An act of belligerence

“Good living is an act of belligerence, by which we choose things which have an agreeable taste rather than those which do not.” – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

This quotation from the famous 18th-century French gastronome is erroneous, based on my own chance misreading of the word ‘intelligence’ as ‘belligerence.’ I have decided it was a good mistake. Because it is true that good living depends on private acts of warlike determination, which, if not exactly belligerent, are at least fired by a violent aversion to bad living. One way I see this experience in Italy, which I hope to communicate on the blog, is an opportunity to parse my own definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ living.

A brief story from my first twelve hours in Moretta serves to illustrate. Due to a delay in my flight from Chicago to Milan, I arrived at the school so late on Thursday evening that no one was awake to let me inside. I looked around the front lawn of the 17th-century sanctuary, where our school is located, as fog crept up into the portico and seemed to occlude any possibility of a good night’s rest. The little town was silent except for an occasional car speeding through. I had no choice but to bundle up in sweaters and long johns and lie down on a bench near the door until morning, breathing the clammy air through my flannel and listening to the trickle from an old gargoyle’s mouth.

At five o’clock I shook off the bench in a fit of pointless belligerence. I walked through town looking for a cafe, finding one on the main road that was just opening. In spite of my mood, it felt good to get my muscles moving. The woman inside the cafe served me a cappuccino and invited me to take a hot chocolate croissant, which I immediately obliged her in. Then I sat at one of the tables and read from the newspaper while early birds slowly filed in and the fog seeped out of my toes. Outside, the street lights blinked off. I felt like agreeable tastes were making life good again.

I chose that cafe to warm up, so by Brillat-Savarin’s definition I had exercised some kind of intelligence in pursuit of the good life. But where else was I going to go? Sometimes life just seems to get better on its own. We just have to be belligerent enough to hang on.



One Response to “An act of belligerence”

  1. severine Says:

    Well patrick, you always were a balls out adventurer– this latest journey seems to be testing your mettle, in all the best ways. Its such a pleasure to look over your shoulder and think into you world a little bit

    sending biggest warmest blanket-like thoughts to you

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