After Harvard: Out in the Unreal World

Pointless In Paris

Then came the bad temper of my roommate, as brisk and fast as the winter cold that swept up against the windows of our second-floor flat from the Place Contrescarpe twenty meters away. My roommate was often angry at me, and there were a lot of things he did that made me angry too, and I suppose the problem wouldn't have been as bad if we hadn't both been morning drinkers but then Paris is a morning drinker's town and we felt in Paris in those days that wine was a good thing, it made you happy and free, and Paris was a town that gave you back only what you brought to it. So we became morning drinkers.

We were both there, fresh from Harvard, on what most people would call flimsy pretenses. They wouldn't say it to your face, but when they asked what do you do, horrible question, and you told them, then you could almost feel the sneer. My roommate set type for an English monthly paper about Palestine that called the Palestinians "West Bankers" and "Gaza Strippers." I was writing a novel, and no sooner would I say that to anyone, American or French, then I would hear back that I wanted to relive Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but it wasn't so, and besides I'd never much liked Fitzgerald or Hemingway, but when you're writing a novel your job is impossible to describe, so most of the time I just shut up and made pretend not to hear. We were both free a lot of the time, my roommate and I, didn't usually have anywhere to report, so we would spend hours walking in the streets or having cafe au lait or looking for women or talking.

We were often ringed by friends from Harvard, most of them ensconsed elsewhere, usually Oxford or Cambridge, and just down for the weekend, or otherwise passing through the great city, often with a Harvard traveling fellowship. Most of these people looked unshakably secure to us, or at any rate free of the semi-vagabond-age that then enclosed us. They had directions in which they were traveling, and positions to which they would return. I wouldn't have called them especially happy, but they were certainly complacent; they were, with an exception or two, contented enough, or perhaps not dissatisfied enough, to alter or even ponder the course of their existence. Still, they envied us a little; and in the whimsical moments that will sometimes overtake those who have solemnly embarked on their life's work, they'd tell us how lucky we were to be still exercising choices, we whose paths were not yet marked.

I found myself resenting this implication, usually unspoken, that it was the fellowship-holders and professionals among us who were engaged in the serious business of becoming adults and we, the unoccupied, who were coursing back to the carefree days of youth. In our circumstances, it always seemed easier to take refuge in a profession than to hold back for a time, come face to face with oneself, and ask why. It would have been easier, in any case, than a prolonged and, to all responsible appearances, pointless residence in a foreign city and, despite its great beauty, a hard and arrogant city that made aliens of us and condemned each of us, for the better part of a year, to the company of none other than ourselves. I can't think of a single of my Harvard companions who would willingly have submitted to that trial, and I confess that if I'd foreseen it myself, I might not have gone. But now I feel better and stronger for having done it, and I suppose that the next time someone lavishes envy on me for having spend seven precious months in the City of Light I will compose myself and smile as I might smile at a line from Hemingway.

David Landau '72, another former Crimson editor, spend some time in Europe after he graduated. He is now a writer and lives in New York City.