I have always considered it odd that I relate so unreservedly and eagerly to what I conjure up to be my native roots. This is admittedly a popular adornment these days – what with all the media attention to historical connections of Europeans with Africans and First Nations. It is naturally unimaginable what may be the precise – if indeed any – insinuation of the “blithe Spirit” or whatever it is that so magically produces an alignment with the fleshy enlargement of the past. But I am nonetheless convinced of the connection. For one thing, my skin tans remarkably well in the sun. For another, my ancestry in Canada goes back to about 1798 or thereabouts, a fact which in my opinion renders it highly probable that somewhere along the line there was communication by the interlopers with the residents. I cannot help being influenced by my unadulterated affection for silk and the notable suggestion that the native Indians acknowledged both heterosexual, homosexual and “Two Spirit” denominations.
Before the late twentieth-century, non-Native (i.e. non-Native American/Canadian) anthropologists used the term berdache (/bərˈdæʃ/), in a very broad manner, to identify an indigenous individual fulfilling one of many mixed gender roles in their tribe. Often in their writings they applied this term to any male who they perceived to be homosexual, bisexual, or effeminate by Western social standards, leading to a wide variety of diverse individuals being categorized under this imprecise term. At times they incorrectly implied that these individuals were intersex (or, “hermaphrodites”). The term berdache has always been repugnant to Indigenous people. De Vries writes, “Berdache is a derogatory term created by Europeans and perpetuated by anthropologists and others to define Native American/First Nations people who varied from Western norms that perceive gender, sex, and sexuality as binaries and inseparable.” The term has now fallen out of favor with anthropologists as well. It derives from the French bardache (English equivalent: “bardash”) meaning “passive homosexual”, “catamite” or even “boy prostitute”. Bardache, in turn, derived from the Persian برده bardameaning “captive”, “prisoner of war”, “slave”. Spanish explorers who encountered these individuals among the Chumash people called them “joyas”, the Spanish for “jewels”.
Sitting here on my cushioned drawing room perch, staring at the past and the unknown beyond, it is easy to see why there is no alternative. I say this because only as recently as this morning – on the dawn of my 72nd birthday – the momentary thought of living on Strandvägan in Stockholm, Sweden occurred to me. As memorable as it was (my father had his office there) it will never happen. Nor should it. We are so perfectly arranged in Almonte, among friends and acquaintances going back over forty years, having nearby services of every description, the beauty of the Mississippi River translating through the Town, surrounded by cycling and walking paths and nearby bucolic vistas.
Certainly there is an intransigence attaching to the aging process. Recognizing the limitation is however an authority to curtail finalement the work of endurance. Nor is the indolent posture entirely pragmatic. It is one of those red lights that is slow to change to green. And let’s face it, most of us are slow to predict the likelihood of change. Yet the awakening to those deeply rooted proclivities is no different than poring over written historical descriptions. Both are authentic. Both are possible – though the toxic delight does require some “conviction” to drink from those embedded streams of replenishing elixir.
Artistry – like ancestry – is a necessary expression of that potion – namely, the business about saying (or not saying) it like it is. It is irrelevant to posit what is the asservation of that interest – any more than one can construct a taste of the heart or palate (though I persist in my opinion that lima beans are an acquired taste). Accordingly – apart from that moderate contamination – when I say that I confine my artistry to writing, piano and photography, there is absolutely nothing intentional about it, any more than the bloom of a flower is optional.
‘These eggs, Jeeves,’ I said. ‘Very good. Very tasty.’
‘Laid, no doubt, by contented hens. And the coffee, perfect. Nor must I omit to give a word of praise to the bacon. I wonder if you notice anything about me this morning.’
‘You seem in good spirits, sir.’
‘Yes, Jeeves, I am happy today.’
‘I am very glad to hear it, sir.’
‘You might say I’m sitting on top of the world with a rainbow round my shoulder.’
‘A most satisfactory state of affairs, sir.’
‘What’s the word I’ve heard you use from time to time – begins with eu?’
‘That’s the one. I’ve seldom had a sharper attack of euphoria. I feel full to the brim of Vitamin B. Mind you, I don’t know how long it will last. Too often it is when one feels fizziest that the storm clouds begin doing their stuff.’
‘Very true, sir. Full many a glorious morning have I seen flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye, kissing with golden face the meadows green, gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy, Anon permit the basest clouds to ride with ugly rack on his celestial face and from the forlorn world his visage hide, stealing unseen to west with this disgrace.’
‘Exactly,’ I said. I couldn’t have put it better myself. ‘One always has to budget for a change in the weather. Still, the thing to do is to keep on being happy while you can.’
‘Precisely, sir. Carpe diem, the Roman poet Horace advised. The English poet Herrick expressed the same sentiment when he suggested that we should gather rosebuds while we may. Your elbow is in the butter, sir.’
‘Oh, thank you, Jeeves.’
Much Obliged, Jeeves
P. G. Wodehouse
Much Obliged, Jeeves is a comic novel by P. G. Wodehouse, published in the United Kingdom by Barrie & Jenkins, London, and in the United States by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York under the name Jeeves and the Tie That Binds. Both editions were published on the same day, 15 October 1971, which was Wodehouse’s 90th birthday.