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Photo by Dan Novac on Unsplash

There’s a story of an American businessman gone to Spain to teach new techniques, assuming that at lunchtime on the first day, after a morning laying out the general outlines of his program, they would all have a quick bite from little styrene coffins at their respective desks and then dive into the meat of his system, but instead everyone got up at the stroke of noon and took themselves off to a good restaurant, trying an impressive array of food and wine, never once mentioning business in two and a half hours.

Back at the office he couldn’t concentrate — the afternoon was shot, but he had made three new friends and had learned a lot about food and wine.

An American putting one toe outside his puritanical, mechanistic culture.

Our sexuality seems to grow more diffuse as we age, at least in our Puritan culture. It often extends itself out into the world, especially into food, the way it tastes and how it is eaten. Maybe the Latin countries are already there, whatever your age you will partake of that spirit.

Eros was one of the original building blocks of those cultures. You can still see it in the built environment and how language carries a gendered vision put to a musical score as well as the way life is organized, even in this modern age that is so anti-soul and anti-beauty.

My father worried that his boys would become homosexual if they were touched and held too much as babies and forbade it. I wonder if his incessant telling of stories with no ideas and no endings but rich in physical detail was a substitute for the touch that was missing in his own life.

America is considered a low touch culture; I always gravitated to high-touch cultures like France and Italy. I remember reading authors like Henry James or seeing the film Babette’s Feast, which chose this theme and confirmed that I wasn’t alone.

David McCullough writes about Americans traveling to France in the 1800s, full of trepidation lest they be corrupted by the notorious sensuality of the French (they often were, to the amusement of the modern reader).

We know America has changed and France has too, but the basic optics of each culture haven’t. Those are rooted in their histories, built environments and languages.

Travel then for me was not so much motivated by curiosity, it was more like a prison-break. My determination to live in a Latin country has deep roots, which is why, after returning to the States, I keep trying to figure out how to swing moving back to France, although Mexico is starting to look more likely because it is actually affordable.

The current political climate in the US just adds impetus to my search. After a while in the States I’ve always missed a certain oomph you find in places where people take the time to live, where the senses get their due, where the culture values a palate, where there are celebrations galore, where one lives at a human scale and at a human pace, where a sense of connection prevails — and a thousand other details, like church bells for instance.

How is it possible to live without the sounds of church bells reminding you of ancient traditions and the fact that you have a soul? How is it possible to deny your humanity by suppressing the instinct to touch and be touched? Is it even remotely possible to love pure money?

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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