Please Excuse My Eldest Daughter, Mathilde
she lacks what the Italians call sprezzatura
Inspired by a jar of molasses in the front hall closet I haven’t found use for yet:
Yoo’ll have to excyoose my eldest daughter — she lacks with the Eyetalians call the necessary art of sprezzatura
Ah must beg you to overlook my eldest daughter this evening — she’s failed to obtain a sure sense of what the norskis call “koselig” and what the noo york times revealed to us as “hygge,” and as such our table might be said to lack that finishing touch that elevates a household from simply hospitable to truly possessed of, ah, largesse
Why, hygge’s nothin’ either more nor less than a form of everyday togetherness in a pleasant and highly valued experience of safety, equality, personal wholeness and a spontaneous flow of social interaction. It is much more than coziness, my dear boy, much more
Oh, deah. Yoo’ll have to excyoose Mathilde, she suffers from Mono no aware as surely as any resident of Tokyo!
What’s mono no aware? Why, it’s that sensitivity to ephemera that characterizes the gentle sadness of the awareness of the transience of objects that the Japanese kindly found out about before letting the rest of us in on it. And oh my, does Mathilde have it in spades.
Please pay no mind to my eldest daughter’s wistful and distant air tonight. You see, she suffers from what the Portugueses call Saudade, or a sudden burst of memory with desire saddled to it. The people of Brazil wisely celebrate a festival to this feeling every January, the month of the year most shot through and suffused with recollections of oh, feelings, experiences, and places that once carried joy and the promise of greater joys to come, which now only trigger the pain of separation. Although I suppose in Brazil January must be summer to them, on account of they’ve chosen to hold their calendars upside-down in that part of the world. Maybe it’s on account of those seafaring ancestors of theirs, those great navigators who treated the Atlantic like a bathtub, but who lost so many of their comrades at sea. The presence of an absence, you might say, is what’s plaguing my eldest daughter this evening. But let me guide you towards my next daughter, Prunella, who has been seized by no such melancholy, and will happily show you the beechnut groves after dinner.
Dear sir, I see you have been admiring Prunella’s sagacity, not to say her lissome agility, all evening. Let me be so bold as to say it is her Fingerspitzengefühl you admire so. That’s a loan word from the Krauts, you’ll understand, meant to denote not only situational awareness — which Prunella has in spades, just like her mother — but great tact, no matter the circumstances, the sign of a first-rate diplomat, field marshal, or middle child. Intuition, my boy, is what she’s got, like a cat. Animal from the Muppets has it. Dido of Carthage had it, until that fateful day she gave her hand to the faithless Aeneas. Never give your heart to a Roman, boy — they haven’t got any use for it.
Oh, ho-ho-ho! My dear sir, I do hope you can find it in your heart to absolve my eldest daughter this evening. While thumos does not describe a somatic marker, like light-headedness or panic, I can assure you it as as real and as present a sentiment as any that quickens the blood, and it’s that passionate blood of a spirited racehorse that Plato saw fit to include in his tripartite theory of soul, and which the good Lord saw fit to include in Mathilde here. Peter Sloterdijk believes modern Western civilization can be read entirely as a suppression of thumos, and sometimes when I look at Mathilde here — who would be right at home with the daughters of the Iliad — I’m blasted if I don’t think but there might be something to it.
Now sir, I am sorry. I have sent Mathilde to the finest schools back East and even in Europe in the hopes of curing her of her Lisztomania, that intense fixation on Hungarian composer Franz Liszt that leads her to ignore the niceties of what rights and courtesies any guest under our roof might expect from the family. It is my cross to bear and I do crave your patience, sir.
I must humbly beg you to overlook the behavior of my eldest daughter this evening, kind stranger. Unlike the rest of her sisters, Mathilde has not yet learned to separate herself from that painful attachment to self-conception the philosopher-kings of India refer to as abhimāna. They rightly seek to detach from it, as a crawfish detaches from its shell during a Beaufort boil.
I do believe that my eldest daughter must be suffering from a touch of weltschmerz this evening! You’re a city man yourself, I do believe, so I trust you know how the deep weight of world-sorrow can press upon a young heart from time to time, and will offer the kindness of your indulgence.
Now I do hope you won’t hold my eldest daughter’s remarks against her. She does suffer from a touch of that prairie madness now and again. Oh, I assure you, prairie madness is a very real and all-encompassing phenomenon, even if those traveling medicine-men don’t have an entry for it in their doctorin’ books. The long, harsh winters of the Prairies and the isolation from her neighbors does take its toll, even here on the bayou.
Mathilde, that’s enough of the carnivalesque from you. [Aside] Ever since she was the size of a Junebug, my eldest has been attached to the collective totality of festival-rituals, developing over time an entire language of symbolic and sensual forms into a unified carnival sense of the world, where all things are familiar and free, all things unlikely yet possible, eccentricity is welcome, the sacred and the obscene reversed, and the reunion of what is normally kept apart a consummation devoutly to be wished. I could no more cure her of it than I could end that ancient tradition known as Menippean satire. Prunella, let us fetch our guest a clean plate and napkin, and say no more on the subject.
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