Saturday, July 6, 2013

Le maître donne les devoirs aux élèves

My good friend Currado Malaspina recently attended his 40th high school reunion (yes, they indulge in such idiocies in France as well). He was struck, as many are in such circumstances, at how dramatically, or perhaps to be more precise, how suddenly people had aged. Seeing his former comrades from the lycée, it occurred to Currado that back then he never suspected that their much discussed future potential included such indignities as adulthood, much less impending old age. He distinctly remembers taking for granted the permanence of his physical bearing. Everything will remain the same, he remembers thinking, everything except one's oppressive tethering to one's parents

And it was there among his aging friends that mortality ceased being mere artifice, a device lending requisite yet illegitimate gravitas to a life, and started asserting itself instead as a real, inconvenient and terrifying fact.

Young Currado Malaspina 1973

In France, it could be said that the professional designation 'peintre' carries little of the bewildering stigma it bears here in the States. Currado was therefore greeted by his former comrades not with the rakish, wayward brow of condescension but rather with a bemused, almost bored nonchalance. In fact, the Lycée Mesrine class of 1973 boasted a few illustrious and unconventional citizens of the Republic. The flamboyant philosopher Simon Raphael Cohen and the jazz pianist Konrad Beauvence are just two names that come readily to mind. 

The assembly was addressed by class of '72, former Minister of Transportation and Export Louis-Philippe de Gorney, known mostly as a tireless champion of the Razor-Scooter, Vélib' bike-rentals and the 35-hour work week. He spoke mostly about what he called "the jagged intersection of charity and vengeance" and the significance of the Mesrine legacy. Currado wryly noted how fitting it was for the erstwhile government official to be looking for intersections.

They later met for coffee where they floated the idea of joining their talents and starting an NGO devoted to promoting the health benefits of walking.

The big surprise came when de Gorney reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a tattered, brittle piece of lined paper folded neatly in quarters. "Vous souvenez-vous cette"? he asked a stunned Currado. 

Indeed, Malaspina remembered it well.

from a high school notebook of Currado Malaspina circa 1971

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