Monday, August 27, 2012

At the Barricades

This week, as he does each August, my neighbor Zeno organized what he calls a block party along our short cul de sac of la Rue de Montaigne. Each August the neighbors close off the end of our dead-end half block of street with makeshift barricades - derelict two-by-fours strung between battered folding chairs - all in the best traditions of French socialism. The capitalist hirelings of the municipality will barricade the street for the occasion, but only at considerable cost - the cost, in fact, of choosing an entrepreneurial government over a benignly socialist one. One of libertarianism's fondest myths being that a tax dollar saved is another dollar safe in its wallet.

 Barricade, Rue de Montaigne

Each August my neighbor Zeno solicits, and I politely decline, my email address so he can send a sign-up list to volunteers willing to provide the requisites of his revelries - the music, tables and chairs, barbecued meat, beer, potato salad, green salad, watermelon, etc. Each August he inquires whether I will join the neighborhood festivities and I gently demur. It is a ritual between us by now. Why not? he invariably asks.

Les autres sont l'infer, I tell him.Other people are hell.

Les Autres

No, but these are your neighbors, he answers, the ritual tone of mild shock in his voice. You know them all, you like them - at least you seem to. I like them all just fine, I admit, and am always pleased to greet them en passant from the car window or from the other side of the street. That is what neighborliness means in the providential dispensation of all things social. It's nothing personal, I say, merely a constitutional aversion.

To your own neighbors? asks Zeno in a stage horror. To crowds in general, I reply. One of several reasons I don't golf or ski, I remind him. Oh, but you really should come, he insists, seeing at the outset the dead end. Zeno, I tell him kindly, at my age I don't feel obliged to do anything that falls beyond the easiest of my few inclinations.

Zeno is never entirely satisfied with my quietism but he bears up and takes it all in his stride. We are always cordial if a bit nonplussed by the other. No, but come on, what better thing do you have to do anyway, he asks? A book, I always reply. I'm in the middle of Spinoza, can't put him down. But it was Spinoza last year, says Zeno. He bears rereading, I answer.

My neighbors Zeno and Conchita
Je suis desolée, mon vieux, says Zeno each August. Rubbish, old chap, I reply. Truly, he insists. Not a bit of it, I answer him. Persiflage heaped upon parody, August upon August.

Soon enough the neighborhood is suffused with the toxic aroma of barbecue. The murmur on the street beyond the east lawn of the chateau gradually increases. Someone has turned up the country music, or maybe it's rockabilly, on the boom box, these "genres" demarcating the frontiers of cultural abandon in this precinct. Neighbors assemble in the street in full view of the resident dogs, unaccountably abandoned in their respective yards, unstinting in their own sense of desolation and general consternation.

By about ten-thirty when the shriekings of the children begin to subside and the smell of burning marshmallows to laden the air, I am invariably prostré, recumbent, in bed with Spinoza when the mistress returns from the revels. I had a wonderful time, she always beams. And I invariably tell her that in my view it has all been a roaring success.

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