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James M. Cain's 'Paradise'

January 01, 2012|By James M. Cain

Hospitality, I think, comes when people have sent down roots; it goes with pride in a home, pride in ancestors that built the home, conscious identification with a particular soil. These people, in one way or another, are all exiles. They have come here recently, and their hearts are really in the places that they left. Thus, if they do not do as much visiting with each other as you see in other parts of the country, or the gossiping that goes with visiting, they do have the quick friendliness that exiles commonly show, and I must say it is most agreeable. You may encounter many things you do not like in California, but you will go a long way before you meet a churl.

With the friendliness and courtesy, I would bracket the excellent English that is spoken here. The Easterner, when he first hears it, is likely to mistake it for the glib chatter of habitual salesmanship. I think that is because the language you hear here, even from the most casual garage mechanic, is too articulate to seem plausible. For one accustomed to the bray of Eastern Virginia, or the gargle of Second Avenue New York, or the grunts of the West Virginia foothills, or the wim, wigor, and witality of Southern Pennsylvania, it is hard to believe that the common man can express himself coherently, unless he has learned the trick somehow by rote. So that when the common man out here addresses you in easy grammar, completes his sentences, shows familiarity with good manners, and in addition gives you a pleasant smile, you are likely to resent it, and assume that he is parroting the radio, or the talkies, or else that he has been under the tutelage of a high-pressure salesman somewhere, and supplied with a suitable line of gab. In other words, even when you hear it you don't believe it; instead, you keep your ears open for the "authentic" talk of the region, uncorrupted by influences tending to neutralize its flavor.

Well, I have listened to it for more than a year now, and I believe it, and I think I am middling hard to fool about such things. The authentic talk of the region is simply good English, and you will hear it wherever you go. The intonation is not what you may have supposed from listening] to Aimee over the radio. Aimee comes from Canada, and her dreadful twang bears no relation to what is spoken here.

The actual accent, to my ear, has a somewhat pansy cast to it; it produces on me the same effect as an Englishman's accent. It is clipped, not as clipped as the New England accent, but a little clipped; in addition, there is a faint musical undertone in it: they "sing" it, which is probably why it affects me as an Englishman's English, since he also sings his stuff, although in a different key. Pronunciation is excellent. The populace seem to be on familiar terms with most of the words in the language, and you rarely hear that butchery of sonorous terms that is so common elsewhere.

With the good English goes an uncommonly high level of education. These people read, they know what is going on in the world, even if they hold some strange ideas about it, of which more later. And I might mention at this point a cleanliness hardly to be matched elsewhere. Except for the few Mexican hovels in every town, there is no squalor here, or dirt. The houses are very badly planned, but two rooms in them are built with the best of skill, and polished with the utmost care: the kitchen and the bathroom. There is no litter. As in some European cities, where even on the most crowded Sunday there is no scattering of lunch-wrappings in the parks, a homogeneous population takes pretty good care of its nest. And the sunshine, a blight in so many ways, may be due for credit here. It is a sort of general disinfectant.

Next, I would list the things that require an effective communal effort: schools, roads, gigantic water projects, recreation facilities, and so on. The schools, in my opinion, are the best in the country. I find three States ranked ahead of California, —Nevada, New York,and Wyoming, —in the amount of money expended per unit of attendance, or population, or whatever it is that they measure by; but I say that money is not the only thing that counts in education. My brief for the California schools rests on the simple fact that our two children did terribly in the East, whereas here they do fine. They like school, learn their lessons, take an interest in what the school does; and so they get a great deal more out of their time than I got when I was their age. Also, they are treated with the utmost consideration, not only by their teachers, but by their colleagues in bondage.

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