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THE SECOND INVASION

閱讀這篇文章有訣竅。看不懂的副詞跟形容詞可以先畫起來,一口氣讀完後,再來查字典增加字彙。

文/William Blyth

一對退休的英國夫婦,一個寧靜安詳的法國小鎮,睽違六百多年的英法之爭,悄然上演。

In the year 1360, during a particularly bloody period of European history known as the Hundred Years War, the English invaded a small French town of strategic importance called Montréal. 648 years later, my parents retired and moved to this same town, now a village of some two hundred souls. It was the second invasion by the English. Historians have documented the earlier event, not always to the credit of the invaders (many died under their sword), but the latter development has been curiously neglected by contemporary scholarship. In this article, I intend to expand the record. It is the story of a victory. In 1360, the English stayed for only a few days, but my parents have now lived in Montréal for over eight years. The occupation continues.

First of all, I will describe the layout of Montréal, to give a general impression of the terrain on which the battle was fought and won. The village sits on what the French, with their sensual talent for geography, refer to as a mamelon (this corresponds to a hilly region of the female anatomy), in the shallow valley of the Serein. The gentle elevation of the village affords a vast panorama of the surrounding countryside. Below, a river winds torpidly through lines of poplar trees and hedged fields of lowing cows. In all directions, the church spires of rival parishes prick the horizon. During the middle ages, it was possible to spot the approach of a foreign army from a very long way off. There was always time to sharpen the garden tools for a polite welcome. But times have changed. My parents arrived, at great speed, by motorway. No one saw them coming.

The village itself is entered via a small road, which hosts a post office, a bar, a restaurant, a shop and an impenetrable convent. I have never seen any of the nuns in the bar. Conversely, patrons of the bar are not often spotted in the convent. The priest also lives down here, among his gentle flock. He is, interestingly, the first black priest in the history of Montréal. In provincial France, social progress has been slow to catch on. From the surrounding architecture, it’s easy to understand why. Many buildings are as old as the 15th or 16th centuries, and sometimes the people seem even older. The average age of residents is well over seventy. Just as in Taiwan, the young have flown to the cities, taking their liberal views with them.

Access to the heart of the village is obscured by the outer battlements. Luckily, these are not as rigorously defended as of yore, and an Englishman can drive his car through the main stone gate without a native batting an eyelid, let alone pouring boiling oil over him. Just outside the gate extends the very large villa of a very large Italian princess. Once inside, however, the buildings and residents become smaller.  At the village centre is a square where the elementary school and the Mairie, a kind of posh village hall, are housed. My parents live directly next to the Mairie, because it is important in France to stick close to political power. Further on up the hill is the former parish house, now owned by a Swiss millionaire, and vegetable gardens belonging to locals so poor that they have to grow their own food. So much for the egalité (equality) of the revolution. At the very top of the village resides the church, which dates from the 12th century. The castle of Montréal no longer exists. But as we English say, ‘a man’s home is his castle.’ It follows logically that my parents, as the only Englishmen in the village, could refer to their small house as the Castle of Montréal. This is what the French refer to as folie de grandeur (delusions of grandeur).

Unlike their forbears, my parents came bearing not arms, but gifts. When abroad, in peace as in war, you must endeavor to win ‘the hearts and minds’ of the native population. My father, who used to work for Her Majesty’s Government, has a little experience in diplomacy. There is one key ingredient: alcohol. Their first months were spent buying up the produce of vineyards for miles around. In France, the sign of a respectable man is a respectable cellar. My parents have made a small tourist attraction of theirs, which is credited with a considerable supply of fine vintage. This was not, however, wanton expense. The contents were used to curry favor with a ring of Parisians who, though present only on weekends and holidays, ruthlessly dominate local opinion, with seats on all the important committees and organs of administration. The process of seduction took an extremely long time. Seven years after moving in, a neighbour stopped my father on the street and declared that he and my mother were ‘now accepted in the village.’ My parents could breath a sigh of relief.

Social ambition, however, is an indomitable force of human nature. Soon after this news, the mayoral elections were called. In the evenings, my father would sink low in his chair by the wood fire. You could almost see the thoughts flicker across his face. ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to be the mayor?’ he asked suddenly one day. ‘No, it would not!’ replied my mother. ‘But it would so interesting,’ countered my father, looking wistfully in the direction of the Mairie.  ‘For you, maybe,’ sighed my mother.

It is unwise to covet political power in a foreign land. The English kings came to France for the throne, but were driven back, time and again, into the sea. Faced with the unequivocal lessons of history, my father ceased to toy with the idea of occupying public office. A new mayor, blamelessly French, assumed the duties of state. But in the evenings, as I watch my father sitting by the fire, absorbed in thought, I sometimes wonder ‘what about the next election?’

 

folie de grandeur (delusions of grandeur):「誇大妄想」為妄想症中的一種。指過份誇大自己的身份、財富、能力、權利或地位以向他人炫耀、引起重視之人。

 

本文收錄於英語島English Island 20166月號
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