Thursday, September 11, 2008

La Rentrée

I love France. My first visit was when I was 14 and I played rugby for a while in a town in the Pyrénées called Perpignan. I now work for a French company, Publicis, headquartered on the Champs Elysées next to the Arc de Triomphe, and I still believe Paris is one of the great 5 cities in the world. My love of France is also why I bought a house in St. Tropez and why I’m a big fan of French Rugby, French wines, French cheeses, French Cuisine (by far my favorite), and French philosophers.

However, as much as I love it, it is not always easy to get things done in France, particularly in August when the whole country takes off for summer holiday. For a start, Paris becomes a ghost town and I know, to my own pain, it is impossible to see a surgeon during that period. But now August is over and we have La Rentrée, the new school year; the new beginning. In France La Rentrée is similar to January 1 in the US. It’s a time for resolutions, new commitments, new beginnings. Elle magazine writes that “the French are like eternal children that return to school every year.” That may be true, however, based on my observations this year it seems gloomy, despondent and pessimistic. Generally the weather was pretty poor in August and French people are certainly at their best when the sun is on their backs. I hope politically, emotionally, and socially the country can lift itself out of this gloom quickly. Europe needs an optimistic France, France needs major reform, and I need a good mood from all my French colleagues to help us get through the next 6-9 months of continued economic difficulty.

President Sarkozy will be in New York next month to be honored by the Marion and Elie Wiesel Foundation where my boss and inspirational partner, Maurice Levy, was honored last year. I hope Sarkozy (and, of course, Carla) succeeds in getting France refocused and reenergized because the world needs his leadership.

But tell me this. Everywhere in the world the Publishing Industry keeps all their blockbusters for April/May and hammers them all out just before summer which is a peak reading period. In France there is a cascade of new books waiting to launch this week. Only French logic would determine the peak season for new books is when people return from vacation, go back to work and have less time to read. You’ve got to love them.