Today, among other junk mail, there was a questionnaire from some researchoutfit, addressed apparently to a sampling of senior citizens and wishing to knowintimate things about my self-esteem. It is their hypothesis that a decline inself-esteem is responsible for many of the overt symptoms of aging. God knowswhere they got my name, Ben Alexander, maybe; his forger is in all those pies, andalways stirring.
I looked at some of the questions and threw the thing in the fireplace. Another ofthose socio-psycho-physiologicalstudies suitablefor computerizing conclusionsalready known toanyone over fifty. Who was ever in any doubt that the self-esteem ofthe elderly declines in this society which indicates in every possible way that it doesnot value the old in the slightest, fords them an expense and an embarrassment, laughsat their experience, evades their problems, isolates them in hospitals ans SunshineCities, and generally ignores them except when soliciting their votes or ripping offtheir handbags and their Social Security checks? And which has a chilling capacity tolook straight at them and never see them. The poor old senior citizen has two choices, assuming he is well enough off to have any choices at all. He can retire from thathostile culture to the shore of some shuffleboard court in a balmy climate, or he canshrink in his self-esteem and gradually become the cipher he is constantly remindedhe is.
我瞅了几眼上面的问题，就把这份问卷扔进了壁炉。五十岁出头的人都知道这种类型的研究也就那么回事儿，这些类似的 “ 社会一心理一生理学”的研究一般都会得出程式化结论、大家都认为社会中老年人的自尊心下降了，有很多方面可以例证此点:整个社会一点儿也不尊重老年人，觉得老年人是一种负担，是一种尴尬，社会还嘲笑他们的经验，逃避他们的问题，把他们孤单地留在医院和阳光城市中，基本上不管不问；只有社会中有人索求他们的票、盗窃他们的钱包和社会福利金时才猛然想起他们。社会明明可以看见他们，但从来装作看不见。可怜的老年人其实只有两种选择，但看起来却富有得可以做任何选择。他可以从那种敌意的文化氛围中隐退到气候怡人的沙弧球场岸边，或者逐步降低他的自尊心，默默接受社会给予的角色，成为一个无关紧要的人物。
What bothered rne about Cesare Rulli's visit if not the lacerations it left on myself-esteem?
The responses that I feel more and more when we step out into the unsafesurrounding world are doubled and tripled every time we go down to the Stanfordcampus, as we did yesterday afternoon to hear the Guarneri Quartet. Inside the hall,all's well. Music is a great democratizes. There are as many white and gray heads inthe audience as dark or blonde ones. Attitudes are suspended in favor of appreciation,you see a few people you know, you are smiled and waved at, you feel the solidarityof common tastes and interests you have spent your life acquiring, and you participate, even though an outsider, in the community of the university.
But go outside after the concert and you step out of security into hazard, out ofthe culture into the counterculture. All around the terrace the young roam, or sprawl,or lounge. White Plaza has a sort of bazaar, a stretch of blankets and quilts and plasticgoundcloths on which are displayed belts, handbags, macrame flowerpot hangers, andother kinds of the junk that Gertrude Stein called "ugly things all made by hand." Thewives, children and dogs of the artists tend them and sleep among them. Students pourback and forth, or sit arguing at the union's tables, or read propped against trees. Theyare not hostile and contemptuous as they were a few years ago; they just don't see you.They will move their feet off a table if you sit down at讯or pull in their legs if youfall over them. They don't seem offended that you exist, only surprised. It is unsafe toapproach a swinging door too close behind one of them. If you get there first, andpause to hold it open for them, they bolt on through with an alert, sidelong, surprisedlook, both puzzled and offended, as if your act of courtesy had been a trap they hadjust managed to evade.In the plaza and along the walks, their ten-speed bicycles come up behind yousilently and swiftly, and without bell or warning whiz by you within two feet attwenty miles an hour, leaving you with a cold shock of adrenalin in your guts and aweakness in your knees, and in your head a vision of your humiliated old carcasslying on the pavement, pants torn, knees bloody, arm broken, glasses smashed.
