Kerry's French Connections: He's American

John Kerry's (search) relatives in France bristle at jabs from across the Atlantic that the presidential contender has a French connection.

They say Kerry has no link to France other than the home his grandparents bought here.

"John Kerry is incredibly American," says Brice Lalonde, Kerry's cousin and mayor of this seaside Brittany village. "He has absolutely nothing French about him."

For another cousin, Christopher Curtis: "This is an American story. John is an all-American guy with the benefit of having spent some time overseas."

With the race for the White House turning nasty — and France-U.S. ties not quite mended from the Iraq war — Kerry's Gallic clan, when questioned, talks up his American-ness. Some are keeping a low profile, saying too much talk about France could be political arsenic.

As Lalonde puts it: "I'm afraid to hurt him."

But that hasn't stopped the Frenchman from pasting Kerry bumper stickers on his car — hardly a common sight in this 16th-century village.

Saint Briac, near the port city of Saint Malo, is a place of rugged seascapes and narrow, cobbled lanes that inspired Renoir and other Impressionists. It was here that the Massachusetts senator spent boyhood summers and has said he traced his first inspiration to become a politician.

But nowhere on Kerry's official Web site does he mention his summers in France or the family estate, known as Les Essarts, a sprawling property on a bluff over the sea.

"Monsieur Bush is angry with France," says Ian Forbes, an 85-year-old Kerry uncle who lives at Les Essarts. "We don't want to accentuate the connection between Johnny and France."

Kerry's maternal grandparents, James Grant Forbes and Margaret Winthrop — a descendant of Massachusetts' first governor John Winthrop — bought the estate in the 1920s. They had 11 children, including the mothers of Kerry, Lalonde and Curtis, a British-American who lives in Paris. The home served as a summer hub for their cosmopolitan clan.

In his youth, Kerry joined the family gatherings while his father, a U.S. diplomat, was posted in Europe. Young Kerry also attended a Swiss boarding school and brought a touch of America to this corner of northwestern France.

"He introduced us to games like capture the flag. We still play something called kick the can," said Lalonde, who at 58 is two years Kerry's junior.

Politics also run in the family here. Lalonde served as environment minister under former President Francois Mitterrand. Like his American cousin, Lalonde ran for president. But that was 1981 and he received less than 4 percent of the French vote.

Kerry's campaign and his days in France have been widely reported here. A recent story in Liberation newspaper was headlined, "John Kerry, too Frenchy for the Republicans." It catalogued insults by allies of President Bush and the tendency of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to start speeches with: "Good afternoon, or as John Kerry might say, 'Bonjour."'

For Lalonde, Kerry's long, angular face "resembles Abraham Lincoln, without the beard."

The French media likes to compare John Forbes Kerry to another U.S. president, John F. Kennedy.

Le Monde's weekend magazine put Kerry on its cover recently under the headline: "JFK." The 11-page feature showed side-by-side photos of the two men striking similar poses decades apart — holding puppies in their laps as young men, standing at attention in formal military dress, looking pensive on the campaign trail.

Walking along a beach where Kerry and his cousins once played, Lalonde talked about their summers of swimming, cycling and tennis.

"We would take boats and go to islands and have a picnic. We'd go shrimping and have them cooked up in the kitchen," he said, pausing to add: "But don't write that. The president of the United States — it's not a question of going shrimping."

It was in Saint Briac, or nearby, that Kerry's parents met, when his father, Richard Kerry, was traveling in Europe before World War II.

During the war, the Nazis occupied Les Essarts and then destroyed it when they left. A family reunion was held last summer to mark the 50th anniversary of the home's reconstruction, but Kerry didn't attend.

Kerry told The New Yorker magazine that seeing the aftermath of the war in Europe kindled his interest in politics.

"My very first memory — I was 3 years old — is holding my mother's hand and she was crying ... as we walked through the broken glass and rubble of her childhood house in France, which the Germans had used as a headquarters and then bombed and burned as they left," Kerry was quoted as saying.

Kerry, a Roman Catholic whose paternal grandparents were born Jewish, lost two relatives in the Holocaust. His paternal grandfather, Frederick A. Kerry, was born Fritz Kohn in 1873 in what is now the Czech Republic; an ethnic German, he emigrated to the United States in 1905.

Kerry speaks fluent French — a skill that helped pave the way to his second marriage.

He and Teresa Heinz both attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and were seated at the same table. They struck up a conversation in French, said Lalonde. "And voila!"