Marine Le Pen gets into town tonight. That’s what I heard. Did you hear, Marine Le Pen’s in D. the 29th. My reaction on hearing this was the reaction of a coma victim, but in the hours that ensued the fact had risen, put it that way, to my head (having already possessed a thigh, the both, an arm, the nape of the neck, little stiffer, the whole neck, the teeth and the jaw, nose by the nostrils because that’s another air you’re breathing now, temples, forehead, my ears, Marine Le Pen is on the ceiling, there she is, making herself at home having fixed up a little room with a bed for one, slipper chair, nightstand on which a Life of Georges Pompidou is resting, she’s switched out the overhead as it was slightly dated with its tulip bulb, she’s put up pink neon in the shape of a toucan and is enjoying a Twix bar while making an inspection of her lacquered toenails).
I don’t know her personally. Let’s say that I don’t know her yet, because in a little while, in seven hours, I fully plan on heading up the avenue to see her; she’s supposed to be doing what it is she does on General De Gaulle Square, and so will we be doing our thing, in consequence, on General De Gaulle Square. Whatever our intentions may be as we head up the avenue, we’ll all be there, we’ll be at least passing through General De Gaulle Square, whether preoccupied, nonchalant (hey, MLP in D.) or focused and concentrated (that MLP is in D.), and what I’m wondering is where she’ll touch down. In front of the regional paper’s local branch? Because what we could do then would be throw open that glazed door, and the blow would be dealt to her back; or we could watch her out the window, pressing our foreheads against it, squishing our hands to make visors out of them and breathing out a grey cloud, the office being unheated (the temperature being three degrees Celsius). But she’s going to have to pay a visit to small businesses, to the shopkeepers of the square, to shops that are, as you go up the square, to your right, and, going down, on the left-hand side.
Which of the shops can she be counted on to visit? Will she take them one at a time? There is, just after the local branch, a butcher, a very nice butcher that doesn’t wrap his meat in polystyrene, as she remarks, you, sir, don’t pack your meat in polystyrene trays, and when it’s mutton it’s local (and around here the sheep meat is great, we’ve even made a roundabout about it, which is to say that in the town right next to this small town, less than an hour’s drive from here, where sheep are slaughtered often, there is, as you get in, a roundabout with sheep, fake sheep naturally, real ones would have scampered off long ago, instigating traffic jams and I have no idea how many complications, these are fake sheep standing on their hind legs to wave in greeting at the passing cars), and the paper in which you wrap your meat, it is hygienic, it’s that butcher paper everybody recognises, two-ply, with one sheet of real paper to indicate the name and address of the shop as well as a proper pink cow’s head on a medallion, and here that would be a sheep’s head, or a pig’s, in profile or head-on, and then a second, transparent, duplicating the first and preventing meat from being inked with it if that ink were to sweat…but already she’s gone and ducked into the store next door having very carefully wiped her feet sheathed in a fine, not ostentatious leather on the mat fabricated especially for that store, a chocolatier’s if I remember right, chocolates, lollipops, and gourmet gifts, mmm, this campaign is treating me well, she says, I mean this countryside, countryside, love it, I love my job, she adds, and it really is a nice place, nicely decorated for Christmas, I saw you had a poster, what I like is dark chocolate, real chocolate not that sugary milk stuff, pair it with coffee, the best, good coffee and a couple of pieces of soft-centred dark chocolate and you feel pretty, prettier than when you came in, a poster that’s a bit dark but speaks volumes, Left for dead, on the mend, small business owners can’t hold out any longer, but not you, you’re with the resistance and quite right you are Madame, Monsieur – I don’t know if it’s a man or lady shopkeeper, I have to check – because a dead town is what we’ll have if that town’s small businesses go under, and dead towns make, they make for a dead country, oh how lovely, little chocolate animals, little milk-chocolate animals, upsy-daisy changed my mind, Joanie would just love these, she adores animals, she wants to be a vet, and with that she leaves the candy shop under a rain of whistles and applause, or no, a couple of whistles and a lot of applause, to make her entrance elegantly, manu militari, to the shop that’s next, a restaurant, a big restaurant where I remember a conversation with a waiter there who’s Greek. This was recent. I asked about what was going on in Greece (and that was funny, to ask after a country as if asking after a person). He was worried about his sister, a schoolteacher, because they were going to stop paying her. I made a mental note of this, that teachers, too, could be taken off the payroll. And the next time, I didn’t ask.
So Marine (as she is known to the press, a certain press, and to my family even though they think she’ll never win, too extremist; what they would like is her politics, without the extremism) steps into the restaurant with neoclassic detailing that she caresses with a look and both her hands, consulting the menu, filling the space with her lovely, deep and scratchy bluesman’s voice as she pushes out, that’s it, hazards a little ditty, a kitchen song, a song that puts one simply in mind of sustenance (the chocolates of the establishment preceding that establishment have whet her appetite, decidedly), you wouldn’t have anything for me, would you, sings she to the barman, who wouldn’t deny her a few peanuts. Into the cup goes her hand, which has the slightest bit of flab (she’s four years younger than me), and she ends up licking the salt from her fingers, one by one, one after the other, with those peanuts of yours you’re not messing around, she says to the barman, anyone can tell your clientele is spoiled. At that she turns on her heel and goes out the way she came in, followed by a little coterie, or by a seething mob, to be determined, only to stop short in front of the subsequent threshold, hesitating – will she, won’t she – I’m for all businesses, she declares, I’m with them, I don’t pick sides, she adds, not me.
