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Canada's confounding protocol minuet

By Michael Moriarty
web posted September 19, 2005

The brouhaha over Quebec separatist roader Michaëlle Jean's appointment as Governor General, the Queen of England's direct representative to Canada, might well lead to an amusingly strange protocol minuet.

When Queen Elizabeth recently greeted French president Jacques Chirac, she purposefully met him at a dinner held in Buckingham Palace's Waterloo Room. This choice of venue drew loads of satirical comment from pundits on both sides of the English Channel.

Subsequently, the ever-revolutionary French voted down the European Constitution. I suspect they did so because it wasn't "revolutionary" enough.

Michaelle JeanIf you trace Quebec's separatists to the French hardliners, a certain Gallic consistency begins to emerge. If you add in the respect accorded Jacques and Paul Rose, the admitted assassins of a liberal cabinet minister, and their ability to walk free and even hold academic tenure, then this appointment of Madame Jean begins to make sense, at least through the eyes of a French Maoist, of which there are more in France than that nation is willing to admit. Not given to reticent behavior, French communist hardliners are becoming increasingly impatient with the pre-passé behavior of Matriarchal Marxists like Chirac and Paul Martin.

Perhaps Martin's choice of Madame Jean for Governor General was a sop to Quebec separatists who wish to pay Queen Elizabeth back for rubbing Waterloo salt in Chirac's wounds. It is a reminder to the Queen that the same French passion that beheaded Louis XVI is never far away from any throne.

When sophistication, protocol and "manners" at state functions are imbued with as much history as the millennia-long animosity between the British and French Empires, even knives and forks carry symbolic weight. In this day and age of subliminal advertising, Freudian slips are not so subconscious and reading between the lines becomes as important as checking out the guest list.

That Madame Jean's first name (pronounced Meek-ah-ell) has a rather self-conscious spelling to it – a literal reference to the original Hebrew, Michael, which means "like God" – then we might guess she's humbler than philosopher René Descartes whose real meaning for "Je pense, donc je suis" was "Je pense, donc je suis le bon Dieu."

He never said that out loud, but it's what he meant. The bourgeois majority would have called him crazy, but their voices were stilled when their heads were lopped off during the Reign of Terror spawned by the French Revolution.

This game of symbols is particularly entertaining to a performing artist like myself. Madame Jean is satisfied with letting us know she's only "like God," not God Himself… or Herself.

I think the newly appointed Governor General doth protest too much. Helping Revolutionary France deliver a very strong message of Napoleon's ubiquitous presence in every corner of the so-called Free World takes a very self-assured woman. The commitment in her eyes tell me she knows exactly the message she's carrying to the Queen and precisely how to dodge the embarrassing questions about how close she is to the separatist movement in Quebec. When she knows her legacy goes all the way back to January 21, 1793, and the end of French Catholicism as practiced for centuries, she carries a lot of weight simply being "like God."

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who has appeared in the landmark television series Law and Order, the mini-series Taken, the TV-movie The 4400 and Hitler Meets Christ, a surreal tragicomedy based on the actor's controversial New York stage play.

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