Who are these “persons with relevant knowledge”?
Last summer in Vancouver I went out for dinner with a couple of friends in Chinatown.
The restaurant had white concrete walls and chrome lights dangling from the
ceiling that gave the place an operating theatre vibe. The waitress wore a plain white T-shirt and round glasses with gold frames.
We ordered pizza with organic sausage and locally foraged mushrooms.
A few seats away a man said, taste is the phenomenon associated with the tongue, whereas flavour involves the whole impression, the way it tastes and feels, its aroma.
The speaker was a pale-skinned, blond man in a white shirt. He was speaking to a brown-skinned, blackhaired man in a black shirt. Each had his hair parted at the side, cropped close at the neck and ears.
The black-haired man leaned in. The blond man swirled his glass around and let the wine rise up and then he watched the wine run down the insides of the glass.
Flavour perception has a huge role to play in aesthetics, the blond man continued, much bigger than is often talked about. It’s a whole new exciting field and Vancouver is the place for it.
At home that night, I looked into the idea of flavour and aesthetic in the works of Hannah Arendt, who makes a distinction between the “common” senses of sight, sound and touch and the “private” senses of taste and smell. Taste and smell, according to Arendt, cannot be shared or recollected, because we experience those senses subjectively, inside our bodies.
For example, the blond man went on, there are many more flavours than there are movies. I can tell you my favourite movie, but I would be hard pressed to pin down my favourite flavour. You see, with flavour perception, you get far more fine-grained than with the other senses.
The waitress came by and collected our plates. How are we feeling about dessert? she asked.
The black-haired man said, by the way, what do you think of the wine?
Not my first choice, the blond man said, but it’s okay.
After dinner we went for a stroll up Main Street. The sun had set and I suggested that we go to a bar by the train station that I knew would be quiet. We entered through a green door and climbed the flight of stairs.
The ceiling was low, made of dark wood, and the walls were painted a dark green; a dark wood bar occupied a corner of the room. The bartender wore suspenders and his moustache was turned up at the ends.
The room had the vibe of a New York speakeasy, or at least the New York speakeasies I’d seen in movies.
Groups of bearded men and tattooed women sat around a dozen tables.
We ordered three Corpse Revivers No. 2.
The bartender rattled the martini shaker high over his shoulder, a serious look held his face, eyebrows furrowed, his eyes fixed on the middle distance in front of him.
Is this a hipster place? asked my friend, who was in his sixties.
Of course, I said, this is the nighttime hipster joint, the place we were before is the daytime hipster joint.
My friend said that he had been reading about hipsters in a book by Mark Grief. The essence of the hipster, my friend said, is the quest for superior knowledge. In North America the process often takes the form of disenfranchised people from the dominant culture, historically it’s been white men, rejecting the dominant culture and turning to nondominant cultures for knowledge. They then transform that knowledge into art or literature or music, or even restaurants and bars, and then release it back into the dominant culture, which in turn gives them legitimacy as agents of the avant-garde. In a way, my friend said, the process of hipsterism resembles the process of colonialism.
Three Corpse Revivers No. 2, said the bartender.
Then a woman behind me said, I heard there is a woman who is designated as the alien ambassador for Canada. So if the aliens came she would be the one to make first contact. Every country in the world has one.
At home later that evening, following up on these comments, I found no references to a Canadian ambassador to extraterrestrials, but I did stumble on the website of the International Academy of Astronautics, a (Un-recognized) group of hundreds of scientists from around the world who have drafted the “Declaration of Principles Concerning Sending Communications with Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” which says that in case of contact with extraterrestrial life forms “States participating in this Declaration and United Nations bodies should draw on the expertise of scientists, scholars, and other persons with relevant knowledge.” The declaration says nothing about who constitutes a person with relevant knowledge.
The woman continued, the reason that all these alien stories are coming out about Area 51 is that all the guys who worked there are now retired and old so they can confess what they saw. Like, they don’t have to worry about getting fired anymore; they can just say what they know.
We ordered three more Corpse Revivers No. 2.
The bartender shook the martini shaker and poured the drinks. Three Corpse Revivers No. 2, he announced.
We fell into an argument about whether the proper expression should be corpse reviver number twos or corpse revivers number two.
And what of the other several dozen Corpse Revivers, 1 or 3 or 27? Why did we stick with 2? I recalled then a story my grandmother had told me about the time that she and my grandfather travelled from Krakow to Dubrovnik in the 1950s on their honeymoon. The sights of Dubrovnik were enchanting, she said, but the practicalities of everyday life were challenging. We could not read the language, and so, in restaurants, we ordered the only dish that we recognized on the menus, namely, wieners. We ate wieners for lunch and for dinner, for two whole weeks. After that, your grandfather refused to eat wieners again, she said.
The woman behind me said, in an exhausted tone now, if god put us here, why didn’t god put people on all of the other planets? Why just here?
Michał Kozłowski is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Geist. Read more of his work at geist.com.