Sunday, 23 November 2014

Can A Woman Scorned Bring Down a President?

Valerie Trierweiler's memoir "Thank You for the Moment" is clearly the enraged cry of a woman scorned. But, this is not simply a matter of a switch in the bedroom. Trierweiler is no empty headed arm ornament but a political woman and a commentator of some force. It should not be forgotten that Trierweiler, with her journalistic contacts, helped the goof Hollande to be elected as President of France. No woman would call Francois Hollande a seductive figure or even a political brain, but evidently he had attractions for some women even before he was elected.  One would wonder why this backroom functionary who became the Socialist Party's candidate for the Presidency after Dominic Strauss Khan's fall from grace managed to be elected as President of France. So politically inept that he did not realise that he could be elected--until after his debate with Sarkhozy, he was genuinely surprised at the result that took him into the Élysée. And it was a close run thing. But Valerie, forever behind him holding the umbrella (It rained a lot during the election and after--so much so that I Christened him 'President Noah' and her, 'The First Umbrella Carrier') was more than simply the 'First Girl Friend' to be. She had groomed him, guided him in his media appearances and helped to influence the press in his favour.
No wonder she's as mad as hell about the sneaky way he cheated on her. Apart from the joke he made of himself in his crash helmet riding pillion on a motor scooter to the rendezvous with his new mistress, the appalling revelations of his remarks concerning poor people--the 'sans dents' (without teeth) and Valerie's accusations that he instructed her doctors to keep her drugged so that she would not join the media furor following revelations of his infidelity in Closer Magazine, help to damn him in the eyes of the French public. Now she is enjoying her revenge as her best seller in France is published in English and several other languages; and as she appears on the Andrew Marr show and interviewed in the Times.
Of course, Trierweiler, aptly nicknamed the Rottweiler, is reviled, especially by French males for her revelations, the more so since sales figures released by her French publishers indicate several million euros accruing to her in royalties. Should she have remained loyally silent? She was not married to Hollande, so she attracts disrespect:considered by many (men) to be a 'put,' a prostitute. When Cecilia Sarkozy and Nicolas divorced soon after his election in 2007, her departure (for New York with her new journalist husband--exile is the most discreet solution on these occasions) was beautifully stage managed with divine photo shoots for Madame Figaro and other right wing media. Her book about her marriage to Nicolas was published five years after the divorce and failed to reveal much other than that Nicolas was difficult to live with.
Valerie, on the other hand was dumped and left to fend for herself. No discreet exile or highly paid job was arranged for her. No secret pay offs from her official Presidential lover apparently passed into her accounts. Shall we blame her therefore for gaining millions from her tell all?
Clearly the man is so stupid that he cannot even ensure the silence of his former companion. I must say that I hoped she would write her book and get something in return for her loyalty.
Do these revelations serve any useful purpose? Yes, they do. Francois Hollande who in 2012 omitted to tell the French tax authorities about his multi million-property investments in London should by now have been dismissed by the French Senate. Unless they take prompt action, he has until 2017 to continue his ruination of France. Only his recently appointed real-politician Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has begun to save the day--in rhetoric if not in actuality.
But rumours of revolution abound in France and it seems that the reaction to the 'Sans Dents' quote is stirring deep wounds in the French soul that go back to the Revolution of the late Eighteenth Century. French commentators liken Hollande to Louis XVI, the incompetent king who with his controversial wife Marie Antoinette, was guillotined in 1793. There are many in France who fear the ancient revolutionary spirit has been re-ignited. Trierweiler is no Marie Antoinette but her revelations may be dangerous to the President and to the Republic itself. The best that can happen is that the Centre Right UMP, formerly led by Nicolas Sarkozy will find new leadership. Otherwise, Marine Le Pen and her Front National could take power in 2017 or at least dominate membership of the Assembly National. The worst alternative is that the Republic will be confronted increasingly with violent insurrections as Hollande and his government flounder in the conflict between socialist ideology and economic reality. The 'Sans Dents' may yet find a new set of teeth. Thank you, Valerie.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

