We’re in Harrisonburg, Virginia overlooking the Shenandoah National Park from our hotel room on a brilliantly sunny day. This year we changed our driving plans by limiting the number of hours we’re on the road pointedly taking into consideration not only the estimated driving time between points A and B but also including in the calculation the estimated time spent at a restaurant, gas station and rest stops. The latter inclusions add easily 2 hours to the overall driving time. Thus a standard daily drive of 300 miles (5 hours @ 60 mph) plus 2 hours for stopovers will easily consume 7 – 8 hours. That happens to be almost precisely what transpired today (including the car wash).
It’s time to go home. But we’re not running from Hilton Head Island. Oddly leaving this magical subtropical vista feels more like closing the door on a family cottage; a place we’re only leaving behind temporarily. After having come and gone numerous times over the cross-island bridge in the past decade we have begun to blend with this barrier island just as it has insinuated our veins.
What astonishes me more than the glide by of 28 years since we met on February 24th, 1996 at the Château Laurier Health Club and went for drinks with our erstwhile (Cupid) friend Johnnie in the By Ward Market is the unparalleled bliss we’ve shared every day since then. I honestly cannot recall a more sustained and nutritious relationship. And to make it all the more remarkable we continue to delight in being together every day that follows.
JP Donleavy’s book The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B is one of my favourites.
Balthazar B (whose final name is never revealed) is born to riches in Paris. His father dies when he is young and his mother neglects him for her lovers. Instead he is brought up by a nanny and relies for male advice on his Uncle Edouard, who instructs him in the worldly life of an elegant roué. He is shipped off to a British boarding school, where he makes a lasting friendship with Beefy, a similarly displaced laird, who is eventually expelled. On a return to Paris at the age of twelve Balthazar is initiated sexually by his 24-year-old nanny, Bella Hortense. She is dismissed when the brief idyll is discovered and it is only later that he discovers that she had a child by him.
This morning I received an email from my erstwhile physician and brother of the craft confirming his upcoming airline passage from Cape Town to Newark then to Ottawa where we’ve arranged to collect him upon his arrival back home after months of absence involving Antarctica, South America, Australia and Africa. The perception of my friend is repeatedly enhanced by such exotic travel, an habitual model of his which reflects not only the numberless jaunts but also a knockabout conduct which is quite literally interminable. Mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps; or trundling through the jungle in Vietnam.
From the moment we met our relationship has been singular. He first greeted me at my law office wearing an extraordinarly handsome wolf fur coat with his exceedingly attractive New York modelling wife on his arm. Upon the subsequent dissolution of that marriage, he would cut across the park that separated our dwellings and come for dinner. His first arrival at one of these collaborative affairs included production of a ceramic pot with a subordinate candle heating device. He employed it to create a Bagna càuda.
Bagna càuda is a hot dish made from olive oil, garlic and anchovies originating in Provence, France and popular in Piedmont, Italy since the 16th century. The dish is served and consumed in a manner similar to fondue, sometimes as an appetizer, with raw or cooked vegetables typically used to dip into it.
This however was only an introduction to his cosmopolitan flavours. After he bought his country estate on McCaffrey Trail in the nearby Village of Ashton for example I dined with him and his ancient Greek (and equally itinerant) colleague George who together produced a number of inexpressibly pleasant meals with a distinct Mediterranean influence. I understand that the two of them had formerly shared similar encounters in the Greek chap’s Aegean seaside home.
My friend’s alliance with other vagabonds included Charles who annually frequented Bali (where I believe he died). Charles had been a regular partner in my friend’s household particularly because Charles got along famously with my friend’s two children (who by the way have likewise continued the incessant footloose behaviour of their father and his friends).
Like many other marvellous accounts there have regrettably been elements of distress. As close as I have been to the most tragic loss, and having attended the funeral and having spoken openly in the church, my friend has unsparingly preserved his constancy to others in particular and to life in general. Never – absolutely never – have I heard him utter a word of despondency. Instead of glumness, his is a character of cheerfulness and hopefulness.
