Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chapter 10 - Oh! Petawawa: Part 4 - Gossips, Bugs, and Skunks

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent. 

Alfred had become aware that some people at the Petawawa Camp considered him in an unfavorable light as an arrogant attention-seeker. He seemed so familiar with the Duke and his daughter, he had so many responsibilities not fitting his job description, he kept so much to himself, etc., etc., etc. The negative opinion about him might be summarized in the statement “Who the hell does that Korzybski think he is?” Alfred did not let it bother him. He knew that he skirted trouble and misunderstanding because of his independent attitude and direct manner. He wasn’t going to change just because people might misunderstand his actions and words and then gossip about him or believe other people’s gossip.

For example, he felt he had very little in common with most of the Russians, who spent their off-hours drinking. At the camp—when he wasn’t working or studying on his own—he tended to socialize with the Canadian and British officers stationed there. (Goodima had his wife and children with him and spent his time at home with them.) When the Canadian officers invited him to join their mess hall, he felt glad to stop eating with the Russians. He liked the food at the Canadian officers' mess better and it didn't cost as much. And he had a chance to practice his English with people he felt he had more in common with than the Russians. He had no interest in insulting anyone. However, not eating with the Russians could easily be viewed by some Russians as an insult. He did not feel inclined to expend much energy trying to correct such impressions:

In my country, gentlemen speak the truth, do not compromise with themselves, and are simple about it, of course this was misinterpreted, they laughed maybe, I smiled because I understood quite well their misinterpretations, which doubtless added to their irritation, but after all of what importance was it?…what through the narrow, petty and often ignorant lenses of bureaucracy was considered “pose” or “bluff” is known today, as it was before the war as simplicity, frankness, straightforwardness. I hate “diplomacy” which I refuse to emulate, I did so always, and will continue to do. To my mind simplicity and straightforwardness is the biggest luxury a gentleman can indulge in, and so I remain the same. (8)

Besides the gossips, other minor annoyances of life at Petawawa included the bugs and skunks. Korzybski had run-ins with both. Other than the multitudes of mosquitoes, the camp—at the edge of a wilderness area—had many different kinds of insects he had never seen before. Many of them bit. He found them quite bothersome, especially at night on the gun range. Alfred tried repellents that didn’t work. So when shooting, he often wore gloves and used a veil under his cap to reduce the bites to his hands and face.

As for the run-ins with skunks, many of these actually consisted of run-overs at night when, once they had finished shooting, Alfred would drive to the target area five miles  away with a few of his men. In the dark, his car would typically hit a few skunks along the way. He wasn’t happy about hitting them. As he said “They can certainly mess up the air all right.” He once came back to his cabin and found a skunk wandering around inside. He just waited until it left. “You don’t argue with a skunk.”
"You don't argue with a skunk."
The bugs, skunks, and other disagreeable aspects of camp life became the subject of the dark humor of Alfred and his friends. One, James A. Robinson, wrote “The Popular Song of Petawawa” which they sang to commiserate among themselves. Korzybski, still learning how to spell in English, dutifully recorded the lyrics for posterity:

Oh! Petawawa Oh! Petawawa Oh! Petawawa
Down where the Ottawa flowes.
We will never go there anymore anymore,
We will never go there anymore anymore,
We will never go there anymore anymore,
Down where the Ottawa flowes.

There are skunks in the gras overthere overthere,
There are skunks in the gras overthere overthere,
There are skunks in the gras they piss from their ass
Down where the Ottawa flowes
Oh! Petawawa * * * * We wont go there

There is magets in the cheese overthere overthere,
There is magets in the cheese overthere overthere,
There is magets in the cheese you can hear the beggar snees
There is magets in the cheese overthere.
Oh! Petawawa Oh! Petawawa * * * We will never go there.

There are bugs on the wall overthere overthere,
There are bugs on the wall overthere overthere,
There are bugs on the wall you can see the beggar crawl
There are bugs on the wall overthere.
Oh! Petawawa *************We will never go there.

There lots of skunks overthere overthere,
There is lots skunks overthere overthere,
If you anywhere near they’ll piss in your ear
There is lots of skunks overthere.
Oh! Petawawa *********** We’ll never go there. (9)

By the end of July 1916, Korzybski had been at Petawawa for more than half a year. He felt gratitude for the kindness of the Canadian officers he had met. Wanting to express his thanks, he decided to throw a grand party for the officers and their ladies aboard the river boat steamer, the “Oiseau”. He arranged an elaborate multi-course banquet on board, with a variety of wines for the 40 or 50 couples whom he invited as guests (the Russians whom he had invited seemed too shy to attend). They dined while cruising up the river and back to Petawawa in the course of several evening hours. The guests seemed especially charmed by Korzybski’s personal performance. In the szlachta tradition of hosting—which dictated “Gosc w dom, Bog v dom” (“Guest in the house, God in the house”)—he moved among his guest, filling glasses, supervising the staff of military waiters from the base, and leading a series of toasts to the King, the Tsar, the Allies and to the health of the war injured. After the ices and fruits and before the coffee, liqueurs, and cheese, Korzybski also made a toast to his guests and to Canada. By this time they had returned to dock at Petawawa once more and danced until after midnight to the orchestra Korzybski had assembled. 

Alfred may have considered the bill the most exciting part of the event. Renting the steamer cost him only $40 (he had expected to pay 3 or 4 times as much). He paid only around $100 for the food and drink, and nothing for the cooks, the waiters, or the orchestra. He didn’t ask questions.(10)  People talked about the evening for months afterwards. A local newspaper account of the evening noted:
Every lady carried away a beautiful Nippon dish as a souvenir of the trip. The gentlemen each received, as a remembrance, an ash tray cut from a shrapnel shell, and engraved, prophetically “World War, 1914-1917.”(11)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
7. Alfred Korzybski Scrapbook. AKDA 3.324. 

8. Korzybski to V. Molodoy, Unsent letter, 12/16/1924. AKDA 15.733. 

9. “The Popular Song of Petawawa”. AKDA 32.3. 

10. Korzybski 1947, p. 262. 

11. “An enjoyable private dinner was given on board the Steamer “Oiseau” on the evening of July 28th...” Unknown newspaper. n.d. AKDA 32.13. 

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