Thursday, 8 January 2015

Small Victories

Catching up on my friend Mark Griffith's account of his life in Hungary, I come to a point where he finds a power socket that actually works on a Magyar train. "Exult in the small victories", he says.

Synchronicity, I think. Not astounding synchronicity, but synchronicity nevertheless, for yesterday I discovered, after exploring one of Brussels's many-roomed, piled-high-with-potential-hidden-treasures antique shops, that I no longer had my hat. As it was a Mongolian cashmere hat and I am extremely sentimental about all things Mongolian, I retraced my steps along the pavement and back into the Brussels curiosity shop I'd just visited.

There was a hat just like mine on the desk where the proprietor was sitting. I grabbed it up with a cry of delight, cut short when the proprietor pointed out, quite kindly, that the hat was actually his. I then went off hunting through the labyrinth and eventually found my hat, lying on the brick floor of the farthest room in the basement.

As I came out, I said to the shop owner that it was almost more pleasurable to have lost the hat and found it again than never to have lost it.

"Ah oui", he replied, with recognition, "c'est une petite joie."

The little joys of life, that's what makes each day a better or worse one. Of course, Kurt Vonnegut knew this years ago and explained it better than I will ever be able to. But was it because he was an English speaker that he couldn't label what he was talking about a "joy"?  And is it an indication of the weakness of the French language, that "joie" is the applicable word - a noun that has to act as a portmanteau to cover a range of emotions, which we in English might wish to grade more carefully with a wider range of more nuanced labels - or rather a sign of how stiff we English speakers are, unable to bring ourselves to talk about anything as fulsome as "joy", unless we are almost outside ourselves with overwhelming feeling?

Some might say that a word that expresses such intensity should be reserved only for the absolute pinnacle of all possible happier moments, but, as always with deferred pleasures, one has to ask oneself: what if those moments never come? Will the denial have been worth it? Might it not have been pleasanter to perceive joy in small things, rather than waiting for the Everest moment? I think so, which, if I weren't so lacking in dark eyes and hair and so forth, might lead me to suspect that my veins flowed with a drop or two of Latin blood. But no, I am merely a Latin trapped in an Anglo-Saxon/Viking (with perhaps a splash of Celt) framework. Thus, exuberance battles ever against restraint.

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