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Sarkomania On Show

photo, rue dauphine

Fall mists in the Rue Dauphine.

A Pandora's Box?

Paris:– Monday, 29. November 2004:– This weekend France witnessed the coronation of Nicolas Sarkozy, who arranged to be crowned as president of the UMP with a certain amount of expensive and extravagant pomp at Le Bourget on Sunday.

This elevation of the short man who would be president of all the French comes as no surprise. In a democratic vote by party members, he gained a majority over two competitors, but the official results were only announced during the actual coronation ceremony. This has not apparently bothered UMP party members at all.

However the cost of Sunday's ceremony has raised some eyebrows, in his own camp. Officially Sunday's little fête for little Nicolas was said to be costing five million euros, but events specialists estimated a true cost in the neighborhood of seven million.

Monsieur Sarkozy, in his present incarnation as Minister of the Economy and Finance, constantly calls for price restraint or 'reforms' that should make life cheaper for the French, inphoto, montsouris theory. It is beside the point that half the benefits he so often produces or promises, turn out to be beyond his powers. But by then his publicity machine has moved on to his next media coup, making the short Nicolas the minister the most successful in having no recent past.

In the Parc Montsouris last Wednesday.

According to Friday's Le Parisien, Monsieur Sarkozy has occupied himself for the past weeks with the tiniest details of this weekend's festivities. Flanked by Publicis ad mogul Christophe Lambert and ceremonial director Renaud Le Van, Sarkozy was rumored to be casting himself as the TV star of an American–style political convention.

It was said that he would have preferred his show to be at the Bercy sportspalace or at the Longchamp racetrack – but it was already reserved. Instead the Sarkoshow was held at the exhibition area of Le Bourget, and was to break with the former 'grand masses' of the Gaullists by being grander than all.

Somehow Sarkozy's conservative political education has led him to believe that the Gaulists and their party, the RPR, are passé, and the time is here for the emergence of the all new, whiter–than–white UMP – most of whose members were 'Gaullists' until Sarkozy decided that they should be – Sarkozyist UMPs.

This has something to do with Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist standard bearer, the inheritor of the Gaullist tradition. Jacques, if you can believe Sarkozy's mood, is some sort of albatross – although he remains President ofF France and nominal head of the RPR party he created – which is now the UMP party – created by Alain Juppé, Bordeaux mayor, and possibly about to be stripped of civic rights if his appeal on a corruption conviction is upheld, soon.

For the first UMP congress in November of 2002 Alain Juppé managed to spend four million euros, and another three million was pulverized for the second UMP congress in February of this year on the eve of elections – unfortunately less than brilliant for the UMP.

The cost of this third congress is due to Sarkozy's success, according to Sarkozy. Members of the UMP now number 25,000, against only 17,000 in 2002. They need planes, TGVs and buses – coming as they do from as far away as Corsica – or Neuilly. There must be entertainers too. All the same, grumbling was been heard and the planned 12 'Roman' theaters were been blue-penciled – as were the giant photos of Sarkozy, Juppé – and Chirac.

After the tinsel and the tons of confetti are being swept up on today at Le Bourget, Nicolas and his faithful crew will move into the headquarters of the UMP at 55 rue La Boetie in the 8th arrondissment, with Nicolas having his suite on the ground floor and Madame Sarkozy taking the eighth, in Juppé's old lunchroom.

However the swift Nicolas does not intend to stay in the heady wilds of Saint–Philippe du Roule for long. He wishes to return the party to the vicinity of the Assembly National, where it was before Alain Juppé sold the old HQ – now in use as an Arab embassy.

It has not been the Socialists who are tut–tutting about the short conservative leader's extravagances. The Socialists have their own problems with a divisive debate about the European constitution, but have noted that five million is what they threw into the last national presidential campaign behind Lionel Jospin.

The conservative speaker of the Assembly National, Jean–Louis Debre – a Chirac fanphoto, rue des orchidees – has been speaking out about wretched excess, and suggested that with the hard times the French have, modesty might be desirable. A few other UMP deputies were said to be muttering too, but they were doing it sotto voce.

Houses in the 13th arrondissement.

On the right but closer to the center, UDF members were said to be mumbling about a 'sacre napoléonien' – a not–so–veiled reference to Napoleon's auto–coronation in December of 1804. One also mentioned, in comparison, the measly 200,000 euros recently voted as emergency aid for storm–damaged Guadeloupe.

Nicolas' fans in contrast, find the controversy in dubious taste. The education minister said that Nicolas wants a high quality show, "Nothing more." Others think that if Sarkozy can mobilize conservatives, whatever the coronation costs, it will be worth it.

Meanwhile, outgoing UMP president Alain Juppé has sent a letter of congratulations to his successor. However 'circumstances' will not permit him to attend the congress of the party he named, or founded, or whatever happened to disappear the RPR name in favor of UMP.

At the last Council of Ministers meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean–Pierre Raffarin bade Sarkozy a florid farewell. Somewhat crisper, according to witnesses, Jacques Chirac saluted Sarkozy for his service in the government, for the past 'two and a half years.'

Then Sarkozy exited into Jacques' Elysée garden, and dived into a forest of audio booms and TV cameras before returning to Bercy to clean out his desk, suite of offices and taxpayer–paid living quarters.

Thus begins, I suspect, the end of the era of Nicolas. As a humble party leader little Nicolas will not be able to command the non–stop media attention that he seems so obviously to thrive on. Of course he can snipe at the president and the government, but his own UMP party firmly holds the ruling majority. Criticizing it too much will be like spitting his own soup.

It is said that the French distrust success, and the successful. Perhaps our pocket Napoleon is successful because is never actually does what he says he will do, but is convincing when he says it. As now seems increasingly common, the UMP party members have memories as short as any, but they are completely in love with Nicolas for the moment.

