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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Chapter 2, The Trip To The Shrine, parts 63 - 103

63. “But now”, said the Duck, “to business”. He pulled out the flyer that listed all the holy shrines  in the south of France. There were dozens of places on the list. I could see right away that many of these listings were fake, and were just stuck into the list of “shrines” for the free advertising. Some were hotels, and others were restaurants and even art galleries. They were all listed as “Miracle Shrine” but you could see they were just in the vicinity, and they were trying to siphon off the tourist traffic.

64. The Duck found at least six real authentic miracle working shrines and Basilicas on the list and the most famous one was the ‘Finger On The Hill.” So we set out for that destination in the 2 CV.

65. There is something about this trip with the Duck that I have been reluctant to mention, but I feel I have to talk about it at this point. The Duck always sat in the back seat, and not up in the passenger seat. At first I thought this was because, being just a duck, he thought the back seat was the proper place for him. But as time went by, though he was my guest in the car, I began to feel like I was a chauffeur taking him on a tour.

66. The duck was just like that college professor you had, the one who knew everything, who was expert in everything, and any I idea you put forward was instantly smashed up and reduced to rubble. People like me are always drawn to such types, and I suppose this is why I was drawn to the Duck though he tried my patience at times. I wanted to prove myself to him and also learn from him, such was the basis of our friendship.

67. We were not far out that morning when we came across a hitchhiker, and the duck suggested I pull over and pick him up. It was non-other that that character I had been talking to in the cafe the other day, the one who tried to tell me he was a child during the battle of the Somme, back there at the beginning in No.6. I am posting his picture to remind you.

68. He introduced himself as Mr. Buboni. I was instantly struck by the similarity to the name of the rat that was interrogated by Hannibal back in No. 55. Just then I caught the Ducks eye looking at me by way of the rear view mirror and the significant look he gave me told me that this was indeed a modern version of Hannibal’s rat.

69. I understood right away that only the Duck and myself would know that Mr. Buboni had once been a rat. Mr. Buboni would have no recollection of it because people do not posses perpetual memory and universal consciousness like any ordinary bird has.

70. The Duck and Buboni, sitting in the back of my CV 2, struck up a very interesting conversation. Apparently Buboni was on his way to the Shrine Of The Finger, also, but not for the cure, but because he was involved in a study of Gothic Architecture, of which the shrine was an important example.

71. This Buboni, he seemed to know more about art architecture, and history  than even the Duck. He started to talk about...Well I can’t explain it to you because I just didn’t know a thing he was talking about. But it sounded very grand and wonderful, and when he spoke it sounded just like a book.

72. I tried to write down some of the things Buboni was saying. I hope I got it right, here is a sample: "Now, then, we see the limits of an idea of imitation; it extends only to the sensation of trickery and deception occasioned by a thing being intentionally different from what it seems to be; and the degree of the pleasure depends on the degree of difference and the perfection of the resemblance, not on the nature of the thing resembled."

73. Isn’t that wonderful, just think of being able to come up with the words “intentionally different from what it seems to be”. I thought about this a long time. How, I wondered, can a collection of words sound so brilliant and yet be so impossible .I could not for the life of me even imagine what it meant.

74. But, Buboni’s words were not meaningless because the Duck know exactly what Buboni meant. Not only did the Duck understand what Buboni meant but he could give examples  Illustrating the ideas Buboni was trying to explain.  Since I did not understand what they were talking about, I just kept quiet. We had a long way to go, and I was sure that eventually I would be able to learn something really good from the two of them.

75. As we traveled along, the Duck and Buboni in the back seat got into a long discussion about the French cathedrals. From what I could gather, there are two types of these cathedrals, there is the “Gothic”, type and the Romanesque type.

76. Now according to what Buboni was saying, the Romanesque types of cathedrals could be likened to an old work boot that is all worn out and was not the right size of shape to begin with but the abject person who owned it had to make do with it because he was so poor and so shrouded in ignorance he could not manage anything better.  “Shrouded in ignorance,” the Duck’s words exactly.

