Thursday, June 16, 2011

Culinary and Historical Repartee

It had been too long since I had seen the Compte de Rienville, and when he requested my presence at a dinner party at Versailles, well, I just had to accept, and was soon aboard his private jet. Now while I usually avoid dinner parties like the plague (unless I threw them, and knew who precisely was coming) where the Compte was concerned -- well, the exception that proves the rule.

I must add that the Compte, aware of my propensity to not suffer fools gladly, did urge me to cut a more demure figure than was my wont. "These are," he said, "important people, and the request to host the dinner has come from Sarkozy himself."

"Oh, well then," I sniffed.

"Now Simone, it's not often that I ask you --"

"Relax, mon cher. I will be on my best behaviour. This time, anyway."

For the occasion I wore an Alexander McQueen strapless sheath that from the looks I got from the assemblage, was well appreciated. I mean, if McQueen is good enough for Kate Middeleton, it's good enough for me. And another plus: not present was Dominique Strauss-Kahn. I had had a rather nasty run-in with the man about a year ago in Vienna, but I gather that Dominique has other things on his mind just now, not the least of which is staying out of a New York prison. Sic transit gloriam munde.

The evening began with champagne (Veuve Clicquot biensur) and then on to dinner. This was magnificent, and all washed down with an incredible series of wines from the Compte's own cellar. And I was on my best behaviour, agreeing with whatever point of view was put forward, although an inner part of me was rebelling at my reluctance to correct what were some obvious falsehoods put forward by the 'important' guests.

Just after dessert (an excellent creme brulee drizzled in Remy Martin) I unfortunately lost it.

A noted French historian was expounding on his belief that historical research was now so advanced that accuracy was now a given. This was such a nonsense that I simply had to challenge him on the point.

"Monsieur," I began, "what of Louis XV?"

"Ah," he intoned, "an era that we know well. "Apres moi le deluge" as Louis put it."

"But that's not correct," I said, rather bluntly I must admit.

"Of course it's correct."

"In fact, my dear Professor, the actual statement is "Apres NOUS le deluge," and it was uttered by Jeanne de Poisson, better known as Madame de Pompadour. Male historians --"

"Utter claptrap," he interrupted. "You English have never really recovered from the French invasion of 1066. And just where did you evolve this Pompadour theory?"

"The English historian Norman Davies. You could profit from a read-through of his book Europe. Secondly, I am not English but Italian. And finally, the French never invaded England in 1066."

This brought all conversation to a halt, including a frantic glance from the Compte.

I carried on. "You see, when Alfred the Great kicked all the Norsemen out of a goodly part of England, they then all went to a certain area of France and took it over. That part is now known as Normandy: that is, the land of the Norsemen. It was they, under William, who returned. Not the French, or Franks as they were then called. You dispute this?"

There was silence, and I could feel the Compte's disapproving look piercing right through my shoulders. Better make things right, I thought.

"Although I must say, Professor, that my daughter Victoria is also an historian, and she admires you greatly."

The Professor relaxed a wee bit.

"Victoria particularly was intrigued by your work on the Thirty Years War, and your treatment of the campaigns of General Tilly."

The Professor actually allowed a small smile to appear.

"And yet..." I paused.

The Professor stiffened again.

"She has trouble getting her students to appreciate historical accuracy. Three of them thought General Tilly, upon retirement, went into the hat business."

Silence, then laughter, and all was well again.

The Compte approached. "Close one, that."

"Not really," I said. "And the good Professor may actually do some reading on the issues discussed. Or not. Still, a ray of hope. So Blake: "If the fool persists in his folly, he will become wise."

"Touche," said the Compte.

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