After I retired, SWMBO (who is sometimes referred to by the pseudonym, Franscesca) and I spent several weeks each spring in Europe, each time lavishing Paris with our resplendent presence. I wrote several proleptically bestselling books during this time, the first of which covered my peripatetic years of being a young theoretical physicist on the go. The underlying theme of that tome was the statistically implausible frequency with which my travels were met by near disasters. Maybe this was just Nature’s way of punishing me for my highly efficacious theoretical effrontery. Nature has always seemed content with the dithering investigations of mainstream theorists into the arcana of strings, loops, it-from-qubit, and amplitudeology. These folks were never punished with floods, illness, terrorism, earthquakes, … the list goes on. No, Nature’s wrath was reserved for me, for I had actually uncovered one of her secrets. Bad Geoffrey! Bad!
Ok, settle down ego. So, anyway, I wrote two subsequent travelogues, each of which continued this theme of disasters narrowly avoided. The first is entitled, Paris: je dirais même plus, and it covers our first post retirement trip to Europe in 2016. This was the year that Paris, and much of the rest of Europe, flooded. I’d like to share a section of that book, and perhaps, in so doing, dispel any notion you may have that my character is entirely frivolous. Herewith, …
The Fart that Ate Paris
In extenuation I must explain that I did not know they were there. I’m not proud of what happened, and for a little while after I felt shame, but I got over it. Also, I’d been sick, and would continue to be sick for weeks.
Ok, so we set the scene: Franscesca and I are walking, more than flâner, but less than rushing to a destination. I feel a pressure build up in my abdomen as we walk up the incline of some street. I am almost positive I gave a quick look around making sure no one was in earshot of what I was about to deliver, and I had a feeling earshot in this case was going to be rather extensive. Satisfied that the coast was clear, I let loose.
So, as you have doubtless conjectured by now, someone was within earshot – someone other than my forgiving wife, Francesca. Where the hell did they come from? How did they get just behind us? Was this some sort of stealthy French ninja thing? Were they planning on picking our pockets? Why did I not even know they were there until Francesca informed me, and described their reaction to my gaucherie?
This is her description: the man stopped in his tracks, his arms came forward, and he bent over a bit, as though he’d just been gut shot by a sniper. The woman grabbed him and pulled him quickly across the street, giving Francesca a look that mingled unforgiving bile with wonder that she, Francesca, could spend any amount of time with this unmitigated boor – i.e., me. Well, I sometimes wonder that too, but so far so good.
When informed I’d just ruined a portion of the lives of two presumably innocent Parisians I felt contrite. After some time, as is my wont, I sought to mitigate my chagrin by finding some way of thinking about my behavior that would lessen my guilt, and put some of it on the Parisian couple. And so I thought back to a scene from Paris: The Luminous Years, describing the initial reaction of many Parisians to their first viewing of cubist art. A primitive cartoon illustrated this reaction, showing a chubby man walking past cubist paintings, getting more and more distressed with each canvas, so that when he reached the window at the end of the exhibit his only recourse was to jump through it to his death, thereby ending his misery. And in this way I turned my fart into a work of art, and the reaction of the people behind us into an example of hidebound criticism of my avant-garde masterpiece, unappreciated in its time, but surely leading to posthumous glory in some future decade. Meanwhile I am and shall remain a solitary unrecognized genius whose vision will shape a future I shall never see.