Sunday, September 7, 2008

The French press play it cool over Rachida Dati

Rachida Dati
French journalists are keeping quiet about the father
of Rachida Dati's unborn child

The French press is hunting for the name of the father of (unmarried) justice minister Rachida Dati's unborn child. Well, the journalists write that they are. When you break Poilâne with them at chic dinner parties, they tell you they have known for weeks. The names being bandied about include a television show host, two millionaire chief executives, married former Spanish premier José-María Aznar and even Nicolas Sarkozy.

Twenty years ago, it was the same with François Mitterrand's mistress and her daughter. It was only the public, poor saps, who weren't supposed to know. It's always been the case with French journalists that they would rather be in the loop than have a scoop, which is why they don't really complain about the country's stringent privacy laws.

When the elegant Ms Dati, sporting a slightly rounded belly under a charcoal cashmere jumper, told inquiring hacks: "I have a very complicated private life, and that's where I draw the line with the press," they didn't push her. At any rate, she said, she was 42, which meant she was still at a stage where her pregnancy might not succeed. "If it happens, I'll be over the moon. If not, I'll be hugely disappointed, but I'll put on a coat of lipstick, and I'll carry this burden alone."

You might expect more than one French politician to seize this opportunity to brand Dati as another "pitbull with lipstick", using the best example of the breed, the US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. But Ms Dati is getting a cushy ride, from the Right-most wing of her party to the extreme Left. Single mother? Pregnant? Yawn. France, which encourages marriage and children with significant tax incentives and benefits, is not hung up on what people here won't even call "morality". Will she stay on as minister? "It's not an illness," Ms Dati snaps. Of course she will. This will make her the fourth pregnant French cabinet minister in office; before her, Ségolène Royal, Florence Parly, and Frédérique Bredin had babies while taking their boxes all the way to the maternity clinic. The unmarried Royal even invited a camera crew to her delivery room, which was rightly seen as the first step of her presidential bid.

* Mrs Palin is getting no credit in France for being a successful, savvy woman and an exciting new face in politics. If the US elections were held in France, Barack Obama would poll a Mugabe-esque 83 per cent of the vote. Palin is painted here as an ignorant religious fanatic, a gun nut, and proof positive that the American heartland is a more dangerous place than Anbar province.

She is also seen as irrelevant, and one more reason why John McCain's bid is doomed. Even the usually sharp-antennaed Sarkozy tilts towards Obama, whom, unlike McCain, he greeted on the Élysée steps and favoured with a high-profile joint press conference during the American's whirlwind French visit. It will be interesting to watch reassessments should the Republican ticket win.

* Long defined as a country of farmers, France is slowly seeing wimpy townie manners take over. The inhabitants of the Alpine village of Villaz (pop 3,000) are suing a local farmer, Michel Déronzier, because they don't like being kept awake by his herd of Pie Rouges' cowbells at night.

"It's only seven cows out of 70 who have a bell!" Déronzier protests. "It's necessary, because it helps the dogs locate them faster. And at any rate, there have always been cowbells in the country. If people don't like it, they should move to the city; they won't like the noise of cars there." So far, it's a standoff.

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