¶ When Venner shot himself Jean and I went to see Papa because we knew he’d be a wreck. When we made it to the house Annette, our stepmother, shook her head and said he’d gone to the Café du Maréchal, where he and his friends spent Friday nights, only it was Tuesday.
¶ When Jean and I got to the Maréchal Papa was sitting at his stool with his head on the bar. He and Dominique had been friends since Algeria when they fought together in the OAS. On Fridays Venner would sometimes come along with them and they would talk about the old days. Papa wasn’t very worldly and he didn’t have much regard for what Venner stood for, which seemed to make things worse. He was already drunk, and when I tapped him on the shoulder he turned to us and cried, ‘He could go and do such a damn stupid thing, but in a cathedral? In the Notre-Dame?’
¶ Jean took him under the arm and we moved to a table. Papa waved three fingers in the air and the waiter brought us three Mesdames, Jack Daniel’s Bourbon and Twining’s Earl Grey, a drink of Papa’s invention named after Madame la Guillotine to remind everyone what he thought of the English and the Americans.
¶ ‘Charles,’ he said to me, ‘You and Dominique saw eye to eye on these things, no? What do you make of it?’
¶ It was probably a protest,’ said Jean.
¶ ‘Against what?’ Papa asked.
¶ ‘The gays, the Church, France, Europe, the world. God. A lack thereof.’
¶ ‘He was the greatest living Frenchman,’ Papa declared. Maybe Jean-Marie le Pen, but if not, Dominique Venner was the uncrowned king of France.’ Papa used that phrase to annoy Le Pen, whom he was also friends with, having given the Front National much of its startup cash. Eventually he started using it to annoy me, but gradually it just became Papa’s phrase, and to him everyone was the uncrowned king of France.
¶ ‘Venner wasn’t a Frenchman,’ Jean interjected. ‘Maybe he was born in France but France had nothing to do with him. He was one of us, an Algerian.’
¶ ‘Algeria was France. Anywhere Frenchmen reside is the fatherland.’
¶ ‘We’re black feet. Frenchmen have pasty, clammy feet. We don’t.’
¶ ‘Charles,’ Papa said again, ‘What do you say?’
¶ I shook my head. Politics was no good in our family. ‘To be honest I don’t know what France is. I have no idea what a Frenchman is. But I know what they used to be.’
¶ ‘Good God, you’re going to do this again! I’ve never met a nationalist with so much contempt for his own country.’
¶ ‘You asked, Papa!’
¶ ‘Well now I’m un-asking.’
¶ There was a long pause, till Papa finally said, ‘Anyway you and Venner got along well. He probably hated France too. Damn idiots, you don’t remember the repatriation…’ But Jean and I both felt like we did, Papa told us about it so many times. He thought every repatriated Algerian had the obligation to vote for the FN, probably because he sank so much money into them, probably in part because he sank so much money into them. ‘Marine said she was upset but that was stupid. It’s about balancing the needs of the country and being weary of the enemies. God knows we have enemies who will pounce when they hear that… Ah, I’m being cruel. Don’t pay attention to me.’
¶ I was getting aggravated so I told him, ‘What he did was horrible. Whatever good he did in his life has been erased as far as I can say.’
¶ ‘Oh Jesus,’ Jean muttered.’
¶ ‘You have no right to say anything of the sort,’ Papa snapped.
¶ ‘No man has a right to desecrate a Church,’ I said. ‘Not Venner, not Le Pen.’
¶ Jean grumbled, ‘If Maurras had done it you would have picked up the gun and followed him.’
¶ ‘Maurras never would have done anything of the sort. He understood that the Church is everything to France. Dominique had everything in the world to say about Frenchness, about the architecture of the cathedrals and whatever. But he only loved the wood and the stone. The Tabernacle is what makes France great. The house of God.’
¶ ‘When was the last time you went to Mass?’
¶ ‘I’ve been going every Sunday.’
¶ ‘What the Hell for?’
¶ ‘Don’t be nasty, Jean,’ Papa scolded.
¶ ‘What? I don’t see how anyone can respect those Action française people that go to Mass eight days a week and get sick if you ask them to say grace before meals. Believing in God is one thing, I wouldn’t mock a schizo for hearing voices. But Charles and his crowd wish to death that they could catch the tail end of the conversation and want to put the worst lunatics in the asylum in charge of the country. Because we used to a few hundred years ago. And they think everything will be grand if we bring them back, as though there was never any reason to throw them out in the first place.’
¶ Papa laughed and said, ‘If you had told me, when I was your age, that the AF and this Identitaire crowd would be all the rage with teenagers in forty years’ time I’d’ve had a fit. I think it’s beautiful.’ Jean shook his head. ‘Hey, when I was young we had to put up with your people. Sartre and de Beauvoir. How you turned out the way you did I’ll never know.’
¶ ‘I’m not a card-carrying member of the Existentialist Club. I don’t ask everyone to agree with me. I just expect people to not try to turn the boat around because they’re afraid of open waters.’
