Table of Contents
Chapter 22, part 1 appeared
in issue 142.
Chapter 22: Paris, France
Good morning, Minister. My name, should you wish to use one, is Quo.
‘Bonjour, Quo. I detect that you are not French, but I am honoured that you appear to be talking to me in our beloved language.’
I always make the effort to give of my best, Monsieur Nallier. Or may I perhaps call you Jean-Christophe ...?
‘But of course!’
Jean-Christophe, we have learned much about you in the past few minutes. We can see that you will prove invaluable to our objectives here. We hope that you too can now appreciate those aims, and the role which you can play ...
‘It is already surprisingly clear to me, Quo.’
That is excellent, monsieur. And, of course, you now appreciate that you may completely forget the facile pretext of a business deal and that soupçon of blackmail which led you here today ...
Jean-Christophe, you have revealed to us that there are apparently immense differences and disagreements between the so-called partners or allies of your European Union. Not just on the pressing subjects of Iraq, and the war on terror, and the euro, and enlargement, all of which are now somewhat familiar to us; but in many, many other areas, such as policy on taxation, the handling of asylum seekers, relationships with America and China, relationships within the Union itself, agricultural policies, and so on.
Of course, it is no surprise to us that there are such significant differences of opinion amongst your many independent states. This is quite natural ... and the airing of such differences is a keystone of what you call “democracy” and what we call something akin to your phrase “the only way”.
But what has already stunned us, from our limited observations to date, is the true depth of these disagreements, and the degree to which those truths are disguised, or concealed, or denied by your leaders and the representatives of your peoples. In our homeland, such differences, on any and every subject, are open for all to see — it cannot be any other way — and the Consensus of a substantial majority then reigns, as a self-portraying truth. On Earth, or in Europe at least, power and influence appear instead to rest in the hands of the most convincing of the many persuaders ...
‘You have summed up my views, Quo, and those of a regrettably small number of other public figures, in a most effective fashion. The ways of your homeland, as you describe them, present to my mind the image of a large and fully open book. By contrast, I see all around me a never-ending game of poker ...’
Merci, Jean-Christophe. Your own summary is most graphic and equally effective. And, I must add, I can see that you believe it absolutely. This confirms my hope that you may be an excellent servant in the furtherance of both of our causes. Indeed, I suspect that we might have been able to gain much from recruiting you personally to pursue this general subject for us in greater depth. But, as you will discover later, we have in mind for you a much more specific mission.
Fortunately, you have also revealed to us ... (Quo, ever-inclusive, ever-loquacious, was still conducting this unspoken briefing in French, and warming to the task, but was in consequence edging inexorably into and beyond increasingly grotesque and flowery hyperbole) ... you have also revealed to us the name of another politician, in England, who seems to be even more intensely frustrated than yourself by the vagaries of European politics, as you have just portrayed them for us in a style so redolent of your great city.
It appears that this like-minded acquaintance of yours, The Hon. Jeremy James Farant, established some time ago a small organisation known as CAMRUTH — The Campaign for Real Truth, of which you are a founder member. The aims and ideals of CAMRUTH would seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to the reality that we have achieved in our own political process.
Mr Farant will prove, I have little doubt, to be an extremely useful further contact for us. I should therefore be most grateful if you would procure, in time for our next engagement, which will take place this evening, that gentleman’s London home and parliamentary office telephone numbers, which you do not appear to have committed to memory ...
‘It will be my pleasure, Quo.’
Now, it is also clear, monsieur, that you are well aware of the political stance and the character of a more recent recruit to the ranks of CAMRUTH, one Mevr. Hilde van Wostraap of the Netherlands, but you have not had the pleasure of meeting the lady herself.
We are very interested in procuring an opportunity to make the acquaintance of this illustrious champion of honesty for ourselves. Therefore, Jean-Christophe, we should also be most grateful if you would at once conduct some further research into that lady’s planned movements over the coming week, and also into the possible channels which we might pursue in order to effect that encounter.
‘Quo, I will do all I can to assist you. And may I also compliment you on your excellent command of our language, and your obvious devotion to the classical style!’
Ah, Jean-Christophe, you are most kind. But, like every sensible student, I see the value of emulating quality whenever I observe it.
Now, I should be grateful if you would rendezvous here this evening with your new friend Carla, having completed the two tasks which have been assigned to you.
‘Quo, if I may make so bold, I feel that these gardens are not really the ideal situation for discussions of so delicate a nature. It would surely be more sensible for Mlle Carla to visit me in my town apartment, n’est-ce pas ? ... it is but fifteen minutes’ walk from here ...’
