Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sir Andrew Rides Again

Dateline: Pisa Airport, October 27.
Scene: a fogged-in morning, flights cancelled, including Molloy's to Paris: airport personnel refer Molloy to the carrier, EasyJet, for satisfaction. EasyJet refers Molloy to airport personnel. Airport personnel phone EasyJet to explain that they do not re-book flights. EasyJet personnel argue the point with airport personnel. A rumor floats that a bus will soon leave to Bologna, where the flight has been diverted. Airport personnel refuse to discuss the matter, saying, in excellent English, "I know nothing." EasyJet, on the phone, blames airport personnel for ongoing recalcitrance; airport personnel claim this is always the problem with EasyJet. Bus to Bologna cannot be confirmed. RyanAir, which has also cancelled a flight, already has two busses at the airport to take people to another departure city.
Molloy's condition: cappucinato in extremis

And in the midst of all this, Molloy is reminded of Sir Toby Belch's defense of Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Why, he knows three or four languages, word for word, without book. (Shakespeare, 12th Night--not exactly word for word, but close--Molloy is not a xerox machine.)

Of all the memorable lines in Shakespeare, why should this particular one come to mind, and at this particular time? Because Molloy is excellent at distracting himself, taking his mind off the more immediately pressing crises and emergencies to purse the inner life in tranquil contemplation.

To wit: Molloy has tried to pursue, to whatever practicable extent, the labyrinthine practice of acquiring some facility with the language of whatever country he has happened into, keeping in mind that he must forgive himself mistakes and miscues since his understanding of the King's English in the King's own thorn in the king's own side--Scotland--went infamously awry (as faithfully reported in an earlier chapter. Likewise, after ten days, he was only beginning to make the highwire leaps from Greek alphabet to probable English cognate, to possible meaning, based on rapid assessment of context, tone of voice, facial expressions, gesticulations, dynamic level, etc.--going wrong perhaps 85% of the time, but perfectly confident the other 15%, since a poster in the Athens airport announced to the world that the Greek language had contributed some 51,000 words to English. This fascinated Molloy. Unfortunately, the bottom of the poster cut off the list after about 23 examples, and no amount of search above, below, behind, to the sides, or across the hall could uncover the other 50,977.

Having succeeded, though, quite notably in developing a fluent and mellifluous Italian as a result of memorizing significant phrases from opera libretti (a skill Molloy will demonstrate in some future installment), Molloy set himself assiduously to download useful French phrases from a "Useful French Phrases" book into his head in the Pisa Airport while waiting and waiting and waiting for enough fog to lift outside that the inner fogs might also be dispelled and the plane take off from the ground.

Molloy mentions in passing that he was somewhat distracted as, not only was their near pandemonium inside the airport, but outside the window, near the runway, a small group of Italian soldiers, rifles at the ready, double-timed single file and suddenly hit the grass in defensive positions at the edge of the runway. Molloy stood behind a number of wide, thick people in case bullets should fly, and waited, and watched. After a moment, though, the soldiers jumped up again, slapped each other heartily on their backs (one back per soldier), and began smoking, every now and then looking toward the terminal to see and (no doubt) amuse themselves at the alarm of the seven or eight hundred already irritable and frustrated passengers crowded around the windows anticipating with horror the soldiers' next bit of boyish playfulness.

Cigarettes an unmistakable symbol of a general "All Clear," Molloy thanked the wide, thick people and returned to his task of acquiring enough French to comport himself with dignity and clarity in any variety of foreseeable but unpredictable situations, like the present--oasis in turbulent waters (a mixed metaphor--but sand is soluble, and that is how the oasis got into the water--rather than a "mixed metaphor," which must be some small-minded humanist's most pretentiously triumphant nag, it is, in scientific terms, a reintegration of the real, an alchemy finding gold in slush).

But, for learning French, Molloy's method was to comb through the book, imagining conversations between himself and imaginary respondents whose personality, gender, identity, social status, profession, and general philosophy in life metamorphosed kaleidoscopically. Some examples follow, with translations to the best of Molloy's limited abilities (even if he is reading them straight out of the book, he has a tendency to skip lines, and when he is not watching--as he is often not--pages turn by themselves, and he translates whatever falls under his wondering eye- on the theory that the relationship between words [signifiers] and what they refer to [their signficands] is arbitrary anyway, so why should he worry too much about it?).

