Showing posts with label Nicolas Sarkozy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicolas Sarkozy. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

French presidents are funny fellows

Instead of "funny", I was about to write "horny". Thinking of male political candidates eager to win (girl)friends and influence people, Confucious might have said: Every election is an erection. But it would be a mistake to highlight the purely sexual aspects of what I have to say. In French presidential funniness, horniness is no doubt a significant element, but it's not the sole driving force.

You can never predict what a French president (or ex-president) might do next. Look at Nicholas Sarkozy, for example. Who would have imagined that, shortly after his election, when his legally-wedded first lady walked out on him, he would promptly get himself linked, for the better or for the worse, with a young Italian pop singer? Today, he's involved in a different kettle of fish: the Clearstream affair.

Using all his presidential might, the French president is currently pursuing, in the law courts, a former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin. In a nutshell, Sarkozy claims that somebody tried to frame him, with electoral ambitions in mind, in the context of a Swiss-based banking scandal. So, there'll be lots of legal fun and games in France (for TV audiences) over the next month.

Concerning Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, I can't figure out yet whether the funniness is basically primitive horniness, or whether there might have been (past tense) something far worse at stake, such as a fuzzy desire to be accepted as a vigorous potential pretender to the British throne. For me personally, if were called upon to choose between Prince Charles (accompanied by Camilla) and Giscard (accompanied by Anne-Aymone), I would hesitate for a long moment. All these people have the stuff of monarchy... but there's an obvious passport obstacle in the case of Giscard. Maybe he was trying to solve this problem by means of a union with Lady Diana. I haven't had time to examine all the details of the situation, but I would imagine that the following scenario could have been enacted at that epoch:

Phase 1: Giscard, having seduced Diana, obtains a divorce from Anne-Aymone. The president can therefore marry his English princess, and they have a splendid son, say Nicholas Dominique d'Estaing. Automatically, at the desire of Diana, Giscard and their baby are naturalized as British citizens.

Phase 2: The English-speaking people of the planet (even in faraway outposts of the ancient empire such as my native land) are so overcome by the sheer beauty of this new entente cordiale between England and France that they launch a plebiscite aimed at replacing Charles by this glorious dauphin named Nicholas Dominique d'Estaing.

Phase 3: In fuzzy circumstances coordinated by the efforts of the European community in Brussels, with a little help from George Bush (who never really understood the possible consequences of what he was doing), Elizabeth accepts the idea that the next king of England should be Nicholas I.

Ah, if only events had happened like that! The world at large would have had fabulous reality resources for TV, and idiots like me would have been able to talk at length about these celebrities on the Internet.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sarko-slanted persuasion

The French government has the right, indeed the duty, to persuade citizens that they should take the trouble to visit the polling booths on June 7 for the European elections. And it's normal that they use a video clip to get their persuasive message across. Naturally, any evocation of Europe is going to allude to a long list of legendary political figures who have played a major role in the building of Europe: Robert Schuman, Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, Georges Pompidou, Simone Veil, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl, Jacques Delors, Jacques Chirac...

At the end of the video clip, the briefest glimpse of a certain French would-be Euro-historical personage appears to be premature...

The Socialists Harlem Désir and Benoît Hamon have asked France's Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (Audiovisual High Council) to suspend the broadcasting of this video clip, which they see as blatant publicity for candidates from the political party of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sarkozy insists upon results in London

Nicolas Sarkozy has made it perfectly clear that, if the outcome of London's G20 summit is not acceptable, he will simply get up and leave. "The crisis is too serious to permit having a summit meeting for nothing." Sarkozy is insisting, above all, on the installation of regulatory procedures in the international financial domain. This desire for regulations is shared by the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and also by the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who declared: "One of the goals, accepted at Washington, is that no institution or major financial entity should remain beyond control and supervision. That is what I hope to see confirmed and consolidated in London."

Furthermore, as France's minister of Finance Christine Lagarde has pointed out, the French president is adamant that tax havens throughout the world must be eradicated. The latest rumors, expressed on French TV this evening, are optimistic, in the sense that Britain's prime minister Gordon Brown has echoed Sarkozy's belief that tax havens should cease to exist in the modern world. The big question, of course, is whether Barack Obama will be prepared to acknowledge the priority of these European themes.

