Thursday, July 06, 2006

I am a stout bearded Walser man

When my friends say I remind them of Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general, I usually just demur modestly. But perhaps there's something to the comparison after all. I disappear for a while, and it's unclear where I've gone. Then bam! I take you by surprise from the Alps.

So yes, I am in the Val D'Aosta. And I have a few things to get off my chest. Several blog posts have arisen while I've been cycling, but as I have lacked internet access, these gems simply go to waste, like semen into a teenager's dirty sock. I will put these in bullet points to accommodate your miserably short attention span.

  • One looks back at certain phrases one has uttered with incredulity. Did one really say that? Without irony? Yes, one did. There are two basic classes of these phrases: the first class is the Unforgiveable class. Take, for example, anything you said about Milan Kundera when you were 19. The second class is the Only Comprehensible In Context class. When I was traveling in Mongolia two years ago, I had the occasion to tell several people, "I hope your livestock are fattening up nicely." I said it in Mongolian, of course-- perhaps poor Mongolian, since it was from a crappy phrasebook. But it seemed to be received with appreciation. And I said it without irony or excessive self-consciousness. Nothing would have made me happier at the time than plump livestock. I was united with these nomadic herders in the common hope for morbidly obese goats and camels.
  • This trip hasn't provided me with any comparable phrases, though I have had plenty of the stilted political conversations you tend to have when traveling in a country where your limited grasp of the language forces you to conduct all conversations in broken English. I have said many stupid things in this way. "Yes, the Marshall Plan helped Europe. But I don't think Bush is so good. So why do you like Berlusconi?"
  • I also repeated the phrase "Ah, so you are gathering rosemary" several times, pretty much just to hear myself speak. A kindly old Croatian man was gathering sacks of rosemary on a mountain trail while listening to martial-sounding music on a transistor radio, beating out the dried branches onto blankets spread over the ground. We smiled and spoke incomprehensible monosyllables to one another, until I understood what the hell he was doing. "Ah, so you are gathering rosemary." "Bog."
  • I hadn't seen this much good-natured anti-German sentiment since Hogan's Heroes: when Italy defeated Germany 2-0 in the semifinal, the country fucking exploded. I will spare you the details, but let's just say I got more than my share of man-hugs. And this time, it was they who held on uncomfortably long.