and Chaucer find ourselves in the grip ofrnthe same process. I can read the novels ofrnChinua Achebe in the original, but thernspoken English of West Africa or even Jamaicarnis at times nearly incomprehensiblernto me. Recently, I told my son, “ICQrnis a cross between AOL’s instant messagernand a chat room, but you can use any ISPrnto log on.” Ten years ago, that sentencernwould have been nonsense. My son simplyrnnodded.rnLanguage joins, but language separates.rnWhen people form a cohesiverngroup, their very union separates themrnfrom their neighbors. The Argentines,rnlinguistic penguins riding on an icebergrnthat has calved from the mainland, havernbegun to drift away from the GranrnColombians. If the process continues,rnthe people of the pampas will not be ablernto read the works of any future GabrielrnGarcia Marquez of Colombia except inrntranslation.rnWe can think of this process as entropy,rnthe inevitable falling apart of anyrnhunran thing, or another of the couirtlessrnmeanings of Original Sin, but the slowrnubiquitous metamorphosis of humanrnspeech reflects the vocabulary of thernheart. Linguishe species emerge, evolve,rnand disappear. What Burroughs did notrntell me is that the isolation people sufferrnbecause of the existence of multiplernlanguages is their own doing. Passedrnthrough the minds and tongues of many,rna language is shaped like a rock in a river.rnNo conscious choice is involved; how wernspeak and the things we want to say growrnnaturally out of living in the midst of ourrnown people. A people’s mores, institutions,rnand language grow organically,rnand short of outright conquest, no outsiderrnwith a desire for order or for beingrn”reasonable” can dictate these things.rnIn Argentina, there has been a seriousrnoutbreak of human nature. The Argen-rnHnes are occupied with living their lives,rnand in so doing slowly distance themselvesrnfrom the other half-billion of thernearth who speak Spanish. They cannotrnhelp it, and mean no harm. It is just that,rnfor my friend, there is no dance like therntango, no accent that sounds quite rightrnthat does not come fronr Buenos Aires —rnand, truth be told, just her part of BuenosrnAires. She feels these things intensely,rnjust as any resident of distant Opar wouldrntell you, with passion, that there are nornjewels to rival those from home.rnBrian Kirkpatrick is a physician who hvesrnin Bakimore, Maryland.rnLetter From Venicernby Andrei NavrozovrnAcqua AltarnLast year, when I first came to live here —rnas bearer of the Carta Venezia, the photornID which entitles the city resident to buyrnwater-bus tickets at 75 cents instead of therntourist’s three dollars, I have every right tornsay “live” rather than “visif — I made arnprivate pact with Neptune and the spiritsrnof the lagoon. That’s how we Russiansrnare: Just give us a nice little pact andrnsome secret protocols, and you can keeprnyour money, your girls, and your red Ferrari.rnLeaving out some of the duller codicils,rnI can disclose that my principal obligationrnunder the terms of the pact wasrnnever to throw a cigarette butt into thernwater. I never smoke less than a pack arnday, and was perfectly used to flicking thernyellow-filtered butts with a James Deanrnsort of moodiness onto the pavements ofrnmany a world capital, but here a manifestrnchange comes over the most repulsive ofrnGod’s creatures. Even the most recalcitrantrnprovincial egotist in the millipedernmass of sightseeing brutes, who, when inrnRome, would not think twice before scatteringrnHershey’s wrappers on the floor ofrnthe Pantheon, may well hesitate beforernthrowing his stupid rubbish into the hyalinernstillness of a Venetian canal.rnThe vow was made to the Adriatic andrnthe lagoon, rather than to the city, becausernI always knew that one day I wouldrnhave to get myself a boat of my own,rnwhich is what I’ve recenfly done. Howeverrneasy and peaceful it is to putter atrnfive nriles an hour through fire canals ofrnVenice, once you are out in the lagoon,rnwhere changing currents, submergedrnsandbanks, and treacherous fog are consideredrna serious challenge to experiencedrnislanders, you are in the power ofrnNeptune, who will at least soak yon to thernmarrow of your bones by way of admonition,rnif not actually skewer you with hisrntrident like a piece of vinegar-dressedrnmusetto that, of a misty cold morning,rngoes so well with a glass of Treviso cabernet.rnNeptune must be appeased, I reasoned,rnand at the risk of looking perfectlyrnridiculous I took to stuffing cigarette buttsrninto my coat pockets, to throw them awayrnlater. I used to dump them in littlernheaps, like carnival confetti, right on thernground, on the indifferent, impersonal,rnunfeeling ground.rnNow to change the tack for a moment.rnI had dinner the other night with EdwardrnGoldsmith, founder of The Ecologistrnmagazine and brother of the late SirrnJames Goldsmith, the man who died tryingrnto save British sovereignt)’ from thernencroachment of a Europe where, tornparaphrase an old prophecy in a way thatrnis relevant to my personal concerns, thernwriters would be Dutch, the tax inspectorsrnAlbanian, and the vintners Finnish.rnWe talked about wine, as it happens,rnwhich very few growers nowadays do notrnmuck up with pesticides and stabilizers,rnabout Alain de Benoist, about free-rangernchickens and organically raised vegetables,rnabout liberty, about Monsanto,rnabout Margaret Thatcher. But the spectralrnquestion, one whose invisible, clammy,rnembarrassing presence I felt allrnthrough dinner, was this: Are we spoiled?rnAre we just a couple of spoiled brats, sittingrnon this dining-room banquette at Aspinallsrnand bitching, like Marie Antoinetternwith Maria Theresa, about thernworld outside and whether gingerbreadrncake ought to be banned because it ruinsrndigestion?rnI do not think so. I think there exists anrnobjectively demonstrable connection betweenrnhuman happiness and the integrityrnof life. This last, like the politicalrnsovereignty which Sir James fought to defend,rnis a quality—such as that of a chainrnpossessed of certain tensile strength —rnrather than a quantity, measurable inrnchieken-in-the-pot and DVD-in-the-bedroomrnunits. It is, furthermore, a connectionrnthat can be shown to exist at all economicrnlevels, from —I nearly wrote “thernhumble gondolier” before realizing thatrnthis would rather inrpair my reputation asrnan astute social observer—from myself,rnthe only genuinely poor man of my acquaintance,rnto my millionaire interlocutor,rnTeddy Goldsmith.rnYou cannot be a bit of a fallen woman,rnor something of a virgin. Once the chainrnis broken, it doesn’t matter what bribesrnthe electorate has received in the process,rnand how many chickens there are now inrnevery pot. P’or theirs are not chickens,rnbut reusable plastic effigies; theirs is notrnliberty, but an ever-thinning mess of latitudes;rntheirs is not life, but a general-issuernsimulacrum. I am not an environmentalist,rnor I would make the point by de-rnMAY 2000/37rnrnrn