Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Integrating Marseille

François Bringer has made a documentary film on integration in Marseille, which was broadcast on al Jazeera English. It can be viewed (in English) via YouTube in two parts:


Later Retirement

A CSA poll suggests that a substantial majority of the French (63 percent) would like the option of continuing to work after age 65. This desire skews sharply along party lines, however: the possibility of extending the working life is favored by 82 percent of UMP voters, 61 percent of Modem, and only 48 percent of PS sympathizers. Approximately 100,000 people are forced into retirement at 65 annually. The poll does not control for what is called the pénibilité of labor, the arduousness of the task from which one is being asked to retire, which was an issue in the presidential campaign. More detailed results, including correlations with various occupational categories and regions, can be found here.

The American Vacation

There has been a good deal of comment in the French press about the Sarkozys' American vacation, yet the radicality of the gesture has I think been missed. With the choice of Wolfeboro, Sarkozy has affirmed his status as the Republic's quintessential déraciné. His two paradigmatic predecessors, de Gaulle and Mitterrand, made a fetish of their provincial roots, of their need to se ressourcer. De Gaulle had Colombey (Sarko visits the memorial there in the picture to the left); Mitterrand had Latche. Sarkozy was born in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. He was mayor of Neuilly. He has no rural constituency to which to return, no anti-Parisian Eden to set against the supposed corruption of the capital. His nationalism is different from theirs: less mystical and self-mortifying (think of Mitterrand's annual ascent of the Roche de Solutré--picture upper right), more pragmatic and hedonistic. It derives not from une certaine idée de la France but from a certain idea of the good life: the pleasures that can be had anywhere, as long as one has the means.

It is fitting, somehow, that the house in which the Sarkozys are staying belongs to a Microsoft executive. It is not a venerable mansion steeped in tradition but a product of self-invented wealth. It partakes of the nature of the place without deigning to be part of its culture. Man claims to respect the environment without submitting to it: the vegetation on the estate is said to be "native to the region" yet an improvement on what grew naturally at the site, now irrigated by the waters of the lake and no longer beholden to the natural rainfall. The arts are not neglected: there is a 15-seat cinema and a windowless room for video games. One suspects that the current incumbent of the Elysée is not communing with the sermons of Bossuet or the novels of Chardonne. Is he, perhaps, encouraging the French to look beyond the Hexagon? Or is he, at last, acknowledging that they have already done so, without waiting for the State to take the lead? He is, after all, only one of a million Frenchmen annually to visit the United States. Tony Blair vacationed in France; Bill Clinton accepted the hospitality of a wealthy developer on Martha's Vineyard. In Wolfeboro France proves herself the equal of America and Britain. The ambition is Gaullist even if the means are anything but.

Le Pen and Sarkozy

Sarkozy the candidate successfully attracted a substantial number of Front National voters. Sarkozy the president seems to have consolidated this success by charming FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who offered this remarkable appreciation this morning on RTL: "I think that each of his actions has been maturely considered, weighed, very well-informed, and thus far, it must be said, fairly well executed." When the interviewer asked if this was to be interpreted as a plaudit to the artist, Le Pen replied, "Yes, something like that. Even if I take him to be something of an illusionist--but an illusionist of great talent."

Le Pen added a rather Proustian flourish to his appreciation of the president's petits soins. As attuned to the subtleties of the slight as any duchess of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, he could barely contain his joy in reporting that among the matters on which Sarko had maturely reflected was the timing of Le Pen's invitation to the Elysée. "It was not entirely innocent," the FN leader remarked, that his appearance had preceded the council of ministers meeting by only fifteen minutes, so that the ministers would be obliged to wait until Le Pen had exited the president's office.

Demonstrating a less subtle touch with the art of the insult, Le Pen himself refused the opportunity to reconcile with Cardinal Lustiger on the day of his death. He rather seized the occasion to repeat the assertion of racial difference that had provoked the cardinal in life. More seriously, perhaps, he attached a barb to his flattery of Sarkozy: the president had promised that the constitutional reform commission would include all political sensibilities, but the FN was not represented. Le Pen had two names to suggest: Jean-Claude Martinez and Bruno Gollnisch.