This week’s issue of the Independent magazine is on the theme of France, which is why Ralph has created this beautiful picture of a statue of Charles de Gaulle, or “Charles the Wall”, as he should more properly be known. The name apparently derives from the German for “wall” and even the “de” is suspect, being not — as you undoubtedly assumed — a nobiliary particle. But then that’s you all over, isn’t it, always assuming things are nobiliary particles without any cause? You probably thought the “la” in Danny la Rue was one, let alone the “de” in Chris de Burgh. Poltroon.
Still, enough of this nobiliary particle badinage (as De Gaulle himself doubtless often had to say), let’s press on. When it comes to De Gaulle what’s not to like? Here you have a man called wall, who behaved like a veritable rampart throughout most of his political and military career, repelling the barbarian invasions. Is it any surprise he ended up with plazas, boulevards and even an airport named after him? The man was the very essence of solidity and probity, no matter what one feels about his ideological colouration.
I mean, you can’t go calling an airport after just any old individual, because the name is bound to affect the way it’s perceived by those volatile characters: incoming airline pilots. The minute they begin their descent into Charles de Gaulle Airport — or Roissy, as it is colloquially known among the joystick fraternity — airline pilots instinctively square their shoulders and buff up the peaks of their caps. They begin to look longer, leaner and more confident.
And when they request permission to land at Charles de Gaulle, they are immediately visited with a strong psychic impression of the airport’s namesake, an impression that contains all of the following: the De Gaulle family’s principled support for Dreyfus, even though they were the sort of blue-blood Catholic nationalists you would’ve expected to behave altogether differently; De Gaulle’s courage in the First World War, severely wounded at Verdun and then captured by the Boche; his five attempts to escape, even though they resulted in him being banged-up in solitary confinement; his far-sighted support for mobile armoured warfare during the difficult interwar period; his refusal to accept either capitulation to — or co-option by — the Nazis; his brave flight from Bordeaux, carrying 100,000 gold francs sewn into his underpants; his masterly rallying of the Free French in the North African colonies; his triumphant return to Paris to lead the provisional government; his graceful withdrawal from power when he could not agree with the constitutional settlement of the Fourth Republic; his return to power by popular demand when the Algerian crisis threatened civil war; his establishment of the Fifth Republic; his brilliantly successful economic dirigisme that ushered in the “30 glorious years” of economic growth; his brave solution of the Algerian crisis; his evasion of the assassins’ bullets — even though his lovely Citroen DS got it; his strong espousal of the European Union and of a policy of detente towards the USSR; his assertion that “it is the whole of Europe that will decide the destiny of the world”; his provoking the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to make the asinine statement: “I’d rather vote for God” (go on, Jean-Paul, see if we care, get back to your attitudinising and your oysters at La Coupole); his entirely sensible refusal to allow Britain to join the EU, on two occasions, on the basis that not only would the Brits not abide by the rules (amply borne out by events), but that also we would continue to hearken to our master’s voice; crying out from across the Atlantic his notably astute pursuit of an evolved nuclear power industry in France, which means that — were it not for the aforementioned Citroens — France would be well on the way to being carbon neutral; his principled attack on the US atrocities committed in Indochina; his strange withdrawal to Baden-Baden during the height of the 1968 evenements; his honourable retirement to the little village of Colombey-les-deux-eglises and the final revelation, after his death, that far from having lined his pockets like virtually every political leader one can think of (that means you, T Blair), De Gaulle died bankrupt, and refused all the pomp of state funeral, preferring to be carried to his grave in a rubbish bag thrown in the back of a humble Citroen Deux Chevaux.
What a guy! I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s best that airline pilots have this running through their heads when they bring 650 flatulent, frowsty travellers into land. I mean, what would it be like if an airport were named after some crazed acid-head, who spent the great majority of his adult life addicted to drugs and driven by strange and incomprehensible phobias? Oops, sorry, Liverpool.