May I Introduce…?

It’s been quite a week, needless to say.

The elephant (and donkey) in the room being the 2020 elections in the United States. The media has been covering recent developments exhaustively, so I’ll honor our tradition here of not wading into those waters. I will, however, dip a toe.

It is not a cliche to say that the world was watching during what turned into Election Week. Numerous friends from around the world and neighbors from around the corner reached out to me this past week to offer their heartfelt thoughts. It was a confirmation of our standing in the world. It was also very touching.

Our foreign correspondent David, now back in Paris, asked in an email to me if we’d continue to emphasize the importance of masks, as well as social distancing and washing our hands. He provided this link from Tatler which details some of the science behind the suggestion. Read it HERE.

While I mentioned last week that Parisians were generally following the mandated health guidelines, he noted in the comments section that runners in some sort of race here in Paris were huffing and puffing through the streets in large groups and sans masks.

This is the kind of balanced reporting you’ve come to expect here at The Old Money Book blog, and we’ll keep bringing it to you. (Wink, nod.) It’s also typical of the maddening, contradictory nature of life here in Paris among the unpredictable Parisians.

While I make light of some of the recent events here, the pandemic itself is no joke. Infection rates are terrifying here in France, as they are in most of the world. So be as careful as you can. If possible, isolate and ride out this storm.

One of the comments this week was about our frequent contributor Amy. Jeanne wanted to know a little more about Amy…where she went to school, etc. For the record, I have tried to coax Amy out of the shadows, asking her to pen a “Old Money: In Their Own Words” column for us, but to no avail.

So, Amy, if there’s anything you’d like to, you know, share with the group, please let me know. Perhaps we can find a way to let you maintain your privacy while providing some insights into your background. Give it some thought, and let me know your feelings via email at your leisure.

As an aside, it does seem like most OMGs have been vaccinated against the Publicity Bug. The general attitude is that there’s nothing to be gained by stepping into the spotlight. Privacy is such a rare and precious luxury, especially today. Once forfeited, it is difficult to regain. I can completely understand if Amy decides to remain completely anonymous. We’ll see.

Alexis de Tocqueville, French aristocrat, historian, and diplomat.

And, by the way, I have read Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’. (A great book suggestion for everyone.) It is fascinating how not that much has changed in America in the past two centuries. I simply noticed how much things seem to have changed in America over the past few years.

My current reading includes A Wicked Company – Freethinkers and Friendship in Pre-Revolutionary Paris by Philipp Blom. It’s an enlightening tale of the philosophical luminaries who frequented the salon of one Baron d’Holbach for about twenty years (1730 – 1750).

The baron’s mansion was located on the rue Royale, a street I frequent when pandemics permit. HIs weekly dinners included guests such as Denis Diderot, who helped create the world’s first encyclopedia, Adam Smith, David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (author of The Social Contract).

Far from being a yawn-inducing treatise about the trivial goings-on of a few Dead White Males, A Wicked Company is an entertaining and insightful book that brings history to life: it tells us a lot about why we think the way we do today.

It also reveals much about the chaotic, imperfect lives of the men who conceived and helped articulate the (allegedly, hopefully) rational, scientific, evidence-based, and observational attitude we take to understanding our world and building our society.

To fully appreciate this, we have to put things in context. During the time these men lived, superstition, illiteracy, and ignorance ran wild. The clergy controlled the flow of information. Unelected monarchs controlled the flow of wealth. Both vied for power, leaving the people too often ignored and oppressed.

Forget about freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Scientists, writers, artists, or agitators who introduced new, potentially threatening concepts were exiled, imprisoned, tortured, or executed. Even being in possession of their controversial works was enough to get you in trouble.

(Voltaire didn’t ride out the last years of his life living a stone’s throw from the Swiss border for nothing: he had been thrown into the Bastille before but continued to irritate the powers that be with his writings and his activism. He was nobody’s fool, though, and resided in wary luxury…ready to flee France at the drop of a hat.)

So to read about these men who had the courage to run underground presses, introduce world-changing ideas, and really revolutionize our way of interpreting our world is eye-opening. They weren’t living in ivory towers (okay, sometimes in elegant residences, but still…). Their lives weren’t perfect (think embittered wives and demanding mistresses). Their motives were often less than pure (think money and ego). But they had a passion for what they believed in, what they thought was right, and they spoke up.

That’s often a powerful combination. And the fact that it all happened here in Paris, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

  • BGT

 


One thought on “May I Introduce…?

  1. During a visit to Hong Kong about 7-8 years ago, I was surprised to see so many residents wearing face masks. When I asked locals about it, they explained the swine flu epidemic created more self-awareness about spreading illness, and it was now more commonplace to wear a mask if you felt any inclination of illness to protect others. I thought this was a considerate practice, albeit odd to me at the time. Hopefully we can adopt a similar mindset globally even after this epidemic has settled to be more proactive about containing illnesses.

    And thank you for the book recommendation, I’ve added it to my reading list!

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