A highlight of the day [in my rented house on the island of Oléron, off the west coast of France] was going to the café and reading the local paper, Sud Ouestreminisces Stephen Clarke.
I enjoy national papers, but at the moment, the French ones are annoying me. So here, the news that a group of local ladies, dressed as sailors, are doing the rounds of retirement homes to entertain the residents is far more interesting to me than a scoop about one French MP potentially disagreeing with another. It’s real life as opposed to press release life.
A quarter-page article about a librarian who was retiring was as neat a potted biography as I’ve read in any paper for a long time. Usually you only get them in the obituaries, and then only bigwigs and their weighty achievements. But this lady was born in the area, went to Paris, met her husband, moved to Normandy, then came back to the region with their children, presumably (it wasn’t revealed) to take advantage of the grandparents’ free time. Now she’s retiring, and, judging by the photo, her colleagues put together a very friendly send-off with plenty of drinks and snacks. Again, it’s much more immediate than the news that France might or might not end the 35-hour week (which everyone knows can’t be done overnight even if you want to do it), especially because you learn than small towns in France still have libraries. That really is news.
All this, plus a local ladies’ bowling team, a new computer club, the amount of salt put aside by salt producers against bad salt seasons, the problems of local honey producers because their bees are dying – it’s real life. Unlike the week’s massive story in France which is (in case you haven’t heard) that the former First Lady is bringing out a book about her life with Le Président. Yes, now it’s not only politicians talking about politicians. One of their ex-girlfriends is getting in on the act. Excerpts of the book take up half of the country’s biggest-selling glossy magazine. Every TV news channel is blaring about it. The newspapers will all be at it tomorrow. We will probably find out who said what to whom when, where and why, but the real question is, who cares?
I’m all in favour of big-selling books, whatever they are (within reason, of course). They put money in publishers’ coffers, which publishers spend on other books. But when you’ve got big magazine excerpts, you can kill book sales.
So please, give me more details about the librarian’s retirement party. What did she get as a going-away present? What’s she going to do now? It will tell us a lot more about France and the French than how journalists feel about how the First Lady feels about what the President used to feel about her.