Green City

I buy a scone, all perfect and blueberry, not too sweet with powdered sugar, and decide to go back every morning. Today was crumble, living up to its name. And anything called crumble should probably not be ordered to-go. But I walked up the street with its berry apple stickiness and thought of the shop with its little metal tables and the stacks of tarts (peach-chocolate, pear, cherry) and mountainous creamy things and wanted maybe to go home and maybe never go home. Because there are places like this in New York City, but there is not This Place. Red door. Iron handle. Table by the window.

A cathedral is only a cathedral if it’s the seat of a cardinal. Otherwise it’s a basilica.

The signs here. Clock faces surrounded by wooden statues of dancing girls. Three golden balls held in curls of iron. Bookmakers that I always think actually make books, actually bind them, I mean, until I look in the windows and see only computer screens, bits of paper on the floor. Stores that sell only ribbons for dance shoes, satin for hair ribbons, tulle for recital costumes.

“This language,” she said, “is the language of poverty.”

So it died.

I speak that language, I learned last week. A mouthfull of flat syllables that are only used by the uneducated, the poor, farmers and laborers. So it died. By the hand of the people who speak it. By people who taught their children to speak the language of big cities, of education and money, of Somewhere Else.

So then how do you convince people that when a language dies, a culture dies? That if you obliterate a language, you obliterate a whole way of thinking about the world. That just because a culture is poor, that doesn’t make it… not a culture.

I imagine trying to describe this to my grandmother, and her shrugging her shoulders. Maybe it’s better that it dies, then, she would probably say.

In the tiny medieval church which is almost-crumbling but not, the priest unlocks the door to the crypt and lets me enter. It is me, an old guy from town who hasn’t visited in a long, long time, and a French couple in town for the weekend. We all read the plaques and gaze upon the effigy of the dead — a woman and a knight, a knight and a woman. A low, dark doorway is barred and a sign across it says, BELLRINGERS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT.

There is a stone, worn smooth by the centuries. It used to be in the town center, in the market, and merchants rubbed its grainy surface for luck in business, for prosperity, for gold coins rattling on the bottom of a tin. Everyone else leaves and I touch the stone and I can almost feel it, a pulse, something of the centuries past. The priest sees me and smiles.

“For luck,” I say.

“Of course,” he says. “You’d be crazy not to.”


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