The Elegant Conversation

A game of backgammon in Green Park, Athens

A game of backgammon in Green Park, Athens

Green Park in Athens was full of families pushing strollers and little knots of men playing backgammon. Or else performing a curious ritual that we would see again in Italy and Spain. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a kind of walking discussion. But I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s anything like what we do as we walk, which is most often idle chit chat or casual appraisals of what we see. These older men, in twos and threes usually, proceed very slowly, almost as if the stroll is mere pretense to the real purpose. I would watch many of these perambulations over many visits to the park. The men walk in rapt discussion, often accompanied by hand gestures, or else with hands firmly clasped behind the back. Suddenly they would pause as one man would try to drive home a point. Then they would both stand still and face each other. One man would gesture with a bit more animation, hold forth while his companion(s) would focus intently on him. After a period of about a minute or so there would be a brief exchange, maybe a shrug or two, a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthis or that?¢‚Ǩ¬ù gesture by flipping over the hand, and then the walk would continue. And always, an inward focus on the subject at hand passes between them. The conversation was the focus, not the walking and the watching.

Conversation is the focus in Baeza, Spain

Conversation is the focus in Baeza, Spain

I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m struck by the character of these gentlemen. They seem to be engaged in a foil with the important thing. They parlay, rejoin, sally and engage each other with opinion. The exchange of views is the only priority. A good day is one that includes this event. A productive day, one that has the highest value is a day spent in conversation with a good friend.

I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m reminded of the ancient philosophers of Greece, as they walk today in their steps. Though their discussions may not always reach to those realms, they operate in the same spirit. The salient features are there; an intensely inward focus, the need to express one?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s views and to seek out a response to them. The desire for clarity.

The forum at the train station, Baeza, Spain

The forum at the train station, Baeza, Spain

Thoreau says that man is not meant to do everything but man is meant to do something. These older gentleman have passed from the doing which characterized their active lives into a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdoing?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that expresses itself in simple, elegant conversation.

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