Boccaccio, First Day, Story Five

Note: this entry had a photo of hens on it, but I was getting DOZENS of visits every single day from Pakistan from people looking for photos of hens. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I don’t know why Pakistanis are so interested in looking at photos of hens, and perhaps I’ll never know, but this isn’t a petting zoo, it’s a Very Serious Blog. 

It’s another one of those nights. I feel this insatiable sadness that, ultimately, is probably just a fear of death or something like that…I suspect that’s what all sadness is.

I shouldn’t be writing this write now, because I owe Lucy about 10,000 words of a letter. But I was hoping Boccaccio might give me another laugh. He didn’t. And now I need draw something from this story before I can allow myself to jot her a few notes and go to sleep. So, onward, thinking cap…

Philip Augustus, king of France is about to head out on a crusade when someone says “aw, too bad you don’t have a wife, there’s this great chick, she’s great.” And Philip thinks to himself, “sounds good to me, I’ll go seduce her while her husband’s out of town and then have him killed.” So off he goes to have breakfast with her, and she serves an enormous breakfast of nothing but hens. And he’s like “do you have nothing but hens in this city?” and she says “women are pretty much all the same.” And he says “point taken” and heads off to the crusade.

Not funny. Not even a good story.

Here’s the purpose I think it serves, and I find the concept fascinating: storytelling. That’s something we discuss more often when it comes to Beowulf, but in a work of Chaucer or Boccaccio it’s unavoidable. An author writes a work, and is then held accountable for that work. This holds true now just as it did in, say, ancient Greece. How do you, as an author, get around this difficulty? One ancient solution is “inspiration” — if you know me, you know I rarely use the term because of its implications: that the author did not create the work himself, but that it came to him through the ether and he was the vehicle for its transmission. Great idea, but I work fucking hard to be creative and I’m not giving the magic air credit. But, that’s the concept behind the Bible. Was it written by God or divinely inspired and written by man or just plain written by man? That makes all the difference in whether or not you’re going to follow it, right?

But that’s precisely the point. If God wrote it, then of course you need to follow it! If it was inspired, well, you probably need to follow it. Essentially, though, it’s a system of placing blame. No, I didn’t write all this erotic poetry–I was inspired by love of God to do it (Song of Songs). But recall that writing itself was seen as magical for perhaps longer than it hasn’t. Writing, a system of nonsense scrawls that somehow transmit complex concepts. Beyond death. That’s the fucked up thing about it. How do you live forever? You write something down, die, and you’re now living forever. Magic.

So who’s the next one we can place blame on, if not God? Other people. Boccaccio writes whatever he wants for two reasons:

1) Because he can claim that it’s somebody else telling the story.
2) Because he repeatedly comes to deserve telling the dirty stories by telling the clean ones, and being a faithful narrator. And because he does this, he has more evidence for his claim that someone else is telling the story. Consistency.

Phew. Didn’t think I’d be able to draw something out of that waste of time, right? And…now I’m going to sleep instead writing to Lucy. Therefore, I’ve wasted my own time too. Sorry, Lucy.

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Will Durant: “The Political Elements of Civilization” (1935)

The State

‘This violent subjection is usually of a settled agricultural group by a tribe of hunters and herders. For agriculture teaches men pacific ways, inures them to a prosaic routine, and exhausts them with a long day’s toil; such men accumulate wealth, but they forget the arts and sentiments of war. The hunter and the herder, accustomed to danger and skilled in killing, look upon war as but another form of the chase, and hardly more perilous; when the woods cease to give them abundant game, or flocks decrease through a thinning pasture, they look with envy upon the ripe fields of the village, they invent with modern ease some plausible reason for attack, they invade, conquer, enslave and rule.

‘It is a law that holds only for the early societies, since under more complex conditions a variety of other factors–greater wealth, better weapons, higher intelligence–contribute to determine the issue. So Egypt was conquered not only by Hyksos, Ethiopian, Arab and Turkish nomads, but also by the settled civilizations of Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, and England–though not until these nations had become hunters and nomads on an imperialistic scale.’

