21 October 2012

Jokes and Realities

"Money pads the edges of things," said Miss Schlegel. "God help those who have none."
"But this is something quite new!" said Mrs. Munt, who collected new ideas as a squirrel collects nuts, and was especially attracted by those that are portable.
"New for me; sensible people have acknowledged it for years. You and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence. It's only when we see some one near us tottering that we realise all that an independent income means. Last night, when we were talking up here round the fire, I began to think that the very soul of the world is economic, and that the lowest abyss is not the absence of love, but the absence of coin."
"I call that rather cynical."
"So do I. But Helen and I, we ought to remember, when we are tempted to criticise others, that we are standing on these islands, and that most of the others are down below the surface of the sea. The poor cannot always reach those whom they want to love, and they can hardly ever escape from those whom they love no longer. We rich can. Imagine the tragedy last June, if Helen and Paul Wilcox had been poor people, and couldn't invoke railways and motor-cars to part them."
"That's more like Socialism," said Mrs. Munt suspiciously.
"Call it what you like. I call it going through life with one's hand spread open on the table. I'm tired of these rich people who pretend to be poor, and think it shows a nice mind to ignore the piles of money that keep their feet above the waves. I stand each year upon six hundred pounds, and Helen upon the same, and Tibby will stand upon eight, and as fast as our pounds crumble away into the sea they are renewed—from the sea, yes, from the sea. And all our thoughts are the thoughts of six-hundred-pounders, and all our speeches; and because we don't want to steal umbrellas ourselves, we forget that below the sea people do want to steal them and do steal them sometimes, and that what's a joke up here is down there reality."

The above passage comes from Howards End, which I'm currently reading, along with Edward St Aubyn's Patrick Melrose series of novels (Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk, and At Last). I can say in hindsight that it probably was not a good idea to read these books—English in very different ways—at the same time. (I prefer the Forster.)

Bringing books by English novelists to Chile was an even worse idea. Before coming to Santiago, I could have packed a Vargas Llosa (who is Peruvian-Spanish, by the way), a Bolaño, an Alberto Fuguet, or a Pablo Simonetti. Something Latin American, you know. Something un-English, thematically speaking. But of course I had no idea back then how difficult it would be to find an English-language bookstore in Santiago. The Chilean titles tickle me, but until I learn to read well in Spanish I can't scavenge the shelves the way I do in Manila. A couple of months ago, an interesting local who wrote poetry in French and admitted to disliking Neruda had pointed me to the direction of Takk (near Los Leones metro station) and Librería Alquimia on Manquehue Sur, but being extremely geographically challenged I have not found these bookstores. It's kind of sad. It'll be even sadder once I run out of English words to read.

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