French Perfectionism and Vichy White Wash about Jewish Deportations

The French are perfectionist--mainly about themselves. They carry self-criticism to extremes but anyone else attempting to criticise them will suffer from French refusal to accept that they can be perceived as imperfect. The most popular TV programmes are those depicting the Resistance in their heroic fight against the Nazis, but anything as shameful as French collaboration with the Nazis or as ugly as anti Semitism is unpopular. The popularity of a new book by Eric Zemmour is due to its claims that deportation of Jews by the Vichy regime is not so nasty as history would have us believe.
The French endured much in WW2 and Resistance fighters were not the only heroes: private citizens sheltered Jewish families. De Gaulle was also a hero. But his is the stern mask that fits over the face of an earlier history, of those who refused to understand and listen to his warnings so that when war came, France was unprepared. As was England, thanks to Chamberlain's pacifist policies and his failure to understand Hitler's intentions.
When Germany invaded France, Antoine St Exupery, another hero of French legend, then flying with fighter squadrons against German air attacks, wrote, "We were throwing a glass of water on a forest fire." France had no chance. De Gaulle fled. The failure to arm was not only that of France: only the English Channel helped Britain buy time.
In February 2004, sixtieth year since the Allied invasion, I stayed in a friend's Normandy farmhouse and walked among tiny hamlets scattered throughout nearby farmland. Each had its tragic war memorial where long lists of WW1 casualties told of the loss of young manhood in the trenches. When WW2 threatened, there had to be avoidance of repetition. The French, with Germans already rolling their tanks towards Paris, bought time by compromise. There would not be war on French soil.
The Vichy regime was a typically French compromise. To avoid war, the destruction of historic Paris, the loss of young manhood, surrender was given an acceptable face. The Vichy Regime preserved the illusion that there was a France still in control of its own destiny. That suited the German occupiers perfectly.
Atrocities could be perpetrated under the guise of being lawful enactments by French government. Officials in French uniforms knocked on doors of Jewish houses, or did Nazi dirty work of loading Jews into trains, and German perfectionism, an even more potent weapon than that of French perfectionism, preserved the Nazi self-image of a purifying and perfecting force.
Now that history, and historic guilt, are being revised by Zemmour, in a climate where anti-Semitism is rife again and openly so at bourgeois dinner parties, that dirty work is presented as not being so dirty, nor so French. And it suits French perfectionist mentality. It is a strain that runs through French society, that denial of anything that besmirches the notion of French civilization. Elegant clothes, exquisite food, beautiful architecture, gracious manners, mistresses hidden under the correct choreography of la famille, that is part of French civilization, and it is indeed beautiful. But as Carl Jung described in his works on the human psyche, the more one pretends that all is perfect, the more the dark forces of the psyche accumulate below ground and the more likely they are to burst forth in violent expression of hideous barbarity.
A French best seller that white washes the Vichy regime is not only a distortion of history but a warning of historical repetition. The Thirties brought just such a violent expression of repressed dark forces of the Collective Unconscious, and conditions are building to be just right for a repetition. While liberal organs such as Le Monde find his views unacceptable, Eric Zemour's denials of French anti-Semitic crimes and their enthusiastic embrace by the French public may be the warning of danger around the corner.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Sad Demise of the Hotel de la Tamise

