I quick jot a note about a confluence of favorites: Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote and Nick Suescun, a favorite college roommate.
Nick was from Bogota. His uncle the coffee grower paid his bills. Nick’s native tongue was of course Spanish. Nick astonished us mere mortals though by reading assignments in French! He explained that French was logical. Therefore, he could read it rapidly, and retain it well. If Hamlet was assigned — an English artifact if there ever was one — at an English land grant college (Columbia was founded by King George III), Nick read Hamlet in French!
Nick might also read the assignment in its natal language, Nick read a lot. He might read Hamlet in French to get it done, then also read it in English: probably for the Nth time.
One more Nick story before I get to my target story, the reason I started this post today:
We three roommates were in our suite, pk, Bill, Nick, with Bob deJ visiting, when it was announced that our grades were waiting in the mailboses downstairs. Bob noticed something that could have been a grades-mailing sticking out of Nick’s pocket. He grabbed it. Nick went wild trying to recover his private papers, but DeJ held fast. With Nick nearly whimpering Bob read, “Ooo, all As! And look at this: senior year in high school, Virginia SomethingorOther, all As, and juinor year, all As, and sophomore year, all As … But, Nick, what’s this? Freshman year: A-s? Straight A-s!”
A sheepish Nick answered, “I deedn’t speeek Engleesh then!”
OK, here’s my treasured Nick memory:
Don Quixote had been assigned: in Humanities. Nick was not reading Don Quixote in French; Nick was reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote in Spanish!!
And Nick, all day long, for days on end, was laughing, and laughing, and laughing.
We all knew then and there that we would never be able to understand Don Quixote: not the way Nick was understanding it.
And Nick would work awfully hard, wait a long time, maybe forever, before Nick would understand Hamlet the way I understood it.
Nick had come into our suite when Wolsk left. Wolsk could study and study, and Wolsk (a Jew) would never understand “Christ” the way Bill (an RC), or I (a generic Vanilla Protestant), understand Christ. (Though Bill’s and my understanding bear little resemblance!)
K., then InfoAll.org, had told a couple of Nick stories: one impinged on languages, and how Nick used his Spanish. Nick was an anarchist. he didn’t believe in rules, or rulers. Nick chain smoked (and drank coffee made from several tablespoons of instant in one half cup). Nick chain smoked on the subway. A guard would come up to Nick, tell him to put his cigarette out. Nick, to my horror and embarrassment, would blandly continue to smoke while babbling pleasantly at the guard in spanish. I never saw a guard grab the cigarette. Neither did I ever hear of a guard arresting Nick.
I often wonder how long Nick lived past our graduation in 1960. I know he didn’t want to live past 1970: when he’d be thirtyish.