Thursday, February 16, 2006

Tour de Londres

Excitement reigns at my local Post Office.

US postal workers are very different from their UK equivalents. Generally speaking, they won’t nick your mail, tho’ they might very well come after you with automatic weapons if you forget their Xmas Box. They also sport a surprisingly high percentage of lean, mean cyclists, due in large part to their long-time sponsorship of Lance Armstrong.

And so it is that, despite their well-earnt reputation for acts of unspeakable and irrational violence, I enter without fear today, for the route of the 2007 Tour de France has just been announced, and there shall be no other topic of conversation. However, I am surprised to find myself mobbed as I walk in, veteran posties tripping over their assault weapons in their haste to pick my brains, for it turns out that the race will for the first time start in England. After a 5 mile circuit of some of London’s most famous sites, the contestants will race 130 miles across Kent to Canterbury.

The posties quiz me about the London route. Is it hilly? Are there any steep curves? What language do they speak there? I choose to ignore the last, as in America it is considered slightly unpatriotic to be too well-informed re parts foreign, and in any case it’s been years since I heard anyone speaking English in central London.

The hand of some hidden humourist can be discerned in the London circuit, which begins with the Grand Départ at Trafalgar Square, and goes on to take in the Wellington Arch and Marlborough House - all landmarks celebrating British victories over the French. Coincidence? The French might be forgiven for doubting it, especially after their official delegation disembarks from the Eurostar cross-channel train at Waterloo Station.

One hopes they don’t take it too much to heart. After all, after so many centuries of conflict there is no 5 mile stretch of London without two or three such memorials. No doubt Paris would be equally full of such momentoes of victory over England, if only they’d ever beaten us.

The Tour de France began in 1903, as a stunt by a newspaper founded to back the anti-Semitic campaign against Dreyfus. One cannot say why riding a bike all over the countryside was regarded as an impeccably anti-Semitic pursuit. Perhaps Jews have no sense of balance. Anyway, as an assault on international Zionism it is typically French, being admittedly mean-spirited and yet fundamentally ineffective. If only the Nazis had restricted themselves to similarly anodyne forms of direct action - a triathlon, perhaps, or even a quilting bee? But no, it’s always Panzers and Gas Chambers with the Germans. That’s their answer to everything.

Team Germany are disqualified from the 1914 Tour de France for bayonetting the Belgian participants, beginning a cycle of mutual recrimination that leads inexorably to WW I…


R. Sherman said...

Watched a program on PBS last night about E Rex throwing a party at Windsor Castle for Chirac. Evidently, they changed the name of one of the rooms in the Castle, Waterloo or something, in deference to French sensibilities.

BTW, what the hell is an "under Butler?"


HA HA HA said...

wel pirnsce chuck has a 'ovar butlor' bacuase he prefers to be on teh botom. i think thats a tacful way a putign it.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi Randall. Don't listen to 3H - any such scurrilous rumours about Charles' sexuality are of course unworthy of notice. He must be straight - after all, he has a son, you know.

Butlers are traditionally the head domestics for the living and dining areas of the house. When the house is a Palace, with 200 rooms and a banquet hall to match, a certain amount of delegation follows, hence Under Butlers. This might eventually allow the Head Butler to give up the actual buttling entirely and move into other spheres. The classic example of this is the office of Grand Vizier in Ottoman times, and of course the Mayors of the Palace in Merovingian France, who eventually isolated, neutered and overthrew their titular Royal masters and founded the Carolingian dynasty.

French politics has followed the same pattern ever since - which is bad news for "Dagobert" Chirac and good news for Nicolas Sarkozy...

Anonymous said...

"No doubt Paris would be equally full of such momentoes of victory over England, if only they’d ever beaten us."

But what about Jeanne d'Arc, Ivan? Did the poor girl die for nothing? Did she never achieve that most prized of achievements: beating the reviled eaters of beef steak--a satisfaction that had eluded them since hastings?

And, for the sake of some historical fairness here, let's remember French politicking hasn't always been done by male underlings who get uppity and scheming. That paragon of manliness, le Roi Soleil, broke with tradition and introduced the fashion of the female 'favorite'--both Sarkozy and de Villepin could stand to learn from Mmes. de Maintenon and de Montespan when it comes to the art of pulling strings. And, fer God's sake, from the Directory to the Third Republic French politics was made in boudoirs.

I'm not French, by the way--despite my Frenchified web moniker. Let there never be said that I am partial to frog eaters.

But maybe you, who are so learned in the ways of history, could tell me what a seneschal was? Head of the royal stables? Guardian of the royal sword? I was never able to find out.


HA HA HA said...

a j liebling says teh peragrinatoins of the french govarmant aftar it fled apris in 1940 we're largly directad by selfpercieved lifestyle requirements of oficials mistrases. well he was the're so i gues hed know. but mabe he was just jelous. teh poor buterball wasn exacly betign em off with a stick u know.

HA HA HA said...

p.s. maybe i remembard it completly worng too.

R. Sherman said...

Thanks for the explanation Ivan. I don't think I'll acquire one, though. I prefer your basic French Maid.


PI said...

The changing of the name'in deference to French sensibilities' made me wince with shame. Pathetic creeps!
Trouble with you Ivan - I never know if you are kidding or no - but I do like reading you.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi Des - seneschal was just a catch-all term for the senior servant of a feudal lord. What they actually did varied from place to place and from one period to another. There might have been some buttling involved, but not as Jeeves would have recognized it.

3H - good quote, and one with the unmistakeable ring of truth about it.

And Randall - don't underestimate your basic French Maid. That's how Mme de Maintenon got her start, after all.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi Pi - yes, Randall is right, I remember hearing about that. They changed the name of a banquet room a state dinner was in. It was the Marlborough Room, I think, and they changed it to something the French delegation would be more comfortable with. The Vichy Room or some such. It was a great success.

Aunty Marianne said...

I think Seneschals had keys. Big ones. For the main gates, and armoury. Whereas the Chatelaine had lots of little ones on her belt on a ring. For the stillroom, and press room, and fruit jam-making and ham salting room and such.

Indoors and outdoors.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Chatelaine. Now *that's* a nice word. Lovely name for a girl, don't you think?