Je me souviens

February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m sitting in the light of a stained glass window of the library in East Pyne, whiling away a few hours between classes. It’s only the second day of term, and the third day back on campus after break. A week spent up north, in Montreal and Dartmouth, has had the added effect of making Princeton cold feel like a summer breeze. Despite having caught a cold, it’s been easy enough to forgo a jacket this week. Otherwise, this week, being the first and before the monotony of mid-semester, has the benefit of every course and subject appearing fascinating and compelling. Visions of Paris, Eastern Europe and Morocco dance at the forefront, haunted by the cultural problems — immigration, terrorism and the destruction of neighborhoods — that I know will follow the thin veneer of the first two classes. I’ve just ordered over $150 of out-of-print and going out-of-print accounts, fictional and autobiographical, of Moroccan immigration as a testament to the theme of the semester. The question: what is hospitality and what does it mean in relation to our pasts?

When we walked into Artigiani off rue Saint-Denis, we were chilled and feeling vaguely triumphant, having just conquered the eccentricities of street parking in Montreal — check posted sign, check contradictory sign posted below, realize spot is permitted, drive to another side street, recommence parking sign-scouting. We were seated at a table in the middle of the dining room, which was largely empty it being a Monday evening, and handed large menus, written in French but punctured with various Italian words that required numerous explanations. Begin translations, retranslations and finally, successful ordering of food. The waiter, who diligently explained almost every item on the menu including how the fresh gnocchi are made, turned out to be the owner and an endearing example of Italian hospitality. We joined him at the bar for a couple of shots of his family’s homemade limoncello, discussing his hometown outside of Naples, the conviction of the Afghani family that murdered its three “Westernized” daughters in Quebec, the state of the surrounding ski areas and various future vacation plans. It seems like if there’s one thing people can bond over (besides food), it’s having a list of places we’d like to go but have never been. Call it a list of desires — everyone has one but many have no means to accomplish the majority on it.

The rest of the week was filled with touring human creations meant to take you away from the present to a different setting and existence: a snow village of igloos filled out with bedrooms made of ice complete with an ice bar and restaurant, and the biodome which recreates natural animal habitats, a tropical rainforest and northern maple forest among them. Coming back from an action-packed vacation to a class discussing the shadow of the Soviet Union, it’s striking to remember that movement and travel is not yet a universal right and how very lucky we are to be able to learn by seeing different parts of the world first hand.

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