The fire was already smouldering somewhere down in the depths of Europe, but carefree France donned its summer costumes, straw hats and flannel trousers, and packed its bags for the holidays. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky– such an optimistic, bright blue sky. It was terribly hot and drought was the only possible worry. It would be so lovely out in the countryside, or down by the sea. The scent of iced absinthe hung over the cafe terraces and gypsy orchestras played popular tunes from the The Merry Widow, which was then all the rage. The newspapers were full of details from a big murder trial that everyone was talking about; would the woman who some were calling the ‘blood clot’ be condemned or acquitted, would the thundering Labori, her lawyer, and the crimson-faced, raging little Borgia in a tail-coat, who had once led us (saved us, some said) carry the day? We could see no further than that. Trains were packed and the booking offices did a roaring trade in round-trip tickets: the well-to-do were looking forward to a two-month holiday.
Then, all of a sudden, bolts of lightning pierce the perfect sky, one after another: ultimatum… ultimatum… ultimatum… But France, gazing at the clouds gathering in the east, says: ‘That’s where the storm will be, over there.’