Eleanor Beardsley

The brand new party of brand new French President Emmanuel Macron is poised to sweep parliamentary elections after a first round of legislative voting yesterday.

Official tallies show his party could wind up with more than 400 seats in the 577-seat French parliament after next week's final round. French news media are likening a party that barely existed a year ago to a tidal wave sweeping everything in its path.

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A group of about 30 volunteers gathers in a Paris park on a sunny afternoon for lessons in door-to-door campaigning.

They'll soon be trying out their new skills in the surrounding apartment blocks — plugging two young candidates from President Emmanuel Macron's new party, Republic On The Move.

Delphine O, 31, is one of the candidates. The half-French, half-Korean diplomat says she never imagined she'd be running for parliament.

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So the other big news we are following this morning is this.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

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"Emmanuel Macron was never a kid like the others," says French journalist Anne Fulda, who has just written a biography about the presidential contender titled Emmanuel Macron, un jeune homme si parfait, translated as "a young man so perfect."

Macron loved to read and existed slightly in his own world, she says. He always felt at ease and mixed easily with adults. Macron's most formative relationship growing up was with his grandmother.

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The French go to the polls Sunday to cast ballots in the first round of a political race like no other in France's recent history: Entrenched politicians have been swept aside, with fringe candidates and untested newcomers filling the void.

After Sunday, the field of 11 presidential candidates will be narrowed down to two contenders, who will face each other in a runoff on May 7.

If Marine Le Pen is elected president of France in May, she says she promises to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union. Her EU-skeptic stance is an unlikely vote-winner in France, where the EU is still very popular. That's especially true in eastern France, near the border with Germany, but even there Le Pen has some supporters.

When Maureen Hargrave, a 71-year-old American who lives in San Diego, wrote an email to the chateau of Versailles in January, she wasn't sure she would hear back.

"I went to the Versailles website," she says, "and pulled down the link, and just wrote, 'On December 16th, 1944, [Pearlie] Hargrave, my aunt, married Michael McKeogh, Eisenhower's aide de camp. She was Eisenhower's driver, and they were married in Marie Antoinette's chapel. Can I come see it, please?' "

It's creeping toward 9 in the evening, but a group of young people is still busy at the National Front party's office in Metz, in eastern France. They're preparing for a rally for their presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen.

Twenty-one-year-old Arnaud de Rigné remembers when he first became interested in the party.

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As Erwan Humbert turns his tractor off and climbs down from the seat, the rumble of a motor gives way to the twittering of birds. The scent of fresh earth fills the air. This baby-faced farmer, with his long, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, used to be an engineer. But the 44-year-old traded in his job in Paris' business district to grow organic vegetables in the countryside.

Humbert says he makes a good living, and most of all, he's happy.

"I might not earn as much as I used to," he says, "but I'm my own boss and now I can listen to the sound of the birds."

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In the southern French city of Toulon, 39-year-old presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is greeted by cheering crowds as he makes his way onstage at a rally. The former investment banker, who served briefly as President Francois Hollande's economy minister, has never been elected to political office. Yet he stands a good chance of becoming the next French president.

This year, the Paris museum that looks like a jumble of giant, colored pipes with an escalator in a clear plastic tube zigzagging up its side turns 40.

Nowadays, that museum — the Pompidou Center — has a secure place in the heart of Paris and in Parisians' hearts. But it wasn't always the case.

The carpeted prayer hall at the grand mosque in the French city of Bordeaux is full on a recent Friday afternoon. Behind a sculpted wooden railing on a small raised pulpit, Tareq Oubrou, a popular imam, is delivering his sermon in French as well as Arabic.

Bilingual sermons are rare in French mosques. Most Muslim clerics in France are foreign and speak in Arabic, which most young French Muslims don't understand. Oubrou says that's one reason why Muslim religious leaders are out of touch with a generation of French Muslims.

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A confident Marine Le Pen strides into a room in her new campaign headquarters, greeting reporters in her signature, husky voice.

The candidate takes a seat in front of a calming blue campaign poster that bears no mention of the National Front party or the Le Pen surname. It says simply, "IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE: Marine – President."

Ah, to work in France: plenty of vacation and a 35-hour workweek. And, as of Jan. 1, a new law that gives French employees the right to disconnect. Companies in France are now required to stop encroaching on workers' personal and family time with emails and calls.

On a September day in 1940 while much of Europe was engulfed in war, four teenagers were walking through a forest in southern France when their dog fell down a hole.

As they called for it they heard an echo. Crawling in to rescue the dog, the boys discovered a cave with hundreds of prehistoric animals painted across its walls and ceiling. It turned out to be one of the world's best examples of prehistoric art.

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