Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday commute xxv: An evening stroll to dinner with Crèvecoeur

The Virginia Piedmont is at its loveliest now and for another two weeks, with any luck. Springtime's verdant layers are not monotonal yet, and although we've felt the lash that lately leveled Alabama, it left no scars to mar our sense of place. Our paths are supple underfoot, the evening air is soft.

Crèvecoeur has been invited to a neighbor's house for dinner, and has set out on foot to exploit the shade of our woods. Although a French émigré to Canada, now residing in Pennsylvania, he has come down here to convey some idea of the late and present interior circumstances of our countryside, to a friend in England. By all means, great swaths of our pastoral scene are as he found them; although we are endlessly pleased to find much improvement since the evening of this report, the setting is a stable one, we'll recognise en route. Most notably, the storied unpleasantness of the intervening 1860s, although grave, has left no permanent mark upon our way of being.

We are, you see, a red state, and have happily in common with the others a resistance to unseemly alteration. We'll return to this depiction of our distinction, but for now, we're off to dinner in our gracious countryside, our appetite attuned to every sight.

We catch up with Crève-coeur: all at once I felt the air strongly agitated; although the day was perfectly calm and sultry. I immediately cast my eyes toward the cleared ground, from which I was but a small distance, in order to see whether it was occasioned by a sudden shower; when

at that instant a sound resembling a deep rough voice, uttered, as I thought, a few inarticu-late monosyllables. Alarmed and surprised, I precipitately looked all round, when I perceived at about 6 rods distance something resembling a cage, suspended to the limbs of a tree; all the 

branches of which appeared covered with large birds of prey, fluttering about, and anxiously endeavouring to perch on the cage. Actuated by an involuntary motion of my hands, more than by any design of my mind, I fired at them; they all flew to a short distance, with a hideous noise: when, horrid to think and painful to repeat, I perceived a negro, suspended in the cage, and left there to expire. I shudder when I recollect that the birds had already picked out his eyes, his cheek bones were bare.. From the edges of the hollow sockets, the blood slowly dropped, and tinged the ground beneath.

No sooner were the birds flown, than swarms of insects covered the whole body of this unfortunate wretch, eager to feed on his mangled flesh and drink his blood. I found myself suddenly arrested by the power of affright and terror; my nerves were convulsed; I trembled, I stood motionless, involuntarily contemplating the fate of this negro, in all its dismal latitude. The living spectre, though deprived of his eyes, could still distinctly hear, and in his uncouth dialect begged me to give him some water to allay his thirst.. 'Tankè, you whitè man, tankè you, putè somè poyson and givè me.' How long have you been hanging there, I asked him. 'Two days, and me no die ..'

Oppressed with the reflections which this shocking spectacle afforded me, I mustered strength enough to walk away, and soon reached the house at which I intended to dine .. They told me that the laws of self-preservation rendered such executions necessary; and supported the doctrine of slavery with the arguments generally made use of to justify the practice; with the repetition of which I shall not trouble you at present.

In our stately commonwealth, we are accustomed to being taxed by visitors, expressing perplexity in our ways. Now that George Allen has offered to resume his seat in the Senate, we brace ourselves for further jests upon our civility. Macaws in the media will dredge up his "Macaca" salutation to the foreign agent who heckled his last campaign, and dredge up once again our Massive Resistance against desegregation, as if to say things were no better for our people than before. Laws of self-preservation cannot be rewritten just to hew to some degenerate fashion, which is why we are a Red State on the map, presented above, and proud to be.

The map identifies those states, world-wide, in which it is still punishable by imprisonment, torture, or death, to engage in consenting and private genital contact which is not conducive to pregnancy. When the Supreme Court of the United States struck down such a statute in the State of Texas (2003), every state in the American union except one promptly conformed its penal code with that ruling. While it is known that Virginia's law is unenforceable and unlawful, it is retained, with visceral exuberance, to arrest by the power of fright and terror, to convulse the nerves of every person subject to Virginian justice.

J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur
Letters from an American Farmer
Letter IX
Doubleday, 1966©

map: another country


  1. ah yes, to return to a gentler time is their wish, however va. was blue for a moment on the white house lawn-irony-but it can not be whitewashed out of the book. let it stand.

  2. I really do think the retention of any number of nullified ordinances would be a fair exchange for obliging persons to know their history. But we have not struck that deal, and until then, I would prefer our official texts to give the least offense to all. This really is the passive aggressive meaning of Virginia's incurable sentimentality: imagine the juror arriving for duty or the citizen registering to vote at the Court House in Orange, Virginia, beneath the Confederate statue, inscribed with urgings to continue the fight for "the right." The "in terrorem" nastiness of Virginia casts a pall over all its pretenses, actively inhibits study of itself, and intimidates without remorse.

    Not to cast a pall over your visit, which has the quality of meliorating that consciousness, and more to the point, wishing to. Hard to graft that example upon the persistence of old lies ..

    Thank you for coming to RMBL.