Saturday, April 4, 2009

The gift of laughter in a mad world

This was the young lady, obviously in the photograph to the left, I escorted home after Fram the First and I completed our performance at the casino Friday evening. Can I pick them, or what? Oh, baby. That girl is a born dancer. Fram the First left by himself, mumbling something about wondering if Freyja might be home. Have you noticed yet? Our appearance has changed ever so subtly since our performance last week. This is no mere photographic magic. We, of the Fram clan, are chameleon in nature. You believe me when I say that now, do you not? In case you do not recognize us, that is Fram the First standing with his violin, looking grouchy, as usual. That is me, the handsome, smiling man seated and holding my one true love ever so tightly to my chest.

The reader of novels as author or character ....

"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony."

I am not certain how old I was when I first read those words, but probably about the time I was entering my teenage years. They are the opening sentences to the novel, "Scaramouche -- A Romance of the French Revolution," by Rafael Sabatini.

It took me only the amount of time required for an eye to blink to exclaim, "That’s me." Most of you have had encounters with teenage boys, so you I know what I mean, especially if you have read this book.

"Andre-Louis, on his side, had made the most of his opportunities. You behold him at the age of four-and-twenty stuffed with learning enough to produce an intellectual indigestion in an ordinary mind. Out of his zestful study of Man, from Thucydides to the Encyclopaedists, from Seneca to Rousseau, he had confirmed into an unassailable conviction his earliest conscious impressions of the general insanity of his own species. Nor can I discover that anything in his eventful life ever afterwards caused him to waver in that opinion."

I moved from the "children's" section of the library to the adult section when I was 11. I recall, with clarity, a scowling librarian on the telephone talking with my mother to ensure that she was aware of my newfound reading list and it met her approval. Being an avid reader herself, permission was granted by ma-ma. Afterward, I managed to figure out on my own that the ornery-looking librarian, herself, approved of my choices or she simply would have told me, "no," rather than calling my mother.

I still remember those first "adult" books checked out from a small, one-room library in a town whose population numbered 713 when the farmers came in on Saturday night. "Northwest Passage" by Kenneth Roberts, "Drums Along the Mohawk" by Walter Edmonds, "The Pagan King" by Edison Marshall. Three historical novels, plus "Peyton Place" by Grace Metalious, which may or may not be considered a historical novel, and "The Heart of the Hunter" also by Marshall, which is neither fiction nor historical, but what could be called the confessions of a man who loved big game hunting. Five books in total. It was summer, and swimming, baseball and reading were all that existed for me. (No matter, I would not trade this away for anything offered a "big city" kid.)

"In body he was a slight wisp of a fellow, scarcely above middle height, with a lean, astute countenance, prominent of nose and cheek-bones, and with lank, black hair that reached almost to his shoulders. His mouth was long, thin-lipped, and humorous. He was only just redeemed from ugliness by the splendour of a pair of ever-questing, luminous eyes, so dark as to be almost black. Of the whimsical quality of his mind and his rare gift of graceful expression, his writings -- unfortunately but too scanty -- and particularly his Confessions, afford us very ample evidence. Of his gift of oratory he was hardly conscious yet ... But the fame he had acquired there was hardly enviable. He was too impish, too caustic, too much disposed -- so thought his colleagues -- to ridicule their sublime theories for the regeneration of mankind. Himself he protested that he merely held them up to the mirror of truth, and that it was not his fault if when reflected there they looked ridiculous."

Well, now, physically some similarities, some differences, were to be noted between Andre-Louis and the young boy reader by the time he reached the age of four and twenty. But, in the mind of the young boy reader, there already existed the seeds of cynicism and skepticism. And, by the time he did reach four and twenty, he could as well have been Andre-Louis reborn.

The beginning of all this probably came years before, with books about magic spells and castles and beautiful princesses and heroic princes, read to him by ma-ma, later spilling over into children's editions of "Robinson Crusoe" and similar tales of adventure and survival.

