Critics

With Christmas fast approaching, I am under pressure once more to buy gifts for members of my tribe. Unlike some, I don’t like buying compulsory presents because I find this task exceedingly stressful.
In order to buy a present for anybody, you need to know the recipient’s tastes pretty well and most of the time we don’t.
The gift giving business is therefore a hit or miss proposition (more miss than hit) and it often leaves the giver mentally exhausted and the recipient politely disappointed.
But as dictated by the powerful Business Lobby we must perpetuate this tradition for fear of incurring a business “fatwa” (like a lifetime ban of popular department stores).
So the show must go on.

My grandniece just started to study French and I thought that it would be a good idea to buy her a French book to familiarize her with this language.
Something more easily said than done. Finding a French book for a five-year old in America is not as easy as you might think.
After visiting a local Barnes & Noble store, I finally settled (among other things) for “Le Petit Prince”, the fabled novella penned more than half a century ago by Antoine de Saint Exupéry.

I first read this book (and promptly forgot about it) a very long time ago, when I was devouring everything in sight without really fully understanding or questioning what I was reading. I must confess that I read hundreds of books simply to sound “cultured” and because critics gushed about them.

Before wrapping my present, I decided to read Le Petit Prince one more time and I found this experience rather unsettling.
I perceived the book to be insipid and unworthy of all the extravagant praise heaped upon it.

First of all, even though it is seemingly written for children, it is definitely not a children’s book.
Second, it is full of obscure allegories that have been bandied about for a long time. Critics will tell you what the author meant when he wrote a certain sentence, but nobody but the author knows for sure what he meant, and since he died shortly after the book was published, he is not talking.
Some researchers for instance, have asserted that the famous baobab trees mentioned in the book were meant to represent Nazism attempting to destroy the planet.
To this, and to many other assertions I say phooey!
I am pretty sure that St Exupéry wrote many things without giving them hidden meanings.

And that’s where I have a bone to pick with “critics”.

Professional critics are a bunch of people who arrogate to themselves the right to decide if something is good or worthless.
If art critics decide that a painting or a book is a masterpiece, we better get along with it for fear of being labeled ignorant or even worse “bourgeois”.
So, many people fearing embarrassment shy away from contradicting those fellows. I don’t.

Here are some of the reasons why I believe Le petit Prince became so famous:

First of all, Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, (count) de Saint Exupéry was a genuine aristocrat, and that always gives a certain cachet to anything the bluebloods do.
Second, his book was published in the middle of World War Two (1943) when the US and its allies were eager to promote true Free French patriots.
Third, he had the support of very influential people.
Fourth, he was a glamorous (if not washed-up) aviator who insisted on flying combat missions despite physical handicaps and his advanced age.
And last, he died young (at the age of 44) and his early demise amplified his fame posthumously.
Everybody knows that to gain everlasting fame an artist must die young.

I do believe that if Saint Ex would have been a peon instead of an aristocrat, if his book would have been published after the war, and lastly if he didn’t disappear so prematurely, his book would never had achieved the ridiculous cult status that it now enjoys.
“Translated into more than 250 languages and dialects, selling over a million copies per year with sales totaling over 200 million copies worldwide”.

So, if you have not done so yet and if you are curious, read the book (only 85 pages), but don’t let anybody tell you that it is a masterpiece because some “critics” said so.
In my “expert” opinion it is a pleasant little walk in fairyland, but a masterpiece it ain’t!

But on second thought maybe I got it wrong… Maybe a five-year old will see in in this book what a jaded old guy like me failed to see.
So I’ll give her the book after all and quiz her later about what she truly thinks of baobab trees and talking snakes.
A five-year old wouldn’t lie to me, would she?

Alain

 

 

Indoctrination

Brothers and sisters,
I will start my weekly sermon by quoting Thomas Jefferson who said:
“Peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading”.
This quote by way, was sent to me by Bart Zachofsky who is a fine “connaisseur » of “bons mots”.

I believe that most of the world’s problems stem from early indoctrination. That is, teaching a person or a group to uncritically accept a set of (often-outrageous) beliefs.
This technique works best with young children, but not children only.
All absolute rulers are adepts at this manipulation and start brainwashing their progeny at a very early age.
To name just a few, the Nazis, the Communists, the Khmer Rouges, the Papists, the Salafis, the Polygamists, the Taliban etc… all started indoctrinating their children the minute they stopped breastfeeding.

What is taught at such a vulnerable age has lasting effects and consequences.
I remember seeing pictures of young German children dressed in Nazi uniforms enthusiastically saluting the FĂĽhrer.
Similarly, I saw a few days ago, a picture of a young Palestinian child wearing a military uniform and clutching a submachine gun.