She pushes down the metal handle resolutely to press on into the bookstore; to the left are travel guides; to the right, detective novels, postcards; ahead of her, prizewinners and new releases, novels; around the corner, at the back and to the right, foreign literature and, against the wall, paperback editions; by the register the handsome, gold-lettered Pléiades; to the left of that register the coffee-table books so plentiful at this time of year, books on art and film; in a backroom philosophy, sociology, economics, political books, books for language learning, comic books and manga; to the right, all the way at the back, literature for young people. She decides she will stay in the front room, grabs a Goncourt, makes for the register, I hear this is a very good Goncourt, could you gift-wrap it, it’s for my grandmother, please, unless of course she’s feeling spendy, and that’s natural, she goes all out, she picks out a ravishing book of 55 euros, a book about China, about Chinese vases, they really gave those Chinese a run for their money over in Moustiers, am I right, she says, because she’s been cramming everything there is to know about the region, she put her little Louis to the task, or little Mathilde, gave ’em the job of whipping up a little briefing, on the region, a little briefing for mama for next week, I want to know everything, and she does, better than most of the locals she knows about Moustiers ceramics real and fake, about grotesques, about design in the style of Bérain, Féraud, Ferrat, about the old-fashioned pharmacy jars, the long and rectangular combs, the jugs that are traditional, and even about contemporary earthenware, she knows there’s such a thing as a dinner service created by celebrated Swiss artist John Armleder, a conceptual artist, such a thing as a facsimile circular saw and blue-and-white gas bottle decorated by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, the one who put tattoos on a pig (amusing, if over-the-top). She squishes the big book under one arm, bids that bookstore adieu, hands the book off to her bodyguard, it had been weighing on her, and soldiers on toward the bar – the one that spills over and onto the square when the weather is pleasant as it is from February through to November.
She goes in blowing on her hands having taken off the gloves she’d put on promptly upon exiting the bookstore after passing off the book on earthenware to her bodyguard, ah that’s the thing, it’s a bit chilly here where you live, one feels the mountains not far off, I guess it’s like that in this season every year, oh in Brittany it is a little more temperate, but then of course the sky is less blue, the mountains less violet, rivers don’t course over pebbles in wide beds, and with this almost Provençal architecture, these yellow shutters and the roofs lined by Genoa tile, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were in the North of Italy, I was just up the street, and all the faces were orange with light from the setting sun and everybody squinting in the light that was unreal, a little dog trotting along to make its crossing in the crosswalk, an older lady with her teeth out downing fresh baguette, a child wailing at a tree in fury as the parents laughed, and that’s when I realised, hey, I’ll go ahead and visit the businesses on the square, I’m in town only an hour, see, but I felt so good as to reflect, inwardly, that if I didn’t already live in Hénin-Beaumont I’d move here, that’s right, chez vous, for real, isn’t that right, not one of those secondary residences that are always boarded up and smell like it when the time comes, once a year, to open up again, not one of those speculative properties that you buy up just to sell out but a house, a family home, a solid building heated by woodstove, or gas, doesn’t matter, I don’t take sides, but with in any case a beautiful chimney before which we’d sit, evenings, after a meal, cat on our laps, you know what I mean: there’s nothing better. I’d pick one up on that hill over there, that one, see, on the southern slopes because, come on, north side that has to be freezing where you live; there’d be light all day long, no need even for a porch, and that’s where I’d recuperate after my campaigns, recover from the travails of political life, it’s terrible, you’re on the road all the time, from the fatigue that seizes me by evening, when you take off your shoes to see your feet are shaped like shoes (massage doesn’t do anything for it, and neither, believe me, will bath salts), from the constant stress, because you need every answer ready before the question’s even asked, from having to calculate six or seven steps ahead, from all this back and forth with sweetness and brutality, conviviality, reserve, because you have, obviously, to protect yourself, otherwise you’ll be eaten alive, you’ll be eaten alive by your own party, by the base (not that you can say that) and by the voter, who is always wanting an apartment, a backyard, a car, an extra hundred and fifty a month in order to eat, or make phone calls, and the hotels, I’ve done every hotel in France, let me tell you, everywhere my father was, I’ve known them all, two stars on up because it’s not like I only stay at three or four-star hotels, don’t believe what you hear, I love me a little family inn, where you get there and settle in as if at home, there’s a good bowl of soup waiting for you, bread that has not been defrosted, beef, cakes with cream, a digestif and coffee (for me personally coffee doesn’t stop me getting to sleep at night, I’m a lucky girl, not the type to call it a night at herbal tea, I’d never turn down coffee and a ciggie, and though I am smoking in moderation at present I see no reason to deny myself this pleasure, the tobacco industry happens to be a jewel in the crown of French manufacturing, and if they persist, that National Assembly, in passing all laws sensical and non, well then cigarettes will be bought and sold in back alleyways by street vendors such as you see teeming in some neighbourhoods of Paris, and so you, you have to know what you want: for me, that means going into a real tobacco shop, a tobacconist’s – you know Fernando Pessoa’s wonderful poem, ‘The Tobacco Shop’? – and, looking that tobacconist in the eye, asking for my pack, and letting my money fall tinkling as I go, using a nail to lift the plastic by its tongue, of the package, feeling the filter on my lips, lighting my lighter, sucking in a gulp under the purest sky, and wandering every bit the flâneur as I think of a skirt, or what kinds of things I’ll say to my cabinet director after I take office), I’ll have mulled wine, please, with cinnamon, there’s nothing like mulled wine this time of year. She swallows that mulled wine, or not, to applause spearheaded by a couple of henchmen. At that, heels clacking, she takes hold of the doorknob and leaves, on to the next.
