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Sarkozy in NH

08/20/07 7:55AM By Mike Martin

(HOST) Commentator Mike Martin was impressed when France's new president picked New Hampshire for his family's summer vacation.

(MARTIN) For generations now, French people have come to America to make it big. Think of little Edith Piaf singing her heart out at Carnegie Hall. Think of Yves Montand cavorting with Marilyn Monroe in the film "Let's Make Love."  And think of President Nicholas Sarkozy on Lake Winnipesaukee....

When the new French President chose Wolfesboro, New Hampshire for a family vacation this month, he showed once again he may be the wiliest Frenchman alive. The Sarkozys stayed in a 13,000-square-foot home on the lake which typically rents for $30,000/week - but they stayed for free at the invitation of unnamed family friends. The lake house has spiraling mahogany railings and a 10 person-hot tub lined in Italian tile; and it's only a 90-minute drive to have hotdogs with the Bushes in Kennebunkport.
The White Mountains are absolutely gorgeous and they were the perfect back-drop for a wholesome, happy image of France's first family. The U.S. and French press showed pictures of a Sarkozy father and son canoe ride had that casual Kennedy glamour about it.

And then President Sarkozy attacked the paparazzi - which was, of course, pure genius: it proves he's a star. Don't worry, Sarkozy didn't accidentally show his underwear while stepping out of his limo. He just yelled at freelancers in a boat who were photographing his family. He came off as a younger Sean Penn, a virile dad in aviator sunglasses defending his family indignantly. And to make his point, he dramatically jumped from his boat onto the photographers' - boarding their craft as if he were Errol Flynn. The poor photographers may have been used to being spit on by the stars, but they weren't ready for Sarkozy. One photographer described the scene this way, "The president was very agitated, speaking French at a loud volume very rapidly." That's right - Sarkozy bawled them out in French - that's style.

Sarkozy's American adventure is sure to give him some extra respect when he gets home, but not all the French are happy about his vacation. Unlike concerns raised here when President Bush beat Ronald Reagan's record for presidential vacation time, the French aren't worried that Sarkozy is already taking his second vacation since he was elected in May - even if one of Sarkozy's campaign slogans was, "Working more to earn more." The French are worried however, about the influence Sarkozy's friends might gain by offering him vacations in New England and on Mediterranean yachts. While the French remain extremely deferential to their leaders' private lives, they can be downright nosy about gifts to their political leaders from industrialists.

This level of scrutiny may seem quaint in the U.S., where, until new Senate and House rules went into effect this year, big companies and special interest groups paid for stadium skyboxes, corporate jets, and exotic "fact-finding trips" for our lawmakers and their families. Still, even with new ethics rules, it wouldn't be bad if politicians avoided the appearance of potential conflicts of interest. And it wouldn't hurt for voters to keep an eye on who is offering the gifts either.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.
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