The novelty of a model-turned-singer-turned-First Lady of France has long vanished. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy could almost be overlooked. There is little to criticize, given her poise and intelligence on the political stage, and not much else can be said of her earlier days. But whatever you make of Bruni’s accomplishments, it is her attitude toward life that makes her an exceptional, if not heroic, character.
That she now inhabits this unlikely position is remarkable enough, as is her success in such diverse spheres. The fact that she enjoys the show is perhaps more interesting. There is none of that bittersweet quality associated with Grace Kelly or the demented ambition of that other blonde, Hillary Clinton. Rather, she seems seduced by life with manly simplicity. In H. L. Mencken’s words, a “woman, without some trace of that divine innocence which is masculine, is too harshly the realist for those vast projections of the fancy which lie at the heart of what we call genius.”
Bruni is at once romantic and objective. She is quite unlike her predecessor, the ex-Sarkozy, Cécilia Attias. Superficially the two ladies bear an extraordinary resemblance and yet represent entirely different types. It is the stuff of fiction that they actually meet in the same plot. Cécilia only enhances the character that is Carla Bruni.
Tall, feline, and unsettling, both women look like trouble. The likeness extends to their backgrounds. Both women had a cosmopolitan Parisian upbringing: Carla is from a family of northern Italian industrialists, Cécilia of Spanish and Jewish heritage. Music was central to both families. Carla is the daughter of classical musicians. Cécilia’s great-grandfather, Isaac Albéniz, was an influential composer. Too hungry for school, both women found themselves modeling at an early age. Then there’s romance. The two are equally famous for courting controversy.
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