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Recapitulations: of fish and friendship

jeudi 16 juillet 2015   (0 Comments)
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Vincent Crapanzano (LGB '58)Ecolint alumnus Vincent Crapanzano's memoir Recapitulations has garnered widespread praise since its publication earlier this year. Publishers Weekly described it as an "elegant probing of identity, nostalgia, memory, and loss", while the Times Literary Supplement called it a "stylish, splendidly literary memoir".

Vincent (pictured right) attended La Grande Boissière from 1955 to 1957, leaving after Year 12. He went on to study at Harvard and Columbia and is currently Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of six other books.

The excerpt below is taken from Chapter VIII, Ecolint. We are grateful to Vincent for granting us permission to re-publish it here. There's more information on Recapitulations, including purchase links, on the website of its publisher, Other Press.

(Photo: Aleksandra Crapanzano)

 


 

 

Recapitulations (excerpt from Chapter VIII - Ecolint)

by Vincent Crapanzano (LGB '58)

Two students from the French side and I were having dinner with M. Roquette, one of the directors of the school, at a little inn, down the road from school. M. Roquette said it had the freshest trout in the city and that the only way to eat trout was bleu with a bottle of Fendant. I couldn’t imagine my old high school principal inviting any student to a restaurant. I couldn’t imagine him or anyone else in that school discussing the way to cook trout and what wine went best with it.

I didn’t know why M. Roquette had invited us. He was telling us how the school got by during the war. He said that it nearly went bankrupt from taking in so many refugee students who couldn’t pay, and that after the war, the city of Geneva saved it by buying the land it occupied to pay its debts and then charging it only a symbolic rent. With tears in his eyes, he went on to tell us about a little Dutch boy who had arrived at the school late one night. M. Roquette heard a whimper and a faint knock on one of the French windows in his office. He opened it, and the little boy fell into his arms. He was clutching a piece of balled-up paper. It was a note from one of his former students, a Dutch Jew, asking him to take care of his eight-year-old son. Somehow, the little boy had made it all the way from Holland to the school. He had no memory of how he got there. “He was truly alone with a hole in his memory that could not be filled. What must that be like?” M. Roquette asked us.

Vincent Crapanzano - Recapitulations - coverIt turned out that M. Roquette wanted me to become president of the student body. The presidents were always from the French side, because it was larger than the English side and, despite the school’s rhetorical commitment to “international understanding,” both sides always voted en bloc. My opponent was American. By that time I was identified with the foreign students, mainly because I’d become an annoying vocal critic of American foreign policy in encouraging the Hungarian revolt and then backing off when the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. I won. No one seemed to mind M. Roquette’s interference. Several of the Americans — the daughters of army officers serving in the Middle East — called me a communist and a traitor. I was flattered.

It was really after my mother left Geneva that I felt the change in me. By then, I had met Arturo Retti, a Roman student who preferred to be called “Art” because it sounded American. He was a jazz pianist. “Take the ‘A’ Train” was his theme song. He was a year ahead of me. We met playing soccer and became friends. Arturo lived near the Hotel Sergy, and we would meet most afternoons at a little café around the corner from the hotel, along with Rudolph Schmidt, a South African who carried the Odyssey in Greek wherever he went, and Steven Gerig, a mathematical genius who later went to Harvard with me and helped me get through a course on symbolic logic. (It was taught by the worst teacher I had there. Willard Van Orman Quine, the great logician whose class I had wanted to take, was away that year.) We talked philosophy. Rudolph introduced us to Nietzsche and our conversations were interspersed with Rudolph and Arturo’s plans to hitchhike across Africa to Johannesburg and catch a whaling boat and with accounts of their tortured love. Arturo was in love with Noi, a beautiful Thai student, whom he eventually married, and Rudolph was besotted by Yawalak. Arturo was an enthusiast, and Rudolph, an inveterate romantic, bathed himself in amorous suffering. Steven and I couldn’t compete. We weren’t in love; we did not know Greek; we were not going to hitchhike across Africa; and we were not athletes. I wasn’t sure I understood Thus Spake Zarathustra, which Rudolph insisted I read. He was infatuated with Nietzsche’s superman. Neither of them paid any attention to my deficiencies.

Our conversations must have been frightfully sophomoric, but they had a serious effect on me. They opened up a world of possibility I had never imagined — of adventure, literally and intellectually, and, more important, of relationship. They were my first serious friends and have remained so; Rudolph in memory, for he committed suicide while I was still in college, and Arturo in fact. He and Maret, his wife now, visited us last summer in Italy. They live in Geneva. I don’t know what happened to Steven. I see Yawalak occasionally. She and her husband, Mitchell, live in Washington most of the year. I saw Noi for the first time in nearly forty years when Jane and I visited her in Bangkok three years ago. She has changed enormously, but she still likes to dance. She used to sneak out of my window at night to go dancing.

 

Copyright © 2015 Vincent Crapanzano. Reprinted by Permission of Other Press.

 


 

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