Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gopnik on Sarkozy


Adam Gopnik's portrait of Sarkozy. On y trouve tout. He indulges in outrageous generalization: "He adores her [Cécilia] the way short, ambitious men adore beautiful women who are taller than they are but tolerate their advances." He skates lightly over surfaces, substituting paradox for analysis: "Some suspect that Sarkozy’s secret strength in resolving the French economic 'crisis' may be that there is no crisis." Pas bête quand même. He stretches the "human bomb" story to universal metaphor (and makes it the title of his piece): "Sarkozy ... spent his first two months engineering a series of audacious tactical coups that were of exactly the human-bomb type: walking up to dangerous men and defusing them." ... "Sarkozy’s decision to spend his summer vacation in New Hampshire and have lunch with George W. Bush in Maine was widely regarded in France not as obsequiousness but as pure human-bombism: walk right up to the man considered dangerous and disarm him by talking calmly over a hot dog." He ends with a thumping bit of punditry gone wild: "But it is also possible that the election of Nicolas Sarkozy may be seen not as the start of a new pro-American moment in Europe but as a marker of the beginning of the post-American era." He manages to compare Sarko to Brigitte Bardot: "This makes his aura in France very different from his aura in America, where no French personality since Brigitte Bardot has been such a projection screen for wishful dreams and onanistic fantasies." He wonders about anti-Sarkozysm: "Lying in wait is a strident, powerful opposition that, with an intensity that seems to an outsider disproportionate to any offense, hates him, really hates him, and is waiting for a chance to get even."

Still, you'll find the piece diverting, I wager. In order to serve France up for the American palate, the dish has to be tarted up with a certain amount of Cajun spice rub, I guess.

More Retouching

It seems that photos of Sarko are not the only things being retouched (see previous post). The Elysée has reportedly posted an edulcorated version of one of his public statements.

Attention to Detail

Le Nouvel Obs claims that a photo of Sarkozy paddling a canoe was retouched for publication in Match in order to eliminate an unsightly love handle from the presidential torso. Such attention to detail. The president can take pride in the fact that minor retouching is enough to make him presentable to his constituents. How many men his age can claim as much?

Pétanque


Le Monde reports some cheering news this morning: the popularity of pétanque seems to be on the rise. Although Paris Plages had a mediocre summer owing to the bad weather, the number of boules players was up sharply, from 27,000 in 2006 to 37,000 this year. And the game seems to be in favor among bobos in the gentrifying quarters of Paris--à la mode, in other words, and not confined to an aging clientèle in the sunny south.

I wouldn't have guessed this. I'm not very good at pétanque myself, but I am an aficionado of the sport as practiced in dusty parks and squares around France. I like the rituals, the gestures, the bravado, the myriad forms of male sociability, the accompanying language games, the quality of the light filtering through the leaves of oaks and chestnut trees, the sheer skill often displayed, the postgame conversations in the nearby café, the dilation of time that seems to occur wherever the game is played. There is an immemorial quality to it all. So I was surprised to learn that pétanque was not invented until 1907, in La Ciotat, by Jules Hughes. Of course it derives from bowling games that are indeed ancient.

Reza Excerpts

I mentioned the other day that Yasmina Reza would be publishing a book about Sarkozy. Le Nouvel Obs has just published excerpts, along with a review by Jérôme Garcin. The review is dithyrambic; the excerpts leave one wondering why. But judgment will have to await an opportunity to read the work, which apparently has drawn praise from Milan Kundera, no mean judge.

Interview with the author here.

Prisons


On the France2 news last night, Véronique Vasseur, former chief physician of La Santé prison, made the startling assertion that 22 percent of the inmates of French prisons are sex offenders. Yet the means available to manage this population and prepare inmates for an eventual return to society are, by her description, woefully inadequate. Meanwhile, President Sarkozy, pursuing his habitual tactic of riding the waves of public emotion, has used the most muscular language in calling for tougher penalties, longer incarcerations, etc. Yet the reaction of the opposition has been muted. A good opportunity to point out the shortcomings of the right in power has been missed. Would it not be smart politics to point out that the party in power for the past 12 years might bear significant responsibility for the state of the prisons? Instead of deploring the president's ubiquity in the media, wouldn't a smart opposition use the issues to which he chooses to give salience against him whenever possible? Wouldn't a party truly concerned with its renovation stop sniping at itself and focus on the techniques that have been used to reduce it to impotence?