The television is on way up in a corner of the office. But with the sound off, it's scarcely noticeable. And much preferable. It's like watching a baseball game without the play-by-play. You get the game without the intruding patter. If you look at all, it's almost soothing. There's nothing to agree or disagree with, just the familiar rituals. Bats swing and connect noiselessly, the crowd roars soundlessly. Like the softly colored pictures, the silence is a steady assurance.
Yes, the world is still out there somewhere. Or as the Israelis say when they turn on the TV, it's just to see if we're still here. With a newspaperman, it's an occupational habit. So the television screen stays on even if the sound is off -- on the off chance that some of the Breaking News might actually be breaking news. It could happen.
This afternoon, the newscast shows two familiar figures, personifications of their respective national characters:
On one side is the prototypical Frenchman. Nicolas Sarkozy is making a visit to Washington. The premier is grinning, grimacing, gesticulating. ... He is clearly not from one of the hand-mute peoples. Just as clearly, he is enjoying himself, the way a voluble college lecturer does when he purses his lips before making a particularly eloquent point, caught up in his brilliance and politesse.
Dapper, energetic, the voluble M. Sarkozy might be in a bistro explaining why one pinot noir has it all over another, or why one of the who-knows-how-many varieties of brie is superior to the others. His hands slice the air, his economical Gallic shrug says it all. C'est la vie, non? He can say more with a wry look than anyone not French could say in a whole book. Naturally the greatest of mimes, Marcel Marceau, would be French. They have a talent for the nonverbal.
On the other side of the screen -- handsome, intelligent, restrained, smooth -- is the American president. Barack Obama seems almost immobile by comparison, even when he opens his mouth to say something agreeable and no doubt elevating. He's taller, quieter, younger but just as commanding, if not more so. Calm, cool, confident. He exudes tact yet power.
The actors recite their lines, mutual admiration is expressed, and the play is concluded without a hitch. Well done. You feel like applauding at the end, so flawlessly do they exchange their respectful, soundless volleys.
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