Monday, May 2, 1994

The Saigon Kid

Moutet's Paris: The Saigon Kid

The European, 2 May, 1994

An amusing photograph is making the rounds in Paris these days. It shows a rather surly young man, black hair parted in the middle, dressed in a wrinkled shirt and sawn-off denims uncovering white knees, lounging in the seat of a bicycle rickshaw in the middle of a Saigon boulevard.

This is none other than Romain Balladur, 24, the youngest of our PMs four sons. This apple of his father's eye has mysteriously managed, after graduating from ISG, a second-string Paris business school, to be posted for his military service as a VSNE (Volontaire pour le Service National en Entreprise), or business trainee, for the water and construction conglomerate Lyonnaise des Eaux-Dumez.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that a recent parliamentary report on campaign finance in the last General Election showed Lyonnaise-Dumez to have been the third largest contributor overall to candidates of whatever political stripe, even though its chairman, Jérôme Monod, is a card-carrying member of the Gaullist RPR.

Balladur the younger alighted in the former French colonial capital last November, I'm told, and set up his quarters at the Rex, one of the city's better hotels. Since then his activities have been mysterious. He has been having a wonderful time, members of the local French expatriate community will tell you, not very helpfully.

In an interesting coincidence, young Romain's tracks in Saigon and Hanoi crossed those of another famous scion of French officialdom, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, formerly his father's African affairs adviser at the Elysée palace, now a consultant for Lyonnaise-Dumez's arch-rival, the mammoth Compagnie Générale des Eaux (also a generous contributor to many an electoral campaign). Having managed to pull off a contract to build a tubings factory near Hanoi for CGE, Jean-Christophe couldn't help a dig when asked about his young rival: "Don't confuse us, please. I'm involved in serious work!"

IT WILL be even more difficult than usual setting up an appointment with any Parisian of note between 12 and 23 May next: everyone who's anyone has managed to wangle, earn or steal some sort of assignment at the Cannes Film Festival, enabling them to hop South for at least three days of sun, screenings, galas, and gossip at the Hotel Majestic bar (tip: the Carlton is for Hollywood types).

One celeb however will be conspicuously absent from the opening star-studded gala dinner, traditionally given by the French Ministry of Culture: Jack Lang, the long-serving, charismatic and extremely popular former Culture minister under Mitterrand's both terms, has been informed by his lackluster successor Jacques Toubon's secretary that he was not welcome to dinner on the 12. News of this ham-handed slight went round Paris like lightning, with comments overwhelmingly detrimental to the hapless Toubon. Had he wanted to emphasize his (legitimate) fear of being upstaged by his predecessor, the gossip goes, he couldn't have gone about it in better way.

Meanwhile Jack Lang and his wife Monique have booked a suite at the Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc, like Bel-Air royalty, for the duration of the Festival, and will be among the guests of honour at the even more glittering party given on the following day, Friday 13th May, by the unsuperstitious Claude Berri (of Germinal and Jean de Florette fame) for his existentialist, Patrice Chéreau-directed megaproduction of Alexandre Dumas's La Reine Margot, starring Isabelle Adjani. Nobody in Paris doubts that Jack and Monique will be better seated than Toubon and his wife Lise

WOULD YOU willingly spend an evening reading 260 pages of statistics? Well, possibly, if they all have to do with Frenchwomen. Or so bets Agnes Michaux, a sociologist with an appreciable sense of humour, who has just come up with a book gathering every fact, poll, figure, statistic, test, market study, and assorted theses devoted to the female of the French species. The result is of course riveting (albeit better absorbed in small instalments.) Did you know that 7% of Frenchwomen have already made love in a lift? That 22% are bosses of their company? That 87% define the ideal man as "the one who makes me laugh"? (but that 84% also define him as owning a building society savings account large enough to buy them a house.) That 58% of them believe in astrology? (but 68% believe in Paradise.) That 27% would have liked to have been born in the aristocracy? That they account for 35% of the French homeless? That 3% would have liked to be Francois Mitterrand's mistress? That 26% keep their bank account separate from their spouses? That 91% say they're happy? And that 0%, not a single one, would leave their place in a liferaft to Madonna?

METEOROLOGICAL studies have just proven that Paris, the most compact city in Europe (and the one with the largest population density) enjoys a specific microclimate with temperatures 6°C warmer on average compared to its immediate surroundings. This is caused by the heat radiated by the city's buildings and population, but also by Paris's waterproof quality (most of it is covered in asphalt, stone or zinc, so that rainwater flows straight into gutters and sewers instead of slowly evaporating in the air as it does in cities with more public and private parks and gardens.) The heat of the city also repels rain in the cold season: in the past twenty years the average annual raintime was 840 hours at Orly airport, as opposed to 529 hours only in the Parc Montsouris weather observatory.

THE PARISIAN couture world is waiting with bated breath for 18 May, when Paris's Tribunal de Commerce pronounces its ruling on the bitter fight pitting Yves Saint Laurent against the American designer, Ralph Lauren, whom the Frenchman accuses of having plagiarized one of his designs, and is suing for 5 million francs. Sides are being taken, self-appointed goodwill ambassadors spend hours on transatlantic phone calls; even US Ambassador Pamela Harriman has been drawn into the battle between the two rag-trade primadonnas.

Ralph Lauren, who is countersuing YSL supremo Pierre Bergé for defamation for 1 million francs, has already sold 123 of his thousand-dollar black sleeveless tuxedo-cut evening dresses, "the exact copy, minus the qulity," Bergé sneers, of a FF140,000 ($25,000) couture model from YSLs 1970 winter collection. Perhaps significantly, the company withdrew the model from its racks the minute Saint Laurent sued. (In 1992-93 YSL had shown the dress again in its Rive gauche ready-to-wear collection.)

Respectively standing in each corner, watched over like prizefighters by huddles of protective lawyers, two top models wearing the two dresses were in turns sent sashaying in the narrow courtroom to demonstrate the fraud, or absence thereof, last Friday. "The Saint Laurent dress is obviously more beautiful, but that can't influence my ruling," Judge Madeleine Cotello remarked before retiring.

© Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, 1994.

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