Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The American Adam

We have to get up at 7 and get down to the American embassy by 9:30. I, naturally, have insomnia, and sleep less than Adam, who has become one of those babies who sleep richly – it is the pure mother’s milk of sleep he will bathe in, his little fists balled, sometimes held up from his chest as though he were boxing. At other times he will make these little shrieking noises in his sleep, and you look at him, and he is laughing. What could he be dreaming about that is funny? Perhaps it is the whole “why is there something rather than nothing” thing that bothers metaphysicians. But myself, I am up at two, swallowing melatonin, trying to talk my brain back into some hypnagogic goggle.  At six, Adam does wake up, and he always wakes up crying with hunger, like a neglected wolf cub. Then it is a bottle and soothing murmers from one of his half asleep parents, in either English or French. I must say, French is the language for comforting babies – English clomps around a bit, and though we have sh words in abundance, and I’ve always thought that the sh words fall slushily down and pile up like snow around a sleeper, what is missing is a certain slant of the tongue, a certain musicality that pulls you irresistibly into sleep.  
At seven, then, there is a general awakening of the pod in our household. Coffee, tea, and milk are the beverages favored, then the anxious count of the documents – do we have the passports? – and Adam is stowed, to his astonishment and momentary resistance, in the carrier seat, and off we go in search of a bus to take us to Place de Concorde, where the huge American complex sits, with all its guards. Time for Adam to get recognized officially by Uncle Sam.
First, however, we have to go through security procedures. They are standard airport fare save for one thing – the guard has Antonia taste the formula powder and the water which we’ve stocked in case we have to feed the baby.
The embassy waiting room is full of babies, but the architecture is stroller unfriendly – there are stairs to get up. Another architectural feature Antonia notices is the door – it is, she says, an ur-American door. In Paris! They had to import it! And it is true, it opens the wrong way, and it has the kind of handle that you see all over America and never here. Anyway, we sit and wait our turn to be called up and hand in our papers. The first woman we see is French. I am determined not to speak French inside the embassy, so Antonia does the communicating. After the forms we have filled out are checked, we are directed down to the cashier, where we pay 200 bucks for Adam to join the U.S. club. Then we go back to another window where a young American with a much different attitude (“first, congratulations! Is the baby letting you all sleep?”) has us take a pledge that we haven’t lied, and then affixes the appropriate stamps.
Adam even as I write this is getting tagged with an American social security and passport number. So he is more of a cosmopolitan figure than I am.  I’m jealous. He, meanwhile, slept like an angel all through it.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...