I didn’t laugh out loud. I’d flipped a mental coin in my head before ringing his doorbell. When he looked at me with sorrow in his eyes, I knew which of the two stories was coming up: “Madame Lucie… “(that’s me), “ah, Madame Lucie, si seulement...” (if only).
Short-short version of the tale: if the streets of this town aren’t awash in the blood of the feuding families, guess who’s to thank? No, not me; therefore? Yes! my friend,the sole Montagu worth knowing. He has one buddy in the Capulet clan who can vouch to his sterling qualities. Problem, as I explained: papa Capulet (who’s in jail right now) won’t stand for a Montagu learning to read and write alongside his youngest son, no matter what sterling qualities he demonstrates. (I should add the rest of this real-life Montagu bunch don’t have much to recommend them; the Capulets aren’t about to get ramped up to sainthood either.) In real life, the matter rests in limbo at the moment; maybe the honorable member of the Montagu clan will get another chance at learning to read and write. Maybe he will get a driving permit and stay out of jail – or at least, avoid jail time for the current bout of accusations against him. Maybe the coin will land on the negatives instead.
At any rate, my Montagu friend then taught me a whole bunch more about negative stereotypes. I kept as straight a face as I could because the levels of discrimination amongst the various Gipsy communities are just as mind-boggling as those in any other caste system. No surprise: this system also discriminates on the basis of skin tone, shape of features, color of hair and eyes, and speech patterns. The darker the skin, the lower the moral qualities of the person, as defined by the lighter-skinned ones. Considering the moral choices in question, the whole issue boils down to: says who? Says the one whose word carries the most weight.
All of which, one way or another, relates back to story since, in many ways, story is just another way to attempt making some sense out of the countless delights and absurdities humans can produce on any given day.
As for current reading: age may have something to do with it. Thirteen years old is a bit young for a full appreciation of Homer’s Odyssey, especially when you’re supposed to translate bits of it from classical Greek. (At the time, I was more interested in listening to the Top Ten on the tiny-tiny transistor radio under my pillow) . But at age sixty-six, in the French translation by Victor Bérard and presented by Philippe Brunet? Ah la-la. I’m only at Canto VII because who wants to rush through something when every word is a delight?