Most tourists who come to Paris leave with some kind of souvenir – often a model of the Eiffel Tower. In the warmer months you can buy an Eiffel Tower keychain in practically any tabac or kiosque in the city.
But Le Figaro reports today you’d better keep an eye on the mecs selling these sovenirs. Last Saturday French police cracked down on a network of distributors that has been peddling illegal goods for more than seven months. Police seized 140,000 souvenirs worth 241,000€ ($300,000) and arrested 39 people. The investigation into the souvenirs has been ongoing since last February and finds that the imitation Eiffels are made in China then distributed through a ring of 200 to 300 sellers in Paris, most of whom operate in sight of the tower on the Champ de Mars or at Trocadero.
The Famous Auteur Woody Allen in Paris
Le Parisien reports that Woody Allen is in Paris filming his new movie “Midnight in Paris.” The city is no stranger to film legends but Allen’s most recent visit is particularly special. His new film, which features Marion Cotillard as well as Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, will also see the acting debut of a star recognized throughout France – Première Dame Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Fans hoping to catch a glimpse of her on set will have to wait, as her scenes aren’t expected to film before August. In the meantime Allen – a well-known devotee of France’s revered cinéaste, François Truffaut – will be staying almost next door to the Elysée at the five-star Hotel Bristol and is expected to enjoy all the finer aspects of Parisian savoir vivre.
The French Take Back the Tour de France at the Second Stage
“Finally a Frenchman in Yellow!” reads the front page of Le Parisien today. The reference is to the iconic yellow jersey worn by the current stage leader of the annual Tour de France. The cycle race that began last Saturday has 193 cyclists riding throughout France (and this time through parts of Holland and Belgium) for 22 days. Yesterday marked the end of the second stage of the race and it’s Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel who finished first by nearly three minutes. The occasion is historic - not only for France, which hasn’t seen a Frenchman wear the yellow jersey since 2008 - but the man himself. Chavanel wasn’t even sure if he was going to be able to participate in this year’s race. Just two months ago he was hit by a car while riding his bike and suffered a skull fracture and a concussion. Yesterday, he celebrated the first yellow jersey of his career. “This is the happiest day of my cycling life,” he said.
Bettencourt Affair Infects French TV
The entire French government seems to be at the mercy of the Bettencourt affair these days. The controversy may even have affected French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s choice for the new president of national public broadcasting company France Télévisions. Libération reports Sarkozy announced yesterday the director of the press distribution company Presstalis, Rémy Pflimlin, will be the new head of France Télévisions. Previously, Sarkozy favored Europe 1 CEO Alexandre Bompard, age 37. Nineteen years Pflimlin’s junior and a known UMP supporter, Bompard is the sportier choice. But after days of deliberation Sarkozy chose Pflimlin, who is supposedly a safer bet politically. One counselor at the Elysée is quoted saying, “Sarkozy wanted to end the chain of the Woerth [affair] and he did not want to it eclipse the nomination of Pflimlin, a choice that neither the right nor the left will criticize.”
Are the French as fascinated by the Sarkozy-Bruni School for Scandal as, well, everyone else? Apparently not. A poll published in Le Parisien today finds that the vast majority just don’t care about this kind of stuff: 82 percent said that rumors about politicians’ private lives do not influence their opinion of political personalities, notably Nicolas Sarkozy. The not-so-politicized under-thirties pay a little attention (27 percent); the seasoned, cynical over-fifties almost none (87 percent don’t care). So Sarko and his overzealous defenders would be wise to take his wife’s lead and chill out. Le ParisIen puts much of the blame for the current flap on Sarkozy advisor Pierre Charon who has been accused of overreacting and blowing the rumors out of proportion with his claim of a “conspiracy.” Le Parisien quotes one deputy who accuses Charon of “putting a euro in the pinball machine” instead of merely letting the rumors die a “natural death.” This kind of melodrama appears to be Charon’s MO, however, and a Libération article provides several examples of similar rabblerousing over the 30-year political career of this trublion, or troublemaker, who terrifies his own team.
Throughout the scandal Sarkozy himself has done his best to give the appearance that everything is business as usual. Yesterday he made yet another diplomatic visit, this time to Glières, the site of a famous holdout by French soldiers against the Nazis in World War II. Le Figaro reports today that the controversy has changed nothing for the President, although doubtless he’ll be glad to see an end to it. Instead he seems to have remained rather optimistic about the months to come and none of his planned reforms have been altered in anyway due to the events of the last week. (Which is not to say they haven’t been altered: ditching the carbon tax being the obvious case in point.) Instead the first reform on the list is pension reform and we can expect details to appear in the coming weeks. Or so says Le Figaro.
— Harry Bradford
The Empress Strikes Back
It’s long been said that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has a remarkable knack for getting her hyperkinetic spouse to chill out. Last night we heard her soothing tones in public, and today they’re all over the press, along with appropriate photographs of the former model’s stunningly beautiful (if slightly frozen) face.
The flap Bruni set out to quel on the French radio station Europe 1 centers on reports that the Elysée accused former justice minister (and former Sarkozy friend and spokeswoman and present unmarried mother of a daughter by an unnamed father) Euro MP Rachida Dati of masterminding rumors concerning extramarital affairs by the presidential couple.
