Martine, the deputy mayor of a nearby village, is attending the annual congress of mayors in Paris. She has been invited to a final night dinner at Le Sénat (the French equivalent of the House of Parliament), and her husband is unable to attend. His loss is my gain and the reason why I find myself, dressed in black cocktail dress and leopard print high heels, shaking hands with the former French prime minister on Thursday evening.
Yes, I have only been living in France for two years but I have made it to the seat of French power! (It’s just as well that the mayor of my village is not here, as he might think I am getting ideas above my station.) To find myself at Le Sénat - among 400 French mayors, councillors and their consorts, not to mention the minister for home affairs - is a huge thrill. It does not even bother me that each course, beginning with Foie Gras and Sauternes, is preceeded by a 30 minute speech about budgets, commune law and the notion of public service. Or that the flirtatious mayor sitting opposite asks me some very cryptic questions (such as why I chose to live in France rather than Portugal.)
Instead, I take in the mirrors, the gilt, the crystal droplets of the enormous chandeliers of the Palais de Luxembourg. Oh the glamour of it all! (It reminds me of the first time I clapped eyes on the Palace of Versailles on a school trip, age 12, thus beginning a lifelong fantasy of living there.) And in between courses, Martine supplies some first-class detail about the conferences she has attended.
‘So what was Sarkozy like?’ I ask.
‘He has very big hands,’ she replies. ‘And wears platforms in his shoes.’