Next up, as she’s planned it out, as has been planned for her with slickness like that of a Quebecois celebrity’s marketing team (that excellent marketing team), listing the TV shows she’ll valiantly go on one after the other, with a full précis of the scenery, host, the dress to wear, the time devoted to this or that guest down to the minute, the broadcast time she can in consequence expect to get, and of course the ratings, big and bold in black-and-white across the roadmap, for she has a detailed roadmap, the names of all the businesses are there in order, and what they have in stock, how long they’ve been around, the time she must devote to each of them (the hour of her visit divided by 12 businesses = 5 minutes/business), and so she knows just what types of business she’ll find after the regional paper, butcher, sweetshop, restaurant, the bookstore and the bar, or rather she knows approximately, these cretins she has for staff having failed, once again, to do their jobs, having indicated a bakery when what they meant to say was butcher (it’s not the same thing), or a florist’s in place of a chocolate shop (in December, that’s just everything), or a real-estate agency when, whoops, it’s a bookstore, or: uh oh, it is a real-estate agency, yet another real-estate agency, clearly we’re in the South of France, and what a relief it must have been when she saw that bookstore show up – ahh, finally some down time, I’ll stroll around, have a look at the nice books (and in December, there’ll be some magnificent ones, and plenty of them, I might just think about making the best of things by doing a little Christmas shopping since, with municipal elections coming up, there will be time for absolutely nothing) – , a wine bar when all it is is a bar, a corner bar, a dive that is, fine, sure to have clients but serves the cheapest wine, barely drinkable even with cinnamon in it, heated up (cheap and mulled), a cheap wine that must be heated up if you don’t want to be overwhelmed with bitterness. Unless, that is, the roadmap can go to hell: all the towns turn out alike, and they’re none of them her first rodeo.
Rodeo after rodeo: the instant she sees a shopkeeper’s mug, she knows just what to say. For a couple of seconds she scans what’s on view, the positioning of the counter, stretch of the shelves, hue of the walls, hang of the fixtures, number of people working and here we go, signed sealed delivered – ad hoc she spits out that saying and rarely does she fail to; increasingly rarely does she have cause to bite her tongue and mutter Fuck fuck fuck I fucked up, I addressed a piece of clothing with a price tag of 400 euros like it was Promod (and what I did then was plow on, full speed ahead: but what a gorgeous sweater, Madame, with its autumnal palette, chestnut, parmesan, what I mean to say is plum, and that fabric, assuredly wool, and certainly not made in Pakistan, Azerbaijan, or Balochistan), and so yes, the roadmap can go to hell, because it is, in a word, useless, maybe not for someone starting out, but for her, even starting out she wasn’t one to turn things over to a roadmap, that’s not how you learn the trade, not that way because there are bad surprises always, this is France, organisationally it goes south every time, no mystery there, within a party, even a tight-knit one, there are at most four people you can count on, the others being too busy with their vaudeville of scrambling to right the errors of their comrades, of the last guy who changed around the work of the guy before just to be doing something although that was a rare case in which there was, for once, nothing to be done, and so she is completely free of roadmaps as she lets her eyes come to rest on…on…but of course, this was always going to happen, because what we have here is a kind of store that never goes out of business (much like the funeral parlour), never but never, whatever happens with that thing we’ve called since Saint Louis the national economy.
