Thursday, November 8, 2007


In memoriam: Christian L

For the last couple of years, I've been participating as a guinea pig in a project conducted by the French medical-research organization named Inserm [Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale] aimed at determining whether a regular supplement of folates and omega-3 might have a positive effect upon the incidence of vascular accidents. In concrete terms, this means that I consume a couple of big tablets every morning... without knowing whether they might contain folates, omega-3 or simply placebo junk. Then, once a year, at the hospital in nearby Romans, I meet up with a Parisian nurse who tests me in one way or another for half an hour. Besides taking a blood specimen, she has a nice little test for seeing whether or not I might be developing advanced signs of something terrible like Alzheimer's disease. The test consists of asking me to name, say, every kind of animal (or country or color, etc) that springs into my mind in the space of thirty or so seconds. Now, to be quite honest, this kind of test scares shit out me... for the simple reason that it never fails to evoke the most nightmarish situation that I can possibly imagine. I'm referring to the idea that I might wake up one day and find that, for one reason or another, I no longer possess the most fabulous but fragile baggage that I've been acquiring over the last half a century: my mastery of French. I would like to imagine that my acquaintance with the language of Molière has infiltrated my brain to such an extent that my neurons now reek of it, as if they were eggs left to rot in a charming old French hen house, alongside a pig pen.

I imagine my brain, when I'm optimistic, as an aging Camembert cheese abandoned in one of those primitive fly-proof containers that we used to call safes back in Waterview, South Grafton, NSW, Australia. In the best of cases, if I wished to appear modern, in a technological spirit, my cerebral apparatus might be likened to the motor of an aging automobile, which seems to be branded Citroën, but which might well have been assembled imperfectly out in Australia. My soul is surely impregnated with the image of Notre-Dame de Paris, in the same way that the Shroud of Turin seems to convey a shadow of Christ... but I fear that my spiritual photo might simply be that of the humble redbrick church—referred to pompously as a "cathedral"—in my birthplace, Grafton.

In any case, I'm in no way opposed to the idea of exercising my brain.

"You are old, father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head —
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

1 comment:

  1. Your nice story reminds me of one of my father’s favorite quotes :
    "Someone who is not a revolutionist when he is 19, has no heart. Someone who is still a revolutionist when 40, has no brain."
    [Wer mit 19 kein Revolutionär ist, hat kein Herz. Wer mit 40 immer noch ein Revolutionär ist, hat keinen Verstand.]
    Theodor Fontane
    1819 - 1898