Leave it to the French, we said. But I followed their example. I eat French fries (not really theirs, but we attribute it to them anyway), adding inches to my waist, and French kiss at every chance I get. French toast is breakfast and I fancy French wines because I know how to pronounce Chardonnay Sauvignon, Champagne, and Bordeaux!
We always thought them the odd people in Canada when I lived in the Prairies, derisively calling them "frogs" because rice paddy jumpers from French Indochina were abundant and their legs entered exquisite French cuisine. Gallic names litter the Mississippi from the Great Lakes to the bayous of Louisiana, the Appalachia to the Rocky Mountains, thanks to Napoleon who needed cash to fund his wars and rid real estate of Nouvelle France to the New World of the Americans.
My firstborn graduated from the International School in Makati, Metro Manila, and her French teacher of Vietnamese descent told her that she would never speak French like a native speaker. So on her junior year in college, she packed up and headed for a year in Provence’s Avignon, taxing her mom’s financial health since I was too much of a mendicant bum to contribute anything substantive to support her Tour de France.
A year later she was speaking the language like a native, enough that her company in the U.S. later thought of sending her to Tunisia (République tunisienne) when they needed a rep to market their IT software offering. Tunisian male-dominated connection, however, did not wish to baby a female rep, but I am sure they would have relented had they known that my daughter hung out with Legionnaires while in France.
I flew into Paris from Chicago in ’77 to wake up to futuristic escalators at Charles de Gaulle airport. On my way to Maharashtra in India, my ticket got me through Paris and Rome. Unfortunately it was August, when half of Paris leave for the coasts, so my efforts to locate acquaintances like the girl who proffered croissant hospitality that summer in America produced rien, nada. Overpaying a bistro tab on Sienne’s left bank at the Latin Quarter, and billeting at a Montmarte Arab-run dive, my budget for a week in Paris went poof overnight.
All the foregoing is a Pinoy passacalle to being confronted by news this week that French President Francois Hollande is cuddling up with actress Julie Gayet. Duh! Hollande is French! He has four kids with former 30-year live-in partner and fellow socialist politician Segolene Royal, who lost the 2007 presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy, with Hollande blamed for mismanaging her campaign. They parted ways within a month thereafter. When Hollande ran against Sarkozy in 2011 and won, he was sharing fluids with French journalist Valerie Trierweiller who moved in with him after his election to the Elysee Palace, became media’s "premiere dame" and accompanied him in official travels abroad.
Photographer Sebatien Valiela, who has a paparazzi habit of stalking dignitaries, recently took pictures of President Hollande back-riding on a motorbike to visit the French actress’ apartment 150 yards away. Valiela is the same photographer who snapped pictures of another Francois 20 years earlier. The late President Mitterand was caught on celluloid coming out of breakfast with his daughter Mazarine. Mitterand publicly acknowledged the fair issue of his long-ago discretion with his mistress; it was no big deal to the French.
Monsieur Hollande campaigned against the flashy and flamboyant Nicolas Sarkozy as "Monsieur Normal." Sarkozy took Italian-French model, singer, and songwriter Carla Bruni as his third wife when he won the office, and the glamour of the couple in Elysee Palace was glitzy and ditzy. Monsieur Normal, however, meant that he was just a normal French male! In a real sense he is.
What is really at issue is the mythical role of a "first lady" in a presidential palace, not an issue with societies where fidelity in marriage, or the appearance of one, like Jack-Jackie Kennedy’s Camelot, goes with the office of the President, but Hollande once commented that the President is the only one elected, and who he sleeps with is nobody else’s business.
This would not apply to Obama since the U.S. President’s gait is orchestrated by the Security Service, in this case one with the Victorian pedigree of the nation. Obama dances on his security’s score!
Huff Post followed the latest French scandal with, "...the only person thought to have been shocked by the news is the partner of the Frenchman. She is now in hospital suffering from naïvety." It appears that the talented Greek-American Arianna Stassinopoulou Huffington, Huff media group’s CEO, allowed her British education to spell "naïvety" rather than the more appropriate French "naiveté."
Hollande is vocal in his opposition of nuclear power in France and disapproves of oil "fracking" in his sovereign domain. Oil companies are not pleased with Monsieur Normal. A Lothario in As Lito might bat an Opus Dei’s eye, but a scandal in sexually loose France? I am Frenchified! What can I say? J’aime la vie!
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES. A peripatetic pedagogue, he made his last institutional stop in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at email@example.com.