In France, current events have caught up with the G20 syndrome. It was revealed today that several large French corporations appear to have been using a bank in Liechtenstein to whitewash money that should have normally been declared in France as taxable profits. In this context, news broadcasts in France today evoked the whistleblower, Heinrich Kieber, who was responsible for unleashing a planetary affair by revealing the identity of tax fraudsters in the above-mentioned bank. For the last twelve months, there has been a persistent rumor, aired once again today on French TV, that this wealthy gentleman—formerly a skilled data-processing professional—has ended up in a luxury hideout, under an assumed identity, down in a big sunburned country in the Southern Hemisphere.

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, January 29, 2009


"And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a Land not inhabited." [Leviticus 16:22]

When there's trouble in Sarkozia, Nicolas needs a scapegoat. On 12 January, during the president's visit to the Norman town of Saint-Lô, there was trouble in the form of rowdy demonstrations.

Not to be outdone by Dubya, Sarko even succeeded in collecting a couple of old shoes.

Logically, according to Sarkozian mathematics, somebody would have to pay. This morning, the right man in the right place was found: the republican prefect in that corner of Normandy, Jean Charbonniaud. The nice thing in this kind of situation is that the poor chap didn't actually get sacked. That would be unthinkable in the case of such a distinguished servant of the French Republic. No, he got suddenly transferred to a new job, as a member of a prestigious state committee somewhere in the backwoods of Paris: a republican version of Purgatory... or Coventry, as they say in England.

A Norman politician considered that the prefect had been discarded by the president like a used Kleenex. The Centrist leader François Bayrou described Sarkozy's manner of getting rid of the prefect as the "prerogative of a prince". In my opinion, this kind of Sarkozian act is on a par with shooting a messenger who brings bad news.

BREAKING NEWS: A second scapegoat has been designated for this trivial affair. Philippe Bourgade, director of public security in the Manche department, has received a new appointment.

People throughout France have criticized Sarkozy's decision to blame these two civil servants for not taking adequate steps to prevent the president from encountering the protesters at St-Lô. Meanwhile, the distinguished journalist Alain Duhamel has put out a book that compares Sarko with a certain Corsican soldier, prompting the magazine Le Point to design its cover on this theme.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Union for the Mediterranean

It would be extraordinary, in many ways, if today's summit meeting organized by Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris were to be a prelude to success concerning the creation of a Union for the Mediterranean. Throughout history, this great sea in the middle of the planet Terra has been a place of violence.

As recently as 1962, when I first set foot in France, bombs were exploding in Paris as a final consequence of a terrible conflict between France and Algeria. Anecdote: I'll never forget hearing and seeing the outcome of an explosion, one February evening, opposite my hotel in the Rue des Ecoles, which destroyed a bookshop window into which I had been gazing a few minutes earlier.

For the moment, it's too early to guess whether Sarkozy's daring initiative might bear fruit.

On French TV this evening, Bashar Al-Assad was interviewed by the journalist Laurent Delahousse, and my overall impression was more positive than what I might have expected. The Syrian leader certainly sounds like a less bellicose man than his late father. Before the Mediterranean becomes a sea of peace, however, a lot of water will flow through the Strait of Gibraltar.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ségolène in attack mode

The recent behavior of former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal has been unexpected, indeed disturbing. First, when everybody was jubilating about the release of Ingrid Betancourt, Ségolène threw a spanner in the works by declaring publicly that Nicolas Sarkozy had played no role whatsoever in that operation. In fact, Ségolène's opinion was justified. Like many observers, I was shocked when I saw Sarkozy making a TV appearance with Ingrid's children in tow, just an hour or so after the message of her release was flashed on our screens. But Ségolène's outspoken opinion on this affair struck many people as "politically incorrect", since Sarkozy had been attempting constantly to obtain the release of Ingrid Betancourt, but with no success.

More recently, Ségolène shocked many people when she suggested that a couple of criminal intrusions into her Paris flat might be linked in a causal manner to her public criticism of Sarkozy's style of reigning over France. In speaking in this way, she did in fact come very close to blaming the Sarkozy clan for a misdemeanor, but without supplying any explicit proofs for such an accusation.

