by Constance Daley
St. Simons Island, Ga.
August 31, 2010
DE GUSTIBUM NON EST DISPUTANDUM
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- For most of us, people, places and things are of interest in one way or another. I'm a people person. I like to learn about a person - where they're from and what molded them, either into the person in front of me or in the pages of a book.
I'm interested in the culture of their past and present - where they've been and are and where they're going.
But some cultures don't grab my attention at all, at least unless and until they need help. It's a matter of taste - De gustibum non est disputandum, as the Romans once said - and there's no disputing taste.
I found myself trapped in a one-way conversation with the dental hygienist. For a dozen years we've had delightful chatter about her trips to Alaska, training her dog and her days on a farm, and it was always the normal back and forth of such conversations.
This time, with both of us belted into a heavy lead aprons that draped from our collarbone to our knees, protecting us from radiation as she X-rayed my teeth - she joyfully told me about a wonderful book she'd just finished. I was anxious to hear about it.
She set up and then directed me as she skillfully pushed a butterfly-bent film into my maw, told me to bite down, turned around and stood behind the door, saying: "Stay still." She repeated the procedure on other side of my jaw, middle to the top to the bottom, middle top to the middle bottom - while telling me the story of how the Brits conquered India after fighting the French back and forth for the final victory, what India's peasants were like, what they wore, how some Brits began wearing togas.
My mouth was full of pieces of film, and saliva built up and drizzled around my tonsils. The procedure was done in the usual way, but I was bored because I couldn't speak. Her spirits were high and she was hoping I'd get the book.
"I can't do justice to the story, but I know you'd love it," she said.
She bubbled with enthusiasm but the closest I could get to actually wanting to buy the book was repeating the final words of poet Rudyard Kipling as he ended "Gunga Din," one of his most famous poems:
I would like to have known the living Gunga Din, so eloquently portrayed in the words of Kipling.
As I sat until the dentist viewed the x-rays, I pondered why she was so enthralled, and why I could not care less about the period and the people living back then.
It's a matter of taste. I am concerned, of course, by disasters around the world. I read about what people endure and are forced to cope with during the rampages of nature. And I don't only feed on the contemporary. I believe I've read every personal account from that time of the Holocaust - from the Diary of Ann Frank to Elie Wiesel's "The Night," and many books that followed.
I read with great interest about the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, my heart in my mouth as people clung to trees, wondering what I would do and how could I help. What can I do? I joined many others in the quiet of my heart and prayed for the innocents. My taste in reading lies in their stories, and I knew how they would end.
I particularly like autobiographies - and biographies as well, if I can trust the author and his sources. Along with people and the human condition I enjoy reading about places - especially when a place was once another place. I learned that far beneath Bryant Park, site of the New York Public Library and once a "potter's field," where the city's poor were buried.
I recently read about the plight of the miners trapped underground in Chile, South America. It will be months before they are released, and oxygen, food and water are supplied through a narrow opening to where they wait, 2,300 feet below the surface. I can only hope they are supplied with paper and pens to record their days, coping mechanisms, fears and dreams. I'd buy that book.
Yet some have no interest in reading their story in a book. By the time the book comes out, they already know about the collapse and how the forced confinement finally ended.
I have email forwarded to me with photo attachments of what interests the sender: airplanes, boats, antique trolleys and the like. I look and then delete. I admire the photography, per se, but not the content.
We are all the same - in inhabiting bodies that hurt, love, bleed, risk, help, grieve, laugh, cry and yearn - but what we like is different. It's a matter of taste.
Oh, it's said we can "acquire" a taste for something, yet I know what I like and no amount of persuasion will encourage me to eat an oyster or say "yes" to peach ice cream.
No, my appetite leans toward the experience of others, those events upon which I can stamp my own identity on moments they describe, and "walk the walk" with them toward an epilogue satisfying to both of us.