Correspondence

April in Paris

The banging was first heard somewhere in the Alsace countryside, an hour or so after the train left Basel. For some reason, local worthies invariably pronounce the city's name the French way, making it sound like the pagan deity denounced by the Hebrew prophets. The temples of Baal, in this unconscious interpretation, are the ubiquitous banks, I suppose, but having spent a few days as a guest of one of the high priests here, I had better hold my tongue. Ryltse v pushku, as the Russians say, there is down on my own muzzle. It was delicious, whatever it was.

The city is silent, except for the nearly inaudible hum of money being made, so the sudden insolence of all that banging was all the more jarring. On inspection, its source turned out to be the restaurant car, where a grim Frenchman kept rattling bottles and trays. He did so out of a sense of duty, and the noise seemed to echo his innermost thoughts. This is my job—bang, bang, rattle, rattle—he was thinking, and personally—bang, rattle, bang—I'd much rather be drinking coffee, but some of us—bang, bang, bang—have to work for a living.

We thought of the garbage collectors in Rome. The noise they made had no subtext, they did not think dark thoughts as they banged away. They would be at it between 6:00 and 6:30 in the morning, beneath our windows in Via Monte della Forina, throwing bits of scrap metal, old pipes, and...

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