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We'll Always Have Paris!

Dominic Hilton
6 March 2003

Unlike so many of my spineless colleagues, busy living it up in their Baghdad bunkers, I have spent the last week soaking up the vibe on the streets of America’s public enemy number one: France.

In Washington circles and Parisian squares, there is talk of a US–France divorce. The US accuses France of adultery. The galling Gaullists, it claims, have taken a succession of mistresses, including Iraq, Algeria, Libya, and even, on occasion, the Soviet Union. France shrugs its shoulders, saying America misunderstands the European joie de vivre.

Who, if anyone, is right? (If you don’t care, read another article.)

It has long been my belief that, unlike the dog-mess, one should never avoid the voices that litter the streets and cafés of Europe’s city of light. From a distance, or on CNN, the Paris street may look like a seething hotbed of anti-American Marxist radicalism. But carefully listened to, the voices of Paris are as multifarious, confused, and indecipherable as those of Tasmania, Timbuktu, and Tuscaloosa.

With a red scarf draped under my radical’s beard, I’ve been taking the temperature, which turned out to be decidedly frosty (although it was only February).

Here’s what I found.

(Warning: The following has been translated from French. As in the author’s celebrated interpretation of Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu – ‘Swann Has His Cake, and Eats It’ – some of the meaning may have been lost.)

My first stop was a delightful patisserie tucked behind the Sorbonne. After a few hours spent troughing on exquisite madeleines, I spoke to Marie Franc, the mademoiselle who stuffed my baguette.

“I’m not anti-American,” she said. “I’m just not pro-American, because I hate America.”

A fascinating distinction. And typical of the unrewarding responses associated with my interview style.

Then who, or what, are you pro? I asked.

She didn’t understand my question, and to be honest, neither did I.

“I didn’t vote for Chirac,” she said, in answer to my insightful probe. “Did you vote for Chirac?” “I voted for the Marxist–Leninist–Trotskyist–Splinter Alliance, and their philosophy professor candidate Pierre Boredom. They wanted to start a thermo-nuclear war with America, set up gulags in Toulouse, and generally turn France into a more progressive country. But now, Chirac is my hero.”

Why?

“Because he’s acting like a true Marxist–Leninist–Trotskyist. On current form, he could probably even get a professorship at the Sorbonne.”

I chuckled. Will Marie vote for the cad next time?

“Perhaps I will. Especially if he shows he’s serious about developing a sound gulag policy.”

I exited the joint and smoked over to Gare du Nord, abandoning the Paris street for now, and diving on a bullet-train to Anthrax, a small provincial town on the outskirts of Petticoat in Normandy.

We were closer to Britain, so it was raining. In fact, it was raining chemicals.

I spoke to Paul Mylèg and Michel Mygél, bosses of the preposterously-profitable VX Industrie.

“Saddam’s arsenal is almost entirely VX,” they said, proudly. “We sold him everything he’s got, except for the stuff he bought off our US rival: Rummy Chemicals.”

So, is war with Iraq a good or bad idea, or neither?

“War is terrible, always. It should only be a last resort, like after a joue de carte, or something. We marched in Paris. A war with Iraq would be criminal. We’ll lose our number one customer.”

Oh, the horror! The horror!

I shot back to Paris, faster than Superhomme, though with my red knickers under my tights. Unfortunately, and despite loitering in the sunbed lounge for over four hours, I couldn’t get an appointment with foreign minister Dominique de Villepin.

I had to settle for Dominique de Tiepin, another fabulously-dressed published poet who has developed a refined taste for international adulation. He was de Villepin’s right-hand man, and described his job as the highest ranking in all of France: brushing Dominique’s suits.

“Why does your entourage persist in pissing America off?” I asked, diplomatically.

“It makes us horny,” he said, I think.

So, it’s not because you are a French poseur who has a grossly over-inflated sense of self-importance, as well as an awesome quiff?

“Yes, that too!” he said. “We hate imperialism, especially when we’re not the ones doing it.”

Will you use your veto in the UN council, and scupper America’s chance for global Armageddon?

“It depends.”

On what?

“On what’s in it for us. If we get to look cool or sell loads of uranium, then we’re all for an apocalyptic battle.”

I was moved by his idealism, as well as his bodyguards, who chucked me out on to the Champs Élysées.

After indulging in a spot of window shoplifting, I had another go at listening to the Paris street.

“The clash of civilisations has begun!” said Mustapha Jihad, an Arab crèpe salesman. “Only, no one expected it to be Parisian chic versus Texan rawhide, huh? Grand Marnier or Nutella?”

After establishing that the last question wasn’t a metaphor, I went and sat next to Simone de Boudoir, crèpe in hand, and foot in crap.

“I know Jacques [Chirac] likes his backhanders,” she said. “We have often come together in l’Hotel de Ville.”

“Are you his orator?” I asked.

“You could call it that. I agree with him that proud members of Europe must be against America, or not be European.”

What?

“France, she is the leader of Europe. The childish east Europeans are what I call ‘The Second Sex’. They can’t stop nattering. They are like birds. Never know when to shut their mouths!”

Tired of listening to the masses, I packed a handbag and tottered aboard the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, destination Algeria, where the French Navy were conducting a series of atomic tests.

A camel-ride later, I was at the gates of the French Foreign Legion – where men come to forget about celebrity gossip.

Alongside the Tricolour, there was an advertisement billboard. It said, ‘The French Foreign Legion. Now in a new and improved Globalised version.’

Behind the gates, I found what I had expected. The Legion was full of American soldiers.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

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