Sunday 19 November 2017

How Anne Sinclair managed to get over the DSK debacle

Anne Sinclair
Anne Sinclair
Anne Sinclair with DSK. They were described by friends as 'completely inseparable'.
Anne Sinclair with Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2006
Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel housekeeper who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her
Aoife Drew

Aoife Drew

Anne Sinclair, the former wife of the ex-IMF leader, "rutting chimpanzee" Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has made an extraordinary comeback since her husband's fall from grace in 2011. She's got a new book, a revived career as an editor and broadcaster, and has, says Aoife Drew, found love again.

'Suddenly unable to contain my curiosity, I plunged into the family archives, in search of the story of my past. To find out who my mother's father really was: my grandfather Paul Rosenberg, a man hailed as a pioneer in the world of painting, of modern art, who then became a pariah in his own country during the Second World War. I yearned to fit together the pieces of this French story of art and war. I am the granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg, a gentleman who lived in Paris and who owned a gallery at 21 rue la Boetie."

It seems that living a life less ordinary runs in Anne Sinclair's family. Her grandfather had a remarkable destiny, just like her own. She's always been much more than merely a politician's wife. And now, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn debacle just over three years ago, she has managed to turn her life around and is making a comeback, with a new career and a book.

A household name in France, Anne Sinclair paused her career as a broadcast journalist interviewing celebrities and politicians on TV show 7 sur 7, a wildly popular weekly news and politics TV series, while she was the wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the now infamous ex-leader of the International Monetary Fund who so spectacularly fell from grace in 2011 when accused of the rape of maid Nafissatou Diallo at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan. Sinclair wanted to make sure her career would not cause conflict with that of her husband's, then one of the world's most powerful men, who had serious political and presidential ambitions as a senior member of the Socialist Party and ex-minister for Finance.

But nothing she could have ever said as a journalist could come close to the damage caused to his career when the news of the alleged attack broke. Diallo claimed that he ran at her naked, molested her and forced her to perform oral sex on him. She described it as a "brutal and violent sexual assault" in which she was "humiliated, degraded, violated and robbed of her dignity as a woman". Strauss-Kahn admitted, without any specifics, a sexual encounter of one sort or another but denied any wrongdoing or that there was any force employed by him. Ultimately the charges were dropped due to doubts about the credibility of the complainant and inconclusive physical evidence. To the amazement of many, self-declared feminist Anne Sinclair stuck with him throughout the scandal, saying "you don't leave a man when he's at his lowest" but split with him quietly a year later.

Now, a divorce and a new career later, as editorial director of the French edition of The Huffington Post, as well as presenting a "Miriam Meets" type weekend interview show on French radio station Europe 1, she seems to have moved on from the difficult days when she lived under the media microscope. Most recently, she's published a moving account of her legendary art-dealer grandfather's escape from Vichy France, entitled My Grandfather's Gallery, the first edition of which was printed in French in 2012 but now has been updated and launched internationally in English.

It's a wonder she waited so long. Sinclair's grandfather was no small-time player who sold a few paintings to put food on the table, but one of the world's major art-traders. "Imagine, a major California newspaper wrote in the 1940s, being able to step inside Matisse or Picasso's studio twice a year, being allowed to look at 40 of their best paintings and saying, 'I'll take the lot!' Until the War broke out, that was just what Paul Rosenberg did." Paul Rosenberg, with his gallery on 21 rue la Boetie in the 8th arrondissement (a spot which remains prime Paris real estate today) was at the top of his game in the 1920s and 1930s. He represented Picasso, Braque, Leger and Matisse, and had a particularly close friendship with Picasso.

But those glory days changed sharply with the onset of World War II. Using his connections and through considerable good fortune, Rosenberg managed to flee to New York in 1940 with his family. The art collection wasn't so fortunate however, and dozens of his paintings by Cezanne, Monet, Sisley and others were seized by the Nazis. In a cruel twist of fate, his abandoned Paris gallery was even turned into a Nazi headquarters, called "The Institute for the Study of Jewish Questions." Against the odds, Rosenberg set up a successful gallery in New York and, once the war ended, spent many years and considerable funds tracking down the stolen works of art. After his death in 1959, his son, Alexandre, Ms Sinclair's uncle, managed the gallery until the 1980s. And yet, of a once vast collection, Anne Sinclair claims to only have four important paintings left today. Given the struggle and difficulties surrounding the early years of her life, it's perhaps not surprising she wanted to move on from those days and create a life on her own terms.

