restricted access CHAPTER FOURTEEN: On Hospitality
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c h a p t e r f o u r t e e n On Hospitality “Nowhere on earth has Hospitality taken refuge for the last three hundred years,” began Bissot, “except in cloisters—the only lodging this goddess still can find.1 Your own order, sir, yes indeed: your Benedictine scholars alone still preserve the faintest notion of Hospitality, first among the ancient Roman virtues. All Europe is filled with tourists and cabarets. The only way to travel across it is to go purse in hand, or else sleep under the stars. As for our scientists and philosophers, they are making no effort to resuscitate this communicative virtue; scientific and philosophical interests are more likely to be aroused by a butterfly wing, a flower’s stamen and pistil, than by the human heart. “As you must admit, gentlemen, virtues have become quite rare among us moderns, and whatever vestiges we have are dying out. Today, man is completely deluded about the true object of whatever virtues remain to him. He has actually tried to root out gentle, affectionate feelings of sensibility from his heart, training himself instead to focus on distant goals that are the product of his own imagination. He donates alms, but no longer helps the poor; he wages war, but not necessarily for his fatherland; he makes peace, but no longer out of love for his fellows. This is why it is now humiliating to receive charity; the practice of the military profession disgraces the soldier; and peace has become just another virgin timidly trying to escape war and discord by fleeing across the borders from one country to the next. “Man has more of a taste for travel now than ever in history, we all allow, and yet travelers on the road have never met with so many mortifying ob- On Hospitality 99 stacles. At the gates of every city, he is stopped by soldiers and searched by customs officers, as if the prince suspected his subjects of theft the minute they lose sight of their hometown’s clock-towers. Out in the countryside, the traveler is narrowly inspected by local police, trying to identify his facial features with the description of a known thief—and woe unto him, if they find any resemblance between his face and the man they seek! Woe unto him, if he has forgotten to buy a passport before leaving! Either way, he is dragged into a dungeon cell, and there is nobody to bail him out. “Even if the traveler escapes these humiliations, however, he will not escape the sharp claws of the greedy innkeeper. Welcomed to the House of Avarice in direct proportion to the elegance of his baggage train, he is greeted by bowing and scraping until he has crossed the threshold. The sly innkeeper beams at the hope of fleecing him at leisure; his wife, if at all pretty, sparkles her eyes like a gilt-painted sign; maidservants rush round him, and bear him away to his chamber in triumph. Meanwhile they prepare him a dinner of tough meat, hastily cooked; they cut and sophisticate the wine so that it tastes drinkable but is noxious, and only makes him thirst for more. They make up his bed, and if he is careless, he may well find himself sleeping between sheets rumpled by another guest’s body. Worst of all: if overheated by his road trip, hot with treacherous drink, excited by pepper and spices imported from the Orient as snares for his virtue, if he falls for the tricks of the scheming sirens treacherously spreading dirty sheets on his hard bed, then he may expect only the bitterest consequences. What now flows in his veins will be a sickness contracted from itinerant monks and soldiers, grafted onto the corruption of lawyers, stuck onto the fruit of the bachelor seducer’s intemperance—. O unfortunate man! Quit the pleasure of that embrace! A thousand men before you have savored it, and they have all left within that receptacle a few germs of the dreadful evils sent back from America to Europe; or perhaps, home from China, some imprudent traveler has strewn on his path the hideous fruits of a promenade along the river Canton. Be wary of the proverb piano è sano; this is the least sanitary thing in the whole world.2 Get into your nocturnal nest quickly, and get into it alone. “In any case, whether or not your bedtime is surrounded by...


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