A bank. What will she do with a bank? If she goes in there team and all, they’ll think it’s a robbery (panic at the counter, alarm, call the police, that’s just what she needs), Nous étions (she sings) vingt ou tre-e-e-nte, brigands dans une ba-a-a-ande, tous habillés de bla-a-a-anc, à la mode des marchands ! (but I’m getting carried away, by day’s end it all blurs together) La première volerie-e-e-e, que je fis dans ma vie-e-e-e, c’est d’avoir goupillé la bourse d’un, vous m’entendez, c’est d’avoir goupillé la bourse d’un héritier… (articulation, ar-ti-cu-la-tion, hé-ri-tier that’s it); well then, if I make no mistake, the government had in mind that it would separate out investment banks from savings, and we still haven’t had a good look at that law, and meanwhile who was it put an end to separating savings and investment, way back in the eighties? Mitterrand, of course, and Mitterrand’s cronies, most of whom are once again in government positions, why ever undo what they did just yesterday, upon which she whips out her Mastercard Gold, sends it plunging into the machine, and, at top speed, withdraws 300 euros. Pivoting, she heads back up the street toward the travel agency, the one on the corner angled 10 degrees the rest of us have trouble rounding on a bike. It’s strange to see a travel agency, gables on the roof, in this, the Internet era, she thinks, nobody books their tickets physically anymore or makes their hotel booking that way… But of course, little old ladies, I say, the elderly couples of this rural area who don’t have any Internet connection and yet treat themselves, from time to time, to a tour by bus of Nice during Mardi Gras season or a Michèle Torr concert, in Marseilles, or, in Carpentras, some extravaganza, and then in Valréas taking in an air of country music, in the markets of Var a bit of thrifting, and don’t think I’ll be the one to say a single word against Mardi Gras in Nice to pick just one example, our Nice Mardi Gras is better than that, Nice Mardi Gras, above it all, the big-box stores themselves may have fallen to exhaustion, they’ll still be making garlands out of lemons, in Nice they’ll be assembling furniture out of lemons, in Nice, puppets, giants, bicycles, World Trade Centers and Mercedez-Benzes all of lemons, in Nice, god, a travel agency that’s still in business! she exclaims, with hardly a care for the traveller or elderly couple or – who knows? – crew of 22 seniors ready to join in her urban pilgrimage through the alpine foothills, in she goes (as a bell, wire-suspended, tinkles against the well-scrubbed window)! The World Wide Web is simply no reason for business to be a synonym for anarchy, for the fat cats to get fatter while all the while roughing up the little guy, and I would take that a step farther: they sabotage him, yes they do, because what we’re looking at in cases like that is sabotage, and when everything but everything is bought and sold through e-commerce, and by a single site because obviously at the end of the day we’re going to have just the one site just as there is a single click, with a click we’ll buy our nail files right alongside that flight to Azerbaijan or, I don’t know, any old country, with a click, a click offshored to Qatar, and once you’ve gotten there what’s next (I remember the way my grandfather would say that, gotten for arrived)? Now that we’re here, I submit I don’t think MLP would hold opinions quite so ridiculous as all that, I don’t think she’d say such things about lemons or Qatar, and obviously, around here, we are not all of us logged on, all of France doesn’t live in Marseilles also obviously, still less do they all live in Paris, we’d perhaps rather the global population lived in cities, too bad: The provinces! and still better than provinces, better than the French departments, better than the regions: the country, the countryside: the countryside countries, that’s what’ll keep on existing for and against everything, there are places where animals still are raised, where you can get tomatoes to grow in the summer, where you run off after eggs and find them where chickens have been sitting, warm eggs to which a feather sticks, where you give a walnut tree a shake, the nuts fall right out, give a plum tree a shake…, give a shake to an apple tree…, but not to a peach tree! Too cold for that ’round here, you’re in the mountains: the mountains, dominion of ski lodges, of a lack of snow or that of too much snow, standing tall, countries will assert their rights, Madam, don’t give it a second thought, countries will be sovereign again, and, when countries are sovereign again, Madam, I’m asking? When the people of this country become, once again, sovereign, when the individual regains his sovereignty, as she spits out in a bastardy of Georges Bataille, a hair or two incongruous – a tumult is coming, she continues in the same vein, a rational, terrible storm bringing vicious politicians to their knees, and she leaves off, seeing the shopkeeper begin to pull his eyes wide and, embarrassed, wipe his hands against a mohair sweater.
At that she turns away, kicking the sticking door, grounds herself with a hand to the building’s corner, makes her way around it effecting a shove to go back past Sullivan’s, bar on whose terrace bocce gets played to the tune of biker music; ah, that’s my jam, she thinks, though she’s never so much as sat astride a bike in her life, imagine, on a moped, in Neuilly, 14 years old, below the helmet she’s been loaned singing the Lili Drop song that was big: Sur ma mob je suis bie-e-en/je suis bien et je ch-a-an-teu/, huge in the eighties, typical, because MLP is an eighties baby, a baby of the Mitterrand era whatever she says, a baby of the Mitterrand generation as much as she is generation Le Pen, a generation as much a fish in water at Assas as it was in singing a Lili Drop song while sitting on a bike, a generation just as happy getting coked up at Les Bains as it was in making a modest donation to the fashos that were coming up, a generation wearing Yohji to mass at Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet, a generation that did up Joanie’s hair in a mullet, a generation of which the male half got on her nerves so bad it saw her wed again three times in pomp and circumstance and Latin, a generation on the pill with little tolerance for Simone Weil, OK, a generation in all this identical or almost to the generations that preceded it immediately, or where would it have come by those ideas, all these inventions – the Mitterrand Spirit? Mitterrand was not enough for that, all Mitterrand did was give a kick in the rear to those on their way out who’d shown it, because there were not only, oh no not only Soixante-Huitards in ’68, and, with such Soixante-Huitards as there were worn-out and ageing, pretty soon there was no one in France apart from the non-Soixante Huitards; and these people were happy enough, by the way, in 1968 when, after the June vacation, everything had broken (thanks be I’d taken June vacation days, I get home to notice all is over, luckily, as you were, I can pick up with my habits, my little routines as they said to themselves in petto, which means between themselves, not publicly, those who’d been planning on July to take a nice trip having borne the brunt of protests all that June), because there were not only, oh no not only strikers and conformists, in 1968, that tide had turned to the relief of those left standing on dry land, and it is today amazing to think that we see 1968 as this year brimming with Soixante-Huitards when it was basically a year much (‘much’ being operative) like any other, filled to the brim with non-Soixante Huitards, who didn’t want to be and weren’t, who wished only for nobody to confuse them with those shitty students ever, pieces of shit ignorant of life’s exigencies or workers wanting their excuse, wanting a break, and among those workers workers who absolutely did not want to be confused for those among them yearning for a break or out, just as there were among the students students desperate not to be mixed up with striking students or with shitheads – a minority, granted, but after June, 1968, what happened was a miracle: that July 1, those who didn’t want to be confused found that they constituted a formidable majority, a crowd rising up to say, this time publicly, that it was going to the beach.