The only light I could see was on the reception booth facing the front door. I pushed the Belle Epoque glass door with its old green painted metalwork and crossed the tiled parquet to the desk. A wizened little Indian man paled by Parisian winters sat in this box like a goblin, spotlighted yellow in the gloom. I began my request, “Je demande le disponibilite des chambers pour...”
“The hotel is closed, Madame,” he barked at me in English, with the rudeness of a born Parisian.
I had surmised that but I don’t know why he was sitting there like a one headed Cereberus at the gates of Hell, as if the place was still open, because it was otherwise a graveyard. Several years ago I had visited it to reserve a room for the friend of a friend. I had been enchanted by this reservoir of old France. Clotted lace curtains were swagged back from the courtyard windows; a very old lady, perhaps a permanent resident, perhaps the proprietor, sat in the corner by the fireplace crocheting. The dimly lit room had the patina of history. It would have served well for a film set in World War 2. (The old lady would of course have been in the Resistance and awaiting the arrival of a brave young courier from Normandy). Now it was the set for the epitaph of La France.
If an epitaph is needed it is because all that remains of Paris as you think you may know it, is a shell provided by the stupendous architecture of earlier days. Modern Paris is a building site, whose psychologically distressed inhabitants swirl in bewildered spirals, bumping into each other on the devastated streets. Vast cranes darken the skyline. Place Vendome is covered with hoardings concealing apparent demolition works. The Ritz is one of these, closed for two years. Scaffolding punctuates the rue St Honoré, the Faubourg St Honoré, and the Avenue d’Opera and surrounding streets including my own, have been dug up for work on underground networks of pipes and cables. The Tuileries was partitioned by fences for months while its paths were renewed—but then the State always has the money to spend thanks to grotesqe taxation.
Meanwhile, in the private sector, long established shops stand empty. Gourmet lunch traiteurs are being replaced by fast food joints or chain boutiques whose windows are lined by dreary rows of dummies clad in droopy garments. Gone are the artistic window displays of snazzy must haves. Everywhere, the old stylishness is giving way to the new dreariness. Even the Tabac on the corner of Rue St Roche where haughty service for postage stamps and phone cards has been a staple alongside cigarettes is being gutted to make way for, who knows what, alongside the likes of the Kooples or Sandro.
All this demolition is a sign of how Parisian life has changed, alas, for the worse.
The legendary grumpiness still abounds. But the snap and crackle of Parisian chic that made it tolerable has vanished. We might as well be in Birmingham.
Now as Paris Fashion Week fills the Tuileries with temporary pavilions and the fashonistas flocked into the local supermarkets, one might have been forgiven for wondering if the word “Fashion” means anything any more. Despite the biting cold I hardly glimpsed a gorgeous fur coat or a pair of boots to die for. The fashion buyers were barely distinguishable from the going home crowd of office workers in their flat shoes, leggings and puffa jackets. Even the smokers who relinquish their glasses of champagne in the interior of the trendy Collette on rue St Honoré to puff on the trottoir outside its windows, are no better dressed than the rest who trundle home with their grocery bags.
As the flood of fashionistas ebbed and the streets quietened, the empty Tom Ford gift bag on the corner of my street said it all. Goodbye to all that was of Paris fashion in the city whose name is still synonymous with fashion. The legend lives on for the moment but banal reality is not far behind. In the wake of spring fashion week, there remain only the copy-cat chains with their too high prices that will be slashed by 50% when the sales come. 
But, behind closed doors in the private dressmaking establishments and the higher priced designer boutiques, the foreign rich are still shopping for a lifestyle invisible to ordinary mortals. The couture houses have sold their souls for profits from perfumes and cosmetics but true Paris fashion is still there, hidden behind the skilled cutting and cunning originality of a world available only to the discerning who can afford true style and individuality. Or to those rare beings who can twist a scarf into a true accessory or add a silk flower to a perfectly cut chemise.
For those who cant--either afford it or create it -- Paris fashion is no more. Like the Hotel de la Tamise it has had its demise.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

What's a Second Hand First Lady Worth on the Open Market?

