Well, the stories in yesterday's combox about men's stupid lines were by turns hilarious and disgusting, and now that we have got all that out of our systems, it is time to think about good men.
Good men stories might not be as easy to recall as bad men stories because they don't involve adrenaline and umpteen conversations with girlfriends later. And it is one of the hallmarks of a gentleman that he is never intrusive and therefore does not make deep impressions on our memories. This seems a shame, really.
But the recent-enough memory of Father Pawel lugging my monster suitcase through Krakow reminds me of another time a man--a complete stranger--took possession of my suitcase and entertained me until his train stop in the south of France.
I was in Milan, about to get into a First Class car, and all of a sudden there was a short, slight, bespectacled, business-suited, married Frenchman saying, "Vous me permettez, Mademoiselle?" (or whatever). He took charge of my suitcase and, without any offense whatsoever, me. He sat across from my forward-facing seat and chatted gaily away about France and Quebec and Israel (which he loved), and I was rapt. And he never stopped being delightful even when he trashed American cultural imperialism (as Europeans often do to Canadians), and I pointed out that he was drinking Coca-Cola.
I realize he sounds a bit too much like Fabrice de Sauveterre in Nancy Mitford's novels to be real, but I assure you he was as real as the railway. His parents or grandparents had returned to France from Algeria and he was Jewish. No stereotype. And yet I knew that I had encountered the famous French chivalry of yore, and that the magic land where women are cherished and made much of and then suddenly forgotten was not entirely a myth.
But that was thirteen years ago, and my thoughts return to Father Pawel lugging my suitcase onto a tram and then off the tram and then onto another tram and then off that tram. Then the poor man carried my suitcase down a long flight of stairs into the Krakow Glowny train station and hauled it onto the train and, in one final act of chivalry, heaved it into the overhead rack.
We looked at it dubiously and wondered if a sudden stop of the train might not suddenly hurl it down upon my head. Father Pawel pulled it away from the space immediately over my assigned seat. But another thought troubled him.
"What will you do when you get to Warsaw?" he worried.
I had been talking about the complementarity of the sexes for two days and thought about it for three weeks.
"I will find a man," I said cheerfully.
This satisfied Father Pawel, and off he went.
No man had bought a ticket to a seat in my train compartment. So when I got to Warsaw, I stood on a seat and pulled the horrible suitcase down myself. But that's not the point.
The point is that "being a gentleman" is not about knowing what side of a woman you walk down the street beside or taking your hat off when you meet her in the street (although I think this charming) or opening every door she has to go through. It is about making the lives of the people around you a little easier. It is about making people feel safe and appreciated. It is about recognizing that nature has made life and objects just a little bit heavier for women and trying to make up for it.
The opening-the-door thing and the giving-up-the-seat-on-the-bus thing are nice although really just a token gesture when the woman involved is very young and not carrying anything. It's the real help and the very thoughtful gestures--like writing a bread-and-butter note and posting it--that are the hallmarks of gentility.
That said, the Polish ladies-hand-kissing thing I can definitely get used to. Are they, like, the last men on earth who do that? And when they do it, it is not weird. Like the Frenchman with my suitcase, they carry it off.
Okay, now your stories about gentlemen, ladies, plz. Comments moderation is off.