So, I love France. In college, I applied to intern at the French Embassy Press Office and when I got the job, I was ECSTATIC. The job consisted of typical intern things — I answered the phone and sorted through incoming mail.
But this was more than just an internship.
You see, this was in 2007. Nicolas Sarkozy had just been elected President and the entire Embassy was planning to welcome Sarkozy and — ostensibly — the first lady to Washington later that fall.
Except rumor had it the first lady, Cécilia, wanted a divorce.
Now, the French are famously respectful of a President’s privacy but I’m… not French. And for weeks I devoured the tabloid headlines.
Cécilia Sarkozy, L’Heure du Choix
Nicolas et Cécilia, divorce quasi-officielle
Sure enough, just days before his scheduled arrival, the Elysée Palace confirmed Sarkozy’s divorce. And, not only that, I received a call from our Press Counselor asking if I, the intern, would be available to interpret during the President’s visit.
Some of his security guards didn’t speak English well and—
In other words, this was my chance to become the next First Lady.
I rushed home that night and practiced my best introduction — Monsieur le Président, Monsieur le Président, Monsieur le Président, je m’appelle… Monsieur le Président, je me présente, Monsieur le Président…
I scoured my closet for my most fashionable flats, so as not to tower over Sarkozy’s 5 foot, 4 inch frame
and before I knew it, I found myself in a series of undisclosed locations, brokering conversation between highly trained Gallic bodyguards and the United States Secret Service.
Most of the conversation revolved around podiums.
Men in power can always use a few extra inches and this President was no exception. We visited each location well ahead of time to ensure Sarkozy wouldn’t look too short next to his interlocutors.
On the other hand, at the Willard Hotel, hotel staff — in their desire to be of service — had literally placed a step ladder beside the President’s bed.
What good is a future First Lady if she doesn’t protect her husband’s ego?
I politely asked to have it removed.
When the French President stepped onto the tarmac of Andrew’s Air Force base, I was ready. I joined the delegation and we followed him all over the nation’s captial: to his appearance before the American Jewish Committee and a joint press conferences with George W. Bush.
Each time, he would step onto a meticulously adjusted podium and I would be standing there, just a few feet away.
I wanted so badly to introduce myself. To say, Monsieur le Président, it’s ME — except to do so would have been grossly unprofessional. If I was a Disney Princess, on a time-sensitive mission to get my future husband’s attention, professional decorum was the evil sea witch that had stolen my voice.
There were indications, though, that I might be catching his eye. When he finished his speech at the Maison Francaise, a very enthusiastic crowd began chanting Sarko, Sarko! The president stepped off the podium and — I promise you I’m telling the truth — reached for my hand.
Yes, It was the hand closest to him but it was mine, and he raised it above the crowd for all of 15 seconds as Secret Service ushered us out the door.
Still, that night, I looked on helplessly as he took off for the White House, surrounded by beautiful French women in sparkling ball gowns, and I headed back to my studio apartment, alone.
The moment I remember most vividly though actually came the next morning, isn’t just before his address to a joint session of Congress.
If you look back at C-SPAN footage of that speech you’ll see a handful of well-known politicians enter the House floor — John Kerry and Mitch McConnell and the late John Lewis.
What you don’t see is an intern, in her most fashionable flats, observing patiently on the left side. Or how time stood still as President Sarkozy scanned the crowd and, for a few split seconds, his eyes looked directly into mine.
I believe it’s the great Victor Hugo who said
The power of a glance has been so abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.
President Sarkozy may have gone on to speak about his love for America but I couldn’t help but feel, à la Hugh Grant in Love Actually, he was speaking indirectly to me.
And that’s how, for 40 some minutes in that hallowed chamber of our nation’s Capitol,
I, for all intents and purposes,
President Sarkozy was the man of the hour and I
was première dame.
As romantic as the French can be, of course, official schedules leave no time for budding romance. Before I knew it, we were headed back to Andrew’s Air Force Base and by the time the back of the motorcade pulled up to the tarmac, President Sarkozy was already boarding his flight.
At that moment I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and I jumped out of motorcade, waved my hands frantically, blew a handful of kisses and shouted MONSIEUR LE PRESIDENT just the way I’d rehearsed. But the sound of walkie-talkies and helicopter wings drowned me out.
The Embassy Chauffeur offered to drive me home.
I slumped in the backseat of a Black Lincoln town car like a rejected contestant on the Bachelor.
A few weeks later, our new intern asked if I’d caught the latest headlines in Paris Match. Rumor had it Sarkozy had fallen for the French-Italian singer-songwriter and former supermodel, Carla Bruni. The paparazzi spotted the pair together at Disney Land, riding in tea cups and meeting Mickey and whatnot.
I asked her if she didn’t have more important things to worry about. First of all, Disneyland? How gauche.
But more importantly, this was the Embassy, and a President’s personal life should be private.