Sunday, September 21, 2014

Une semaine en France

I've been in France for a week and have somehow managed to avoid much discussion of politics. The country certainly looks less morose than it is said to be: the restaurants are full, the gardens are manicured, the shops look prosperous. Appearances are deceiving, to be sure, and the beautiful Indian summer surely helped, but the atmosphere is not charged with crisis. I did catch bits of the president's marathon news conference, Castro-like in length if not in passion. Hollande no doubt hoped it would reaffirm his authority or at least remind his countrymen that he exists. He failed. The headlines the next day were about the Scottish referendum and, more ominously for Hollande, Sarkozy's comeback.

Lying on my bed in a "hotel of charm" in the Vexin, I tried to fathom Hollande's problem as I faded in and out of sleep. His soporific effect is surely among his handicaps: he is one of the worst public speakers I can remember, numbing in his rhythms and utterly lacking in the ability to project affect or conviction. Whether the subject is computers in the classroom or waging war on ISIS, his tone never varies. The job is hard, he said several times. No one doubted him. He, too, was disappointed in the lack of results but full of confidence that relief was just around the corner. Something would turn up. Meanwhile, Paris Match (provided free with my Hertz rental) featured "Love Story in San Francisco," a gauzy spread on the new affair between ex-ministers Montebourg and Filipetti, no doubt arranged by Montebourg's media consultants as Step 2 in his Plan to Claim the Presidency in 2017--following the Sarkozy model of the coup d'éclat followed by the carefully photographed amourette.

On the right, the maneuvering has begun in earnest. Various knights-errant have pledged fealty to Sarkozy, while Juppé courts support more quietly and hopes that the courts and the judges will take care of Sarkozy. There is little policy discussion from any quarter of the political landscape. Le Point published a puff piece on Francois Rebsamen, who is charged with the revision of the labor code, but beyond keeping closer tabs on the unemployed, what he intends to do wasn't clear.