- THAT THE HOUR OF PARLEY IS DANGEROUS
- 6. THAT THE HOUR OF PARLEY IS DANGEROUS
Parley is a word I associate with Westerns and gang movies, where a temporary truce is called so formerly implacable enemies can meet on neutral ground to negotiate terms. It has an exotic, European ring to my ears- parlez-vous? Yet, negotiating denotes weakness, no? If you can win, why would you concede anything? If it’s a stand off, why would you trust an opponent you would have subdued if only you could? In considering this question Montaigne draws on his vast knowledge of every general who ever besieged a duchy. The parleys he cites do not end well.
· From the siege of Capua by Messieur D'Aubigny- his soldiers in the meantime being a little more remiss in their guard, our people entered the place at unawares, and put them all to the sword.
· Or the hapless Signor Juliano Romero of Yvoy having played that part of a novice to go out to parley with the Constable, at his return found his place taken.
· Or the double dealing Marquess of Pescara after the articles betwixt them being so far advanced that it was looked upon as a done thing, and upon the point to be concluded, the Spaniards in the meantime having slipped in, made use of this treachery as an absolute victory.
· Or the sad story of some such Emperor's own representative Count de Brienne going out to parley, whilst he was capitulating the town was taken.
Lesson- Parley at your own risk.
My parents didn’t parley with me.
“Am I the same as you? My father would state (In case you might be wondering that was never a question) should I be so bold as to voice a complaint when he snatched the evening newspaper out of my hands.
“Compromise? What do you think I am, a child?” was my mother’s response when I suggested that perhaps there was some middle ground between the elaborate, five alarm wedding she had dreamed of for me and the hippy dippy love fest I was proposing.
I eventually dealt with my lowly place in the pecking order by removing myself from physical proximity, which could be another word for retreat, which could be another word for running away. But I didn’t escape the need for parley, just placed myself in a position of some bargaining power. Instead of a child living with parents, I became a wife living with a husband. The playing field was far more level on which to work out the differences that we cling to because they define us.
Case in point: The shoe garage.
David and I have always shared a closet. When we were first married, it was because there was only one closet suitable. But even now, in our later more prosperous years with more closets at our disposal, neither one of us wants to have the inconvenience of going to another room to get dressed in the morning. His sneakers, dress shoes, suits, ties, belts, shirts, sport coats are stored with my skirts, blouses, (rarely worn ) high heels, sandals, flats and boots ,school clothes and fancy night dresses. It’s like East and West Germany before 1989 in our closet: separate and yet together, a troubled, politically necessary nod to coexistence. Any commingling was met with disapproval, particularly on the part of David, to whom I would assign the role of Erich Honecker, the last chancellor of East Germany, who claimed that the Berlin Wall prevented World War 3, and this is why.
One day, I went to the closet to get my clothes for the day. I was astonished to find this item on the floor.
It was made of three small pieces of wood nailed together. It framed David’s bedroom slippers, parked side by side.
“What is this?” I demanded.
“It’s for my slippers”, David replied.
“I can see that, but why?”
“It’s so I can find them easily.”
I found his need for separation of our footwear insulting. It seemed so, unloving. like an attack on our couple-ness
“What are you saying, that your slippers are too good to be mixed in with my shoes?”
“No, I just hate when I can’t find my slippers in the morning. It starts every day with aggravation. This way I know just where they are.”
“It just seems, I don’t know, cold, somehow. Snobby.”
“It’s not a bad thing. Think of it as a marital aid.”
Really? Is that how I should think of it? A way to reconcile our need for individuality with the sharing of self that is inevitable in a marriage? Or a barrier that states- “Here is the line. Keep out. You are not welcome. “ The parley didn’t go on much longer, as I capitulated pretty much instantly. Here was the compromise. He got to keep the shoe garage, I got to tell this story about being married to a man who needs a shoe garage.
A more serious previous parley came up about two years into our marriage. We had an ongoing battle about cleaning. He didn’t think I cleaned very well, I really didn’t care what he thought. Not that I wouldn’t do chores. I was excellent at picking bathroom mold off the grout between the tiles and scrubbing the copper bottoms of our Revere Ware pots until they gleamed, but only when I felt like it. One day in the midst of an argument we’d had a million times, I was thunderstruck by an insight. My mother was a fastidious housekeeper, his mother was quite the opposite. He’d married me in the expectation that I would keep house like my mother, I’d married him figuring he wouldn’t care if I didn’t. The flash of insight was accompanied by the realization that to David, tidiness and orderly housekeeping are ways to stave off the chaos of the universe, for me, they are the very definition of forced labor and slavery. The realization was enough to shock the both of us into silence. Were there grounds for compromise in those world views? Looking back, I can see our entire marriage was teetering on the brink of an unscrubbed toilet. We pulled back from the edge however because it was such an absurdly wrongheaded misunderstanding, it was impossible not to laugh at ourselves.
It took a while to get to the point where we had the income, but the eventual compromise was called Broomhilda, a feminist cleaning service that had started out as chimney sweeping business.
Well as the great Alexander said to Polyperchon who was trying to get Alexander to make a sneak attack on the Persian emperor Darius. “I can't divorce a guy because he thinks that I don’t clean toilets well, because he’s kinda gotta point.”
Here Montaigne lui-meme breaks into my thoughts
Madame, he says, you have misquoted me. I have said no such thing.
Monsieur, I reply, You are now in the public domain, I may say whatever I like about what you said.
This may be, he responds with tristesse , but that does not make it honorable, edifying or intelligent.
I take offense. It is humor, which does not translate well across time or language. You are not my audience, sir.
Bien sur, mais...
Ok, granted, but you are piggybacking on my work. The least you can do is show some respect.
Very good then.
Montaigne leaves without pinning down the exact quantity of respect that is defined as some.
The hour of parley is dangerous indeed.