AN Wilson: Can Hollande live down the rain on his parade?

The new French President's debut last week has drawn comparisons with Clouseau. But our writer says curious things can happen after a downpour


The weather in the last few weeks, combined with the extraordinary tempests and convulsions in the eurozone, could almost persuade us that we were living in some bewitched condition, such as was attributed by proud Titania to her malicious spouse, King Oberon of the Fairies, in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Thanks to his malice, the crops were sodden, the human revels were soaked with rain, "The nine men's morris is filled up with mud".

Poor François Hollande, the newly elected President of France, could be forgiven for wondering if he was the victim of some such paranormal trickster, as – blasted by the rains and repelled by the economic rigorism of the German Chancellor – he began his spell of office.

Some people bring the rain with them. Our monarch is a rain Queen, whose coronation occurred on a day of torrential, driving rain, which did not seem to deter the joy of the crowds. Though there must have been occasions when the sun shone upon Her Majesty, one associates her, brave and good-humoured beneath her large see-through umbrella, with open heavens and bucketing rain. It somehow seems of a piece with her wartime ethos of carrying on regardless. It will be interesting to see whether the Royal Barge, leading its celebratory flotilla down the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee, manages to do so without monsoon conditions.

And, likewise, the nice-seeming Hollande seems to be a rain king, bringing tempests wherever he goes. Less Napoleon's "Après moi, le déluge" and more "Le déluge, c'est moi".

It is not recorded whether Hollande, during his visit to London some months ago, when he was lucky enough to meet Ed Miliband, also managed to take in an evening at the Palace Theatre to see the rather charmingly retro production of Singin' in the Rain. Perhaps the two went to the show together with their respective partners? The special effects in the musical are stupendous. Even if English actors on a London stage can hardly reproduce the accents or pizzazz of Gene Kelly, the audiences seem to love it.

Funny that, on most of the days when the show has been packing in the coach parties, it has been bucketing down outside, and they have no sooner settled themselves in the stalls, than the cast are swanning about with their umbrellas singing, "Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo", deliberately splashing water at the most expensive seats in the house.

If Hollande did go to the show, its catchy lyrics perhaps remained in his head as he attempted to celebrate his election victory a few days ago in Paris. "What a glorious feelin' – I'm happy again!" The cavalcade that processed down the Champs-Elysées was soused with water, and the President, waving to a few bedraggled supporters as he stood in an open car, got so wet that he had to change his suit not once, but twice.

English observers will maybe have remembered Thomas Carlyle's satirical description, in The French Revolution, of the profoundly absurd (well, they become absurd in Carlyle's prose) celebrations in Paris on 14 July 1790, on the first anniversary of the sacking of the Bastille. In the Champs de Mars, wicked old Talleyrand, arrayed as a bishop, with 200 priests, had planned a liturgical pageant which would "contain" the revolution. But as he made his way up the steps of the open-air altar, "the material Heaven grew black; a north-wind, moaning cold moisture, began to sing; and there descended a very deluge of rain. Sad to see! The thirty-staired Seats, all round our Amphitheatre, get instantaneously slated with mere umbrellas, fallacious when so thick-set: our antique Cassolettes become Water-pots; their incense smoke gone hissing, in a whiff of muddy vapour... The General's sash runs water: how all military banners droop"...

Undeterred by his soaking in the Elysian Fields, poor Hollande changed his suit yet again and flew off to Germany, or rather he tried to do so, only the plane was struck by lightning and he arrived late to another downpour while he tried to persuade the German Chancellor to take a more conciliatory approach to the European credit crisis. Most commentators noted that there was a certain diffidence between the two. The new French President, unlike Nicolas Sarkozy, made no attempt to kiss Frau Merkel, and she was content to give him a dry little handshake before repeating her puritanical insistence that the monetary stringency of her policy could not be relaxed.

She quipped – quips not exactly being her kind of thing – that maybe the lightning strike was a good omen for their future relations: only whereas Hollande's interpreter said she had said it was a "coup de foudre" – which might bring good luck – Merkel had been obliged to use the more ominous word Blitz.

Many of us, of course, have noticed – on picnics that turned into cold huddles under trees, or on punting parties where everyone had to snuggle under the one umbrella on the boat – that bad weather can intensify new intimacies between the sexes. Had the chemistry been only a little different – maybe, for instance, if Angela and François's discussion had happened out of doors – as the clouds lowered and the rain came down once more, they would have become like Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper, and Lady Chatterley, and something more beautiful than monetary union could have been achieved. "Let's not live for money," says Mellors. "She softly rubbed her cheek on his belly as the rain beat bruisingly outside"...

Well, maybe when they know one another a little better? "The thunder had ceased outside," wrote Lawrence, in what must be one of the most unconsciously absurd scenes ever penned, "but the the rain which had abated, suddenly came striking down, with a last blench of lightning and mutter of departing storm... he laughed wrily and threw off his clothes. He jumped out, naked and white, with a little shiver, into the slanting rain."

The trouble is, as far as Hollande is concerned, driving rain does not have especially happy associations for the French. They described marching through the rye fields to Waterloo as like navigating a waterfall, as on that fateful June day in 1815 the rain pelted down on troops who squelched and staggered in the mud. In December 1870, likewise, the last engagements of the Franco-German war, and the collapse of Napoleon III's empire, happened in driving rain. George Meredith wrote a powerful (though rather bad) poem ("France, December 1870") in which he says that we associate France with sunshine, and this ignominious defeat was as if "a rain of tears came out of heaven". As for the rains that pelted down upon the battlefields of the Somme, they are too sad to recall.

But who knows? Maybe the atrocious weather sweeping across northern Europe will indeed help to bring our politicians to their senses, and remind us all of our powerlessness before the elemental largeness of wind, rain, thunder. Maybe we all needed the Merkel-scare at first, calling us to order and telling us to tighten our belts. But maybe we now need smiling, rain-soaked, genial Monsieur Hollande, asking the Chancellor to relax her dominatrix pose and... well, go with the flow.

Don't we all – regardless of whether we are left or right – feel glad to see the back of the pushy little Sarkozy and his appalling publicity-hungry wife? Don't we all wish the new president well? Is he not leading us off into a new, happy dance routine through the puddles, as he sings, "Let the stormy clouds chase/Everyone from the place/Come on with the rain/I've a smile on my face". Vive Hollande! Vive la pluie! Vive la France!

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