Dough, Dough, Dough, for Fake News….
Fighting fake news is a well-paid piece of fake news!
Published by Manol Petrov, 05 Sep 2017
photography: Nikolay Ivanov
In the nineties of the last century, I had a French painting dealer that was a nobleman, and his name was Pierre de Mentir. He was that breed of men who, whatever they took up, would finally collapse like a child’s sandcastle, swept by a wave which a moving vessel had brought forth. Pierre could turn out very efficient but he had to be geared to work while changing his realm of activity because then he was replete with enthusiasm and had his solid bank account always fed when he would make a fresh start.
He had a moneyed aunt who was loved by everyone around him because the flow of dough never dried up, and paintings would sell like hotcakes when that relative of his called someone that could not refuse her. All her friends and acquaintances were from the same caste - idlers but ones of great importance in society because the occupations, which they had created in their youth, would sustain them now and satisfy their whims. All through the years of my socializing with Pierre and our trade in paintings, I never sensed a single hint of socialist thinking. He would blow his dough taking it for granted.
For three years, he found it worthwhile to sell art; then he got bored and gave it up, but we kept our wonderful friendship over time.
Last year he wrote to me that he had settled in Brussels, because there was life there. I thought it strange as I knew Brussels well and Pierre too, but delving into the life of a man like that makes no sense whatever, so I told him that I would give him a ring if I happened to go there. He shared one more thing which we exchanged pleasantries about – he’d got a wife and a child.
A year later, we were sitting and drinking large whiskies in a bistro near the Belgian king’s palace, glad to be able to smoke with the drinks that we were having.
- How're ya, Pierre, how’s your aunt?
- It’s all o’er with my aunt’s business, the Socialists and trade unions, together with the workers, gutted everythin’. Whate’er she could, she sold it out to some Chinese who took the production o’er to Africa, and she pass’d on to the Great Beyond a lil while later. My cousin Louise was hous’d in a reputable clinic and the sale of the apartment in Paris cover’d everythin’.
I did not ask what was wrong with his aunt’s daughter because all the time I rubbed elbows with him and his aunt I never realized he had yet another relative.
That got me worried for a moment... I could imagine how hard it must have been for him to part with all those baronial standards of living... We had shared quite a few very good moments together, and Pierre was always smiling – which was something I think I learned from him and it helped me a lot in my life.
- What are ya up to now, Milord?
- Mono, my father-in-law is a big shot at the European Parliament, and I work in the department for catching fake news that go around.
That line of his put my mind at rest, as Pierre had a moneyed father-in-law, but the occupation he had piqued my curiosity. I told him that I had to travel to Antwerp to bring a painting to a dealer and was planning to stay there for three days, which Pierre rebuffed:
- Go bring him the paintin’! I’ll be waitin’ for ya back at the station at eight and take ya home to meet my wife and daughter!
No sooner said than done. That was exactly what I did. I left the painting in Antwerp, exchanged pleasantries, bought a toy for Pierre’s kid, a bottle of nice white wine for his wife and went back to where all my curiosity rested. Pierre picked me up from the station, as he had promised, seated me in an awesome Maserati and took me to his place like a person who was really after something going around.
He lived in a magnificent four-storey house with servants - something I had not seen around him before. We found his wife in the midst of an enormous pile of luxury paper bags, not sure about what to take out of each one.
- Mono, this is Masha! Masha, this is Mono Petra, a comrade-in-arms from my youth and the one who did the painting in our livin’ room.
It was all clear to me now. Pierre was married to a Russian woman, and not just any but the most beautiful one of them all. Her father was French and her mother – a Russian aristocrat, the daughter of an oligarch as Pierre made a joke of it later on.
I was just wondering how to look away from his wife when I heard the joyful chirp of a child: ‘Daddy, did ya catch any fake news for me today?’ Then little Alex threw herself into her father’s arms.
Masha grunted out something, turned her back on the whole pile of bags and ordered us over to the table.
We opened the huge napkins in our laps and started to chat about the glorious years of youth. Pierre muttered that he could help me sell some paintings, but we both knew that it wasn’t true. So we came to the moment when I asked my question directly.
- Pierre, what’s that thing with the fake news?
- That’s a huge problem for Europe, Mono. While we were busy sellin’ paintings, someone was layin’ the foundations of a fake world, built up entirely of fake news. It’s assum’d to come from Russia, but it’s already ten months that we can’t guarantee that and localize the problem. I’m on top of a department of 4000 people and we’re investigatin’ and tryin’ to get to the core of all that.
- How many people?!
- 4000, you got it right! That’s a damn big problem. Experts from all areas work for me; there are also colleagues of yours among ‘em who are lookin’ into the truth about the demolition of ancient monuments by the Taliban.
- How long have ya been doin’ that, Milord?
- For three years. European politicians notic’d quite a few strange news spread on social networks and at a dinner, they offer’d me to deal with the problem.
At that point Masha made an apology, picked up the pile of luxury bags and carried them away somewhere in her huge house to arrange. Me and Pierre chose a new bottle of wine from the rack in the kitchen and opened the door wide to the problem called “fake news”.
At about midnight, after the fifth bottle and before we had a 50-gram sip of Absinthe to cleanse the unpleasant compounds of wine, I already had an entire department of 100 people whom I had to enroll in Bulgaria and pursue with them anything fake going around. We voted for a decent budget at the third bottle, and it increased twice at the fourth one. With fervor in my eyes, I asked Pierre what we were going to do with that staff after catching the last piece of fake news and he told me:
– Old boy, that fight’s gonna last fore’er. Ya’d better think of the option to make a ministry for fighting fake news and get a fair share of the European budget.
I looked him straight in the eye and into myself, raised my glass in a toast and weightily declared that I had some political relations here and there to establish the ministry.
- We’re gonna call it “Ministry for Fighting Rumors”, and I’m gonna be its first minister.
- Mono, did you manage to get higher education?
- That’s bad, if ya decide to become a minister!
- No, Pierre, there’s nothin’ bad in that. When I become a minister, if they start to rake about and give rise to news from it, we’ll qualify ‘em as rumors and ban ‘em.
Pierre de Mentir gleamed at me, and I felt sad and nostalgic for the world in which workers would sustain his aunt and us, I would paint with youthful fervor in my heart, and a fiery-eyed Pierre would run circles around every customer saying how good my paintings were. Twenty years later, I was there sitting against a friend who lived in the affluence which he had always sought after. He was married to a Russian woman and had become a European clerk.