Dordogne diary

Back from a land wracked with division and despair, namely France, helping a friend to redecorate their retirement bolthole in the Dordogne. I was hoping to meet an author there, to sign my mint-condition copy of David Saunders: Rail at the Air but he was nowhere to be seen. Nor were many: wisely fleeing election time.

It was my first visit he first time since our mission of mercy to them in June 2020. Same old decayed ex-pat community in exile: they are still supping beneath the vines and trying to ignore the neighbour who thinks he lives on a higher plane of existence, and the French. It is the same of France too, a world apart but leaning upon everything, and at the moment it leans heavily. At this time of utter Frenchness, the Britons living here know how very much they are the étrangers.

As I left, the presidential election had reached its long, dark teatime of the soul, between the two stages: the rejection and the election.

What have they done done to deserve those two candidate? Micron and La Le Pen?  All the actual, sensible ones were hurled out at the first round – rejected for showing sense and so not being French enough presumably. Of the two left, and I do mean left, they have one is called a ‘centrist’, presumably like the black hole at the centre of the galaxy; and the other is a socialist described universally as far-right. She may be ‘far right’ on the socialist spectrum perhaps (and I meet lots of politicians who are on the spectrum) and it is fair to say that she would not be welcome in the Carlton Club.

It seems that, as usual,  the voters will do as instructed and chose the establishment drone who was elected pretending to be a rebel.

I can only assume that the French nation are suffering an eternal divine torment as a punishment for the execution of Louis XVI. They have not really been happy since the English Plantagenets left.

The alternative is that they are still trying to learn from their neighbours: Britain and Germany have both raged destruction over France, sometimes at the same time, and since then the French have taken an imitative joy in wrecking their country themselves.

Monsieur μ will remain in his closeted palace like Ulysses, “By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match’d with an aged wife” and all that. Each French ruler spends his time looking over his shoulder for powerful foreign rulers as our philosopher reminders us “And the practise hereof hath been seen on divers occasions; as in the Deposing of Chilperique, King of France”, or Henry V, or Alexander I of Russia ordering Napoleon off the throne in April 1814. Can you imagine today a Russian ruler choosing who should rule France? Ah – perhaps we can.

Nevertheless, until the blade falls, we could sit in the evenings with the zephyr drifting from the vineyards.  We rejected the cuisine Anglo-Dordognaise of the ex-pats: menus that look as if they have come from a 1970s sitcom version for France. This year Chloé came out to help. She prepared andouillette: that takes guts. It is not local fare, but her mother is from Normandy, so she is almost civilised. She knows a good magret too, which washed away the taste.

Home again when we could: another lucky escape from the EU, back to the land of liberty (and other fashion shops). Pleasant as it is, I pity those who live in La Belle France all the time and especially those who pay taxes there.

Oscars round-one-up

Thrills, surprises, and now we know why that carpet is red – the biggest camp-fest in the world hit our screens again. America punches above its weight in showbiz, and the annual shindig always strikes a high note.

Never mind that it is less sophisticated than a provincial Edwardian musical hall, just with a bigger stage and fake diamonds: this year we saw one burst of unaccustomed honesty, which shocked the world.

The heavyweights of the industry all gathered in one room, filled with confidence and with whatever they  managed to smuggle into the cloakrooms, were all there to celebrate themselves, their bank balances, their escape from the Epstein probe and most of all to laugh at everyone else; the little people who gave them every dollar they own.

The stars hit red carpet early – the men dressed to the nines; the women undressed to them, and the lens-men knowing what the newspaper wants to see to sell papers to men pretending to be interested in the art. We have missed all this over the lockdowns – not having the Oscars ceremony left a hole in the social calendar that showed us more than anything how much we did not miss it.

I feel for the academicians, pounded into submission by studio bruisers and frightened by social justice warriors, and each of them with a future career in the balance attacked from both sides.

To the punchline though: the awards themselves.

The most coveted award, Best Picture, pulled off a shock – award-watchers were convinced that any film where the protagonist is a whoopsie would sweep the field, but Power of the Dog lost it at the punch to an outsider – a film about a disabled family, CODA walloped its rival – a brilliant entry to tug the wokestrings that astoundingly was actually well made, and that in itself is a shock for recent Oscar trends. Benedict Cumberbatch struck out, but we have to applaud him for carrying a western film alone without shooting any of the crew dead during filming.

Kenneth Branagh, a big-hitter for half a lifetime, at last won the ‘Being Kenneth Branagh’ Award that has eluded him for all these years – and no one mentioned that one his his past wives has effortlessly won two.

For best actor though – Will Smith beat them all (and on camera too) – he’s not caused a gasp like that since he lamped that genie. But best not give him any publicity, eh?

Viewers may have clocked the real winner of the night: Dune was awarded all the categories that indicate ‘Not woke enough to win but it’s the real best film’.

It was good too to see that actress who used to have bit-parts in Mitchell and Webb tapped with a Best-Actress  nomination, which she never got for the ‘Avocado Bathroom’ sketch.

A new award for the audience favourite curdled the purists of this fake-festival, but a thumping great action film should win recognition. Army of the Dead though? Appropriate I suppose for a ceremony that is becoming zombified.

At least no one talked about Bruno, except Frank Bruno for some reason.

