In his long and controversial career, General Charles de Gaulle has never been accused of being a pantywaist, but it was not until recently that his intense fixation on sport came into the open. If one is to believe what one sees in the French press, Monsieur le Pr�sident likes nothing better than to sink into his favorite easy chair and watch soccer or Rugby or track and field on television. One gets the impression that only his advancing years keep De Gaulle from playing touch Rugby on the lawn of the Elys�e Palace like a Gallic Kennedy. According to one report, the General even looks forward to handing out athletic awards, usually considered the dreariest of chores by politicians. Certainement, he failed to show up at the exposition of chrysanthemums, but there is no power on earth that could keep him from a sports presentation. "They've done everything but run a picture of De Gaulle in soccer boots and shorts," said an American businessman stationed in the south of France. "You get the idea that the first thing he puts on in the morning is his sweat socks."
The reason for all the new image-making, of course, is the forthcoming Olympic year. The French are trying to rebound from a debacle, the 1967 pre-Olympic meeting at Grenoble, and when French pride is touched nowadays, stand back. "All we are shooting for this time is perfection," said Michel ("Call me Mike") Jacquemain, one of the big movers and shakers in the preparations now going on for the 1968 Winter Games at Grenoble. "Each morning the workers who have not achieved perfection are lined up and shot, 11,000 of them so far, but if the result is a wonderful Olympics, it will be worth all the bloodshed."
The result will be a wonderful Olympics, if maniacal determination and millions of foot-pounds of work and thousands of hours of cerebration add up to anything at all. The French have patted and graded and manicured and aligned and realigned and smoothed and polished the 1968 Winter Olympic sites with a frightening dedication that some say comes straight down from the top, from Le Grand Charles himself.
Grenoble, the host town, has been all but sacked in the process, but Grenoble is a town that needed sacking. Almost surrounded on all sides by the French Alps, Grenoble is a sort of Indianapolis on the rocks, the kind of town to which package tours allot one day. The fuss and bother of the Olympic Games have brought nothing but long-range benefit to the town, but not everybody in Grenoble has a long-range mind. The homme in the street is full of wisecracks:
"We survived all the wars only to be destroyed by the Olympics."
"If they write a book called Is Grenoble Burning? the answer will be yes."
"The man who designed the new Olympic buildings said he was sorry he couldn't attend the dedication, but his kindergarten class was going to the zoo that day."
A candy butcher straight out of P�re Goriot pulled angrily at his mustache and proclaimed: "Am I selling one extra nougat because of this Olympic business? No! My customers come from the same old neighborhood. There will be no Olympic visitors there. But, nevertheless, I have to get stuck in the traffic jams, I have to breathe the air full of cement dust, I have to smell the manure on the new grass, I have to push my way through the crowds, I have to listen to the jack-hammers from 7 in the morning till 7 at night. And what do I get for all this sacrifice? A 20% increase in my tax! Zut alors, I am one lucky Frenchman, is it not so?"
The din, day and night, is earsplitting. Said a petite Parisienne, Florence Fourty, as she prepared to cut short her stay in Grenoble, "How can anyone sleep in this town?"
"I know they complain," said a high official of the French Olympic committee, "but when the Games are over and gone, Grenoble will be 20 years ahead of schedule. Anyway, do you know what the Egyptian people said when work was started on the Great Pyramid? They said: 'Cut out all that racket!' "