77. But according to Buboni, Gothic cathedrals were like some high priced call girl that has been dressed up by her rich patron in the most gaudy flimsy attire available, coated over with diamonds and pearls, dolled up with perfume and makeup, and still she is not satisfied but wants flying buttresses to shore up her sagging figure. She knows she is a knockout, and feels sorry for her old Romanesque Auntie , back in the sticks.

78. And just like an argument in a language you do not understand, certain words and phrases being repeated, you began to have a feeling of what it was all about. For example the Duck would say things like, “They are all visually illiterate

79. The Duck on the other had, like to say that things were ‘elegant’, ‘fully developed’, and ‘mature’. So, as they talked I realized that it was not just a question of if you liked this or did not like that sort of paintings and statues, it was a matter of if you liked such and such of a picture you 'had the cultural development of a yogurt.'

80. Now my artistic education does not amount to much. I only began going to the museum in the city I lived in after I retired and was looking for something to do. At the museum they offered classes in sketching, watercolor, and sculpture so I signed up for the sculpture class that met on Saturday afternoon.

81. It was there that I was introduced to this business of making a plaster cast with latex, and casting things into plaster. It was there also where I saw you could then paint it with pigment stain and it came out looking like it was made of bronze. The first thing we casted was our hand and it came out so lifelike that you could see all the little hairs and pores of the skin.

82. I took it home and showed it to my wife who said it looked like an amputation, and would I please keep it out in the garage. I took it out to the garage and painted it with some orange latex paint. The next day the first thing I did was go out to the garage to admire my hand sculpture, but all the paint had peeled up from it and it looked like a model for some skin disease.

83. Even though my plaster hand looked like it had skin disease, and even though it was a little deformed looking because the latex mold had bent when it was being cast, Mrs. Frestini thought it was wonderful. She said certain ancient polychrome painted wooden statues in Europe were covered over with peeled and chipping paint, and also all kinds of folk art had no value at all unless most of the paint had chipped of of it.

84. Now all this may not sound like it has anything to do with that argument that was going on between Buboni and the Duck in the back seat of the 2 CV, but it has everything to do with it. Mrs. Frestini thought my cast plaster hand was a work of art, pealing paint and all, and my wife put in in the garbage on Monday morning without even mentioning it to me.  

85. Just consider the difference between my wife and Mrs. Festini about the plaster hand. That was the difference between the Duck, and Buboni. What one loved the other hated; what one revered,  the other thought belonged in the garbage can. My wife had very little good to say about Mrs. Festini either, saying that she couldn’t afford to have that studio in her back yard except that her husband was a doctor.

86. But I did not know what to think. I was very proud that Mrs. Festini, who taught sculpture at the museum thought my plaster hand was a work of art, but then her painting “Roses in a Pewter Vase” was turned down for the annual art show at the museum when they had a curator from Toledo to be the judge. Last year the judge was from Detroit, and she won a blue ribbon.

87. I did not want to hurt Mrs. Festini’s feelings but I had to ask her why she was turned down. In reply she told me all about Van Gogh, and about the “Salon des Refus├ęs”, which was the start of the impressionist movement, and how if one does not have one's things rejected they can’t be worth very much, just like the folk art has to have peeling paint.

88.  I have reached this point and I have not introduced myself. You know that I am a retired postal clerk, and that I am traveling from France down into Italy in order to make plaster casts of Roman artifacts. My name is Richard Bretelsby; sixty-three years old. Above is my pastport picture, taken a few years ago.

89.  Here is a picture of the Duck. It was taken many years ago when he was working as the librarian for the Duke of Milan. He does not wear the collar anymore saying, "Do you want people to think I am a dog with an itching problem"?

90. And here is the pasport picture of Buboni. I would tell you more about him except that I don’t know anything yet, he seems to be a professor type, aparently down on his luck, hitch-hiking around Europe. My guess is he is about fifty-five. 