. . . ‘In permanent conquest the principle of domination tends to become concealed and almost unconscious; the French who rebelled in 1789 hardly realized, until Camile Desmoulins reminded them, that the aristocracy that had ruled them for a thousand years had come from Germany and had subjugated them by force. Time sanctifies everything; even the most arrant theft, in the hands of the robber’s grandchildren, becomes sacred and inviolable property. Every state begins in compulsion; but the habits of obedience become the content of conscience, and soon every citizen thrills with loyalty to the flag.’

[Stephen speaking]
One of my colleagues has told me a story a couple times, which to some extent may be viewed as casuistry, but I’ve found a new answer. The story is something from television, I think perhaps Bill O’Reilly, in which he’s interviewing some “big time liberal” and asks him “if a man comes up to you and takes your money and gives it to someone else, what does that make him?”
“A thief.”
“If instead of one man, what if it’s ten who take your money?”
“Then that’s ten thieves.”
“And if instead of ten men, it’s the government, what does that make the government?”
And, see, the liberal sits there stewing because he knows he’s been caught in a trap of pure common sense! Hah!

Here’s the rebuttal though:

Better to pay tribute to one magnificent robber than to bribe them all.

Good fucking point!

Dijon pt 4: my theories concerning possessive contractions, marriage, feminism, racism, the relevance of hexameter, sex and music, and why jazz could have only come from America.

chouetteI think when I first began speaking French with C, I was trying to suppress how silly I felt by being a bit dramatic about it all, so that when I’d say oui (mostly they don’t say oui, but instead say what I think is spelled ouais) I’d shake one finger in the air and say “ah, oui!” while nodding with an expression of knowing a secret. And because she and S found this funny they would do it too, or repeat it after me, to the point that it’s now habit for me, and I’ve been told a few times that people like when I do it and appreciate it. ‘Appreciate’ may be a word that’s confused in translation. But it’s sometimes difficult to remember that while I take a word and translate it into English before comprehending it (generally—although I’ve been finding that I speak many words without translating now), they do not. This is their language, it’s what their thoughts comprise, it’s their feelings and their dreams, it’s how they cry out in pain and pleasure, and I think that’s something one should not forget or mistake the value of, that ‘oui’ to them is not ‘yes’ to us, it’s not the same word in a different language, it’s a different word with a similar meaning.

And I don’t know if I mean all words are like this, but I think it may be significant that ‘Stephen’s chair’ (which may once have been ‘Stephen his chair’—and if French is any indication of how different rules of grammar may be [from what I can figure, in French the gender of the object determines the gender of the article or pronoun used before it, so that ‘this is Jane and this is her father’ would be translated to French and then literally to English is ‘this is Jane and this is his father.’] it’s been argued that using << ‘s >> to show possession could not have resulted from a contraction with the word ‘his’ because why do we say ‘Jane’s book’ and not ‘Jane’r book’? Perhaps I’d be correct in guessing that in English, where we still, despite the small battles being won by feminists on this front, persist in assuming anything whose gender is unknown is masculine [for instance, when using ‘one’ as the subject, unless otherwise obvious, the correct pronouns to use are all masculine] at one point assumed, grammatically, that the gender of any and all objects, regardless of whether it has an additional gender in reality, was masculine.

