On the prospect of lend/borrow bankruptcy

I’m packing for a move. Who loaned me that DVD? Where did my gorillapod go? I’m roughly three weeks away from having to declare lend/borrow bankruptcy: If I haven’t figured out whom to reclaim stuff from or return stuff to, custody becomes ownership.

Anatole France reportedly said, “Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me.”

<Insert wind chime sound effects, soft-focus camerawork and a dissolve here.>

From Strawbridge & Clothiers Quarterly (ca. 1882)

From Strawbridge & Clothiers Quarterly (ca. 1882)

In Linda’s Imaginary Alternate Universe, in a folk tradition of my own invention, Le Jour d’Anatole—Anatole’s Day—is the annual summer carnival of gratitude. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the solstice by paying informal visits to all of our local friends carrying a decorated basket of borrowed things we hope to return to their owners, even if we have forgotten who that may be. As we drop in at each home, we exchange ritual greetings: “I may have a few things belonging to you.” “Won’t you come in? I may have a few things belonging to you.”

The word anatolia has come to encompass all things borrowed and loaned. Your hosts will have their own decorated basket of anatolia. Items too large to carry may be represented by a note or a photograph. Even if you have no expectation of returning or reclaiming anatolia during this visit, you inspect one another’s baskets with admiration while exchanging news from the past year. Each item is decorated with a ribbon tied in a bow. When an item and its owner are reunited, the ribbon is retied with a double bow. Throughout the day, while you are returning anatolia to their owners, you will likely be refilling your basket with double-bowed anatolia of your own.

Anatolia visits are traditionally short, but you will always be offered a cold drink of fresh water from a tiny glass. You must drink the whole thing, which represents the largest gesture of hospitality that creates no obligation to reciprocate. You may be offered three individually wrapped sweets and will usually eat one, offer the second to your host, and put the third in your basket: one for now, one to share, one to save for later.

Jour d’Anatole is historically a family holiday with some old-fashioned conventions to coordinate visits: which parent stayed home to host and which took the children door to door; how single persons could both host and visit; and, when new couples would be expected to coordinate plans. Those conventions have largely been discarded except for the “Anatole coin.” Ostensibly, everyone tosses a coin at breakfast. Those whose coins come up heads visit before lunch and play host in the afternoon; tails, host before lunch and visit in the afternoon. In practice, people usually choose whether to be morning callers or afternoon callers according to character or convenience, and hang decorative “Anatole coins” on their doors in June: two-headed or two-tailed.

In small towns and amongst extended families, Jour d’Anatole is a community-wide open house where you can be assured of bumping into everyone at some point during the day. The coffeeshops, library and pubs will hang Jour d’Anatole coins and put out tiny water glasses. People carry their baskets everywhere all day.

In cities and wherever friends and family are separated, people pay anatolia visits by appointment or hold parties. In remote communities, it is common to leave an empty basket outside your front door when you leave to pay your anatolia visits. Callers will leave anatolia and sweets in the basket anonymously, usually tying a riddle to the ribbon whose solution will reveal their names.

On its face, this is a holiday for reclaiming and restoring lost property, but it is really about our interconnectedness. It is good to return anatolia and it is good to reclaim anatolia, but the full basket represents stewardship and abundant friendship. There is a melancholy nickname for people who manage to empty their baskets: the solitaires. As a seasonal gesture of hospitality, many people carry small gently-used items—traditionally books—in their baskets to give away to strangers and other solitaires, saying “Hello, my friend, I have something belonging to you.”

Children play a game of tag called solitaire where everyone begins with a pocketful of tokens (such as pebbles or buttons), and can give away a token to anyone they can catch. The game ends when one person succeeds in emptying their pockets and becoming a solitaire. Then every other player steps up in turn saying “Hello my friend, I have something belonging to you” and gives the solitaire one token to keep. On Jour d’Anatole, those tokens are candy or small coins.

Footnote: My basket is full. Do I have anything of yours that I could return before August? Do you have anything of mine that you could return after July?

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