Adalbert de Segonzac, known almost exclusively around these parts as "Ziggy," is leaving. This is of course a town involved in an endless round of departures, but for the city's second largest industry, which is journalism, Ziggy's exit after 21 years as chief correspondent in NorthAmerica for France-Soir, constitutes a betrayal of sorts.
He is at 64 possessed of elegant good looks an old-fashioned, (astonishing a reporter) and courtesy, which is no negligible quality in a tight community where the uncharming keep bumping into the unbearable. And he is a Frenchman who loves America ("A Latin-Saxon," as a friend once described him) which as we all know, is no negligible quality for a Frenchman.
"After Larayette," he agrees, "really there is very little. Two wars, a great friendship, but very little understanding."
But not for him. "I have very little joy about leaving this country," he mourns over his coffee. "Twenty-one years ago, I came with all my preconceived ideas about America. I thought this was a rather backward country -"
He smiles deprecatingly, "- well, like all Europeans, I thought this was a roughe and gruff people, people with a limited education. And now I've come around 100 per cent. Now, there's no doubt about it, I have more than a great admiration for this country. Certainly there are aspects of naivete. But is it really naivete to believe in certain values? In religion? I'm not sure. I'm not sure."
More than most people, journalists tend to mark their personal lives by the chronology of external political events: Where was I when Hungary revolted, when the Suez was invaded? Ziggy de Segonzac arrived her in time for those, but if he can be said to have had an era, it would be the Kennedy period, for he was a favorite of the President's and besides, "Kennedy was certainly the most pro-French President there was." It was Kennedy who altered for de Segonzac and - he claims - for Americans notions of what this country was. "When LBJ came along and showed his scars," he told the Overseas Writers yesterday at a luncheon honoring him, "I found very many Americans - who before would have found it humorous - were being shocked."
And he also says (over his morning coffee) "I lost my sense of objectivity in the Kennedy period" - later amended to "I had a tendency to look at what he was doing in a more sympathetic way - emotional and intellectural - rather than a complete loss of objectivity."
But a French journalist during the Kennedy era was explaining a simple equation to the folks back home; the flair and the devisousness alike were entirely comprehensible. On the occasion of Nixon's resignation, however, de Segonzac filled up two pages of France-Soir which (and this is the despair of every reporter) apparently brought his compatriots no closer to understanding the situation.
"The French," he signs, "they just never understood Watergate. For them it was the bugging of offices. When I returned to France two members of parliament came up to me and said, 'Explain me something. Why have the Americans turned out the best President they ever had.'
"I said, 'Who?'
"And they said, 'Nixon'"
He shrugs what must be called a Galic shrug. "And both these people had been in government!"
It wasn't as if Adalbert de Segonzac had always yearned passionately to be a journalist. Born a count ("Which doesn't bring one cent more in the tilly") - and an impoverished count at that - he was pretty much the despair of his family.
People who are the despair of their families end up, often as not, in journalizm; for his part, de Segonzac managed under his father's auspices, to land a job in the advertising department of a French newspaper. In 1941 he escaped to England where he was a fighter pilot for the Free French; married a lady he had met (as he casually tells it) through Albert Camus; and then was shot down as he flew over Holland,
"I'm awfully sorry you're shot down," the Nazi general commiserated.
"Well, I'm very angry to be here because I want to finish off this war," the captive replied.
After the war, he worked for France-Soir in England; he was to stay with that paper for the rest of his career.
But you know how it is. New management at France-Soir. They want to "popularize" the newspaper; de Segonzac does not. "Certain stories have been modified," De Sesonzac does not like that kind of management. He's going home - if you can call Paris home after you've fallen for Washington.
"You can't leave a place like this which is the political center of the world without feeling something," he says. "It's a great town . . . But if you find yourself without a job which keeps you in the fore, then you find yourself on the sidelines. It's a town of movement, action and change. And it's a comfortable town, a pretty town. People in Paris are grumpy, it's a high-pressure town . . ."
And so it's all a bit sad, because de Sesonzac's departure represents in a way the departure of a whole school of journalists, who've been departing right and left these many years. The kind who felt they could get friendly with a politician like Kennedy. The kind who feel they can change things by being here. The kind who think that journalism includes what ziggy says it does: "To play a small role in helping people unerstand what goes on in the world. And also there's feeling of being close to the people who run the world. Of being close to the action. Sometimes a story may influence - or a conversation may influence."
Ziggy smiles sadly. "There's a sort or little ego trip in every one of us."