Dinner was at the Ravine that night, which is good because atleast I had enough to occupy myself while my dinner companions discussed French politics. It is not for this reason alone though, that the methi mutter malai seemed so interesting - the chef at the Ravine is a true genius. And thus it was that I was contemplating the sublime consistency of the malai and the farm-freshness of the mutter when Antoine turned to me and said by way of translation - Its get bad in France.
What happened?, I thought. Did they increase the working week by fifteen minutes? Did they find that the ‘63 Cheval Blanc all went bad in last year’s summer? Or God forbid, did they lose to Samoa again? No explanation was forthcoming though, as the conversation carried on to discussions of police brutality. 'Boom boom’, Christophe said, pumping his fist. Ah, I scoffed, what do they know about police brutality? They don’t have jokes that end in 'bol tu suar hai!’ in France. What, the copper didn’t call you 'monsieur’? Shocking.
It was later in the tent that Antoine offered an elaboration. 'It’s get really bad in France’ he said and shook his head. 'Phwoah’, said Christophe, backslapping his palm. I was ready for another first-world story but I must confess, after Antoine’s tale, I found myself a little worried and in a contemplative mood. It was not a happy story.
I know Antoine from Millau, the same Millau where Jose Bove stood up bravely for French cheese, home of vol-libre and rocquefort, the same Millau that I thought was just like a big hippie commune, and Antoine tells me all has change. Apparently the police have gone from being protectors of the citizens to being a powerful weapon in the hands of a totalitarian state. Antoine told me he got arrested - means arrested, booff! against the car, cuffs on the harms, arrest means arrest - four times last year. Christophe corroborated this with a story of his own. Christophe is from Grenoble where the book Perfume is set, an awesomely filthy place by all accounts.
The change took place over a period of time, but the people only realised it suddenly one day. Like crime in London. I remember London in the nineties, when it was the safest city on planet Earth. One could see young girls walking on the pavements until late into the night. One could pass out in taxicabs. One could go to Brixton. And then suddenly, a few years later I’m standing in Whiteleys, surrounded by black kids, a knife against my belly, hands - someone else’s hands - in my pockets stealing not only my 20 pound note but also the skunk I had managed to score just five minutes earlier. Ah, it was shitty stuff anyway. And only the previous week a white guy, poster boy for drug-addiction, had accosted me at the cash machine. I had to bash his head with my squash racket and run like the wind to save myself. A few weeks later I’m at some station on the Picadilly line, burping mango-pickle flavourd burps, and Elvira calls and says 'Can you come over? I’ve just been mugged.’ And so, London had become unsafe. Old people stay home now after dark. But I digress, we were talking about France.
So, at about the time that Antoine was telling me all this, the first of the Molotov Cocktails was being prepared in Clichy-sous-Bois. Over the days to follow, many cars would be burned. It’s civil war, no fatalities yet. Tonight will be the twelfth night. People will be home well before nightfall tonight. They will lock their homes, shutter the windows and turn on the television. This is the end of the siecle luminaire. The end of the world as we know it.
What is Europe to do? The welfare state is under severe pressure, the population is ageing. The sexual freedoms ushered in during WW II have atomised society to the point where the traditional family is increasingly the exception to the rule. More than half of marriages end in divorce, some 40% of children are illegitimate. It is not too hard to conclude that such big changes in such a small time are bound to cause societal imbalances. Add the problem of the immigrants in an area of low economic growth and you have all the ingredients for a good revolution. The situation is desperate. There will be war again, this time between the people and their government. The people will lose. The government will impose totalitarian controls on its citizens. The world will stand on its head. While rapacious robber barons turn Russia into the freest place on Earth and bicycles are banned from Shanghai, the West will fall victim to its moral confusion. Oligarchs will rule a third of the world, heaping misery on the majority. A third of the world will be engulfed in its second Dark Age. The third that remains will not remain for long.
Its get bad in France.