As I suspect is the case with most acquaintances, there are but few singular features which survive the currency of the relationship. That at least is my recollection of the late Louis de la Chesnaye Audette, QC, OC who died over 20 years ago. Louis, apart from having been a distinguished warship Commander, lawyer and civil servant (not to mention the grandson of Sir Andrew Stuart, Seigneur and Chief Justice of the Superior Court of the Province of Quebec), distinguished himself in my mind by his command of language (both English and French) and his unrepentant dedication to himself. He once remarked for example that he especially enjoyed dining at his club by himself because he was assured to have the best company possible! While there was always an element of mirth to whatever he said, it was nonetheless apparent to me that there was an equal degree of sincerity which insinuated his flippancy. Another case in point was his reply to my question what advice he would give a young man. His answer: “I have three words of advice – read, read and read!”
Today on Boxing Day, upon the exhaustion of the Christmas exuberance, I echoed the universal constraint. Besides I have a bout of the grippe and thought it best to lie low. Accordingly I took the advice of my ancient friend and submerged myself in Virginia Woolf’s “The Voyage Out“. Appropriately enough the novel (Rachel Vinrace’s mythical voyage of self-discovery) has a decidedly maritime and nautical context which alone appeals to me.
Literary scholar Phyllis Rose writes in her introduction to the novel, “No later novel of Woolf’s will capture so brilliantly the excitement of youth.” And also the excitement and challenge of life. “It’s not cowardly to wish to live,” says one old man at the end of the book. “It’s the very reverse of cowardly. Personally, I’d like to go on for a hundred years… Think of all the things that are bound to happen!”
This literary enterprise was naturally postponed until after I had fed myself this morning – though I hasten to add that I didn’t surface from my bedroom until after ten o’clock by which time I discovered the place had been abandoned to me alone. My usual prolonged breakfast of fruit, coffee and ham and eggs ensured that it was beyond noon when I took up my position with my iPad in the comfortable cushioned chair on the balcony facing the Atlantic Ocean. Between paragraphs and chapters my attention was intercepted by the changing appearance of the shoreline. People walked along the beach. Children rode their bicycles. Couples clad in extraordinarily bright togs plodded across the sand to the shore. Others lingered on the walkway discussing unintelligible matters. Dogs seemed to walk upon the crest of the waves. Deer materialized in the bushes atop the sand dunes. Small children raced across the lawns below to the boardwalk to the sea.
It was a predominantly foggy day but from time to time the sun glowed so brightly through the grey sheen that I temporarily relocated to another chair in the corner of the balcony shielded from the sun. As much as I generally abhor indolence I reasoned that my languor today was imperative for my health and again I reminded myself of what Louis might have done under similar circumstances at least until he decided he was “fed up with himself” and launched into one activity or other to expiate his guilt. My reprieve was the return of my partner who had astonishingly bicycled over 75 kilometres and who as surprisingly promptly queried whether I might drive him to Harris Teeter to collect some groceries which naturally I agreed to do immediately.
At the grocery store I remained in the car and jumped from one radio station to another in an attempt to glean some intelligence about world affairs. I was treated to an end-of-year recapitulation of old news; viz., Barack Obama’s presidency, Donald J. Trump’s ascendency and the undeniable up-tick of the stock market following Trump’s election. I finally settled upon a BBC interview with Gwyneth Paltrow about her recent business exploit (basically re-hashing other people’s products). One must rehearse the media’s fetish for yearly summary.
Back home I was treated to a piping hot lemon drink on the balcony while I resumed my absorption in my book. And before long I smelled the aroma of cooking vegetables and chicken. In honour of my illness we’re having comfort food tonight. I must say I haven’t any regret about not having bicycled today. My only accession to industry was having tossed several items into the laundry tub and dryer. I am now thankfully better prepared for our anticipated outing tomorrow with friends to Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks where we anticipate the usual fare of oysters and fish.
Far out between the waves little black and white sea-birds were riding. Rising and falling with smooth and graceful movements in the hollows of the waves they seemed singularly detached and unconcerned.
“The Voyage Out” by Virginia Woolf