¶ ‘We’re headed for the rocks,’ I said. ‘There’s no two ways about it. But that’s an idiotic metaphor. Just say what you mean. You don’t care if you live in Paris or New Mecca. The Arabs threw us out of Algiers and you’re fine with them doing the same thing over here.’
¶ ‘It’s called immigration. France is a big country.’
¶ ‘It’s reverse imperialism. But I don’t know if there’s much to colonise. Industry ruined by socialism. Culture ruined by Marxism. Countryside ruined by capitalism. And the best conservatives in town use Our Lady’s Cathedral as a stage for their one-man show and then burn it down when they’re finished.’
¶ Papa raised his hand gravely. ‘Charles is right. This isn’t any France I’ve ever known.’
¶ ‘That’s what the Gauls said when the Romans brought in their church. Didn’t Venner say it, too? He was a true Frenchman. The pre-Catholic kind. None of this Christianity and infrastructure nonsense.’
¶ ‘You’re impossible,’ I said.
¶ ‘No, I’m not. Look, I don’t vote. I don’t tell people how they should vote. But why you picked 1790 as the exact moment we should turn the clock back to is beyond me.’
¶ ‘You don’t understand the AF.’
¶ ‘No? What don’t I understand?’
¶ ‘It’s not about time, it’s not about turning anyone’s clock back. It’s about loving what France is, fighting for what makes her France.’
¶ ‘Why doesn’t the Revolution make her France? Why the Church and the King and all that?’
¶ ‘Because that’s what she always was. That’s what made her great. What have we done since the Revolution? Conquered Europe for a day before having the living shit beaten out of us. Pillaged by the Germans twice. We’ve got nothing.’
¶ ‘What about Bergson? And Sartre, while we’re at it?’
¶ ‘Sartre is the justification for the Revolution. Sure. “Life is what you make of it.” A greeting-card philosopher with a lazy eye. What more could we ask for?’
¶ ‘You have a silly fixation with the past. I’m not sure anyone’s told you, but France survived the Revolution. It did, really. We’re speaking French just now. Paris is still standing. If you need a few more centuries to nurse your wounds, go ahead, take all the time you want. I admit, there’s a lot that’s left to be done. France has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, probably the only thing we actually beat the Germans in. But one historian shoots himself in a particularly old building and half the country collapses in despair. Perfectly decent people take their own lives every day in droves for every unfortunate reason—poverty, fear, mental illness, the list goes on and on. But we zoom in on this one guy who killed himself because he hated gays. What the Hell do you care, Charles?’
¶ I clenched my fist and said, ‘When they say the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo—that’s nonsense. Napoleon was the usurper, the false-general, but he was not the only man standing against the English. Thousands of Frenchmen were defeated at Waterloo, most in a way far worse than Napoleon. And millions more Frenchmen, their wives, their children—all across the nation—were defeated. Humiliated. That’s why I care, Jean. Venner has given us another Waterloo.’
¶ ‘Look, look. We live in a country where a long traffic light can ruin somebody’s day. Millions of worse things happen all around them, all the time, but that’s what really gets to them. You want to live in a world where everyone is afraid to hate traffic lights, but are told to hate j-walkers so much it would be a mortal sin not to run them down. I want to live in a world without cars. Simple.’
¶ ‘That doesn’t make any sense.’
¶ ‘Why not?’
¶ ‘We’re taking about the good of France.’
¶ ‘The best thing for France is the same thing that’s good for everyone. Leaving each other alone.’
¶ ‘We don’t have that option.’
¶ ‘I know.’ Jean leaned back in his seat. ‘That’s why I’m moving to Antarctica. It’s the only place you can find any peace.’
¶ Papa was sitting by silently, looking past us with his eyes glazed, half-sober. He had a pathetic expression on his face, like an innocent man facing his firing squad. Courageous, but for dignity’s sake, not conviction. So we let the argument pass.
¶ ‘Let’s go home, Papa.’
¶ He nodded. On the way back he called Annette and told her not to cook, the boys were coming over and they’d make her a soufflé. Papa had always been a great chef, something Jean and I were grateful he passed on to us, but in retrospect: neither of us had enjoyed spending hours in the kitchen cooking and baking when we were kids. We’d throw flour and dare each other to eat raw dough, which made Papa laugh.
¶ Annette was always happy to have us over. She never quite became a mother to us; that’s difficult when you marry someone with adult children. But she was lovely to Jean and me, and we did love her. More importantly Papa loved her, and they made each other happy.
– M. W. Davis
The author is an American-born writer currently studying at the University of Sydney. He is an executive in the Australian Monarchist League—Sydney and Young Monarchists branch, the American Monarchist Association, and the Royalist Party USA. His personal blog is “The American High Tory”.
SydneyTrads is the internet portal and communication page of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, an association of individuals who form part of the Australian paleoconservative, “traditionalist conservative” and “independent right”.