's true, because claims made by the Canard enchaîné usually turn out to be based upon factual information. In any case, it's true that Chirac will have some serious explaining to do when the law starts to ask him questions. So, the idea that he might have bartered his support for Sarkozy, against a legal whitewash, is perfectly plausible. It's an interesting hypothesis. All we can do is to wait and see.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fourth anniversary

On Friday, the French PM Dominique de Villepin visited Harvard University, invited by the political science professor Stanley Hoffmann. Four years ago, that same Frenchman spoke to the United Nations in New York about the dangers of a US invasion of Iraq. A major American newspaper said that, over recent years, everything has changed except Bush's conviction that he can win the war in Iraq. Something else that has not changed during the last four years is France's conviction that this terrible and costly fiasco is not a war that can be won. By terrorists, maybe, but certainly not by Bush.

In the realms of international diplomacy, no politically-correct head of state or his ministers would ever refer to their foreign counterparts by means of derogatory personal remarks or judgments. The representatives of the Republic express themselves with a quality known in French as réserve. Besides, they avoid any remarks that might be interpreted as interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. For those reasons, it would be unthinkable for Jacques Chirac or Dominique de Villepin to react in the way as Australian PM John Howard when he recently blasted the US presidential candidate Barack Obama. But the fact that no French leaders refer to Bush explicitly as an idiot doesn't prevent onlookers from reading between the lines and guessing that this is what they think. One has the impression that nobody in France is keen to talk to Bush any more, or even talk about him. He seems to have become a kind of international nonentity, and people are simply waiting for him to go away, or be chased away.

Getting back to Dominique de Villepin, it's hard to guess what he's going to do with himself after the departure of Chirac in a month or so, because this man has never been an elected politician, and it would be funny seeing a former PM striving to pick up votes in a provincial electorate. During his American visit, somebody asked him whether he felt like becoming an expatriate... maybe in the USA. "No, " replied de Villepin curtly, "I'm too French."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monsieur Hulot

In most of the films he directed, Jacques Tati [1908-1982] played the role of a comic character called Monsieur Hulot. This pipe-smoking eccentric, constantly attired in a gabardine raincoat and hat, was modeled upon a real individual: an architect who rebuilt Saint-Malo after the bombing of Normandy.

Today, the architect’s grandson, 55-year-old Nicolas Hulot, is rapidly becoming one of France’s most-celebrated personalities: not merely the familiar and talented producer of the spectacular Ushuaïa TV series on the wonders of the natural world, but now the leader of a dynamic program aimed at promoting ecological awareness in political spheres.

During my recent visit to Australia, I was surprised to discover that, whereas most people recall Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau [1910-1997], nobody seems to have heard of Nicolas Hulot, or seen his extraordinary TV work... which nevertheless exists now on DVD. Hulot is Cousteau in overdrive: an exponential power shift. If Cousteau were to be likened to a basic automobile, Hulot is in the Formula 1 category.

Nicolas Hulot, at the head of the 10-year-old Fondation Nicolas-Hulot pour la nature et l’homme, recently published a so-called ecological pact, which he has been proposing to candidates for next year’s French presidential election. Piles of this document are on sale in every bookshop and supermarket in France. The pact includes five engagements:

— Appointment of a deputy prime minister in charge of durable development.

— Imposition of a tax on carbon dioxide emission.

— Reorientation of agricultural policies.

— Organization of participative debates on environmental questions.

— Implementation of educational programs in ecology.

This afternoon, the socialist candidate Ségolène Royal met up with Hulot and expressed her overall acceptance of the measures set out in his pact. Meanwhile, Jacques Chirac had invited Hulot along to the Elysée Palace, earlier in the day, and asked him to be a member of the committee preparing a conference in Paris, on 2-3 February, aimed at setting up a World Environment Organization. There's no doubt about it: Monsieur Hulot, these days, is much in demand.

Besides the ecological pact, another little book, published in 1989, is a must for those who wish to understand the force that has been driving Monsieur Hulot in his fabulous media activities and his ecological crusade. It’s an autobiography whose title, Les chemins de traverse, might be translated as Crossroads. Nicolas relates the tragic story of the suicide of his brother Gonzague in the cellar of the family’s Paris flat. It was 18-year-old Nicolas himself who came upon the decaying body on Christmas Eve 1974, when he was helping his sister prepare the festivities. Gonzague had left a paper stating: Life is not worth living. And, ever since that discovery of his dead brother (which was not revealed to his mother and relatives during the entire Christmas evening, to avoid spoiling the get-together), Nicolas has devoted his existence to proving that Gonzague’s words were terribly wrong.