The most memorable story is one that collected excerpts from the diary of an American writer, Mavis Gallant, living in Spain in 1952. This is around the midpoint of Franco’s dictatorship (1936-1975) when day-to-day living was still a very rough proposition for most people, let alone a divorced foreign woman.
The story chronicles her financial worries, with strict accounting of how much everything costs and how little she has. At one point, a friend she’s mentioned many times comes over
[R.] returns the fifty pesetas, which he leaves without a word on the bed, I pick it up and put it on the table and say, “You must not be so delicate. It is all right to talk about money.” Spanish pride gets on my nerves. He wasn’t ashamed to ask me for it. Also, the gesture of money on a bed is disgusting, like someone paying for a tart.
I like this passage for a few reasons, but perhaps the most striking is how much Spain is still like that. People don’t mind talking about money, but somehow the quotidian back and forth of cash is too tacky to even remark upon. And the little detail of him leaving it on the bed kills me. A guy like her friend wouldn’t have thought of the sexual context of such an action. He was surely thinking that this was a more discreet way to return the loan and that she wouldn’t come across it until later that night. But looking at it from across the Pond, it’s totally insulting that he did that and I think she had every right to be pissed.
Having an occasional copy of the NYer come across my lap is a great pleasure, but I admit that I’m pleased to no longer be assaulted by a new one each week. I regularly suffered from NYF (New Yorker Fatigue) because, no matter how quickly I read them, they just piled up. It’s now clear to me that I suffer from a sister ailment, NYPE (New Yorker Pretension Exhaustion) since I no longer have the antibodies to withstand the tone of many of the articles. And this is without even touching the Jonah Lehrer story.
[A great companion piece to the Mavis Gallant story is Slate’s Why Does The New Yorker Publish So Many Pieces About The New Yorker? It’s funny ’cause it’s true.]