Feminists say ‘ah, look at this patriarchal society, men get paid more and don’t have stereotypes against them and even the word ‘woman’ has the word ‘man’ in it, as if we’re a modified man’ and then begin making all sorts of alterations to language, such as changing fireman and firewoman into firepersons while deciding that ‘actress’ and ‘Jewess’ should be done away with entirely in favor of their masculine counterparts. Sometimes they even spell women with letters to eliminate the ‘man’ portion, thus women becomes wimyn or something to that effect. Yet, these feminists still use the masculine contractions—I won’t be convinced of anyone’s convictions, no matter how many balls are crushed along the way, until every object in the English language is given a gender and contractions are dealt out accordingly. There you go, feminists, if you want to show someone you’re serious and want to do it without merely adopting the most repugnant habits of the worst sorts of men, go reinvent the fucking dictionary. And to everyone convinced that marriage is something between a man and a woman, I suggest you go research the origins of the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ and conclude by retracting women’s right to vote, okay, okay, I mean retracting all women’s natural and basic rights, returning them to the status of property, because from what I can tell, if you’re playing by the dictionary, then you’re dealing with terms and concepts from dead languages and societies that understood magic better than you understand how to spell your own name.

Let me spell this out as I understand it: Man meant man. Wife meant woman. Husband meant a married man in relation to his wife, that is, his woman, coming from the words ‘house’ and ‘bóndi’ (‘occupier and tiller of soil’ according to the OED—and on its suggestions I’m also guessing that the word ‘bind’ probably originates in the proto-indo-european language) and unless I’m terribly mistaken I think it’s therefore obvious that the word husband is a word produced by an agrarian society, that without the creation of the concept of property, there is no marriage, and marriage is not so much the binding of two things together as the binding of one beneath another. So, there you go, fuck off, conservatives! Say what you mean, and don’t try to qualify it with casuistries you heard from O’Reilly; you can all go to hell with the liberals! No, actually, you can all go to hell, just leave me the chefs and the prostitutes. And to show how little you mean to me, I’m not even going to close whatever parentheses and brackets I may or may not have left open, because you’re not even worth my going back to figure it out! As I once heard, if you were on fire, you would not be worth my piss.

Oh, and by the way, jazz and its emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beats is, it seems to me, is a reflection of the iambs that are what make up our English speech patterns. Translations of ancient Greek epic poetry are difficult because we don’t have a language that adapts to its patterns of dactyls. If they’d taught us that in school we’d have less trouble understanding why we have to learn these fucking terms in the first place. Who cares where the stress is? Why does it matter? The music of Hildegard von Bingen I’ve heard, being from the 12th century, was written without regard to time-signature, which may actually mean that there was only one time-signature used in church music, and leads me to believe that the music was passed down in 4/4 with the emphasis on 1 and a lesser emphasis on 3. I don’t find this difficult to relate to hexameter of Greek and Latin verse since it deals with lines of dactyls, which translate naturally—I don’t have any books or internet with me, so I don’t know what the rhyme schemes are, so much of this is based on assumptions and rhyme might change everything—into 6/8 time, being two sets of 3 beats with the emphasis on the 1 and 4; except on occasional circumstances, 6/8 is conducted as 4/4, if not a bit more fluidly, since 6/8 feels as if it has no sharp edges.

My point is that Latin and Greek verse in hexameter, which may reflect speech patterns of their times just as iambic does for us, translates easily into 4/4 time with emphases on the first and third beats which is the heart of all ‘white’ music. But English is not a Romance language, and it plays by different rules. Looking at slave dialects from the American South, it’s obvious that the peculiarities are formed by considering language from sound alone, and never the written word. People in Africa, it is said, had a long tradition of complex rhythms—even in India today this is still normal—so decoding English was probably done by rhythm, which perhaps instilled in their sense of language a sensitivity to iambs that perhaps would have been lost with an initial literacy. I’d say it also has something to do with sexual and social norms—how sexual can one be while dancing according to one’s society? Why is a samba or tango so far removed from swing given what we know of life in Argentina, Brazil, or Spain, in terms of how people act, how they speak, and the emphases on beats in the music? None of these things can be removed from each other, because they’re all tied in so closely with a culture. One can express sexuality while dancing to jazz, but has to do so while barely touching one’s partner. What is it about the way French is designed so that every word connects to the next without awkwardness, so that if one ends with a vowel sound the next begins with a consonant sound and vice versa, and how does it tie into their ways of life? Allow me to make one more mention of 6/8 time and the fact that it is proof that life is not all binaries merely by 6/8’s making 4/4 more round and more fluid—yes, add one more beat, a third option to yes or no, and things suddenly become a little more circular, which leads us even to sexual positions and the way that our grandiose wedding marches and My Country Tis of Thee’s are the perfect soundtrack to the puritanical missionary position and its binary allowances. This is why science movies about amoebas reproducing are set to John Cage rather than the second Brandenburg Concerto; this may also be the reason porn makes me so uncomfortable, because I can’t get over the fact that they actors never thrust in time with the music—music that, I must add, is particularly suited for fucking. Tango is more violent and sporadic, moving between 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2 and simple 4/4, which suggests periods (which, by the way, do not disgust or bother me, although this parenthetical remark is to confirm that I meant periods of time, not blood) and movement and the need for catching one’s breath at intervals and maybe even most of all the need for violence and pain. Or the aching, clutching, breathless, pathetic and desperate and not unlike the last spurts of energy before one succumbs to death and the way it seems counterintuitive to be so thirsty when sweating oceans, ‘deep song’ and the mysterious rumors I’ve heard of the way Spanish men do not thrust at all but move circularly…

