Monday, 2 November 2009
Etta's Week 1
Stormy Weather all over again. Something more up tempo tomorrow
Reconsidering the scientific adviser versus minister affair, surely the best, most proper defence of the government position is to argue that alcohol and tobacco are indeed likely to have worse effects - and sooner - than cannabis or Ecstasy, but that is no reason to let two more potentially harmful, potentially addictive drugs on the market, however minor. Just because we've got rats it doesn't mean we want mice too. The unstated defence that 'the press will skin us alive if we sound soft on drugs' is not good enough. Nor is it good enough for Channel 4 TV News to bring on the mother of a girl who died from drug abuse to tell us that cannabis is definitely more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco when it is clearly not. Certainly not on the day after a man who tried to take back his girl friend's witch's hat from the drunk group who stole it was murdered by them.
The general device of bringing on weeping mothers tends to conclude any case on TV. See? There is a weeping mother. Case dismissed. You must be wrong. Feel that emotion. What more proof do you need?
On the other hand the professor's comparison of the dangers of cannabis as opposed to the dangers of horse riding is equally nonsense. The most dangerous place for accidents is, apparently, the home. Would scientists therefore advise us to spend our lives outside trotting on horses along some country lane because that is safer than sitting in a chair from which we might possibly rise, trip and break our necks?
In the meantime, back in Márai...
Here in Rome there are all these wonderful statues and paintings and grand tapestries, like the cast-offs of a lost world, the kind we get in junk shops back home. But maybe all the masterworks of Rome offer just one view of culture. It might be that culture is also what happens when people cook for themselves in their own kitchens exactly the way they cooked for the rich, with butter or oil, with complicated recipes prescribed by the doctor – as if it were not only their teeth and guts that required nourishment but they had to have a special soup for the liver, a different cut of meat for the heart, a particular blend of salads for the gall bladder, and a rare form of pastry with raisins for the pancreas. And having eaten all this they withdraw into solitude so that their mysterious organs of digestion can get on with digesting… That was culture too! I understood it all, full-heartedly approved of it, admired it. It was just their way with nightshirts and pyjamas I failed to understand. I could never reconcile myself to it. Damn the God that invented such things!...
Have patience, I’m about to tell you. After making the bed I had to lay the nightshirt on top of it face down, folding the bottom end of it back and over, spreading the sleeves… See what I mean?... Looked at this way the nightshirt or pyjamas looked faintly Arabic, like some Eastern pilgrim at prayer, stomach to the ground, his arms spread over the sand… Why did they insist on this? I have no idea. Maybe because it’s more convenient that way, because it involves one movement less, because you just need to pull it on from the back and there you are, ready for bed, without having to struggle into it and tire yourself out before going to sleep. But I hated this kind of strategic thinking, absolutely loathed it. I simply couldn’t tolerate this affectation of theirs. My whole nervous system rebelled against it. My hands shook with fury whenever I made their beds, folding and adjusting their nightgowns, pyjama jackets and trousers the way the manservant taught me. Why?...
People are peculiar, you see. They are born that way even when they are not rich. Everyone is annoyed or driven mad by something. Even the poor who tolerate everything for a while, who resign themselves to everything and support the weight of the world with a certain awe and helplessness, accepting whatever comes their way… but there comes a moment, one that came for me each evening when I was making the bed and putting out their nightwear in the required manner. That was the moment I understood that there would come a day when people were no longer willing to put up with the world as it was… I mean individuals as well as nations… someone would scream out loud that they had had enough, that things had to change. And that when this happened people would take to the streets and go on the rampage, smashing and braking things… Though that’s only a form of circus. Revolution, I mean real revolution, is that which has already happened inside people. Don’t stare at me like an idiot, gorgeous.
I might be talking rubbish but not everything runs according to the laws of logic, not everything people say or do has to make sense. Do you think it is rational or logical that I should be lying with you in this bed? Don’t you get it, sweetheart?... Never mind. Just keep your mouth shut and carry on loving me. Our logic makes no sense but here we are.
So that’s the nightshirt business. I loathed this habit of theirs. But eventually I resigned myself to that too. They were so much stronger after all. It is possible to hate superior forms of life just as it is possible to admire them, but you cannot deny them. I grew to hate them. I hated them to the extent that I joined them and became rich myself, wore their clothes, lay down in their beds, started to watch my figure and, eventually, got to taking laxatives before I went to bed, just like the rich. I didn’t hate them because they were rich and I was poor, no, please don’t misunderstand me. It would be nice if someone finally understood the true state of affairs.
Newspapers and parliaments are constantly on about this now. Even the movies are full of it, or so I understood watching the newsreel the other day. Everyone is talking about it. I wonder what has got into people?...I can’t imagine it’s good for people to be talking so broadly, so generally, so much, about rich and poor, about Russians and Americans. I don’t understand that. They even say there is bound to be a great revolution and the Russians will come out on top, as well as the poor, by and large. But a very refined man once told me in a bar – a South American I think, a drug dealer, went the whisper, whose very false teeth contained a stash of heroin – that that was not how it was, that it would be the Americans who win out in the end because they had more money.
I thought a good deal about this. The saxophonist said the same thing. He said the Americans would drill a great hole in the ground and pack it with atom bombs, and then this little guy in glasses, the man who was currently the president over the ocean, would get down on his hands and knees carrying a burning match, crawl over to the hole, light the fuse of the atom bomb and then whoosh, the whole caboodle goes up. It seems a load of nonsense at first. But I can’t bring myself to laugh any more at such nonsense. I have seen a great deal that seemed just as ridiculous but soon became reality. Yes, my experience is that, generally, the more stupid the idea the surer you can be that one day it will be realized.
I’ll never forget the gossip in Budapest at the latter end of the war… One day, for example, the Germans ranged cannon along the embankment on the Buda side of the city… Enormous cannons they were, properly dug in by bridgeheads. They broke up the pavements and placed machine gun nests all the way along the lovely chestnut-lined shore. People looked at them anxiously but there were a few wise guys who declared there would not be a siege of Budapest because all those terrifying weapons, the heavy artillery by the bridges, the bundles of explosives on the bridges themselves, were all a confidence trick. It was a trick to pull the wool over the Russians’ eyes. They didn’t really want a battle… that’s what they were saying. But it was no trick, at least it did not fool the Russians. The Russians arrived at the river one day and shot everything to pieces, including the cannons. That’s why I don’t know whether what the South American said will come true, but I have a certain feeling that in the end it will be exactly as he said if only because it sounded so ridiculous at first hearing.
I also thought a lot about what the very refined man said about how the Americans would take the decisive step because they were rich. The rich – now there is something I do understand. My experience was that you had to be very careful with the rich because they are extraordinarily crafty. They possess enormous resilience… though heaven alone knows where the resilience comes from. One thing is certain – they are subtle and it is never easy dealing with them. What I said about their nightshirts is evidence of that. People you prepare nightshirts for the way I was told to prepare them are not ordinary people. Such people know exactly what they want, day and night, and it is as well for a poor man to cross himself when coming into their presence. I can’t emphasize enough that I mean only the genuinely rich, not those who just happen to have money. Those are less dangerous. They flash their money around the way a child blows bubbles. And it all ends as it does with soap bubbles: the money just pops in their hands.