"Tu es une fille sympathique. Quel beau chien." [You're very nice. What a pretty chin.]
"Merci. Quelle belle voiture. Tu restes avec moi cette nuit?" [Thank you. I like the way you vote. Have you eaten the rest of the nutmeg?]
"Bon appetit, mai le gras me'est interdit." {Thanks, I have some fat stuck between my teeth. I can't smoke any grass.]
"Si vous ne partez pas, je crie." [If you can't part your hair better than that, I'll scream.]
"Pas de probleme, mais seulement en utilisant un preservatif."
[Molloy interjects here that preserves seemed an unusual condition for his imaginary respondent to propose, but La France est il paix de l'amour, so in the interest of open mindedness and cultural diversity, he made no objection, waiting to see what would happen next.]

Apparently, the next gambit in the gauntlet was Molloy's, so he ventured:
"Avez-vous des passe-temps?" [May I see your passport?]
She answered: "Je suis tres epice, et toi?" [I'm the heroine of an epic, you know.]
Molloy heard the magic "toi" and knew he was progressing: a babe in "toi" land.
He offered: "La prochaine tournee est pour moi." [I drink all the drinks in the next round.]
She: "Je crois voir une anguille dans le lit." [What's your angle here?]
He: "Uh, c'est le mien--"
She: "Vous pouver me donner autre chose a la place?" [Your place or mine?]

He: "J'ai besoin des pistes de ski pour debutants." [I knew a girl who was a debutante when she went on the ski slopes.]
She: "D'accord." [I knew her, too.]
He: "You see, je suis une debutante." [Here, Molloy believes he slipped the gender track, because his respondent looked hurriedly away, and got out a lipstick for him.] He recovered quickly, however, with a brilliant sally: "Quelle belle voiture."
She: "C'est ma bicyclette."
He: "Et ton chien?" [And your chin?]
She: "Un masseur sans pareil." [I had it lifted so it's parallel with my eyebrows.]
Molloy resorted to his abbreviated dictionary, but was not fast enough here to keep up with the diesel engine of a true native speaker. Molloy suspected that perhaps she was toying with him, since she had addressed him anyway as "toi."
He: "Je suisse desole, mais je croyait que vous avait dit . . . "
She: "Tu est suisse, eh? Moi, je deplore vous autres suisses. Au revoir." [I hate swiss cheese. I'll see you at the river.]

And that was the end of that conversation--she walked off dans un huff, and I never saw her again, and it was a blow to my ego, though I had only imagined her anyway. What does one do, when the girl of one's dreams--one concocted according to the very formulae most guaranteed to bring success, every item on the check list checked--storms away, leaving the imagination groping for someone else with whom faire les practices en francais? Suisse-je fromage, o quoi? [What am I , chopped liver?]

Molloy's perplexities were interrupted by a new outcry from the crowd.

The soldiers on the runway had ascended to new levels of hijinx. In their handsomely pleated uniforms, they sang soccer songs, held up placards advertising various airport shops, did somersaults off their amphibious (i.e., both land-borne and airborne, not to mention born-again) vehicles, flagged down passing jets and climbed on their wings to waggle their ears at the astonished passengers inside, played accordions and harmonicas, banged a drum slowly, did complicated gymnastic stunts, prat fell and picked themselves up, spun their rifles on one finger, bumped into each other while saluting, dropped a piano from a winch, and lassooed a helicopter. As a finale, the soldiers exploded fireworks, and, dancing with high-kicking legs, bared their buttocks. The seven or eight hundred terminal-bound passengers, meanwhile, had come to view the whole extravaganza as some subtle form of terrorist attack.

Molloy dedicated himself to his studies. Book in hand, he resumed his protected position behind wide, thick people and invented more dialogues bound to frustrate and sadden himself. Here was one: "La vie, c'est une plage, n'est-ce pas?" [Can you tell me where the beach is, father?]

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jammin Molloya snaps

Jammin’ Molloy—a snapshot 10/25

In a Heraklion restaurant, a ten or twelve-year-old kid came up to Molloy’s table, rapped a few notes on a little drum, and held out his hand for a donation.

Little did this young fellow know that drumming is Molloy’s heartbeat. Molloy rapped a few of his own favorite rhythms and, himself hoping for a generous donation—he had played several more beats--extended his own hand. The kid was nonplussed and played a little more. Molloy responded in kind. The exchange continued for several minutes, unresolved.

