Another Nice Connection
Thanks to a tip from my friend Jean-Marie Jacquème, I was standing at a table of books this afternoon at the 10th annual Festival du Livre de Nice when I heard a voice ask me, “Avez-vous de la peur des robots?” (Are you afraid of robots?) I looked up from the books and saw a man seated behind them, smiling at me with an impish grin. I had to ask him to repeat the question, and I understood it the second time, replying, “Oui, un peu.” (Yes, a little). Thus began a fascinating conversation with Dr. André Varenne, a cardiologist who after retirement at age 65 began writing and publishing books. His most recent volume is titled Le Défi Des Robots Pensants: Nos amis ou nos assassins? (The Challenge of Thinking Robots: Our Friends or Our Assassins?) He became interested in the topic of robots, but unlike most of us, his interest was not idle; it led to extended research, writing periods which his very young and attractive wife told me sometimes last 12 hours straight, and an impressive tome of 236 pages, including 12 pages of detailed bibliography.
We visited for quite a while in French, and of course I bought the book. Doctor Varenne inscribed it as follows: “Pour Léonard, un américain qui parle mieux le français que les robots.” (For Leonard, an American who speaks French better than the robots.)
I wandered off, not wanting to monopolize his time for selling and autographing books, but I couldn’t help stopping by again. This time he told me about another of the books on the table, a book his father, Joseph Varenne, wrote about his experiences in World War I. Joseph kept an illustrated journal during his war years. As the second World War loomed, Joseph felt compelled to publish his journal in book form, as a warning to a new generation on the horrors of war. The book, titled L’aube Ensanglantée, (Bloody or Cruel Dawn) – has an introduction by Dr. Vareene, who said he hopes his grandchildren will do the same favor for him, republishing his books someday to keep them in circulation.
Although I had promised Darlene that I would not be buying any more books, I had to buy the father’s book, too. But my credit card wouldn’t work for some reason, and I had to search out an ATM across the Promenade d’Anglais, returning with cash for the purchase. It was well worth the effort. The doctor and I shook hands, and his wife took a photo of us, awkwardly stretching across the table for an embrace. Afterward, Darlene and I found a café near the Promenade and read for a couple of hours before taking the train back to Cannes. The robots book so far is stunning. It begins with a weirdly prescient play written in Czechoslovakia in 1920 by Karel Capek, titled R.U.R., Rossum’s Universal Robots.
Sometimes I wish I had started writing poetry and other creative literature earlier than age 45. But Dr. André Varenne of Nice has given me a wonderful model of the truth that it’s never too late to follow your deepest interests. And early on in the robots book, he slips in this clue to his energy and captivating grin. “L’humour n’est-il pas la plus philosophique des façons de vivre?” Or, “Humor, is it not the most philosophic way to live?” Oui!