De la tristesse. “On Sorrow.”

That’s the title of the second essay. It seems a little ridiculous to be reading and thinking about sorrow on such a gorgeous day while sitting in a beautifully maintained park (that is just a stone’s throw away from where I’m staying) after ambling through the streets of Coulommiers while the streets are packed with people eager to see what the outdoor market will offer today. Reading Montaigne’s description of sorrow does tend to put things in perspective though. He is talking about real sorrow–the sorrow felt by parents who have watched their children die before their eyes:

“Niobe, having first lost seven sons, and then afterwards as many daughters, s at last transformed into a rock–

‘Petrified with her misfortunes,’

thereby to express that melancholic, dumb, and deaf stupefaction, which benumbs all our faculties when oppressed with accidents greater than we are able to bear.”

What are my troubles right now? That I don’t have internet? That I can’t decide what I will do after teaching in France? That I can’t decide where to take my vacations while I am here?

True, it is annoying to have to go to McDonald’s to check my email and to post entries to my blog, but that problem will soon be resolved. And true again, it is annoying to be in such limited communication with the people I care about, yet here I am still able to communicate with them even if only once a day or once every other day. The lack of internet has been preoccupying my mind, even as I travel to Paris and meet French people and animatedly learn as much about their language as possible. Reading this essay has shown me that this preoccupation is silly. I still care that there is no internet chez moi but am no longer upset by it.  If it turns out that I need to take the acquisiton of internet into my own hands I will, but until then I will be patient and not allow it to sour my first weeks in Coulommiers.

In Paris, walking along the streets, the poverty is occasionally palpable. (As in most cities.) Homeless people with their dogs are easy to spot and one has to wonder what brought them to such a turn of events. Are they content to live such a life, sleeping under train bridges near the Gare de l’Est, or did some deep sorrow wound their joie de vivre? Could it happen to anyone? Or is it perhaps an inevitable byproduct of modern society? How far is the fall from Place Vendôme, where the black German luxury vehicles stand guard along streets lined with stores proudly bearing names of famous designers and jewelers, to a bed of concrete and a pillow of wadded up newspaper outside an old train station?

7 thoughts on “De la tristesse. “On Sorrow.”

  1. Patrick says:

    Is sorrow felt for others the same as sorrow felt for one’s self? I would argue they are not.

  2. jamesrnelson says:

    I, too, would say that they are not. Is there somewhere in my post where you think I make such an assumption?

    • Patrick says:

      Nope, just commenting that sorrow for lack of internet and sorrow for the homeless people sleeping on the concrete is different. And I suppose sorrow for the homeless is better. If sorrow can be “better”. Sorrow sucks. You should read an essay on happiness next time. Are requests allowed?

      • jamesrnelson says:

        What I was trying to suggest in the section about homeless people is not that I was so struck by their predicament that I felt a strong sense of sorrow, but wondering rather if they had experienced a profound sorrow which prevented them from living a different lifestyle than they one they currently lead.

  3. Grandma & Grandad says:

    Well written!

  4. Cody says:

    Glad I found your blog! Just got an iPhone; haven’t had personal Internet either for the past few weeks. These little devices are wonderful: I can check your blog anywhere anytime–even subscribe to email notifications so I can be the first to read your new entries! You should consider one to solve your Internet woes, although there is a learning curve to type on these maddening devices.

  5. That is a strange thing about Paris. As you said, every city (or at least every one I’ve seen) has its impoverished underside, but as Paris is such an emblem of culture and luxury it is all the more striking there. Also the bloody and turbulent history, which your mention of Place Vendome made me think of.

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