Molloy finally caught on to the kid’s wish (in truth, Molloy had known all along) and donated a few coins. Let it be recorded for posterity that Molloy, as is the case on most gigs he plays in the States, went unrequited.

International Molloy

International Molloy

Molloy can’t help but take a moment to reflect on the larger questions, after being asked whether, as an American, he was welcomed in Greece.

By and large, yes.  The Greek people we met were very friendly, our nationality notwithstanding.  The following incidents, not limited to Greece but part of Molloy’s (admittedly limited) international personal experience, come to mind as representative of “the larger questions”:

  1. Our cab driver coming into Athens from the airport made it clear that the Greek people had nothing against the American people, but the American government had made many, many mistakes.  He was very friendly to us, complaining as much about the influx of Albanians into Greece, and the fact that these immigrants were taking away jobs from the natives.  Athens also had to worry at times about anarchists making raids on police stations, thus the police presence fairly late at night when we arrived at our hotel.

  1. On our second night in Athens, we were sound asleep at 2am when gunfire—a lot of it—broke out nearby and lasted for some 5-10 minutes.  Molloy did not go to the window to see what was up, but he did busily and anxiously imagine that terrorists were storming the hotel to kidnap and behead the hated American tourists (himself and Mrs. Molloy, a shadowy figure in these memoirs and not to be confused with Men Tal, who disappears when trouble appears, as Molloy wished he himself could).  As suddenly as the gunfire started, it stopped, and Molloy, eyes staring wide into the ceiling’s dark abyss, eventually fell asleep.  The next morning, when he asked the desk clerk whether this had been a case of the anarchists storming a nearby police station (the cab driver had mentioned this upon dropping us off), sidestepped the question and merely said things were fine, and did we feel safe in Athens?  Since no one seemed to have fired directly into our room or at our persons, Molloy gulped and said, oh yes.

The car rental man informed Molloy the next day, though, that the hotel was in a good neighborhood but close to a rather bad neighborhood, and what we heard was no doubt the police shooting it out with criminals of the night.  Gulp.  We resolved to be in early.

Leaving at 5am for the airport on the last day in Athens, police seemed to be arrayed on the street next to the hotel.  No incident was in progress, as far as we could see, other than trash collection.  So we rather hastened along empty sidewalks, in the darkness, accompanied only by the early morning disruptions of traffic.  Hit and run artists had left grafitti on every metal storefront.

  1. From another era entirely, approximately 1973/74, Molloy was traveling from Rome to Madrid, having spent ten days in Rome with a friend teaching on a Fulbright Fellowship.  Getting to the Rome airport late, he rushed through check-in and down to the departure gate, and onto the plane with minutes to spare, breathing hard.  This was an Iberian airlines flight from Rome to Madrid.  As he got settled, the pilot’s voice exploded over the intercom (in Spanish):  “Hurry!  Hurry!  Everyone off the plane!  Take nothing with you!  Leave immediately!”  (Or, words to that effect.)  People jumped up, several women screamed.  Molloy looked about, saw nothing out of the ordinary except the alarmed hyperactivity of other passengers, and proceeded to pull his carry-on out of the overhead.  He joined the crowds in the aisle exiting the plane and was hustled to the other side of the airport, by foot, to an empty hangar where he spent the next eight hours.

What he couldn’t see as he exited his Iberian Airlines plane was that the Pan Am plane on the other side of him had been attacked by terrorists.  They  had rushed through the same terminal Molloy had just rushed through, only they had machine guns and killed several security police on their way to the departure gate.  Once at the plane, they tossed in hand grenades, killing many passengers, and then hijacked a full Lufthansa plane on the opposite side of the Pan Am flight—if the Iberian flight had been full, it might have been the target for hijacking.

During the eight-hour wait on the opposite side of the airport, Molloy watched the unloading of the dead through a long camera lens.

  1. In Tel Aviv, in the late 1990s, on a sunny day, Molloy choose one of two directions for walking.  It took him to an art fair crowded with people.  He enjoyed the art, like that of any other art fair—pleasant paintings, jewelry, ceramics, potted plants—and watched people sitting in the sun at picnic tables, eating the food from any of a number of food booths.

Not much later, walking back along a city street, he paused to look at the television in an appliance store window.  There he heard the word “bomba.”  In the direction he had not chosen, a suicide bomber had blown himself up in a popular outdoor restaurant, killing 14 people.

