I don't know how we got onto the topic at lunch today, but I do recall Jack saying: "Remember back when Pierre Trudeau was escorting all kinds of good-looking women after he and Margaret broke up?"
I said I did -- "Margot Kidder, Barbara Streisand ...."
Jack said: "I think Streisand was asked by some journalist how she'd like to be the Prime Minister's wife. She answered that she'd love to be Canada's First Lady. I'm glad nobody pointed out to her that she was wrong. Apparently the lady has a short fuse and a long temper. It could have been a major international incident."
I wasn't quite sure where Jack was heading with this and so I didn't say anything. Besides, I was having trouble keeping my big leafy salad on the small plastic plate.
Jack continued "I guess she wasn't quite aware of the protocol. The Queen is our First Lady. I think Jeanne Sauvé was Governor-General at the time, so she would have been the Second Lady, which she would have been even had she been the Governor-General's wife. I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if Ontario's Lieutenant-Governor's wife outranks the Prime Minister's wife. In any event, Barbara at best would have been Third Lady, and more probably Fourth Lady. That wouldn't have gone over well with her, I don't think."
I said "Jack, you may be right. But it's all water under the bridge."
Jack said "You know, Americans have a real thing about royalty. So, come to think of it, do the French. It's interesting that they both got rid of their King and royalty, but, apart from the UK, I don't think the Queen is received anywhere more enthusiastically than in the US and France. Why do you think that is?"
"For one thing," I said, "maybe both countries feel guilty about having got rid of their royalty. For another, Americans love celebrities, and you can't get celebrities with more of the trappings and hoopla than royalty."
"You may be right," said Jack. "In Europe most of the PEOPLE-type magazines are full of what the various European royals are up to -- the Scandinavian, British, Dutch, Spanish, Monagasque royal houses, and all the pretenders to the French throne, and minor bluebloods from Germany and Eastern Europe."
I said "Royalty, movie stars and pop singers -- that's the life the ordinary citizen lives vicariously. There must be a real need for that kind of thing; just look at the magazine rack at the check-out counter of any supermarket."
Jack said: "It's funny how many American musicians have taken titles from the nobility -- Duke Ellington, Earl Bostic, Count Basie, and "The King of Swing" -- Benny Goodman. More recently there's Prince. And, of course, there's Elvis, "the King." I can't recall any other nation where musicians have taken royal titles. No one has ever called Elvis the President of Pop, even though it alliterates."
I said: "And then again, I don't know any European nation that has given royal names to bed sizes -- King and Queen. Of course in Canada we have to follow the American usage. Funny, no one has come up with an Emperor size, at least not yet. Or President or Vice-President size for that matter. And speaking of King and Queen, there's Burger King and Dairy Queen. And the Princess phone, remember? Americans sure seem fascinated by royalty."
"Yes," said Jack, "in fact, I think they're trying to establish their own kind of royalty -- financial or industrial royalty."
"How so?" I asked.
"Think of all the rich Americans who don't write 'junior' after their names any more, but use Roman numerals instead: there's the golfer Davis Love III, for instance, and John Rockefeller III, Henry Ford III, and Robert Kennedy III. I can't think of any others at the moment, but they're out there, generating more little Americans with even bigger Roman numerals. Why don't they use the more democratic Arabic numerals, instead of the Regal Roman ones? I tell you, if a nation doesn't have real royalty, it will make its own fake one."
Jack took a look at my empty plate and at his full one, and took another tack. "What about you? Do you have any royal blood?"
I said "Jack, the way the old royalty dispersed its seed, I don't think there's anyone anywhere who doesn't have at least one drop of blue blood in him. About the only thing I know is that for more than twenty generations the eldest male in the family on the spear side has had the name of Joseph. I think my father said I was the 26th generation."
I should explain here that Sjef is the short form of Joseph in Flemish, much as Ted is the short form of Edward in English.
"That would make you Joseph Frenken XXVI," said Jack. "You're way ahead of Davis Love! Why don't you add those numerals to your business card?"
I said "For one thing, I don't have a business card; for another, I think it would be more than a bit pretentious."
"You're being too modest," said Jack.
I said "I have lots to be modest about."
Since Jack didn't feel the need to dispute that, he turned his attention to his lunch.
I didn't blame him.
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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