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France's Next President

photo, beatles story club band

The 'Beatles Story,' appearing live at the
Petit Journal Montparnasse.

Hard Day Night

Paris:– Monday, 19. September 2005:– Obviously a serious story such as the French presidential election in the spring of 2007 can't be left in the hands of offshore news organizations such as the wire services or Radio France International. They leave a lot out.

Before getting to the names of the candidates, French news fans should know that elections here have short, fixed periods for official campaigns. Typically these will be six weeks before voting day. During this time there may be public meetings, debates on TV, ads plastered on official spaces outside polling stations, and blocks of near–institutional equal–time, uniformly boring ads for parties on TV in the ten minutes before the news at 20:00. All electoral activity ceases at the end of Friday before the Sunday polling.

On the other hand, all the speculation about the presidential election 18 months off is driving me batty. To see, hear or read the news you might think that there is only one old president who might be feeling a tiny bit tuckered out, and a young bike–riding, short, little go–getter bursting with conservative energy. This is an understatement.

Today's Candidates for President of France in 2007

On the Right

Jacques Chirac – as the sitting president he is assumed to be a candidate unless he is dead. Party: UMP.
Nicolas Sarkozy – the current minister of the interior, president of the UMP , and self–declared candidate of the UMP. Motto: "Nothing can stop me." Suspected of being capable of self-exploding.
Dominique de Villepin – current prime minister, member of the UMP. Dominique hasn't said he's running, he hasn't been chosen by the UMP. Why is he acting tall and suavely. Is it just to bother short, sharp Sarkozy?
François Bayrou – leader of the center–right, smaller UDF party. Nominally allied with the UMP. A survivor, undeclared candidate.
Philippe de Villiers – leader of some strange, further right–wing party and anti–European, anti–Turk, pro–hunter, and making a pitch for the National Front voters. Philippe says he is a candidate.
Jean-Marie Le Pen – the everlasting leader of the ultra right–wing National Front party; who lost in the run–off against Chirac in 2002. Who else is an eternal candidate? Specialty – destroying the number two in the FN even if it is his daughter, Marine Le Pen. Professional candidate.

On the Left

François Hollande – secretary general of the Socialist Party, looks like an provincial insurance agent. Masterminded Jospin's defeat in 2002 but Jospin took blame. Masterminded PS support of European constitution vote. Is currently masterminding split in PS over the European vote. Not declared as a candidate but will be if still alive.
Laurent Fabius – ex–number 2 in the PS, ex–prime minister, advocated 'Non' vote on European constitution. If he can't get out of hell's anteroom, he will get no support from the PS. Otherwise, he'll be a candidate.
Jack Lang – older Mitterrandista, one–time Min of Cult, instigator of Technoparade, ex–mayor of Blois, popular PS hack.
Dominique Strauss–Kahn – heavy–duty PS dude, ex–minister, heavy.
Martine Aubrey – PS passionaria, bulldozed 35–hour workweek, from PS stronghold in Lille. Father was in wrong position, time, to be president. These three – Lang, DSK and Aubrey – are going around like the Three Musketeers, backing up Hollande. Any could be a losing candidate.
Bertrand Delanoë –mayor of Paris, head of city PS, amassing credits, taking care of voters, runs a tight machine, nominal Hollande supporter, mainstream. Not a PS candidate but a natural, except for being mayor of PARIS and all it implies for rest of France.
Henri Emmanuelli – leftist socialist, anti–Euro constitution – must have appeal with lefties, Communists and other real socialists. Not a candidate, but...
NPS – Nouveau Parti Socialiste – this is a group of young dudes, all much younger and better–looking than any of the above, and a new wave of socialists. These have potential, but more likely for 2017, 2022, etc. To watch.
José Bové – ex–spokesman for the Peasants Federation, but active with the small farmers and anti–OGM lefties. Could be close to the greenies – Les Verts. Saw a note that he's thinking of being a candidate.
Les Verts – will definitely have a candidate, but who? Have several personalities.
Marie George Buffet – head of the French PC. Buffeted by communist decline but out there shaking hands, keeping the troops warm, marching in the parades. She will be the PC candidate. Popular on the left.
Arlette Laguillier – eternal leader of the Trotskists, Lutte Ouvriere, eternal presidential candidate. Still alive. Most likely will set record for number of times being candidate if she hasn't already. Also still on the barricades.
Olivier Besancenot – postman and candidate of the LCR, Communist Revolutionary League, anarchists. Delivering mail, active, and still young. A candidate for certain; going to try for Arlette's record between now and 2040.

Wild Cards

On the right, Alain Juppé – is still out in the wilderness while courts decide whether he can play with the big boys again. Ex–prime minister, ex–mayor of Bordeaux, has lots of political marbles but might not have a lucky touch. Could be an UMP choice if Dominique and Nicolas are ripping out each other's throats, and Jacques says it's okay.
On the left,Lionel Jospin – retired from politics after the 2002 presidential schmozzle. He makes rare excursions to rally the leftist faithful, such as for the European constitution vote. Otherwise he doesn't take sides, keeps his hands clean. If the PS keeps self–destructing, Lionel is a knight on a white horse.

How to Be a Candidate

Each candidate must get 500 signatures from elected officeholders. In principle this is not hard because there are about 30,000 mayors in France and some might be willing to do it for a favor. Nevertheless, Le Pen is supposed to be having a problem rounding up pledges. He just squeaked in with this last time – or says he did. He is a victim of course, like Hitler was.

What Does It All Mean?

