Since the election, Parisian leftists have been watching the disintegration of the Socialist opposition and saying that France is going to hell. Then Nicolas Sarkozy decided to holiday in New Hampshire and they had all the proof they needed.
There he was, all over the front pages of the French press: M. le Président, hanging out in Wolfboro, spending part of his summer doing what the rest of us do — boating, swimming, screaming at journalists. (Libération has a gruesome photo.) A nation whose broadcasters can’t agree on how to pronounce the name of the eighth month could suddenly say “Winnipesaukee” without hesitation. For the French establishment, steeped in reflexive anti-Americanism, Sarko’s summer vacation in America is the ugliest in a series of sad events. First the handshake with Bush, then the friendly election-eve speech, then jogging, and now this. If you’re a French élitist, about now is when you think you might as well teach the poodle to hunt.
This is about a vacation, so nobody — except of course Le Monde, which saw in the woods of New Hampshire hidden symbols linking Sarkozy to Bush — wants to over-think this. But if the secular calendar of the French state has one sacred spot, it’s the month of August, four 35-hour weeks all rolled into one giant entitlement, a holiday taken far more seriously in France than Easter or Christmas. Try calling your local French consulate’s visa office. They don’t answer the phone during August. If you get through to somebody at the embassy in D.C., they tell you to send an e-mail — which then comes back to you with a message saying “This email address does not accept email.” In France in August, there’s not only nobody home, there are no lights on, either.
Traditionally, at the stroke of August, most French people make a dash for the hottest, most crowded part of the Hexagon — the southeastern corner, where overweight bankers and merchants go tragically topless and decorate the stonking hot plage like poached manatees. This is how it has always been done — until the Hungarian immigrant’s kid moved into the Elysée. The president of France spending part of his August in the USA is a Lutherlike reformation: To blaspheme the annual pilgrimage by making it into an American road movie is perhaps the most obvious signal yet that under the new UMP, France is setting aside its most cherished absurdities and joining the rest of us on earth.
Why did he do it? As he explained to Libération, he had never had a chance to visit the USA when he was a kid because, in his family, “that wasn’t done.” Besides, as he pointed out to Le Figaro, almost a million French tourists visit the US every year, where, thanks to a lifeless dollar, the cheap trinkets of the natives — iPods, laptops, digi-cams — are bought for euro-cents and dragged back to apartments in Paris, Marseilles and Lille and stacked next to souvenirs from Africa, the Pacific and other economic backwaters. We are Europe’s Mexico at the moment, the place Europeans go to buy cheap stuff and live in the kind of splendor that used to cost big bucks, back when bucks were big. The grass shack Sarko’s renting from a Microsoft billionaire could be yours at $30 grand a week — or about $1.25 in European currency. Sarkozy is visiting as the guest of friends. According to 20 Minutes, more than a dozen people are sharing the lakeside retreat and they invited him to come along and share the ‘smores. “I’m allowed to have friends,” he explained.
Sarkozy also offered another bizarre reason for visiting America: “I like it here,” he told astonished reporters. Outrageous. Most of official France is phoning in their contribution to the construction of this artificial press controversy, but Leftists are doing what they can to keep the flame of French indignation alive. Les Echos quotes an angry Socialist politician: Sarkozy, he said, seems to like “expensive and remote destinations.” Like Paris, France.