Bruni’s appearance on the radio station was announced only hours before she went on the air and lasted less than ten minutes. But that was plenty of time for the Italian born bombshell to get across what she though needed to be said. So diplomatic was her discourse that France-Soir broke it down into five essential talking points:
1. Rumors have always existed. “The rumor is inherent to humanity,” said Bruni. “These rumors are, for me and my husband, insignificant.”
2. Complete denial of any so-called conspiracy, as alleged by the current presidential communications director Pierre Charon. “I do not believe that we are victims of any conspiracy,” said Bruni, adding that Charon simply got carried away by the “passion of friendship.”
3. No ill will between Rachida Dati and the Sarkozys. “She remains truly our friend.”
4. There was never any police investigation, nor were phones tapped in this case.
5. Beyond petty rumors it is France and the French people that matter most to the Sarkozys. “My husband has only one concern, it is the French and France in a very difficult crisis.”
Thanks, Carla, for setting us straight. Too bad that coverage of the controversy continues to be almost everywhere in the press today. The weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur features the story under the title “Elysée: the war of buzz” and charts its rise from simple Tweets to a post on a blog run by Sunday weekly Journal du Dimanche and now as a full-blown media sensation. Likewise, Le Monde has finally deigned to cover the story after ignoring the initial rumors and essentially steering clear of the soap opera for several weeks. The paper’s hesitation to get involved at all has now been replaced by air of wizened circumspection, drawing particular attention to the friendship between Arnaud Lagardere, the main shareholder of Journal du Dimanche, and Sarkozy. Le Monde notes that Sarkozy’s attempts to control every little story about him that is leaked to the press only makes the tales more conspicuous and lends them credibility.
A Counter-Carla Conspiracy?
Just when everybody thought the whole Sarkozy-Bruni affair about affairs was going to gently fade away it’s returned bigger, badder and stranger than ever. No longer simply gossip about supposed marital infidelity, its all of a sudden about a complex web of political intrigue, personal vendettas, a Peugeot 607 and bodyguards. The weekly French satirical newspaper, Le Canard Enchainé seems to be at the cutting edge of the reporting, but Libération has been quick to pick up on it as well featuring the story as its main feature today.
Whereas the original rumors concerned just the four people rumored to be carrying on affairs – Nicolas, Carla and their putative lovers, Secretary of State for Ecology Chantal Jouanno and pop singer Benjamin Biolay – a few extra characters have been added recently. By far the most important of these is Rachida Dati, the minister of justice under Sarkozy until June 2009. Last week Dati was the subject of minor headlines when she lost the right to her official car, a Peugeot 607, and four of her bodyguards. Le Canard reports that initially Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux said it was done simply to meet new requirements and the same procedure had been carried out with other ministers. But according to the Canard the reas reason was because Dati came under suspicion as the source behind rumors about Nic and Carla’s marital trouble.
As Le Canard writes, the affaire could have easily stopped there “without citing the name of Rachida Dati” if it weren’t for Pierre Charon, Sarkozy’s main spin-doctor. Rather than downplaying the Dati matter, Charon claimed, rather pointedly,“There’s enough lies on the part of those who spread them. It warrants that there should be a legal trial. Now, we will see if there is not a kind of conspiracy organized with financial backing, why not.”
What? The idea of conspiracy goes back even further according to Le Canard. Brice Hortefeux believed that there may have been some sort of intrigue at the heart of the rumors and told a small group of journalists shortly after the regional elections that “We may be dealing with an attempt at international destabilization against Nicolas Sarkozy…The fact that these rumors have been relayed to the press in Britain, in Germany, in Switzerland may suggest a conspiracy, since France is preparing itself in 2011 to take the chairmanship of the G20. In any case, an investigation will be made to know where these rumors came from.” It’s this investigation, which Le Canard reports included phone taps, that is ultimately responsible for the suspension of Dati’s Peugeot and the loss of her dignity — or so this version goes.
Le Canard reports that as recently as Sunday, Dati attempted to save face. Denying any involvement, she has condemned “the allegations of certain media outlets which have assigned her any responsibility for the spread of absurd and unacceptable rumors on the presidential couple’s private life.” Furthermore, she says that if such allegations continue she’ll view it as defamation of character and call in police protection. As Le Canard points out, there’s “still a conspiracy, but this time, against Rachida.”
On Tuesday, Secretary General of the Elysée Claude Guéant, responding to a question about all this posed by a Canard journalist, said The president of the Republic no longer wants to see Rachida Dati.” Whatever it is that Dati did, it’s pretty clear that she’s not on Sarko’s favorite people list at the moment.
If this all seems a little melodramatic or a bit “middle school” to you, the socialist newspaper Libération believes it’s supposed to be. Rather than a tragedy for President Sarkozy — set up to be betrayed by his former spokesperson and one time friend Rachida Dati — the article headlined "Since 2007, a soap opera presidency” contends that the scandal is just business as usual for the Sarko administration. “Sarkozysme is a formidable machine of distraction and misplaced attention,” suggests Libé.
With Sarkozy’s approval ratings at an all time low and the fresh humiliation of the regional elections, what better time for the UMP to stir the pot? Libé finds the story stories’ timing suspicious. There was hardly a peep out of any French publication when the rumors first started, but nearly a month later they’re suddenly on the front pages. While such spectacle and drama may be Sarkozy’s style, Libération believes that this latest move, if it is in fact manufactured, might only serve to alienate the French people more.
— Harry Bradford