Everything is relative, including the weather.
Warnings on the radio, briefly closed autoroutes and this morning’s rare sleet shower prove that France is in the grip of a severe cold snap, the thermometer sinking to levels that in New England would be greeted as a welcome winter thaw.
The Immigrant ventured out muffled in a down coat and a sort of engulfing knitted-by-reindeer wool hat with earflaps that peter out in braids. The destination was a large electronics store; the quest was for enlightment, certain holiday gifts having posed a technical koan.
In the first Stygian, hypnotic section of the store fifty-odd wide-screen TV’s all play Pirates of the Caribbean more or less in tandem and whole bundled up families, refugees from the weather or the between-feast-days let down at home, stand around motionless, as if in year-end suspended animation.
Moving deeper into Electronics-land the Immigrant finally spots a store clerk ripping open boxes. He is strong and wiry and looks young enough to presumably intuit by generational osmosis exactly how to ratchet the gizmo intake to the auxiliary receptor that hyperlinks to the co-axial dingsboot in order to wake up the genie of the LCD.
Excuse me, I say. Do you mind if I demand of you a small technical question?
A technical question?! He flings up a palm in smiling defense. (And this seemed strange, since we were in a store devoted to all things technical. )
It is not actually truly a very difficult question, I revise, trying to convey reassurance.
In that case I will do my best, he says, pulling himself up tall as a volunteer to the Resistance. But first, Madame, I must tell you something at once.
What is that? I ask, puzzled.
Your bonnet, Madame.
My what? My hat? I touch the tassel on top of my head as if I have no idea how it got there.
You know, I find it adorable! It’s so unusual and what is more it suits you perfectly, this style–
How often does one leave an electronics store believing spring is around the corner?
Bons Mots, Nobel Oblige
Philippe Bouvard is a columnist and skeet-shooter of social and political ephemera (think: super blog print media). Now in his eighties, with his shooting eye sharp as ever, Bouvard offered advice this week on how to survive the gantlet of New Year’s Eve mondaine Paris dinner party. His table-jousting tips, easily adaptable to Moscow, New York, London, etc. include:
Love: — Argue the case for fidelity while experimenting with knee of your ideologically more liberal neighbor to the left.
Politics: — Avoid confrontation by assuring all that you just want the whole world to be happy.
Cellphones: — Don’t answer if it rings. Frown at the screen and murmur mezzo voce: ‘Don’t those people ever sleep over at the Palais Elysee?’
Literature: — To excuse yourself for not having read Le Clezio, claim that you are busy re-reading Montaigne. Those who re-read are, by definition, more cultivated than those who read.
J.M.G. le Clezio. Literature Nobelist 2008. A man for our season, despite himself, with his roots in France, Africa, Mexico and–. Arguably a parallel to Obama… no, stop me going on in that direction–
Hands, who hasn’t read him. No surprise. Despite early prizes and steady production his novels haven’t been much translated. And if nothing else hasn’t that been the more or less well-functioning function of the Nobel for a long time–to kick-start a series of translations?
The Immigrant has just regretfully closed cover on the last page of his newest book, gone to print shortly before the Nobel was announced. Title (my translation): ‘The Refrain of Hunger.’ Refrain in the musical sense. Not a novel exactly but the imagined Paris girlhood of the author’s mother, through the Occupation and Second World War. This year the Nobel Committee must have had an ear for music in language. And an eye for scene-setting and motif. And no fear of tenderness, honesty, finesse.
Confession: something of what ‘La Ritournelle de la Faim’ evidently wants to convey concerning Ravel’s Bolero, music the Immigrant has always found close to fascist in spirit, didn’t get through. But refrains come back, and maybe the insight will come with time.
Though probably not as a topic for a dinner party.