Earlier today after my breakfast and a short but expiative bicycle ride about the neighbourhood – and while driving to the city for a car wash as is my wont – I first went to see the construction site of our new digs adjacent the Mississippi River just to catch an updated glimpse of what’s coming. As I approached the building site, and within the preceding parkland which borders the edge of the River, I saw two young men, shirtless and dripping wet emerge from among the cattails and bulrushes, seemingly getting out of the RIver after a refreshing swim on this sultry summer day. The temperature was 30°C. Only moments before, at the intersection of Martin St S and St Paul Street where there is a boat launch and protective sails hung above a quiet sitting area, there had been two men, one a slender athletic man, the other a paunchy older man, similarly attired and glistening from water stepping onto shore apparently having likewise sought relief from the humidity. Forty-six years ago it was I who swam with my Yellow Labrador puppy in the cool waters of the Mississippi River from the identical launch. My residence was then only steps away on Martin St S.
On the heels of this pleasing vision and buoyant reminiscences I afterwards attended the local grocery store to curtail the pending shopping necessity and, as I hoped, to profit by a late Saturday afternoon visit by which time the crowds would be gone.
Going to the grocery store in one’s hometown is an outing with an inescapable multiple purpose. In a word, gossip. When I encountered a gentleman and former business acquaintance whom I had not seen for some time, we immediately engaged in a catchup of all the news. Aside from the thrilling things that his children are doing, he’s moving to Italy. To Tuscany no less! An interesting collateral of that intelligence was that, according to his information, there are properties along the coast of Italy south of Rome which are selling for what I believe he said as little as 80,000 Euros.
Every day I hear of people – fathers and daughters not merely business men and women – travelling to destinations throughout the world. And their voyages begin throughout the world – by which I mean the start and end of the voyages are everywhere around the globe and the distances between them can often be vast. Knowing this makes me feel an unadventurous homebody – as well I probably am. My Tuscan-bound friend further shared with me that he has purchased an 11-acre property on which currently stand several buildings, one of which naturally is a residence. He then spoke of the renovation to be undertaken. All this from a man who is likely near my age. Perhaps he is fulfilling a dream not unlike that of Axel Munthe.
The Story of San Michele (a villa built on the ruins of a Roman Emperor’s villa in Capri) is a series of overlapping vignettes, roughly but not entirely in chronological order. It contains reminiscences of many periods of the author’s life. He associated with a number of celebrities of his times, including Jean-Martin Charcot, Louis Pasteur, Henry James, and Guy de Maupassant, all of whom figure in the book. He also associated with the very poorest of people, including Italian immigrants in Paris and plague victims in Naples, as well as rural people such as the residents of Capri, and the Nordic Lapplanders. He was an unabashed animal lover, and animals figure prominently in several stories, perhaps most notably his alcoholic pet baboon, Billy.
Aside from questioning the propriety of undertaking what to me sounds to be an enormous venture on every level, I have to ask a more basic question; namely, why bother? While I agree that my friend’s professional credentials afford a commendable benefit to Italy, I am otherwise hard pressed to understand why, late in life, a man is so moved to alteration. My experience is that movement is predicted not only by pull but also by push. And while snow may constitute a valid reason for departure during all or some of the winter season, I nonetheless hang fast to my current domesticity.
Though I regularly read the obituaries in our local electronic newspaper The Millstone and in the process sadly discover that many of my acquaintances are falling off the edge of the world, I nonetheless sustain here at home a broad spectrum of familiarities both human and geographical, including architectural. It will require special motive to remove me from these important though shadowy recollections. My experience is that no matter how notable the environment, no matter how magical the scenery, there is still nothing like home.
Since June of 1976 Almonte has been my home. My previous residency in Ottawa (articling), Toronto (Bar Admission), Halifax (law school), Toronto (undergraduate) and Aurora (boarding school), combined with temporary hang-outs with my parents in Stockholm and Washington DC still make me a predominantly eastern Canadian. Through brief vacations to the Laurentians, the Catskills, Cape Cod and New York City I have expanded my overall view of local territory. Certainly I have fond memories of travel to Montepulciano, London, Paris, Dusseldorf, Copenhagen, Oslo, the Arctic Circle and the Caribbean, but Canada has always been my home. As a boy I knew my future was in Canada; that knowledge predicted my attendance at St. Andrew’s College for prep school as opposed to a school in either England or Europe. Consequently to this day the predominance of my friends and acquaintances are scattered throughout Canada from one coast to the other.
I am willing to admit that I haven’t the chutzpah for exotic travel late in life. Arrogantly perhaps I do not fashion my neutrality as diminishing; rather I have by choice adopted the scheme of local expansion. I suspect as well I harbour the that view that there ain’t no ship to take you away from yourself; that you only travel the suburbs of your own mind. This combined with the Phoenician theory that we leave home only to return to discover whence we came.