Careful and sure footed, moving round the hallowed relics, squeezing an elbow here, planting a deft kiss there, ever watchful, ever prudent, alert and ambitious, they were the Eurocrats, and they were waiting; waiting to take their allotted places in the great Palatine chapel. Heavy with scents of candle wax, incense and expectation, borne on eddies of Parisian perfume, the air was warmed by giant arc lights trained on the two figures standing on a raised platform where they were to repeat their vows of union.
She, a plump, middle aged hausfrau indifferent to fashion or figure, he, a slender young man, elegant of garb, aquiline of nose, and tense. They shared neither love nor lust, but, ‘the most enjoyable of human activities, politics!’
Today was a good day for politics in the Palatinate.
The Eurocrats sniggered. In London, their unpredictable neighbours , ‘hoist’d by their own petard’ were locked in internecine combat. So much the better for the heirs of Charlemagne. Now they could redraw the map of the old Holy Roman Empire to their hearts’ content without sniping from across the Channel.
In the breathless moment before the cameras clicked into action, the young man’s face was quickly repowdered. The hausfrau glanced at him with a mixture of impatience and affection. What a coxcomb! How vain the French were; how foolishly concerned in all things by outward appearance. She stifled an indulgent shrug as he turned towards her, noticing, half surprised that he was not looking directly at her, but over her shoulder, beyond. She forced a grim little smile for the Press. There must be no chink in their display of union; but she was well aware that her young partner’s eyes were focussed on Frankfurt, the fount of euro money. No doubt he worried about the gaping imbalance between their economies and the urgent need to redress the domestic situation in France, yet, so strong was the desire of his Eurocrats and functionaries to shackle themselves to Germany that they were talking of ever closer union in many areas, including defence!
Was the bridegroom bearing precious gifts?
Meanwhile, the choirs and young players of the European orchestra sent thunderous volleys of music up and up into the echoing, aged architecture. It was magnificent, challengingly and yet oddly incongruous for this would be celebration of nuptials between the heirs of Charlemagne sounded jaded, meaningless, almost anachronistic , no longer expressing as in 1963, a triumphant sharing of values, but rather a growing fear of uncertainty.
The couple embraced.There were short speeches in French and in German and then it was over: time to mingle, hands were briefly held, shoulders touched, cheeks brushed.They stepped out into the bracing January wind.
To right and to left, clothed in fluorescent, yellow jacketed crowds came surging, shouting, chanting, not love or congratulations but anger and derision.
‘Well, here are the bridesmaids,’ quipped a pressman.
‘Who the hell are they exactly?’ he asked, turning to a French official.
‘Mostly farmers and mostly doomed”.
“What about the CAP, subsidies and all that?’
‘Look, we don’t really like our peasants, they’re not like your English gentleman farmers, they’re mean and selfish and inefficient. What we want is massive production not pathetic, little farmyards out of kiddy books on animals.’
‘You mean that France would become a mini Kansas, all combine harvesters and not a cow or a sheep in sight, not even a dragonfly?’ He added wistfully.
‘Sounds about right.’
‘What about Michel Houellebecq’s Aymeric? You’re French, you’ve read about him. He wasn’t mean or selfish and he stood for a France we’ve all loved and understood?’
‘And then he shot himself didn’t he? He was no longer adapted. You’re just an English romantic.You don’t understand planning.’
The pressman fell silent. He had seen planning sit ill at ease with freedom and democracy. Before making his way with the guests to the wedding breakfast of champagne and petit fours in the local town hall, he looked back at the yellow jacketed protesters. They were sitting munching their home made sandwiches and waiting, with the patience born of the countryside.