Two days previous, in Jerusalem, Molloy had come to the western wall and found it blocked and empty of people.  Small crowds and television cameras were poised around the perimeter.  After some 45 minutes, there was a loud “Pop!”  He learned from some English speakers that the security squad had detonated a small bomb placed in the square.  The barriers were removed, and life went on as usual.

Many more such sad incidents are offered in the daily news.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Molloy Among the Antiquities

Molloy is proud to report that, during ten days of driving in Greece, around cities that included, but may not have been limited to, since some of the driving was under somewhat hectic conditions—Delphi, Olympia, Knossos, Epidaurus, and the ancient Acropolis—Molloy is proud to report that he invariably did the Right Thing.  He went to the archeological museums to see pediments on which warriors fought and died, engaged in the ancient power struggles that made ancient life worthwhile; on which men leap-frogged over bulls, threw heavy things in contests, boxed, drank wine, played or listened to anciently-shaped stringed instruments, wrestled gripping each others’ testicles, threw spears, or shot arrows; on which divinities variously involved themselves in the lives of humans, weighing scales, directing the wind and the rain, rustling up earthquakes and tempests, imposing sexual favors, etc.; in which various types of drinks were served or imbibed from both ritual and ordinary cups; on which enjoyable activities like dancing and sex were displayed.  And then there were the divinities, warriors, animals, beautiful ladies, and the like.

Molloy gazed, transported by the craftsmanship and the abiding spirit of stability and tranquility, even among figures locked in struggle and pain.

Molloy thanks not only all the pantheon of the heavens responsible for inspiring the images and granting humans the ability to articulate them, but Molloy thanks the pantheon of the heavens for more modern aristocratic social hierarchies (but is glad he is part of one that is less aristocratic) for the men of means and leisure and the obsessive interest to dig these remains out of the ground at their own expense.  And now for the preservationist instinct that finds funds, public or private, to number each and every stone and artifact from a dig (you can see the numbers on the stones as you walk around the sites, the artifacts have been removed for safety to museums, sometimes by other countries over the objections of the originating country—e.g. Greece and the Elgin marbles) and then reconstruct, as far as possible, the buildings, or even to partially restore the site, as Arthur Evans did with Knossos (acknowledging the controversies over his imaginative reconstructions) with some 250,000 pounds of his own.  Molloy must also acknowledge the cultural debt to a religion that could fund Michelangelo’s creations and provide Bach and Mozart with commissions.

But finally, when all is said and done, Molloy must give thanks to another force for good in the world:  the souvenir industry.

In the country of Christian Orthodoxy (ambiguous as that term can be), believers furnish visitors, encourage them, wheedle, cajole, and sometimes virtually drag them into their shops, to acquire ancient religious icons and take them home to function as domestic tutelary deities.

At Mycenae, standing apart from her tour group, Molloy observed, and pointed out to Men Tal, a woman devoutly reading her Christian Bible, shaded by a section of ancient pagan wall.  Her forefinger moved diligently over the sacred lines, protected by the wall from another sacred time.  She was an icon of western orthodoxy in a Greek Orthodox country, concentrating in a pagan site.  Molloy speculates that she was somewhat desperately protecting herself from the spirits surrounding her, spirits mean-spiritedly turned into demons by Christian apologists nearly 2000 years ago.  Or, perhaps, she was just reading her Bible because it was her devout commitment to read every day, and that point in the tour—there was shade, she was tired from the climb—seemed an apt enough time.

This paradoxical anomaly appealed to Molloy’s strict and keen sense of proprieties.

But even such a lady might feel the pull of so many figurines, from life-size (who can buy them, and what would they do to get them home, Molloy wonders often, mostly trying to figure out how he could buy one and get it home) to compact purse size, easy to wrap in a towel or sweatshirt for the long journey home (or to sit on, as Rachel so impertinently did when her father questioned her about missing household deities).  The Kourios Boy, for example, or the Minoan snake goddess, or a pair of comic/tragic masks, might fittingly occupy a place, one on either side of the homely picture of the mild-mannered (at most times), blonde-haired, blue-eyed savior descended (so the legend goes) from the rough and swarthy herding tribe of Benjamin, David’s own.