We may be reaching the end of the road of the Oscars.  It was clobbered by COVID and has taken a body-blow from changes in the market.  Audiences are dropping and the world of glitter and painted-on dresses is ever further away from the audience, for most of whom the cinema is a quaint word for a place they have never been. Next year will it even be held? The whisper is that it will be combined with the WBA World Championship.


It is still not our war

Pity, despair, horror at what man will unleash – all this and more tumbles from the heart. War is not a game and the victims are innumerable. Yet it is not our war.

History will judge, they say, but how we cannot know. Those weeping for their lost children will not wait for history and that is something about war: it is always immediate. Let history judge whom it will, capricious thing as it is; but we must look now and say this is still not our war, and making it ours, out of adventure or virtue-signalling with other men’s children’s lives, would make it very, very much worse. I know how history would judge a politician who claimed he had done a moral thing while standing in front of the irradiated ashes of London.

It can end, and will. I understand the characters, have met their ambassadors and read their words and been immersed in their shared culture: were I sent in to bat, I have no doubt that I would forge a settlement bringing five hundred years of unshakeable peace and the gateway to prosperity, and that I would be cursed by both sides for it even as they roll in gold.

It may be that history books will adjudge this war as an anomalous war of aggressive conquest, or another in a series of wars waged by European nations since the end of the Cold War, or as a war of reunification, which are always seen  in a kindly light. That does not help a widow flooding her street with tears today.

There is no more that it is safe to say. Maybe our grandchildren will read books saying “the West stayed on the sidelines, and thank goodness for it”. That is for their age though. For us it is day to day, and there is no more it is safe to say.

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Человек и час

Who could have imagined a television comedian elected in a fit of humour would prove to be a great statesman?  (Although you say the same of Boris Johnson.) Vladimir Zelenskiy has proven to be the hero his country needs in its greatest distress: head and shoulders above any politician.

He seemed an odd choice for the mantle of ‘statesman’: he has been known for prancing about the stage in knock-about sketches on the box, and starring in comedy programmes. Stuck in a political office, one would think him a pushover, and maybe the other Vladimir thought so so. Instead we have a ‘servant of the people’ in amongst the people, shunning offers to help him flee, as any politician in circumstances would, but appearing on the streets, encouraging resistance to the dictator to the north.

There is a bit more to the man than his slapstick television clown persona: this an entrepreneur, creator and mainstay of a media business. It is not like dragging someone from TOWIE and sticking them in the chair. That depth may have been missed by his opponent.

The Black Earth of the Ukraine, the open steppes and the once lawless Zaparozhe lands tug at the hearts of those who live there. It was from here that a Cossack tradition grew which drove east and south to conquer  and settle Russia’s vast empire, and this was inseparably a tradition of freedom from outside control and all the promises of endless frontier lands. This was also a land once filled with little, distinct Jewish villages scattered across the steppe in their own form of independence – they are no more since the SS swept over the land exterminating them, and Zelenskiy will feel that too, as his family were lost to it. The dictator’s boot is unwelcome here.

At the same time, the Ukraine is a part of wider Russian culture. It was in attempts to break it away that Moscow’s wrath was kindled. Here it meets a contradiction in the soul of the Rus’ though: the freedom of the frontier against the autocracy of the ruler. Here too is a paradox that will cause the campaign to fail: if the Ukrainian and the Russian are all one people, then how can one fight the other?

This land at the edge of empire is a threat to the autocracy of the centre because it has shown, with whatever imperfections, that those of Russian culture can have a democracy and freedom to speak and work.  If that is allowed to continue, it gives the lie to the nature of the Muscovite norm of autocracy. Previous Ukrainian presidents have played the same game as their neighbours, crushing opponents, playing an oppressive Sprachpolitik  and allowing corruption to run riot.  In Zelenskiy, a Russian-speaker himself, but an outsider to all sides, it has been possible to imagine another way – people are free to live, to speak and to work. It is work in progress. Local nationalism is nihilistic and artificial, but freedom; that is worth defending.

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From Diffidence Warre

And from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himselfe, so reasonable, as Anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so long, till he see no other power great enough to endanger him: And this is no more than his own conservation requireth, and is generally allowed. Also because there be some, that taking pleasure in contemplating their own power in the acts of conquest, which they pursue farther than their security requires; if others, that otherwise would be glad to be at ease within modest bounds, should not by invasion increase their power, they would not be able, long time, by standing only on their defence, to subsist. And by consequence, such augmentation of dominion over men, being necessary to a mans conservation, it ought to be allowed him.

Againe, men have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deale of griefe) in keeping company, where there is no power able to over-awe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him, at the same rate he sets upon himselfe: And upon all signes of contempt, or undervaluing, naturally endeavours, as far as he dares (which amongst them that have no common power, to keep them in quiet, is far enough to make them destroy each other,) to extort a greater value from his contemners, by dommage; and from others, by the example.

So that in the nature of man, we find three principall causes of quarrel. First, Competition; Secondly, Diffidence; Thirdly, Glory.

The first, maketh men invade for Gain; the second, for Safety; and the third, for Reputation. The first use Violence, to make themselves Masters of other mens persons, wives, children, and cattell; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other signe of undervalue, either direct in their Persons, or by reflexion in their Kindred, their Friends, their Nation, their Profession, or their Name.

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