There was a miracle. That’s why we get together at Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet and, even today, sing in Latin. You have to remember about the miracle that it was planned out in advance throughout the seventies and eighties by people not at all embarrassed to praise, to the heavens, getting funding from the feds, to sing the praises of the safety net and look down on the guy on welfare or else who noted that the nursing staff in hospitals was getting blacker and by the way, in the family we all know the ‘Partisan’s Song’ by heart, watch: Ami-i-i/entends-tu/le chant noi-i-r/des corbeaux-eaux-eaux/sur le plai-neu, soon every service we get medically will be from black people, you need a special dispensation just to get a nurse that’s white, you’ll get a black lady whose great-grandmother was, in Guadeloupe, a slave, I’ve had enough, that will be quite enough, she might say, if you could for one second stop talking slavery and let me get to work, this minimum-wage worker might say, and reasonably enough those unable to prove they’ve been looking for work lose their place in line, as an unemployed individual whose place in the line is gone remarks, anyway it’s not like looking for work makes a difference, that guy adds, disinterested, and I don’t know why, pipes up a man who’s homeless, those without any social-security coverage at all still get cared for at the taxpayer’s expense, at the end of the day it’s always the same guys paying, he observes, using two fingernails to crush a flea as it ends its life a stowaway on his overcoat, so last year I’m in lockup, he goes on, and what do you do, there’s no room, you put in three guys, understandable, to a place size of a phone booth, for years and years they’ve been needing new prisons, he continues, no sense waiting until it’s too late, remarks a retired lady, back on the job, I’d worked my whole life anyway and was just getting bored so, that works out, lucky me, she goes on and, reaching the door to Sullivan’s, giving it a nudge, casts a connoisseur’s eye on several fellows, men who are lingering, with beers, before the bar, hello my good sirs, hello hi (I, imagining them, peep up), hello Madam, she waits to hear in reply, or even a bonjour Marine; yes, she can really hear them saying that: Marine, how are you, just like that easy come, not serious but friendly almost, warm even, helped there by the beers, or, no, sober, with a conscience: bonjour Marine, we have been waiting, there is no one left to save us, yes voilà, that’s what they’ll say, we have had enough of this France that does not run smooth, we are sick of paying money and working for other people, I am for my part a trucker, you see, and these days that is, with taxes, impossible, God’s honest truth I cannot live, once I have paid my bills, phone, gas, water, electric, I can’t get groceries even discount, I can’t afford groceries, not even disgusting ones, German import, even German food is too expensive for me and my family, at home we eat sausage, does that sound like kids’ food to you, eggs and sausage, sausage and eggs, that’s what I give my kids to eat, good thing they get lunch at school, and even that is, they tell me, disgusting, because ever since a regional policy was passed about the food we get it’s the same, from Gap to Saint Tropez all the kids eat sausage and eggs, even in Saint Tropez, oh yes Marine, kids get that fatty, indigestible stuff for lunch; voilà what they’ll say to her, forearms upon the bar, and to them she extends a hand that is firm, a generous hand, an entire hand of hers…that they push away.
So she extends, once again, a firm, whole, and generous hand, renewing her gesture…they push!
She fishes in her bag for a Kleenex, blots her forehead, bonjour, bonjour messieurs, voice quavering – but they turn their backs on her, one guy belching, and, as one, lift their beers.
You might have done your homework, she says to the team sneering, whistles for her staff; the door is closed.
