Letter From Paris
To understand Europe’s confused, conflicted reaction to Vladimir Putin’s brazen grab of real estate in its own back yard, look no further than the DCNS shipyards in the city of Saint Nazaire on France’s Atlantic coast. There riding at anchor is the pride of the French navy. A new model warship designed for the sort of nimble, surgical attack that modern warfare requires, it measures over 200 yards long. With a displacement of some 22,000 tons, it can carry 500 or more troops, 16 attack helicopters and a squadron of battle tanks or amphibious assault vehicles, and includes a full onboard field hospital and sophisticated command and control center. That makes it a powerful tool second only to an aircraft carrier to project lethal force around the globe. Its fitting-out virtually completed, it began sea trials in the Atlantic just two weeks ago.
You never really expect state visits to produce concrete results, and this week’s trip to the U.S. by French President François Hollande was no exception. They are inevitably precooked, prepackaged and — absent a gaffe by one or the other of the parties — virtually wrapped up before the illustrious visitor touches foot in the host country. This one was long on meticulous, often windy protocol, with all the expected allusions to “America’s oldest ally… friendship stretching back more than two centuries… model for international cooperation,” yada yada. Glasses are raised, toasts proposed, ball gowns worn and a good vacuous time had by all.
And to think they called him limp, soft, flaccid. The nickname behind his back was Flanby, a popular gelatinous French canned dessert. Wrong, all wrong. It turns out that President François Hollande demonstrates a firm, nay, veritably priapic virility that, at age 59, would do honor to many a fantasizing man years his junior. French presidents have long let it be known that they like an extracurricular dalliance now and then — even when it wasn’t true. It goes with the territory and improves the image in a country where the menfolk like to consider themselves sacrés baiseurs (I prefer not to translate in a family magazine). But sneaking out of the Élysée Palace on a scooter for regular midnight trysts with an actress in a nearby apartment owned by the ex-mistress of an alleged Mafioso? That sets a new record for insouciant presidential playing around even in France.
DON'T LOOK NOW, but we just might be witnessing the tentative first steps toward the beginning of a mini-revolution in France. In the land of the cherished 35-hour workweek and five weeks of vacation, brave souls are starting to question some of the very foundations of the welfare state and the limited individual freedom that goes with it. For example, whether the government should be able to dictate, for their own good of course, when, where, and how individuals can work and do their shopping. They are also wondering whether labor unions, those staunch supporters of strict regulation and big contributors to the socialist parties that create it, aren’t more interested in defending their own turf than in protecting jobs.