Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Being French

It’s a pretty well established truism that, given the opportunity, everybody would want to be French.
France, gramme for gramme and mètre for mètre, is just about the coolest place on earth. Restaurants to die for, art no one else has (the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, the Thinker), great and walkable cities, topless beaches peopled with folks that should be topless, except in August when the great unwashed and overweight-sausage eaters from that Northern-Country-no-one-likes take over. Also, we discovered radium. I could go on and on. The Brits have Shakespeare; we have Molière, Corneille and Racine, and a few others whose names I’ve forgotten. For a while, France was the gold standard of everything from food to fashion.
True, we didn’t win all our wars, but then again, neither has the US. The aroma of some of our cheeses will clear a large room, and our cars are either a century ahead of all others (the Citroen Maserati) or somewhat behind the times (the Renault.) We managed to pull off one of the great marketing schemes of modern times by foisting on others our Beaujolais Nouveau, a largely tasteless and pale young wine most French people don’t want; through ingenious manipulation of the oenophiles worldwide, we have made the rest of the planet believe the Beaujolais Nouveau is a rare and tasty treat well worth waiting for, and every year we manage to send most of it out of the France before it can pollute our palates.
We invented mopeds, windsurfers, disposable lighters, Gauloise and Gitane cigarettes, Braille,  cinéma noir and cinéma vérité, existentialism, Art Deco, oral sex, the Tour de France, the oboe, roulette, the metronome, latex, chrome, modern dentistry, the hypodermic needle, antibiotics, taxicabs, parachutes, SCUBA gear, outboard motors, the bayonet, smokeless powder and the tank. Oh, and we deciphered the Rosetta Stone.
All this, though, pales when compared to our greatest achievement, La Marseillaise. We have, hands down, the absolutely best national anthem ever written in the history of the entire world.  Not for us vague and useless bombs bursting in air, or a gracious queen, or verdant native earth. Everyone has that. We do not allow for defeatism (Poland Has Not Yet Succumbed) or idle boasts (The Portuguese, Heroes of the Sea, Noble Race.) Nor do we have to claim a public spirit award (Respect for Citizenship Is Strong in Our Ethiopia), or our ability to control minds (O! Dispenser of India’s Destiny, Thou Art the Ruler of the Minds of all People.)  
Not ujs.  We go for the guts. Allow me to translate the first verse of Monsieur Rouget de Lisle’s composition. In French, it is:
Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant élevé
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes,
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger nos fils, nos compagnes!
Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
Marchons! Marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!
In English, it becomes,
Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny's
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts
To arms citizens
Form your battalions
March, march
Let impure blood
Water our furrows
It amazes me that there hasn’t been some strange bloody Gothic movie based on our national anthem. Forget the amber waves of grain; we have slit throats and blood in our furrows.
Need I say more?

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