Whilst some loathe what they consider the tacky, huckstering spirit behind souvenir shops—one guidebook calls them “shameless”—Molloy sees them somewhat differently.  Perhaps unawares guided by the spirit of their own ancient heritage, the shopowners gift the gifts of art and divinity to one and all, in manageable sizes and affordable prices.  They are not unlike the souvenir stands outside every cathedral.  The charioteer can stand sentinel—or Nike, or Athena, Zeus, Poseidon, or, indeed, the snake goddess, whose attire foreshadows a famous “mistake” at a Super Bowl half-time extravaganza—on the mantel over the fireplace, protector of home and hearth, or the Minotaur, erect and finishing the last morsel of a leg of man.  The Orthodox Church, and the Western Church home-based in Italy—must have decreed that these are not demons after all, since the visitor in search of life’s less tangible meanings encounters these images everywhere.

Molloy, a seeker himself, gathers armloads of these spirits, legends, divinities, heroes, male or female, human or animal, on plates, cups, refrigerator magnets, postcards, snowdomes, and plaques provided with convenient hangers, to array around him in the contemplative quiet of his home, where he can engage with them in solemn conversations about the ages and eras of humankind.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Molloy sings the blues.

American music is everywhere Molloy goes. He hopes for a bit of bouzouki, some kithara, a tabor, a pipe.

What does he hear: this morning on the way to Athens airport, winding up a tour of ancient sites at Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae, Epidaurus, under a blue sky, industrial landscape with oil-refinery smokstacks smoking their smoky smoke, over the music system at a gas station rest area, swimming (Molloy, that is) in a styrofoam cappucino (shameless compromise with the divinities of ceramic for which Molloy expects to pay dearly in some future life), "Respect"! Yes, "Sock it to me--R-E-S-P-E-C-T--Aw, Baby!" That is what he heard. He closed his eyes and heard the USA, the heart of its musical soul given life by people from far away, giving their gift to others just as far away, worldwide.

And now, Crete's Internet Cafe Nightlife: rock and roll! What could just as well be purely American teenagers at the counter (except that their English is somewhat limited--but that's also like American teenagers), really LOUD music, girlish screams, cigarettes, the sexy once-overs from Grecian girls who somehow don't look anything like the noble ladies of Phidian construction--but then, he was an idealist, and the new world order wasn't even a dream yet in the glint of Bob Dylan's mother's eyes. These Stones, nearly as archaic as those rolled, winched, and piled at Mycenae, are still just as compelling.

It occurs to Molloy that perhaps the tide has shifted and American kids, whose music has stormed the world into every nook and cranny, are beginning to imitate their foreign brethren and sistern, those deepest of children who know enough English to greet the foreigner happily, but not enough to carry on much of a conversation (though more than Molloy can boast in the way of modern Greek). So, our American children know little enough English--they greet us happily, innocently, less articulate than the princess who graciously takes Odysseus to her parents' palace.

And what has Molloy to offer in this world of rock and roll, Greek teenage girls perennially smoking and chatting coyly, gigglishly with the smoking, heavy-faced Greek boys pretending to be interested in the computer so they can get to the girls' keyboards and play their one-finger tunes in the treble and bass?

Molloy has his own music, his own mentality, free from spiritual anguish and thrashing of the recent generation. Molloy's terrors have either evaporated into the air, or burrowed so deeply--one is up in the air as to which constitutes maturity and/or wisdom, take your choice.

At any rate, Molloy broke into song at the ruins of Epidaurus, before the Temple of Aesclepius, a tune not entirely his own, but characteristic of his wide-ranging spiritual and aesthetic eclecticism. You know the melody. Sing along here, let the world spirit enter us all and cleanse, oh cleanse, that dark night of the soul under which we struggle in this vale of tears, loss, war, corruption. Etc. etc. But the song, complete with slashes to indicate line breaks, as in the best poems: "We are Siamese, if you please./ We are Siamese, if you don't please./ We are former residents of Siam./ There are no finer cats than we am."

Molloy's memory may have suffered a tiny glitch, but the melody is anchored indelibly in his mind, permanent as punch holes in notebook paper. Permanent as that universal soul, Men Tal (about whom more in the future--he appears mysteriously, disappears without warning or reason, throws his wisdom on the water like a fly fisher, looping his slender line in graceful arcs to catch Molloy off guard, leaving him never less enlightened but wondering, really, whether he is more), Men Tal, who was last seen perusing the tourist guide at the Theater of Dionysius, taking up drama again where it started so long ago, making tragic-comic mask faces at passers by, who gawked back, tragically or comically, depending on the states of their own souls, or suspiciously avoided altogether Men Tal's wise strength.

