The Contrary

On the River Arno, in the region of Tuscany, are a people called “the Contrary” in English. They enjoy a quiet and unhindered existence. Among themselves they may be freely understood, but to outsiders their speech is confusing. For whatever one of the Contrary say will be heard as its opposite by a foreigner. As one truth may play host to many lies, a single idea can have many opposites.

The Contrary survived World War II and were not part of the Axis. None of their sons saw battle; none of their factories produced bombs. And so they lived, and continue to live, in pastoral simplicity.

There are three ways in which the Contrary may greet visitors. The first is in the innocent naivete of those unaccustomed to their linguistic quirk, whereupon visitors will be exhorted to leave and never return, or are cursed and reviled most despicably. The second is by those Contrarians who know of the confusion and endeavor to make their guests unwelcome through their speech; the net result is confusion from fellow Contrarians, but the message sounds vaguely polite if one is not a native. The third is reserved for those Contrarians who have made friendships. Their warm welcomes sound like harsh and unforgiving hate to their visitors, but such outsiders as know of these people understand the meaning behind it.

One may never know quite where a Contrarian stands, if he speaks to an outsider. Does he realize that the folk he converses with will not take his meaning, and does he try to say the opposite in order to make himself understood? Or does he speak as with his neighbors and kin, leaving his listener to make sense of it? It is a rare Contrarian wise enough to always know the difference, and a rarer visitor who has the patience to second-guess his host.

As a result, visitors are rare on the River Arno, in the region of Tuscany, among the people called the Contrary. And that is why they can enjoy a quiet and unhindered existence.