Well, fine, she’s had experience of others like them, truckers who wouldn’t condescend to speak to her, why not, beer guzzlers who keep her at arm’s reach, go on, she’s had plenty of socialists respond by sucking up, students at the rather prestigious Écoles Normale and of Administration as well as sometime Trotskyists, union men, I could go on, professors in anything you like, survivalists, architects, globalists, you know what I mean (addressed to her team), you know what I mean, there’s nothing to know, no logic in it ’cause there’s never been anything like logic in political decision-making, in political choices, logic has nothing to do with it, I should know, we ought to know, I and my family members, given our position, in my family, she says, referring to her sisters and, increasingly, her niece, my niece, who has the same name as me, Marion, my niece, that is to say the daughter of my sister who was christened by my own sister with my name I already had, does that make sense to you, does it seem to you reasonable that my sister whether in homage to me or erasure gave my very own name to her baby, and that niece has gotten her start, got herself elected to office, my other sister, similarly, works for the Front, married within it, we’ve all gotten hitched more than once, in the Front, and did we ever for a second ask the question, question ourselves if, for instance, we might not want to take a look around, around another Front, going by some other name, did we not ever stop to think if, at day’s end, it might be worth our time to give another job a try, to keep on lawyering, build a business of one’s own, are we all not mere daddy’s girls, seems possible, to the point of straining her voice, contouring that beautiful low voice ravaged by cigarettes, or did you think I hadn’t thought of that, had you perhaps suspected that, at 44 years old, my mind remained pure of the thought, are you perhaps of the opinion that politics is not first of all a family affair, it’s a family drama, you’ve forgotten all about that comment made by a certain ex-socialist with origins in the Var or in the Bouches du Rhône (I don’t know anymore if it was the Var or Bouches du Rhône, it’s always one of those if not the other), that ex-socialist who could explain her decision to leave the PS and join the FN only by saying she felt, at last, at home, among family, and if the socialists were a distant, chilly family, which is to say no family at all, the Front was hot: a family. Absent father, absent mother, children left for dead; kids unable to identify any dad in ‘Dad’, any mom in ‘Mom’, not so long ago grown adults in speaking of their parents would say decently, ‘my father, my mother’, until, little by little, you heard them say ‘Dad, Mom’ (instead of ‘my father, my mother’), you heard it from people on the radio, interviewed knowingly with the knowledge that they were speaking publicly, ‘Dad, Mom’ instead of ‘my father, my mother’, and then I heard it from people in my circle, out of the mouths of people otherwise decent, modest, ‘Dad, Mom’, even ‘Daddy, Mommy’, just like little kids, like a child of seven or eight (at eleven they’d stop, mortified) yet one fine day nobody had any shame, everyone set to wallowing in the great bath of family matters, blowing their noses in that incestuous bath, that’s how a representative who had been elected as a socialist came to say in perfect seriousness that because that’s how things stood, in the Socialist Party there was for her no dad or mom, she’d go to the Front, where there was not only a mother, she was pretty – this, by the way, is one of the reasons I just recently lost 10 kilos: I mean first because, true enough, as a smoker, whenever I find myself going up an incline like this one I wheeze and badly, but also too, do you think it quite possible to put oneself up for election while resembling, I’m so sorry, a hippopotamus, condition number one, let’s say number two, in running for office (let alone president), is that of not looking like a woolly mammoth, go on a diet, and I felt great, it really did me good, the political is, after all, personal, she remarks on her way into Tiff’s, one of the numerous hair salons there are in my city.
It’s funny, because I was just talking to my ophthalmologist of 20 years, who rattled off a list of doctors that have closed up shop, the gynaecologist (no more gynaecologist), the optometrist (no more optometrist), two surgeons (no more surgeons), the homeopath (no more homeopath), five generalists who’ve taken their retirement; but there are always, on the other hand, plenty of hair salons. Why is that? It’s a career that you can pursue in your hometown, I thought; if you go in for archaeology, truck driving, surgery, veterinary medicine, or shepherding you have to go, leave your little city behind, but it’s possible to get a job as a hairdresser, cashier, or salesperson without too much trouble and in that way avoid going. Not leaving is my plan, too, though I’m no hairdresser, because in this city you feel at home (it’s a kind of bedroom extension; I’ve gone out for bread in slippers). The doctors might all die, and I wouldn’t leave, I won’t leave this area that’s not mine, it’s not my home, but I have to say, I’d be very happy living here because Hénin-Beaumont is, you know, no party; once you’ve tried the spiked espresso all there is, all we have by way of activity locally is the harvesting of a tall grass, Calamagrostis, and the contriving of watering holes out of adjacent puddles, thus I pull on my galoshes and head on out for a congress with my locals; you know, Mademoiselle, the big difference between us and our competitors, she says to the hairdresser, is that we don’t do campaigning just once a year, during the election season, we do it all the time, every day, in any weather, I’m asking you to understand that it’s not easy, if I had to count up the number of times I’ve had things thrown at me, I’m not talking about insults, nasty things I’ve had to hear (that’s why I never leave home without my umbrella, you never know what they’re going to throw at you), I get asked a lot if I’m a real blonde, you know my mom, her blondness, the beauty of my mother, does that ring a bell for you, you’re familiar with the appearance of my sisters, my niece, my father always loved beautiful women, she ventures in extending her gloved hand toward a client, who will not shake it, toward another, who does, to another who will not, to the next, who accepts, as all the while a hairdresser carefully traces the part in a head of hair and paints, like a piece of furniture, with the back and forth of a flat brush, the straight, parted hair of the last lady in the row, looking in the mirror. Then Le Pen makes her move back to the glass door, lets one of the boys open it for her, and sets course for the Cock-A-Doodle-Do Café – with a name like that, a little coffee break would seem to be in order.