"We are looking over our new domicile," those feline seductresses continued, "And if we like, we maybe stay for quite awhile."

In the smaller villages, some Greek music, people who keep to themselves. In the cities, endless amounts of American popular music. Molloy intends no irony when he notes the spread of this legacy--it spreads because American rebellion and dissatisfaction with the restrictions of a traditional mentality must find resonances.

Heraklion--city of ancient echoes. But the music has turned to modern Greek. The tiny streets clang with it, the shopkeepers stand in front of their stores the very way they must have done 2,000 (or more) years ago. We have seen, at site after site, 10x14 spaces which were for the ancient shopkeepers, just like stores in a row, their pruning tools, or shoes, or skirts, or sides of lamb, goat or pork hanging in the night air.

In the theater at Epidaurus, a circle in the center of the stage marked the spot from which a speaker could be heard in the backmost rows, speaking at little more than a normal tone of voice.

Could Molloy resist? A captive audience--several hundred tourists, scattered about in their various groups, entertaining each other with mostly Greek folk songs, intoned from that magic spot, followed by applause, even from those relatively few listeners (given a theater with an ancient capacity of, probably, several thousand), that thundered from the marble seats. Could Molloy resist offering his own world-soul anthem--"If we like we maybe stay here quite awhile?" Why not? An audience of mixed language backgrounds; a simple lyric; a sentiment that effectively renders the philosophy of anyone, from infant to Alexander the Great. And Molloy's mellifluous vocal chords? And the spectre of Men Tal? And applause so electrifying that, like lightning, Molloy could hear its crackle later from ruins some distance away. What was Molloy to do? A woman in black, and a man in his eighties sang. The audience thundered. A girl with a nearly operatic voice sang. The audience thundered. Their enthusiasm rolled back and forth off mountains miles away. Asian tourists photographed each other, held cameras at arms' length and photographed themselves, set cameras on the ground and self-timered themselves. Smiles rampaged, laughter whipped this way and that, hats were lifted off heads and dashed playfully to the dirt, shouts and yelps of encouragement rolled down from spectators who could barely be seen they were so high. A tour guide held out his hat for tips after telling a joke. The audience thundered. Nubian girls danced, mimes tested the acoustical properties of silence, gymnasts flipped forward and flopped backward, lions came out roaring--the audience thundered--Molloy wondered--should he bring the festivities to a climax with the Song of the Siamese Cats? Odysseus gave special consideration to the bard. Milton took the gifts of raw marble brought to him every night by the muses and hammered them into Paradise Lost. Should Molloy seize the day, the moment, this opening into another dimension, that lay before him?

Molloy held his peace, and the gods assembled in expectation nodded their approval. For the true singer, occasions come and come again.

Monday, October 03, 2005

10/3 Not letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing

It must always be a puzzle to Molloy’s faithful readers what (in God’s name) could possibly make him think of the things he thinks of.

Molloy, it may be answered, has a sharp sense of the moral and ethical residing symbolically in the day-to-day. In this way, simple travel discourses invariably develop themselves into semi- or quasi- or pseudo-learned (as one will) disquisitions.

For example: daily life is as full of snares, traps, pitfalls, nets, and other hidden and difficult to discern dangers as a lawn during gopher season. The traditional list of the Seven Deadly Sins (in a disco club we passed by recently, we heard Seven Deadly Dins) is hardly enough to provide adequate warning to the innocent.

What (in God’s name) could have incited Molloy, normally a cheerful fellow, to dwell on such a morbid topic?

Driving in the UK.

Certainly, Molloy’s readers are well aware that one drives on the left in the UK rather than on the right. Everything is reversed—right turns are made across traffic; left turns are the right turns of American and other European driving. Every day is opposites day. The only thing difficult about all this is remembering.