Some of Sarkozy's political associates have suggested that Ségolène has "blown a fuse", and lost control of herself... but I'm not convinced that her detractors really believe what they're saying. It's quite obvious that Ségolène, faced with the phenomenon of Sarkozy, has decided deliberately to step up her carefully-planned provocations and move into attack mode, so that French citizens see her clearly, from now on, as an aggressive opponent of the president. There are no limits, as it were, to the ways and means by which she seeks to vent her anger against Sarkozy. In any case, as far as I'm concerned, Ségolène's anti-Sarkozian outbursts are perfectly logical and politically sound. There would be no point in her trying to be nice and polite with a protagonist such as Sarkozy. In any case, she's unlikely to get hurt, from a popularity viewpoint, by adopting a strategy that consists of being systematically nasty with respect to the president.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Official portrait

In Great Britain, where official portraits of royalty and other distinguished folk are a serious business, Cecil Beaton was one of the most celebrated photographers. Even here in the French Republic, the concept of official portraits exists, but solely for one individual: the president. Photos in this category have always amused me. Between an official portrait and an ordinary photo taken by a news photographer, there's the same difference as between the bright smiling face in my blog photo and me in the bathroom mirrror when I get up in the morning.

Now, the reason I've brought up this subject is that I'm happy to publish this photo, taken by Natacha last weekend, that corresponds ideally to what might be termed an official portrait of Sophia.

I have the impression that Sophia, reclining majestically upon her big wickerwork throne, is making an effort to look like a dignified dog. As if she'd just been elected president, or raised to the status of Royal Duchess of Gamone.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A new story every day

Nicolas Sarkozy appears to be running France in much the same way that I write this blog. One tries constantly to imagine new themes, to tell new stories. Apparently, Sarko's communications specialists have convinced him that this is a good approach for a president of France who needs to convince the people that he's perpetually active, and doing something new. When I was a child, adults used to tell us: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. For Sarko, it's a story a day. Every 24 hours, with the help of his advisors, he invents a new tale to tell.

His latest theme is the history of slavery, as far as it affected France and her overseas territories. The president has decided spontaneously that this subject must be included in school curricula, and that the abolition of slavery will be commemorated annually, henceforth, on May 23.

French people recall the publicity of a celebrated department store in Paris: "A tout instant, il se passe quelque chose aux Galeries Lafayette." (At every moment, something happens at the Galeries Lafayette.) Nicolas Sarkozy behaves in the same spirit. But it's not at all certain that this behavior has made him popular. Nor is it certain that the challenges of France can be tackled ideally in this style.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Two heads of state

It's rare to see a photo of an encounter between the respective leaders of France and Australia.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd met up today at the NATO summit talks in Bucharest, Romania. Although Australia is not a member of NATO, the prime minister is attempting to persuade European nations to step up their participation in the conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan. France was a founding member of NATO, but Charles de Gaulle decided to withdraw from the integrated military structure of the organization in 1966. France has nevertheless remained one of the five nations that finance three-quarters of the NATO budget.

France is, of course, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. In that domain, Kevin Rudd was pleased to learn, from Sarkozy, that France will support Australia's candidacy for admission as an elected (temporary) member of the Security Council for the two-year period 2013-14. One has the impression that Rudd's Australia intends to play a more active role on the international scene, particularly in a European context.

In Bucharest, the French leader got back in contact with George W Bush. This encounter provided the US president with an opportunity for making yet another of those typically crazy declarations for which he is celebrated. In referring to Sarkozy's trip to America last November, Bush likened the Frenchman to... a reincarnation of Elvis Presley! Somebody should tell Bush that it's not Nicolas who sings, but rather his wife Carla. No, better still: Our French King of Bling should be persuaded into getting all dressed up and recording a karaoke version of one of the great hits of the King of Memphis, such as Love me tender or It's Now or Never. Such a video would make a delightful farewell gift for the US president when he leaves office.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Concept "bling-bling"