She looks over the façade featuring a horse butcher’s crest adorned with Cs in gold and crimson as they say in rugby country, in Languedoc and Roussillon, in Provence (an image obviously, it’s a manner of speaking, speaking about coats-of-arms, crimson for red, gold for yellow, red and yellow is just not as good as gold and crimson, that was their big discovery, those knights in olden times, it’s not like we’re going to say red and yellow like a serf [not the water sport, that’s written with a u], gold because that’s what we have, and if we don’t have it we’re going to get it, crimson because we’re always slaying as a wise-guy might say, no actually, crimson because our blood is blue [speaking figuratively, obviously], blue like Virgin Mary’s mantle, blue like the firmament [by which I mean sky], blue like scorpion grass, like forget-me-nots, blue like the song Plus bleu-eu-eu/que le bleu de tes yeux-eux-eux/je ne vois rien de mieux/même le bleu des ci-eux-eux-eux [that’s the plural of ‘sky’ in French]; basically, blue like the blue of every metaphor that’s been said, written down, or interposed ever since we stopped thinking of nobles as having a particular kind of blood, to the point that we really at day’s end have a poor understanding of what was in the first place meant by blue blood, it is thought to have been a manner of speaking, that’s all, poetic imagery, from the poetry of the Middle Ages, which was a very poetical epoch). With this LP, horsemen in tow, lifts a heel, positions it on a step of the CC, and with a shoulder, a rather masc shoulder (my first name has my father’s, Jean-Marie, built in), shifts the door, goes in, God only knows what took hold of me, you know to what point a campaign can fatigue, you have no idea, the fatigue builds up, by the end you wage your campaign against absolutely everything, you campaign against yourself, your own fatigue and a feeling you have of wanting to pack your bags, give your kids a squeeze, seize Mathilde, little Mathilde, Louis, my son, and Joanie, my big girl, in my arms, give them a kiss, give them a hug, give them a cuddle, so help me God, Lord lift me up, guide me and stop me from falling, let me be a guide for my country, France, guide out of the rut and protect from above my whole family, Salve, radix, salve, porta/ Ex qua mundo lux est orta, make it so I’m faithful to my father and my country, so I may then guide and protect my children as he did me, Gaude, Virgo gloriosa/ Super omnes speciosa/ Vale, o valde decora, our fight is on against the tongues of whorish snakes, our fight is on against the enemy within, against the jealous ones, the idiots and cowards, the ambitious, you fight your own in anticipation of the day they aren’t yours any longer so that you feel it when they’re beginning to turn and, before they hit, give a slap, put them lower than the dirt and ram your heel down their throat till it won’t go, sink your lance into the dragon till you get the innards, cut off his balls and make him eat them, and at that – God only knows – entering the coffee shop I lifted both my arms and did a V for Victory, and my father got that from De Gaulle, lifting both arms nice and high and giving them a good shake, before realising that the only person in the café was a little old lady drinking a vermouth, she drank that vermouth in small sips, making use of her tongue, you could see the tongue sticking to glass between sips, she held the glass with two hands nice and tight to take a long look at the liquid within, she picked up the glass and turned it in the light to see the changing colour, she put it down delicately in a particular place, always the same, in the middle of a cell (the table was decorated in such a way as simulated cells, little compartments), she then brought the glass to her lips, wet her tongue, drank a little swallow, tilted the glass, looked into or through it, set it to rest in its compartment, and so forth. All at once this young man (heavyset, what we used to call an invert) threw himself at me yelling: You know what they used to call General De Gaulle Square, as early as 1940? Pétain! Marshal Pétain Square! I do imagine that the municipality, in perhaps some debt, had to keep on receiving subsidies, let’s be realistic, whether from Gambetta, Pétain, or De Gaulle? We’re all walking on the same cobblestones, all people have the same problems, getting their carrots from the guy who sells them 1.50 a kilo instead of 1.60, why name a square after a drink, may as well call it after a great man, when people stop having any respect they’ll leave off being obedient, is the situation such that we may allow ourselves the luxury of going into debt over a name, is it then allowable to deepen the impoverishment of people whose lives we’re meant to be administrating on principle, or for the reason of a trend, is that what it is to ‘resist’ – it’s a choice, like religion, there’s no call to impose it on anyone else (bread first, then ideas); give your outraged that to chew on, Pétain, Pompidou what-have-you (it’s rare to see a plaza Pompidou): most of them couldn’t give a shit, keep an eye on carrot prices, get their hair done, get arrested, die.
Well. That gives her a nice workout, in spite of everything, all those stores, but can I, will she be able to, get away with leaving any out, the local sensibilities being after all no less highly refined than the national, leave somebody out and they feel targeted, you take me perhaps for a leftist Madam, maybe you think, like all these leftists who think there’s only such a thing as other leftists all waiting for the government to say something leftist, but as they’re only ever saying rightist things and because folks on the right think everybody in government is a leftist, well then, they have to go even farther to the right, and at that point the government, which is leftist but says rightist things, says: as you can tell the people of France have rightist ideas, so we can’t just go and say things that are overly leftist, etc. And that’s how we end up in a France that’s just as far to the right as the France of Raymond Devos, the comedian; that’s the France that has, at day’s end, carried the day, a stand-up France where you have to think fast, on your feet – but a good comedy, of good French quality – a France where, at day’s end, what matters is the play on words, the punchline, the improv bit, as they used to say under Louis XIV, a France where what counts is the sustained metaphor, the devastating bit of alliteration, euphemism like a guillotine.
