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why I’m particularly glad to be in France today.

IMG_4507Here in France, there always seems to be one service or another that’s shutting down in protest of something.   The trains.   The buses.   The airlines.  And then every time you turn around everything is closed for some holiday you’ve never heard of, that usually has something to do with some holy person ascending to heaven.

You can say a lot of things about the French and their work ethic, their politics, their bureaucracy,  but I can honestly say, I’ve never seen their government shut down.

So let me get this straight, America…

The goddamn idiots in the House are shutting down the government over a small point in a puny bit of legislation that they spent countless hours whittling down to nothing?   On our dime?

If they were working for me, I’d fire their lazy, pompous, self-righteous, entitled asses.   Oh wait….they do work for me.   Supposedly.  Can I fire them?   At the very least, don’t Americans have the right to stop paying their goddamn salary?

I’m going to avoid blaming parties and just say that I’ve seen our elected officials on both sides of the aisle take the exact opposite positions they’re taking now, all depending on which party proposed what.   They both sicken me equally (okay, maybe right now I hate the Republicans a wee bit more).   I can’t look at any of them without getting a huge churning knot of rage in my stomach.

Today in France, stores are open, and services are running.  Medical care is about 1/10th the price it is in America.  I’m happy and relieved to be in a country where the news and politicians don’t make my blood boil. Of course, that could be because I don’t understand them.

how the french elect a president

On Sunday, April 22  the French will go to the polls and chose between 10 candidates from 10 different political parties.  If none of the 10 contenders get over 50% of the vote (not likely when you’ve got that many people running), the top two will face a run off vote on May 6.   The winner will be the President of France for the next five years.

I tried to count the number of parties currently represented in the French system, but my tiny attention span only made it to 15 before my mind wandered and I began worrying about more immediate issues like what’s for dinner.

Suffice it to say, unlike our two party system that is practically cartoonish in the black and white stances our politicians are reduced to, the French have to deal with many shades of grey.    One of the left wing candidates is described as a socialist republican and historical materialist — what the hell would our two party system do with that?

It’s difficult to get a feel for the candidates and how the public feels about them since I don’t understand what anyone is talking about most of the time.   But here’s what I’ve been able to glean about the leading contenders from online research and studying campaign posters around town.

Nicolas Sarkozy (incumbent). Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) Center right

They call him President Bling Bling.   His values seem more American than French to me.   He wants to take away a lot of the laws (like practically being unable to fire anyone even if they’re totally inept and a 35 hour maximum work week) that hinder his vision of “work more, earn more”.   Totally capitalist.   Not that there’s anything wrong with it.   He does seem to be the most in bed with banks and big business.  And he is the most interventionist President France has had in ages (he’s the only top candidate who doesn’t have withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of his platform).   He’s very short and on his fourth marriage, this time to Carla Bruni, an ex-model and occasional singer/actress.   Need I say more?

More on Sarkozy

Francois Hollande   Socialist party   Center left

 Judging by this poster (yes, that is real merde on his face), you might think he’s the most detested man in France.   I mean, you’ve got to hate a guy pretty strongly to go to the trouble of putting actual shit on his poster.   But the truth is, this guy is leading in the polls right now.   He’s the change candidate, as you can see by the revolutionary line on his poster:  ” the change is now.”   After reading up a little on the candidates,   It’s possible I’d vote for him (although it’s hard to look at someone as presidential once you’ve seen him with shit on his face.)   He wants tighter controls on banks.   He wants to tax all income above E 1.3 million at 75%, which seems fairly moderate when compared with the other left candidate’s proposal (see Melenchon).    Juicy gossip:   He lived with and had four children with Segoline Royale who Sarkozy beat in the last Presidential election.   That would kind of be like Obama fathering four of Hilary’s children (out of wedlock!)

More on Hollande.

Marine Le Pen   Front Nationale (FN)   Far right

Far Right wing.   Her father is also a prominent far right wing french politician (Jean Marie Le Pen).   Really strong on anti-immigration and nationalism.   Wants to get off Euro and back to Francs as well as a “buy French” law.  From what I can tell, she is the French equivalent of Liz Cheney.    Here’s hoping the Le Pens are humans rather than vicious, soulless cyborgs.

