French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing has in the past few months been to the United States, West Germany, Spain, Portugal and even to Corsica, France's most restless province. He has yet to visit Brittany, which is still suffering from the after effects of the biggest oil spill in history.
He promised he would inspect the effects of the wreck of the supertanker Amoco Cadiz. A visit was prepared in mid-May, but it was called off and never rescheduled, to the disappointment of many Bretons.
Now, more than four months after the spill, his visit would almost certainly be viewed here as anti-climactic. The conviction appears to have grown up across a broadly representative swath of Breton opinion that the government way off in Paris is not going to do a great deal to relieve the province's distress.
Sooner or later, the estimated 15 million barrels of oil that spilled into the sea off northern Brittany will be a dark memory. The sea and the shore still have an amazing facility for cleaning themselves up. The most permanent damage of the black tide may be the mistrust of public authorities that has seeped into the consciousness of a generation of young Bretons.
"The greatest cost of Polution is psychological," said Claude Chasse, the research director at the University of Brest's Marine Biology Laboratory.
Just as it is still hard to tell what the long-term effects will be on marine life, it is hard to say what the long term political effects will be. To an outsider, the Bretons seem far angrier and more cynical than they themselves realize.
For the moment at least this anger does not seem to be of particular benefit to the small, generally rejected band of Breton separatists or to the leftist political opposition. In their general cynicism, ordinary Bretons are quick to say that they would have expected no more help or effectiveness from a leftist government in Paris than from the present conservative one.
Marie-Catherine, a 16-year-old student from Moriax, told how her mother, a clothing store owner, opposed her daughter's trip to the regional metropolis of Brest to demonstrate against the black tide. "Then she actually saw the bench at Perros Guerric" the young woman said. "She packed my bag and said, 'What are you waiting for?'"
Marie-Catherine was one of half a dozen teenage Bretons gathered to talk about how they feel about the Amoco Cadiz disaster.
They spoke of France's age-old exploitation of Brittany and of its contempt for Bretons. They spoke of how few jobs there are in Brittany for educated young people. Thierry, 17, the son of a school teacher, said he would stay. So did Yves, 18, who is setting a degree in horticulture. But the three girls present said they would leave Brittany.
Dominique, 17, complained about the public relations campaigns to get people to believe that everything is all right now - that the beaches are clean and that tourists should return to the area.
"They don't talk about the bottom of the sea of the pollution that's still coming out," she said. "They acted as if it was the first time. They didn't do a thing after the Torrey Canyon (oil spill). Eleven years later they're just as unprepared."
"I'm as outraged today as I was the first day," said Marie-Catherine. Christian Michielieni, director of Brittany ferries which carries cargo and passengers across the english Channel is one of six Breton business men who have filed a class-action suit against Amoco (Standard Oil of Indiana.) He spoke of the current trial of Breton separatists allegedly involved in the recent explosion in Versailles.
"Through them," Michiellieni said "the government is putting all Brittany on trial. They are trying to silence Brittany. It's not like Corscia with just 250,000 people. There are 10 times as many people here. It's a powder keg. What with all the unemployment here, there's going to be "an awakening."
Businessmen interviewed made similar complaints about the government. Political leaders were quick to proffer sympathic words, but the bureaucrats handling out the limited material aid deliberately dragged their feet.
Alain Madec, the biggest oyster grower hit by oil pollution said: "When a bureaucrat has money to hand out, he persumes you are guilty of fraud. You must prove your innocence. The politicians come here and say your case is incontenstable, then the bureaucrats follow. They don't care, their signatures are always illegible. It makes us bitter. We don't believe in compensation anymore."
Francois le Rest, head of La Langouste, the biggest live seafood company in Brittany, speaks of bureaucrats' inability to cut their own red tape resuting in such anomalies as trucking clean sea water from miles away at enormous costs to keep La Langoute's auxiliary lobster ponds going, when the same job, he says, could be done at a fraction of the cost by pumping water from the sea a hundred yards away.
More fundamentally, establishment Bretons are disenchanted by lack of governmental foresight coupled with an apparent lack of a sense of urgency about taking preventive measures against a possible new disaster on the French shores of the Enkglish Channel.
Five hundred million tons of oil moves by boat through the channel yearly to feed the energy hunger of West Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. The combination of winter storms, heavy ship traffic and rocky coasts makes the channel one of the world's most dangerous waterways.
Yet, neither France nor Britain have services with anything like authority or capabilities of the U.S. Coast Guard to help ships in distress.
"Why," asked Michielini, whose four huge oceangoing ferries are 70 percent owned by Breton peasant cooperatives, "is safety in the channel still in private hands? The Americans were not afraid to make it a public service. We are still in the age of privateers Tugboatmen are vultures."
"We need a coast guard," said Auguste Legendre, the energetic mayor of Portsall, sit of the Amoco Cadiz wreck. He spent 23 years of his merchant marine career as an officer on oil tankers. "Where there are no gendarmes, the rules are not respected," he said.
He spoke also of the need for radar surveillance stations, for giant seagoing tugs, for international control of flags of convenience and for a systematic review of the ancient laws of the sea and their application to super ships.
"Torrey Canyon was an alarm bell," he said, referring to the huge spill of Britain's Cornwall coast in 1967. "But for 11 years nothing happened. There was aberrational lack of foresight by the government."
Marc Becam, the deputy Interior minister and the government's disaster coordinator in Brittany, made it clear that Paris is ready to act when the government's budget is not involved - such as demanding stricter controls over flags of convenience - but that it is not very inclined to apply preventive medicine that would cost France money The government has pledged $30 million, the exact amount it stands to collect under international insurance agreements.
Becam asked why France should have to pay for the four to six supertugs it would take to protect French coasts.
"The sea belongs to everyone," he said, "so why should we have to pay?"
The government has reinforced surveillance of channel shipping, henoted. The French Navy brought 26 ships into harbor from April through June and fined them for discharging bilge oil at sea or for navigating the lanes in the wrong direction.
The trouble, Bretons point out, is that such fines are only a fifth or a sixth of the cost of going into the Port of Brest to have waste oil cleaned out. As long as the fines are so small, ship's captains will still try to get away with it.
Brittany's corps of marine biologists, who work up and down the peninsula in scientifically respected institutes seem to be as angry as any small merchant whose business has been hurt or any student who is already angry because he knows he must emigrate to earn a living.
"It is no acceptable that Brittany, which benefits very little from general European economic growth, should become the garbage pail of Europe," said Louis Cabioch, deputy director of the 107-year old Marine Biological Station at Roscoff.