Sitting between the beefy man in the striped jacket and the elderly woman with the bouffant hair is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Much has been written about this blue-eyed woman with the heart-shaped face, yet none have succeeded in conveying the quality those who have met her describe as a beguiling personal charm.
This photograph was taken on May 17 at the Pompidou Center in Paris, when France's first lady dedicated a fund in her name that will fight illiteracy. Gerard Depardieu, sitting to her left, looks as though he is about to fall asleep, his lips arched downward, his eyes glazed over, his huge hands holding an open book, one thick finger acting as a bookmark. It is impossible to look at the fleshy, florid face, capillaries bursting, of Depardieu - perhaps one of the greatest French actors of all time - without recalling the delightful scene with the two women in "The Last Metro." He plays an actor who reads women's palms and customarily tells them, "I see in you two women" - one quiet and the other tempestuous, of course - until he meets an actress no less experienced than he who retorts, "And not one of them wants to go to bed with you." Now, in this hall, alongside Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, he looks as though no act could be more remote to him than palm reading.
Sitting on the other side of Bruni-Sarkozy is former first lady Bernadette Chirac, rings on both her little fingers, the epitome of propriety. Seemingly, there are no two women more different than Chirac the politician, married since she was 23, protecting her husband in the face of every rumor, including the latest one about dementia, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, from a wealthy Italian family, fiery and impassioned, refined and sophisticated, who earned millions as a model, discovered that her father is not her father, lost her brother, became a singer, fell in love with the philosopher son of her elderly lover, wrenched the son from his wife - the daughter of France's best-known philosopher - had their child, separated from him, met some other men, and a few months later fell mortally in love with the President de la Republique, who was barely divorced himself, married him and entered the Elysee Palace. This is a woman who lives life.
These two ladies are different, but sitting next to Bruni-Sarkozy, Chirac confers context upon her, situates her on a historical continuum, brings her into the circle. While she hides behind tinted glasses in a closed hall and her face is a mask of affliction, Bruni-Sarkozy's gaze is focused, she holds the pages of her speech firmly and the quiver of a ripple crosses her too-taut cheek.
On the day this photograph was taken, the public learned for a fact that Bruni-Sarkozy is pregnant, ending four years of speculation. She will be 44 in December. It is not fitting to ask how this rare pregnancy came about. That would be prying. But from the moment she became pregnant, it was clear that she could live by desire, love or reject anyone she wants without giving up on anything. Because Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is a woman who tamed a force stronger than any lover: she has tamed time itself.
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