In November 1963 [date of Kennedy's assassination], when I started work as an assistant English teacher at the Lycée Henri IV in the ancient heart of the Latin Quarter in Paris, my closest friend happened to be an Italian colleague, the same age as me, named Benito Italiani. [Having nearly been christened Winston, I sympathized with the naming case of my friend.] As a typically naive Australian with zero worldly culture, I was surprised to learn from Benito that the concepts of right and left could be applied, not only to political people and situations, but to all kinds of everyday entities, contexts and events. For example, since we foreign students in Paris used to spend a lot of our time watching movies, I was particularly interested to learn from Benito that there were both right-wing and left-wing literature and films. Indeed, just as God had invented males and females, He had apparently gone on to organize the Cosmos into right-wing and left-wing things. And it was up to each of us (for reasons I could hardly be expected to understand at that time and place) to decide where we best fitted in.

Unfortunately, my Italian comrade was left with no time to attenuate a little my inbred Aussie ignorance, if not educate me in a broader sense. In the summer of 1964, I visited Benito and his American wife at their home in Pescara, on the Adriatic coast. In the following winter, I was shocked to learn by a letter from his wife that my friend had died in a skiing accident in the Apennine mountains of his native Abruzzo. Apparently Benito was an expert skier, who had the habit of venturing off the beaten track. At the base of a gentle slope, he slid into a concealed stream, and his skis got stuck. Another skier found him there, almost frozen, but was unable to set him free. He gave Benito a cigarette and dashed off to seek assistance. When they returned, Benito was slumped over on the snow, lifeless, and his unconsumed final cigarette had fallen from his lips.

Today, if he were still with us, I can imagine Benito informing me [with his charming Italian accent, which still rings in my ears] that the bling-bling concept is a universal phenomenon, which can be found in all kinds of individuals, from pop stars to presidents and princesses, and in everyday objects such as wristwatches, necklaces and computer mice. A legend concerning the origin of this expression is particularly amusing. It appears that "bling bling" is an onomatopoeia representing the jingling sound of abundant metallic jewelry. Well, a certain mohawk-haircut black American actor [a guy who once got shit belt out of him by Rocky] claims that he invented this behavior back in the days when he was a bouncer in a rough club. Every evening, there were brawls, and males tend to lose their jewelry in such circumstances. The Mohawk bouncer decided to pick up metal jewelry left lying around at the end of an evening's brawling, and exhibit it the next day by actually wearing it, so that rightful owners could reclaim it immediately at the door of the club. Nice, no?

Who on Earth [in France, let's say, to limit the research] could have had the sordid idea of referring to Nicolas Sarkozy, for the first time, as President Bling-bling? And why? I have the impression that this association has more to do with the glitzy-glinky atmosphere of a certain DisneyLand apparition than with wearing ostentatious Rolex watches... although the two contexts might combine their effects. Somebody said that Carla Bruni told a friend that she wanted a man "with nuclear power". Be this apocryphal [as it surely is] or not, the problem for fairytale people like the Sarkozy-Bruni couple is that onlookers are no longer concerned by the frontier between facts and fiction. Bling-bling, sing-song, thing-thong, ying-yong, ding-dong... Are French citizens in general still prepared to look upon Nicolas Sarkozy and the new first lady as serious individuals? I hope so, but I have my doubts.

Back in my Paris days, an awesome daily vision was the formidable construction known as the Conciergerie, with is massive torture tower, where a notorious Skeffington personage had once been imprisoned. The dungeons of this Seine-side fortress include the dismal dank cell where Marie-Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI, was held. She was the mindless woman who suggested, when throngs of starving Parisians demanded bread, that they might eat cake.

When the hated Austrian princess was led from this cell, to be beheaded, the atmosphere was not exactly DisneyLand!