More on Le Pen

Jean-Luc Melenchon  Front de Gauche   Far left

This guy is the most left wing guy among the top contenders.   He was born in Morocco, so he’ll have being born on the same continent as President Obama going for him*.  I’ve got to say, the Hitler mustache scribbled on the poster doesn’t quite seem appropriate for this guy.  He’s peaceful.   He’s not expansionist.   Or a Nazi.    I suppose it could be a comment on his stand to recognize Palestine, or possibly making fun of his tag line: “take  the power”.    Apparently one poll has him dubbed as the most “rock and roll” candidate (which proves the French take stupid polls too).   He wants to tax all income above E350,000 at 100%!!!!!!!!.    Seems like a Stalin mustache would have been more appropriate than the Hitler one some irate French person scrawled on the poster above.

More on Melenchon

The other six candidates have followings that are too small to be considered serious threats.   I know this because none of the posters I’ve seen of them have been defaced.   Clearly the public is indifferent.

The best overview of everyone running, their parties and what they stand for that I’ve found so far is from Al Jazeera.   Go figure.  It’s got the added benefit of being in English.

change you can believe in

You’re looking at approximately $23 worth of change in Euros (16 Euros).   By tomorrow, it should be worth more against the dollar.

With my 16 Euros I can buy a roast chicken, loaf of bread, cheese, coffee and still have money left over for dessert.

In San Francisco, a roast chicken and bread salad at Zuni Cafe costs $49.00 (and isn’t nearly as tasty as the $7.00 roast chicken from the rotisserie truck here.

Why am I telling you this?   Because I’m pissed off.   I’m pissed off because I can’t afford to exchange all my hard-earned, increasingly worthless US dollars into Euros at the moment because of poor money management, not on my part (and believe me, I’m no financial genius), but on the part of the US government.   The government that I just paid tens of thousands of dollars to on April 15th… or else.

Thanks to their poor management and favoritism to the very rich (I’m talking to you Geithner, Bernake et al), I spent the past year slaving away 24/7 to earn money, much of which is now being spent on wars, bank bail outs, interest rates to China and corporate tax breaks.

Sure, the French will tell you their taxes are high, but it seems they’re getting some value for their money.   Their healthcare system is rated number one in the world, so they don’t live in fear of being bankrupted by illness.   Their roads are well maintained so they don’t blow out their tires on a simple drive to the grocery store (and get taxed when they’re forced to buy new tires).   They don’t work inhuman hours for an ever decreasing wage.   Public servants, teachers and people who actually produce things aren’t treated as second class citizens to be bilked by the rich and powerful.

So where’s the change (aside from the pittance in my hand), President Obama?  I understand that Bush got us into this mess, but from where I’m sitting, which is thankfully far away, things are only getting worse for the working class.

Ironically, the only way I can live the American dream these days is to be in France, where while I still can’t afford to buy a home, at least I can afford a chicken.

the real housewives of elysee palace

Lately, the President of France and his First Lady have been in the news.   Rumor has it, the First Lady is having an affair with a popular (and quite unattractive pop star).   The President is allegedly soothing himself with a lover of his own.   I decided to investigate the first family’s background.   I can’t say I learned much about the alleged affairs, but I figured out why reality television isn’t as popular in France as it is in the US.   They’ve got the Sarkozys.



The current first lady is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.   She’s the daughter of a rich Italian industrialist…well, that’s what she thought.   She found out in her 30’s that she actually had another father and was the product of a six year affair her mother,  a concert pianist,  had with a Brazilian grocery magnate (at the time he was a classical guitarist).   The family moved from Turin to Paris when she was nine.   She attended a swiss boarding school, and then studied art and architecture in Paris until she dropped out to become a model.

