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The Civilized, Chapter 4 - English Translation of Les Civilisés

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It was a Saigon night, the sky shining with brilliant stars, the air as hot as a European summer day.

Followed by Mévil's victoria, they walked without speaking. The street seemed more like an alley, due to the intertwined streets that arched and met above in a spidery vault, and the electric globes suspended in the leaves. It was also because of the silence and solitude, since Saigon, a rather modest capital city, reserved the din of merrymaking for a single central boulevard, Catinat Street. A few other more discrete places were also spotted throughout the city, that honest people seemed to ignore.

Catinat Street was the center of correct society's bustling fun - but even so it was admirably free and impish, the country's spirit and the hot tropical climate trumped foreign morals. Harsh electric street lamps turned the night to day, and between houses with their verandas hidden by flowing tropical plants and gardens, a peacock crowd wandered to and fro, occupied by their search for pleasure. There were people from every land: Europeans, French above all, mixed with the natives with the patronizing insolence of conquerors. Frenchwomen wore their low evening robes, showing off the bare skin of their shoulders to the lustful gaze of the men - Asians from all across the continent, Northern China, tall, clean-shaven, and dressed in blue silk, Southern Chinese, small, yellow, and lively, Malabars, rapacious and sensual, Siamese, Cambodians, Montagnards, Laotians, Tonkinese, and Annamites - their men and women so similar that you couldn't tell them apart, and soon you pretended you couldn't.

The crowds walked gaily, they laughed and talked, with a languid pace born from the sultry heat of the day. They greeted each other and rubbed up against each other, and women presented their moist hands still burning with feverish heat. Heady parfumes came from corsages, and fans waved and circulated the smells about, throwing them at the noses of passersbys. A voluptuous women drew lustful gazes like a magnet, and other women smiled at the thoughts of the men: the dream that underneath the thin cloth of the white suits, underneath the wispy silk of creamy white dresses, there was nothing - neither skirts nor corsets nor vests nor shirts - just bare skin, that everyone was naked, everyone nude in the hot night air...

Torral, Mévil, and Fierce went down Catinat Street, and took their places at chairs of one of the big cafes where they commanded the bustling crowd.

Servants ran to take their orders, exaggerating a mocking respect.

"Rainbows," ordered Fierce.

One of the servers brought him tall elegant Alsatian flutes of Champagne, and seven bottles of different liquors. Then in every glass Fierce poured each of the bottles in order. Drop by drop, and the densest liquids first, so that they didn't mix, but stacked one on top of each other in alternating layers, bands of different colored alcohol, a heady rainbow of colors. When he was finished, he drank it all in one gulp, like a drunkard. Mévil, delicately, used a straw for his own, tasting, savoring, treasuring, each flavor, one by ow. But Torral declared that a well-developed palet should be able to appreciate all of the notes at once in the alcoholic choir, and that a musician too would be able to savor all of the instruments of a concert at once, before he downed it all just like Fierce.

Mévil, with a sweeping gest of his arm, took in the crowd.

"This is Saigon," he declared grandly. "Look, Fierce! Here you have yellow women, blue women, black women, green women - even white women! Do you think they're like the other women of the rainbow that you'll find in the rest of God's green Earth? You're mistaken! They're different from the others, on the inside even: they're not hypocrites. They're all for sale, just like in Europe, but for sale for money, and not for the dreadfully complicated currencies of pleasure, vanity, honor, tenderness. Here, it's an open air market, and the prices are all spelled out in black and white. All of these half-naked arms which shine pearly-white on this night, they're voluptuous collars ready to drape themselves around your neck. You can choose what you want, and me, I've had my pick every time that she's taken my fancy. Nowadays still, I leave the arranged price on the mantlepiece of my mistress, and every month I leave a little gift behind in the houses that I've appreciated. A women market: the best supplied and the most charming in the universe, the most delightful and the only one which is worthy of attracting buys like us, men without faith or laws, without prejudices or morals, true believers in the sublime religion of pleasure, with Saigon as its temple. I was a blasphemer earlier: women don't complicate life, they're delightful for ornamenting and filling it out, and they make it so enjoyable for honest men. They've made my life into such a pretty and filled out place, and my egoism adapts to them. I have to admit that I've made my home more comfortably in this house of sin, save for days with migraines and nights with nightmares, than the late Michel de Montaigne did in his house, sleeping on his sceptic's pillow.

"Incomplete," responded Torral.

Mévil gestured again to take in the people who still continued their languid promenade like a slow waltz.

"Saigon," he continued, "the civilized capital of the world, by the grace of the climate which fits her so well, by the unconscious drive of all of the races which are driven here to meet each other. You understand, Fierce - everyone brings their own law, their religion, their morals - and there aren't two morals which are the same among peoples, nor two laws, nor two religions. One day, they noticed that the other races existed, and then burst into laughter when they were looking at the others, and all of their beliefs went up in a puff of smoke! And now, now that they're liberated from the shackles and the yoke of norms, they're free to live according to our favorite expression - the minimal amount of effort and the maximum amount of pleasure. Human respect doesn't bother them, because they all imagine that they're superior to the others, because their skin has a different shade - and they live as if they they're alone in this world. They're aren't any voyeurs here, because licentiousness is everywhere, and there's the natural and logical development of all of the instincts that social conventions would have strangled, mutated, removed. To sum it up, you have an incredible progress of civilization, and a unique possibility for these people to find happiness. But for lack of intelligence, they don't! We, living on the edges of their society, we find it - we find happiness. It just means that you do what you want, without worrying about other people - without worrying about the destructive chimeras that are called good and bad. If you only like the love of women? Then go out and make a paradise of warm thighs and soft mouths, without worrying about scruples like loyalty or fidelity. I've chosen for myself my own lot of splendid numbers, of transcendant curves - because I do mathematics, and my serving boy takes care of me without me having to worry, putting my nerves into the calm state that they need. You, I don't doubt that you have, like us, your own legitimate passion or your wise pastime, and I truly believe that you will find complete happiness when you devote yourself to it without restriction.

"It must be nice, to really believe in something," responded Torral.

They drank the other rainbows and they left for the theater.

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