An impressive pageant on Marie-Antoinette has just opened in Paris, with assistance from the museum of Versailles, at the splendid Grand Palais. In this morning's press, a journalist has referred to Marie-Antoinette, cruelly and pointedly, as Queen Bling-bling.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Principality in turmoil

The geographical boundaries of France are shaped in such a way that French people often refer to their country as the Hexagon. Inside this six-sided territory, besides Monaco and Andorra, a new principality came into existence recently. It's a fuzzy fairy-tale region of a virtual kind, named Sarkozia, whose monarch is Prince Nicolas. Well, during the weekend, the principality was in a state of turmoil because of electoral maneuvering in the well-heeled Parisian suburb of Neuilly, of which Nicolas Sarkozy was the mayor for a couple of decades. The president recently nominated one of his men as a candidate for the forthcoming municipal elections in Neuilly. The individual in question, David Martinon, was a close friend of Sarkozy's former wife Cecilia, and he now occupies the role of presidential spokesman. The president's son, Jean Sarkozy, has been a prominent member of Martinon's operational cell.

A few days ago, a confidential poll revealed that the people of Neuilly did not appear to appreciate this candidate who was "parachuted" upon them by their former mayor. For the president, whose popularity is currently at an all-time low, it would be an additional catastrophe if his Neuilly nomination were to turn out to be a loser. So, it was safer to remove Martinon immediately through the method referred to in French as an assassination politique. The president's son Jean [whose voice and personality, but not his physical appearance, resemble eerily those of his dad] was called upon to be the golden bullet, to do the dirty work. On Sunday, he simply announced publicly that he and his tiny band of close associates would no longer be supporting David Martinon.

Few observers believe that, as a consequence of this act, the principality will revert overnight to being a quiet and nicely-organized family affair. On the contrary, there are other signs that something is rotten in the state of Sarkozia. A prominent weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, dared to reveal recently that the president once left a phone message with his ex-wife Cecilia stating that, if she were to return home, he would instantly drop his plans for marrying Carla Bruni. Now, this alleged information may or may not have been valid, and it's not easy to verify such a claim. Normally, the president should have shrugged his shoulders and allowed this would-be revelation to be either confirmed or rejected by facts, or simply forgotten. Instead of that, Sarkozy lost his self-control and dragged the weekly and their journalist into a criminal court of law.

Regardless of predictions for March's electoral results in Neuilly, or the outcome of the court case against Le Nouvel Observateur, one has the impression that little Prince Nicolas is piling more and more straw onto the unfortunate camel named Sarkozia, whose back is starting to sag like the results of the president's popularity polls.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

No time to lose

In the words of Edith Piaf:

Quand il me prend dans ses bras,
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose.

[When he takes me in his arms, and speaks to me softly, I see life with a rosy color.]

The new Madame Sarkozy once made it known that she supports the French Left. In other words, this wealthy young lady (the French press quoted a global figure, today, of over 18 million euros) used to see the world, from a political viewpoint, with a rosy color. Naturally, in the course of the last 71 days [since her encounter with the French president], she may have changed her political outlook. Everybody has the right to evolve, and to see the world in whatever color they desire. In any case, it will be interesting to hear for whom she votes in France's forthcoming municipal elections.

A short article on this romance in the New York Times stated that the public relationship of Nicolas Sarkozy with an Italian-born heiress—once involved with a variety of males such as Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and former French Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius—struck many French observers as "lacking taste". I love that fuzzy notion of mild disparagement, which sums up the situation perfectly. On the other hand, it's a fact that French polls reveal a spectacular drop in the president's popularity, and it's not unlikely that this negative result can be attributed to Sarkozy's apparent failure to halt the decline of purchasing power in France, combined with his running around ostentatiously with an Italian pinup.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The future first lady is a tramp

When the citizens of a great republic elect their president, the future first lady is part of the packaged deal, at no extra cost... particularly if the president himself has lots of wealthy friends with jet planes, luxury yachts and Mediterranean mansions. Normally, voters can't complain if they were to discover that the first lady likes to be photographed in all kinds of interesting situations.

In France today, there's a minor irregularity in the sense that voters had no idea that the president they were electing would be switching first ladies during his first six months in office. So, a disgruntled citizen might grumble bitterly: "We thought we would be getting lady X, and now you're forcing us to accept lady Y." But, as I said, only a miserly voter would lodge such a complaint, because the nation gets the first lady for free (in theory), as part of the global bargain.

There's another approach to this question. Few people would feel like leaving their children in the care of a couple who've never succeeded in keeping their own kids off the street. How should we feel about confiding an entire nation to a guy who apparently can't keep his female off the front covers? And a female who can't keep her clothes on?