The deal to set the mark for all First Lady transfers was that of Jackie Kennedy, the tragic widow, to Jackie O, purchaser of 200 pairs of shoes at a shot. From then on no used First Lady has counted for as much in cash terms.
In France they don’t measure their First Ladies for any future outside that of being an arm ornament for a male President. But in recent years a disturbing trend has taken over: the brides of Presidents are career women bent on their own rise. As a hint of the forthcoming nightmare, the uk experienced Cheryl, ‘Cheri’ to her pals, Blair whose consultations with astrologers enabled Tony to get out at the right moment and dump Gordon into the oncoming mess.
Women have often been manipulators of their male counterpart’s success. Today, such women use their connections to politically powerful males as a career move. One perfect example is Carla Bruni, a manipulator par excellence whose career at the time she met Sarkozy, desperately needed a lift. Having lost her footing on the New York catwalks and failed to find a new sponsor among the rock musicians and property tycoons of Manhattan, she turned to singing sour songs about past failed loves. By now a pariah among the arts aristocracy of Paris and the subject of a devastatingly catty Roman à Clé, she went in for drastic facial reconstruction and wangled a marriage deal with the new President. Her confession that she knows nothing about politics has not stopped her from urging Sarkozy to make a come back--because she desperately wants another career push. It wont happen: the market for second hand French Presidents is also sluggish. Even Sarko’s own party don’t want him back as leader. Enough is enough and especially enough of the pushy wife who lost him the election by her appalling publicity gaffes.
Sarko’s previous wife, Cecilia, was shunted off to New York with the journalist for whom she had left Sarko before his election. She had returned to be at his side for the victory but was chatting to someone else on the platform while he made his victory speech. The ‘rupture’ which had happened years before, was soon celebrated with a number of magazine covers with Cecilia beautifully photographed in designer clothes, before her new husband was found a job in New York to keep the pair out of French gossip mags. Cecilia returned during 2013 to publish her memoir of their life together (which she had agreed to keep quiet until he lost the election). She appeared on numerous TV shows but always said the same thing: Sarko was difficult to live with. Really?
Now we have had the Rottweiler, another career woman, but one who at least knows something about politics: she was not there as ‘First Umbrella Carrier’ to the man I nicknamed President Noah, thanks to the coming Deluge as well as actual rainfall during his election and inauguration, to promote her own career. How could she live at the Elysée with the ‘Premier Homme’ and continue to work for Paris Match? She sacrificed her career and remains devoted to this dodo. Alas she couldn’t keep the lid on the cauldron of her jealousy for Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s previous concubine.
I have always loathed the term First Lady, so patronizing for unelected bedmates of elected leaders and which has no counterpart in the description of male partners of elected female leaders such as Thatcher or Merkel. Why should these helpmeets of the private life have any political or opinion forming ‘role’ to play? Even Jackie Kennedy never opened her mouth or sponsored a charity and I doubt if her husband needed her as anything more than a glam mother of his children while he played the field and made a mess of US Cuba relations.
A recent poll of the French public reveals that 54% don’t want a “First Lady” with a role. Their preferred Presidents’ wife from recent years is Bernadette Chirac who never did anything more likely to gain attention than have afternoon tea at Angelina’s, the rue de Rivoli Salon de Thé, fashionable with Bourgeoise wives.
Only 8 % of respondents to the same poll said they ‘liked’ Valerie Trierweiler as against 92% who did not. Which only goes to show that a lady should first of all have a ring on her finger and secondly never comment on or interfere in matters political or personal that are the province of her elected husband.
Alas, it seems that Valerie, as manifested by her disgraceful treatment in the separation bulletin from the Elysée was no lady and not even the President’s wife. She was treated in the manner of a Mistress who despite being supplanted by a second Mistress (somewhat in the manner of Louis XIV’s replacement of the Marquise de Montespan by Madame de Maintenon) remained a ‘slut’ rather than a legitimately married woman. However, I suspect that while her chances of being picked up as a Trophy by some billionaire are slender, her presence at the side of the dumpy dunce who, for the moment, is still President of France, will be sorely missed by the man himself. The Rottweiler’s feisty character was an inestimable force that helped to drive this piece of fudge into the Presidency.
He needs to pay her off with a few million of his secret fund to guarantee her silence. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

So What Now, First Concubine?

