241 Things

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241 Things

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Since the start of the last century, the French have known a tradition of sending one another so-called ‘poisson d’Avril’ (April Fish) messages. These are richly decorated postcards depicting a fish, often surrounded by flowers and a few lines of text.

The flowers most likely allude to the changing of seasons; after all, the 1st of April is set at the very beginning of springtime. More importantly, the vernal equinox is the ultimate metaphor for the blossoming of new love and the excitement that spring brings with it. The fish represents the hope of love requited by a (secret) object of affection, captioned by texts such as ‘Quand arrive avril, tous les fleurs en France, s’ouvrent à l’amour, pêcheur d’espérance!’ (All the flowers in France open in April for love, the fisher of hope!)

The sender hopes with all his heart that the addressee will answer his love: ‘Parce message discret / je vous envoie, ma toute belle / Mon plus cher et plus doux sécret / Mais vous ne serez pas cruelle?’ (With this secret message I send to you, my beautiful, my most precious and tender of secrets/ Please, do not be cruel.)

From the beginning of 1900, tens of thousands of April fish swam their way to an equal amount of lovers, proving to be the way to declare your love, albeit anonymously, in the form of what essentially is a Valentine’s card avant la letter.

It’s not quite clear why a fish was chosen as the symbol of springtime and love. Some believe that it has to do with the mating season of the fish, which occurs around April. During this period a fishing ban is enforced in France. To mislead illegal fishing, fake fish are thrown into the water during mating season. When a fisherman catches a pseudo-fish, men cry ‘poisson d’Avril!’ The April Fish is like the French April fool’s gag.

In this sense, the tradition of the April Fish is still alive and kicking. On the 1st of April, cut out paper fish are stuck on the back of an unsuspecting passerby who, when the fish on his back is noticed, is declared the ‘poisson d’Avril!’

Besides paper fish, edible fish are also popular. Around the 1st of April, the storefronts ofFrench patisseries and chocolatiers display an unending supply of chocolate fish and all sorts of fish-shaped pastries. Still, the fish is an object of seduction, although no longer through the mailman’s delivery, being instead served on platters in shop windows. Because in the end, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

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Reading the Essais by Michel de Montaigne is an addictive pastime. You constantly feel as though you’re conversing with him, with an extremely sharp and intelligent person. Someone you’d like to be friends with.

What characterises Montaigne's style in the Essais?

A striking feature of the Essais is the enormous amount of quotes that, incorporated within his argument, are essential to the structure of the work. The Essais is also teeming with anecdotes that mostly illustrate previously treated subjects, but often veer away from the initial point until logical connections become unclear. Within the Essais there is no form of construction whatsoever, and he starts without a plan. It’s not uncommon that the titles to his essays cover little to none of the actual content. In response to what he reads, he attempts to form an image of himself, and subsequently of man. He’s an associative, sometimes nonchalant, thinker. For this reason, an essay is never finished and is always open for new stories, comments, and additions that by their inclusion change nothing of the structure.Montaigne writes in a ‘style naturel’, and sentences follow each other accordingly; he attempts to avoid any sort of cliché or preconceived notion. His method of thinking is a form of protest against overly organised rationalised thinking. With this, he erodes the ‘assumed’ power of the simplification of pure systematic thinking, doing so far before Descartes.

What is the Essais about?

The emptiness,

friendship

loneliness,

the inconsistency of our actions,

practice,

the art of debate,

how one can judge our happiness only after our death,

that philosophising is learning how to die,

about a custom on the island Cea,

about how to judge another man’s death,

about the experience,

about several verses from Virgil,

conceit,

vanity,

appearance,

cannibals,

conscience,

cruelty,

about cowardice as the mother of cruelty,

about the punishment of cruelty,

about carriages, cripples, scholars,

about education, a parent’s affection for their children,

about children resembling their parents,

about our emotions that reach further than life,

about our mood and our emotions vented at the wrong target,

about liars, predictions, and the power of imagination,

about he who thinks himself capable of telling truth from fiction,

about what a fool is,

about laughing and crying,

about the vanity of words, empty quibbles,

about that tomorrow is another day,

about books,

about denial,

about what is useful and honourable,

about how to make good use of your willpower,

about different methodologies that can lead to the same result,

about fortitude,

about one man’s fortune being the other man’s misfortune,

about customs and the mistake of suddenly changing the status quo,

about the same goal leading to different results,

about modestly judging God’s ways,

about Fortune keeping pace with reason,

about inequality amongst us human beings,

about prayer,

about the time of our lives,

about how the mind becomes caught up within itself,

about desires increasing the more they are denied us,

about fame,

about thumbs,

about a monstrous child,

about three forms of interaction,

about distraction,

and about the disadvantages of a high position.