This might explain why Sarkozy has said 'nothing can stop him.' He is taking a leaf from George Bush – if you say a thing often enough with conviction, it will come true no matter if there are 15 other candidates. But he runs the risk of the French getting sick and tired of him saying it, or getting huffy at his ambitious presumption.

In olden times – BS – before Sarkozy – the jockeying went on behind closed doors until about six months before an election. You'd know two or three that were certain to be candidates, but the majority of the herd would declare shortly before the election. Then there would be a short campaign, the meetings, the ads, the TV talks, the election and then the run–off. With the reduction of the presidential term from seven years to five there is less time for peace and quiet, but Sarkozy is exaggerating.

I'm not sure the French will take to eternal politics. I don't know if the bulk of the politicians like the idea. For one thing, some elections that should have been held in the spring of 2007 has had their dates changed, because they 'conflict' with the presidential election. It is political wisdom that says the French can't be expected to vote for president and municipals in the same season.

Opposite Directions

As for what to vote for, there certainly is a choice that needs to be made. Should France jump on the Anglo–Saxon 'liberal'–economics globalized culture–flattening bandwagon? Or should France go with a socialist–social alternative that has some respect for the planet?

The problem with the first is that it has no intellectual goal, is hardly a strategy for the common good. At the moment the alternative lacks intellectual vision.

Yes, France is different. But why? Or, why not? Compared to many leaders, the conservative Chirac is a 'socialist' in the interior – ditto Schröder – but how can this socialism translate into a better life for the French? And by extension, for anybody else who wants to adopt it. France needs to sit down and think hard.

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Hard Day Night

Tomoko 'Yoko Ono' Yokomitsu urged me to go to the 'Beatles Story' in Montparnasse last spring but it was cold out so I didn't go and when she asked why not, I said I had to have breakfast with an aunt visiting from Arizona. It's my all–purpose excuse and it doesn't fit some circumstances.

Last week Yoko gave me a DVD of the 'Beatles Story' while telling me they would be at the Petit Journal Montparnasse Wednesday, which was Wednesday. And the TV–weather news said it s going to be 26 degrees on Thursday, so it must have been warm, and to hell with the aunt. Besides, I don't have a DVD player.

The Petit Journal Montparnasse is beside the train station, down the Avenue du Maine, a little more than a five–minute walk away. It isn't a place that looks like anything more than a café on the street beneath a modern building. I went in there and when the doorguy showed up to take the money I said I had been invited by Yoko Ono. He said, d'accord, turn right and up the stairs.

Yoko waved. I went to the booth, blew on her cheeks, and took a seat. It was in a big, low room, in a booth a bit above the main floor. The lower area, the major part, was filled with booths surrounding tables and they were all full. Waitresses pranced around delivering drinks and food, while folks looked at the blue lights on their phones. A few looked like firemen in town for a convention but most looked like the neighbors, if they happened live in the 6th or more likely, the 15th arrondissement.

The booth behind had party–looking girls. They were joined by guys with pony–tails. Jacques was sitting with them and then joined me and Yoko. He said he'd written six books about the Beatles, and he's writing the seventh. He said he used to be an agent, but gave it up when TV began using amateurs. We were joined by a guy who used to be the producer of the 'Beatles Story.'

They went off, telling us to save their seats. Yoko ordered an orange juice for me and when it came it had a bent straw and melting ice cubes. The replica Beatles come on stage and without much ado launched into a couple of hours of replica Beatles' songbook.

Takes me back. To 'Hard Day's Night' playing in the tiny cinema on Occamstraße in Schwabing in 1964. The word on the street was that the Beatles were finished but I thought the film was fine. Sissy's, across the street, had their stuff on the jukebox, along with the Stones' 'Brown Sugar.' Opened at five and closed at eight – all you could drink in three hours. Beer in bottles and schnapps by the shot. Beyond Sissy's, about 50 other handy joints, from the big gastatten on Leopoldstraße to cellar dives like the Schabinger 7 or jazz in the Domicil. It was before the Drugstore was on the little Wedekindplatz, before it was ruined.

'Beatles Story' is run by Renaud Siry. He's the drummer so I guess he is Ringo. Hell, I know he is Ringo because he's a Café Metropole Club member. He must be Ringo because he's got a château up north. There's Paul, George and John on guitars, and another joker with keyboards. The first set sounded a bit listless. It was the first time I'd heard the Beatles live – who knows what they're supposed to sound like? I didn't think they were going to do 'Brown Sugar.' Orange juice didn't remind me of Sissy's anyway.

They took a short pause and some of the audience lighted cigarettes, but not that many. Yoko went off to put on her wig, and Jacques didn't come back, so I sat and twiddled my thoughts.

They must have got pepped up in the back room because they come back plugged in and forceful. They just, they played the songs, they didn't add frills or inventions. They were loud. The sound system seemed built to handle it. They played what everybody knows, a good deal of it older than many in the room. A calculation told me, it was 42 years ago that they were has–beens. The good–time girls in the booth behind sang along, but the mass clapping never took hold.

Yoko appeared onstage and said her seven lines. I had seen them, written in pencil, but it was too dark to read. Folks clapped for Yoko. Renaud and his crew do all the Beatles' songs everybody knows. Everybody was happy. Without overdoing it they closed down and then came back and did their finale, and got a good hand.

It's not like an audience on a cruise ship. This is Montparnasse, in an up place that mostly features alive jazz names, like Manu Dibango, on a street that looks like a business park in Hartford. This Beatles stuff is just for fun. The guys work hard at it and give it a good hit. Putting in Yoko is showing that they care to add something extra. I'm glad Yoko is in it. She puts on a wig but doesn't sing. It's not that Beatles Story.

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