Tuesday, May 27, 2008


After spending a couple of months in France, you might start to get the feeling that Charles de Gaulle must have been the greatest Frenchman ever. It's not because you've been studying his rallying WWII speeches or his record as Président de la Republique. It's not because you know all about his personal life, his hobbies or his interests. It's not even because French people regularly tell you they admire him. No, it's simply because his name and likeness are everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

For starters, there is the Charles de Gaulle Airport; a busy and confusing 70s-era monstrosity on the outskirts of Paris. Once you find your way out of the airport and make it into the city you might come across Avenue de Charles de Gaulle or the Charles de Gaule - Etoile metro station. You will see his face on magazine covers and hear his contributions to France discussed on TV political shows. You will also start to notice the countless statues, busts, and plaques in Paris that are dedicated to the former general. Speaking of the military, France is one of the few countries to own an aircraft carrier, and yep, they named it the Charles de Gaulle.

After awhile, you sort of become immune to good ol' Charles. You might start to pass squares, buildings and bridges named after him without the slightest reaction. But even the most jaded of de Gaulle observers can't help admiring the Charles de Gaulle statue that stands near the entrance to the Grand Palais, right on the Champs-Elysées. High up on his pedestal, walking as if he is still on a mission to serve his beloved France, de Gaulle gives off an inspiring air of great importance. He's a man of action, a tireless crusader and a fearless leader. He looks as though any minute now he will step down from his perch, march up to the Assemblée Nationale, and start giving orders. Maybe he really is the greatest Frenchman ever. At the very least, he looks good in bronze.

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