Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Napoleon Is to Blame for Everything*

*Translation of the title of a famous German film comedy of 1938 by Curt Goetz: Napoleon ist an allem schuld.

The Freiburg Writers' Group's writing prompts for September: Write a character who embodies one of the seven deadly sins, but make them likable. Heaven and Hell now have visiting hours. Write about one of your first visits and who you went to see.

In the following text I tried to combine both topics.

The invitation arrived by snail mail. The paper in the gray envelope informed me that my date with Napoleon was set for May 5 at 1700 hours and that I should be at the gate to hell a quarter of an hour earlier. The day and hour of Bonaparte's death! Was it only a coincidence?

I was there on time. Two men in black uniforms were already waiting for me. They asked me to follow them and started walking at a rapid pace. Being an old man I had some difficulty following. We walked long corridors with doors on both sides all bearing names.

Suddenly my guardian devils stopped short and knocked on a door marked Napoleon Bonaparte. A voice from inside answered: Entrez, and one of my watchdogs opened the door.

There he was sitting in an armchair looking at me, the great Napoleon, le grand mécanicien, clad in his used, green uniform, his right hand in his vest as usual. I remembered having read that he kept his ailing liver warm with that pose.

Sire, I said, j'aimerais vous poser quelques questions. He answered: I recognize a German accent. I retorted: Your Corsican French is not at the level of the Académie française either.

Never mind, he said, what is important: My soldiers, even the Germans, understood my orders and besides: un homme parle comme une vache pourvu qu'il sabre à la française (A man may mangle the language as long as he wields his saber like a Frenchman).

I became angry: Yes, I know what you said when you came back from Russia in the winter of 1812/1813 with only 23,000 men of the more than half a million you had sent blinded by your pride in June 1812: "The French should not complain. I sacrificed the Germans and the Poles to spare my compatriots." You know this was a damned lie. It was your arrogance that brought you to hell.

Napoleon pressed his lips but otherwise did not show any reaction. So I continued:

Well, let's drop the subject. I came here to ask you how you managed to restore Catholicism in France after the French Revolution had abolished it.

This was a topic Napoleon seemed to like: It was your Frederick the Great who gave me the idea: Chacun devrait être bienheureux à sa manière (Everybody should seek salvation in his own manner). The French people actually could not care less that the Revolution had replaced the Christian God by L'Être suprème but they were unhappy about losing the church festivals, their fun fairs. So I not only restored the Catholic Church in France but simultaneously abolished the Revolutionary calendar. Let the people have their church festivals or even better let the Church teach that the people should obey their emperor. Yes, I made myself emperor knowing that the clergy will always preach: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's."

And above all: A Christian grenadier dies an easier death than a soldier without faith. By the way, I am still quarreling with Charles Marx who lives next door for taking my idea when he declared religion to be the "Opium des Volkes".

Napoleon looked at the tall-case clock: I must bid you good-bye for I have an appointment with Fredrick who invited me to his apartment to have supper with him. You know, this is the only guy I admire down here. You, having studied my stay in Germany so meticulously, will certainly remember what I said when I visited his tomb in Potsdam's église de garnison.

I nodded, but I am not sure what would have happened if the two overachievers had met on the battlefield. Possibly the bloodiest battle in history, considering Fredrick's shout of encouragement to his soldiers: Dogs, do you want to live forever?

Napoleon rang his table bell and the two gorillas who had accompanied me suddenly appeared and rudely dragged me from my chair. I did not even have time to say good-bye to the small but great guy clad in his shabby green uniform and sitting in his armchair.

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