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?]


Blogger MJ said...

This is your best post yet, Molloy! It has a certain je ne sais joie de vivre la france about it.

8:55 PM  

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