It sounds odd to say so – because we’ve got another month here before we go – but we’re already glued to the idea of leaving. I suspect we’re just being impatient. Nonetheless our minds are set. I even measure out the toothpaste on my brush to coincide with our departure. Everything is viewed with an eye to amortization – oil, vinegar, salt, spices and bathroom supplies. There is no intention to buy anything which could possibly outlast our stay. We’re ready to go.
The frenzy which at first accompanied our visit here has waned. Absent is eagerness for what were the erstwhile daily pleasures – waking up to the sight of a sugary beach and the glistening waters of the Atlantic Ocean, bicycling on the beach, driving on dry pavement under a canopy of live oak and palmetto ferns, sitting in shorts and eating fresh seafood at a picnic table and lying in the sun by the pool. Of course we continue to do all of that but no longer with gusto. We now engage by rote, having exhausted the exuberance. This sounds shameful I know. But sadly the dénouement of everything is assured. The unvarnished truth is that we’re starting to blend in with the wallpaper.
There are lyrics in Swedish pop group Abba’s song, “The Visitors”, I’ve never forgotten. The reference is to “the things I love so dearly, the books, the paintings and the furniture”. It has always reminded me that our stuff is precious. Being separated from it is a palpable deprivation. Initially we hardly took notice of the household furnishings in our rental condominium. But as with the prolonged endurance of anything the texture is ultimately unavoidable – and frankly that texture is singularly lacking compared to what we normally surround ourselves with at home. We need to reconnect to our life-blood.
I hear the doorbell ring and suddenly the panic takes me
The sound so ominously tearing through the silence
I cannot move, I’m standing
Numb and frozen
Among the things I love so dearly
The books, the paintings and the furniture
What I hadn’t imagined at the time I first heard “The Visitors” was that those haunting lyrics would relate to the sentiments I now feel years later as we prepare to leave Hilton Head Island and return to Canada. American politics has been an undeniable theme of our winter sojourn here. It has insinuated practically every hour. And as recently as today it has emerged that the politics of newly elected President Donald J. Trump are increasingly contaminated by his possible alliance with the Russia Federation’s President Vladimir Putin, a further unexpected coincidence with what I have learned is the meaning behind the lyrics of “The Visitor “.
“The official stated theme is a protest against the mistreatment of political dissidents in the Soviet Union at the time, as ABBA seemed to input political issues into their lyrics in the final days of the group. Ulvaeus has stated that at the time of release he preferred that the song should have a sense of mystery so did not explain the exact meaning.
In 1982, the album The Visitors was banned in the Soviet Union, possibly due to the band allowing a video of “When All Is Said and Done” to be shown in the United States Information Agency television special, Let Poland Be Poland, along with a spoken message from Ulvaeus and Andersson, broadcast via satellite around the world on 31 January 1982. The show, which also featured Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Orson Welles, Henry Fonda, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan, was a public protest against the then-recent imposition of martial law in Poland. However, ABBA’s segment was not included in the broadcast, the official reason given being time restraints. However, it is likely that the segment was omitted because Ulvaeus and Andersson exemplified, in addition to Poland, US-supported dictatorships Chile and El Salvador as countries where citizens’ human rights are routinely violated.”
The serendipity of this correspondence does more than amuse me. Like a splash of cold water I am suddenly braced by the unvarnished reality of our circumstances. The combined effect of being a foreigner, constantly digesting the mercurial and sometimes strange behaviour of President Trump and hearing repeated whispers of his purported alliance with President Putin make for a chilling reception. It doesn’t help we’ve read about highly intrusive enquiries by United States Border Patrol. It all just adds to the sense of secrecy and wild intrigue.
The related world-wide turmoil surrounding immigration from North Africa and the breaking up of the European Union contribute to a general feeling of instability, further fostering a yearning to return home. One cannot help but feel precarious in a society which suddenly seems at odds with principles of compassion and charity. Americans themselves are frequently at loggerheads. The world-wide gulf between the rich and the poor has become a constant theme, conjoined with the inevitable threat of popular uprising, as frightful to the Americans as it is to the Russians. And all this is happening at a time when I am reading about the likes of Thomas Paine and his cronies in the French and American Revolutions, a reminder of the instability which arises from social disintegration and change. Closing the circle on all of this is the knowledge of my legacy from Canada and the United States of America, the bifurcation of our colonial history with England. Significantly our departure is already marked by anticipated return in a matter of months, perpetuating the cycle of travel between the two nations which has defined my family since 1756 to this day.