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John Lichfield

John Lichfield: The First Lady and a down-and-out

In another recent TV interview, the Première Dame turned philosopher

Since it is the season of goodwill, I am going to defy my instincts and report something positive about Carla Bruni.

The French First Lady revealed recently that she had made friends with a down-and-out. He is called Denis and he lives on the street close to her mansion in a gated community in the well-heeled 16th arrondissement of Paris.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy told the French street people's magazine Macadam that she sometimes talked to Denis "about books and music". Smelling a rat, the magazine Closer and the newspaper Le Parisien sought out Denis and asked him if the story was true.

The tramp confirmed everything and said that Carla often handed him €50 or €100 notes. She had offered to pay for a hotel room for him for the winter. He had refused because he valued his freedom.

I also hear of a foreign TV crew who interviewed Bruni recently. She was sweet and charming while on the air; unhelpful and obstructive while the camera was switched off. She was pleasant to the men in the crew; very rude to the women. That's more like the Carla we love.

In another recent TV interview, the Première Dame turned philosopher."Proust explained it very prettily," she said. "The beggar is not ashamed of being a beggar because his whole life is a misery ... It is the same thing with celebrity. When you are immersed in the world of celebrity to that extent, you no longer give it a thought."

Is that modest or immodest? As Denis the down-and-out also said: "She is a great lady Carla ... even if she doesn't look it".

A preference for Provence

What is in a name? For 25 years the large, sun-blessed region which stretches from Avignon to the Italian border has been called Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur – or Paca for short.

The president of the region, Michel Vauzelle, believes this ugly name is scaring away tourists and investors. Where are you going on your holidays? I am going to Paca.

An independent survey has tested six possible new titles. The clear winner was not a new name at all but a very old and beautiful one. Most Provençals, it turns out, want to live in Provence, which comes from the latin word "Provincia" and was the name of a royal province of France from the 15th century.

Quite right, too. Would Peter Mayle's best-seller have been a best-seller if it had been called "A year in Paca"?