That’s just what I was thinking as I took the last steps up to Madison’s Locker, with its tote bags adorned with little girls, apple-cheeked and in pink bows, its plastic aprons for ladies decorated with smutty things guys like, the men’s aprons covered in smut for women, giant postcards that go flip-flap, certificates earned for a fifty-first birthday, baby bottles for pastis and chatty doormats, Welcome! Wipe Your Feet!, they say, Home! Left foot! Joy!, they say, Right foot! Shoes! Chez nous! Family!, or else See you! (See you, doormat! Buh-bye!), authentic wicker baskets stacked up before the storefront, next to the entrance, ha-ha, I hope you didn’t get those from the Roma, those ones there, she says, by way of a wink and a nod, getting the conversation going, um no, the shopkeeper says, self-justifying, they are Made in Thailand, and truly we have gone from Scylla to Charybdis, says MLP, who is educated just as was Aussaresses, that general (a Latinist), and is everything going all right for your little boutique? Oh, so-so, the shopkeeper says – and yeah, that’s just about what Hitler would’ve said on that last day in his bunker, thinks our Marine (saying nothing, of course, naturally) –, so-so, so-so, that’s basically the state of the country, of France, basically, and that was basically the state Greece was in before the ‘European’ quote-unquote ‘rescue and recovery plan’, and that was, as well, the state of Spain, she ventures, embryo of a questionable shorthand she cuts still shorter soon as she sees the shopkeeper bending over the baskets to take them inside. Ah, closing up already, she says; the days are long, the shopkeeper says before closing the glazed door, latching it, turning out the lights, setting the alarm. Marine, as a young man from her team then says, you have a slug on your shoulder (a slug on my shoulder, but what is it doing there? I thought), he plucks it up delicately between thumb and forefinger and sets it down on the leaf of a bush in a pot positioned by the city in front of a new Party office, which has just been inaugurated.
Here ends all I can imagine about Marine Le Pen’s visit to D. I know what comes next, because at 5pm I left work to meet up with the protesters, at General de Gaulle Square, protesting her coming. In regular waves, a small crowd (300 according to the prefecture, 500 according to the organisers) chanted in front of the setup: Marine/Fuck off/Marine/Fuck off (Marine/Get lost, according to the press), brandished a few banners (NPA, Sud, EELV, according to the press) and flags or handmade signboards (Black/White/Arab/Purple/Les D. Against Le Pen), launched projectiles (rubber bands? Pen caps? Icy snowballs – one snowball hit a Party member who was thereupon brought to the ER, according to press reports), and made some noise (one of them, clutching a plane tree, beat a frying pan), to which the Frontists responded by intoning the Marseillaise, quickly covered over by whistles and hissing, ostensibly filmed (the camera a metre away from that front row) by a blogger, a man, of whom I was informed he was the husband of the ex-socialist, ex-UMP who went over to the Front and who, therefore, went over to the Front himself. The ‘Party’ offices are an old seat of the UMP – and, as a Wikinews site informs me, Thérèse Dumont, a historian and Résistante from the Pas-de-Calais, intervened to deliver a reminder that that used to be the house of the Barrière family, a Jewish family, deported to and killed at Auschwitz by Nazis in 1944. Someone told me they’d spotted a Green Party official. I recognised a friend. A young woman looking for her keys was looking for them at the protesters’ feet. Someone else said to her it’d be funny if she made a report at the station of having lost them in the protest against Le Pen. Another young woman gave me a big pin. Black-gloved hands gave the finger to the setup, both of them. There ensued, at the end, hoots and ululations when we saw a big, brown, bell-shaped umbrella with, on the rim, fat, pale bows vaguely reminiscent of Marie Antoinette. It stayed up a couple of seconds and zoomed over to the right, accompanied by Party members followed by the protesters who’d been in that first row.
So we were there, stamping our feet, right up until the moment when this guy said it was over, anyone sticking around was going to have their teeth knocked in, better head on over to the Kiosk, where mulled wine and a rap concert were on offer. So we went on down to the kiosk, where the concert had started. I left, but this person I work with told me what happened after: one of the rappers said something against the police in his rap, and, since there were cops around, they took him and brought him to the station, which is situated at 30 metres’ distance. The protesters then cried Freedom for our comrade! out in front of the station as my associate, a funny guy, yelled Don’t put him out in the cold! (as it was very cold that night). The rapper came out, and everybody went home.1
1. Results of the French presidential election, second round (April 2022): Emmanuel Macron (La République en Marche !): 58.55%. Marine Le Pen (National Rally, former National Front): 41.45%.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Nathalie Quintane, the author of dozens of books, is regarded in France as “one of the major experimental poets of her generation.” Other English translations of her work include Joan Darc and Tomatoes + Why Doesn't the Far Left Read Literature? Born in 1964 in Paris, she lives in Digne-les-Bains.
Jacqueline Feldman lives in Massachusetts. On Your Feet, a novel in translations, is forthcoming from dispersed holdings; she is also at work on a regular novel. Precarious Lease, a work of nonfiction, is forthcoming from Rescue Press.