Saturday, November 21, 2009

European dignitaries

Herman Who? Baroness What?

Herman Van Rompuy, that's who: the 62-year-old prime minister of a charming land named Belgium, with two coexisting cultures, Flemish and Walloon (mainly French-speaking, but with a distinct German-speaking fringe). And the 53-year-old English lady Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, that's what. So, stop acting like Henry Kissinger when he used to complain that it was all very well trying to establish contacts with Europe; he said he simply didn't have the precise name and phone number of a chief who could speak unequivocally on behalf of Europe. From now on, if you want to contact Europe, simply call either Herman or Kate.

Herman might look like an absent-minded professor. And his lady has the allure of the strict mistress of a finishing school for daughters of the aristocracy. But, believe me, he and the baroness of Upholland (up what ? you might be wondering) are surely capable of painting the town red... whatever that might mean in the case of a vast entity such as Europe.

One would expect that Daniel Cohn-Bendit, known in the revolutionary France of May 1968 as Danny the Red, would like that idea. But his current color in European politics is strictly green. In any case, Cohn-Bendit has expressed total disenchantment concerning the election of the Herman + Catherine couple. Danny used an ugly French adjective to designate Rompuy-Dompty. He described him as falot (rhymes with shallow), which is akin to our English word fellow. In English, you might say that falot could be translated as "a dull fellow".

As a cross between a native Aussie bloke and an adoptive French mec (translatable as guy, or maybe dude), I've always been intrigued by the terms used to designate males. Long ago, when I was working with IBM in Wigmore Street, London, my Liverpudlian colleague Larry Doyle gave me a precious linguistic lesson concerning an attractive female secretary named Sarah, who had surely been causing sparks of lust (or whatever else you might like to call it) to illuminate my Antipodean eyes. "What you've got to understand, Bill, is that Sarah is not the kind of English girl who's looking for a man. She's out to conquer a chap. As an Aussie, you might not necessarily be familiar with English chaps, and English girls who've set their eyes upon this domain." With Larry's help, I soon became quite proficient at recognizing both chaps and female chap-huntresses... but it wasn't a subject that interested me greatly. At that time, I was starting to become infatuated by another exotic female category that Larry designated as birds... but that's a long and complicated story.


  1. That charmant little country, isn't it the country where one of your children is born and that of one of your friends Eric M. ? Pay attention not to fall in, as they say in french : "délit de sale gueule". As one of the European deputies said in Brussels : "If a man as Van Rompuy can calm down the tensions in Belgium, he also can lead Europe." Sincerly yours, one of your regular readers since the beginning.

  2. Hey! I've always adored Belgium! And you're perfectly right to point out that I shouldn't remain at the superficial level of Professor Nimbus appearances, since it's a fact that Herman Van Rompuy succeeded remarkably well in calming down tensions in Belgium. So, your quote of a European deputy is spot on. Personally I'm immensely pleased that Tony Blair did NOT get the job. My article was indeed a little lightweight. But, if people in France can no longer make innocent fun about their Belgian neighbors, then our world would be so much sadder. In any case, I sincerely hope that Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton will be excellent and efficient European dignitaries... as I'm sure they will. In my article, I mentioned the fact that Cohn-Bendit doesn't like this choice. But I should have pointed out that Sarkozy + Merkel backed the tandem of Herman + Catherine.