Anyway, I got my chicken sandwich, which was a foot long baguette, a few pieces of lettuce and some mayonnaise, and tasted delicious. So there. Public transportation is a blessing, it runs like clockwork, nobody checks your tickets and everyone seems to follow the rules, buying their passes without a stick being held over their heads. Television advertisements are few. They find American television exasperating because of the number of ads. When there is a movie, it plays through without, if not wholly, then with only one brief interruption by, advertisements. Television shows are much the same—advertisements are memorable if only because there are so few. And in the meantime, people are protesting right now that the government should ban all advertisements on stations for which one doesn’t have to pay.  As it’s nearly 3am now, I begin writing next about going to a bar with many people after leaving this modern apartment, and then about Strasbourg.

Dijon, pt 3: efficiency and prudence

The mindset I mean is that in the US, so far has been instilled in me is that the purpose of life is to assure oneself and one’s ‘clan’ (of sorts) prosperity. That is, you should be wealthy, but you should also bring along with you anyone that you’re prefer in your life, which may be some of your family, and may be some friends, or may be nobody. You live to work, your children are an investment to ensure that someone can continue to work when you cannot, and so that you will be somebody’s child when you have the strength of one again. We drink coffee to wake up and wine to sleep, parties are mostly to find mates or to drown sorrows, our blockbuster films are about checking dreams off a list before death, our bestselling books are about places you must go and things you must do before dying. We demand results, we demand objectives.
‘”Play by Ear.’”
‘Uhm…is it what comedians do?’
‘Improvise?’
‘Yes.’
‘No. I think improvising is what you do when…well, yes, like on the comedy shows, and when, for instance, you need to make dinner but all you have is a cabinet full of spices.’
‘Like we’ve been doing.’
‘Right.’
‘To play by ear, that’s something you say when you want to avoid making plans immediately and would rather just put it off until later. That’s actually part of the American Civil War, that nobody wanted to deal with the Blacks problem until it had already exploded. We also say ‘let’s cross that bridge when we come to it,’ to mean the same thing, as in, we’ll deal with it when we reach the problem. Does that make sense?’
‘Mm, no.’
‘Alright, when you improvise, you know what the outcome will be, but you don’t know how you will reach it. The comedian’s outcome will be a laughing audience, ours is dinner. How we get there, we don’t know. To play by ear, you’re not sure what the outcome will be, but you know what you’re going to do in the meantime.’

On the night of the party, we forgot to eat dinner on time, or we ruined it when it was being cooked, or something like that, and so we didn’t eat. Everyone at the party had a piece of bread in one hand and a drink in the other. One after another of the girls sat down next to me to speak in English and suggest that I help with studying for the upcoming examination and talk fondly about America. Someone made me a strong drink with rum, and someone else had me try anise, and Scott always told me to stick with one drink for an entire evening—except beer, because beer is good anytime—which is probably why I was dizzy when I got home and unhappy the next morning.

