Smith completes the saga of Prof. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld (see below) with a pair of long stories that transport him to Cambridge University and a faded Colombia salon.
“On Being Light Blue” indulges the eminent scholar’s long-time wish for a visiting appointment at Cambridge courtesy of his colleague Prof. Dr. Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer’s equally ardent desire to appropriate his office during his absence. Von Igelfeld’s tenancy at Cambridge is a series of lightweight comic sketches: his mistaking Prof. Porter for the College Porter, his attempt to prevent visiting American opera writer Matthew Gurewitsch from using his shared bathroom without lying about its availability, his seduction into some collegiate intrigue—the last of which supplies an anticlimax worthy of Botswana private detective Precious Ramotswe (The Full Cupboard of Life, p. 158, etc.). If this tale depends a little too completely on Smith’s ear for the absurdity of academic persiflage just as it’s lifting off from reality, the title story takes von Igelfeld to an altogether higher plane. Returning to the Institute for Romance Philology, he’s settling into his amusingly small-minded routine, holding his blotter up to a mirror to see whether he can identify Unterholzer’s handwriting, when he learns that his magnum opus Portuguese Irregular Verbs has been checked out of the Institute’s library in his absence. The upshot finds von Igelfeld in Colombia, where he receives a series of increasingly improbable appointments, spends a memorable few days at Señora Dolores Quinta Barranquilla’s Villa of Reduced Circumstances, comes face-to-face with a guerilla uprising, and distinguishes himself as a statesman and war hero before floating back home.
Though the first story is piffle, the second is a worthy apotheosis for Smith’s charmingly clueless pedagogue. (Illus. throughout with b&w block prints)