但是，音乐会之后，你从安全地带走向危险地带，从主流文化区域走向非主流文化区域。年轻人要么漫步，要么伸展四肢做运动，要么懒洋洋地坐着。露天广场有个义卖，一群人摊开毯子或被子或塑料布，在上面摆放着皮带、手包、装饰着流苏花边的花盘架，以及其他类型的垃圾—格特鲁德·斯坦称之为 “ 手工制作的丑陋物品 ” 。妻子们，孩子们，艺术家的宠物狗狗们照看着这些物品，并靠着这些物品小憩。学生们涌来涌去，或坐在协会桌子旁边辩论，或靠着树读书。他们不像几年前那样充满敌意，对老人们不屑一顾;他们只是装作没看见。如果你坐在桌子旁边，他们会不再碰那张桌子；如果你跌倒在桌子旁边，他们会收回双腿。你的存在并不会冒犯他们，但会使他们惊讶。紧跟在他们身后，走近一扇不停开合的门，是挺不安全的。如果你先到达那里，特意停下为他们开门，他们会带着警惕你的表情关上门，斜眼看着你，非常惊讶，充满狐疑又觉得自己受到了冒犯。仿佛你的善意举动成了他们本想逃脱的陷阱。 在广场上，还有散步的小路上，他们骑着具备十速换挡装置的自行车从你身后悄悄地快速冲过来，时速达到20英里，可在距离你2英尺的地方，却不给你响铃或发出警告声，让你体内的肾上腺素迅速分泌，心里猛地一惊，随之而来的是膝盖发软，头脑里略过这样的一幕:你毫无尊严的老尸体躺在人行道上，裤子破旧，膝盖上流着血，胳膊上受着伤，眼镜也碎了。
"What do you expect?" Ruth asks, getting quite exercised over my grumblings."They've got their own concerns, why should they notice you or me? Do you expectthem to whisper to each other, `Who's that distinguished-looking couple that just wentby?’Do you think they should stand aside and pull their forelocks at you?”
“ 你还指望什么呢？” 露丝问道。对于我的嘟浓，露丝显得很焦虑。“ 他们有他们自己需要关注的事情，他们为什么应该注意咱俩呢？你希望他们小声说 ‘ 刚才走过去的年老夫妻是谁啊？’ 还是你觉得他们应该站到旁边，对你毕恭毕敬地鞠一躬？ ”
"Ohfor Christ's sake," I said.
“ 噢，天啊，” 我说。
Maybe good for me, but not comfortable. That spell of mucking out my culvertin the rain just about fixed me. I limped and hobbled-maybe exaggerating just a littlefor Ruth's benefit, to emphasize my legitimacy as an oldster. Her response was notsympathetic, though I thought I detected doubt in her glances now and then, andcaught her just about ready to ask if I felt well enough to go on.
Actually I was enjoying it, in spite of the rheumatiz. We walked all around thehill where the older faculty houses are, and all the way, in the big opulent yards, themimosa made yellow globes among the other trees-pure forsythia-yellow, the truecolor of spring-and there were whiffs of daphne, and manure, and mushroomcompost; and the pleasant sight of gardeners working. The briskness of the air got usto walking faster than I really wanted to. I wanted to saunter and savor, because thiswas clearly not the country of the young, this was civilizations of a pleasant andreassuring kind, the kind I have been trying to earn citizenship in ever since I was oldenough to know what I wanted.
We rounded the hill and came down along Frenchman's Creek running a steadylittle stream after the rains, and pooling above old weirs. There we overtook Bruceand Rosie Bllven, bundled up in overcoats and armed with canes and walking withbrittle briskness.
They have lived on the campus ever since he retired as editor of the NewRepublic many years ago. Since retiring, he has had about three heart attacks andwritten about five books, and it is a cinch that at eighty-five or whatever he is he stillcontemplates five books more, and may be halfway through the next one. His lastChristmas letter contained a line that should be engraved above every geriatric door.He says that when asked if he feels like an old man he replies that he does not, hefeels like a young man with something the matter with him. He has a sweet humorousface and an innocent resilience that make me ashamed of myself. As an apologist forold age he is better than Ben Alexander, even. And Rosie can make you feel good at ahundred yards, just by the sight of her. Bruce says she is always trying to help oldladies of sixty down steps.
We chatted awhile under the pepper trees and parted, and they went back upalong the creek with their canes, talking as if they had just met after long separationand had a lot to catch up on.
As she usually is when I get around to communing with my Geist, Ruth is asleep,this time in a canopied four-poster, a real lit du ro, the duplicate of the one I am in.The room is enormous-two rooms, actually; two of about twenty in this wing-withcasement windows through-which come stray tree- and cloud-interrupted streaks ofmoonlight and a smell of lilacs and lindens. As the trees outside move in a night wind,the moonlight sneaks across the room and touches Ruth's bed, and then scoots back tothe windows as if afraid it might have awakened her. Fat chance. As for me, I hunchhere under a dinky forty-watt bulb (why are Europeans, even in castles, so scared ofadequate lighting？) with no more likelihood of sleeping than of understanding what's been going on.