As a top model, Carla is probably best known for breaking up Mick Jagger’s marriage with Jerry Hall.   She also dated Eric Clapton before Mick stole her away.   Her only child, Aurelien (a boy, hard to tell with that name), is the product of her union with Raphael Enthoven, the son of publishing magnate Jean-Paul Enthoven who she was living with at the time.  Up until recently, she claimed not to be a fan of monogamy as she found it boring.  Clearly.

Raphael Enthoven, Jean-Paul Enthoven

As a side note, at the time of Carla and Raphael Enthoven’s affair, Raphael was married to writer, Justine Levy (Bernard Henri Levi’s daughter).   The affair and the ending of her marriage were inspiration for her  book “Rien de Grave”  (Nothing Serious).

She met the newly elected Nicolas Sarkozy (aka President Bling-Bling) at a dinner party.   At the time, he was recovering from his divorce from his second wife, Cecilia, and Carla was in between partners.   They fell in love immediately and married within months.

In addition to her job as First Lady of France, she’s now a singer/songwriter and will appear in Woody Allen’s next feature (if she’s not cut).  Is she a talented musician?   You be the judge.

More Carla pictures


The first First Lady is Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz Martin Sarkozy Attias




You gotta love her.   She was Sarkozy’s wife when he was elected President.  She had this habit of disappearing for prolonged periods.   Turns out she was “hiking the Appalachian trail” with a Moroccan advertising executive, Richard Attias.

Sarkozy has described Cecilia as his strength and his Achilles heel.   Pretty poetic, I must say.

They met when Sarkozy was mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine.   At the time, he was on his first marriage to Marie-Dominique.   As Mayor,  he officiated the marriage ceremony of Cecilia (who was eight months pregnant), to popular (late) TV host, Jacques Martin, who was almost twice her age.

Jacques and Cecilia with Marie Dominique and Nicolas

Sarkozy immediately fell in love with her and the two families became close (some members closer than others).   Their affair was discovered by Sarkozy’s first wife, Marie-Dominique when they were on vacation together and she walked in on them.

After the resulting divorces, Cecilia and Nicolas married and had one son together, Louis.

They had a turbulent, infidelity-filled 10 years of marriage before they divorced, shortly after Nicolas became President.   She married Attias in 2008.   She now heads a foundation for women’s issues.

It’s hard not to notice a striking resemblance between Cecilia and Carla.

Marie-Dominique Culioli Sarkozy

Marie-Dominique Culioli-Sarkozy with Jean Paul and Pierre

Marie Dominique Culioli Sarkozy with Jean and Pierre

Poor Marie probably had the roughest go of it, as far as being married to Sarkozy is concerned.   A religious girl from a working Corsican family, she met Nicolas while she was studying at the Sorbonne and he was an up and coming politician.   They married and had two sons, Jean-Paul and Pierre, before he acquired a taste for Rolexes and towering brunettes.

As mentioned above, she discovered her husband’s affair with her friend Cecilia after a few years.  He vacillated back and forth between the two women and finally asked for a divorce.   She fought it and the case dragged on for almost eight years.

She moved back to Corsica for awhile to get away from the prying eyes of the press, but has recently returned to Neuilly-sur-Seine to help with her son Jean’s burgeoning political career, which seems to be taking a similar course to his father’s.   He is councilor in the town of Neuilly.   Marie-Dominique now refers to herself as Madame Sarkozy.   I suppose she sees herself as some dowager empress.

She’s forgiven Nicolas, but will never forgive Cecilia.   She never remarried.

President Bling-Bling

Initially, due to his physical stature (5’5″) and huge ambition, he was called President Napoleon.   But as his showy, model-loving, rolex-wearing, celeb-courting, press-seeking, America-loving (even Bush) showed itself,  the moniker changed to President Bling-Bling.

He’s the first French president who didn’t come from the “ruling class.”By our standards, he’d be considered a moderate, but by French standards, he’s a right wing elitist.

He is said to be unable to be without a woman.   History bears this out.   He waxes poetic about his heartbreak at being cuckolded by Cecilia and it sounds sensitive and heartbreaking if one forgets his own faithlessness.   But I’ll say one thing for him:   I don’t think he’ll be caught with 15 tattooed stripper porn star escorts with huge fake knockers.  He seems to like intelligent feisty women.   A lot.

