On this evening's TV news, a lengthy sequence showed the arrival of the national Australian rugby team in France... in a graveyard!
What a terrible symbol for forthcoming failure! It's surely the Parisian embassy staff that engineered stupidly this immediate link to spooky Villers-Bretonneux, where panels list the names of some ten thousand Australians who died in France and have no known grave. As for me, as an Australian settled in France, Villers-Bretonneux is the last place in the world I would ever think of visiting, even as a pilgrimage, because it doesn't really seem to symbolize anything whatsoever of an authentic Franco-Australian nature. That whole affair was simply a huge planetary mistake. More precisely, I ask rhetorically the following questions:
— Before coming here to die, did these dead soldiers have anything to do with the spirit of the Old World, or the great European nation named France? Or were they simply obeying orders in a blind fashion?
— Had they ever heard of France?
— Did they know anything about French history and culture?
— Did they speak French?
— Did they have personal contacts in France?
— Today, should we think of these countless dead Aussie soldiers as a symbol of Franco-Australian relationships, or rather as the terrible price of stupidity?
It goes without saying that we have no answers to such questions. Over a year ago, however, I was alarmed when Australian friends informed me that tour operators, in the context of the rugby cup, were offering Aussie visitors—besides the Eiffel Tower—a mindless blend of wine tastings and war cemeteries.
Talking of Australian graves in France, here's one that has concerned me over the last decade or so, ever since my encounter with the Dauphiné region:
Christina Jager and her young brother Nicholas were students, residing in the fabulous village of Bruno and the Chartreux monks. They came here on purpose, and they chose a magnificent place to stay and study. But, one winter morning, while setting out in their automobile to the university city of Grenoble, these Australian students were blinded by the sun on the first bend in the road below Saint Pierre de Chartreuse, their vehicle left the road and they were mortally wounded. Over the last twelve years, I've rounded that innocent but treacherous bend on countless occasions. Every time I visit the great monastic village, I spend a moment before the grave of Christina and Nicholas, who died shortly before my daughter Emmanuelle was born. I've always imagined these two Carthusian kids—brother and sister—as my Australian forebears in the territory of Bruno.