What can you expect from such children? Nothing but the perpetuation of hateful beliefs and its deadly consequences.

To stop this infernal cycle you need to reprogram these genetically modified toddlers.

Here is my idea on how to quell these deadly epidemics.
First, lure unsuspecting children (with instead of virgins, promises of iPads, XBoxes and sugary stuff) to robust democracies.
Teach them to develop critical thinking instead of spewing stale dogmas and parachute them in their countries of origin to plant and spread the seeds of rational thinking.
Why couldn’t after all the Afghans educate their women and enjoy a Lady Gaga of their own?

My seemingly crazy idea stems from a 1974 French movie called “Les Chinois a Paris » (Chinese in Paris).
In this movie, the Chinese invade France and take over the country.
For a while everything goes swimmingly, but soon the young Chinese conscripts become enamored with the decadent French lifestyle, and to the horror of their leaders, start to question and stray from the sacrosanct Communist dogmas.
The Chinese hierarchy fearing greater damage hastily withdraws its troops and sends them home.
But it is too late. The returning soldiers infected with the capitalistic virus of free thinking, contaminate in turn the Chinese population who start clamoring for justice and an end to communist rule.

This scenario by the way is not that far-fetched. It was successfully implemented in 1917 when Germany smuggled a certain Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) back into Russia.
The aim of this operation was to weaken Tsarist resistance by planting revolutionary unrest among the Russian troops.
It worked, and shortly after, the Russian Revolution took flight and Tsarist Russia ceased to exist.

So let’s start enticing children from rigidly authoritarian countries and put them in places where they are taught the concept of freethinking, religious freedom, gender equality and the benefits of peace.
Then, on a moonless night, parachute them back where they came from to disseminate the Good Word.

We all can dream, can’t we?

Alain

 

Familiarity

Close friends are not unlike diamonds; they are rare and precious and should be treated accordingly.
Only after you have cemented that close bond called friendship, are you entitled to some degree of familiarity with kindred spirits, but absolutely never before!
I am against the forced intimacy that some individuals are trying to foist upon others. Calling a waitress “honey” or “sweetheart” at the first encounter is absolutely distasteful. It is patronizing and demeaning; if I were the waitress, I would certainly have a few chosen words with those behaving that way.

Instant intimacy! This is definitely one of my “bêtes noires”.
Generally speaking I am not fond of anything instantaneous.
I do not like to be called by my first name by somebody I just met. My last name is a different story; it’s my outer shell and everybody can have a whack at it.

A long time ago a Highway Patrolman stopped me for some trivial matter. He demanded to see my driver’s license and then proceeded to write me a ticket. Once he was done he said “Goodbye Alain. Please be more careful.”
Goodbye Alain? Whatever happened to “Sir” or “Mister”? Did we become instant buddies because I let him peek at my driver’s license?
Nobody should have the right to call me by my first name unless I say so.

And that’s why I prefer by far romance languages over English.  In French (Spanish and Italian) for instance, you have two ways of addressing people: the formal way (vous) for strangers, and the familiar way (tu) for friends, lovers and relatives.
Nobody with a bit of “savoir-vivre” would be gauche enough to use “tutoiement” with a total stranger. It would be considered extremely rude and offensive.

Not so in American society where everybody professes to be your pal.
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer a slow progression toward intimacy rather than the “instant familiarity” favored by Americans. I’d rather spend ten years building up and nurturing a true friendship rather than rushing into an artificial comradeship based on beer, pretzels and television commercials.

Call me quaint but I am not your friend until our friendship have been tested and validated.
Then, and only then, are you allowed to call me by my first name and use the familiar way exclusively reserved for friends or lovers.
Not being your friend by the way, doesn’t preclude me from being friendly, but I am not your friend until we have shared some common joys and sorrows together.

I am not everybody’s friend, nor do I want to be.

Let me have five close mates and I’ll gladly let you keep all the rest of your Facebook-style “friends”.

Alain

Hi Alain: (may I call you Alain?) It was not always this way in the US.. when I was young (40s and 50s) everyone called other persons by their last names, as in my mother “Mrs Gilman”, me..”Mrs. Toulon”, and all children were taught to say this always, and if they didn’t know the last name, they had to say “Sir” or “M’aam”.. I remember that somewhere near the early 70s it changed, and I was upset when a nurse in the hospital called me “Jan”.. my children’s friends still call me Mrs.Toulon ! I love it in France when I can say “Monsieur” or Madame, or “Mademoiselle” without the last name, as I can never remember everyone’s names!
I miss the formality too….
Jan Toulon