High life

Don’t bet against Emmanuel Macron

25 June 2022

9:00 AM

25 June 2022

9:00 AM

It’s nice to be back on the old continent again, especially after getting within a couple of hundred yards of the phoniest bunch of Hollywood East types, fakes with names such as Pelosi, Schumer, Schiff and their ilk. It meant that I flew out of the Bagel without mixed feelings for a change. America has become unrecognisable, a violent land where a Democratic Congress winks at riots and intimidations by the left, and where career criminals are seen as victims. It is a place in which one’s livelihood can end with one slip of the tongue. And they call it a free country.

Over here, in lefty old London, everyone’s against Boris, but telling whoppers over a party or two – or even ten – cannot compare to the lies Blair told to justify waging a war in which hundred of thousands of human beings died. Or does it? I find it amazing that Blair is given the Garter, while Boris might soon be shown the door. I am against lying, and didn’t lie when customs asked me if I was carrying almost 40 years ago. But asked to choose between a cake and thousands of dead, I’ll take the cake any day.

And speaking of leaders, Macron recently caught hell for asking us not to rub Putin’s nose in the dirt, but I’m afraid the Frog was right. Biden knows how to spout slogans reading a teleprompter; Boris plays the tough guy in order to make them forget the cake. But Macron understands the world. I haven’t read much about the French president, but I think I understand him. He’s a bit of a con man, but so what? I like Mme Macron: she’s old, elegant and she’s got good legs. A con man I once met whom Macron reminds me of is André Malraux, fantasist, famous novelist, Gaullist minister, Cambodian historical-treasure plunderer, self-invented resistance hero, and air squadron leader for Republican Spain against Francisco Franco.

André Malraux was a man of action, that’s for sure, and also an attention-seeker par excellence. Unfortunately, I met him when he was a very old man, and half-asleep or doped while getting a lecture from my dad on the evils of communism. (The Greek minister of culture had brought him on board my father’s boat.) Malraux became famous early on after his book Man’s Fate was published. It was 1933, Malraux was a Marxist activist, and he followed up with Man’s Hope, and other books. From early on, Malraux was accused of being a man of image, not of ideas, by people who would soil their trousers if a shot was fired anywhere near them. Malraux admired and wished to emulate T.E. Lawrence. Unlike the tortured Brit, the Frenchman adored women, but he identified himself as Lawrence’s son – symbolically, that is.

Malraux’s other hero was Gabriele D’Annunzio, also a bit of a con man albeit an influential thinker, and Man’s Fate dealt with the revolutionary movement in China. He paraded around with a cape and a cane and had a true passion for art, and an even greater passion for the root of all envy. He satisfied the latter with an archeological expedition in Cambodia to rob Khmer temple ruins near Angkor. On a boat down river with the loot, he and his party were arrested and spent a few months doing a Taki. His wife Clara got a petition going and he was eventually freed. Returning to Indochina, he became active in the Canton uprising and saw action. The artist and the man of action became one. From then on, he was known as an exemplary revolutionary figure and a symbol of the communist revolution.

He sided with Stalin against Trotsky because the former looked more of a winner, but then he redeemed himself in Spain, a Byronic enterprise, as he called it. Without qualifications, he took command of an air squadron and went on operations against nationalists but also filmed himself while bombing the enemy. The force of his personality and courage prevailed over his inexperience. He made himself the hero he had pretended to be. When hostilities broke out with the Germans, he went to Lanvin and ordered a uniform. He was taken prisoner almost immediately.

Malraux joined the Resistance at a very late stage and greatly inflated his role in it. He met De Gaulle after the liberation and became his minister of culture in 1958. He had Paris washed, freshly painted, and spruced up. I remember seeing him dishevelled and probably doped up leading an anti-student rally of pro-Gaullists in 1968. Eight years later, he was dead and 20 years after that his remains were transferred to the Pantheon.

Malraux was an aesthete and self-invented. He lied a lot about himself but his courage was undeniable. Why does he come to mind when I think of President Macron? I wish I could explain it, but I cannot. (Actually, Malraux resembles more François Mitterrand – brain-wise, that is.) What they have in common is an understanding of and love for art and an opportunistic streak. Macron, like Malraux – who saw no glory in resisting the Germans, only death, but jumped in at the end, when victory was assured – went after the brass ring after two French presidents had failed the office. The cultural after-effects of Napoleonic grandeur influenced them both. Malraux is long gone, but in the Pantheon. Macron is still to make his mark, but don’t bet against him.

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