Friday, February 25, 2011

Landlords, Starting out, and Death

In his book Prosas apátridas, Peruvian Julio Ramón Ribeyro imagines the career trajectory of his French landlady and her husband:

The young and pretty owner of the studio I rented on rue Saint-Séverin, who, when she came for the keys, exploded upon seeing a stain on the wall, a cigarette burn on the edge of the table, three or four missing glasses. That she should demand compensation for that minor damage seemed reasonable to me, but what struck me was the argument she used: “Don’t forget that my husband and I are a young couple. Nous commençons.” That truncated formula, without either continuation or predicate, was more expressive and convincing than any speech: “We’re starting.” No need to add any more to know the nature of the person. To start in this case meant to start to own houses, to have tenants, to collect rent, to take any advantage possible from the privilege of ownership, to argue confidently from a position of strength, to threaten, to show the debtor no mercy, to renounce not the slightest of her rights, to forgo not one opportunity to earn money, to set the cornerstone of a life project implying the accumulation of more property, the multiplication of profits, the defense of private property, security, order, to end up, after some twenty or thirty years, a rich, hateful, and well-set-up old lady, securely set in the groove of stock-market and real-estate wealth, a setting that won’t, nonetheless, save her from meanness or oblivion or death.