From Griffith REVIEW Edition 25: After the Crisis
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Xavier Hennekinne
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Xavier Hennekinne's biography and other articles by this writer
At irregular intervals of between twenty and thirty years came great floods which were afterwards remembered as one remembers insurrections or wars and were long used as a date from which to reckon time, to calculate the ages of citizens or the term of men's lives.
– Ivo Andri´c, The Bridge Over the Drina
Ferney, France, 14 January 2009
The bust of Voltaire greets me when I open the shutters and look down on the little square. To his right, the bakery where I buy my breakfast; to his left, the bistro where I sometimes drink or have my dinner; and, adjacent to the bistro, the bookshop where I have been buying books every day since I arrived in Ferney. What a wonderful bookshop! Yesterday I bought the complete works of Nicolas Bouvier and Lorsque l'enfant paraît by Françoise Dolto.
My suitcase will be full of books. These books will be my French reading for the year. I plan today to buy the biography of Saint-John Perse I saw in the window when I left the shop yesterday.
My annual trip to Geneva is much shorter this year and I am leaving this Saturday; I won't have time to come up to Paris. I am sorry.
Some friends, superstitious and optimistic, said, ‘It is about time 2009 comes; 2008 was a terrible year!' Of course, on 1 January, everything changed (superstition) and changed for the better (optimism).
Are my optimistic friends as candid as Candide was optimistic – until the end, at least? Why wouldn't 2009 be filled with diseases, disasters, daughters being raped by their fathers in basements, unjust executions, mass displacements, crushing poverty in the streets of Manila, and general, profound ennui towards all these diseases, disasters, rapes?
Now we have Obama, I guess. He will get us out of the financial crisis and stop the wars. He will save us. He is so full of charm and intelligence, isn't he? You and I, though, know that charm and intelligence only save those who have it. But he seems determined to help and work hard; he seems to listen and to understand.
I am trying to think of something Voltaire said about financial crises, wars or Obama, but I can't think of anything...
2008 was for me a normal year, but 2009 frightens me. It will be the other way around for you.
Manila, Philippines, 24 January
When I told an Australian diplomat visiting Manila of our friendship, he asked me if you had known Proust. I had told him of your editing job. You and the diplomat are about the same age. I said, had he been born in France, he could have not met Proust. Even as a child. Proust had died a decade or so before he and you were born.
People seem surprised you and I are friends. Cross-generational friendships, within families, are rare animals, think the people I meet. The stuff of novels, some say. (Novels would talk about physical love between the great-aunt and the nephew or at least someone from the family, or some sort of awakening of the nephew and revitalisation of the great-aunt. None of that between you and me. A simple friendship, mostly an epistolary one.)
I told the Australian diplomat that you worked with Emmanuel Berl and Jacques Laurent, but they have not been dead long enough to be known in Australia the way Proust or Gide are.
To answer your question, yes, Filipinos are happy people. That is why the cleaner working in your building and many other Filipinos sing to themselves. I find the singing irritating; like you, I like silence. I also think people should not sing out loud unless they are singers performing.
Some local banks are closing down. Smaller ones. Several colleagues fear losing their savings. Deposits are now insured up to 250,000 Philippine pesos (or about €3,900), so if you have more in the account and the bank collapses, the government will only give you 250,000 pesos.
The owners of local banks are usually the rich Filipino families. The banks are often part of a family-owned conglomerate of companies that can include airline, telecommunication, media, real estate and retail businesses.
Other owners are rich individuals. A colleague recently lost his children's education savings in a rural bank ‘going on holidays'. (A bank becoming insolvent ‘goes on holidays'.) The owner managed to protect his personal and other businesses' assets, and the government's Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation is now managing the bank's affairs. It is likely that many small savers will lose their money despite deposit guarantees, as not all savers know about the guarantees and how to make a claim.
The international banks featured in the news see – since the news is bad – their customers lining up early in the morning to withdraw their money. One bank near my office offered the concerned customers in the queue doughnuts and coffee to sweeten them and make them forget why they came to the branch in the first place. On my way to work the other day, I stopped at the bank and joined the queue. I was offered breakfast by the branch manager. I thanked her, left the queue and went to my office with the breakfast. The doughnut was very sweet, as was the coffee. I felt awful not enjoying the breakfast offered by the bank where I didn't have an account.
Still, everyone sings, despite banks going down and the price of fuel and rice going up. The Filipinos' happiness is resilient.
The ‘jolly jeeps' are street food stalls. Some of them are covered with advertising posters. The other day, I saw on a jolly jeep a poster depicting a little Filipina girl laughing, her arms in the air. Around her, doughnuts were falling from the sky. The slogan on the poster said, ‘One day it will rain donuts'; and below, in smaller letters, like a childish whisper, ‘And I'll be there.'
I am glad this man – whose name you won't reveal – calls. I am glad his calls make you happy. You are right not to ask him questions. You listen to him and he listens to you smoking over the phone and your little voice. I imagine you also listen to the silence between you. If you like his calls it is because they are filled with silence. I remember how you once said you dislike people who are afraid of silence.
I am flying to Myanmar tomorrow, then Thailand. Will write.