I’ve been sick on-and-off for the past four weeks. I don’t want to jump the gun, but I think I’ve finally put illness behind me for awhile. It was nothing too serious, but it will be nice to breathe easily without congestion or a sniffly nose, to leave the house without wondering if I have enough tissues in my pocket, to be able to think about something other than the pressure between and behind my eyes. With my mind unencumbered from illness I will be able to turn my attentions more fully towards my dwindling time abroad and making the most of it. I even started learning some Spanish phrases on a language-learning website called http://www.livemocha.com where you earn credits to learn more by reviewing the work of others who are trying to learn your native language.
It seems very likely that I will have a traveling companion when I go to Italy in a month’s time. He’s a very proud Newfoundlander, and even though I’ve only known him for a couple weeks I’ve already learned quite a bit about Canadian culture and politics. For example, Newfoundland’s inhabitants call their province [newfound-LAND], with an eccentric emphasis on the “land.” (I think I’ve learned other stuff too, but I won’t bore you with it or weary my poor head trying to remember it.) Also, I will be looking forward to hosting another visitor for a few days before my Italy trip. I already visited Tori, so now she’s coming to visit me. She will have the easiest route of any of my previous visitors since she just needs to hop across the Channel.
In another field, I’ve managed to continue the friendships I’ve made with the profs d’EPS at Madame de Lafayette. I have continued to play sports with them and the middle schoolers on Wednesdays and was even invited back to their apartment, where I played poker for the first time ever. We played for chips instead of money. Since it was my first time playing and the six others were experienced veterans I unsurprisingly was always the first to lose all my chips. I think I won two hands out of 30 or so.
Today, I played volleyball with these two PE teachers. It’s not a sport I’ve played much of. We tried to put together a dorm team in the intramural league first year, but not only did we never win I don’t think we ever had the lead. But today, under their guidance I learned some technique that made it pretty fun. I even spiked the ball successfully and successfully blocked a spiked ball. They said I did well and that we should keep playing in the coming weeks.
I’ve also been reading a lot while malade. I’ve even been reading Montaigne! Most recently he’s discoursed on cannibals and how their cultural differences do not make them bad or inferior people (Rousseau, you thief!). He extols their virtues—their honesty and simplicity, their nobility—even making their ritualistic cannibalism seem noble. The tone of the essay, even though it is accepting of other people, isn’t necessarily one that’s been in style in recent years. Ever since the turn of the century such sentimental poeticism has been seen as reductionist and over-simplified. “The estimate and value of a man consist in the heart and in the will: there his true honour lies. Valour is stability, not of legs and arms, but of the courage and the soul; it does not lie in the goodness of our horse or our arms but in our own.” A modern, cynical reader might ask, “How does he get away with not defining will and courage and valour?”
On the other hand, there is something in this “uncivilized” description of the “cannibals” that is refreshing. These people have not been brainwashed by the “rationality” and “justice” created by civilization in order to permit the powerful to convince the weak that their pitiful condition is the natural order of things. For these cannibals, the disparity in wealth they witnessed in 16th century France (and that they would witness in the 21st century as well) was inconceivable. “Secondly (they have a way of speaking in their language to call men the half of one another), that they had observed that there were amongst us men full and crammed with all manner of commodities, whilst, in the meantime, their halves were begging at their doors, lean and half-starved with hunger and poverty; and they thought it strange that these necessitous halves were able to suffer so great an inequality and injustice, and that they did not take the others by the throats, or set fire to their houses.”
Is the real accomplishment of civilization the creation of an elaborate and imprisoning mental illusion that prevents those who are unjustly exploited from recognizing the injustice that permits others to live lavishly at their expense?
Maybe Marx read Montaigne too…