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Bush, Sarkozy: No Tuxedos Suits Them

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By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 14, 2008

PARIS, June 13 -- By French standards, dinner with the Bushes at the Elysee Palace on Friday night was pretty laid back.

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The attire was dark suits for the men, cocktail dresses for the women. No tuxes. No evening gowns.

And no receiving line. Instead, the two presidents made the rounds at intimate tables set with crystal candleholders, cream-colored roses and pink peonies. But, after five or six stops, French President Nicolas Sarkozy motioned to President Bush that they should return to their own table.

Bush, stopping just short of a "Yo, Sarko," tugged at Sarkozy's sleeve and declared, "Nope, you can't stop. If you do one table, you gotta do 'em all."

Sarkozy obediently, if somewhat reluctantly, tagged along behind the glad-handing Bush, who by then had grabbed another outstretched arm with a boisterous greeting of "Big John! Big John!"

But if the dinner had a rock-star quality, it was because a rock star was sitting at the head table -- Sarkozy's new bride, Carla Bruni, whose third album debuts next month.

Bruni, wearing a glittering black cocktail dress and what have become her trademark, accommodation-to-her-short-husband flats, worked hard not to steal the show.

It didn't work. There wasn't an invitee in the entire Salon de Fete (loosely translated as Party Room) who didn't crane his or her neck to get a look at France's first lady, who has wowed the public and kept the French tabloids well supplied with cover photos.

Though her album is not yet out, some of its more controversial lyrics have been leaked to the French press. In one song, "You Are My Drug," she croons: "You are my drug, more lethal than heroin from Afghanistan and more dangerous than Colombian cocaine."

Friday night's musical accompaniment by the string orchestra of the Republican Guard was far more sedate, with its renditions of Mozart, Vivaldi and Scott Joplin played between courses to muffle the sound of columns of white-gloved waiters marching into the room bearing lobster marinated in citron de Menton, medallions of chicken stuffed with artichokes, and, for dessert, cylinders of lemon and pistachio surrounded by strawberry coulis.

For the toast -- with a 1998 Pommery Cuvée Louise champagne -- Sarkozy tossed aside most of his prepared text and offered his friend George, as he called him, some well-intended words of comfort.

"You must have mixed feelings," Sarkozy said of Bush's coming departure from the White House. "Perhaps a certain sense of relief."

For presidents such as themselves, he said, "There are not enough compliments. Criticism is very virulent. But let history run its course."

In the view of Sarkozy, "when the Bush family looks back upon its past, it will have every reason to be satisfied."

"You've kind of written my political obituary tonight," Bush said, when he got his chance to return the toast. "I remind you, I don't leave until January. And there's a lot we can still do."

For the most part, however, the dinner was a lovefest between two presidents strikingly similar in their fondness for eschewing the traditional formalities of their office and equally intent on trying to forget the rift in Franco-American relations brought on by the Iraq war.

"Yes, George, we don't agree on everything, but that doesn't make us any less friends," Sarkozy said. Of France and Europe, he added, "We're not always right. We may be an irritant to the public opinion of other countries."

As for Bush, his eyes roamed over the opulent ceiling of gilded cherubs and eight blazing chandeliers (each about the size of a SmartCar), the walls covered in brilliant tapestries and the massive windows giving way to water fountains framed by profusions of spring roses.

"This is a long way from rural Texas, I might say," observed the president of the United States.

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