Thursday, February 18, 2010

Uncle me no Uncles!

Greetings readers,

I am sure you are surprised to hear from me again so soon. I, myself, am quite shocked that I have found time to post during this last week of Carnival, but a harrowing series of events has left me bed-ridden and alone. St. Valentine's day, which - curse it all - just so happened to fall on Chinese New Year, has nearly killed me. My holiday started off innocently enough; I had several dates planned - each lasting no longer than a few hours. The first three went swimmingly, but by date four my luck had run out. Alisdair, my close friend and amateur Orientalist, has since informed me that "4" in Chinese culture is an unlucky number - as it is a homophone for "Death." I wish I was cognizant of this fact when I planned my fourth date, which was with the daughter of a local Chinese fish-cannery magnate.

After a stroll through the parade grounds in Chinatown, we repaired to her family's restaurant where a feast of Gargantuan proportions awaited. I had planned to excuse myself for date #5 after dinner and a brief dalliance in the coatroom, but I had so overindulged in baijiu that I was coaxed into playing in a mahjong tournament by her brothers, a game of which I knew, and still know, absolutely nothing about. To make a long story short, let's just say that although I can bear no ill will against any race that loves to drink and smoke as much as I do, any culture that does not understand the concept of "credit" with regard to gambling debts leaves much to be desired! I was lucky enough to escape with all of my fingers and toes, but I was beaten quite senseless and have since been confined to bed and restricted to a light diet of white wine and crackers.

I had planned on spending the next 2 weeks in contemplative silence, but this morning I received a piece of "electronic mail" that so incensed me, I felt I must share with you the only correct way of responding to such a stern upbraiding. Without further ado:


It is I, your great-uncle Gaius Vitellius Galba. Forgive the formality of address, but the conventions of this form of communication escape me. Félix, my valet, is taking dictation on a recently acquired typing machine: a model with which you could perhaps one day assist me . I purchased it second hand, and it is still embossed with the name of the previous owner- a Signore Hewlett-Packard.

It has come to my attention that you and a contemporary, a Mr. MacDowell have formed a salon to instruct young men in the ways of licentiousness. After some study, I fear you have been visited with the affliction of your grandfather Lerâteau, that mountebank and cradle-robber who stole the affections of my dear sister Lucrezia at such a tender age.

It's as if you had declared La Clemenza di Tito the apotheosis of Mozart's oeuvre or elevated the Mannheim School over same. Fiston! You are better than that. One can still lead a profligate life with purpose. If presented with a cornucopia would you sup on the same cold squab night after night? When I was your age, I supported a wife and three mistresses, while as a mere lad in pursuit of forbidden pleasures, I eluded duennas whose snouts could sniff tartufi di Alba at twenty paces and who possessed the arms of stevedores.

The music of life requires an occasional nota cambiata lest the senses become dulled. You must expand you horizon beyond the wild, virginal flowers in nearby fields to include the older forests of gonzesses and their mysteries. Yes, Castiglione invokes the use of sprezzatura for young men to flaunt their insouciance. Remember, however, that Montaigne supplemented that rote display with the concept of l'honnete homme. For the all around man to make an art of life, his palette cannot be limited.

Yours, GVG

As you can plainly see, what my dear uncle advocates is nothing short of ridiculous, and normally I would tell anyone who took me to task for living a "profligate life" to mind their own damn business. But this, my friends, is an infinitely more delicate situation. Although the rake's income may be supplemented by gambling with his Chinese neighbors*, sponging off of beautiful heiresses, and stealing tips from waitresses, the main source of his income always comes in quarterly checks from obscure relatives. No matter how senile or dastardly these fossils may be, it is in his best interest to appear amenable to their suggestions, as someday he may be named heir to their seat. Thus, today's lesson will be on how to respond to reprimanding communications from annoying aunts, goading grandmothers and as we have seen, arrogant uncles.

I should point out that such an undertaking is not an easy one, for admitting wrongdoing is not something the rake takes lightly, nor something he may even know how to do at all. Though, if anyone is capable of heaping blandishments upon these fograms, it is he, for his gifts for flattery and encomia put him in a unique position to palliate any offenses that may have caused the communiqué in question.

In order to begin composing the response, a few things must be known.

1. Does the relative in question have any pets?
2. What are his or her primary interests?
3. What is the weather in his or her part of the world during that month?
4. Is his or her spouse still alive?
5. What are the names of the principal attendants in his or her household?
6. What is the potential fortune you stand to inherit upon his or her demise?
7. Just how offensive was the gesture that prompted the letter?

The reasons for the first five questions are obvious. Armed with these trivial pieces of personal knowledge, you can pad a letter that looks as if you spend your days thinking of them fondly and with great interest. The sixth and seventh questions, however, dictate how long the reply will be. If the inheritable assets include a title, more than 2 country estates or any sort of profitable corporation, the letter should not be shorter than four pages, nor should it exceed ten.** If however, the assets are smaller, or the relative in question has immediate family to whom he or she will leave their fortune, feel free to send merely a few lines. Since great-uncle Gaius has several sons of his own, I am quite sure I will not figure prominently into his will, but there is always the off chance that he hates all of his sons and prefers me instead***, so I will be cordial. Please take note:


Cher Uncle,

What a pleasure it is to hear from you! I hope you are well? Old Félix isn't giving you too hard of a time, is he? I would have responded sooner, but I have been quite busy volunteering at a non-for-profit that educates the less fortunate on the joys of the Opera and of classical music in general. I've always felt that it is a shame these programs are being slashed few schools that were endowed with them in the first place. Why, just the other day I had to spend half an hour explaining to a shouting fishmonger just what I meant when I said, "Good grief man, yours is a voice that would make Caruso green with envy! Have you ever considered playing the Moor?" What is our world coming to, Uncle! Regarding your most recent letter - let me assure you, the instructional program that Alisdair and I have been conducting is nothing more than a joke! Surely, you must see the humor in some of our writings, Uncle. However, you are correct in saying that variety is the spice of life. I would be well advised to take a break from all of this "rake" business to devote my energies to a subject with a broader application, say History? After all, as the Bard says, "There is a history in all men's lives." I have realized the folly of my ways and have even taken down the offending website - there will be no need to check it again.

Again, it was delightful to hear from you, Uncle. Please take care of yourself, the winters of Torino are notorious for their biting wind.

Je vous prie de croire, cher Oncle, à mes sentiments les meilleurs,

Gaspard Lerâteau

P.s. I want you to know that I have kept Aunt Brunela in my daily prayers. She was a beautiful, caring woman who had such a profound effect on all those with whom she came in contact. We all miss her greatly.

P.p.s. Give Radames a pat on the head for me... the old rascal!

* Do not rely on this.

**Anything longer may give the impression that you have enough time on his hands to be drafting ten page letters, and a return post will demand that you take a job.

***This is more common than it sounds.

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