For fifty years I’ve collected wood for the stove that stands like a telephone box in the room – I’m amazed at this, in retrospect. For the first time I’ve now bought some wood. It includes some exotic pieces of firewood that are invincible – even the heaviest axe has trouble with them. The seller who came with the wood was born in Clermont-Ferrand. He had also dealt in wood there. I told him that in 1968 my car had broken down not far from Clermont. While I was being taken by taxi to the Volkswagen garage in the industrial area, I chatted with a driver who drove very fast. I was sitting next to him and looking tensely at the traffic. He drove twenty centimetres behind the car in front and had the habit of turning his face towards me when he spoke to me. Twice he had to slam on the brakes with full force, which was predictable, for the driver in front was a little old woman, and according to him they were the cause of all traffic trouble. He asked me it she should give her a quick ‘tap’, but I strongly advised him not to. I had to stay some more days in Clermont and so rode on the regular bus from time to time. On one occasion I sat next to an attractive, ordinary young woman who was phoning her lover. She didn’t keep her voice down and regularly said: ‘Je t’embrasse partout.’ (I kiss you everywhere.) Afterwards I checked the verb ‘embrasser’, just to make sure: kiss, cuddle, snuggle, carress, fondle, embrace, clasp. I thought about saying to her that the word ‘partout’ in this connection was misplaced in public transport, but my knowledge of her language and habits was too rudimentary for such an intervention.
The man with the wood asked me if I was a democrat. I answered that I had voted as such throughout my life, even when I found it an embarrassing performance. I asked him if he had ever heard of Ezra Pound. He had, after all he had attended French schools. You learn more there than at Dutch schools. So he knew that Ezra Pound was called the greatest poet of the 20th century. From 1941 to 1945, the man roared out fascist propaganda several times a week on through an Italian radio microphone into the world, black, scabby birds with strong beaks. What can one say about that? I cannot rid myself of my respectable democratic upbringing, at home and at school. I can even laugh at Ezra Pound, his insane fury, but if I have to choose, I would go for democracy.
The man with the wood agreed with me, he would come back if I needed any more.
I 'm not sure how the woman on a public bus in 1968 could phone her lover, but I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation. (JI)