Book Review: “The President’s Hat”

The President's Hat

By Antoine Laurain
209 pages,
Publisher: Gallic Books, March 28, 2013

Summer’s good for light reading entertainment. And The President’s Hat just fits that bill.And it will charm your socks off.

The President’s Hat is not the hat of Donald Trump or Barack Obama. Not the hat of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. It is the hat of Francois Mitterand, President of France during the 1980s.

Antoine Laurain’s story is how four different individuals come into possession of the extra special hat. A hat that can do magic for its wearer.

The story begins with Daniel Mercier. He is a low level bureaucrat. His wife and son are out of town, so he’s been batching it. The night before they return, he decides to splurge. He goes out to eat. While he’s enjoying his meal, the President of France takes a table next to his. Mitterand is joined by two other men.

He overhears Mitterand say, “As I was saying to Helmut Kohl last week…” “Never again, he told himself, would he be able to eat oysters without hearing those words: ‘As I was saying to Helmut Kohl last week.'” (p.20) For the next two and a half hours, Daniel makes his fish platter last so that he can let Mitterand’s person shine on him. He has never been that close to fame before.

Unfortunately Mitterand forgets his black homburg. Daniel takes it. This act changes not only his life. It changes the lives of a semi-professional writer Fanny Marquant’s, a perfumer Pierre Aslan, and the conservative upper class Bernard Lavalliere as they come into possession of the hat.

Bernard Lavalliere’s attitude about so many things change. He goes to a party he wouldn’t have been caught dead at in his previous life.

Riding in a Rolls-Royce on the way to the party: “It was one of those nights that take you back to the magical nights of youth, filled with fun, freedom and boundary breaking–the kind of nights that naturally exist only in your imagination. The makers of this track were at the top of the charts, he was riding in a Rolls-Royce to meet the high priest of publicity and the man behind the wheel could knock any price down by thirty per cent. Winners, all of them.” (p. 155)

At the party: “Leaving the three of them to squabble over the mysterious painter, Bernard picked up another glass of champagne and turned his mind back to his ancestor. Charles-Eduard was a shrewd character, no doubt about, but in common with many of his peers, the Impressionists had completely passed him by. A single Money, a single Renoir–not to mention a Gauguin or a Van Gogh–would now be worth a hundred times the legacy he had built up over his lifetime. The Lavallieres had displayed a dubious penchant for paintings of ruins–as  far as the romantic landscapes went, they had it covered–but had never had the sense to invest in anything of artistic worth. A repulsive image came into his mind: the little landscape with its broken clock.” (p. 158)

This is a tale about how an object can change your life. It reminded me of a story of mine that I had posted called “Edna’s Feet“.

And there’s lots of French cuisine in this short novel. Since I’m not a gourmand, I wasn’t sure what many of the food’s dishes were. But they were delightful. The characters sure enjoyed them.

And I sure enjoyed the book.

Advertisements

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Norman Mailer

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is Norman Mailer:

Here he is interviewed by the conservative icon, William F. Buckley. It’s too bad we can’t have such a respectful discussion between liberals and conservatives these days.

In the 1950s, many proclaimed Norman Mailer as the great American novelist, the successor of Ernest Hemingway. His career began with The Naked and the Dead (1948). During the 1950s, he struggled to write a successor that would live up to that first novel’s potential. But still the critics hoped. Unfortunately he was not Hemingway. He was Norman Mailer.

Then he took on the establishment and his persona grew and grew until he seemed to be everywhere. It made some wonder when he had time to write. It got to the point where it seemed that when Norman Mailer farted, the world stood up and applauded. Then he turned to non-fiction and journalism.

His Armies of the Night (1968) won the Pulitzer Prize. Between that book and his masterpiece, The Executioner’s Song (1979), for which he won his second Pulitzer, he wrote several journalistic works like Of A Fire on the Moon (1971) and The Fight (1975). He seemed to have found his subject, American society in the last half of the twentieth century as seen by Norman Mailer.

Norman Mailer was accused of being a misogynist. He found it easy to get into a fight. His personality was that of a brawler. Of all the writers who came out of the World War II generation, Norman Mailer seems to have the potential to become that which he dreamed of most, the great American novelist. With only a few exceptions, he fell short. It seemed like much of his life he was in search of a subject. And such a struggle it was. But always there was his ego.

For writers and artists, Mailer can be a warning. Never let your ego get in the way of your art. But one thing that Mailer reminds all of us about. Words matter, and writers matter. We forget that at our own risk. They tell us things we don’t want to hear. They tell us the truth. If for no other reason, that’s why Norman Mailer matters.

And here is Mailer’s legacy to his fellow writers:

Uncle Bardie’s Thursday Music Spot: Glory

I grew up in another time and another space. A time when a song said so much better what I felt than a speech or a letter or a tv show or a movie. It was the time of Phil Ochs and Peter Paul and Mary, of Nina Simone and Joan Baez, of Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, of Marvin Gaye and James Brown and John Lennon. Just hearing their voices speak the truth in a time when the world seemed to have gone mad with injustice and war was a joy and an affirmation.

These days there are voices like Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino and Guy Clark Jr. and MILCK and Against Me!. But none of them seemed to have reached across society as a whole and become anthems the way “We Shall Overcome” and “Blowin’ in  the Wind” and “Imagine” did”.

