The Joke

“There is a saying in English, to do with watching paint dry and being bored.” I comment to villager T while we’re watching his cousin at work, standing on the scaffolding. ”Here it’s actually interesting.”

We all laugh.

Villager T’s wife wanted a dark red. I told her I didn’t like it when she showed everyone the samples.

I told her that if I had it my way I’d paint my house pure hippy on the outside but that I didn’t because I wanted to take the rest of the village in consideration.

The scaffolding is rickety and my mind skips playfully down that accident prone path,  imagining the cousin on the concrete below, broken bones,  Make shift ER until an ambulance turns up. Villager J’s son once fell out of an oak tree he was trying to cut and had those metal pins everywhere  in his leg after they operated him and I knew I shouldn’t stare at those but I felt entranced by the sight.

“I have no idea how he does it.” I say to his wife. It’s only a few metres up, 4 metres if that but still.

“How much is he paying you?” I know the answer. It’s the predictability, I think, which I like. “In alcohol.” he shouts back. We’re going out tonight  but he’s not allowed to drink so he can watch me getting drunk.”

We all laugh.

We’re discussing the crisis while the cousin, whose age I’d not correctly guessed but is mid 60’s, continues painting. ”Some people have had to live in crisis all their life though.” Villager T points out. ”Indeed, your wife, being married to you.”  I say, quick as a flash.

We all laugh.

I take my daughter to the pool later that day, otherwise we might melt.

There is enough shade at the side of the pool and I take out a book by Kundera which I am still trying to understand. I always hope to understand it, I try to grasp it but his sentences are elusive.  I felt like that too when I stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and when I stood in front of those rooms full of hair in Auschwitz.  I tried to understand.

I open the book at a chapter which I hadn’t finished yet, this is a book about novels, and the novels he describes, apart from Tolstoy, I haven’t read,  which makes it even more impossible to understand.  For a second I look up, and stare at the water of the pool in the distance, the ripples in the water before reading.

“Every true novelist listens for that suprapersonal wisdom, which explains why great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors. Novelists who are more intelligent than their books should go into another line of work. But what is that wisdom? What is the novel? There is a fine Jewish proverb: Man thinks, God laughs. 

But why does God laugh at the sight of man thinking? Because man thinks and the truth escapes him. Because the more men think, the more man’s thought diverges from another’s. And finally because man is never what he thinks he is.”

The moment I realise I’ve understood what he meant, it’s already slipped out my fingers and replaced by doubt. But it’s a nice doubt now.  Because I know now that whatever I write, maybe I don’t need to understand it in entirely anyway.

And God must be falling over himself laughing at my attempts to think.

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One thought on “The Joke

  1. I don’t know if I understand Milan Kundera either, but it reminds me of the story about the elephant and the people who were blindfolded and touched a different part of the animal. One person said it is very long and tubular (the trunk), another person said it was a vast expanse (the main part of the body)… anyhow they all thought about it differently and couldn’t agree on what they experienced. Until their blindfolds were removed. Thinking doesn’t = wisdom.

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