She says that, growing up, she wasn't as interested in the world of art as she was in politics and journalism. It wasn't until she was 62 that she decided to probe her family history. The trigger was a commonplace event - she lost her identity card and had to go to the police station to renew it. While there, she noticed the harsh treatments of immigrants who have to fight to obtain or maintain French nationality. When she faced with an officious clerk who asked her to produce her grandparents' birth certificates to prove her Frenchness (Sinclair was born in New York City), she spat back with "the last time people of [my grandparents] generation were asked this kind of question was before they were put on a train to Pithiviers or Beaune-la-Rolande" naming the French camps where Jews were interned before being deported by the Nazis to concentration camps.

The event made her reflect. If she, a famous broadcast journalist who once sat as the model for the face of Marianne, the national emblem of France whose bust sits in every French town hall, had to fight to remove any doubts about her origins, what about everyone else? She realised that she could no longer ignore her past, and in 2010, a year before her husband would do the "perp walk" before the whole world, began to dig into her family's Pandora's box.

Before she began her research, Sinclair knew the broad outlines of her family history, but didn't realise all she would find. To her surprise, she discovered her grandmother had an affair with her grandfather's arch business rival, Georges Wildenstein. Rosenberg knew about the affair and wrote bitter letters to his wife, which he never sent.

Sinclair writes: "I feel unmoored in the face of such intimacy, and I turn the letters around in my hands, trying to work out what to do... I loathe absolute transparency, finding it voyeuristic at best and a bit totalitarian at worst."

Although in this passage Sinclair doesn't deliberately set out to reveal her personality, in it we can clearly see the same woman who rejected media intrusion into her life so vehemently in the wake of the DSK scandal. Throughout, Sinclair held her head up high and stood by her husband in the face of criticism from the whole world. Having journalists dig into her personal affairs must have felt like a violation, especially when the couple were trapped by the media in their Washington DC home in the summer of 2011.

In another interesting reflection, Sinclair explains that according to her paternal grandmother, when faced with adversity, you "button up" - grit your teeth and get on with life. It seems this has been her motto through her own life, too. Before all hell broke loose that summer, Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair were very happy together. They first met back in the late 1980s. Strauss-Kahn was one of her guests on her TV show, as president for the French Commission of Finance of the Assemblee Nationale, or French parliament. She was still married to Ivan Levai, a well-known radio journalist with whom she has two sons, David and Elie. But her love story with Strauss-Kahn was too passionate for her to resist. They first started seeing each other in public for lunch and at work-related occasions but then began having clandestine meetings with coded messages exchanged by beeper (long before the days of the SMS!).

In the end, Ivan Levai and Anne Sinclair put an end to their 16-year relationship and parted as good friends. They are, in fact, still very close. Notably, it was Levai who was one of the first people who came to Strauss-Kahn's defence saying that "I saw my sons' stepfather being guillotined." Perhaps, but this wasn't the first time that Strauss Kahn had been accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour. There was Tristane Banon, an attractive young French journalist who alleged she was subjected to an attempted rape by him during an interview many years before the scandal in New York, but was afraid to speak because of his political power. (Later it emerged that Strauss-Kahn and Banon's mother were former lovers.) Strauss-Kahn denied the allegation (according to reports, he admitted to attempting to kiss her) and accused Banon of slander. The French public prosecutors dropped the investigation stating that there was a lack of evidence regarding the allegation of attempted rape. Although there was evidence of the less serious charge of "sexual assault", that charge could not be prosecuted because it was time-barred.

Then there was his affair with IMF economist Piroska Nagy, which was revealed in 2008. In addition, the 2006 book Sexus Politicus by Christophe Dubois and Christophe Deloire, which focuses on the sexual habits and love stories of French leaders, linked DSK to Paris swingers club Les Chandelles. A journalist from newspaper Liberation wrote in 2007 that Strauss-Kahn's relationship with women 'borders on harassment.'

