This writing is dedicated to Natalie McMaster, whose unforgettable concert of Scottish fiddle music in Kansas City gave me the final push to put these thoughts into writing.

The real Martians

Once upon a time I have read that, according to Fermi, extraterrestrials exist among us, and they are the Hungarians.

I am a Hungarian and I feel he was wrong. True, people who grew up thinking in our language can always surprise an Indo-European with just the order of their words, let alone the way their thoughts are linked. But we firmly exist and our culture is no more exotic than Chinese or Jewish (which, by the way, was the second heritage of many of Fermi's Hungarian colleagues).

Real extraterrestrials cannot exist so unambigously. Real extraterrestrials must resemble the ones Ray Bradbury has dreamt up in his Martian Chronicles: even they themselves are not sure whether they are here, or have perished a millennium ago. And it does not really matter since they have foreseen the disappearance of their civilization long time before it happened, just like the druids predicted the demise of their idols. They know and accept about their community what common mortals find hard to accept about themselves: everything in this Universe has a birth and a death. They are content with this arrangement, like fairies who are not afraid of marrying mortals, and of withering away slowly with them, since they know: a finite life lived to its fulness is superior to an eternity of incompleteness.

Maybe it is because of their early and unconditional acceptance of disappearance that they seem to stay with us in the strangest ways: in our dreams, in our hearts, in our minds. Before us, behind us, around us, above us, below us ... I have seen many African Americans in Boston wearing a green coat on March 17, and I have read the diary of the greatest German contemporary novelist about his frequent pilgrimages to the greenest country in Europe. Parts of it -for instance, the account of a battle in the early Middle Ages starting as a disagreement on copyright issues- sound like real science fiction. Bradbury got it right again: the Martians know how to take the shape of our bodies, if it is necessary for our benefit. It is not even clear whether they become Earthlings or we become Martians under some strange spell.

Only young civilizations believe that being more advanced makes you superior. Old Martians know that this is false. Yet the young ones lose temper every now and then: these are the moments when we come to realize that the accounts about the rage of Chu Chullain are no joke, the sad moments when the streets of Ulster are covered with blood again because of some dispute over cattle. Yet, compared to common Earthlings, Martians have the tendency to endure more suffering in silence, and it was a very long time ago that Rome barely survived the siege of Brennus' troops. The famous quote "Væ victis" became a slogan of Earthlings, often applied while destroying everything not fitting their narrowest definition of culture.

Above all, the most important feature of real Martians is that they see the true importance of all things created. Although they are not immune of disputes of political, religious, or phylosophical nature, they concentrate their energies on what really matters: the weather (an endless source of Martian conversation), and questions like who was the one who made a really good catch marrying the other. While most Earthlings focus on one, at most two issues "of deadly importance", Martians watch for the unnoticed detail. You may recognise real Martians in conversations by the opening sentence "reminds me of ..." after which they come up with a story which has apparently nothing to do with any of the subjects discussed up to that point. They do, if you give up your obsessions and group facts together in the way they really fit to each other. It takes a lot of patience and humility to learn the Martian way of thinking, but there is no reward without sacrifice, only in the world of Martian paradoxes.

By now you have probably guessed who the real Martians are, so I will not tell their name. Nothing annoys them more than someone spelling out the obvious. This is namely the feature which hinders almost anyone to reach their level of perfection, without which we will never be fully human.


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HG Copyright © 1997 Gábor Hetyei. hetyei@lacim.uqam.ca