The weekend in Scotland with a rented car, therefore, offered many opportunities to re-enact Adam’s original indiscretion in the otherwise laudable quest for knowledge and its disastrous consequences for bumpers and metal bodies, not to mention many opportunities for such acute punishments as only a benevolent Deity could devise. For example, normally Molloy drives with one eye on the road, and the other two on the scenery; another one often examines the radio dial; his hands move smoothly between the doughnuts, candy, peanut brittle, chocolate creams or other goodies on the seat next to him and the CD player. Sometimes, to make driving all the more pleasurable, an educational as well as transportational experience, he reads the CD labels or admires the prettily printed pictures; if enough information is not available from that source, he browses in the liner notes, often with a magnifying glass, since CDs often have quite tiny printing. (Molloy, incidentally, in one of his more intellectual moments, proposed a research project to discover whether, among the consequences of digital technology, there had been an increase in auto accidents due to people squinting to read their CD labels while driving. The project proposal is still circulating, but Molloy has hopes that its funding will provide him with a comfortable living in the near future). But to return to Molloy’s driving techniques: in general, they seem to work out fairly well, resulting in a number of unfortunate and costly incidents that has not yet risen into the six figures in any, shall we say, four-year period.

These same superb techniques, however, have less satisfactory results in the U.K.

In his defense, Molloy must say that the scenery in Loch Lomond and Queen Elizabeth Park is quite beautiful. Molloy knows beauty when he sees it: the windswept mountains, with their alternating patches of light and dark, depending on the floating, fluffy whiteness of the condensed precipitation on high, were identifiable as beautiful because they looked exactly like the pictures on all the calendars of “Beautiful Scotland.” Molloy, you see, would not go to a foreign country without educating himself first. He looked at many calendars, coffee-table books, and postcards and then drove until he found matching scenes: windswept lakes, fluffy clouds, alternating patches of light and dark—they were all on the list he checked off, item by item, on the seat next to him. He approached the holy land of Irelaund in much the same way.

Moreover, Molloy was moved: rainbows. Scotland is the country of rainbows. Especially when there is rain, as there was; especially when the sun slants across the land into the droplets of water, which there were, and as it did, occasionally upon the car itself, on the left side of the road, where Molloy tried to remember that he must drive.

Molloy, also, to his credit, no shirker when it comes to literature, had learned other appropriate responses to the vast, unspoiled magnificence on every hand: he felt his spirit rise like those of the Romantic Poets—no wonder they loved these gusty, sublime scenes. Another reason for their spiritual response, of course, is that they did not drive through them in cars on narrow roads, nor did they encounter that special terror, known only to the left-side novice, of the tour bus coming directly toward them, taking up one and one half lanes of a two lane road. Wordsworth walked. Coleridge sat by himself at night, writing, having soaked up atmosphere during the day on a horse, no doubt, or slogging about on foot after Wordsworth. Shelley swam and worried about Mary’s predilection for lonely, betrayed monsters. Byron—what did he do?

It is not known whether the Romantics had at their disposal the River Rocket Molloy and Leanne could have ridden in—a motorized, inflatable raft operated by a very friendly, amusing, and entrepreneurial couple, which takes its inhabitants flying across the surface of very cold water in the very cold wind on the very rainy, rainbowy day. Sometimes, they said, whales enter the Holy Loch, which has otherwise been fished out so all you can find, usually, are mackerel. Now, Molloy, being an absolute stranger to the joys of fishing, knows mackerel only through their reknowned sanctity, expressed so beautifully in the traditional devotional “Holy Mackerel!” (I confess that Molloy looked in vain for the relics of St. Macquerelle, but the six churches that all boasted fins and backbones made him, shameful to admit, somewhat suspicious of their provenance and authenticity.)

But all this is to establish the context in which Adam’s single transgression was multiplied multi-fold over the narrow, damp roads, with the picturesque moss covering the rock walls holding back tons of mountainside that Molloy was loath to tamper with brushingly or scrapingly or head-on, in a moving vehicle, when other moving vehicles either approached him from behind, frighteningly, and zoomed past (quite indifferent to oncoming busses, trucks, trains, planes, and motorcycles of two, three, four, six, or ten wheels, not respectively), or when all manner of transportation transported itself loomingly towards him, with no respect or fear whatever in their drivers’ glazed eyes as Molloy, in between operating the radio and CD player, ogling the sublime sublimities on either side (sometimes on both sides at once, which was really awesome in a depressing sort of way), bobbed and wove, zigged and zagged, up and down, right and left, backwards and forwards, sometimes on four wheels, sometimes on fewer, sometimes with a kind of rolling motion, over and over and over, other times straight as an arrow, but cross wise to the direction of the road itself, depending on the cant of the roads, which were probably well-enough engineered, but there was not enough of them at any one time and place. To call forth a fitting metaphor, showing that Molloy is acutely aware of the world around him, the roads were often more like spaghetti than lasagna, though in either case equally likely to resist the effort of his fork--or car, in the case, a Nissan Micra, in case the reader was curious (for this simualogy, I can thank residence in Florence, where drivers drive as God intended—on the right side of the road). Molloy feels more comfortable, he must admit, on Interstate 5’s six or seven lanes in one direction than on the A84’s two lanes (one in each of two directions).