Our involvement together has carpeted not only legal work, medical advice, social gatherings, Masonic lodge fraternity and friendship but also once a sporting outing. My friend has always been athletic. He engaged me as his steward in a marathon which, if I recall correctly, involved bicycling and running. The morning of the event – I believe a sunny Saturday – I was hopelessly hung over from the previous evening. I arrived at his country estate as scheduled early that morning. No doubt my diminished status was apparent. I recall feeling particularly incongruous as I smoked cigarettes and prepared to follow my friend in a van as he completed his long-distance run and cycle.
We have punctuated our friendship by traveling together with his lady friend to Sardegna and Montepulciano. It was a magnificent venture involving once again ineffable culinary experiences there and on neighbouring Maddalena archipelago to which we travelled by boat.
Less dramatically we have also aligned ourselves on Longboat Key (where we then stayed) and neaby Sarasota (where he has two vacation properties). We never were able to meet on Key Largo where we wintered one year; nor on Hilton Head Island (which my friend confesses to be too cool for his liking). However our reunions in the Town of Mississippi Mills are always uplifting; and I believe it is safe to observe that we’re all looking forward to reuniting at the golf club in the near future! I say this unreservedly as we parenthetically prepare to evacuate Hilton Head Island early tomorrow morning. Momentarily we shall commune at Lowcountry Produce for one final ceremony this year before our departure.
The number of things we have is astonishing. It unimaginable what we’d do without them. I’m reminded how animals live so independently and without electric toothbrushes, sterling silver flatware, automobiles, hair dryers, jewelry, clothing, cosmetics, tables and chairs, pianos, umbrellas, artwork and luggage – to name but a few things!
Already I am back to my old habits, drinking far too much coffee, staying awake until the middle of the night, then – after having taken my pills and dissipated the caffeine – sleeping unrepentingly late until after ten o’clock the next morning. It is unquestionably an unfavourable modus operandi but one from which I was happily able to recover this morning without difficulty or collateral remorse. In the result, by four o’clcock this afternoon we were both shamelessly lanquishing upon the balcony overlooking the sea, meaninglessly chatting and reminiscing about our passage upon Hilton Head Island since our first encounter here on Christmas Eve in 2012.
Long ago I recognized the deceit of euphoria; namely, it is but an intoxication. And like any other fuel, its effects are limited. Barring perpetual enhancement (elation, ecstacy or rhapsody) the cloud-9 effect is predominantly short-lived.
Lying back this afternoon in a deck chair on the balcony with my feet on a footrest while overlooking the glistening sea constituted a sizeable recovery from my early morning angst. I was still feeling the effect of yesterday’s pedal upon the beach. My legs and knees hadn’t yet returned to passable praxis. But seeing the shimmering sunshine upon the sea pines and ocean it burned me up to contemplate spending the day in utter idleness. Yet from the smallest attempt at mobility I could tell it was a day to set aside the usual cycling ambition. I would only end doing more harm than good in spite of the putative psychological advantage of doing so.
When I awoke at eight o’clock this morning and stretched, my first thought was the tide chart. I hadn’t bicycled yesterday and I was anxious today to do so on the beach. My hurried investigation of the tides led me to an internet site which showed a painting of a sailing ship on the cover of an album of sea shanties. My immediate interest in the sailing ship instigated further inquiry. At last I unfolded on YouTube the rendition of a sea shanty which had its beginnings in New Zealand. This in turn led me to an article in the Guardian. All told it was a fascinating pursuit.
Where to begin! Such unbargained for and unabridged expressions of well-being, magnanimity, providence, rich humour and artistry! A vertiable wholesome conglomerate of adventitious disconnected and disassociated events. And all with reciprocal assembly.
It began earlier this morning when a dear friend gushed noticeably (and quite purposively I am certain) for having been remembered on her special day. While I initiallly dismissed the utterance as a pleasantry, upon subsequent reflection I acknowledged the strength of what she had said. I too might appreciate being remembered. But before I had the opportunity to test the prediction (and possibly to my unfolding disappointment) I distracted myself from the brooding by embracing what little forward thinking already percolated within me on this grey, cool day by the sea on Hilton Head Island. That is, the practical though critical resolve to get the car washed.