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Friday, January 19, 2007

The Antipodes

So I just returned from a blissful two week adventure with Lady Truewit on the bottom half of the world. Everything you've heard is true. Heads in chests -- check. Giant feet used as sun-shades -- check. Prester John presiding over a paradise on earth -- check. Toilets flushing in the opposite direction -- not sure, actually. Consarned water conserving toilets don't really swirl in that hypnotic way American toilets do. That one has to be a myth in any case. Otherwise, there would be a toilet in Brazil or Kenya placed directly on the equator which, at the spring equinox, when the shadows at Stonehenge align and eggs balance on their ends and the snake climbs up the pyramid at Chichen Itza, would flush straight towards the sun. The equinoctial solar column toilet! Tell me it's there, and I'll worship it.

The thing about travel to the Antipodes these days is that the voyage isn't quite as arduous as it used to be (though a six hour layover in Dallas is no treat, let me tell you). As a result, even though you just want to marvel at all the exotic antipodean creatures and document their savage customs, you also have to deal with a lot of familiar-looking people who walk on their feet and don't have heads in their chests. Let's call them "Americans." There they are, an exaggerated version of you, wearing white sneakers and shorts and cackling at the dog-headed barbarians you have come all this way to discover for the betterment of the commonwealth. Bad enough that they should blow your cover. Making matters worse, they bring with them an attitude towards your own occupation that reminds you of why life in the non-Antipodes (the Podes?) can be so annoying.

One evening, as we were sitting down to enjoy a meal of exotic meat, an American approached me. He must have been told of my profession by someone else at the inn, for with nary a salutation, he said to me, "You're a Shakespeare teacher, right?"
"That's right," I replied, warily eying his white sneakers and khaki shorts.
"Well then, what's your favorite Shakespeare quote? A friend of mine has some painted over his doorways, and I was just thinking about how many good quotes he has, and I figured you must know some really good ones. What's your favorite quote?"

I know this fellow adventurer was only trying to be friendly and express some sort of familiarity with what I do for a "living." You would think that in a land where up is down and left is right I would welcome his gesture of amiable interest. But I hate being asked this kind of question. Hate, hate, hate it. I am not one of those people who memorizes soliloquies, or even sonnets. I can barely remember the lyrics to "Like a Virgin," let alone six lines of pentameter from Coriolanus. Just not my thing. So while I could probably string together a few lines about to whose self one is supposed to be true or an aphorism about jealousy's diet and the color of its eyes, I cannot declaim off the cuff. Thus, when I am asked to, especially by some stranger in a restaurant, I get depressed. And who wants to be depressed in the Antipodes? On adventure? And who paints quotations from Shakespeare over doorways?

I suppose I should prepare something in advance for questions like this. But I just can't stomach preparing for ordinary conversation as if it were an oral exam or a job interview. That's cheating, right? You're just supposed to have immediate, effortless access to everything you need to know, especially when some dude from Calabasas is asking the questions. I told him I didn't have any favorites, which is true, and that I don't really have much memorized, which is also true, then started in on my dinner. He wandered off to be American with other Americans, and I was left to my meat. Some Antipodean waiter hopped over to me, water in the wine bottle, wine in the water jug, and from the mouth in the center of his chest, he whispered, "Not to be, or to be; that is not the answer." Delighted, I stuck my baseball cap on the top of his overhanging foot, put my arm around his shoulder-hips, and had my companion take a digital photo of us. I cackled hysterically while my barbarian waiter, from my perspective, smiled.

  • At 1/19/2007 11:40:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    "Never, never, never, never, never."

    Or, Ada's revised monologue in French: "Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai, / Mais en hiver / Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais / N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert."

     

  • At 1/19/2007 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    That's a pretty spectacular Antipodean narrative, Truewit. You are the Richard Brome of contemporary literary nonfiction.

    When faced with the demand for "quotes," you can tell the quote-collector that your favorite is "My tables, my tables! Meet it is I set it down," because you can never remember anything that isn't written in front of you, so, sorry, you don't have any quotes memorized. Blow his mind, dude.

    Or, you can tell him your favorite quote in Renaissance drama is by his predecessor in the word-collecting biz, Jack from The Roaring Girl: "Is not amorous a good word?"

     

  • At 1/19/2007 01:52:00 PM, Anonymous midmodern scholar wrote…

    Truewit, thank heavens for this post. I thought I was the only person who couldn't stand to answer these sorts of questions. Everytime someone asks me what my favorite book is, I think to myself, "what would happen if I asked a chemist what his favorite molecule was? He would slap me across the face, that's what would happen."

    I can't figure out if I want my tombstone to read:

    Keep walkin' buddy

    or

    For the last time: I don't have a favorite book.

     

  • At 1/19/2007 09:48:00 PM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    You could always shrug your shoulders and quote Philip Roth: "Oh, eat my my educated c*nt!"

     

  • At 1/20/2007 03:45:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    Have I told this joke before? Well, let me repeat myself:

    Two well-to-do play-goers are leaving a theatre on Broadway one evening when they're approached by a bum with his hand out. The male half of the couple wags his finger at the bum, and says, "My friend, neither a borrower nor a lender be." He smiles, satisfied with himself. "That's a little Shakespeare for you."

    The bum--being a Broadway bum--draws himself up and says, "Oh yeah? Well FUCK YOU. That's David Mamet."

     

  • At 1/20/2007 04:09:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Flavia, I love that story. Also, of course, that guy wasn't offering "a little Shakespeare." Why do people insist on quoting Polonius as though this were all *Shakespeare's* advice?

     

  • At 1/23/2007 02:40:00 PM, Blogger muse wrote…

    And (to take it even further) why do people always insist it's Polonius's phrase, when "neither a borrower nor a lender be" is just a Renaissance commonplace? Ironic, even, since every line of that speech is *borrowed* from commonplace books, lent from adagia, borrowed from other sententiae, etc etc.

     


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