Monday, July 27, 2009

HONOR


On a drunken revelry in Bologna, with an Italian professor, I chanced upon a universal truth that only comes to you at such moments of surrender, rapture.  When that dollhouse of a city shines with all its lights, through porticos and piazzas, only for you.  Only for you.  During my time there, I often pictured what Bologna looks like from up above.  It would make anyone say, "what is that preciousness?"  And I was there in that walled city and one night in particular, I remember quite fondly.           

It was myself and four white american classmates of mine, WASPS.  Anglo-saxon to the core, white as white can be.  I rarely hang out with white americans, not because I am a reverse racist or something, but only because they are usually so uncool.  I still give it a go, at times, who knows, there may be a Jack Nicholson, a Sean Penn, or a Johnny Depp amongst them.  But that's only in the movies, I am convinced.  Plus the cool ones all moved to France.  I digress.

We had a common purpose these white people and I.  We all loved dearly our cynical and tough-minded Italian professor who was so cool, so casually, effortlessly hip even though he was stereotypical; approaching 50 though always with younger women, and driving only classic cars; Porche, Alfa romeo or the Mercedes depending on his mood.  He chain smoked and always looked as if he had somewhere more important to be, and if he was talking to you, someone more important he needed to talk to.  But he indulged us, of all the uptight professors at our elite institution, he was the only one who drank with us - if only to mock us.  But such abuse turned us ON.  Yes, we wanted to be made to feel inferior, to be broken down only to be built up again, as cool as our Italian professor.  We worshipped him.  We wanted to look into the future with wonder and awe, wishing - dare I say hoping (our Italian professor hated this word)- that we too would eventually dress better, have young ladies, classic cars and the cigarette dangling off our lips as we popped champagne corks on the Amalfi coast, on our spare time, when we weren't engaged in the exciting and glamourous world of international affairs. 

He came to our parties, hit on our women, and then drove away with them in his fancy cars.

He outdrank us, and was always the last one home.  And the next day he would be in seminar as sharp as a razor bearing down on our collective ignorance.  He was tough and mean in the classroom, and jaded and cynical outside.  But we loved him, a group of us, don't ask me why.  Some people just have that kind of hold on you.  

He knew quite well that I was a romantic, and idealist, a lover of life.  We would often talk alone, about literature and women.  Though he studied in the UK and America, I could tell he loathed the Anglophone culture.  He couldn't truly open up, and I asked him, on a particular night, in the company of my classmates, if there is a difference between Italy and America and by extension the UK.

He said:  "Let me put it to you this way.  In the form of an allegorical exam.  Imagine you are at school, and your school has a strict honor code against cheating.  You know this though one day during an exam your best friend asks you for answers.  Do you help him?  Do you tell on him?  What do you do?"

Our Italian professor's answer differs from answers most WASPs give.  

So does mine.

4 comments:

Neetu said...

pretty awesome piece- I will regret saying this- regret you hearing it- regret the ramifications I know it will leave on your already over-inflated ego. There are traces of Thompson in here- I can almost hear his voice barely audible over the blare of planes dropping bombs- there I said it.

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crabels said...

I think if you were to go back, your perceptions of many memories might change...

Anonymous said...

That's with everything. Romance is inherently deceitful. Almost a mindful lie, to keep us going.