After two wet weeks, the sun is finally shining. Tomorrow is 1 May, la Fête du Travail. This means the streets, stalls and supermarkets are filled with muguets (lilies of the valley). A brin de muguet is the symbol of a day celebrated since – depending on what you read – at least 1890 and perhaps the 16th century.
A fête du travail appeared after the Revolution. It was established by theatrical Fabre d’Eglantine, a poet and a chief source of names for the Revolution’s new calendar. Since the eglantine itself is a wild rose, this was once the appointed May Day flower. These days, though, it’s sprigs of muguet for friends and family.
On a day of international solidarity, these are supposed to bring good luck and happiness . But politics are making this year’s holiday into Halloween. May Day always sees the National Front’s ‘Joan of Arc’ rally (Joan being their symbol of resistance against “the foreigner”). Of course, it will star Marine Le Pen. Desperate for voters, however, Sarkozy also claimed it. He’s announced his own fête de vrai travail or “real work”.
The first French leader who hijacked this holiday – in 1941 – was Maréchal Pétain. Pétain led occupied France under the Nazis. So Sarko’s talk about “real work” (added to his views on immigration, foreigners and security) does risk creepy comparisons. Jean-Luc Mélenchon coined a new verb for the Président’s actions. Sarkozy, he says, aims to extreme-droitisier, ”transform the right into the extreme right”. The language he is using for it, Mélenchon claims, comes “directly from the collaboration”. According to him, the phrase vrai travail is “word for word the text of a poster by Pétain.”
Even Le Monde objects to Sarkozy’s recent rhetoric, claiming he “has crossed one moral line after another”. In just two days, the candidates meet for their one debate (known as le Duel). Until then, we can still smell the muguet.
Le premier Mai c’est pas gai,
Je trime, a dit le muguet
Muguet, sois pas chicaneur,
Car tu donnes du bonheur
• Update 23.30 h The country’s largest union has now demanded Sarko go. But the President is insisting he never used the words vrai travail, just plain travail. TV news is having fun with this, carefully introducing his rally (over and over) as the “vrai Fête du Travail“. Meanwhile, extra cops are being assigned, a freak tornado has touched down near Toulouse and it’s raining again.
Vrai travail or pure mensonge? You can be the judge: