This weekend we went to a wedding in rural France.
The affair was held in an ancient church, in an ancient town, in an ancient part of an ancient continent. On the ceiling of the stone church were frescoes painted in the 11th century. On the columns, were designs that dated from the same epoch, but had the curious wavy-gravy look of ’60s tie-dyed ties.
As foreigners, we never know what we’re looking at. Is this the real France? Or is this a precious little bit of France that has somehow managed to resist the trends of modern politics and culture?
People were well-dressed. And well-mannered. Most were good looking and much better turned out than you would see at the typical American wedding. Almost elegant. But this was no typical French wedding either. In France, the gap between the classes seems much clearer and more rigid than in America. People from different social milieus don’t mix. A large American wedding might be expected to have a cross-section of American society. Some rich, some poor. Some cultivated and educated. Some not. American families get jumbled up and mixed. But these people all seemed to be a part of the same group.
“We live in a small apartment in Paris,” explained a couple we met. “It is so small we can barely seat 6 people for dinner. We do our socializing out here. We try to come most weekends. And, of course, we come for the summer vacation.
“Paris is just a place to work. It’s hard to have a social life in Paris.”
Their parents have a magnificent chateau, emblematic of the couple’s social status. But in Paris, they are just another couple trying to make ends meet.
The wedding mass included chants and songs in Latin. The couple then swore a special oath in front of the local Virgin – one in the bride’s family chapel – as the two-hundred guests enjoyed foie gras and champagne on the lawn outside.
“You Americans must like this sort of thing,” said a guest who had had a little too much to drink. He was a short fellow, clean cut with closely cropped hair. He looked as though he might have worked for the Nixon administration if the Nixon team had included any Frenchmen. “You get to study us as though we were savages on some remote island somewhere. It’s a sort of ethnography, I suppose.
“Well, you have to remember, that this is not France as it is. This is France as it was. We are royalists. Petainists. Ultra-catholic. Ultra- conservative. We are the people who don’t exist anymore.
“You go to Paris now. You take the subway. You will find yourself surrounded by Muslims, blacks and communists. We are perfectly happy with the Muslims and blacks. But the communists have ruined the country. Now, more and more people don’t work. And those who do work have to carry the non-workers on their backs. Plus, the government makes it harder and harder for them to work.
“In my business, we get someone on a three-week contract. If that works out okay, we put them on another three-week contract. And if that works out, we let them stay for 6 months. We have to be very cautious. Because once you get someone on board permanently, they’re almost impossible to get rid of. Practically every business operates with employees who are worthless. It’s amazing they operate at all.
“Well, these kinds of things make the country less and less competitive…and put us deeper and deeper in debt. And with the politics we have, there is no way out. Because the people – the voters – are imbeciles.
“The whole idea of democracy is stupid. Countries…nations…societies…are not meant to be led by the common people. The common people are by definition blockheads. They live like pigs. And think like mules. Or sheep.
“That’s why there is always an elite. The elite should lead. That’s their proper function…to help put the rest of the people on a better path. It wasn’t the common people who built Versailles, after all. It wasn’t the ordinary voter who designed the Eiffel Tower, or found a cure for pneumonia. And the idea that the common people should determine – by their superior numbers – what happens to a whole society is absolutely preposterous. And I can tell you…the experiment with popular democracy is going to end badly, as they always do.
“The people are going to continue to demand more benefits, more holidays, more health care and more protections…until we finally go broke.”
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