Tonight President Macron will address the nation, but it’s unlikely that whatever he has to say will have much influence on the people who gathered yesterday at the annual ‘Renaissance Catholique’ book fair.
It takes place less than 40 minutes from Paris in an elegant domain once the home of the royal fountain engineers and now a conference centre.Many years in France have taught me to arrive anywhere while the French are busy refuelling at table, and having paid my 8 euro entrance fee and accepted unwanted information from curt, efficient Boy Scouts I can browse freely.
The titles are as familiar to these people as the 39 articles once were to Anglicans.They tell of heroic deeds in the old French colonies.They pay homage to Catholic martyrs old and new.There is a biography of the elderly parish priest stabbed to death in his church in Normandy last year.
Lunch seems to be over as volunteer ‘officials ‘appear: ladies’ dress code, skirts and thick, dark stockings : for men,corduroy trousers and aged tweed jackets.Never a smart, unisex trouser suit to be seen, nor a stiletto heel! I see at once that this is a tribal gathering.A few, pretty teenage girls appear wearing tight jeans and Barbour style jackets.They radiate a determined, quasi- missionary zeal which at first baffles me, but then I recognize that this is also a discreet marriage market.
I move into ‘history and philosophy ‘:some interesting anthologies:’When Does democracy become totalitarian?’and ‘Is patriotism a sin?’ The question of patriotism and French identity is to be addressed by Eric Zemmour whose ‘Destin français’is a current bestseller. I look for signs of the Le Pen family and find none.
On the other hand, the de Villiers family is represented by two brothers. Philippe, novelist, businessman and well known Eurosceptic and sovereignist and his brother Pierre a newcomer to the world of books.Formerly, head of the French army.
He resigned with fraças over defence cuts in July 2017. He then wrote two books in quick succession, ‘Servir’ and ‘Qu’est un chef?’ What makes a leader? Did these provocative titles show Presidential ambitions? His answers in a TV interview were ambiguous , and showed him as uncharismatic. His two books are in a small pile and not attracting attention. Brother Philippe is much better at all this and will talk later about his own best seller, ‘Le mystere Clovis’.
People drift towards the lecture hall, some hastily finishing glasses of the excellent wine on sale alongside CD’s of patriotic and drinking songs,many of the latter evoking hunting, shooting and fishing.The atmosphere is cheerful and confident.Two Dominican monks are busy with their mobile phones.
This too is France.