Very well, Jean-Christophe, we will accept your good judgement. I have already noted the details of your street address — and that your entry phone is labelled “Valéry”. Carla looks forward with pleasure to meeting you again at eight-thirty tonight ...
Jean-Christophe Nallier was disengaged. He surprised himself by resisting the temptation to try once again to kiss Carla’s hand, and strode back to his detective, reassuring him that everything was fine and that it had simply been, as he had advised him earlier, a small personal matter ...
‘When are you meeting him next, Carla?’
Carla was surprised at Toni’s unaccustomed interest.
‘Tonight — at his apartment.’
‘Really? ... and you’ll be going in alone?’
‘I expect so, Toni. I think that is what J-C wishes.’
‘I’m sure it is ...’
‘All right, Carla. I suppose you know best. But I hope you were able to do the job properly just now, without disappearing! Right... can we take a proper look at this part of the city together?’
‘Certainly. I know how much that will please you. But we must locate Nallier’s apartment first — it’s on Quai Voltaire.’
‘Sure ... wait, I’ll look at the map ... yes, it’s quite close. No problem. Now, I suggest we look round Notre-Dame and the left bank area before lunch, and after that I must show you the wonderful paintings and sculptures in the Musée d’Orsay ...’
‘You’re in charge for now, Toni!’
* * *
They walked the full length of the Tuileries, then crossed the river at Pont Royal and found the apartments on the elegant Quai Voltaire, close to the Rue de Beaune, situated above several fine art galleries, and with excellent views of the river and the buildings of the right bank.
‘Look, there’s a special plaque on the wall,’ said Toni, and he translated it aloud: ‘In this building, Rudolf Nureyev lived for several years before his death in 1993.’
‘Who was Nureyev?’
‘A wonderful Russian ballet dancer, Carla. The greatest. He was born on a train, you know ...’
‘Well, you’ve been borne on lots of trains over the last few days, Toni. And I hope I shall not be expected to dance here tonight!’
‘Ha ha ha! That’s better — two jokes in the same breath! I’m glad you’re feeling more cheerful! Now, I need a beer ...’
* * *
After the beer, they began their little tour, soon arriving at an impressive cluster of buildings set back from the embankment. Toni went over to study the inscription.
INSTITUT DE FRANCE
Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres
Académie des Sciences
Académie des Beaux Arts
Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques ...
‘Aha!’ he said. ‘This is where they protect the French language!’
‘From whom, Toni?’
‘From the likes of us!’
They meandered up-river towards the Ile de la Cité, crossed the narrow channel at the Petit Pont, then took in the full splendour of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.
‘We must go inside, Carla. Come on!’
Carla was still content to be the passenger again for a while.
* * *
Toni had not, from his childhood visit, remembered the immensity of the building.
‘It's not so much the length that’s remarkable, Carla ...’ (he was staring upwards and his rhapsody was addressed mainly to the ceiling and to himself) ‘... no, I don't think it's particularly longer than some of the other cathedrals I've been in. It’s the height that's the amazing thing ... yes, it's just incredibly high, and every single wall is windowed, look, and all the windows are so ornate ... there’s glorious stained glass everywhere ... it’s just unbelievable ... how did they manage to build it ...?’
‘It is indeed very beautiful, Toni — and I am deeply moved by your passion for it.’
Carla did not do sarcasm either, nor did Toni even suspect it.
‘And look here ... a sculpture of Saint Joan of Arc — I’ll translate the text for you.’
‘Joan of Arc, 1412-1431
Born in Lorraine, burned alive in Rouen as a heretic and a witch.
The decision to re-establish her reputation was made in this Cathedral.’
‘She must have been a very special woman, Toni.’
‘A very special girl, really, Carla. Younger than me, when she died. Just a girl. She was an infiltrator, too, in her way. But her motives were always good. She inspired her king to recover his throne, but later she bore the wounds and the humiliation of his defeats. She nearly won through. But in the end, another power triumphed. It took them five hundred years to decide to make her a saint ...’
Carla was again impressed by Toni’s fervour, but did not push for more details, deciding to leave the normally irreligious young man alone with his thoughts, as they completed their tour of the inspirational Notre-Dame de Paris.
Toni’s thoughts were, in fact, primarily focused on the impression Carla seemed to be giving of slowly, at last, getting back to her normal self ...
* * *
They retraced their steps down the river and turned into Boulevard St-Michel, stopping to admire the mighty, sombre fountain at the end of the square, with its memorial to another more recent and more successful campaign of liberation. Toni studied it in silence, and then they moved on and soon reached the entrance to the Jardin du Luxembourg.
‘I’ve always wanted to come back here again, Carla ... there’s a lovely little round lily pond in the middle, right next to the palace, with children feeding the carp ...’
