Spring surprises you. You wake in the morning to what looks like a sunny day and within ten minutes clouds have obscured the sun and the sky looks threatening. Umbrella in hand, you go out into the street ready for a thunderstorm, which rarely comes.
Instead the sun peeks out again for two minutes, only to be immediately shaded once again by a bank of black clouds.
Metaphorical black clouds are all around as well. This is the last week before the first round of voting in the presidential election in France. No one, no one, I have spoken with is happy with any of the candidates. There are ten, but the four who are expected to influence the final decision are Nicholas Sarkozy, the incumbent on the right, François Hollande, the Socialist, Jean-Luc Melanchon, the far left, and Marine le Pen, the far right.
Hollande became the Socialist candidate after the expected candidacy of Dominique Strauss-Kahn crashed and burned. Hollande is viewed here as soft, not a real leader, but a change from the mercurial and not well-liked Sarkozy, who is seen as headstrong and powerful. Hollande vows to raise taxes on the highest earners, end tax havens and cap bonuses, rehire teachers, and expand government jobs, while Sarkozy plans to cut immigration even more, reduce government jobs and freeze France's contribution to the EU.
Sarkozy hopes to attract Le Pen supporters and has been trending even more right than usual (echoes of the Tea Party, anyone?) while Hollande has been uncomfortably pushed by the unexpectedly strong showing of the charismatic Melanchon, who has the support of what remains here of the once powerful Communists and of many working class leftists in contrast to the gauche caviar or intellectual left of Hollande.
The polls still show Hollande likely to beat Sarkozy in the second round in early May, but they're narrowing. Most voters I've spoken with don't have high hopes for economic improvement in any case. They're holding their noses and voting for the lesser of the available evils.