The rest of the French, the majority, are attuned to deception and failure. Any politician keeping a promise is a true exception here. Most know that Nicolas in unlikely to be an exception; and hardly likely to be exceptional. Ultra–confident he is, but this is not a character trait favored by the French.

Secrets of Paris

The statue of Henri IV on the Pont Neuf was being restored when, a week ago, seven sealed lead boxes were found inside it. According to the TV–news report at the time, it was expected that fourphoto, statue henri iv, pont neuf sealed boxes would be found – so the extra three were a surprise.

The TV report showed the boxes being opened at the Ministry of Culture a day after the discovery, with the minister Renaud Donnedieu de Varbes wearing protective gloves while handling the treasures.

The statue of Henri IV on the Pont Neuf.

Assembled historians, nosy journalists, functionaries and TV–news fans eagerly looked on to see rare and priceless jewels, necklaces and rare coins, in vain.

The known boxes boringly contained text documents concerning the reign of Henri IV and details about the history of the statue and its inauguration on Tuesday, 25. August 1818. There was also a text by Voltaire, a biography of Henri IV and a thing called 'Les Economies Royales,' by Sully, plus some commemorative medals evoking the glory of the Bourbons, and the rise of Louis XVIII.

Unknown to the patron, Louis XVIII, the job of creating the statue was entrusted to a Monsieur Mesnel, who was a fierce anti–royalist, revolutionary and fan of Napoléon Bonaparte – who had slipped from power three years earlier.

Another aspect that got on Mesnel's nerves was having to work with recycled bronze – recycled from two statues of his hero Napoléon, one from Boulogne–sur–Mer and the other from the Vendôme column. Royalists wrecked both after Napoléon was 'evicted.'

Apparently some expected to find a small statue of Napoléon inside the statue, but they found three small lead cylinders instead. The one found in the head bore Mesnel's signature.

While it is possible to attribute items in the 'official' boxes to Voltaire and Sully, the contents of the unofficial containers are so sensitive that they must be 'confirmed by experts.'

I'm sure France has something like an 'Official Secrets Act.' It must be absolutely necessary because Frenchphoto, seine barge, louvre people have been writing things in French for centuries. Unlike antique English, old French is quite easy to understand – even by TV viewers – and it is entirely possible that a sculptor who lived 189 years ago left something behind that could endanger the state.

Fall colors over the Seine last Thursday.

Dimitri will be disappointed. He was reading the newspaper account over somebody's shoulder in the Métro, and he's been bugging me for the details. I will tell him the usual 'experts' are working on it. Vive la révolution!

What Do the French Want Now?

Because of the season, shoppers are confronting the problem of what to give while wondering what they will get. Either way they expect to be 551€ out of pocket by 25. December, no matter how cleverly they shop. This is supposed to be 14€ less than last year.

About half of the French will be clever and wait until the last minute in the hope of getting a major discount, which they expect will be 22 percent off.

This is absolutely necessary because of the hikes of the prices of heating fuel, gas, gasoline, cigarettes and rents. No less than half believe that the economy is in recession, but life must go on – which means that on average each will buy 8.2 gifts for others.

Getting the thing done with less means doing it intelligently. This translates as getting video game machines for the kids and foregoing the dubious luxury of a flat–screen TV.

After the kids' ransom is out of the way, there won't be much left for anything other than clothing. Every French dad should get a tie! But not just any old tie – the best is a major 'name' at a discount price. Ah, the stuff of cheap dreams.

But the 'Soldes d'Hiver' – focused mainly on clothing – are coming in January, and an even smarter idea is to hand out gift–cheques. They don't look so nice under the tree, but they might seem more 'intelligent.'

Another choice for the clever is supposed to be cosmetics and perfumes. Not as useful as a drill for boring holes in walls, this sector does offer the advantage of gift sets – and often free wrapping, which is not negligible for those with fumble fingers.

Somewhat fallen from grace are video cassettes, CDs and DVDs. These were in first place last year, but this year computers – for copying CDs – have a high position in the desire index. The flat–screen TVs have fallen right out of the top ten, as they should because of their continued high cost and poor picture quality.

Meanwhile the traditional book follows the computer in sixth spot, with about 30 percent wishing to get one as a gift, and half thinking of giving one. Books may not be as sexy as designer underwear, but they fill a fundamental place under a French Christmas tree.

Les Halles – a Pandora's Box?

It is not easy to find anybody with much affection for Les Halles. The site of Paris' former central food market was turned into an underground maze of a mall, interconnected with five lines of the Métro and three RER lines, through which 800,000 pass daily.

'Correcting' Les Halles was a campaign promise made by Paris' mayor Bertrand Delanoë in March of 2001. Since then an architectural competition has been held and four projects were selected. One, promoted by the RATP, is already out of the running.

Residents with reasonably long memories can recall the 'hole' in the centre of Paris that almost seemedphoto, blvd st germain to become permanent. Nobody wants this again, but nobody wants what was put in the 'hole.'

The city hasn't got a clear favorite for a replacement, and the mayor now says he'll make up his mind at the last possible moment. About 15 local associations are being heard, but they are not united. Economic experts are looking at the three proposals and will make a report soon.

On the boulevard Saint–Germain.

The RATP has switched its support to two of the proposals, but wants its own improvements on them. The direction of the mall, which has 60 years left on its lease, doesn't want to wait during a long period of reconstruction, which it'll have to pay for. The mayor of the 1st arrondissement thinks none of the actual proposals are good for the quartier.

The commission that will decide on which of the three projects is to be selected is to meet in the middle of December. After this, the Paris city council will take up the matter in January and hold a debate in the hopes of making a decision.

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