© ErN 37, Jeff Matthews
entry September 2010
Letters to the Famous
Wherefore Art Thou Illiterate?
I am trying to convince the city
parenting persons that we should have an official Pulcinella. This
archetypal Neapolitan figure is famous throughout
the world for dispensing local wisdom, such as Ogni scarrafone è
bell’a mamma soia ("Even a cockroach is
beautiful to its own mother"—self-explanatory) or A gatta pe fa e press,
facette e figli cieche ("Because she was in
such a hurry, the cat had blind kittens."—not so
self-explanatory) and A gallina fa l'uovo, e a 'o gallo
ll'abbruccia 'o culo ("The hen lays the
egg; the cock gets his arse burnt" —uh...hmmm...
maybe you had to be there.) In any case, the
official Pulcinella would undertake to answer
thousands of letters from around the world and be a
pen-pal to the lovelorn, forlorn and rooflorn
(That's right. It means "without a roof.") But, says
City Hall, Pulcinella is a fictitious character! Who
is going to write letters to someone who doesn't
exist? City Hall has not been paying attention.
We all know that Santa Claus gets letters.
Sherlock Holmes, too, rated pretty high on a recent
poll in Britain as a person "in history" much
admired by the general public. Thus, rest assured
that even Captain Ahab gets nasty letters from
Save-the-Whales, and Emma Bovary receives furtive
notes from men anxious to save her from the
humiliating traps and moral emptiness of bourgeois
soft! What light through yonder window breaks?"
It is the postman and Juliet Capulet is getting
another sack of mail! A local paper reports that the
Verona City Council really and truly receives as
many as one thousand letters a year addressed simply
to "Juliet, Verona, Italy". The letters are
inevitably from girls, young and in love and seeking
advice. A recent one came from a young lady in
Naples. She wrote:
I just saw your movie. It was cool. I am
having the same problems as you. I am sixteen and in
love with a seventeen-year-old guy. Our parents don't
want us to see each other, but we do anyway. What should
we do? Answer right away.
In the past, the city of Verona has given
part-time work to a number of persons just to answer these
letters. The town has now announced, however, that it will
sponsor a letter-answering contest, the winner of which
will be the city's official "Juliet," charged with
providing advice to starcrossed lovers, especially those
who are too much in love even to go to school. It looks
like a good job and I think I could swing it from
cyberspace. (I mean, who wants to move to Verona?) I have
prepared an answer to the young lady in question.
Dear Answer Right
Problems? You said a mouthful, sister. And what did I
tell you about writing with your mouth full. Eschew it.
In fact, you should eschew each mouthful twenty-five
times before putting quill to paper.
You're sixteen? Well, when I was your age I was
fourteen. I am now 722 and, believe me, it hasn't been
easy. Sure, it was fun for a while. After all, being
told that your "eyes
in heaven would through the airy region stream so
bright that birds would sing and think it were not
night" —well, language like that had quite an
effect on us in those days, much the same, I suppose, as
"cool" does on your generation. But, you know, fire in
the loins can only keep you going for a couple of
centuries. After that, what have you got but a few
memories and charred thighs?
This Romeo of yours—does he do drugs? Can he even read?
These are some of the things that you should consider,
because, in retrospect, life has not been one long
picnic for me. (And having your retro spected while
you're trying to eat can ruin even a short picnic.)
Anyway, your knowledge of literature is atrocious, which
is pretty bad, seeing as how a trocious is even smaller
than a bysmal. In fact, it takes two whole troci to make
a single bysmal. Quick, how many bysmals in a palling?
See what I mean? You don't know very much, if you will
permit the aside.
But all permitting aside, you think the Middle Ages are
"cool"? Bifocals? Gum disease? Hot flashes? Ho-ho.
Pardon me while I don't laugh. The Renaissance? How
would you like to live in an age which calls itself
"born again" and then arrests Michelangelo in a motel
room in Florence? OK, it was with Florence—something about
sculpting an underage model and then not paying her.
They call it statutory chiseling. The Enlightenment? How
was I to know that it ran on 220 volts? I plugged in my
hair-dryer and blew some of the finest minds in history.
Then came the Industrial Revolution. Ah, I could tell
you tales that would warm the cockles of your heart.
Indeed, I spent much of that period in a sweat-shop
turning out heart-cockle warmers. I did all right, too,
until they found out that the only thing worse for your
heart than cigarettes and cholesterol is warm cockles.
So, here I am: one who took in laundry for the entire
Thirty Years War; one who raised 234 children, not one
of whom ever writes.
Oh, one last bit of solid advice. Never ever make an
offer like: 'What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?'
p.s. How did you get my address? Please, mum's the word.
She hates to be called 'mother'.
I'm not sure I could handle a similar Pulcinella
gig, though. I'm still trying to figure out that thing
with the hen and cock.