To be fair, this sort of behavior is not entirely new for French Presidents.   Hell, Mitterand had a secret second family.  And Chirac was known as a bon vivant with many dalliances.   What is new is that it’s being reported.    French law dictates that the personal life of Presidents be kept private.   But Bling-Bling laid it all out for them (he likes the fame?).

Can you imagine if our politicians behaved this way?   No…let me rephrase that.   Can you imagine if we found out our politicians behaved this way?   No…let me rephrase that.   What would happen if we found out that President Obama is sleeping with Beyonce while Michelle is bonking Usher?   Would we (gasp!) start acting like the French?

Well, at the last Presidential election in France, 88% of eligible voters turned out to vote versus 56% in the US.   Maybe we’d pay more attention to politics, stop watching so much reality TV and get a decent healthcare system into place.

The Sarkozy boys

Louis Sarkozy

Jean Sarkozy

Pierre Sarkozy

The current alleged lovers

Benjamin Biolay

Chantal Jouanno


international political summit

My ability to discuss politics in French intelligently is seriously hampered by my inability to discuss anything in French intelligently. Up until now, I’ve pretty much limited my political ravings to blaming the Bush administration for the weather.   Obama still gets the benefit of the doubt.   I’ve been hoping that hope thing pans out.

I decide to use my next French/English session with Carole, my neighbor to discuss what’s happening on the geopolitical front.

We settle down with our drinks, pens, paper and dictionaries for a deep discussion of the world political situation… in the others’ native tongue

Carole Poletti-Blot, France

Lesley Stern, USA

Moi: Aime-tu Sarkozy?

Carole (making a face):   You no longer have Bush.   Now we have Sarkozy.   We have exchanged shames.

Moi: Ah, mais Bush est un grand, grand…shame (flipping through dictionary) HONTE.

Carole (correcting):  Bush ETAIT un grand, honte.

Moi: Etait.   Bush etait un grand, grand honte.   Huit annees de honte.   Mon Dieu!   Et Sarkozy?

Carole: He pretends…pretend? he possess the world.

Moi: He thinks he owns the world.

Carole: (repeating) He thinks he owns the world.

Moi: or   he’s an entitled asshole.

Carole:  Say this again?

Moi (simplifying): An asshole.   (trying to explain it in shitty French)…Iil est un grand ane.   Ou …le hole…qu’est ce que c’est hole… (flipping desperately through dictionary) de derriere.

Carole: Connard!   I’ll est un connard!   Un trou de cul.    Oui.

Both Carole and I scribble our newly learned words down furiously.

Moi: (repeating to self) trou de cul, trou de cul.  Connard. Connard.

Carole: (repeating to self) asshole, asshole, asshole.

Me: Oui tout les politicians …comme que dit suck?…Mauvais, mais plus mal…(thinking) .Les politicians est putains.

Carole laughs at my use of the curse word.

Carole (correcting): Sont putains.

Me: Les politicians sont putains.

Carole: The word again, please?

Moi: Suck.  All politicians suck.

Carole starts scribbling down the phrase

Carole: Please spell “suck”.

Moi: S…U….C….K.

Carole (reading what she just wrote): All politicians suck.

Moi (applauding her): Oui! Tout les politicians sont putains!

Carole (reading from her notes): Sarkozy is an asshole!

Moi: Oui! Tous les politicians sont connards!

Now that a consensus has been reached, we relax a bit, proud of all that we’ve accomplished. I certainly feel better having gotten all this off my chest and that my French partner and I have found some common ground. We move on to other pressing matters of the day.

Moi: Ou est se trouve en bon homme ici?

Carole: There is not a good man in the world.

We laugh together conspiratorially.

I think we may be on to something. This trying to speak in the others’ language without translators could be a good thing for international relations. Sure, our political conversation was a little limited. But when you get right down to it, I’m sure we resolved much more and found more common ground in an hour than the UN has in years.   Heck, maybe the US senate should try it.

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