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France: Magic on the Meuse

2 minute read

As President Charles de Gaulle began his tour of northeastern France last week, all the auguries were bad. Weeks of rising prices, strikes and farm discontent were reflected in the most recent public opinion poll showing that only 42% of French voters are satisfied with the job that De Gaulle is doing.

De Gaulle’s provincial ramble, the first since Secret Army gunmen tried to kill him last year at Petit-Clamart, began at Sedan, where so many jubilant thousands crowded the square before city hall that De Gaulle called upon his critics to note well his enthusiastic reception. As he moved on through the green meadows of the Meuse valley, every village was filled with rubber-booted farmers, schoolchildren with flags, drum and bugle corps. At Charleville, the crowd overflowed the arcaded square, and De Gaulle jeered at “those who would prefer that everything failed, either because it is in their nature or because they count on finding in a setback—but aren’t they mistaken?—some chance for themselves.”

The wild enthusiasm of Reims and Epernay, the champagne capital, more than compensated for the silent workers at Donchery and Rocroi. who stood with hands thrust into blue overall pockets as le grand Charles drove by.

Some mayors had lists of complaints. In one tiny village, stinking of manure, the mayor told De Gaulle that if the government did not help him get running water installed, the villagers would hang him. The mayor of Donchery churlishly kept his hat on his head while welcoming De Gaulle, and growled that talk of progress was useless “as long as we do not have here a bridge across the Meuse, especially now with the Common Market.”

At week’s end De Gaulle returned to the haven of his villa at Colombey-les-deux-Eglises, and 49 bottles of champagne were emptied at a party given for his rural neighbors. De Gaulle seemed tired, his eyes red-rimmed and sunken. Yet he had proved once more his ability to rouse grass-roots enthusiasm whenever he chose. If there were still any doubters, they would be able to watch De Gaulle work his magic again next month, when he plans to tour the Vendee in western France.

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