No normal French citizen could be happy with appalling images of the following kind, which reoccur sadly every New Year's Eve, when certain individuals get a kick out of burning automobiles, forcing firemen to risk their lives extinguishing these absurd blazes:
This year, some 1,147 went up in flames in this crazy fashion. It's easy for mindless vandals to get away with such acts, since an automobile can be torched almost as easily and rapidly as lighting a cigarette. The victims of this madness are the innocent owners of destroyed vehicles, who might even be prevented from earning their living as a result of the loss of their automobile.
While everybody is surely reassured to discover that no less a man than Nicolas Sarkozy himself is disgusted with this plague, and determined to eradicate it, the means suggested by the president are somewhat bizarre. What he suggests is a weird kind of indirect punishment for young vandals who burn automobiles. A condemned youth would be prohibited from passing his test, in the hope of obtaining a driver's license, for as long as he hasn't reimbursed the cost of the automobile(s) he happened to burn.
French laws have existed for ages, of course, concerning this kind of delinquency, and one might imagine that conventional punishment would be appropriate. But we common mortals don't necessarily understand and appreciate the specific style of Sarko's mind. He reacts like the lawmakers in primitive societies who say that, since a robber uses his hands to commit robberies, then the most fitting punishment for a robber consists of cutting off his hands. In the present situation, since young hoodlums are destroying automobiles, then let's deprive them of the right to use automobiles. In a way, it's primitive eye-for-and-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth thinking. Now, I find it hard to say whether Sarko's right or wrong. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. In any case, that's his special bling-bling style. Most normal leaders (if such creatures exist) are obliged to go about righting wrongs in a dull legislative manner, with the assistance of elected parliamentarians, reforming existing laws with a view to making them correspond ever more closely to current social realities. The gimmick-oriented mind of France's president doesn't work that way. He has the habit of seizing upon spectacular criminal events to transform them—maybe unconsciously—into pretexts for self-glorification, designed to make onlookers exclaim: "Isn't he an amazingly powerful guy!" Or maybe: "Isn't he a cunning bastard!"
French people recall the happenings that transformed Sarko, overnight, from the mayor of a posh Paris suburb into a Zorro-like hero. That was back in May 1993, when I happened to be leaving Paris in an old red Renault, with my Macintosh computer and a suitcase of clothes on the back seat, to start a new job down in Grenoble. On the car radio, I heard that an armed guy calling himself "Human Bomb" had burst into a kindergarten in Neuilly-sur-Seine and taken a class of kids as hostages. The tension was terrible, because the crazy guy, named Erick Schmitt, was encased in an intricate arsenal of explosives that could annihilate everybody. As the mayor of Neuilly, Sarkozy stepped boldly into the picture.
He negotiated directly with the kidnapper in the expert manner of a Middle Eastern rug merchant... with France watching on TV. And, whenever Sarkozy succeeded in obtaining the release of a hostage, he would carry the child back in his arms in front of the TV cameras.
To my mind, that day marked the start of Sarkozian mythology.
Personally, I would never dare to wink an eye in the direction of Carla Bruni. I would be afraid of hearing the president decree, in his usual spontaneous style, that my balls must be cut off.