91.  The is a picture of a man who will show up later in this story. His name is Tonio Leoni. Some people combine his two names and call him Tonioleoni with six sylables, said like this “TO-ni-O-le-O-ne. Other people just call him O-ne. He is perhaps the most important person in this story, but as of yet I have not been able to find out anything about him.

92. And now, having introduced everyone so far, we will get back to this story. As I had been saying, all things considered, being so ignorant about art, the trip with Buboni and the Duck was beginning to look like a vast mine field we were going through where at any instant I could say something stupid and make a fool of myself.

93. We got nearer to the location of the shrine and I began to have an uneasy feeling.  The Duck and Buboni, who had been arguing in such an interesting way began to fall silent and turned their attention to the landscape out the windows of the 2 CV. Now I know you think that the South of France is a tourist’s paradise, but I am here to tell you that there are parts of it they do not always want to  put into the guide books.

94. I had read that this region is the only one in France where it is legal to burn tires, and therefore thousand of tons of old tires are trucked to this area every day from all over Europe to be burned, and it represents the principal income for the small farmers of the area, because the wine harvest was wiped out by a fungus in the spring of 347 A.D.

95. Not only that but this was the same area where the armies of the French Revolution had to wipe out a Royalist uprising often euphemistically referred to as genocide in those history books partial to the revolutionaries. The peasants were willing to fight to the death to preserve and protect their little Father the King, and looked upon the population of Paris as the offspring of the Devil himself.

96. King Henry the V of England whose slogan was “Burning villages are to war, what mustard is to sausages” swept through the area in the time of the ‘Great Tribulation,’ and yet that was not the worst of it.  “The worst period in the history of the region”, according to the guide book the Duck was reading from, “came in the time of the ‘Black Death in the 1300s. It was the time of no man left standing.” 

97. Then Buboni said a strange thing. He said, “The Black Death was not all that bad you know.”  I immediately glanced up and in the rear view mirror caught the ducks eye, and he gave me a look that said that he saw the importance of the remark. Was it to be expected that, since Buboni had been a rat in his past lives, that somehow, by some twisted logic, he would speak well of Plague? 

98. I think the explanation must be, even though Buboni did not posses universal memory like the birds do, still he probably had a vestigial remnant, like the bump where a tail would have been, and so he some access to thoughts and feelings of his rat life. “I say, the plague was not all a bad thing,” he repeated, thinking to bate the duck into another argument.

99. There was no stopping Buboni when he had a theory to propound and so he began. “The dark ages were no piece of cake, everyone knows that.  But the biggest problem of that time was the stratification of society. You could not become a street sweeper unless you father and great-grandfather were street sweepers. Bankers were bankers sons, Doctors were Doctors sons, and after a thousand years there were just too many people who had losers for grandfathers and consequently had no place in society.

100. Then along comes the good old Black Death, and even if in your past all you were was a collector of dead peoples clothing for the second hand market, all of a sudden you were a prime candidate to be the Mayor of Paris since everyone else was dead. Plague opened doors that nothing else could open, and gave many a man of talent, who had been subsisting on acorns, a chance for a life.

101. "The Black Death came in the 1300s, and two hundred years later we were humming along in the High Restaurants. Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapels and Columbus was in the new world treating the American Indians to their first taste of the Plague. Now consider the Indians existing in a stone age condition..."

102. But here the Duck could not take it any more, and let out a low groan, like a person who thinks that a facial expression is the only appropriate response to idiotic hair brained theories. All he said was, “lets just pull over and ask this farmer here where the shrine is located, I have yet to see a sign anywhere.”

103. So I pulled the 2 CV over, rolled down the window and asked this old man who had no teeth and whose face had fallen down all around his shirt collar many years ago where the shrine was. For an answer he took two steps back from the car and muttered, “Jesus Joseph, and Mary” and crossed himself. Then he said, “Don’t go out there unless you have provided yourself with a gun first.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chapter 1, Hannibal Crosses The Alps parts 1 - 62

1. I head out in my 2CV for my tour of Southern France. 

2. A village in the south of france, my first stop in my 2CV. 

3. This looks like a good place to have something to eat.

4. Here I am having a glass of wine. That is not my dog, it belongs to some woman.

5. I tried to start a conversation with her but she ignored me.

6. Anyway, later I got into a conversation with this interesting man.

7. He said he was from Albert, a town in the North. He showed me a picture of it. I said it looked beautiful, but he said it wasn't always.

