Theodore Dalrymple

Global warning | 20 October 2007

It is in listening to other people talk that you learn to appreciate silence. What higher praise of a man could there be than that he is taciturn?

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People have only to talk for a short time for it to become obvious that the greatest of human rights is not freedom of opinion, but freedom from opinion. It is a mercy that there are so many languages that one does not understand.

While in Venice recently I joined a queue for an exhibition in the Doge’s Palace. It was very long, and the conversation behind me obtruded itself upon my consciousness. It was between a middle-aged couple, formerly of Detroit, Michigan, but now of Sarasota, Florida (out of the frying pan into the warm bath, as it were) and a young Canadian woman, the large number of whose earrings in her upper ear served as her Declaration of Independence.

They had formed the equivalent of a shipboard friendship and the young Canadian poured out her soul to the American couple. She had been travelling in Italy for some time and had arrived in Venice the night before. She gave her initial impressions of the city that has enchanted so many people before her.

‘I was so happy to arrive here,’ she said. ‘It was the first hotel I’d been in with a bathtub.’

‘Wow!’ said the Floridan couple in concert.

‘I wish I could describe it to you,’ the Canadian continued. Then her wish came true. ‘It’s like deep and wide. It’s awesome. It has two showerheads, one in the place where you normally expect one to be and one on the side. I mean, I just loved it when the two were going together. I filled up the tub and lay there for hours.’

Then came a description of the shower in Sorrento, a town that she had found quite ‘westernised’.

‘There were ants in it,’ she said. ‘I mean, you can’t have that kind of fun in Canada.’

‘I’m not so sure,’ said the man from Sarasota, not wishing to impugn the possibilities of enjoyment in the northern climes. ‘If you go to the right places . . .’

‘Yes, if you go to the right places,’ agreed the Canadian. ‘I guess I’ve just never been to them.’

However, she had been to the right places in Italy all right, including the public conveniences.

‘In Florence,’ she said, ‘I never had to pay more than 50 cents, sometimes only 25.’

‘Wow!’ remarked the couple again.

‘But in Venice I’ve always had to pay one euro.’

I was about to interject that in that case perhaps she should not carry a bottle of mineral water with her, when I reminded myself that I was not my sister’s keeper.

‘But if you go to the glass-blowing factory in Murano,’ she said, ‘it’s free.’

Gosh, I thought, for someone who has been in Venice only since last night, she’s fitted in a lot.

‘That’s useful to know,’ said the woman from Sarasota.

My wife says I don’t talk enough. In that case, I think I must be almost unique.