‘Certainly it was no design of the atoms to place themselves in a particular order, nor did they decide what motions each should have. But atoms were struck with blows in many ways and carried along by their own weight from infinite times up to the present. They have been accustomed to move and to meet in all manner of ways. For this reason, it came to pass that being spread abroad through a vast time and trying every sort of combination and motion, at length those come together that produce great things, like earth and sea and sky and the generation of living creatures.’
— Lucretius (De Rerum Natura)
‘Oh, how it troubles my sleep…to think what America would be like if the people read the classics.’
— Ezra Pound
There has not been much progress — to or fro — in the stock market. Investors seem to be waiting to see what happens next.
A government shutdown? A trade deal with China? A wall? Abortion??
Yes, abortion is a hot issue again. Mr Trump put it back in the headlines.
He was a Pro-Choice guy for most of his life. But now, if you believe yesterday’s reports, he is passionately against it.
God works in mysterious ways, they say. The president’s conversion may be less mysterious, but who knows?
Meanwhile, the world turns…the birds still sing in the trees…and we humans, with hearts full of passion, jealousy, and hate…well, stuff happens.
We are de passage, as they say in French…passing through Paris on our way to South America.
Yesterday, we walked from our hotel in the 7th arrondissement over to the Opera, taking the ‘pont piéton’ — the footbridge — over the river to the Tuileries Garden.
There, children who had not been aborted ran amongst the trees, shouting with glee. Lovers strolled…hand in hand…stopping to take photos of each other.
And over the Seine, on the pont, they clasped locks to the bridge itself.
The love locks above the River Seine
The locks record remarkable acts of faith, hope, and delirium.
Cal and Beth say they will love each other forever. Ditto Jenny and Eric, Bridget and John, K and R, and thousands of others.
None of them knows, of course, what curveball life will send their way. Cal may find he dislikes Beth’s pouty lips; Jenny may discover that Eric is a goofball; R’s latent lesbian tendencies may take over. Stuff happens.
Les belles lettres
Readers with a keen sense of geography will be quick to notice that there must be more to the story. Why are we in Paris?
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And if you drew a line from the Tidewater of Maryland, where we started the year, to the Pampas of Argentina, it would not come anywhere near Europe.
But we’re takin’ care of business. We went to Ireland to check on our new house…our home for the next five years. And now we are in Paris preparing a party. Coming up is the 100th anniversary of our business in Paris, the publishing house, Les Belles Lettres. The president of France is said to be coming.
The company, which we acquired almost by accident, was set up shortly after WWI to publish the Greek and Latin classics — in the original. Alas, not many people still read the Iliad in ancient Greek.
De Rerum Natura
One of the books published by Les Belles Lettres is a work of astounding intuition, De Rerum Natura, by Lucretius — a must-read for Valentine’s Day.
The text, which was effectively lost for more than 1,000 years, was so esteemed by Thomas Jefferson that he had five copies of it in his library.
What was so important about it? What did Jefferson find in the work of a man who had been dead for nearly 2,000 years that helped him understand the world and lay the groundwork for one the most successful nations in history?
Have Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, or any of today’s leaders ever heard of it? What are they missing?
Ah, Dear Reader, you ask too much. Scholars have been debating what Lucretius meant to say, and why, for hundreds of years. But the basic idea is simple: Stuff happens no matter what we think. Notably, love.
‘We met at a cocktail party,’ said a woman who recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. ‘I don’t know what we were thinking…or if we were thinking at all…. but we were engaged a month later.’
Now, they have five children and 23 grandchildren.
Lucretius, channelling the Greek thinker, Democritus, and the philosopher Epicurus, saw all the world as a random collision of atoms (with a little room left for conscious choice and curve balls…which he called ‘the turning aside of a thing,’ known popularly as ‘the swerve.’)
Writing before the birth of Christ, he broadly anticipated both atomic theory and the theory of evolution. He also saw the ‘feminising’ effect of civilisation; he opens his epic poem urging Venus to calm down Mars and spare Rome from more war.
With all this going on, there’s not much room left for our pathetic cogitations. And for the most important things, it’s probably better not to think at all.
We didn’t design atoms…nor do we control evolution…or even (with some allowance for free will…’the swerve’…) our own thoughts.
Thinking merely justifies and rationalises our prejudices and instincts.
You feel Nancy Pelosi is scum…you want to go to war with Iran…you believe that Donald Trump is a very ‘moral’ man — it doesn’t take your brain long to prove it to you!
A Diary Dictum (DD): We come to think what we need to think when we need to think it. And thank God! If not, most of us wouldn’t think at all.
And thank God, too, for Jenny, John, K, Cal, Eric, Bridget, R…and all the other unthinking lovers.
Without them, the curtain comes down and the show closes forever.