Friday, April 05, 2013

A Very Profitable War by Didier Daeninckx (Melville International Crime 1984)

Sorinet and Goyon were first in the pile, followed by a show-case of militant anarchism: men with bald heads, with beards, with glasses, with the expression of hallucinating poets, hair sweeping their shoulders, civil servants in evening dress with bow ties and top hats  . . . the owner of the Carden was hiding at the bottom of the pile between a young woman who specialized in revolutionary abortions and a forger.

My Sorinet-Goyon was in fact called Francis Ménard, born at Ivry-sur-Seine, a librarian by profession. He wasn't wanted for much before '17: a few illegal occupations of private property, taking part ina few demonstrations that ended badly . . . Now they were looking for him for 'desertion in the face of the enemy in May '17'.

Nowadays the penalty wouldn't be much more than three to five years in prison near Toulon; before the armistice, he would have faced the firing squad.

He could count himself lucky, he'd managed to save his skin. Those who were no longer here to say the same thing could be counted in platoons.

Walking back to the car, I decided to follow the trail leading to the appropriation of apartments. Francis Ménard and the friends whose identity he had taken over were at the time part of the 'Tenants' Trade Union', an anarchist group that had had its moments of glory in the two years preceding the war.

The whole of Paris used to follow the exploits of their spokesman, Georges Cochon, and his confrontations, which always included a large dose of humour, for the rehousing of working-class families.

Paris high society followed as well, although its laughter was nervous.

I remembered certain episodes such as the day of action 'Against the Tyranny of the Concierges' during which the Cochonnards' commandos put fleas, bugs and cockroaches through the keyholes of the concierges' doors! One day, I had also come across a procession of the 'badly housed' who were going up to take over the barracks at Château d'Eau from the soldiers. They were marching in serried ranks behind their band, 'The Cacophony of Saint Copy-Cat', a heterogeneous group with music scored for saucepans, ladles, billy-cans, tins . . . 

The Socialist Party flags fluttered in the middle of the procession, mixed in with the black standards, and it wasn't unusual to come across the happy face of a Member of Parliament from that party. The party paper gave inflammatory accounts of the events and blamed everything on their bête noire, the Prefect Lépine.

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