vive La France!

I confess. [But is it ego or wanna-do-good works?] I've always felt that if I'm going to a protest or a demonstration and I don't intend to do something which would risk arrest, I've got to sport a good hand-lettered sign. For lots of people, costume or line dancing would be other possibilities, but I have a congenital problem with the concept of flashy, and that certainly limits the attention-getting options.

For the massive anti-war demonsration in New York today I decided to hoist a sign invoking the exhaustively repeated, truly magnificent cri of one of my French heroes [France was not an accidental reference in a week which saw the government of the American republic refer to the country which guaranteed our independence, our oldest and most loyal ally, as "old Europe" and a proper object of our disdain and scorn].

My shield read, "…crasez l'inf‚me!," and I wore a Jacobin cap. Pretty esoteric? Yeah, tons of people seemed totally nonplused by the foreign arrangement of letters, and the hat was just a stocking cap for most fellow marchers, but early in our progress up Fifth Avenue from the Public Library I was approached by a French Television crew and asked why I was carrying that sign.

Like a smart-aleck kid, I was delighted to be able to explain the English translation, "Crush the infamous thing!," and went on to describe my understanding of what Voltaire meant by "L'infame." I held it to refer to unreason, superstition, fundamentalism, arbitrary authority and the Bush White House. I admitted that Voltaire had been remarkably prescient 250 years ago when he included in his list of iniquities the current administration in Washington, and that my gratitude was accordingly that much more profound.

They asked more, about my current attitude toward France and toward the position of the French people and the French government on the subject of an Iraq war, and most significantly, about what I thought of the performance of the American media [ok, I admit I provoked that one].

They were very impressive. They had been following the legendary Florent Morillet and the GLAMericans since nine in the morning, and I'm very sorry I won't be able to see the product of their labors on French public television [The program, "Envoies Speciales," is something like the American institution, "60 Minutes." If anyone sees this segment somewhere in the french-speaking world, please let me know.].

My sign and I were hailed and saluted by a number of people all afternoon, many who understood the words and their origin, but many who did not and asked for particulars. The most gratifying encounters were with French citizens, but the most charming exchange may have been with the very attractive, young, Hunter College-type couple who asked. As soon as I mentioned "Voltaire," the woman gasped, blushed and shyly sighed that she should have remembered, since she had just read about him.

Thank you, La France.

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Published on February 16, 2003 1:17 AM.

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