A Tour of the Horizon

February 13, 2009

We used to get a bonus for inter viewing Charles de Gaulle, because it was recognized as the supreme test of a reporter’s stamina. In his second presidency, during the Algerian crisis, Le Grand Charles, master of public relations, formed the habit of summoning a dozen of us every fortnight to his home at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, political weather permitting.

The format was invariable: For the first hour, La France Lui-même, as we dubbed him, gave his celebrated tour de l’horizon in which he pronounced his views on every happening during the previous fortnight.

Nothing escaped his scrutiny, from bloody revolution to the birth of a two-headed sheep in the nearby village. And if you were caught taking a quiet nap in the back row, you were hustled out, never to return to Colombey-les-Deux-Églises.

But if you survived the tour unscathed, the question period following was downright thrilling. Every reporter had his 60 seconds, the answers were concise and illuminating, and none ever left disappointed.

I was so enthralled by these sessions that the phrase tour de l’horizon stuck in my mind, and it now occurs to me that it has a wider significance than we allowed it. Let me explain.

As a newborn babe, your horizon is virtually infinite, meaning that you can do or be anything you want. Then, as you begin to show signs of intelligence, your parents will spend much time mapping out your future for you. At some stage, you will realize that the horizon they have assigned you is beyond your modest powers. President, führer, great leader, all sound very grand, but you obviously have to be a bit screwy to deliberately aim at that level.

Accordingly, you reduce your horizon to a reasonable radius.

But eventually you learn the ropes and begin to understand just how much help you’re going to need and what load of political debt you’re willing to carry if you’re ever going to amount to more than a popcorn fart. If you are lucky, and choose your godfathers carefully, you might even extend your horizon to something near your parents’ dream and get to  be recognized internationally. But most of us are content to be recognized on the street of our hometown, and our horizon is defined thereby.

When you retire, your horizon is described by the number of lives you have touched, the number who remember your name, preferably with pleasure. Then, eventually, irrespective of fame or fortune, your horizon contracts to the boundary of your daily walk, then the area of your yard, your house, your bedroom and, finally, the limits of your sepulchre.

It seems somehow unfair that if you simply want to be remembered, you would do better to assassinate a head of state than to be one.

 

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