Sunday, June 21, 2009


The Guest

The guest, a.k.a. the stranger. Someone with whom one
has shared hospitality. Much lore surrounds the notion
of hosting. Not so much about guest-ing. An old man and
his wife give a visitor the meal prepared for themselves,
and find subsequently that their pot of soup never stops
sustaining. The role of the guest is clear: make the stranger
feel at home. Not hostage. nor hostile.

How to be a proper guest? A decent stranger? Make the
tourist feel as if one were at home? The common project:
familiarity. Host and Guest complement, com-prehend
the give and take that makes home, sweet home out of
any territory, frontier, or foreign culture.

(The tourist observes: detached and analytical on the
one hand; judgmental and evaluative on the other.)

The host proffers; the guest gives graces, says with
gratitude: gracias. “Thanks a lot,” heartfelt: the saying
of grace.

“What is this on my plate? A piece of squid? A rat’s tail?
Jellied calf’s foot? I’m supposed to throw this shot of vodka
all the way to the back of my throat and swallow? Again?
Oh. Well, thank you very much! To your health! Gracias!
Spasebah or spas-ce-bah.”

The tourist meanwhile thinks, “wait till they hear about
this back home?—his present and presence projecting
future astonishment onto drop-jawed familiars back
home, any one who cares enough to hear his adventures.

Guest, meanwhile, makes nice right here on the spot,
savoring fish eggs on cream cheese where cheerios
normally break fast. “Won’t you have more sturgeon?
Some tongue?” the host urges. “My wife spent six hours
on these calves feet. Would you like another cup of ice
in your mineral water? A chocolate?”

“Yes, thank you! Spas-sea-bah! Delicious.”

To be a guest is to be full of thanks. Gracias like it
or not. To receive everything put on my plates.
Suffering it: literally, standing it. Bearing and grinning.

Perhaps the Tourist can’t stand it. Insufferable!
“What the hell is this, anyway? What the hell
kind of a deal is this? Huh? What ….!” Can’t
be tolerated, let alone appreciated. No thanks.
Not for me.

Guest and Host have a joint project: making a place
(familiar to host, strange to guest) mutually habitable,
hospitable. Neither on firm ground. No common language
or in-between terms. Talk, such as it is, occurs in one
language or the other. For the Tourist, it doesn’t matter.
At best, he watches. At best vigilant.

Toasts given during our two-week tour:
good health friendship Soviet/American
relationships caring & appreciating one
another loving one another remembering
each other working together enjoying

Toasts start awkwardly. Formal and Ceremonious as.
Graduation Speeches. Habit and convention give way
to gusto or guesto or geisto, the more we drink together,
splashing vodka against the glottis, chasing it with cognac
and Pepsi, letting the holy spirit take over. “Please: let me
fill your glass for another toast. Please! “

(Back in the U.S.S.R. Summer of 1990)

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