To Live Happily, Live Hidden … my first post on Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday: October 20, 2007 Title: To Live Happily, Live Hidden : The Divorce of President Nicolas Sarkozy … Not since Napoléon divorced Joséphine de Beauharnais in 1809 has a divorce been discussed here in France as much as that of Nicolas and Cécilia Sarkozy. On May 6, the day the French voted to give Mr. […]

Saturday: October 20, 2007

Title: To Live Happily, Live Hidden : The Divorce of President Nicolas Sarkozy …

Not since Napoléon divorced Joséphine de Beauharnais in 1809 has a divorce been discussed here in France as much as that of Nicolas and Cécilia Sarkozy.

On May 6, the day the French voted to give Mr. Sarkozy a five-year presidential term, few of them had given the marriage much chance of survival.

He was a political animal; she was … well … she was more at ease at showbiz events, than in the corridors of power.

But no one had expected the marriage to end in divorce quite so soon: after all, what woman would not want to be First Lady of France? One will get to meet all those who make the front pages: presidents, monarchs, crown princes and princesses, the Beckhams, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Madonna …Mandela. And then there are all the designer clothes one would not have to pay for.

Yet, Cécilia Sarkozy has walked away from it all.

She said on Friday, October 19, in an interview with the French regional paper, ‘L’Est Républicain’ that she wants to be a private person and not on show. She was echoing what is the dictum for 99 per cent of the French nation. It is ‘pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés’ – to live happily, live hidden. It comes from Voltaire’s ‘Candide’. The French are therefore probably the world’s most private people. Stepping into a lift with your next-door neighbour, the only words he/she will say to you will be first “Bonjour” and then “Bonne journée” or “Bonne soirée”. This desire for privacy is often, more than often, mistaken for rudeness: just ask the 78 million tourists who come here annually and they will tell you so.

The French therefore have much sympathy for a woman who says she can only live happily, if she can live hidden.

Fortunately, for her – and for President Sarkozy too – France has strict privacy laws so that the media here would have to leave Cécilia alone. Also, the president is best friends with France’s press moguls and they have already put the brakes on those journalists considered a little too eager to report the Sarkozy’s marital shenanigans.

It had therefore been possible on Monday, October 15, for Nicolas and Cécilia Sarkozy’s appearance before a judge at the initial divorce hearing at the ‘Préfecture de Nanterre’ under whose jurisdiction the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly where they are still legally domiciled, to take place without any paparazzi present to snap the event.

When their Decree Nisi becomes absolute – by French law this will be in three months’ time – the two will have to return to Nanterre for another appearance before a judge. No one here expects that the date will be announced in advance. As the divorce is by mutual consent – friends say it is “sans rancoeur” (without bitterness) – the divorce settlement will probably remain a secret although it certainly will be interesting. Compared to the average French worker the president is not a poor man, yet he is not wealthy. He and his soon-to-be ex-wife had declared a personal ‘patrimoine’ (assets) of €2.5 million (₤1.75 million) for the year 2006.

Should the presi
dent, whose deep affection for Cécilia was obvious (he described her as both his strength and his Achilles heel), have contested the divorce, though, Cécilia would have had to wait for her freedom until the day he left the Elysée Palace, because s
ince February 23, 2007, under Art 67 of the French Constitution, a president cannot be called before a judge. That would have been a long wait for Cécilia: Sarkozy’s current mandate is to run out only in 2012 and he is certain to try for another.

What the French now want to know is what protocol changes would have to be made at the Elysée Palace, now that there is no First Lady. Those in charge of protocol are admitting that they can’t answer this question: they do not yet know. It will, however, not be something easy: the last divorced head of state was, after all, Napoleon – and then he did not stay single all that long.

The Elysée has yet another problem. It is also going to be hard to persuade some French, the most religiously devout of them, to accept a divorced president.

Not so long ago – in the 1960’s, in fact – a divorced man or woman was not even allowed to step into the ornate old palace to attend a function. That was the rule laid down by Yvonne de Gaulle, the wife of the then president, General Charles de Gaulle. ‘Tante Yvonne’, as the French amicably called the presidential spouse, a devout Catholic, thought it most unpleasant to have a ‘divorcé’ or ‘divorcée’ in her presence.

The entire nation had complied with Madame de Gaulle’s rule. All had conveniently chosen to ignore that on the afternoon of February 16, 1899, the then president, Félix Faure, (58) had succumbed most unexpectedly and embarrassingly of either a stroke or a heart attack in the Elysée’s ‘blue salon’. With him was his lover, the 30-year-old Marguerite Steinheil. He had died while she was performing oral sex on him.

Over the years, the French were to ignore still more unexpected and embarrassing presidential behaviour.

In 1974, President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was involved in a car accident at five o’clock one morning. He had been with a woman.

President François Mitterrand’s sexual adventures are now legendary. He had even fathered a love-child, Mazarine Pingeot, and had actually lived in ‘concubinage’ (cohabitation) with his daughter’s mother, museum curator, Anne Pingeot, while he had remained married to his wife, Danielle, mother of his two legitimate sons.

President Jacques Chirac had a roving eye too. In the 1970’s he wanted a divorce from his wife, Bernadette, to marry his lover. His advisors talked him out of the idea, though: they warned him that a divorced man would never ever be able to become President of France. (As revealed in the book ‘Sexus Politicus’ by Christophe Deloire and Christophe Dubois, published in 2006 by French Publishing House, Albin Michel.)

But the French saying, ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, is no longer true.

Times have changed : there will now indeed be a divorced man in the Elysée Palace.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Until next time. Bi for now.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

2 Responses

10-21-2007 at 17:07:00

This is very interesting indeed!

10-21-2007 at 18:04:00

An interesting and well written report

Interesting also to explain the system in France.


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