François Hollande was calm and presidential on French television yesterday. Speaking of his function rather than his person, he suggested that the President of the Republic must soothe, conciliate, and compromise. In a world where denial is the common currency, the way he explained the French economic disaster was reassuring: “There are three figures that everyone needs to keep in mind: national debt at 90% of the GDP; unemployment at 10%; a deficit of 70 billion euros.”
What it will take to balance the budget? Not austerity, but rather “l'effort juste.” Words still mean a lot in this country, words and symbols. "L'effort juste", “effort with justice”, means that cutbacks will aim to be fair. No sales tax increase for example. There’s an echo too, that my inner French student wants to hear, of “le juste milieu”: just the right balance. Hollande has taken a 30% salary cut and so will the heads of the state owned enterprises.
And indiscreet tweets from his entourage? “It will not happen again”-- cela ne se reproduira plus. His most demanding listeners bristled when he referred to his partner by her first name --“Valérie.” Wasn’t this too personal for a president who wants to keep the private private? True, a note of tenderness slipped into his voice, personal tenderness. But I can’t imagine him having said “Madame Treirweiller.” This is territory deeply foreign to Americans, we who are used to our politicians with spouses attached to their coattails. Deeply foreign and instructive. There’s a lot of talk about a “normal” presidency: no hyped up schemes, no bling bling, no constant changes of course. FDR in 1933.
And so around midnight, French men and women, and a few assorted beasts, gathered on the widest streets in viewing distance of the Eiffel Tower to watch a fireworks display that was effortful, not austere. I made my way to the avenue de Breteuil with other wanderers; it’s never as jammed with people as the Trocadéro or the rue saint Dominique. Still, I always remember how Henry Miller described it in Tropic of Cancer: “that open tomb of an Avenue de Breteuil which at ten o’clock in the evening is so silent, so dead, that it makes one think of murder or suicide, anything that might create a vestige of human drama.” Last night, from 11:30 to 12, the streets were packed and the people were silent, hypnotized by the shimmering iron lady and her multi-color crackle and pop.
Finally, is it my imagination, or are Jack Russell Terriers everywhere in Paris since The Artist won an Oscar? Pictured here is a Jack Russell with his companion, a wire haired fox terrier. Uggie from The Artist and Milou from Tintin watching the fireworks on the Avenue de Breteuil, Paris, July 14, 2012.