chirac and a hard place


The only time I met Nicolas Sarkozy was at a press conference after a French-British summit meeting. The man who might well be the next president of France was not the center of attention that day. He was a spectator, like me: not a role that he likes very much.

We were introduced by a junior French politician. Sarkozy shook hands. He shifted from foot to foot. He said little. He moved constantly. When the press conference began, he twisted in his seat as if he had a plane to catch or an awkward body part to scratch. He chatted with other French ministers on either side. He paid no heed to the two principal speakers, President Jacques Chirac, his onetime mentor, and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, someone whom he claims to admire deeply. A rival politician once described Sarkozy as a “real shark. . . . He has to keep moving all the time or he’ll die.” My impression was a little kinder. Meeting Sarkozy is like meeting an overactive nine-year-old or, rather, a typical nine-year-old: someone who finds it physically irksome to stay still.

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