A High Life columnist has got me thinking about human societies. In a recent issue of The Spectator, Taki, the magazine’s resident bon vivant, wrote admiringly of Japan, where life is so agreeable, in his view, because the social fabric is based on respect and good manners. These are the qualities that make for a successful society, Taki claimed, not inclusivity and diversity.
For Americans, the ideas of inclusivity and diversity are almost as sacred as those of freedom and democracy. We are the country made up of people from all countries. Years ago I asked a visiting German journalist what struck him most about the United States, and he said it was the fact that all these people from dramatically different cultures managed to get along, for the most part, and work together for the common good. Animosities that had existed for centuries on other continents disappeared within the confines of the U.S. border.
But now intolerance, and hatred of the Other, seem to be appearing. I say ‘seem’ because these attitudes are definitely being stoked. But it’s got me wondering if people are sadly reverting back to their more primitive natures, becoming peasants again, eyeing the stranger with loaded-gun suspicion. Has the American experiment in human evolution come to a halt? Was the ideal of inclusivity and diversity as utopian and doomed as Communism?
Today is the day people have been asked to bombard the president with postcards. As soon as I heard the idea I liked it, not just because of my feelings toward the commander-in-chief but because of my feelings about postcards. As you would expect of a travel writer, I love them. When my nieces were little, and I was traveling a lot, I sent them postcards from every place I went. My refrigerator is covered with postcards, some received from friends, some purchased by myself. There are Arkansas pigs, farm workers in Cuba, masked revelers in Ecuador, traditionally dressed children in Merida, France’s Canal du Midi, Warsaw’s Aleja Jerozolimskie, as well as a number of cards of old travel posters: Bern, San Sebastian, Holland America Line, Pan American Airways. There is a postcard of Carlos Gardel and one of koalas in a tree.
I love postcards so much that, as soon as I got the cover of my new book, The Joys of Travel, I had it made into 750 postcards. Perhaps I’ll send one to the president, with no message on the back, hoping perhaps he’ll take the hint.
Three Marlins – Cristian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Martin Prado – are playing in the World Baseball Classic (the first two for the United States, the last for Venezuela). Yelich was so excited by the prospect of playing for his country that he accepted the invitation without even realizing he would get paid.
This is not the case with a number of MLB stars, who didn’t want to interrupt their spring training to risk injury playing in intense games. (The WBC is the true World Series.) In the 1950s, Ted Williams interrupted his career to risk death flying fighter planes in the Korean War.
One more reason to be a Marlins fan.
I’ve been writing about Poland (again) and Polish, noting how the language – for all its intimidating obsession with consonants – has a consistency that is a boon to foreigners who try to speak it. Every letter in a Polish word has a purpose, and it doesn’t change from word to word. You may not be capable of pronouncing a word like ‘upwards’ – wzwyz – but at least you know how it should be pronounced (by people raised without fear of alphabet-ending consonant clots).
English is not so accommodating. Rough and dough. Sometimes the pronunciation of a word changes depending on how it’s used in a sentence. This morning on the radio I heard a man – clearly not a native English speaker – use ‘attribute’ as a noun (with the accent on the first syllable) when it was obvious from the sentence that he wanted to use it – that he was using it, despite its refusal to comply – as a verb (with the accent on the second). Unless you consult a dictionary, there is no way to know that the word has different pronunciations for its different identities. You have to live amongst people who say ‘attribute’ and ‘attribute’ a lot. My heart goes out to learners of English.
A Polish friend of mine – an academic – recently flew to the United States, and before boarding was asked by her carrier a number of security questions, including “Who is your favorite American president?” and “Who is your favorite American writer?” How wonderful if she had said:
“Thomas Jefferson – I like his line that if made to choose between a government without newspapers and newspapers without a government he wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter. As for writers, Philip Roth – especially The Plot Against America.”
Whatever her answers, she found the questions odd, as do I, not least because most Americans, if asked similar questions before flying to almost any country, would be hard-pressed to come up with any names.
I was sorry that Toni Erdmann did not win Best Foreign Language Film, but then we wouldn't have heard the eloquent letter from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. And I was delighted that Sing won for Best Live Action Short, but shouldn't the director's acceptance speech have been briefer than the others?