State of the Art

story about arrogance

And I can tell you, Commissioner, I also had notice of this Englishman’s offences against the state. The concierge at the Leanne Aura Hotel reported his arrival, tired from travel, yes, but already bad tempered at ‘how you do things here’, as he put it. It seems he misread signs at the central station, and couldn’t have understood the replies when he asked directions. Such arrogance.

He got the wrong coach, and must have wondered at the paucity of fellow passengers. No one else with heavy suitcases, bound for the Leanne Aura. No backpackers, on their way to the hostel. He got off on some godforsaken patch of land, with hardly a bench or bus shelter, in an absence of street lighting, and only a dark rustle of autumn evening air in the lime trees. He found a winding footpath and worked his way to the foot of the mountain, where somehow he inveigled a gnarled old peasant with a donkey into getting him and his baggage halfway up. Nor did it occur to him he might be on the wrong route when it was late, and there was no one manning the funicular. The same was the case with the cable car, whose base station he entered. The concierge tells me he complained bitterly when the wind whistled savagely through his open car, and the metal was freezing to the touch. First sign of life was at the Leanne Aura stop, where a uniformed official shook his head severely and helped him onto solid earth.

‘So where’s the hotel?’ he said, in his own language. ‘Albergo? Pension? Understand?’ As I said before, such arrogance.

He wheeled his large yellow case up to the back entrance, and looked for the concierge in the kitchens, as now must have befitted his expectations. One of the chambermaids directed him to front-of-house, not without a smirk I imagine. ‘Kafka-esque,’ he was heard to mutter. I got much of this from the first of his emails home, which I thought prudent to intercept. He signed himself J, which stood for Jonty, as his entry in the hotel register confirms, as did the replies. ‘Hi Jonty,’ his friend, wife, partner at home invariably addressed him. I can only imagine what revelation he must have undergone on his first excursion from the hotel, complete with notebook, smartphone and a plan the concierge had kindly supplied him with, of Leanne Aura City State, with important landmarks. Someone showed him the way out through the hotel’s revolving door, at the front, where he could not have failed to notice made roads (traffic-light controlled), modern buildings opposite, a taxi stand, the stop for the airport shuttle, one of whose collection points/drop-offs is the station he had come from looking like a hobo.

His next point of indignation we must put down to his failure to interpret that plan the concierge had given him, or at least interpret correctly. Where were the stone monuments? Centuries of historical inscription? The chapels and famous murals? The great rococo concert halls and the symphonic and choral programmes, proud centrepiece of Leanne Aura’s Baroque and Classical revival? He despaired of finding them on that first morning amble, which took him into the backstreets and alleys filled with litter and graffiti, where the sprayed-on textual messages to all of us in authority he could not understand, even with the aid of a pocket dictionary, which he later acquired. That would have been too compact to carry the vocabulary of the street, whose rootedness in social agitation has given rise to the great and glorious state modern Leanne Aura undoubtedly is. We vie with any centre of the West.

There followed a plethora of more discomforts in his emails to that person at home, F for Fiona. The food when it came was either minuscule in its portions or ‘totally’ inedible. He complained at the strength of the beer. There were signs up everywhere quoting the four gospels, which elicited at least one telling comment, i.e., how remarkable it was that only in poor countries did Jesus save. Poor is how he judged our economy, when in handling the cash he totted up what a return he was getting on an ever fluid exchange rate. He was horrified, he said, when what he took to be mountain shacks, for the storage of logs, pelts, or whatever, and with hardly a wisp of smoke from each fire, he discovered were actually dwellings, where families lived and went about their humble work. Back in those graffiti-riddled haunts, where each day he went in search of galleries and concert halls and the national library, the response he got from beggars he refused to accommodate wounded his sensibilities. One spat at him. One had enough English to call him a capitalist pig who never gave. He might have reflected that last sentiment was true not just of him, an individual, but of ex-colonial empires everywhere – vast swathes of the globe. No doubt there was justification for it, when God helps those who help themselves. The whole thing was far from the cultural inquiry he’d intended, at which point F told him that was something he ought to take up with his PhD supervisor.

That promised a second batch of emails, with one McP, of a hallowed English institution – for so she signed herself, with a string of titles, preferred pronouns, URLs, a list of alternative email addresses, and an office phone and extension number. McP was under the distinct impression that in every discussion they’d had on Jonty’s dissertation, it was with the idea that investigation into the legacy of seventeenth-, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Leanna Aura was premised on the mythology that had accreted to that place from those artistic epochs. If Jonty was now in search of actualities – sculptures, canvases, period-instrument orchestras – he had not understood her directives (she said she thought the graffiti sounded interesting. Could he send photographs?). Other than that, if he required more info as she put it, Jonty must ask politely if Leanne Aura’s Commissioner for Arts Activities would be willing to spare him twenty minutes. Jonty exploded. What on earth was a Commissioner for Arts Activities? McP refused any further engagement, and sent no reply to his protests, having probably dealt many times before with awkward mature students. That gave me the confidence, Commissioner, to examine this Englishman’s passport and find irregularities with his visa. I have got him holed up in the hotel under a kind of house arrest, and after he has paid his exit fee rest assured he’ll be deported.




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