I often read the words “Banksy is a genius” by the kinds of people who think Star Wars was the greatest movie ever made. He’s not a great artist, but he is a purveyor of the single entendre, a visual polemicist who communicates simple ideas effectively. Great art should transcend singular or binary interpretation. It should make you feel differently each time you come into contact with it, depending on your mood and who you are. In one way, Banksy flatters to deceive. Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph, once said of the two great political rivals William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, “…after sitting next to Gladstone I thought he was the cleverest man in England, but when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling like the cleverest woman”. Banksy’s great gift is making people feel clever, when the leap they have to make is no more sophisticated than a child moving from 2×2 to 2×4.
Speaking of children, our friends Sophie and Pascal brought their daughter, Lillie, over for some lunch yesterday, and as Pascal and I lazily sat around watching football afterwards, the girls went out to a “family pop-up festival” down at l’Alimentation Generale. This familial gathering promised a free market, expos, createurs, performances, workshops & concerts. What it didn’t promise was naked burlesque dancers at three in the afternoon, but that’s the eyeful that the assembled enfants were subjected to. “Only in France,” said Claire, and she had a point. Meanwhile Pascal and I chatted away in the broken way that we do about fears of the far right, being skint, and our new imaginary band, Superclochard… He also still takes the piss out of the way I pronounce Antoine de Caunes. Pascal speaks to me in broken English (he proudly can’t count any higher than 12) and me in pidgin French, and somehow he makes me laugh almost more than anyone I know.
We met in hospital last summer. I couldn’t stand him at first. He sat in the corner like a grumpy French Peter Capaldi while I meekly recovered from a good slicing. On the third day we were talking furtively about how I’d stolen his remote control not knowing he’d paid for the television; a smiley nurse came in and removed the curtain that separated us, suggesting we’d communicate better that way. Suddenly I had to look the fucker in the eye, and attempt to talk French as well. It was the start of a beautiful friendship, and without the struggle to communicate with Pascal, I probably wouldn’t be speaking terrible French now. I improved immensely over that first couple of weeks, going from practically no French to rubbish French in a short space of time, because finally I was in a situation of total immersion. Every cloud and all that.
Pascal’s stoicism impresses me. We try to talk, but rarely do we talk about the malady. He only conveyed to me once that he was scared, by text, about what might happen next. If the English have the stiff upper lip then the French have ne donner pas une merde. When I had a tube in my face for three days, Pascal had one for six. Everything I’ve had to take he’s had to take twice or thrice fold. He seems to cope better with the chemo than me, and carries on as normally as possible. He still smokes, the silly bastard. Only in France.
When he leaves he always raises his fist in the air and says “Forza!” with a sense of triumph. Like Banksy it’s a strong image iterating a sense of purpose with little room for wider interpretation. Perhaps Pascal is a genius too. The difference though is that most Banskys leave me cold, whereas that gesture he does always moves me.Follow @jeres