Paris, certainly. Marseille, but of course. Bordeaux, probably. Lyon, definitely.
But Toucy, our sleepy village in the sleepiest part of northern Burgundy? Surely not. One just can’t see it as a hub of revolutionary activity.
In fact, the other day I made a smug, self-satisfied remark to that effect, displaying Schadenfreude at its most supercilious. However, Penelope, who lived in France for 10 years as a girl, suggested I shouldn’t hold my breath.
This morning we drove to Toucy market, to find I was wrong in having overestimated the bucolic placidity of the locals.
The centre of Toucy is adorned with a statue of the great lexicographer Pierre Larousse who was born there. And adorning the statue were a dozen or so gilets jaunes, banging on plastic buckets and making la mère of all ruckuses.
I couldn’t make out what they were shouting, but the sentiments must have been in line with the messages on their placards. Most of them evoked the memory of the slogans aimed against Marie-Antoinette in 1789.
All said rather uncomplimentary things about Manu, which is the French contemptuous diminutive of Macron’s Christian name (I anglicise it to ‘Manny’). This, although ‘Le Roi Macron’ had taken exception to being so addressed because that insulted not only him but also the very institution of presidency.
I didn’t notice any dismay expressed about that venerable office; just the heartfelt desire that it should be occupied by someone other than Manny.
One poster explained the nature of the problem: “We want to live, not to survive”. (The translation inevitably loses the charm of the original: On veut vivre, non pas survivre.)
Another one emphasised that the demonstrators were sick and tired of being taken for a ride (Marre de se faire plumer, literally “We’ve had it with being plucked”). Yet another specified the ride: rubbish collection tax rose 25 per cent last year, preceded by similar hikes in fuel taxes.
That message struck a chord deep in my heart, for I’m directly affected.
For example, during the 18 years that we’ve been in the area, diesel prices went up and down, but they were consistently 25 per cent lower than in London. Now they’re 15 per cent higher, and I’d happily add my voice to the chorus of “Manny out!”
The general sentiment among the gilets was that Manny’s policies left much to be desired, and his personality even more. It’s possible that the wicker basket for his head has already been woven, waiting for its cue to slide under the guillotine.
Now much as I sympathised with the demonstrators, I was a little wary of their tendency to burn cars. Having parked around the corner, I didn’t fancy the prospect of walking 12 miles home.
That fear evidently wasn’t shared by the two policemen observing the proceedings. Since they were national rather than local, they must have been forewarned that disturbances were coming.
As I was queuing up for my beef cheeks, which everyone knows is the best cut for boeuf bourguignon, les flics cut menacing figures. But then they relaxed, realising that no auto–da–fé was on the cards, meaning, and I’m translating loosely in jest, that no cars were likely to be burned.
They turned their backs on the bucket-bangers and began to scrutinise the estate agents’ boards with a manifest lack of interest. Eventually they walked away in the direction of the fruit stands.
Clearly they knew their rural protesters well. As those strapping officers haggled about the price of clementines, the revolutionaries took the weight off their feet. They sat down at the outside tables in a local café and inundated the staff with orders for coffee, croissants and pains au chocolat.
Croissants are, after all, the stuff of life and fuel of any self-respecting revolution, especially in rural France. But how long will our local protests remain a scene from a French vaudeville? How long before burning cars illuminate Toucy and other local villages?
One can understand Manny’s desire to transform himself from a presumptive king of France to the emperor of Europe, sort of a present-day Charlemagne. Displaying the nose of a bloodhound, Manny must have sensed the inner imperative of today’s democratic politicians.
Woefully unfit to do their jobs, they live in constant fear that they’ll be found out. Hence the desire to put some serious mileage between themselves and their voters, who just might hold them accountable.
That’s why Manny, along with most of his European colleagues everywhere, sees the EU as a godsend and a most welcome employment opportunity for life. Manny is more bolshie than most because he has indeed been found out.
If the demonstrations have reached Toucy, you can imagine what’s happening in urban centres. The French do have form in expressing their discontent with their rulers, and who says they’ve lost it?
It must be time for Manny to go into hiding and change his name. May I suggest Manu Egalité?