Monday, January 7, 2008

French love song

Do you believe that Bill Shakespeare, before penning his great love tragedy entitled Romeo and Juliet, took the trouble to verify that the son of Lord Montague and the daughter of Lord Capulet had indeed been linked in an amorous relationship? I don't think so. I would consider that the Bard of Avon simply pulled this particular couple out of his magic hat because he imagined they would be great personages for a love story. I find it difficult to visualize Shakespeare in the role of an investigative journalist, peering in through bedroom windows in order to be absolutely certain, before daring to say so publicly, that the Capulet nymph was indeed getting laid by the randy Montague lad. William Shakespeare was such a good story-teller that spectators were willing to believe his tales without even bothering to ask whether or not they were factually true. Wow, what an artist! These days, I would say that the only cultural creator who gets anywhere near Shakespeare is Steven Spielberg... or maybe George W Bush back when his public performances used to refer to weapons of mass destruction.

In an adjacent domain, should we waste time trying to determine whether Nicolas Sarkozy and Rachida Dati [present minister of Justice] have really been lovers? Or maybe still are?

Even without a factual Department-of-the-Interior-type answer to this question, French art and culture will continue to evolve. I'm persuaded that French creators, deprived of nitty-gritty dirty details about Nicolas and Rachida, can still produce romantic masterpieces. Here's the proof:

The artists, Alec and Clément, are known as Beaubourg, and this exquisite lyrical composition belongs to a series entitled La chanson du dimanche [Sunday song]. Don't worry if you can't catch the subtle meaning of the words. Just let yourself drift into a marvelous romantic world like that of Romeo and Juliet, and imagine a utopian setting in which Nicolas and Rachida might indeed be Shakespearean lovers.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Change of attitudes and words

Not so long ago, many people in France were intrigued by the dynamism, exuberance and energetic determination of the newly-elected president... without necessarily admiring his actions and operations, or taking the man seriously. Nicolas Sarkozy was new; he was young; he was different... Political observers accustomed to the time-honored and relatively austere traditions of French politics of the Fifth Republic—from de Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard and Mitterrand through to Chirac—were initially astounded by this Speedy Gonzales with a finger in every pie. He seemed to be operating almost everywhere, simultaneously, and people soon understood that he would not be calling upon the services of his submissive prime minister... or any other minister, for that matter. Why should he? Sarkozy's wife Cécilia turned out to be more efficient than even a French minister of Foreign Affairs in liberating the female hostages in Kadhafi Land. But she ended up running away.

I have the impression, though, that the dashing French prince, presently enamored of an Italian fashion-model princess, might be moving into the treacherous midnight zone of Cinderella, when the champagne bubbles can burst, and beautiful people can turn into toads. What I'm trying to say is that I sense that more and more French people are irritated by the Sarkozy style, and that the fairly tale could end rudely at the drop of a magician's hat. [I'm aware that I might have mixed up a few images and metaphors in this paragraph.]

Sarkozy's new-year message to the French nation was disappointing. For inexplicable last-minute reasons, instead of having his message video-recorded in a professional style, Sarkozy decided to deliver his speech live, in a stilted formal fashion, prompted by means of an idiot board. Then he threw in a weird allusion to a personal vision designated as a "politique de civilization", which left people startled and confused, primarily because nobody seems capable of grasping what this expression might mean.

Certain popular young Frenchmen are frankly angry.

France's favorite personality, the celebrated tennis player and singer Yannick Noah, is scandalized by Sarkozy: "Everything shocks me. His attitude, his tone and his arrogance shock me. The display of wealth and his cynicism shock me. The disinformation shocks me." Noah ends up borrowing the image of Louis XIV at Versailles: "He's the king with his court, and the sycophants are down on their knees before him."

In a slightly different register, another outspoken young Frenchman, the leftist politician Arnaud Montebourg, has decided to attack Sarkozy in an indirect manner.