8. "Take for example that church in the distance there. Here's what it looked like when I was a child." This was not true however, he didn't look a hundred years old to me.

9. "That twisted thing on the top of my picture, it looked like this once", he said.

10. Outside some ducks were making a commotion.

11. The ducks were upset about this child who was just minding her own business and reading a book.. But look carefully at that dog, see the expression in his eye. 

12. Yes the dogs had been reading that book, it was one of their favorites. It cast them in a certain light, a heroic light.

13.The duck was mad at the dog, and the argument went back to... 

14.The argument went back to Roman times.

15. They were angry about this book! Jemima Puddle Duck. Thy had argued about it for years. It put the ducks in a bad light, the duck felt.

16. The duck got out his iPad and started to show people this picture. He said it was a Turner painting of ancient Rome; it commemorated that time when the ducks saved Rome from the Gauls. "They quacked their warning while THE DOGS SLEPT, " He shouted. I said, "There's no ducks in that painting just some goats." Man, did that tick the duck off. He started shouting at me, "The Romans had a special holiday when they feasted the ducks, and crucified some dogs, in commemoration of that time.

17. So the dog got out his iPad and showed everybody this picture and said, “Here is the famous Roman dog that nursed Romulus and Rehsus.” But the duck just shook his head. “I got to get out of this stupid town” he said.

18. The duck asked me if he could hitch a ride with me on my trip. I was surprised, but I let him come along. He put his satchel in the trunk, and made himself comfortable in the passenger seat. He liked my car, and said that the 2cv was his favorite. We took a dirt road out of the town, I had no destination, I just headed south.

19. Mysterious night fell as we drove through an enchanted landscape. I told him of my plan, my plan to follow the path of Hannibal, that time when he invaded Italy through the Alps, down through Italy and into Calabria, land of my ancestors.

20. I explained my plan which was to search out obscure little known Roman ruins and artifacts, to coat them with acrylic resin, cast them into plaster, give then a patina with pigmented stains, and sell them on Etsy and Ebay. The duck thought my idea was worse than stupid. He thought it was pathetic.

21. "People have been trying to sell that crap for years to the tourists in Paris and Rome, and besides, you would just be recirculating and copying other people's art, why not create something yourself, instead of stealing dead peoples ideas?" he said. The duck, my new friend, was brutal. Did you ever have a friend who demolished your ideas at the onset, and yet you feel drawn to them; you feel they are connected to your fate somehow? Well, that is how I felt about the duck.

22. My search for the trail of Hannibal got off to a bad start. I could find nobody that remembed him, or the elephants. But the duck solved the problem. “Ducks have”, he said, “collective perpetual consciousness. What one duck experiences, another can remember, forever.” The duck knew all about Hannibal. He was invaluable.

23. The duck said that Hannibal’s brother Hanno insisted on going first to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, before crossing the Alps. Hanno said, “We may never get another chance.” I said to the duck, “I don't think the Eiffel Tower was built then”. He looked at me with pity and said, “Not our Eiffel tower, the older one that was on that site in ancient times.” This older tower, in the form of a water pump, was a site of ancient pilgrimage.

24. The ancient water pump was a place pilgrims went to be cured of various illnesses.

25. Hannibal and Hanno made a day trip to Paris to see the water pump. They did not stay overnight, and were back by nightfall, leaving the army in the charge of some cats. Hanno had a secret purpose he did not tell his brother. He hoped to be cured of a disability at the shrine in Paris; he wanted to be cured of having one leg shorter than the other. He hoped that with both legs of equal length he would be able to compete with his brother Hannibal, or even to take his place if necessary.

26. But unfortunately, the trip to the shrine did not fix Hanno’s leg, and he even discovered when he got back to the army that, on looking very carefully, he thought his leg was now even shorter. 

