Except for the dinner party, it was a good weekend. Various friends called me to say what they wished they had said at the dinner party. I lay back in the bath on Sunday morning and came up with some choice l’esprit d’escalier (wit of the staircase) replies myself. Restraint of pen, tongue or keyboard is not always the most satisfying way to go and in retrospect we compose retorts of profundity and brilliance, a complete waste of time of course. It bothers me a little that if a certain ex-lover I knew when I was 27 should ever bump into me in the street, he may be astounded to hear me come out with a 3 000-word Nobel prizewinning analysis of why our relationship failed and exactly what he did wrong and what I did right.
The term l’esprit de l’escalier or thinking of the right comeback too late, comes from French philosopher Denis Diderot. During a dinner at the home of statesman Jacques Necker, a remark was made to Diderot which left him speechless at the time, because, he explains, “l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier” (“a sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs”).
And on the other hand I was reading the fiery Chris Hedges on OccupyUSA who comes out with what he wants to say without hesitation:
What kind of nation is it that spends far more to kill enemy combatants and Afghan and Iraqi civilians than it does to help its own citizens who live below the poverty line? What kind of nation is it that permits corporations to hold sick children hostage while their parents frantically bankrupt themselves to save their sons and daughters? What kind of nation is it that tosses its mentally ill onto urban heating grates? What kind of nation is it that abandons its unemployed while it loots its treasury on behalf of speculators? What kind of nation is it that ignores due process to torture and assassinate its own citizens? What kind of nation is it that refuses to halt the destruction of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, dooming our children and our children’s children?
“America,” Langston Hughes wrote, “never was America to me.”
Gardening means backache. I spent yesterday afternoon happily weeding, mulching and bellowing at dogs who wanted to dig alongside me. My plectranthus bushes and groundcovers are putting out new leaves, green and purple-veined or light green edged in cream. Later today I am meeting with a young Xhosa writer and we will work together on a translation of some of his stories. My favourite is a detailed account of how to recognise your own Nguni cow in the dark. Useful knowledge for rural Africa but involving the ancestors who as everyone knows are tricky customers, nursing old family grudges and determined that their great-grandchildren should become traditional psychic healers or sangomas rather than IT specialists.
Slipped under our front door, a wedding invitation. The daughter of a local farmer is marrying a man she met a fortnight ago. Nobody is wildly thrilled about this hasty marriage, but the invitation promises in bold silver capitals that there will be kareoke singing at the reception after-party. No speeches or long tediously obscene jokes, just tipsy bridesmaids channeling Celine Dion. My blood runs cold.