But, the evolution began there in earnest:

Am I riding in the back seat with Hunter Thompson or with Jack Kerouac; am I James, with my vodka martini in a casino or am I pursuing beautiful Brett in Pamplona, with my wineskin in hand; am I the detective pursuing the Jackal or am I the Jackal, the assassin, himself; am I wandering the streets of Dublin in the wake of the young artist or being shanghaied in San Francisco by Wolf Larsen? Am I damning the torpedoes in Mobile Bay or riding a charger with the 600 into a valley?

Am I starving in the wilderness with Roger's Rangers after burning St. Francis or am I storming the beach at Tarawa with Mac and the Sixth Marines? Am I walking the small town streets in Winesburg, Ohio, or have I been transported from today into 1882 New York City? Am I the reincarnation of Peter Proud or am I searching for Joseph Tully? Am I attending the Yule feast in King Harald Bluetooth's court in the company of Styrbjorn or am I standing next to Cat Shannon, firing a Schmeisser at Kimba's palace guards?

Am I Stephen Rojack, living the American Dream, but facing the devil or am I Robert Langdon, caught up in the midst of a struggle between science and religion? Am I in a canoe with Lewis on a soon-to-be-reservoir river or in a hot air balloon with Andre trying to reach the North Pole? Am I discussing Jean Genet with Jean-Paul or am I debating the first cause with Bertrand Russell? Am I watching Christ face his last temptation or am I or observing the Germanic All-Father, Odin, hanged from a tree for nine days and nights and pierced by his own spear, as the price he is willing to pay to gain wisdom.

I perceive myself to be this. You and you and you each perceive me to be something else. Which of us is correct in our perception of me? Possibly none of us is correct in our perception.

"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad." This novel was written the French. I have seen those words translated other ways: "He was born with a smile on his face," and "He was born with a grin curled upon his lips," are two such examples. Even these slight variations affect our perception.

(Theoretically, I will continue this tomorrow or the next day. Thank you, for reading.)

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root,
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury wend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek,
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weal.

The same lines as last night,
from the "Prologue to The Canterbury Tales"
by Geoffrey Chaucer
but this time as translated into modern English


Magdalena said...

Dear Fram, I will be absent for some time, but I promise to spent my coffe time here :-) Thank you for you warmthness... Kisses :-)

Fram said...

Thank you, Magdalena. We can sit by the window and watch the world go by while we have our coffee.

TheChicGeek said...

So many choices, Fram :) Maybe you are a little bit of each one :)

I like this translation the best, "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."

I didn't know you play the accordian...LOL
Learn something new every day :)

Anonymous said...

"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."

I think I might now someone like that xD

:D Keep it coming. It's always good to read your stuff early in the morning.

Fram said...

Oh, Kelly, and maybe I am none of them. As Deep Purple said a while back, it is the thrill of the chase that really counts. But, I will not argue with you, it probably is a bit of each and every one.

Yes, my musical talents are renowned throughout North Dakota and Manitoba. I also dance.

Fram said...

Nana, I am so glad to see you emerge and to be here.

I wish you would be out and about more, and experiencing more places and more people. You seem to know so much about the world around you, but I wish you would expand that world, just as I think I am enlarging my own right now, right here, through reading you and others.

There are many worlds and many actual friends for those who dare to look. I am just learning that, and I hope you will, too.

Magdalena said...

Yes :-)

Fram said...

Yes and yes ....

A Cuban In London said...

I, too, identify myself with your feeling of finding a book that calls to your inner self when you are an adolescent. That's one novel I will have to include in my books' wishlist, preferably in the original.

So, you are Zelig reincarnated, uh? I always knew it :-)!

Greetings from London.

Fram said...

Though he may be me and may be again, and then I may be he again, and again .... whoa, let's regroup here ....

Hello, CiL .... nice to see you.

Something special ....