My local flea market in Florence is a rich affair. From dusty glass chandeliers to the everyday detritus of living - entire houses cleared, including private correspondence. Here were someone's emotions going cheap. The paper was thin, crisp with age, densely written on both sides. The date, November 1918. The challenge was two-fold. First they were in Italian - of course. While I can negotiate markets even hold my own in a one-to-one about history, letters written in dialect 100 years ago would be tough.
But bigger than that was the hurdle of the handwriting. It was tiny with hardly any room between the lines, as if a conscientious ant had climbed out of the inkpot then wound its way across every millimetre of the page. Not even any crossing out. If this was love, he (and I could make out enough to know it was a he) was very sure about it.
With my left hand sunk in a bowl of ice water, I chant a mantra to deliver me from suffering: [expletive deleted]. [expletive deleted]. [expletive deleted]. The words are emotionless and delivered at speaking-voice volume, a counterpart to a moment ago when I repeated “spoon” instead.
I’m trying my own homespun replica of an experiment in which a British psychologist studied the narcotic power of expletives: Uttering curse words led study participants to report less pain and endure the frigid water for about 40 seconds longer than when they spoke neutral words.
Dreams of fast commercial airline travel recur every so often. Over the past year, we’ve seen talk from NASA about a new generation of X-planes to demonstrate technologies needed for a supersonic Concorde replacement. And Lockheed Martin is discussing a commercial transport derivative from its hypersonic weapons and spy plane programs. The world is more than ready to hear such talk; for many, it’s frustrating, even baffling, that airline travel (Concorde excepting) has been stuck at speeds just over Mach 0.8 since the dawn of the jet age.
Alas, the latest dreams are no more real than previous ones. The obstacles to fast jet travel remain very high, and if anything they’re getting higher.