June 27, 2007

Fictional Wednesday

The moon that Mardi Gras was gauzed by clouds, as if trying to costume itself in the spirit of the occasion. Was it trying to hide in order to observe, or fit in so that it may join the revelers? No one knew for sure but that it had the wide-eyed innocence of a young Olivia Hussey.

One of the revelers was a young man with a mathematical background. The certainty in the life of the Casari family was the need for certainty. Uncertainties were tolerated to the extent they could be assigned probabilities. Joan, Ron Casari’s mother, had delegated weekly household chores based on a complex algorithm that took into account the child’s strengths, weaknesses, biorhythm chart and phase of the moon. She said that with her system chores were 83% more likely to get done.

Ron did well in school though teachers said he approached his classes in a rote, mechanical fashion. In English Lit class he asked his teacher, a Mr. Siddle, why the books laden with symbols carefully hidden even though the insights revealed tended towards common sense. He studied to the test and the test asked: what does the whale in Moby Dick symbolize? It was like a math problem with multiple correct answers.

One of the milder surprises of Ron Casari’s life was discovering that foreign languages were never fully accessible. He’d considered language little different from mathematics: A=B, where “B” was the foreign word for “A”. But a book that bore the imprint of the soul of a foreign culture would throw him off-balance, off-kilter. He was uncomfortable with mystery, or at least uncomfortable with not knowing what he didn’t know. Mysteries, by definition, didn’t have the answers in the back of the book. That languages were essentially unsolvable was an anathema in a culture in which choice was worshipped. He couldn’t get over the fact that his native tongue had been chosen for him and he couldn’t choose another.

He naturally wasn't sure how close his approximation of the foreigner's tongue was, and the native born wouldn't tell him for reasons mysterious. What was humorous was that even when he mickmicked the accents of foreigners speaking English he couldn't tell if that made him more intelligible or less. On overseas trips he felt like he was playacting and yet the exaggerated syllables might sound "natural" to the Venetian, no matter how unnatural it sounded to his ears.

After graduating from Ole Miss he moved to Louisiana. Every Mardi Gras thereafter he donned a costume inspired by a character from a Franco Zeffirelli film and marched in the Krewe of St. Anne. Afterwards he’d get lost in the byways of the Quarter, drunk on mimosas and bourbon.

He knew the exhilarating feeling of dissolving into a crowd of foreigners and of the sheer joy of invisibility, but language offered no such invisibility: on any street in Venice or Berlin or Moscow everyone who spoke the language knew - from his accent - it was not his native tongue. He wished he could fit in so he could join them. Or maybe just so he could observe. Or perhaps to have the choice.

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