There is a whole mythology of Americans in Paris. From the founding fathers (Franklin, Jefferson, Adams), through Hemingway and the lost generation, the cinematic painter-dancer played by Gene Kelly, and even Emily in Paris, a new series that portrays the topics of the transatlantic fascination with the French capital. The club has another illustrious member. Antony J. Blinken, future head of American diplomacy, lived as a child and adolescent in the Ville Lumière, where he discovered a passion for international relations and acquired a global vision that can help him repair the damage of the America first of Donald Trump.
"He was a student who was involved in everything, as American students are, with the habit of doing other non-academic activities," says Elisabeth Zéboulon, who was his math teacher at the École Jeannine Manuel, a private bilingual school founded in the postwar period by a former Nazi resistant, and in which Tony Blinken studied between 1971 and 1980. One of the activities that Blinken devoted himself to in the last year was the elaboration of the yearbook, the yearbook at the end of the course. “He was someone open,” says Zéboulon, who is now the general director of the center, “always ready to participate”.
Blinken's appointment as Secretary of State to the new Administration of President-elect Joe Biden has been greeted like a balm in Paris. "Francophile and Francophone", celebrated in Le Point the former French ambassador to Washington or to the UN, Gérard Araud. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was "particularly happy" that his new counterpart is someone he knows – they are "you" – and who knows France. Almost a French for adoption, a breath of fraternite between the two countries after the rudeness of the Trump years.
Blinken (New York, 1962) was nine years old when he arrived in Paris. His parents — him, a diplomat; she, cultural manager and promoter of the Franco-American entente – had just divorced. His mother married Samuel Pisar, a lawyer whose life would give for several films. Pisar, born in Poland in 1929, survived the Majdanek, Auschwitz and Dachau camps. His parents and his little sister died in the holocaust. Some relatives welcomed him in Australia and he was able to study at Harvard and the Sorbonne. He was an advisor to John F. Kennedy and a friend of Presidents Valéry Giscard D’Estaing and François Mitterrand.
In parallel to his activity as a renowned lawyer – his clients included Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor and Catherine Deneuve – Pisar was determined to promote rapprochement between the United States and the USSR during the Cold War through international trade. The idea was that the exchanges – the business– between the two blocks would end up weakening the Soviet regime. Pisar tells in one of his books that, when in 1980 Ronald Reagan, a supporter of the confrontation with Moscow, arrived at the White House, one of the new president's advisers celebrated: “The era of pisarism is over".
This was the family environment in which Blinken grew up. On the one hand, connected with the Paris chic, that of movie stars and that of those who wield power. On the other hand, politically cosmopolitan and liberal, convinced of the virtues of dialogue and global cooperation, and very aware of the weight of a traumatic story that had been lived raw in his home. At school these worlds converged. "He was drawn to political science and international relations," recalls a classmate, Theodora van Leeuwen, by email.
Blinken then began playing electronic guitar. Played to soccer, European football. “He skis much better than me. But he has agreed to give up the motorcycle of his dreams and is waiting for the car he will surely get now that he has passed his high school exam in Paris and has been admitted to Harvard, "wrote Pisar in the memoir Le sang de l’espoir, published in 1979. At Harvard, the future Secretary of State published in the newspaper The Crimson several chronicles on French politics. In one of them, about the victory of the socialist Mitterrand in the presidential elections, he described the rue Solférino, headquarters of the PS, as a “long and undulating street near the Eiffel Tower” (in reality it is short, straight and 2.5 kilometers from the Eiffel Tower).
Zéboulon, in his office at school, shows the old yearbook and turns the pages. There is young Tony in a reflective pose and, underneath, a phrase from a famous song by the Pink Floyd group: “Just another brick in the wall?"" One more brick in the wall? " And here, on another page, one of his best friends, a boy with curly Bob Dylan hair, "very bright, very revolutionary." This is Robert Malley who, like Blinken, would hold positions of responsibility in the Clinton and Obama administrations. "Fidel … comme Castro”, Reads below photo. "Faithful (fidel, in French) as Castro ”.
"In those years, French public opinion was quite hostile to US foreign policy. This undoubtedly influenced him: he is an American with an international vision, an American who can understand how others see America," Malley says by phone. , who now chairs the International Crisis Group, an NGO dedicated to conflict prevention and resolution. Last July, Blinken intervened by video in the virtual (pandemic obliges) graduation ceremony for seniors. "You graduate at a time of greater uncertainty than ever," he told them in reference to the pandemic. "This will pass," he promised.