But my point is that the amount of time spent eating, drinking, singing, dancing, and conversing, by which I mean, all the activities that lead Americans to call the French lazy, is really, so far as I can tell, the only reason to live. They delight in other people, they delight in their senses, and they delight in their bodies, and as far as thought goes, I think it was Abelard’s school in Paris that influenced the direction of Cambridge and Oxford, and in recent years my preferences in the arts tend to be French—and if not, then first widely accepted by the French. When we think of lazy we think of fat people or drunks or dogs sleeping under trees, so that when we call the French lazy we think of them as lazy Americans, when what seems more the truth is that the French swim through pleasure in the same way that girls can swim through love. But they work when they must—and seem much more serious about their work when they do, perhaps because on the other side of work is pleasure again. The customer seems to always come first at stores, everything is always clean and well-ordered in even the shittiest of restaurants, nobody seems to become exasperated at their jobs and things move very quickly. Things are always very clean here—I mean, when I see shit on the sidewalk, it’s always fresh shit, and despite the scarcity of trashcans, there’s almost no litter. Everyone always finishes everything on their plates—I mean everything, every last grain of rice, even every last droplet of salad dressing, even a mound of mustard, if that’s all that is left, it will be eaten. I’ve been told it’s because it’s been paid for and, even if one cannot eat another bite, it must be eaten because otherwise you’re not getting your full value. I think this may be how they treat life: why blush about diarrhea? why refuse an experience? why deny yourself a single thing that is or has the potential to be amazing? and why turn it into an item on a list, like a vaccine, when you can have it again? I don’t mean that I have this mindset, but I do mean that I wish I did. That being said, I’ve also heard that in France I will always be hungry, that their meals are very tiny. It’s not true. I’ve never seen so much food as I have here, and I’ve never seen so many people so consistently eat so much food. Yes, their meals last twice the length of American meals, but they eat four times the amount of Americans, and somehow do so without needing their napkins and still talking twice as much. I ask how it’s possible that the French can all be so thin if they eat more than Americans. “That’s because all you eat is grease. Pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, Coke, nothing but sugar and fat. We may eat more than you, but we have a balanced diet.” I was shopping for clothes recently and the only sizes I could find were smalls and mediums. There were very few mediums.

That evening we met up with friends and went to a bar. We walked down cobblestone streets until reaching a place in the wall that I did not recognize as a door. With effort we pushed the giant metal door open and then pushed it shut again, and once inside the dark, stone room, I felt like I had found my way into a castle’s walls. We crept up a winding stone staircase towards a light and knocked on a wooden door, and then—we were inside a gorgeous modern apartment, unremarkable except in how comfortable it was. C  gave me a number of rules when I got here. One was that our yogurt is on the middle shelf on the left. Another was that it’s very important that I never wash any of the teapots because much of the flavor in tea comes from all that buildup. Another was that I need to wait five minutes after I turn off the water in the shower and then turn it off again. The hot water is only produced twice a day, I’m pretty sure. But, as I learned over the summer, you only rinse yourself off with it, and then wash off the soap, and then rinse out the tub. During a shower, the water doesn’t run for more than a minute or so. I learned this by asking her over the summer. I learned also about how we shouldn’t keep anything electric running except when we’re in the room. None of this has anything to do with saving the earth: it’s about bills. All the windows here have shutters—not for decoration, but for keeping heat in. They are often used as window blinds also. My own windows stretch from the floor to the ceiling and have handles as if there was a porch outside. Sometimes, for what reason, I’m not sure, they open on their own. Now, it’s snowed a few times since I got here, and when I woke up this morning and they were open, I found that I hadn’t even noticed the difference in room temperature. We don’t keep the heat turned on. We wear warm clothes and when we’re stationary, we’re generally wrapped up in blankets and drinking something warm or alcoholic. And furthermore, beginning with kisses on the cheeks, people are much physically closer to each other all the time. [At first I found it unusual, but by the time I left I didn’t mind it at all, in fact, I enjoyed it…while here I’m ashamed to wipe my nose in public, there it became easy when I saw everyone was always doing so…they accept that they have bodies, and two months of being cold became easy, and a wonderful excuse for hot drinks all day long–coming back the cold US I immediately reverted to more wasteful habits when it came to heat, not intentionally, but because I found myself shivering much easier. There’s so much we take for granted.]

