Sunday, January 20, 2008

My Kingdom for a Torch

On January 21, 1793, at 10:22 a.m., Louis XVI, King of France, was guillotined at age 38. The execution took place on the Place de la Revolution, what is now known as Place de la Concorde.

Tonight, a group of a hundred or so French citizens and a handful of curious foreigners assembled in front of the steps of the Madeleine, just a block away from place de la Concorde, for the torchlit procession to pay homage to the deceased -- martyred -- king. There were all ages, from a young Scout to a white-bearded man in a beret. The crowds had gathered, and the organizers distributed candles and torches among the group. When queried about his reason for attending, one elegantly dressed man simply replied matter-of-factly, "Je suis monarchiste. Je suis Orleaniste." Someone offered me a torch to carry for the procession, but since I couldn't stay for the whole event, I had to decline.

My ability to explain French political history is woefully inadequate, so I'll leave it up to you to read all the links. My interest in participating in this event was to try to absorb the social and cultural significance of such a gathering, from my all-too-American perspective.

For those who are dedicated Royalists, on Monday there is a commemorative annual Mass for Louis XVI at the Eglise St. Germain l'Auxerrois (which, by the way, is not in St. Germain, but is just to the east of the Louvre). A solemn religious event where I would feel awkward as a curious onlooker.

Here's why: the naive prelude to tonight's story.

A year ago I dated Hubert, a most charming, witty, handsome, and very aristocratic Frenchman. My moving-to-Paris dream come true! After our first date, things were looking pretty promising. Actually, very promising indeed. We had such fun strolling along the Invalides, then relaxing and and discussing everything under the sun, from literature to education to America to why we love Paris so much, and how it looks like the backdrop to a movie. I was smitten, swooning.

After many sweet phone calls in the interim, Date Two finally rolled around. Hubert and I were delighted to see each other, and all was going well. Somewhere in mid-date he mentioned to me that the next day he was attending a church Mass in honor of the death of Louis XVI.

I giggled innocently, endearingly.

Wrong move. I'm sorry, I didn't really mean to. Hubert looked startled, and just politely restrained enough not to show being really vexed.

"Non, non," I tried to weasel out of my reaction. I wasn't making fun of it; how could I explain this to him? . "C'est charmant. Mignon. C'est adorable."

Wrong, wrong, wrong words to choose. I was trying to express to him... what? That I thought the notion of praying for a king who's been gone for over two centuries was a wonderful, old-fashioned thing to do. Like nothing I'd ever imagined, or heard of before. Sweet and different from my viewpoint. Alas, no amount of back-pedaling was going to get me out of this mess, for sure. It's just that as an American, no matter how well-educated we are, to us -- emotionally and spiritually -- kings and queens are on a par with fairy tales. We're breast-fed on democracy. I mean, think about it: in the US, to commemorate our dead presidents we have car sales in February. I couldn't explain this to Hubert.

How do you combine perplexed and vexed -- verplexed? Whatever the verb is, he was that.

We had a sweet enough remainder of the evening, dining and strolling around our beloved 7e arrondissement. As we parted at my apartment building entrance, he gave little cheek bisous and said, "A très bientôt. On s'appellera."

On s'appellera is the kiss of death, relationship-wise, in France. I haven't heard from Hubert since, though I held a torch for him for a long while. Sniff.


Oh well, I guess I can still carry a torch -- for Louis XVI. Next year.

16 comments:

www.passementeriesdiary.com said...

Oh that awful feeling when you've said the wrong thing and you *know* that trying to explain will just make it so much worse... I had meant to go to the procession (foreigner's curiosity) but quite forgot until you mentioned it! Oh well.... next year.

I love your blog, btw - I have been reading it through google reader for months. Did you only recently start allowing comments or am I imagining it?

Polly said...

Hi Passementeries-
It was a really fascinating event. There were a few other Americans there, and we all agreed there is simply no American equivalent.

As for foot-in-mouth: I keep trying to learn to keep my mouth bouclee but it doesn't always work, especially when I'm caught by surprise. Then I have esprit d'escalier and ruminate over what I should have said (or not).

The comments were finally enabled once I switched to a new template -- the old one had a glitch. Thanks for checking in!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I've looked it up at several online resources, and nothing. What does "on s'appellera" mean? Just so I'll know, the next time I get dumped by a French guy....

Thanks--Mary

Polly said...

Literally, on s'appelera means essentially "we'll call each other"

Pratically speaking it's like that New Yorker cartoon where the guy says into the phone "How about never? Is never good for you?"

Autolycus said...

Well.... I wouldn't presume to know what your ex-prospective felt about the monarchy issue - Orléanistes weren't flavour of the month with supporters of Louis XVI and his immediate successors. But historically, since 1870 monarchism has carried a lot more implications than just a nostalgic longing for Ruritanian titles and romance. Look at the URL on the flyer, and check the history books to see what Action Française stood for. I'd suggest staying well away.

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

I found your blog through Google. Your post was most enjoyable. I'm glad you explained on s'appelera. I couldn't figure it out. Well, if he was that upset about it, you probably would have had lots more . . . I'm an American, but I studied French in college and took an honors course on the revolution and Bonaparte. It was interesting background for a SAHM with a journalism degree.

I'll be back soon

Polly said...

Autolycus - thanks the the input. I did check out the web site, and that group certainly does have its own agenda. I don't know if all monarchistes are card-carrying members of Action, though. Very interesting. But I'm really a babe in the woods in these French political matters, but I'm learning!


Dee - a bientot and thanks for checking in. I had a roommate jr year in France named Dee...we had FUN!

Elisabeth said...

Hello, my Google Reader recommended your blog. I subscribed and am looking forward to reading more!

Tin Foiled said...

Hooray for comments! I'm not surprised to see so many people reading your blog -- I've been following it for quite a while.

I've been "on s'appellera"-ed more times than I care to count this year...

Polly said...

Tin Foiled, I feel your pain!

PeakVT said...

Hard to believe anyone takes monarchy or any kind of hereditary nobility seriously these days. But some people find hierarchy comforting, I guess.

radical royalist said...

The number of Royalists in France is on the rise. No wonder, when the counrty got a president who not only looks like Napoléon Bonaparte, but very much behaves like him.

Anonymous said...

About Hubert, it's not about being well-educated or democratic, but respect and sensitivity to another's culture. Your giggling was ignorant and rude. Maybe it's time for some sensitivity training , or at least some behavior changes. Or maybe more doors closing! It's time for me to stop reading your blog.

ONEDIA said...

Dear Anon, when one throws one's soiled linen out for the world to see it is usually (as in this case) a tacit or even overt admission that one has been rude and or insensitive and has learned from the mistake. I do not think Polly's post showed a lack of sensitivity, simply a false step that she recognized and regretted.

Life is also about deciding to be less easily offended and more forgiving in order to improve the understanding between cultures.

Anonymous said...

Respect and sensitivity to another's culture by the way is a two way street. Something your royaliste Hubert (and others like him) have yet to learn. Good riddance, Polly! Maria O. Russell

Anonymous said...

Hello: A friend sent me a link to your column which was really intersting. I'm sorry you and Hubert didn't work out. Sure sounded lovely though. Not surprised there are monarchists in France though - as there are people who would like to see the Romanovs reinstated in Russia. And there's a bunch of us Ricardians all over the world! That is people who wish to rehabilitate Richard III's bad reputation and attempt to tell the real story and not that according to Shakespeare's play (which is a masterful play but the Bard is not well known for his accurate sense of history!). The Richard III society is not only in England but also in the US, Canada, Australia, and many other countries around the world. I enjoyed your column and thanks!

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