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

Share

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!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance Manager

£50000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Elton John and David Furnish finalise their marriage paperwork  

Don't be blinded by the confetti — the fight for marriage equality in the UK isn't over yet

Siobhan Fenton
Freeman, centre, with Lord Gladwyn, left, and Harold Wilson on the programme The Great Divide in 1963  

John Freeman was a man of note who chose to erase himself from history

Terence Blacker
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'