27. Hannibal, having made the side trip to Paris now did not want to start up into the Alps just yet. There were other things he wanted to see. He became very interested in the Roman constructions in France, and he said, “Let us go have a look at the things these Romans have build, that we are hearing so much about.” He seemed to be making fun of the so called “Roman Monstrosities” but in his heart he was both envious and nervous about them. 

28. He wanted to see a lot of things but he went only to the Pont du Gard. This is just a simple Roman bridge, but it plunged Hannibal into deep gloom. Not only that, but he got into a conversation with the bridge which was amiable at first. The bridge seemed to want to make fun of Hannibal. The bridge said, “Hannibal, you down there, under my arch, come over here and punch my stones as hard as you can three times, then look at your bloody knuckles.” This made Hannibal so mad he wanted...

29. This made Hannibal so angry that he was about to bring up the army and have at the Pont du Gard with the ballistas, but Hanno made him think better of it. At night he was haunted by the image of the stone work of the Bridge, and it gave him nightmares. But upon waking he shouted. “Those Romans are not so great. So they invented concrete, well we Carthaginians are going to invent black top, and we will use it to cross the Alps.” Alas, this was not to be

30. When Hanno and Hannibal got back to the army everything was in chaos. First of all the elephants had eaten something that did not agree with them, and whenever this happened it demoralized the entire army. The cats that had been left in charge of the army had discovered a rat gnawing through the tension ropes of the ballistas. When Hannibal found out about this he went ballistic. His first impulse was to crucify the rat, but first he wanted to torture it for information.

31. Hannibal knew there was not much point in torturing a rat. Rats were renowned for their stoic nature under torture. It was hard to get even a squeak out of them. This perticular rat had one phrase he repeated over and over, which was, ‘Without my Uncle rats consent, I would not marry the President.” The translators were able to translate some of the words out of the rats native Gallic into Carthaginian, they knew the meaning of “marry,” and “consent”, but they did not know what to make of...

32. But they did not know what to make of the word, “President”. But, since this was a Gallic rat, and not a Roman, Hanno felt that the interrogation should go on, in the hopes that the rat would be conflicted in his loyalty to the Romans he was obviously working for. In the middle of the interrogation the rat suddenly entirely disappeared.

33. He had been sitting in the center of the huge interrogation tent, on a red carpet, completely surrounded by the Carthaginians. Outside the tent there was a loud groaning noise coming from one of the afflicted elephants, everyone turned to look, and the next instant the rat was gone. This very astute enemy rat had done an amazing thing.

34. When he saw for an instant nobody was looking, he leaped from his spot and landed right next to Hannibal's left foot. Either that or he “left” his spot and landed next to Hannibal’s “right” foot. (The duck could not be exact about this.) Sitting stock still, hardly breathing, he awaited further developments. Hannibal and the advisers left the tent scratching their heads in perplexity. The tent became empty, except for the rat...

35. At this point I had to interrupt the duck, who had been narrating of Hannibal’s affairs in France. The shear magnitude of detail in the duck’s story left no doubt in my mind that he was telling the truth, but still, I had questions. I wanted to know why he knew so much about Hanno, Hannibal’s brother. To answer this question the duck had to explain a lot of things to me but this is the gist of what he told me. First of all, even though ducks have perpetual recall...

36. Not everything is remembered in the same way. I know a lot about Hannibal’s brother, he explained, because in a past life I was Hannibal’s brother, a duck version of the brother that is. And so, since I am sort of related to Hanno, I remember a lot of things about him, especially since I too have a one leg shorter than the other, just like Hanno had!

37. It turned out the duck, wanted to go to a holy shrine to get his leg fixed, just as Hanno had. It did no good to point out Hanno’s failure, all he said was “Things like that can’t be helped. Things in the present are often just lopsided reruns of the events of the past. “So” I replied, “If you are Hanno, I suppose that makes me Hannibal.” "That is very nearly the truth." said the duck, as Plato so often has Socrates say. 