How did his then wife feel about that? Asked in a 2006 interview in the French magazine L'Express about her husband's reputation as a seducer, Sinclair replied: "I'm rather proud. It's important to seduce, for a politician. As long as I seduce him and he seduces me, that's enough for me." All of Paris whispered about their atypical relationship long before DSK's downfall in 2011, and they were described by friends as 'completely inseparable' and 'symbiotic'.

Yet Sinclair has never really cared what others thought of her. When she chose to stand by DSK, people asked how she could do so. In one of her few comments on the scandal, in a documentary about her life shown on French public television in April of this year, she said she hadn't known about most of Strauss-Kahn's extramarital affairs and sulphurous sex life. "You can believe me or not… But I didn't know. I didn't know." Given his reputation as a womaniser, people justifiably wondered if she was putting her head in the sand.

There's also been particular jealousy surrounding her wealth. Both she and her ex-husband have been accused of being champagne socialists. Through the difficult times, her family's money has certainly made life easier and enabled her to pay DSK's bail of $1m. Back in 2007, she sold a painting from her personal collection, Matisse's L'Odalisque, Harmonie Bleue, inherited from her mother, for $33.6m at Christie's. She's far from being the girl next door. But is that all behind her now?

In an interview in last week's French Elle (her first interview for 17 years, apart from a documentary made about her life which was released earlier this year) she says about that time: "I got through it, and now I'm happy." In the magazine's photos, she's radiant, with a long turquoise necklace bringing out the colour in her striking blue eyes, as once immortalised in a painting by one of her grandfather's artists, one of the rare female cubist painters, Marie Laurencin. She refuses to be drawn on her present relationship with Strauss-Kahn, other than saying that she sees him occasionally although other reports suggest that they only now communicate through lawyers.

She describes that moment in her life as an "earthquake" which is behind her now, and surmises she must be "pretty gifted for happiness." It's a happiness that she's rediscovered with Pierre Nora, a French intellectual, historian and publisher 16 years her senior. Although stolen photos of the couple were taken on the beach by French tabloids in August of this year, much to her dismay, she says that she's relieved her private life has once again become private. Not only that, but she's taking pleasure in her career, especially in her position at the Huffington Post. "She's truly exceeded all my expectations," her boss, Arianna Huffington is quoted as saying.

And public opinion of her in France these days is generally positive. Rather than running out to get revenge on her ex-husband, a la Valerie Trierweiler who just released her tell-all book about Francois Hollande in retribution for being unceremoniously dumped by the President last January, she's moved on, is working hard and keeping a low profile. The French find Trierweiler's outpouring of tattle tales as distasteful, preferring Sinclair's stance of remaining silent yet dignified.In any case, her successful comeback is in sharp contrast to that of her ex-husband, in terms of public sympathy at least. He has a new relationship with Myriam L'Aouffir, a communications executive from France Televisions, who is 20 years his junior, and he is said to have been offering economic advice to the South Sudan and Serbian governments. But his political career is well and truly dead.

After Nafissatou Diallo accused him of rape, a string of other women came out too, also alleging sexual assault. Last year, French prosecutors announced that Strauss-Kahn was to stand trial concerning allegations of "aggravated pimping" at the Carlton hotel in Lille, and the case is set to take place next year. For that particular case, Strauss-Kahn admitted going along to "libertine" style parties but incredibly, his lawyers argued he could not have realised the female attendees were prostitutes because he had only ever seen them naked.

As liberal as the French may claim to be when it comes to sex, there's no doubt his public image has been shot. These days, he appears as a figure of ridicule on Les Guignols, the French version of Spitting Image, swanning around in a leopard print bathrobe, holding a cigar and making sleazy comments. A film, Welcome to New York, loosely based on the events at the Sofitel Hotel and the ensuing fall-out, was released this year, with Strauss-Kahn reacting by saying he was "disgusted and frightened" by the film.

Will Anne Sinclair ever talk about those dark days of the summer of 2011 when she finished the book about her grandfather? Although up to now, that has seemed improbable, the last sentences of her book hint otherwise: "I never expected these pages, which opened with an identity denied in France, to finish on a forced, turbulent stay in America. But that of course is another story. If I were a journalist, I might one day write a book about it."

Sunday Independent

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