A few times when girls meet me, they hesitate and then put out their hand for me to shake. Everyone goes silent, and when, a moment later laughter erupts, the girl looks around and then offers me her cheek. When we ate lunch at somebody’s parents’ house yesterday, when wine and anise were being served the girl’s father ran in and, a little embarrassedly and a little concernedly, asked “would you like a coke? Not cocaine! I mean—I mean that we have found one bottle of coca cola—would you like it?” I asked C, do Americans have such a reputation? And she said we do, that when one thinks of an American one thinks of someone eating a hamburger and drinking a Coke.

So I am always sitting next to people very closely, or walking closely, or speaking closely, it’s very easy to make eye contact with people I don’t know, and everyone has been very friendly. When I went to a restaurant (I didn’t know if it was a restaurant or not…it was mostly a bar) to grab lunch one day when I went to school with C, I went to the bar and asked if I could buy something to eat there. The woman asked me a question I didn’t understand and when I told her so, what would be customary in the US, that is to repeat oneself at the same speed but to speak very loudly and make the person feel like an idiot, she asked me simply if I want something to eat, and I said I did, and she pointed towards a door that connected the place to another building and then said “non, non!” and motioned me to follow her, and ran to the door herself and came back a moment later asking if I’d like a sandwich and I said yes and asked what sort of sandwiches there were, and when she began speaking I didn’t know what she was speaking about and just looked confused until she said poulet, and was on the verge of doing a chicken impression with her arms when I exclaimed “poulet! Oui, oui!” [Knowing the word for chicken is second most important to knowing the word for bathroom, and what I didn’t express here at the time was how pessimistic this experience led me to feel, unsure of whether I should be sitting at the bar or a table, knowing how remarkable it was that I’d gotten myself food, and wondering how the hell I’d ever do it again. People ask me now if my French is good. No, by the time I left my French was not good, but I could travel and thrive easily without speaking a word of English, buying strange things, navigating strange cities and transportation that didn’t make any sense, and doing all these things fearlessly—perhaps I didn’t know the language very well, but by the time I left I knew enough to communicate effectively.]

Dijon, pt 2: language, body functions, customs, comparison to US.

Nov 30 11p My jet lag is still significant, I think, so much more of this past week has been slept away than I’d prefer, but still, I’ve done quite a lot, and not a single touristy thing. What I’m most pleased about is the fact that I spend the majority of the day speaking in French, even though my French is still very poor and I can’t even get through a simple café transaction, though, as in America, the moment anyone realizes that I’m not a native speaker they treat me like I’m retarded and then things go much smoother. Céline says I’m actually improving each day, although I think I’m having more trouble each day. The only explanation I can come up with is that with each day I become a little more invested in normal conversation, take for granted things I don’t have difficulty with, and long to say more complicated sentences in the meantime. Or it may be that I can only fake it for so long before becoming exasperated and resorting to charades or list-making. But I’ve even made some jokes that were understood within the past few days. Everyone speaks a little English, especially the students, who can speak very well, but I generally refuse to speak English to anyone except, when necessary or when having a more meaningful conversation, with Céline, who will stand back until I look at her with the expression that says, ‘translate, please!’

