European Diary

A Pair of Charmers

There are two archetypes of the charming idler.  One, rather like myself, is likely to be unemployed de métier.  The other drifts in and out of employment, trading on social connections, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, pandering, dealing cocaine, walking dogs, selling Impressionist pictures, joining the Foreign Legion, working on a perpetuum mobile, discovering America.  One shies away from moneymaking as though it were more dismal than direst poverty, and is apparently less disposed to suffer the rigors of compromise than the pangs of embarrassment, to say nothing of ordinary hunger.  The other plays with remunerative labor as though it were a toy, exciting when new but quickly lost, forgotten, or broken, without bothering to formulate an ideological taboo or to come up with an explicative doctrine.

My great-great-uncle was a very pure version of the first type—so pure, in fact, that he ever ranges through my mind as a kind of urban myth or improbable invention, a six-foot alligator on the prowl in the sewers or a twin-engine aircraft that folds into one’s pocket.  Uncle Serge spent his entire life in a café in Warsaw, where he died a happy exile just before the Great War.  He had inherited some money, but only a little, just enough to sit all day long in that café of his.  He did not want to do anything except to watch the world go by, and he...

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