The roundabouts are another opportunity for Deadly Sinning, increasing the number of Deadly Sins to at least 400. Only the pubs offered respite.

Molloy need only admit, in a private confession, to one actual transgression: the passenger's side hubcap (which was noticed quite early in the trip to have suffered the indiscretions of other drivers before Molloy) vanished in a fit of pique. It was simply gone with the wind, the rain, and many other equally transitory phenomena, giving rise to the philosophy that hubcaps are by nature transitory and ought not to be worried over excessively.

But the weekend in Scotland, where the right hand rarely or barely knew what the left hand was doing, presto-chango, and now you see it, now you see nothing, was beautiful and exhilarating, punctuated not too very frequently by the less-than-enthusiastic-but-more-than-hysterical screaming of Leanne, who was often huddled on the floor of the rear seat and didn’t much care which CD Molloy wanted to listen to.
10/2 Molloy’s traductions and traducements

In English we have the verb “traduce,” meaning to lure one person to betray another.
The Spanish word for translation is “traduccion," the verb "traducire" (I think); in Italian, “to translate” is “tradurre”; the word for translation is similar in French (Molloy’s memory fails him entirely at the moment, a not infrequent occurence).

Is translation therefore some kind of linguistic betrayal?

Of course: it is never possible to reproduce exactly in a new language the subtleties in meaning of a text in some other language, no matter how good the translation. Gregory Rabassa’s translation of 100 Years of Solitude is excellent; how much more excellent is Marquez’s Spanish original?

But Molloy has in mind a more serious kind of translational betrayal, brought to mind by a weekend in Scotland. After listening hard to Italian and tuning up his ears for the preceding month, English sounded strange and unfamiliar. Molloy found himself wandering the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh translating his English sentences into English sentences and trying to conjure their Italian equivalents. Months seemed to pass in this baroque and labyrinthine way before any words at all would come from his mouth.

This process of communication was exacerbated by the various dialects of Scottish English he heard. In a bar, chatting with the server, he was amazed to realize that the server’s directions to a busy downtown area were virtually incomprehensible—Molloy’s varied experience with Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, German, and Italian did him no good whatsoever: this was a special Scottish English he heard. Frustratingly, as with Italian, or French, etc., every other speaker in the room seemed to understand perfectly well while Molloy struggled. And, stranger than fiction, Molloy was struggling with English. His own language had betrayed him--translating was traducing. Even more troublesome was the possibility--if not high likelihood-- that the language he spoke in return, as clearly as he could, in his best pure Californian non-dialectal dialect (he took special pains to omit all the “well, likes” and “dudes”), was as puzzling to his English-speaking listener as his listener’s was to him, likewise without, as far as anyone could tell, "like," or "dude," though "dude" could have crept in any number of times and Molloy would not have been the wiser.

Meals did not exactly pass in silence: Leanne’s dialect was quite close to Molloy’s own, she being a Californian, and Molloy’s approach to the spoken language only bent and stretched slightly (as in a medieval torture chamber) by an extended residence in Michigan, where yet another dialect prevails, which requires the “a,” that pure sound, to be mercilessly twanged and nasalized. This must be the source of those occasional confusions in domestic communication, when Leanne, in the purity of her California dialect, politely queries Molloy's slightly salted version with a "What the hell are you talking about????"

Now, back in Florence, Molloy watches all faces intently for evidence of his own struggle—certainly the Italians go through the strenuous effort of preparing their sentences in their heads in advance of actually speaking them, as he does. They are masters of effortless art, however, it seems, for in preparing to communicate, their brows don’t furrow, their mouths don’t purse, their tongues don’t waggle soundlessly, and there is little or no clenching and unclenching of fists or nail-biting, hair-pulling, self-flagellation, or scarification.

Molloy, in his attempts to master fluency, exhibits all these behaviors, and more. So life is more demanding for him, and his frequent flights of irrepressible and apparently (to his great relief) inexhaustible self-pity should be indulged.