Valerie Trierweiler has been humiliated by the Closer piece about Francois Hollande’s affair with an actress. Will she stay in her gorgeous Elysée Palace residence with her fabulously furnished private rooms in the East Wing, her staff of six and her expense account? Or will she leave her gilded cage and return to ‘normal’ life, which means earning her living again in the world of journalism, and possibly of ‘tell all’ books.
Her problem is that she is not an official ‘wife’ but rather an official ‘concubine.’
French law recognizes concubines as having similar rights within a relationship to a wife. Hence, Ségolène Royale, Hollande’s former concubine with whom he has four grown up children, made a settlement with him for €900,000 in 2012. But the civil laws on Concubinage do not extend to matters of State. For Trierweiler, nicknamed the Rottweiler (thanks to her ferocious attacks on colleagues at Paris Match before Hollande’s election and her promotion to First Girlfriend, and others since) must now face a dilemma. Does she swallow her ire and stay in her rather uncertain position or push François Hollande for a settlement and get out of the Elysée? 
She may not have the choice. The past several months have seen a legal attempt to prove that Trierweiler has no right whatsoever to her residence in the Elysée paid for by the French taxpayer. She is neither the legal spouse of the President, nor elected to any position, nor an official paid employee and there is therefore no justification for her expenses of €19,000 per month that pays her staff, her clothes and her living costs.
So what now? She has been superceded as First Concubine by a younger model and indeed it is doubtful if after this embarrassment and no doubt furious rows with Hollande, that she will be functioning as a concubine at all.
There will, as she moves about the Elysée be hushed silences and downcast eyes when she meets her staff, thinly veiled disrespect from the uniformed functionaries, and hardly veiled sneers from those whom she has lashed with her barbed tongue.
Outside, in the streets and watering holes of Paris she will, if she dares go out at all be laughed at, for this woman who has been so arrogant and vicious to others, including to Ségolène Royale (both in person and in print) is now cast out of favour.
As for appearing in public on the President’s arm or shadowing him with a raised umbrella (the pose that caused me to nickname her “First Umbrella Carrier”) her official visits have been canceled. Hollande frequently went on his state visits alone. One reason for not marrying his companion was in order to be able to choose to represent his country without a spouse if he chose. (No doubt Sarkozy wishes he had made the same choice rather than be saddled with a woman who was trying to steal the show everywhere they went.).
So now all that remains is for her friends in TV or print journalism to find Valerie a job. Then she can leave François and the taxpayer funded sinecure of the expenses paid Elysée.
Will Hollande then move his new woman into the Elysée’s East Wing and offer her bed, board, clothing allowance and a staff paid for by the State? Or has that little actress already ruined her chances by appearing on TV and bbbling about her relationship with Hollande.
This show has a long way yet to run. Well, at least until Hollande’s Parliamentary colleagues decide that enough is enough. The carnage to follow may include further devastating falls in Hollande’s public support. A snap poll taken after the Closer publication showed 78% of respondents think the affair’s disclosure will harm the President. The local elections in March and the European Elections in June may finally force his party to admit that he must be asked to resign or else be Impeached for his failure to run the country properly.
His secret overnight absences at the actress mistress’s Paris studio left his Presidential responsibilities on those occasions in limbo. The Commander in Chief, who has sent French troops to Africa has put his own security at risk and that of his nation while absent from the shop. One security guard only knew of his whereabouts on these occasions. Never mind the risk of a scooter crash or worse. These careless adolescent escapades that put the nation at risk must surely be added to the list of misdemeanours including the failure to report his true wealth in 2012 and his mismanagement of the French economy that justify a vote by one third of either house of representatives for his Impeachment.
The alternative must be the election of the Front Nationale to power with the consequent shambolic retreat of France from the EU, the Euro and civilization.

For the full story on Hollande’s concealment of his wealth of €17 million in 2012 see my previous article “Don’t Shoot The President—yet!” at dated January 5th 2014.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Don't Shoot The President--yet!

