Friday, June 24, 2005

Maintaining a Constant State of Unpreparedness

At just past 5 o'clock today, a storm of biblical proportions swelled over Paris. The sky, which was not due to darken for about five hours, turned black while thunder and lightening cracked outside, reverberating through the tall building where I work and making my computer screen tremble.

When I left the office to go for a drink with an Indonesian friend who is leaving Paris, we found that the subterranean concourse where we were going to have ' une petite seize' (une petite seize-cent-soixante-quatre, also known as a glass of Kronenbourg) had been flooded by the sudden downpour of rain that emanated from said cloud.

All the barmen were hurriedly stacking chairs that they had pulled away from the encroaching floodwaters, men with oversize mops were sweeping back and forth through the little lake that had formed underneath the central skylight and the rows of electric lights set in the stainless steel ceiling were flashing on and off in fancy formation, whether manually or of their own accord, I don't know. Outside each of the cafes situated in the four corners of the concourse, young execs whiled away they early evening in idle chatter, watching the late workers navigate dry spaces.

I reflected on the fact that if the building had been built more soundly, all this activity wouldn't be necessary. But who would want to be without this spontaneous chaos, this creative turmoil? Better not to waste time preparing for every eventuality. Better to lack one layer of protective skin and be ready to appreciate the consequences.

My Indonesian friend told me he wanted to go back to nature, to live in the countryside and maybe buy a farm. But he would have to be careful, he said. Indonesia has no state welfare system so he would have to make sure he had saved enough money. The only trouble was, in the country, he would stand out as a rich person, even though he was not really that rich. Security would be the problem. He would become a target for criminals, for mafia types. He looked sad.

He asked me if I would come to Indonesia one day. I said I didn't know. What would it be like to work there? Ah, he said, you might like it, but your wife would be a stranger, living among strangers, and outside the strangers she lived with, would only be other strangers.

And the climate, what is it like? I asked. Oh, it is very wet. One moment it is raining here, the next moment over there. I thought of Claude Levi-Strauss' description of the January rains in Sao Paulo that I had read on the train to work: "the rain does not 'come', it is engendered by the surrounding humidity, as if the universally permeating vapour had materialised into beads of water which fall thick and fast yet seem to be retarded by their affinity with the steamy atmosphere through which they are passing. The rain does not descend in vertical or oblique lines, as in Europe: it is more like a pale flickering, made up of a multitude of tiny globules of water pouring down through a moist atmosphere, a kind of cascade of clear tapioca soup."

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