38. Obviously, said the duck, did you not say you plan to travel into the Alps and down into Italy, following Hannibal’s trail? Did you not say you want to cast artifacts into plaster and sell them? You will do all of these things. You will pillage the Roman Empire just as Hannibal did and, like him, you will also fail because your crumby plaster casts are not going to sell. But the foreknowledge of failure will not stop you from trying.

39. But what about these rats, why do you know so much about them? Because of their importance, he replied. I know you think that people like Napoleon and Cesear were important, but there have been individual rats of more consequence than both of them combined. The ancients knew the importance of both the duck and the rat. Hannibal’s army, as you know was made of various contingents, there were the Libyans and the Numidians, the Gauls, and the Plutobarians... 

40. Also there were two contingents of rats, they had the brown rat contingent, and the black rat contingent. The blacks fought on the right wing, and the browns on the left. Under no circumstances were they ever mixed or all hell would break loose. The historical importance of the duck is well known. You have heard of auguries; the prediction of the future from the flight of ducks. The flight of the ducks was the most important and reliable way the Romans had of foretelling the future. 

41. Unless, obviously, the got involved with some cynical evil intentioned ducks which sometimes happened. Cynical deception in duck prognostication was a chronic problem in Rome because the atheist nonbelievers in auguries were often discovered feasting on roasted duck.

42.When this happened, as it often did, there was hell to pay. Ducks, having perpetual recall never could forget these incidents and were a long time getting over them. To make up for it the ducks in Rome were treated with the highest regard and respect, but no attempt was ever made to bribe a duck.

43. No attempts were made to bribe ducks to get positive prognostications because what would be the point of that? One wanted only the truth from the ducks not just “False hope on that strange and mournful day” as Paul Simon sang about with such pathos. No, never false hope from the ducks, just truth, the simple truth.

44. But we birds know neither the truth or the future, nevertheless we can predict the future with great accuracy. We are so often right because of our perpetual memory and universal consciousness. Since ducks lived through the first and second Punic wars, and were deeply involved how could we not know what would be bound to happen in World War 1 and 2, which was just a rerun with no big stars even.

45. Do you think we ducks had any doubts about what those Englishmen would do when the Germans were running around on the coasts of France wetting their lederhosen in excitement about crossing the channel back in 1940. No, all the birds, even the dumb sparrows, and the degenerate pigeons knew what was coming but the simple ancient truths about who knows what about anything is long forgotten.

46. Not one person thought to consult the birds. What were they doing? They were running all over the place trying to invent radar! My God man, what use is radar compared with duck prognostication?

47. The Duck launched into an explanation of the  significance of  rats. Consider the consternation of a solder mounting his horse for battle, only to find the traces gnawed through. Then the spoliation of the army’s supplies of food with droppings. There was the constant problem of being able to sleep at night as Jim so eloquently put it in “Huckleberry Finn”, “Dey's de dadblamedest creturs to 'sturb a body, en rustle roun' over 'im, en bite his feet, when he's tryin' to sleep, I ever see.”

48. But all that is as nothing compared to the WMD, the weapon of mass distraction invented and patented by the black rats, namely, the Black plague, or “Buggersville”, as the Greeks called it. You may object and say that plague affected everyone, but not equally. Both sides used rats and plague, just as today both sides will use the tank if they can get hold of one, and the plague, like the mustard gas, sometimes did more harm to the inflictor than the afflicted. 

49. Now I know very well, you being a person and not a duck or a rat, you think the rats and ducks don’t know what they are doing. But I am here to tell you that not only do we know what we are doing, but more importantly, we know that we know what we are doing, and finally we completely understand the consequence of the various things we have been doing.

50. Take for example that battle in the times of the New Romans, involving  the Baskervilles, and the Helvetechiii, fought on the banks of the river Verdana.  That battle changed the course of history and was decided by an ant crawling around under the armor of one of the Tamboro auxiliaries, and a hornet that stung the left earlobe of one the the Thonburi, who were armed with trebuchets. Their copperplated armor was of no use the them, and they were defeated. You think to yourself it was just some ant and some hornet doing what ants and hornets always do, but you are wrong, so totally wrong.

