Day three of our two weeks here in the tourist-infested back of southern French beyond. I say tourist-infested, but in fact now - children back at school and Jez and Jess plus the little and not so little ones back on the treadmill (Jez works in IT and Jess is a part-time counsellor and homemaker) - the only sign of tourists is when Brit and Australian voices drift into the house as they walk past in the narrow alleyway outside. In high season, late June, July and August, I’m certain Caunes-Minervois is a certain kind of hell (unless, of course, you like going abroad and mixing almost exclusively with your fellow countrymen discussing exchange rates and where to get the best). There is, surprisingly, quite a number of Aussies her, though, of course, they are invariably retired and, coming from so far off, are here for three or four months rather than the mere two weeks I can allow myself.
All that sounds rather dyspeptic and, if so, it gives the wrong impression. I find I can’t help but send up Brits abroad because they are so send-up-able, but all the time I have to remind myself that I am Specimen No One: The Brit Abroad. Maybe there is subcategory: The Brit Abroad, genus Smartarse, sub-genus Conceited. Along those lines four lines by Jonathan Swift might be appropriate:
‘Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own; which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.’
What I am trying to say might not be obvious, so I shall add that I also take it to mean that the purveyor of satire all too often thinks that he is one of the redeemed few, that as he is able to spot and send up the foibles of others, he is in some curious way never guilty of any of them. Well, if that’s your view, dream on: we are all, or can all be, equally ridiculous.
None of which has included a description of the house, the town and the area. As for the area, I haven’t a great deal to say as both of our excursions have been in search, first of an Intermarche (my brother and I both like mooching around hypermarkets, although why I really don’t know) and the following day in search of a Spar. I can say that Caunes-Minervois is on the edge of a range of hills and so a little more interesting than its sister town Peyrac-Minervois which is well and truly on the plain which stretches as far as Carcassonne and beyond, a good 70 miles probably, to the sea.
The town is more or less in two parts: our house is in the medieval part and then there is more to its, straight streets rather than narrow winding alleyways, which will have been built in the 19th century. The house was renovated by a Dutch-born German who has lived here in France since he was two. He and his wife, who is German and grew up near where my German relatives lived, are hoping to sell it and renovate another. She is very nice, has a 16-month-old son and another child is on the way.
The house is narrow but four three stories high, with the ground floor being on two levels and the second bedroom in a kind of attic alcove above the third storey. There is a lot of climbing up and down stairs so it is always good to think ahead and take with you what you want when you move between floors or else you are in for another trip up or down to fetch something else. That probably doesn’t sound particular onerous, but believe me it can be irritating when you climb and descend the narrow, steep stairs several times in just a few minutes merely because you are going senile and your memory, to use the quaint euphemistic phrase, ‘isn’t what it once was’.
(Actually, I’ve noticed it’s become some kind of strategy of mine to claim to be far more feeble and ancient than I am. I suspect it is a kind of superstitious device to outwit life and to stave off the inevitable process, perhaps to defeat it forever. Some hope, so on that note I shall come clean: I am not old and feeble, my memory is still what is was (whether good or bad is thus quite another matter), I am fitter than many my age, despite the increasing number of cigars I smoke, and an enviable bonus is that I am quite, quite charming. You doubt it? Well, if you are between 30 and 60 and a woman, get in touch and buy me lunch and I shall persuade you within minutes. Charm? I wrote the book.
Well, so far that is it. Mark (my brother) and I are planning a walk somewhere or other today
. . .
By chance I’ve just come across a rather mysterious story and claims. It is that a certain Bettina Wulff née Körner worked as a prostitute in a brothel in Osnabrück called Chateau-Club and earlier Chateau 71. Now I’m sure there are many respectable women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who when younger earned their daily crust by opening their legs and providing other services. What makes the claims about Bettina Wulff more interesting is that she is the First Lady of Germany (although the Germans don’t use that term), i.e. the wife of the former German president Christain Wullf. Frau Wulff, who is said to be taking legal action again Google to try to stop it conducting searches using the terms ‘Bettina Wulff’, ‘escort’ and ‘prostitute’, has a star tattooed on her right shoulder.
Although this doesn’t condemn her in any way, it is a tad unusual (and in my books tacky). Her hubby is also not without controversy. He was elected president at the end of June 2010, but had to resign in February 2012 after coming clean about a €500,000 loan from the wife of a millionaire businessman. Not only did he initially deny accepting the loan, but at one point he left a message on the answerphone of the editor of the Bild, the leading German tabloid (which is, confusingly, a broadsheet) threatening to wreck his career if he published any details. That didn’t go down at all well. Now there is all this business with his wife possible past as a paid whore.
My initial reaction was ‘leave the woman be’. None of us is kitchen clean, although my past is a pure as the driven snow compared to those who sold their bodies for money, but we all have done things in the past of which we are ashamed. Then I looked up the biography of Christian Wulff and noted that he had been married before, in 1988, and fathered a daughter in 1993. He divorced his wife in 2006 and married his second wife, Bettina, two years later (when she was seventh months pregnant with their child).
None of us is entitled to judge others, but we are entitled to have our thoughts, and mine is that I never respect fathers and mothers who more or less abandon children when they divorce their spouse. Naturally, there will be individual circumstances and doubtlessly life with the soon-to-be divorced spouse became impossible (and I mean objectively impossible). But divorcing a spouse is one thing, divorcing a child - which is what it amounts to - is quite another. Whatever we say - or in our guilt choose to believe - about ‘how resilient’ children are, in my book it is total cobblers. A child 15 will find it very hard to be rejected, which is what it will seem like to him or her, and one does have to ask just what role Bettina Wulff née Körner played in the disintegration of her husband’s first marriage.
Given Christian Wullf’s political background - at one point he was even about to be considered as a the Christian Democrat’s possible candidate to become Chancellor of Germany - it is also not unlikely that his political enemies are doing their damndest to fan the flame of rumour of his wife’s alleged murky past. What truth there is in the claims remains to be seen.