Completing the set

“Why seems it so particular with thee?”

Poor Gertrude never could understand. Why is someone else so bothered by something when it doesn’t bother me? We are all like that, if we’re honest with ourselves. Our own hobbyhorses we take seriously, but other peoples’ are … well, they’re a bit silly, aren’t they? There’s our boy getting worked up because he has got the tiniest dent in his trombone. Look, I explain to him, the dent is so small one can hardly see it with the naked eye; and what’s more, it doesn’t affect the sound. Why seems it so particular with thee? Or there’s my wife worrying about some pot plant that, despite all the care and attention and watering it could possibly ask for, seems quite clearly to be on its last legs. It’s only a pot plant, I explain sagely; why seems it so particular with thee? Get another bloody pot plant when this one dies!

Well, actually, no – I don’t say that. I’m not quite the insensitive yob I sometimes make myself out to be. But I’d be lying if I were to say I didn’t think it. However, regardless of what I may or may not have said, my wife knows me well enough by now to know that I was thinking it. And …

But let’s not go there. The point, I think, has been amply demonstrated: if something doesn’t particularly bother us, we think it unreasonable that it should bother anyone else.

When I was a lad, I remember, we – that is, all the other boys in my class, the girls being too sensible for this sort of thing – used to collect football cards. Small packets containing a bit of bubble gum, and three pictures of footballers then playing in the league. And it was vitally important to get the whole set. I remember still the disappointment when I opened a newly purchased packet, and found that I already had the cards it contained. Of course, I could try to swap them for others I didn’t have, but it wasn’t always easy to get the ones I was missing. And my mother, I remember, was a bit nonplussed by all this. “Why seems it so particular with thee?” she asked. Or she would have done had she affected a Shakespearean diction.

Or take what happened to me recently. We were out shopping, when I happened to chance upon a reflection of myself in a shop window, and found, to my horror, that I had a few grey hairs in my moustache all congregated together right under my left nostril, and making it look for all the world as if I had forgotten to blow my nose. And I couldn’t get this thought out of my mind. Passers-by, I imagined, were all staring at me, and, I’m sure, shunning me, not wishing, understandably, to come close to some dirty bugger with semi-liquid snot dribbling all down his moustache. And it is not vanity that made me want to go home immediately and apply the scissors to the offending grey hairs. My wife told me I was being too sensitive, and that no-one was thinking what I thought they were thinking. But I could tell by the look in their eyes that they did. Once again, why seemed it so particular with me?

More recently – to return this post to a suitably literary theme – I reported on my failure to appreciate Dante. Fine, people told me. We can’t all like everything. Shrug your shoulders and move on. But once again, I can’t. Over the years, I have come into contact with many of the major pillars of the Western literary traditions. Shakespeare I guess I’m a bit obsessed with; Cervantes I love; I have a healthy respect and admiration for Homer and for Virgil; and I now need Dante to complete the set. Don’t ask why: I just do.

Well, tomorrow we go to Florence. Tickets are already booked for the Uffizi and the Pitti, the Accademia, San Marco, The Medici Chapel, the Brancacci Chapel, the Duomo museum, the Bargello … each costing a bloody fortune, I know, but it has to be done. And, given many of these places are closed in the afternoons, I think I’ll be spending quite a bit of time sitting in Florentine cafes. And what better place to try once again to get to grips with Dante?

Following some advice after putting up the last post, I have bought myself Prue Shaw’s introduction to the CommediaReading Dante; and I have bought (and thoroughly enjoyed) a witty comic strip rendition of Inferno, illustrated by Hunt Emerson, and with a text by Kevin Jackson. This latter purchase may not, perhaps, have enhanced my understanding as such, but it was a genuine pleasure to encounter erudition so lightly-worn, and such affection and respect displayed without a trace of pomposity or hushed-tone reverence. And as for the former, I have been glued to this all last weekend. Enthusiasm is such an infectious thing! I find myself happy just to see someone’s enthusiasm, even enthusiasms I may happen not to share.

Dante

With football cards, I never did get the whole lot. It is now my belief that they used deliberately to withhold a few footballers to encourage kids to spend more pennies trying to complete the set. Bastards. But this is a different matter entirely. Tomorrow morning, we fly to Florence, and damned if I don’t get Dante this time. Why seems it so particular with me? Nay, it is – I know not seems.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carl on October 7, 2019 at 12:18 am

    Hi Himadri: I enjoyed your set of reflections on “Completing the Set”. We are all strangely fabricated around our predilections, aren’t we. Reminds me of a parallel set of situations. When I was an adolescent, I discovered Rachmaninoff through a recording of his 2nd Piano Concerto. It was on a 33 1/3 vinyl disc, probably an American orchestra under the direction of David Szell or some such. At any rate, I was so overwhelmed by its beauty that I turned to my mother and invoked her attention to sit down and listen with me. Well, she was not impressed with Rachmaninoff, not that day, probably not ever. Why was it so particular with me? Later in life, I came to her and asked if she remembered the time I wanted to share a new piece of classical music with her, and she didn’t. How could she not have? I was simply verklempt, as I recalled. But she didn’t, simple as that.

    We are all made differently and the companionship of humans is remarkably undistinguished when it comes to sharing complexities in life.

    I do like your intention to recreate Dante in the fabric of your literary life. I first discovered him (well, The Inferno anyway) as a teenager. I was just finishing my 6 years of Latin and reading Virgil’s Aeneid in the original, particularly the book in which Aeneas visits the underworld. My magister suggested I write a paper comparing the worlds of the underworld as portrayed by both Virgil and Dante. Well, I thoroughly enjoyed that academic pursuit, and it was my first brush with the Italian. And, the “golden bough” brought me to Graves.

    Reply

  2. Posted by alan on October 10, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    Decades ago, when I occasionally read things, I complained to woman of my acquaintance that I’d never get round to reading a fraction of the things that I thought necessary.
    Instead of an agreeable sympathy she retorted with “Why do you want to get on top of literature?”.
    I had no reply, but I might start using it in order to make a virtue out of my ignorance. Perhaps you file off the serial numbers and use it yourself.

    Reply

    • You should have said something like “Literature is an end in it itself rather than a means to some other end, so the question ‘why?’ is superfluous”. See her get out of that one then! 🙂

      Reply

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