What we call the bathroom they call les toilettes. It’s a term that makes Americans blush, but it’s also what the British call it. But the reason they call it that is that the toilet is generally in a separate room from the sink, shower, etc. It’s a dedicated toilet-room. The other room is the bathroom. Just being with the girls over the summer made me a little less self-conscious about body-functions and the like, things that are rarely discussed in the US, or at least inappropriate. Here, it’s fairly common to see people pissing on the sidewalks, and I don’t mean in a corner, I just mean, in the middle of the day, against a wall on a busy street. Homeless people and drunk people. It’s legal to be drunk in public as long as you still have an open container. Yes, you read that correctly. Otherwise you’re considered a drunk. When I told you about how Céline has a remarkable ability to find money–$70 during the first few months she was in the US—and everyone tells me it’s just because I don’t pay attention to my surroundings, well, perhaps also it’s because not a day goes by when Céline does not instruct me to step over some river of piss on the sidewalk or a trail of fresh shits. And so, on the fourth morning, after going out to a housewarming party the night before and going to sleep dizzy, it was a considerably unhappy morning as I sat curled up under a blanket and watched French game-shows and Céline finally asked, “Stephen, you’re not going to like this question, but I’m sorry, I have to ask it, I’m really sorry, I know you’re not going to like this or else I won’t know what to tell you to eat to make you feel better…when you poo, is it…uhm, er, liquid?” I put the pillow over my face and cried “ouiiiii.” At the party, one of the first questions Céline was asked was ‘is it okay for us to burp in his face?’ She told them no, and she told me that things were probably going to be crazy, that there would be a lot of noise, dancing, and people ‘blurping’.

Almost immediately, kissing cheeks to say hello and goodbye became tedious rather than nerve-wracking because I had to greet so many people who insist on it—nearly everyone insists on it. I have trouble with names because they’re all new to me, and sometimes people say their names when I meet them, and sometimes they greet me with a word I don’t know—so I’ve taken to just repeating whatever they say and I assume that 66% of the time I’m correct (either I’m just repeating their name to show I’ve heard it, or repeating their greeting as my own, or sounding like an idiot.) As with body functions, everyone is significantly more open about sex, and the majority of their conversations, if not revolving around it, at least reference it freely, along with body motions and far more slang than English has seen, I’ll venture to guess since the Elizabethan age if Shakespeare is any indication of what common people understood. A room packed with people, more bottles than persons, loud music, baguettes, red peppers, pork ribs. But one of our roommates did not come, even though the rest of us did, and her boyfriend also. It was because she didn’t receive an invitation. Parties for us in my experience are generally word-of-mouth affairs, anyone can attend so long as they blend in, if you invite someone, it’s understood that their roommates and partners are also invited because it’s understood that if one of those persons is specifically not invited, it’s only polite to not attend yourself. Not here. If you’re invited you go, apparently even if that means leaving one of your close friends or girlfriend alone for the entire evening. I was given a glass of wine, everyone seems to prefer a sweet white wine from the region, good wine costs almost nothing, and nobody sniffs or swishes it. I still cannot get over how well everyone dresses. The dress boots with zippers that are so difficult to find in the US, they’re in every shop window. Everyone wears black, and nearly all their clothes seem to be black—I’m just constantly astounded by how everyone of all ages look like models.

Tonight I was having an English conversation with Alexandre, who I met in the US and so have an English-language relationship with him, so that when we were talking alone I felt fine speaking English. And we were discussing differences between the US and other places, how, for instance, getting through customs was instantaneous here, where I didn’t receive a passport stamp or need a visa or have my bags checked, whereas arriving in the US, they were all fingerprinted, made to remove most of their clothes, had their bags searched and required significant paperwork even for brief visits. I’ve been told many times that entering the US they were treated like criminals. Alex finds Canada attractive because it has the benefits of the US but hasn’t its shortcomings, one of the benefits being that if you work hard you can be paid more. And this is, I think, the beginning of the American mindset. I may be about to briefly discuss a few conclusions I reached after the events that I will sometime later recount, only because I remember them now, but the events themselves will serve as illustrations and if later disputed, are true now, and are, further, conclusions I did not expect.