Monday, June 11, 2012


The Jubilee of the British Monarch was remarkable. The pomp and splendor from bygone times did fit the person of the Queen, while they might have looked rather pathetic and vulgar almost with any other. Elisabeth II appropriated the pageant, with nonchalance and almost aloof irony. She waved and smiled with parsimony, remaining a distant idol, as she has decided to be since acceding to the throne. Belonging to the generation which had the privilege to mingle with the likes of the Sitwells, Noel Coward, P.G.Wodehouse or Allan Bennett, she is known for a sense of humor but also for a steel faculty of reckoning.

She witnessed how the Royal family was almost swept away by soap opera events which spanned an arc which covered both the sordid/comic (The Duchess of York) and the tragic (Princess Diana). The latter, who had enlivened the Royal family, was the only one who, after her death, was able to crack the walls of royal self-control.  It is ironic by the way that Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles, direct descendant of Edward VII‘s favorite mistress, Alice Keppel. The Windsors like continuity!

The Queen remains a cipher. One would love to see her at times exchange distance in favor of proximity, to receive proof of the realty of her supposedly mordant humor, which she keeps safe in some personal vault.  Her passion for horses and dogs, the concern shown in 1992 after the fire in Windsor Castle, and her political stand regarding the Commonwealth leave us with some glimpses, but the overall picture remains blurred. One would have liked to witness what was said during her rare meetings with Edward VII or her encounter with Wallis Simpson at the funeral of the former. The motto of absolute discretion continues to prevail. Countless prime ministers, from Winston Churchill on, have respected the mutually accepted code of privacy. Hence this queen, who is still able to mobilize millions, looks familiar to all while simultaneously keeping her distance, creating a mystique which no other royal has been able to achieve.

There is also a cynical element in all this. The carriages, the uniforms, the gossip have become a touristic attraction and feed the tabloids. In the Royal family only the queen has the knack to control her narrative.  The successors will have to be attentive to keep this savoir-faire, in order not to become hostages of a mothballed pageant. Fortunately the sons of Princess Diana seem to have inherited from their mother a healthy, ironical gene which will protect them from becoming mere pawns in some mediocre “matinee”.  Until then, the Queen will continue to rule, without equal in the world, setting her own rules. It is an act which would leave even Lady Bracknell speechless.

The British are unique indeed. This former infinite empire, now reduced to having to attend EU meetings in Brussels remains a “power” and projects an irrational indispensability, unlike any other EU member.  Sometimes I think that the British sense of humor and morgue are weapons that no other country, with the possible exception of the United States, possesses. We do not go to Moscow or Beijing to laugh. The French only indulge in negative humor:  to attempt to humiliate is their “forte”. The British are too insular, probably, to indulge in “minimizing,” more out of lack of interest than out of respect. Elisabeth II has a worldview, seen from balconies and carriages, which are part of the “job”. I am sure that her analytical mind rests on a more solid foundation. The person who is almost hidden from view by a cloud of honors is the last to be fooled by a “production” which she alone, unlike her father King George VI or King George V, is able to master.  Queen Victoria has found her match, finally.  Both queens share class. There is no room for fussiness in either.

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