Saturday, July 14, 2007


David Bell noted, correctly, that "the importance of gestures in politics can hardly be minimized." Today, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, complimented Sarkozy on a "magnificent gesture for Europe": the inclusion of representatives of other EU countries in France's national celebration.

Sarkozy chooses his gestures carefully. If his choices cannot always be approved, the methodical way in which they are made has to be acknowledged. Sarkozy does nothing by rote or because "it's always been done that way." He knows where he's going and thinks he knows how to get there. For reference, see what I wrote on May 26. On that day, too, Sarko rode up the Champs-Elysées. On that day, too, he commemorated an historical event but used the occasion to emphasize his orientation toward the future rather than the past.

Incidentally, the militarization of the Bastille Day celebration was the work of the left.

Clichy Plage

By a happy coincidence of the blogosphere, I find on this Bastille Day morning two comments on leisure time from very different galaxies of the French social universe. Jacques Attali, whose ambitions have never quite found the right stage, screen, arena, antechamber, or counting house to hold them, no doubt has more temps de loisir than he'd ideally like, yet he worries for the rest of us that we spend too much of our lives stuck in traffic, in line at the supermarket, or vegged out in front of the TV. What workers should really be clamoring for, he says, is not RTT (réduction du temps de travail, or shorter working hours), not a 35-hour work week, but 35 hours of real leisure per week. Good of him to worry.

Meanwhile, from Clichy, we learn that those who can't afford to leave the suburb at all during the long hot summer (well, the normally long hot summer--this summer has been more like autumn, I gather) have an amusing way of describing their fate: "Nah, I'm not going anywhere, I'm staying right here on Clichy Plage." The allusion, of course, is to Paris mayor Delanoë's "Paris Plage," the artificial beach in the center of the city (see photo), which the writer from Clichy describes "as a few grains of sand along the Seine so you can get a tan while bathing in Paris pollution." Yet for all his gentle mockery, the writer recognizes, as does Attali, the need for repose: "Clichy Plage, I've never had to put up with that, but even in normal times there's not much to do around here, so I don't dare imagine what it must be like in August. My friends say it's the desert and it drives you crazy. ... Going without a vacation is not easy for anybody, but I'm convinced that proportionally you run into this problem more in les quartiers difficiles than in les beaux quartiers."

Indeed, the statistics bear him out. The law may provide five weeks of vacation for those fortunate enough to have a job, but nowhere is la fracture sociale more evident than in the use of leisure time. But I'm about to abandon Cambridge Plage for the real thing--Bastille Day on Block Island, where the Pequot tribe fled after being decimated on the mainland, where settlers once set false lights to lure ships to their doom, where Teddy Roosevelt summered, and where Dan Berrigan was arrested by the FBI. Far from the celebration of le 14 juillet européenisé on the Champs Elysées--an interesting Sarkozyan innovation on la fête nationale--and out of touch until Monday, unless I get down to the island's nice little public library with its free wireless Internet connection (American public services have not entirely decayed). Au revoir et à bientôt.