Sunday, January 05, 2014

La Place de la Concorde Suisse

Just made my way through this little 1984 tomelet from John McPhee, which can only be termed a bagatelle.  It's all about the Swiss Army, in which all males of a certain age are supposed to serve, and how it is everywhere, and how the Swiss are at once intensely serious and, in their own way, not so serious about it at all.  How prepared Swiss soldiers are for whatever may come their way, but how they enjoy themselves immensely with wine and schnappes and bread and cheese and beer and lovely meadows and snow in their preparedness.

It is significant that McPhee gave the book a title in French, for the book is sprinkled throughout with snippets of conversation in French like so many lardons, which McPhee declines to translate for the reader, as it is assumed, quaintly, that the sophisticated American reader will read French. My French is good enough to know that I didn't miss anything in whatever I didn't understand.

The key point is that the book hearkens back to a time in American history, during the reign of Volcker at the beginning of the most recent major market cycle, when there was still something of an old money East Coast aristocracy within which reading the New Yorker and speaking French were still kind of assumed.  And McPhee's voice was one of the greatest of that time, the William Shawn era, when articles were long and narrators reigned supremely and ironically over their subject matter, thereby domesticating it and making it safe to be contained within the coffee and side tables of Manhattan and the places that emulated it.

It's a nice little book, probably not McPhee at his best, but I'll take a little break from him for now.

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