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A Little Brie, Bottle of Merlot and . . . French Election Results

April 04, 1993|DOUG SMITH | Doug Smith is a Times staff writer.

If you were an American in Paris on Nov. 4, 1992, you could have wandered over to Harry's New York Bar, around the corner from the Ritz, to be in the company of Americans while witnessing the undoing of 12 years of Ronald Reagan conservatism, live on satellite TV.

Conversely, the French of Los Angeles were drawn together last Sunday to experience the denouement of 12 years of Francois Mitterand socialism.

In the Valley, the place for this communal exercise was the Papillon French Cafe on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. Owners Chantal and Raphael Masegosa closed to the public for the day and prepared a petit dejeuner and buffet champanard for a private party of about 50. With two color TVs astride the bar bringing in live coverage on French TV5, the party got off to a quiet start at 9:30 a.m., half an hour before the polls closed eight time zones away in Sunday's parliamentary elections. Exit polling had already projected the results, a huge victory for the moderate right-wing coalition of the Gaullist Rally for the Republic--the RPR headed by Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac--and the French Democratic Union--the UDF of former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

Waiters served sweet rolls and coffee to only about 15 people, who watched passively. Consular press attache Jean-Marie Lebon, who organized the affair, seemed disappointed by the turnout, but not surprised, saying the excitement had died off somewhat in the primary round of the national elections two weeks earlier when it became apparent the conservative alliance would prevail.

Nonetheless, the room had filled by 11:30 when the waiters placed two bottles of 1991 Merlot on each table in advance of the buffet. Soon, Chef Masegosa brought out trays of smoked salmon, roast beef, assorted pate, pickles, mashed potatoes and sausages. For a time, the ephemeral sounds, odors and images of home bound these itinerant Frenchmen together as their country's political destiny shifted.

French TV election coverage looks about the same as American, with animated logos, scrolling tabulations and split-screen displays bringing pols around the country into the newsroom. The telling graphic of the day, though, was a simple semi-circle--half of a pie chart--divided into various colors to show the composition of the new National Assembly.

Journalist Claudine Mulard, who reports in Los Angeles for the newspaper Le Monde and a French television channel, tittered when one of the politicos apparently coined a phrase, calling the chart a Camembert after the round French cheese. She said it looked more like a Brie to her .

The French aren't prone to treat elections like sporting events, as Americans do. Some lunch tables were dominated by conservatives and others by liberals, but it was not easy to distinguish one group from the other by their outward reactions. It was a hushed, analytical crowd.

Mulard's journalistic detachment set the tone. As a stone-faced Elisabeth Guigou, Undersecretary for Europe, attempted on the screen to put the best spin on her party's crushing defeat, Mulard dismissed her with a coy smile as "very close to the president, and you know what we French insinuate when we say that." She left it at that, offering no clue whether she was joking or referring to gossip about the president and undersecretary back home.

The strongest exclamation was an occasional, "Oh, la la , " more often stimulated by the scale of the political upheaval than by any impulse of winners to gloat or losers to blubber.

After praising the boudin noir as particularly good , Olivier Thomas, a debonair fellow whose job is recruiting European racehorses to run at Hollywood Park, allowed that he was also satisfied with the election results.

"I am more for the right because I think it's better for racing," he said.

Eric Beschar, a Ph.D. candidate in engineering at UCLA, was not so cavalier.

"I'm really saddened that the Socialists have lost," Beschar said. "On the other hand, they have been involved in a lot of scandals. There's a sort of logic in the fact they lost."

The most impassioned reactions came from an American, screenwriter and novelist Floyd Byars, who lived in Paris from 1973 to 1979. When Chirac came on the screen to intone a weighty victory statement, Byars couldn't contain his disdain.

"The joke here is they're talking about a renewal and they're the same people you saw 15 years ago," Byars said. "The only difference is there's a little less hair and the jowls hang a little more. This is so funny."

For the truly long-term perspective, though, one naturally turned to the patriarch of the Los Angeles French community, a slight, elderly man of distinguished air with plentiful gray hair combed slickly across his head and a red neck scarf and blue blazer.

Raoul Aglion was Gen. Charles de Gaulle's special envoy to President Roosevelt during World War II. Even after 30 years in Los Angeles, he remains an unwavering Gaullist.

It was a great victory, Aglion had to admit, but no cause for joy.

He fretted over the consequences of divided government with President Mitterand serving two more years as a lame duck opposed by an overwhelmingly hostile parliament.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Aglion said. "Now we are going to have a hard time in France."

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