31 December, 2009

Speaking of the end of a... whatever...

Speaking of the end of a decade whatever, I'd just like to acknowledge that the past ten years of my life a huge improvement over the previous ten. Not necessarily financially—I earn more money, but between inflation and the family, I'm actually poorer per capita than ten years ago. But I'd much rather be the man I am now than the teenager I was twenty years ago, or the man I was ten years ago.

If you read the newspapers, you know that opinion writers have been writing off the terrible decade we just survived like some sort of business loss. Many people really did survive it at best, but opinion writers really ought to know better.

Sure, I could focus on the bad aspects of the past decade, and in some ways I guess I had a pretty miserable decade. But as Nonno Felice used to observe in his recollections of the Second World War, many experiences that would otherwise be awful can be made bearable, even pleasant, with a little optimism and a sense of humor. To place this in context, he was speaking of a time where much of Italy was destroyed, the Germans occupied his city and eventually expelled all its inhabitants, including the sick and infirm, sending them wandering for months until, after a brief stay in a concentration camp, they ended up in occupied Rome.

In that spirit, I'd like to reflect on some of the happier parts of a not-nearly-so-miserable decade as that one.

To start with, my life is much better, and much happier, now that I'm married, and have children. I'm not sure that they feel that their lives are better and happier, but I'm resolved to do my best to ameliorate that. That's one of the down-/up-sides of marriage: you discover defects you never knew you had, or (from a different point of view) opportunities to weed out your vices and grow in the virtues. If only I had more than half a life to do my best for my family!

I completed my education with the proverbial "terminal degree". The discovery of new knowledge has been among the greatest pleasures I've experienced, enhanced by sharing it with others, learning what they've discovered, and combining it. I can't for the life of me fathom why more people aren't fascinated by science and scientific research: it's wonderful!

I've been lucky to have traveled both in the States and abroad over the last ten years, for work, family, and spiritual reasons. As for places abroad, I'd recommend:

Just don't expect them to speak English, wherever you go. The guidebooks lie, lie, lie about that, and people who visit places where lots of people speak English haven't (in my opinion) discovered the real place they're visiting. Then again, I'm not sure I have, either.

I've read, or reread, some great books. My favorites would have to be Il fu Mattia Pascal, Gli ultimi soldati del Ré, Lettera a un bambino mai nato, Безы, and Братья карамазовы. (The Late Mattia Pascal, The King's Last Army, Letter to a child who was never born, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov.) I've read some excellent English novels, too; I just can't call them to mind.

I'm proudest of the moments when I made my wife and children smile. The only pleasure that could outshine that, is the same one I have been privileged to share in since Easter, 1994. I described it to my three year-old last week in my atrocious Russian grammar: самый лучшее тортик—Евхарист. The sweetest treat of all, is the Eucharist.


Clemens said...

Bravo for you Jack. I'm with you on this one. It sounds like you grew this decade. So did I. In fact, this decade I have been married, for the first time, and you are right: I've learned of all kinds of faults and shortcomings I didn't know I had (like not knowing Esperanto). At 60 my body is beginning to not always show up when the mind calls, I need too many naps, and I am beginning to forget things, but I am happier, better adjusted, wiser, and better paid than I have ever been before.

To bad about the rest of the country.

(ps: I have been to Kaiserlautern, many years ago. Also to much of the Angevin region of France, and once last year to visit Joey Sobrino in Portugal. It is always a privilege to travel)

jack perry said...

Married for the first time this decade? Wow, I didn't realize that. Congratulations, however belatedly.

Ne sciras Esperanton ne mala. (I hope I have the vocabulary right there, and didn't mix Latin and Russian with Esperanto.)

I've been to the Angevin part of Italy; it's called Gaeta. ;-) The Angevins traded it with the Aragonese a while, and the castle there is called il castello angioino-aragonese. (I took the photo of the castle on that page, btw, along with the photo at the top of the page.) I rode the train with an Italian who asserted in no uncertain terms that when southern Italy was under the domination of the French, it languished; but when under the domination of the Spaniards, it thrived; and that the northern Italians were the modern equivalent of the French. Or maybe I have it backwards. But he (and a few others on the train) were pretty adamant about that.

Clemens said...

No - I can believe those Italians. the "Aragonese" were basically Catalans who were in many ways as advanced as the Italians back then. They had the entire Mediterranean at their hand, so when Ferdinand (the Old Catalan) and Isabela (the Castilian) started to exploit the New World, Isabela insisted it be reserved for her people.

Hence, our idea of 'Spanish' is Castilian, not Catalan, a much prettier language.

(from what I understand you can mix words from almost any Indo-European language with Esperanto and stand a good chance of being correct)

jack perry said...

the "Aragonese" were basically Catalans who were in many ways as advanced as the Italians back then.

Ha! You make it sound as if the Lombards, Franks, and other armies of fortune who wandered Italy during the early middle ages were backwards.

—Oh, wait, they were. Never mind.

It is kind of interesting that, since about the time of Augustus, Italians have not, in general, been able to assemble a competent army regardless of the circumstances. The Ventians had their Navy, okay, but if not for their lagoon they'd have been sacked repeatedly before Napoleon finally did it. As for the rest of Italy, the only successful Italian military operation I can think of between 1 BC and the present day is the battle of the Garigliano. Looking at the Wikipedia page, I find that even that included a bunch of Franks and Lombards. Well, crap.

(The Risorgimento doesn't count in my opinion because that was mostly Italians subjugating other Italians. That is, again, if you listen to a lot of Southern Italians today!)

Clemens said...

Sounds like there are two countries there struggling to get out. We tried that once.

Rommel once floored a German reporter by saying that the bravest troops he had ever commanded. When asked why he said "Because they are willing to fight in Italian tanks."

More seriously, the Italian soldiers did wonders and suffered enormous losses in the campaigns in the Alps during WW I. I think some historians think the losses suffered there explain a great deal about interwar politics in Italia..