The French President loves a crowd, and there was a huge one in Times Square on Sunday for the Best of France festival. François Hollande made the rounds of “French excellence” on display in New York’s heart of tourism. Add a president to a sea of humanity and you’re sure to get an even bigger sea of humanity. It was kind of like a black Friday door-buster stampede but with a lot more selfies.
For an hour, Hollande walked from stand to stand, meeting French pioneers of technology, food, crafts, tourism, education and art. He was brimming with enthusiasm for the festival, which was billed as the biggest promotional event for France outside its borders. “It’s important to come here, to see the products, the technology, the people from France here…” said the French President before a gentleman in the crowd offered, “And l’île Maurice?”
“And from l’Ile Maurice, a great francophone country!” rejoined Hollande.
Surrounded by a visibly stressed secret service detail, he waded into the crowd near the popular Moulin-Rouge stand where he was greeted by about twenty dancing girls. It was their first time in the Big Apple, and they’d appeared in a show on the main stage the night before. “This is the only thing I am going to remember of my trip to New York,” joked the president, ever the charmer, as he posed for photos with them.
Président, the French cheese brand, was also at Best of France with an elaborate replica of Paris monuments sculpted entirely of butter. François Hollande spent several minutes in the chilled room where the work was on display accompanied by his Environmental Minister Ségolène Royale and Best of France organizer Paul Bensabat.http://http://youtu.be/i2MRd_KvJLA
Back outside, a mob of press awaited the president, along with a young researcher who had a question for her chef d’état. “What about research, Mr. President? What are you doing for research?” she asked, saying that researchers such as herself have chosen to exile themselves abroad. Hollande’s only answer was a smile.
A little farther, there were questions about civil service and climate change, but also cannelés to taste, cheeses, and a gift of a wooden spoon. There was an encounter with Jérôme Trehorel who founded the Vieilles Charrures music festival and wants to create a New York version. There were fans (“We love you, François!”), and people who simply got caught up in the excitement.
“Should I know him?” asked an American woman who nonetheless joined the crowd pushing for a handshake and a selfie. “I still don’t know who he is,” admited a police officer standing a couple paces from Obama’s French counterpart.
Shortly after passing a gerçoise marching band and the Bordeaux-Aquitaine stand, Paul Bensabat asked someone from the president’s team if maybe they wouldn’t mind picking up the pace. “He won’t do it,” came the answer with confidence. Not far behind, Hollande was still all smiles, as at home in the intense crush of Times Square as at an open-air market in Corèze.