mercredi 24 décembre 2008


I just read that Claudie Haigneré tried to commit suicide. She is a French scientist who is best known as France’s First Lady of Space Travel. Later, and many mauvaises langues would say she was trading on her fame, she was appointed to a ministerial position in the Raffarin government (he was a Prime Minister under Chirac). Apparently, she took a bunch of pills Tuesday night in her Paris apartment, but was found conscious and taken to the Paris hospital where all the government people are taken for care, the wonderfully named Val-de-Grâce. It is being reported that her life is not in danger.

Claudie Haigneré (née Claudie André-Deshays) is an exceptionally well-educated 51-year old woman. The joke in France is that she has a "bac + 13." In other words, 13 years of higher education after high school. She has studied biology, sports medicine, aeronautics and rheumatology and probably I'm just skimming the surface. So she’s like a PhD and an MD all rolled into one “sur-diplomée” they say in France. Over-educated, we would say in America. She's a super nana, quoi.

She fell in love with an astronaut, Jean-Pierre Haigneré, who was sent on a space mission with the Russians three years before she was. They got married in 2001, and she continued her life in space for awhile. Then she got the call from then PM Raffarin–and made her political début as minister of Research and New Technologies. This was perhaps the first time she had ever encountered anything but success and applause; she was quietly transferred to another government post—European Affairs—where she stayed until May 2005, when the third government of Raffarin resigned. In France, when PM’s get into trouble, they tend to do cabinet shuffles, moving the same old people around, getting rid of a couple, adding a couple.

For now, nobody knows why Claudie Haigneré tried to commit suicide. I am tempted to make what would come off as an untimely joke. I hope it wasn’t because she had invested all her savings in a feeder fund that in turn invested in Bernard Madoff.
Because we learned yesterday that another Frenchman, Thierry de la Villehuchet, an aristocrat (un particule) who had invested other people’s money in Madoff, tried to commit suicide and succeeded. He was 65 years old. I read that he had spent the last week frantically trying to get some money back for his investors. I doubt he was part of the Ponzi scheme. He was fleeced. He was an avid sailor, had no children, and had invested more than one billion euros on behalf of a number of his friends.

Claudie Haigneré is someone I have always admired, in a way. She never came off as a show-off or a smarty-pants. She always seemed kind of reserved, but not exactly shy, under the gaze of the media. But I always thought she looked a little sad, a little depressed, a little affectless. As an astronaut, she was liked and admired. As a politician, she was suddenly under fire. It wasn't as if she was unused to stressful situations and having to think on her feet -- she trained for and carried out missions in space, after all -- but I don't think she was prepared for the nastiness of politics. She looked like a deer caught in headlights much of the time. I don't know what she has been doing for the last three years. The government she was part of was dissolved about eight months before I left France. Maybe the key to her gesture is to be found in her life since May 2005. On some level, and I think many French people would agree with me, ça la regarde. In other words, it's her business but not ours. Her husband has just stated that, although she had many "soucis," and wanted to sleep, she did not intend to commit suicide. The blogosphere is dubitative.