FIDELMA COOK

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - cook­fi­delma@hot­mail.com Twit­ter: @fi­del­ma­cook

ON Sun­days like this, in the mid­dle of April, sit­ting out­side as tem­per­a­tures reach 28C, I oc­ca­sion­ally won­der what the few pass­ing French think of me – the woman at the end of her ta­ble; spring af­ter spring, book in hand, un­pro­tected face turned up­wards to a sun they turn away from.

Or per­haps that is the ul­ti­mate ego­ism; that these men – for it is usu­ally men – in their lit­tle white vans and speedy cars think any­thing of me at all.

I know all did at the be­gin­ning here. All won­dered about this soli­tary woman who had moved into LM, re­leased for the mar­ket once the old grand­mother died. (She didn’t die here. She had long gone on to richer things but clung to her beloved child­hood home with, and un­til, her last breath.)

They had be­come used to the odd An­glo cou­ple buy­ing their tum­ble­down wrecks for lu­di­crous prices, but a woman alone, with a dog of a race few had seen be­fore?

Of course I now know of all the thoughts they had then – or rather some of them, for how­ever close one gets to the ru­ral French one rarely hears all. Or per­haps it’s closer to the truth to say one only hears what they feel one would want to know.

Ba­si­cally some sur­mised that I had to be flee­ing from some­thing or some­one; was off my trol­ley; or was an artiste of some renown in search of soli­tude and in­spi­ra­tion.

And, and, and … so I’m told, with some there was a quiet pride that I found this area beau­ti­ful enough to leave the city flesh­pots of the UK.

Of course it was “the ex­pats” who spec­u­lated most about the fresh meat, al­though in time fa­mil­iar­ity bred con­tempt, as it of­ten does, on both sides.

We’re all Ma­tryoshka dolls here – open one and an­other nes­tles in­side un­til only a tiny one re­mains; and who is to say that one is the real one?

Such things I thought of as I re-read an old Stephen King book, The Stand, af­ter he tweeted his be­lief that Don­ald Trump could be seen in the main char­ac­ter. The com­ing apoc­a­lypse he wrote of was per­haps a lit­tle less chill­ing un­der a sun that was al­ready wilt­ing my newly bought, but still await­ing bed­ding, plants. And of course, run­ning in a par­al­lel di­a­logue al­ways these days in my head were Brexit and Marine le Pen.

I doubt, aware that most of the vil­lages around me are Front Na­tional, that those who drove by to­day were think­ing sim­i­lar thoughts. Or, if they were, they would be “good” thoughts, not the dark fears the FN bring to my mind.

Also to­day in a radio in­ter­view, le Pen, daugh­ter of the man who claimed the Holo­caust was a mere de­tail of his­tory, said the French were not re­spon­si­ble for the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv round-up in which more than 13,000 Jews were ar­rested to be de­ported to Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps. A third of those were chil­dren.

“I think in a gen­eral way, more gen­er­ally, ac­tu­ally,” she said. “Those re­spon­si­ble were those in power then; this is not France.”

Ah, but it is; Ma­tryoshka dolls again.

A few weeks ago I was shocked to hear the rea­sons why many lo­cals do not see a cer­tain pro­fes­sional man in the area. I al­ways thought his ar­ro­gance and man­ner had alien­ated them the way he had me. He is French but not from these parts. “So did I,” said an English friend who feels the same. “Un­til I was talk­ing about it with a French pal. He looked at me in mild as­ton­ish­ment. No, no he said – and he touched the side of his nose – it’s be­cause he’s a Jew.”

He told me this and we stared at each other; me in shock, my friend telling me yes, that is what he said.

I’m sure, even now, such things hap­pen in all coun­tries. I find it though, par­tic­u­larly ugly, bru­tal and al­most un­be­liev­able that it hap­pens here, where two world wars have left their mark on both the landscape and the peo­ple.

Such ca­sual anti-Semitism is so ab­hor­rent to me that I flinch from it, pre­fer­ring to be­lieve it is rarely ex­pressed and then only by the vilest of peo­ple. But the in­creas­ingly fre­quent sto­ries in our pa­pers of van­dal­ism in syn­a­gogue and ceme­tery tell me oth­er­wise, al­though there is said – said – to be a drop in the fig­ures.

And now le Pen has stirred that an­cient, fes­ter­ing pot again with her clumsy words, in some warped at­tempt to ap­peal to French pride.

Back at my spot out­side I wave to the farm­ers re­turn­ing from bu­colic lunches en famille, know­ing that soon all of them will place their tick against the FN on the first-round bal­lot pa­pers. Yet we smile and wave in ap­par­ent sol­i­dar­ity, all part of this lit­tle back­wa­ter in France. And per­haps they’ll won­der again just why I came here and why I stay; and I’ll won­der why the un­der­cur­rent of racism flows as strongly as ever in this country.

But I’ll go back to my book and they’ll go back to the fields – all of us Ma­tryoshka dolls.

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