51.  It all comes down to this self-deception you people all have that the size of things matters. You think since an ant has a small brain then it must be dumb. Consider this: look at my ipad here (the duck , as you recall, had an ipad), look at how small it is. Compare my ipad to those giant computers IBM used back in the 1962 to do addition and subtraction. Computers filled up two rooms and they couldn't even send out an e-mail.

52. All evolution shows the same pattern, bigger is dumber, smaller is smarter. So, although you can’t comprehend it, mice are smarter than men, just not for you and John Steinbeck.52. All evolution shows the same pattern, bigger is dumber, smaller is smarter. So, although you can’t comprehend it, mice are smarter than men, just not for you and John Steinbeck.

53. But, you say, an ant does not even know enough to get out of the way of your boot. Here you are wrong again. Ants, just like ducks and rats, have collective consciousness, so they can not fear death because to them it is just like changing the channel with your remote.

54. Don’t get my wrong though, this does not mean that any ordinary ant is a genius like Einstein or Woody Allen. Some ants are as dumb as unbaked bread, ants run the entire gamut.  Dogs on the other hand are all dumb as old bread crust, and why?  Because dogs do not have collective consciousness.  If you don’t believe me just ask any dog you want. Take for example that dog I was arguing with back in section --, the one who thought Romulus brother was Rhesus, Jesus what a dope. 

55. But back to Hannibal’s interrogation of that rat the duck was telling us about in No.34. As you recall, the rat tricked Hannibal and fled out the back of the tent when no one was looking. That was no ordinary rat. Although he spoke Gallic, he was not a Gaul, he was a Mongolian black rat, a direct decedent of the rats that invented the Bubonic Plague.  Monsieur Buboni was his name, or the name he went by in Gaul. Being a brilliant, illustrious rat it was not difficult for him to trick Hannibal, or so he thought.

56. This talk about Hannibal was interesting, but like all modern birds, the Duck kept checking his ipad as he talked. I was curious what he thought of the internet, so I asked him.  “Facebook”, he said, “is like millions of starving people sitting around eating pictures of apple pie to curb their hunger.”

57. “And as for Pinterest,” the Duck continued, ‘that is millions of people in search of momentary and fleeting epiphanies, in the midst of subatomic solipsistic Walmarts.” That is what the duck said, not me. I don’t even know if solipsistic is a word, and as for subatomic Walmarts, I don’t know about that either. So I got out my own ipad and looked up the word solipsistic.

58. Solipsistic did indeed turn out to be an actual word. It is the verb of the word solipsism. Here is the definition: a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing. My God, what a smart duck, but as I began to understand the meaning of the word, I shuttered to think that perhaps the Duck only existed in my mind.

59. But now I should tell you something about myself. My Grandfather was a calligrapher for the Russian Orthodox Church in the Tambov Provence of Russia before the Revolution, for the sect of the Starovery, or Old Believers. His job was to do those illuminated manuscripts you see now in museums, and he was considered a great master.

60. My poor father did not have the same talent as my Grandfather, so he had to settle for being a copying clerk in a government office. If you would like to read a description of what my Pop was like read “Poor Folk”, it will give you a good idea. My Pop fled Russia during the revolution and came to America.

61. Dad forced me to become a calligrapher like Grandpa had been even though he could see that modern advances in printing were making calligraphy irrelevant. He felt there would always be some demand, and I did get work for the sect of Starovery Old Believers who had fled to America. I was good at it, but I couldn’t spell. Just imagine spending a week on a document page and ruining it at the last instant because you spell a woord wrong. You can see from the picture of his desk that my dad was old fashioned.

62. Then, since I failed at calligraphy, I got a job in the Post Office, in Akron Ohio. I had a position in the dead letter office and had to read through all the mail that couldn’t be delivered, but gradually, as I got older the internet made my job obsolete.  All my life I nurtured the idea of my trip to Europe, to make plaster casts of Roman antiquities, and then the dumb Duck had to come along and ridicule my only idea.