But the pond was not as small or as round or as romantic as Toni had remembered it, especially since the sun had just disappeared behind a cloud. It was quite plain, and octagonal, with a fountain in the middle held up by a statue, and a few seagulls and ducks floating idly around. There were no waterlilies; and if there had once been carp in the water, and delighted children laughing as they fed them, well, they were there no more. The pond was in the middle of the gardens, true enough ... but the palace was some way off to the north.
Toni put a brave face on it.
‘Pity about the lilies and the carp. Still, I think these are the most informal formal gardens I have ever been in! Really nice, now the sun’s come out again, don’t you think, Carla? ... and the Palace looks so elegant up there, solid but smiling at us, with those confidently sloping grey roofs, and the domes, and that flag flying proudly on the top. Look at the colour of the stone, and the wonderful windows, and the balance of the whole thing! It’s like having the Pitti Palace of Florence in the middle of Paris!’
Carla was now feeling rather proud of Toni, the son of the architect. She sensed he might be nearly ready for a little more personal development ...
He emerged from his raptures, remembered his stomach and proposed lunch.
‘That’s fine,’ said Carla. ‘I’ll see you in the gallery afterwards. By the way, I like this place too! I think I’ll invite J-C here for our final engagement at this time tomorrow ...’
She disappeared behind a tree and un-made, then followed Toni as he crossed back over Boul’Mich. He strolled back towards the Seine, and soon spotted, in a narrow street leading off up to the Panthéon, a neat little Chinese restaurant where he enjoyed an excellent meal, a good house red wine, and very gracious service.
* * *
Junior Minister Delegate Nallier was regrettably skipping his own lunch that day.
Instead, he was first consulting the European Parliament’s public web site.
This led him straight to the full list of Dutch MEPs, then to a profile of Hilde van Wostraap herself and the names of her two accredited assistants, then off to her own web site, and then, far more easily than he had anticipated or considered wise, to her agenda for the coming week:
Monday 7 - Thursday 10 April
Plenary Session of the European Parliament, Strasbourg
Next, he telephoned a Member of Congress in his own political party who, he remembered hearing recently, had on several occasions over the past few years visited the various European government institutions in Strasbourg, and had reputedly always been afforded some very special evening entertainment opportunities.
‘And who, if you please, is the gentleman who makes all these interesting arrangements for you?’ ... ‘Non, mon ami, I can assure you it would not be in your best interests to withhold this information.’ ... ‘Ah, that is better ... and perhaps a telephone number?’ ... ‘Merci, mon camarade! Consider it now forgotten!’
Finally, after consulting his address book and committing to memory the office number of The Hon. Jeremy Farant, MP, he had a quiet word with a close friend in the French Foreign Ministry’s own intelligence unit, who additionally obtained for him without delay the ex-directory home number of the venerable West London politician.
* * *
Carla pursued Toni as he left the restaurant and strode off towards the Musée d’Orsay. It was nearly two o’clock, and he had suddenly had a revelation: there might be a bit of a queue!
His judgement was most definitely improving. As he approached the entrance, the wide file of bodies stretched off into apparent infinity.
Antonio Felipe Murano would, undoubtedly, have meekly and properly walked the full length of the line, taken up his rightful place, and, like all the other tourists in front of him, wasted at least two precious Parisian hours fretting about whether and when he would manage to get in, and how much time would be left, even if he did.
Rafael Luis Barola, however, had abandoned some of Toni’s well-instilled principles. He held off, made a quick plan, then ambled very slowly up to the head of the queue and continued down it at the same gentle pace. It took him precisely twenty seconds to identify, at a manageable distance, his native Castillian being spoken energetically by a group of four teenage girls only a couple of years younger than himself.
He went for it. Smiled broadly in apparent recognition, he breezed up to the least pretty of the girls in the party, with a happy ‘Ah, there you are!’ followed by a perfect approach for a friendly kiss on the cheek which turned into a whispered ‘Look, chica, the queue is absolutely huge ... can I join up with you? ... I’ll happily pay your entrance fee ... my name’s Toni ... what’s yours? ...’
He tolerated their company for the next few minutes, and he did indeed try to pay for his new friend, although she politely refused to let him. But once he had deposited his CD player, and the girls had handed in all their carrier bags and were noisily getting their bearings, he mumbled ‘Please excuse me for a moment’ and rushed off towards the toilet. Emerging though a different exit door, he hurried away from the main foyer ...
Carla followed him throughout this charade, feeling a strange combination of disapproval and admiration. Then, once he had clearly established his next plan of action after a quick word with a curator, she continued to pursue him as he pressed on up the side stairs to the upper level ...
To be continued ...