François Holland is a frightened man. After the mass hissing and booing he received in Place de La Concorde on November 11th 2013 he privately admitted he fears France is pre-revolutionary. Indeed, the danger of Revolution is a source of fear. A friend I accidentally encountered a few weeks before I transferred myself back to the uk said “There is terror: people are terrified of what may happen.”
Over drinks or dinners in the bars, brasseries and private apartments of central Paris people are likening the situation in France to that existing shortly before the Revolution of 1789. As then, the economy is in poor shape and taxes are rising. In 1789 anger was focused on the king and recipients of royal sinecures. In 2014 there is anger against those who are enriched by Presidential patronage, and by a President who has failed utterly to deliver his promises of May 2012. The quality of French life is declining fast. Unemployment rises. So do taxes: the next to go up is VAT. But still Hollande’s government fails to dent the deficit that alarms even the European Union’s control freak rule makers. The President’s popularity has dropped to 15% in a recent poll—a record low for an incumbent.
Is this why the roads outside the Élysée Palace, Hollande’s office were closed by police one recent night when my Paris based amour was driving home at “Are we really so frightening?” my friend asked. Perhaps, yes. This was not the only night on which those roads were closed. A few days later a car driven by the director of a small theatre forced to close by Holland’s cuts in subsidies was rammed against the high iron gates at the back entrance to the Elysee. The man was injured but he made his point. Hollande is destroying French enterprise and also the arts, recipients of State benefits and exemptions. Artists operating on small margins, suffer first. For instance, recent changes to French film labour laws have driven award winning art movie producers such as Francois Ozone and Abdellatif Kechiche (Blue is the warmest Colour) to protest. Other producers claim they cannot afford to produce in France.
At the sharp end of business, Breton lorry drivers are also furious about taxes on heavy transporters that threaten the hitherto successful competitiveness of Breton food producers. Hollande has softened the employment taxes for SME’s but they are still struggling as frightened consumers hold onto their cash in an economy where faith in the future of keeping one’s job has plummeted. Across the board from left to right, Hollande is loathed and despised and seen as the cause of French decline: no wonder Paris seethes with talk of revolution. But it’s not the Underclass, the multi-ethnic denizens of no go suburbs who this time are ready to revolt: it is the middle and professional classes, white collar employers and employees who are most challenged and who worry how to weather three more years of Hollande as President.
Nor is it the Right who hiss and boo wherever he appears. The Bonnets Rouges, historically a Breton anti tax group against Louis 14th later active in the French Revolution, are prominent protesters.  Freelance footage on November 11th 2013 showed the Bonnets Rouge were also instigators of disturbances at Place de La Concorde and on the Champs Elysees. Their recorded street protests were not shown on the national TV channels. Nor was the booing Hollande received as he was sped with unseemly haste up the Champs Elysees to the Etoile to lay the wreath for the Unknown Soldier.
I said from the start that Holland was a goof and a dunce. But, no I was told, he is an Enarque, trained in the elite administrative school the Ecole Nationale d’Administration from which many top French state industry leaders have graduated. Alas, trained in orthodoxy but lacking the imagination to create the innovation needed to transform an economy in crisis. Can this dunce be removed from office?
Yes. His failure to declare his own considerable wealth at the outset of his Presidency offers good reason to start proceedings. As I wrote in my blog of November 9th 2012, Hollande did not declare apartments he owns in London to the tax authorities. In 2012 on his election, he declared capital wealth of €3m. Of this he forsook some €900,000 in his separation settlement with Ségolène Royale, mother of his four children. When elected, he claimed to be living in a rented apartment in the dowdy 15th Arrondissement. Later, photos of two blocks where he owned flats in London were shown on the Internet and discussion of his deception became rife during autumn 2012. He was later shown to be managing his several properties and other wealth via a company: legal avoidance, but evidence of his dishonest claims to being a modest man. It was not widely known to the public that François and his brother inherited millions from their property developer father.
Meanwhile Hollande’s tax hikes drove many rich and some companies to leave France taking €50billion with them in October/November 2012.
Failure to report the true figure for his wealth should have resulted in his dismissal from office. However, during the spring of 2013 the published figure was corrected from €3m to €17m. Was this the result of arm-twisting by officials who would otherwise have forced his resignation? We may never know: much that should appear in the media does not.
So, the dunce Hollande continues to mismanage France and bring about the flight of capital, of talent and of wealth to a wider world. His predecessor, Sarkozy has yet to answer charges against him for misuse of public funds and other law breaking concerning election funding. Copé, leader of the main opposition party has yet to prove himself. But this spring’s elections for local and European seats will offer French voters the opportunity to express their disgust with the incompetent President. But he will remain President, unless...
Under the Fifth Republic constitution brought in by General de Gaulle on October 6th 1958 the French President was the most powerful in the world and could only be removed from office by high treason or death. But on 19th February 2007 a Constitutional amendment enacted by the French Parliament made Impeachment of the French President possible. According to the 2007 rules, in case of a "neglect of his duties manifestly incompatible with the exercise of his mandate," a two-thirds majority of either house of Parliament can authorize impeachment proceedings.
The failure to declare his true wealth is one such neglect of duties. The other is failure to govern in a way compatible with the exercise of his mandate.
It would be destructive for the country to go through the President’s dismissal or forced resignation.
But it could be worse still if someone decides to end his tenure by assassination.
No wonder Hollande is a frightened man.