European Diary

All in a Stew

I don’t want to be harsh on people, but the emotional life of our epoch reminds me of central Moscow in the old Soviet days, a time when there was everything.

There were billboards advertising cigarettes and the national lottery.  There were competent doctors and crooked lawyers.  There were chauffeur-driven limousines; there were girl Fridays and thoughtful academics who knew their Hegel; there were men’s double-breasted suits with impressively large lapels and dinner jackets with shiny satin ones; there were smooth-talking men and hard-to-charm, capricious women; there were eccentric artists in dangerously cavernous studios; there were shops selling seasonal game and live fish, farmers’ markets, dry cleaners, and delicatessens.  There was even a kind of praline torte with three chocolate bears on top, one big and two small ones, called The Three Bears.

And guess what?  It was all a sham.  I don’t mean, of course, that it was a sham for those participating in it, for the stage extras in the centrally planned, century-long political production.  It was their life-saving duty, after all, to convince themselves and each other that their experiences were perfectly real, and hence perfectly deserving of the real emotions that went with them.  Yet knowing what one does, now and then one cannot suppress a rueful chuckle: “Ah, Grandpa! ...

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