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September 20, 2003



in the back of a VOLVO??

Wow. Somehow that doesn't quite fit with the bowlegged old ladies at the mina.


Okay, I would like to proceed delicately here. You obviously met a very bad man. I think you'll agree that there are bad men everywhere. And bad women, though as a woman, I confess to believing there are more bad men than there are bad women. I do not think there are more bad men on the Mediterranean than, say, Boston. The difficulty, and you do allude to it here, is that it's hard for us foreigners to tell the difference. The cure for that is not being careful. The cure for that is learning how a culture operates.

The ladies in black at the village mina could have told you the truth about Paulo. I spend much of my writing life trying to explain that evil does not, contrary to popular belief at this juncture in trepidacious American history, leap up totally unbidden, looking like the perfectly nice guy next door. Evil stinks, and astute people smell it. Awareness is not "being careful," though perhaps that's where we get confused. The way we get into deep trouble is not innocence, it's naivete, it's approaching the world with blinking acceptance without discrimination. Innocence may not recognize evil at the first encounter, but innocence listens to alarm bells, gathers information from those more informed, and follows advice. Naivete gets in the car with anybody who stops without the slightest backup plan if the stink starts to rise.

I don't dismiss or denigrate a truly frighteningt experience. Read Paul Bowles (start with the short stories and go to Let It All Come Down) for a deep understanding of American naivete in foreign countries. What we need, instead of fear, is a clue about how to approach another culture so as to begin to smell ITS particular roses...and sewers.

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