Unfortunately, we have to start with Donald. We haven’t talked to a vast number of people here yet but there has clearly been a great deal of consternation. The French are now firmly confirmed in a long-held suspicion that the United States defies logic. Having been scolded for decades from the moral high ground of Washington for having a foreign policy high in self-interest and low in morality the French now find themselves with an American president-elect who neither believes in morality, nor practices it. And like every other nation they are worrying about how to deal with a man whose foreign policy pronouncements have been either ignorant, inconsistent or incoherent: and frequently all at once. The biggest concern however has been that what is now evidently a global pandemic of voter recklessness will bring Marine Le Pen to power next year; a woman who is too far right even for Nigel Farage.
Enough of that. A couple of weeks ago we went to a kite festival.
If you think of kite flying as a sedate activity this would have been something of an eye-opener. Monstrous great kites in every shape and form, racing kites and even astonishing formation kite flying. Spectacular!
On Friday 11 November we joined a small but very official remembrance ceremony in Taradeau for Armistice Day. As most readers are probably aware the First World War was utterly devastating to France. Whereas the United Kingdom and colonies lost a dreadful two percent of their population in that war, France lost well over twice that: over four percent — a staggering 1.7 million dead. The “Great War” casts a long shadow here, partly because the Second World War saw far fewer casualties and partly because that war that evokes uncomfortable memories. (As an environmental aside, vast areas of the French countryside became depopulated as a result of the First World War since there were no longer men to work the fields. It’s salutary to think that when you stumble across some deserted building in the middle of the countryside it’s quite probably a legacy of that terrible conflict.)
On the basis of this morning, French Remembrance Day services are very different from British ones. There are more flags, more formality, more open respect towards the military and in the brief speeches of course not the slightest mention of God. We went for several reasons. This is our community and these were wars in which France and Britain fought side-by-side. One other reason is that we were in Beirut on 23 October 1983 and we were woken by the twin explosions that devastated the American and the French multinational forces. The French suffered 58 deaths making it the worst day in the history of the French army since their war in Indo-China in the 1950s. Every so often, we find French war memorials with a long list of the dead of the First World War, a smaller list for the second and then, appended sadly to the bottom, the name of an individual who died in the blast. (The French soldiers incidentally behaved magnificently and at the end of that terrible day French patrols were driving around Beirut almost as if nothing had happened.) So in some odd way we find ourselves linked in to French military history.
Our presence was appreciated. There’s nothing like a ceremony around a war memorial to remind people that there are times when isolationism isn’t enough. Donald, please note.