He has aimed his fire at his former Socialist colleague Bernard Kouchner, enticed by the siren song of Sarkozy into becoming his minister of Foreign Affairs. Montebourg has declared vigorusly that it's high time for Kouchner to simply resign from a presidential context that brings to mind "the Ancient Romans of the decadence". For those who need more than a metaphor to understand his criticism, Montebourg accuses Sarkozy of "moral bankruptcy", and throws in nasty expressions such as "betrayal of electoral promises", "fiscal injustice" and "diplomatic fiasco".

The criticism of both Noah and Montebourg can be described as fighting words. What will Sarko try to invent, to defend himself? Maybe, like Forrest Gump, he should run like hell.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Risk of confusion

In the French-language Gala page [display] where I found this excellent juxtaposition of two superb specimens of Sarkozy-type women, there are other fascinating pairs of photos. For presidential birdwatchers, it's great visual data.

I'm surely not by far the only male who has been in an embarrassing situation where an innocent phrase such as "Tell me, Marie" has slipped out inadvertently while conversing intimately with a friend named Maude who happens to have replaced, as it were, a former friend named Marie. On such occasions, those who are skilled in feigning some kind of momentary schizophrenic fit might do well to give it a go, but most fellows have to be content with turning red and mumbling something stupid such as "I really don't have a brain for names". The worst situation of all is when your former dear one used to have a private nickname—such as Cinderella or Goldilocks, for example—and your new friend suddenly inherits unwittingly this tender title.

The Sarkozy style of handling French affairs is such that he functions permanently in a demanding high-power operational mode that computer specialists refer to as multiprocessing... which means doing several things simultaneously. It's a pity that the poor guy, no doubt constantly exhausted from a physical viewpoint, now has this added burden of having to devote precious energy [which could certainly be better spent] to avoiding the terrible trap of mixing up his women.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sounds of silence

The new president is ubiquitous. That's a highfalutin way of saying that he's everywhere, simultaneously, 24 hours a day, prepared to intervene, like Zorro or Superman. Nicolas Sarkozy is an earthmoving machine in overdrive, but many critics are not sure what he's shoveling. Meanwhile, his prime minister, François Fillon, is more like the Invisible Man.

In the political aftermath of Sarkozy's victory, it has become fashionable to evoke the silence of the Socialists, and to joke about the fact that the once-great leftist party has imploded, with a few former members even being lured to the president's camp. They still have a nominal chief, François Hollande, who used to be the companion of Ségolène Royal.

In the near future, when Hollande steps down as party chief, there's a good possibility that he might be replaced by the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë. This openly gay gentleman has worked well in his job in Paris, and become highly respected and indeed popular. It's premature to envisage such questions, but Delanoë has supporters who see him as a future presidential candidate.

On the far left of the political spectrum, the youthful postman Olivier Besancenot carries on believing naively in his eternal Robin Hood convictions. In society, there are two classes: the lazy rich and the poor workers. To make things hunky-dory, all that's required is a political system that takes wealth away from the rich and distributes it to the needy. But don't waste your time asking Olivier how a society generates new prosperity. He's good at delivering letters and packages, but it's not his business to know what's inside them.

Meanwhile, the socialist madonna Ségolène Royal is going about things in a calm and determined manner, convinced more than ever that the nation will need her one of these days. She has just written a book that analyzes her recent electoral defeat, and she's currently doing the media rounds to publicize it... but drawing less attention than she might have expected. For the moment, nobody knows whether she might try to conquer the leadership of the socialist party when her former partner François Hollande vacates the post. So it's a little too early to evoke, or even imagine, a hypothetical leadership battle between Ségolène Royal and Bertrand Delanoë. Today, a journalist asked Ségolène a pertinent question: "Could a future presidential contender win the election without being the official candidate of a major political party?" Ségolène said yes. Then she added: "At one and the same time, I'm enrolled inside the socialist party, and outside the socialist party." In French, that kind of situation is described as sitting on a fence. Maybe, though, it's a fence with metallic spikes and barbed wire.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mediterranean Union

In the same way that General de Gaulle used to dream of a European Union that would stretch from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains in western Russia, Nicolas Sarkozy has been starting to evoke the concept of a Mediterranean Union that would encompass all the nations on the edge of the legendary "middle of the Earth", from Beirut in the Levant to the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Sun sets over the Atlantic, and from the European Riviera down to the Maghreb, the Sahara and the primordial motherland of Judeo-Christian culture: Egypt.

