Almost everyone has seen Michael Curtiz’ 1942 movie Casablanca. For the few who haven’t, the film is set in North Africa during World War II, and portrays the struggle between French supporters of the Vichy regime and those fighting in the Resistance. Believe it or not, France-Amérique began in the same circumstances, during the same period, but in New York City. The local French community welcomed some of the leading artists and intellectuals of the time, such as Nadia Boulanger, André Breton, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who were fleeing occupied France.
This community was divided, just like the one in Casablanca, into at least three camps: supporters of Marshal Pétain, those in favor of General de Gaulle (who was backed by Winston Churchill), and followers of General Giraud (Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite). De Gaulle, a peerless self-publicist, used the independence of an eternal France –including from the United States– as the cornerstone of his rhetoric. He knew how to rile up passions, and national independence is certainly one of them. At his request, his New York supporters founded France-Amérique, a newspaper steeped in the image of an immutable France. A tribute to Joan of Arc was featured on the front cover of the first issue, published on May 23, 1943.
To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart (who plays Rick in Casablanca), the launch of France-Amérique was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” between French readers and Gaullist Americans. De Gaulle knew that if he won the Battle of New York, he would conquer the rest of the nation. Even back then, the city dictated public opinion, and anything remotely French has always inspired a reaction in the U.S. The opposite is also true; Americans have a passion for France, and the French have a passion for the United States. And passion, by its very nature, has the power to deform. It replaces facts with myths, but these myths make up the building blocks of legendary creations.
Looking back to the movie, remember that the characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman fell in love in Paris (of course). And what is Paris, if not love? F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly, Woody Allen, and Emily in Paris have continued to prove it. American passion for Paris is not shared by all Parisians. But maybe the Americans are right? The French capital might be the most beautiful city in the world, a place where people fall in love to the sound of Edith Piaf. “We’ll always have Paris,” says Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Bergman as they are forced to separate at Casablanca airport.
Meanwhile, the French are hopelessly in love with New York City. When I was a student in Paris in 1962, my classmates and I saved for a year and finally amassed enough money to take a charter flight to New York. We then boarded a Greyhound bus and explored the United States from coast to coast – all for just 99 dollars. These flights are now called “low cost,” but the passion remains unchanged. This mutual adoration, combining the magnificent and the mainstream, from Lafayette to Emily in Paris, is very much in keeping with our publication’s spectacular longevity and our shift from Francophone newspaper to bilingual magazine.
The very fact that we are celebrating our 80th anniversary is astonishing, and even anachronistic during a time in which the Internet is devastating the print media sector. So why are we still here? And why are we determined to continue? The answer to both questions, once again, is passion – particularly the passion of our directors, who have been nurturing and developing France-Amérique since 1943: Henry Torrès during the war, senator Jacques Habert and Jean-Louis Turlin with the support of Le Figaro, Louis Kyle, Guy Sorman, and most recently, Guénola Pellen, with the support of the Chargeurs group and its president Michaël Fribourg. Together, both past and present, we firmly believe that the Internet will never replace the sensuality, elegance, and intelligence of print media. There is no shortage of passionate directors, nor of Francophile and Francophone readers. And without them, without you, there would be no France-Amérique.
In my opinion, France is the only country to inspire such passion in the United States. The object of America’s adulation is probably an idealized and partly imaginary France, but all civilizations are imaginary communities in their own way. More than a century ago, French historian Ernest Renan wrote that there was no nation without myths or passion. At France-Amérique, this sometimes forces us to strike a delicate balance. Every month, we strive to maintain a careful mixture of a France fantasized by Americans – luxury, gastronomy, fashion, and châteaux – and a changing France, one that is harsher, more avant-garde, more diverse, and also more Americanized.
Let us end on a thought about our current painful era, as we are not living in a vacuum. In the bloody conflict raging in Eastern Europe, France and the United States are once again, as they have been for almost 250 years, on the same side and united by passion, this time for individual freedom and choice. Democracy in America, and France, is an eternal cycle.