Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Frog dreams of Princess

So Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has written a new novel about a president of the French Republic’s love affair with a beautiful British princess. For those who have mercifully forgotten who VGE was, let me just say he is a former president of the French Republic. His princess character is called ‘Princess Pat’ and it hasn’t escaped the attention of our eagle-eyed journalists that she has points in common with our late lamented Princess Di.

Did VGE have an affair with her? Who knows. But there are moments when his behaviour is a little bizarre, to the point where one might wonder whether he isn’t a little delusional.
The most striking aspect of his presidency, in my memory, is that he referred to one of the more bloodthirsty African Dictators, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, as his ‘cousin’ and received some rather fine diamonds back from him as a gift.

More generally, his use of the name ‘d’Estaing’ with that aristocratic ‘d’ is highly dubious. It was taken over by his grandfather on the basis of the most tenuous of links to the noble family. I was told that on one occasion, when he was Finance Minister, the government decided to launch a new bond issue. The custom in France is to give this kind of initiative the name of the serving Finance Minister. De Gaulle, then President, was told that this particular one would be called the ‘Emprunt d’Estaing’, the d’Estaing loan. ‘An excellent loan name (nom d’emprunt),’ replied de Gaulle, an expression that suggested that the name itself was a loan to which the borrower had little right.

This didn’t stop VGE at a dinner in the Caribbean, to which he had invited British diplomatic staff, having the tables set out in a rather strange disposition that he explained corresponded to the position of the ships at a victory over the British obtained by his ‘ancestor’ Vice Admiral d’Estaing.

A man therefore of modesty and tact. One can’t help wondering whether the same qualities haven’t marked his latest literary endeavour.


Mark Reynolds said...

I can't think of a more effective means, short of invading Iraq, of destroying one's reputation for all posterity than this. The book has a car-crash attraction - not on its own merits, just to flip through and ponder "what was he thinking?"

(BTW - On D'Estaing's naval themed dinner - might want to soften your criticism of his inter-cultural insensitivities, given that you're calling him a "frog" in the title, Rosbif).

David Beeson said...

The title came to me at the very last, after I'd written the piece, and was irresistible given then 'Princess' theme - no amount of political correctness could have persuaded me not to use it.

The insensitivity of the dinner doesn't strike me as particularly offensive - some guy lost a battle several generations earlier? who cares? What's far worse is the sheer brass arrogance of claiming the victory as something of a credit of his own, though he contributed nothing to it and even the basis of his claim, direct descendance, was false.

But just to set the balance straight on the nationalist side, let me tell you a story I once heard from a French friend, set in Napoleonic times, about an English sea captain invited to dinner by his French opposite number (so the meal is on the French ship, thank God, ensuring that the food was not too inedible), on the eve of their battle.

At the end of the meal, the Englishman asks:

'Why do the French always fight for money and the British for honour?'

The Frenchman thinks a moment and replies 'I suppose everyone fights for what they don't have.'

Awoogamuffin said...

I agree that the frog reference fits too nicely to care about cultural sensitivities.

As for that story, yet more wonderful quotables for me!

Mark Reynolds said...

I fully agree - I'd have used the title too. I just wanted to call David Rosbif.

Incidentally, I feel some sympathy for D'Estaing in his efforts to borrow glory from his ancestors. When I was a kid, I made sure everyone in my school knew I could claim a great-great-great uncle who was once the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Mind you, I mentioned it far less once I aged, as it only served to draw attention to the fact that I had received pretty much nothing of his physical inheritance.