I’ve featured Thea Gilmore before. I first gave her my Creative Artist spotlight. Then I gave you her wonderful holiday song, “Sol Invictus,”  and her joyful “Rise.” Well, here’s a new one that I hope can become the anthem we all need. It’s from her 2019  album, Small World Turning. It’s called “Glory.” I can’t think of a better song for an anthem for these times.

Here’s  the lyrics of the song:

Glory to the dying embers
Glory to the TV screens
Glory to the once remembered
Rags and flags and gasoline

Glory to the jukebox heroes
Glory to the botox queens
Glory to the ones and zeroes
Coding kings and libertines

Glory to the plastic ocean
Glory to the modern slave
Glory to the pocket Hitler
Glory to the unmade grave

Glory to the crimes of passion
Glory to the left and right
Glory as the crumbs of fashion
Feed the modern appetite

Amen amen
Bow your head and pray
Welcome to brand new history

Glory to the wheels of power
Glory to the face of war
Glory to the single flower
Held at revolution’s door

Glory to the fallen soldiers
Glory to what made them fall
Glory while the hearts of leaders
See no difference at all

Amen amen
Bow your head and pray
Welcome to brand new history

Glory to the hate and hated
Glory to the loved and lost
Glory to what Greed created
A photofit, a Calvary cross

Glory glory hallelujah
Glory to the threads of fame
Even as the past outgrew ya
You drank its blood and praised its name
You praised its name

 

Near 500 words: TW Meets His Boss

TW (aka The Writer) locked his desk drawer and headed for the elevator. He pushed the elevator button and waited. He liked his life just the way it was. A librarian and a scholar with a few stories on the side.

Saturday and Sunday had freaked him out. The postcard with a moving Sylvia in it, the missing postcard, the unknown language, the streak across the sky, the passing out and waking up in his bed the next morning. And Cat freaking out over the smell.

He stepped inside the elevator and pressed the four button. The door slid closed, then the contraption rose.

Though his mind was still murky, he came to one conclusion. It was time to move on. He owed nothing on his house. He had a substantial amount in his 401 account. He had won a number of literary prizes from his short stories. The last one sold to a major online magazine, and they paid. Not a lot but still it made him a professional writer. Over the years he published non-fiction articles and essays as well. Yes, it was time to leave. To where, he wasn’t sure.

The elevator door opened. Therese at the reception desk greeted him with a smile.

“Is the director in?”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I don’t but I still would like to Dr. Hollings if I could.”

A few minutes later, an overweight man with a overgrown brown beard extended his hand to TW.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir.”

“No bother at all.”

Dr. Hollings’ office was a scholar‘s office. A large bookshelf contained volumes on American history. Diplomas, certificates and awards littered the wall, surrounding the glass frame for his Pulitzer Prize for History certificate and his check.

Through the glass window behind the mahogany desk stood an oak tree. Dr. Hollings for some reason named the tree Harvey.

Inviting TW to sit in a wicker chair near the bookshelf, Dr. Hollings joined him. He eased into a chair facing TW.

“It’s been a while since we’ve visited. I’d like to congratulate on your Celena Prize and  your story in the Grand Hotel. That’s quite an achievement.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“What can I do for you?”

TW swallowed hard.

“Do you need some water?” Dr. Hollings asked.

“No, sir. It‘s just—”

“Yes?”

TW hesitated. He knew his retirement would not please his boss. Dr. Hollings loved his staff, and he loved the library. But he didn’t care for anything upsetting his ship. TW’s retirement was going to upset the boat. It meant he would have to hire another librarian. The librarian would have to be fresh out of school, considering what the University paid. And he would be losing TW’s forty-one year‘s of experience and expertise.

“I’d like to retire. If you think you can do without me.”

A frown fell across Dr. Hollings’ face. “This is sudden. Can I ask why you want to leave us?”

“I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.”

A Slow Boat to China

The seagulls called the ship out to sea. The S.S. Majesty answered with three blasts of its horn. It was the ship‘s final call, urging the passengers to board before she packed up.

From the ship’s, Alice searched the crowd for John. “He will not come. I knew it.”
As she was about to give up and leave the cruise, she spotted John getting out of a cab. He paid the cab driver and grabbed his luggage.

She ran down the gangplank and called out to him, “I’m over here.”

He saw her and lugged his suitcases toward the ship.

“Hurry,” she said.

She wrapped her arms around and gave him one of her best kisses. “I didn’t think you’d be able to get away. But you did.”

“There was no way I was about to miss going away with you.”

She laughed, her anxiety slipping away. She glanced at his luggage. “You have everything?”

“I don’t need much.”

“You got your passport?”

“Passport?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I don’t have a passport.”

“You don’t have a passport? Get out of here. You have a passport.”

“I don’t.”

Alice looked at John with amazement. Alice pushed him away from her. “I’m leaving. I thought you were coming with me.”

“I am.”

“But you don’t have a passport.”

“We can go to Canada.”

“You need a passport to get into Canada.”

“Mexico?”
“Got to have a passport.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

She shook her head. “I’m leaving.”

Alice turned and boarded the ship. On the deck, she watched John slip away into the crowd.

A tall handsome man with the deep blue eyes sidled up to her. “I have a passport.”
She looked up at him. For approximately ten seconds, she was ready to swoon, then she came back to reality and stiffened her back. “You’re not my type.”
“What do you mean I’m not your type? Just what type do you think I am?”
“A man.”