What was going on at lunch for example? The countess promised to explain later, butwe haven't seen her since. And what aborted dinner-the old lady's illness; asadvertised, or something else? And who is Miss Weibull? Most of all, why did I，fifty years old, out of shape, out of practice; just recovering from a long spell of illness, accept the challenge of the werewolf who runs this place, and try to beat his brains outon the tennis court? He comes on me like Sir Kay the Seneschal coming on the Connecticut Yankee, and says to me, "Fair Sir, will ye just?" and instead of saying, "What are you giving me? Get along back to your circus or I' 11 report you," I take him on. My hand is blistered, the skin is peeled off the bottoms of my feet, and I am already so stiff that if I tried to get out of bed I would break in two. I deserve a coronary, as Ruth did not fail to point out while we were eating the dinner that Room Service brought up.
例如，午饭时候，到底发生了什么？女伯爵答应我们要给我们解释，但我们从那之后再没见过她。是什么中断了晚饭呢—是所谓的这个老女人的病还是别的什么事儿？韦布尔小姐到底是谁呢？最重要的是，我这个50岁的老人，身材走样，疏于练习，又刚从很长时间的病痛中恢复过来，竟接受了此地之主的挑战，在网球场上较量一番，并把他打的满地找牙？他与我不期而遇，就像凯主管与误闯亚瑟王宫的美国佬不期而遇。他对我说：“ 尊敬的先生，你还好么？”，而不说 “ 你打算把我怎么样？滚回你的地盘去，不然我就报警。”我和他较量了一番。我的手上磨出了水泡。脚跟上磨破了一层皮儿，我浑身酸痛，不敢下床，唯恐摔成两半。酒店客房免费提供晚餐，我们吃饭时，露丝说我应该得心脏病，才能消停点儿。
But I have made my pilgrimage to my mother's cottage. It was as meaningless as I knew it would be. That cultural vitamin deficiency is not appeased by nibbling the clay and plaster of the old home. The cultural amputee is still trying to scratch the itch in the missing limb.
Well, set it down.
We got here about eleven. The castle, to Ruth's mild disappointment, is not Gothic, with turrets, but Dutch Renaissance, with stepped gables. Wicked brother, as promised, not at home. Greeted by his wife, Marion--tall, skinny, strained, all angles, with a sweet puckered face that looks as if she is always trying to remind herself not to forget something, and little black dots of eyes like a Laurencin drawing.
In the vast front hall, tinkling with the sound of a fountain around which Thorwaldsen-type nymphs clustered, in the presence of a brawny maid and a couple of Chinese jars that probably concealed elves, dwarves, or the forty thieves, she and the countess fell into each other's arms. The maid picked up our bags and led Ruth and me up the stairs, while the countess called after us, "Oh, come straight down, as soon as you have finished your washings! Gerda will unpack you. I must show you this castle where I grew up!"
All pleasure for her, apparently. No bad associations, only delight at being back home in the grandeur to which she has grown unaccustomed to being accustomed. We did come straight down, after Ruth had made a quick inspection of our ducal suite, and were shown the castle, thus:
Drawing rooms, three, each grander than the last, all ornate and gilded, French as to furniture and Beauvais as to tapestries, these last bearing the usual representations of stag hunts, successful, and Arcadian picnics, topless.
“You see!” Since our first meeting she has taken the position that I am a linguistic prodigy and learn Danish with miraculous speed. (Danes in general are resigned to the fact that nobody can learn it except Danes.) She forgets that I heard it some in childhood, and she doesn’t know that in college I was made to study Anglo-Saxon, which is curiously close in some ways. Also, when I learn a word I don’t hide it under any bushel. “Et eneste!” she said in admiration. “Already you are saying a thing like that which some would never learn.”
“ 你看！”从我们第一次见面，她就觉得我是一个语言天才，学习丹麦语的速度飞快。（大部分丹麦人认为除了丹麦人别人学不会丹麦语。）她忘记了我小时候就学过一些，而且大学时我也被迫学了古英语。很奇怪，古英语与丹麦语在某些地方还是十分类似的。同时，学词的时候，我也不会东藏/西/藏。“ 一句话！” 她十分羡慕地说道。“ 你讲的东西是有些人永远也学不会的 ”。
Our eyes splintered against each other, or against some common unspoken embarrassment, and she edged by me, brilliantly smiling, with her tray. Almost persuasive, the smile glowed back down the hall at me through the closing crack of her door. I saw it as a shield turned to cover a retreat.
