In France last week for a family holiday, I was reminded how seriously the French take their patriotism. When my father worked in the British Embassy in Paris, he would take me to the England France Rugby Match with mixed loyalties. Emotionally, he wanted England to win; but, professionally, he knew that diplomatic relations would freeze if les Anglais defeated the home team on French soil.
Fifty years later, I noticed the dominance of French cars on their roads. Not a Japanese car to be seen. When I remarked on the presence of a Mercedes, I was told it belonged to a German with a second home nearby. If you wanted a hire car, it was likely to be a Citroen or a Renault (though the Satnav has an English speaking option)
So when we were recommended to go to a nearby open air theatre, we assumed it would be to witness a comedy by Moliere or, if we were unlucky, a tragedy by Corneille or Racine - famous, as I recall from my time doing French A levels, for his mastery of the dodecasyllabic alexandrine. But no, the play was Romeo and Juliet, by Shakespeare. Again, we assumed this would be a translation into French to attract the locals, but it was to be in English and with an English cast. Perhaps a consequence of France being in the EU is that they cannot discriminate against British actors who may be better placed than the French to perform Shakespeare in his native tongue. And well performed it was too. True, Juliet had what appeared to be a contemporary tattoo on her left ankle, but then the 15th century Veronese might have been ahead of the game here.
However, French patriotism asserted itself at the end of the visit. Attached to a nearby castle was a Museum of History and Miniatures. In the words of the brochure “The museum awaits you for an original historical visit through stunning sketches which tell key events of world history…..important battles….” And well worth a visit. “Ca vaut le detour” as the French might say.
Pride of place in the museum was a miniature reconstruction of the Battle of Castillon in 1453. I must have been asleep when we covered this seminal encounter when I was at school .A French army, under Jean Bureau, confronted an English army under John Talbot at the end of the Hundred Years' War. Our guide told us that this was also the first battle in European history where the use of cannon was a major factor in determining the victor
I asked our guide what had been the result. “ Malheureusement pour vous, Monsieur, les Anglais ont perdu” he said, with no visible disappointment.