It's certainly a grand idea, which stirs the imagination. After all, this is where a lot of human and social action has been taking place since the dawn of civilization. For the moment, though, it's little more than a vague dream... in spite of the fact that the French president threw this idea into a major speech delivered in Tangier during his recent state visit to Morocco. Faced with this concept, certain media in the Maghreb are frankly hostile, considering such French ideas as a resurgence of colonialist thinking.

Concerning the creation of the European Union, the challenge involved nations located within a single continent. A hypothetical Mediterranean Union, on the other hand, would involve at least two continents, Europe and Africa... not to mention Turkey and the edge of the Middle East. And it would seek to associate peoples of the three great monotheistic faiths. At a political level, the creation of such a heterogeneous entity would be a Herculean task, akin to landing on the Moon. But it's exciting, if not encouraging, to see that a French bulldog such as Sarkozy dares to dream of such a project. One never knows what might happen...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

We don't need another hero

The war-time story that I am about to tell has given rise to a controversy in France, which culminated yesterday when schoolteachers were expected—at the request of the president Nicolas Sarkozy—to read out in front of their students the final poignant letter to his parents penned by a young martyr named Guy Môquet.

His father, Prosper Môquet, a French railway-worker and trade-unionist, was the Communist member of parliament for a precinct of Paris. In 1939, since the PCF [Parti Communiste Français] supported the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it was disbanded by the government, and Môquet senior was arrested. A few months later, he was deported by the French authorities to a prison camp in Algeria. Meanwhile, his son Guy, a student at the Lycée Carnot, had become a militant in the PCF youth movements.

Môquet junior distributed Communist leaflets denouncing the treason of French industrial leaders, and advocating the liberation of jailed Communists such as his father. Insofar as a French law of 1939 prohibited Communist propaganda, three French policemen arrested 15-year-old Guy Môquet at the Gare de l'Est métro station in Paris on 15 October 1940, and he ended up at a prison camp in Châteaubriant near Nantes. A year later, he was still imprisoned at that same place when a German commandant was assassinated at Nantes. In the reprisals, Guy Môquet was the youngest of 27 hostages at Châteaubriant who were executed by a Nazi firing squad on 22 October 1941.

Sarkozy's decision—announced on the day of his presidential investiture—instructing teachers to read out Guy Moquet's final letter, on the anniversary of his death, was unexpected and somewhat foolhardy. The French president should have known that, in imposing his conception of the celebration of a hero, he would irritate countless citizens. On the one hand, Communists don't wish to see one of their emblematic figures recuperated, as it were, by a right-wing politician such as Sarkozy. Besides, it's not clear whether the young Communist militant and martyr Guy Môquet should be placed in the category of authentic Résistance fighters... like the five heroic revolver-toting students from another Parisian lycée, Buffon [Jean Arthus, Jacques Baudry, Pierre Benoît, Pierre Grelot and Julien Legros], executed in February 1943 : the subject of an excellent TV film aired, by chance, last night. Finally, many teachers, professional historians and other observers consider that the State has no right to impose its points of view, or promulgate decisions of any kind whatsoever, in the domain of history.

The most profound opposition of all came from intellectuals who pointed out that Sarkozy is confusing two related but fundamentally different concepts: on the one hand, the scholarly pursuit of history, and on the other, the emotional phenomenon referred to, in French, as memory, concerning events that are so recent that their recollection still causes pain. Schoolteachers are expected to handle—as objectively as possible—the first of these concepts: history. Sarkozy's directive, however, lies clearly in the domain of memory: that's to say, relatively recent dramatic events that still hurt... which have no place in history classrooms.

I was shocked when I first heard of Sarkozy's decision, and I was utterly flabbergasted—like countless French people—when it was revealed that Sarkozy's buddy Bernard Laporte, trainer of the national rugby team, was so ridiculously zealous that he mimicked the president's sensitivity by reading out Guy Môquet's letter to the team just before their opening match... which they lost to Argentina. On the other hand, I'm reassured to find that so many French teachers refused intelligently to tolerate Sarkozy's silly brainchild.