A few days ago I was worried that we’d have her in our hair more than we wanted to. Now I wonder if we’re to see her only in these strained, disappearing moments, like Emily Dickinson fleeing the sound of the door knocker.
What has the woman done? Why, in this city where she has been known and conspicuous all her life, did not one soul speak to Astrid Wredel-Krarup in the theater the other night? She expected it, we expected it. I had some idiotic notion of a brilliant procession of old friends and acquaintances. I was braced for introductions. I suppose it was some such consideration that led us to dress up beyond the seats I’d been able to get—the ladies in long dresses, me in black tie. Moreover, the seats in the front row ahead of us were unoccupied. We were as conspicuous as if we had been in a box.
Nothing. Not a visitor, not a flutter of fingers, not a smile. Eyes, yes. Heads leaning to whisper, yes. We were watched in the ten minutes we sat there before the lights went down. We were watched at intermission; and none of us wanted to get up and circulate. We were watched as we edged our way out with the crowd at the end, and I distinctly saw one couple note us and put people between us so that we wouldn’t meet at the doors.
The opera was that Honegger thing, Joan of Arc at the Stake, in which the female lead neither says nor sings a word, just stands tied to a post in the middle of the stage, waiting for the dawn and the fire. It opened with an ominous line: En hund hyler i natten—a dog howls in the night— and because I was uneasy about the chill we seemed to have created, and wanted to kid things back to normal, I leaned toward the countess and whispered, “Hey, I understood that!”
In the dusk her eyes were large and brilliant. It was almost like skaal’ing the lady on your left. But she was not smiling. She gave the back of my hand a little pat. “You understand everything,” she said.
黄昏中，她的眼睛又大又亮。几乎就像是与左边的女士skaal一样。但是她并没有笑，而是轻轻地拍了一下我手背，说 “ 你什么都知道 ” 。
But the fact was, I never understood another mumbling word. I didn’t understand the woman beside me, or the people I caught trying not to be seen looking our way when the lights came up, any more than I understood what was going on stage, where strange monsters out of some bestiary crept out of the woods and frolicked or mourned around Joan at her stake.
Neither of the ladies wanted to go to the D’Angleterre for a bite and a drink after the show. We walked home, talking more animatedly than we felt about the opera, and when we were back at the apartment the countess very soon said her thanks and good night and shut her door. For quite a while Ruth and I lay awake wondering what we had witnessed. Ruth had the impression that we had been stared at with hostility, simply because of the woman we were with. Mystery. The Danes are notably uncensorious, yet here is a woman whom all of Copenhagen cuts dead. We recollect that since we moved in with her nobody has rung her doorbell.
Our Rover is on the free port dock. I spent the day persuading six thousand three hundred and eighteen pretty bureaucrats that I don’t intend to sell it in the black market but will guarantee to export it to the United States when we leave Denmark. And what is your business in Denmark, Mr. Allston? Tourist? Yes. And how long will you stay? Three or four months? Mmmm. The question stuck out of them in embossed letters: why? I told one particularly nosy gentleman that I was writing a book about Danish democracy, and that corked him.
Two days lost to a raging migraine. I find myself thinking about the office. Homesick, the forsaken fire horse. This suspended life, this waiting for decent weather or for me to feel better, gets more tedious than I would have believed. A visit to one of the local specialized medics (a pleasant man, I must say, and a cultivated one, not just a mechanic who has studied medical Latin) assures me that my ekg is indeed back to normal. Can’t lay any blame on the ticker. So I develop a migraine. Cunning of me.
The countess is our only drama. For a couple of days, we didn’t catch more than glimpses of her, because she had got a job doing some interior decorating and supervising the purchase of furniture and pictures for a French Embassy couple named La Derrieré. She came out of her sober mood enough to giggle over that, and kept referring to them as Mrs. and Mrs. Behind. But mostly, when she hasn’t been out, she has been shut up in her studio, presumably sketching and working. It seems unnatural and unfriendly to keep so separate. We wonder if she is being scrupulous about intruding on us, or if she is avoiding us because of that night at the theater.
This morning as we were having breakfast by the windows we heard her go down the hall to the kitchen and looked at each other. Shouldn’t we ask her to join us? But I had barely pushed back my chair when her steps returned, positive and fast, and her door clicked shut. Such is our human complexity, we felt snubbed, at least I did. In her room the radio came on with its gobbledegook Danish news, most of which these days is about Senator McCarthy, a constant rebuke to our innocent assumption of American prestige in the world.
