The long read: Is Frances new president a political miracle, or a mirage that is already fading away?
The man does not perspire. I discovered that on 12 September, on the island of Saint Martin, a French territory in the Caribbean that had been devastated a few days earlier by Hurricane Irma. Uprooted trees, roofs ripped from houses, streets blocked by mountains of debris: for three hours Emmanuel Macron, president of France, has been walking through what remains of the village of Grand Case in the sweltering, clammy heat amid the strong odour of burst sewage pipes or in other words, of shit. Everyone accompanying him, including the author of these lines, is dripping with sweat, literally soaked, with large circles under their arms. Not him. Although he hasnt had a second to change or freshen up, his white shirt with elegantly rolled-up sleeves is impeccable. And so it will remain until late in the night, when the rest of us are exhausted, haggard and reeking, and hes still as fresh as a daisy, always ready to shake new hands.
Every interaction with Macron follows the same protocol. He turns his penetrating blue eyes on you and doesnt look away. As for your hand, he shakes it in two stages: first a normal grip, and then, as if to show that this was no ordinary, routine handshake, he increases the pressure while at the same time intensifying his gaze. He did the same thing to Donald Trump and it almost turned into an arm wrestle. Then, with his other hand, he clasps your arm or shoulder, and when the time comes to move on, he relaxes his grip while lingering almost regretfully, as if pained to cut short an encounter that meant so much to him. This technique works wonders with his admirers, but its even more spectacular with his enemies. Contradiction stimulates him, aggression galvanises him. To those who complain that the state took its time bringing relief, he explains calmly and patiently that the state does not control extreme weather conditions and that everything that could be anticipated was anticipated. At the same time and well come back to this at the same time he never stops repeating, just as calmly, just as patiently: I came to Saint Martin to hear your anger.
And its a good thing, too, because up comes an angry woman named Lila, who bars his way and accuses him of not giving a damn about the victims suffering, and of coming just to perform before the TV cameras in his ironed shirt and plain tie that doesnt look like much but must have cost a fortune. Shes so vehement that the group of islanders who have gathered around them start booing and jeering and saying thats no way to talk to the president. Anyone else would have taken advantage of the situation and said: You see, the people are behind me. Not Macron. For him, Lila is a challenge. He takes her hand and his face divides in two something Ive often seen it do: the right half, brow creased, is determined, grave, almost severe, giving you the feeling that whatever he does, hes doing it in the eyes of history. The left half, meanwhile, is cordial, optimistic, almost mischievous, giving you the feeling that now hes there, things will be all right.