France has seen its share of traitors, but none as resplendent, contemporary and breasty as Laetitia Casta. The news that the recently appointed symbol of the French Republic (aka Marianne) was moving to London set off a wave of political protest and a trans-channel volley of old-time Franco-British rivalry.
French politicians and social pundits resoundingly went on record to denounce Casta's move as a way of avoiding the country's astronomically high taxes. (The debate around the virtues of socialism -- or how to strike a balance between too many taxes and not enough social protection -- is an old one here.) The minister of the interior publicly declared that once settled in London, Casta would be dismayed to find higher rents, an unreliable subway system and substandard hospital care, while another politician went so far as to suggest that Casta's potential departure is a sign of the imminent failure of socialism.
Casta is not alone in fleeing France, where the system is so complex, top-heavy and overburdened that it is almost impossible to manifest entrepreneurial spirit on any practical level without risking personal bankruptcy. From classic businessmen to film personalities like Alain Delon, the slow draining of French capital and talent into England has been going on for decades. Unfortunately for Casta, this leggy, busty, handsomely remunerated top model carries a heavy civic burden toward her compatriots as the new Marianne, and her departure to the shores of an ancient enemy is seen as the ultimate betrayal.
Casta has been backpedaling lately, suggesting that she is buying an apartment in London because she works -- and has a boyfriend -- in the city. But should Casta's whereabouts be so high on the French national agenda? Shouldn't this curvaceous well-heeled young woman have the right to spend her money as she sees fit? Many in her ranks believe so, including Brigitte Bardot. Another buxom blond ex-Marianne, Bardot made it very clear that if she could leave France for England she would do so without a moment's hesitation.
In the end, the political hand-wringing over the Casta affair is overwhelmingly about taxes -- a clear sign that despite all prevailing myths to the contrary, one of the most important things in France (perhaps, but only perhaps, after sex) is money.