After lunch Ruth drove us (I was over the migraine, but feeling pale) up to Dyrehaven to try out the Rover. Though the sun was out, it was chilly. No leaves yet, and no flowers except some tulips. I begin to understand the disbelief of Danish bureaucrats when I tell them we came out of our own free will to live in this country for several months.
We had come back sand were having a cup of tea to warm up when the doorbell rang. Surprised looks, raised eyebrows. Thinking the countess must be out I answered. There stood an elegant gentleman with his gray Homburg in one hand and his gloves in another. His head was baldish, but well brushed: the hat had creased the smooth fair hair above his ears. He had striking blue eyes, and the handsome regular features I will always associate with the Arrow Collar men of my youth. And he had a well- repaired but unmistakable harelip.
For a second I thought he must be some close relative of the countess’, her brother maybe, and then I knew who he was. But he didn’t know who I was. He was not prepared to see me. His eyes got hard, and popped a little, and he said something abrupt in Danish.
What I felt while reading that diary, and what I somehow can’t tell her or talk about with her, is how much has been lost, how much is changed, since 1954. I really am getting old. It comes as a shock to realize that I am just killing time till times gets around to killing me. It is not arthritis and the other ailments. Ben exaggerates those. It is just the general comprehension that nothing is building, everything is running down, there are no more chances for improvement. One of these days the pump will quilt, or the sugar in the gas tank will kill the engine in a puff of smelly smoke, or the pipes will burst, or the long-undernourished brain will begin to show signs of its starvation.
I don’t suppose Ruth would bear my senility any more happily than my death, and I certainly don’t wish for her the job I have seen some wives saddled with, the care of a shuffling invalid, a vegetable whose time has come, whose tie is always smeared and whose zipper is always unzipped and who is always mistaking the PG&E man, come to read the meter, for a son who died years ago, or a brother who has been in his grave for forty years. What the countess has come to, actually. The trouble is that the feelings do not die. I remember Ruth when we brought her and her baby home from the hospital, her fine bones, her small wracked healing body, the tightness of her arms around my neck in the bed made suddenly roomier by the eviction of that intruder between us. And I remember my gurgling son, fat and broad-faced, happy despite a full diaper, and how he laughed and reached out his hands when I played at knocking him over with a pillow. I remember too much. I remember a futile life. Yet if I turn away from it and die, Ruth lose her lifework all at once. If I only lose my buttons, she can go on managing me, sadly but with the satisfaction of love, duty, and selflessness. It is something women get for being durable. I don’t envy them.
I have put away a bottle of pills, as who hasn’t, but nobody can guarantee that when the time comes he will have the wit to take them, or even remember where he hid them. Ben Alexander, with his pacemaker, has an advantage that he brags of. He has only to disconnect wire, or so he says. He can’t be betrayed by senility and forgetfulness, as I can, for when his life is on a jack like a telephone there is a good chance that accident will sooner or later disconnect it even if forethought fails to. The end is the same: not even a dial tone.
I suppose I had no real chance, once I had let her know that the journal existed, of not reading it to Ruth, or at least letting her read it. She is an exorcist at heart. She believes in cleansings and purifications, and she has a dangerous theory of complete honesty in marriage. When we had been married no more than twelve hours, she told me she had made a vow never to go to sleep on a quarrel. It must be settled before we closed our eyes. Since my impulse is to close my eyes on the quarrel and sleep it off, our systems have not always meshed. What often happens is that I back down in order to avoid all that soul searching that she likes, thereby committing some dishonesties she is unaware of. I doubt that she could ever believe that a man who resists her management and does not tell her all he knows can really love her as she wants to be loved and as I am sure she loves me. Yet I do. She is the woman I share the world with, and I can imagine wanting to share it with no one else.
I could hand her these notebooks and tell her to read them herself, but then I refuse the martial communion her soul craves. If I burn the things and declare that I will not be henpecked into spilling guts I no longer acknowledge, then I burn into her a conviction that certain aspects of the Danish episodes were more important than in fact they were—that they left great scars on my soul. They didn’t. Denmark was only one of those queer little adventures that the life-tourist runs into—a circus where you saw a man crawl through a ten-inch pipe, a side show where the fact lady’s stuffing came out, a trapeze act where the acrobat flinched and refused a jump he knew would kill him.
No, Denmark did no more than thicken the callus. It was something I survived. Left to myself, I would deal with it (I tell myself) as Catarrh deals with his leavings in the flower bed.