Versailles in the city

June 21, 2014

Imagine a time when all compliments are Janus faced, when every truth is tinged with a barbed repartee, when clever insults are the currency of humor. We have more in common with the 18th century than we might imagine…that at least is how I feel when I find myself in the city high society where wit is all and sincerity is an embarrassment.

Though I look out of place in my bush jacket amongst the well heeled city upper crust who seem to look at me with a mix of intrigue and derision – I am still considered a aristocrat nonetheless…a minor one…an insignificant one…where it is not uncommon for city socialites to introduce me to their circle of friends with the necessary social qualification….’Did I mention… he’s from the Kampung….the provinces.’ That’s the cue for everyone to go, ‘Ahhhhh…we understand.’

That is how well heeled city folk have always seen the planter In their midst – as a figure of novelty from some bygone distant age like maybe how the Irish would regard Lepercauns. A sobriquet character of endearment. Something quaint, old world and far removed from their plastic world – life is very different for the super rich in the city, they get excited over every little thing…daily intrigues of gossip fills their empty life

At times when I have no other choice but to mix with them. I feel very much like the dearly unfortunate Baron Ponceludon de Malavoy who suddenly finds himself in Versailles bumping into walls and furniture. The awkward country bumpkin aristocrat seems to have no chance at all with the Parisian sophisticates, but then he is taken under the wing of the wise old Marquis de Bellegarde – eventually the Baron discovers wordmanship is more crucial than swordsmanship.

The people of his district are dying because of the pestilent waters, which breed mosquitoes and disease. The Baron has a scheme for draining the marshes and making the land tillable. But he first needs to petition the king. But since the king values verbal wit above all else including matters of utmost urgency and lives mostly to be entertained by wit. If the baron cannot develop a savage witty tongue, he has no chance at all to further his case….

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‘I wonder how would a lowly aristocrat feel when he makes his way back into the heady intrigues of court life after a prolonged absence. There he stands before a line of well manicured hedge groves that leads to paradise. His clothes are hardly fashionable any longer. They show signs of regular use, his cloak is threadbare around the elbows, his cuffs worn, there’s even a hole in his shoe which he stuffs with paper – that I imagine is how it is when a planter goes to a city to petition the unimaginably rich and wealthy.

When he makes his entrance his name isn’t even announced. He’s not important enough. So this man takes a seat in one corner of this cavernous hall hoping that no one will notice him and if they do….perhaps they will have the courtesy to ignore him without making fun of his ill fitting clothes and brusque manner.

Soon he begins to attract attention. He can’t help it. The man stands out. And in a while he even begins to believe they’re talking about him – he can see it in their mocking sneers. They high brow manner in which they all look upon him – the lowly aristocrat from the country with a coat of arms that no one even cares to remember….and somewhere in all this, this man has to petition the king to hear his plea.

When the king appears. This man is so far from the king, he might as well be on the surface of the moon, he says to himself and with that he decides to leave the party. On his way out. He catches a glimpse of a familiar figure peering at him. The stranger is powdered like a cake. He looks ridiculous with his wig like some awful caricature – then he realizes, it’s a mirror. He breaks out into a coughing laugh…soon he’s heaving as he laughs harder, till only the sound of this madman fills the hall… that is how it is, when a man from the country decides to petition the unbelievably rich and wealthy to hear his case.’

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