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Adam Gopnik on France

Bush Wanted Poster from Protests in France, 2002Adam Gopnik, for five lucky years, wrote the "Paris Journal" feature for The New Yorker, which seems to me like the dream job. (If you missed the work in the magazine, you can read much of it in his book Paris to the Moon.) He lived off the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and he wrote about the city of Paris: why did he ever decide to come back home? Maybe he is regretting his decision, as he revisits the "Paris Journal" in the most recent edition of the magazine (The Anti-Anti-Americans, September 1 issue). He spent some time in Paris this summer and writes about the disruptive striking of the intermittents du spectacle (see my posts on August 13 and July 30) and other summer news, with a lot of commentary on attitudes toward the United States in France. He is right, I think, to say that President Bush has been "a gift to anti-Americanism in Europe." (This is not to say that anti-Americanism needs any help, with politicians like Arlette Laguiller of Lutte Ouvrière, who on September 11, 2001, itself and in the days afterward blamed American politics for the attacks in New York and Washington.) The story that Gopnik cites, however, is one I don't remember hearing about before: "What the French, from left to right, see as Bush’s shallow belligerence, his incuriosity, his contempt for culture or even the idea of difference—no one in France can forget his ridiculing an American reporter, on his one visit to Paris, for daring to speak to the French President in French—make him a heavy burden even for the most wholeheartedly pro-American thinker." After a little research, the reporter in question is David Gregory from NBC and the event (here is the coverage in The Telegraph) occurred during the President's visit to Paris in May 2002, made quite tumultuous by protests against him (see one of the protest posters above). As an American, I find the President's reaction decidedly rude and tactless, so who can blame the French for theirs?

As Gopnik makes clearer in the online-only Q & A: Summer in Paris, an interview with Daniel Cappello, however, the anti-Americanism even of someone like l'Arlette (whose political ideals, though extreme, I admire normally) is never directed against Americans but against what we do throughout the world. This is not to say that the U.S. government should base its actions solely on the opinions of Europeans or anyone else, but we should at least be able to listen without getting our feathers ruffled. (Gopnik is right to say that the anti-French feelings of many Americans, only made worse recently, are more vicious and ad hominem than most of what has been said in France about us. An exception may be the desecration of WWII cemeteries, which was atrocious, although it was directed more against British graves than American.) The final part of the interview is the reason why I'm posting about this subject, and that is a new book that Gopnik has just finished editing: "an anthology of Americans in Paris for the Library of America, a collection of writing by us over there from Franklin on. The list of contributors, all in one way or another in love with French civilization, includes Jefferson, Cooper, Hawthorne, James, Wharton, Hemingway, Anita Loos, Hart Crane, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Liebling, Flanner, Buchwald, Shaw—the list goes on. That list of Americans who loved Paris, and through it France, is perhaps the most distinguished group one could find gathered together in homage to a single foreign subject in American letters." The book will be published as Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, and I'm adding it to my list.

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