Today is Tuesday the 24th day of August, 2021. Lately I find it desirable to be explicit touching that casual though basic information. Otherwise I risk careless misstatement. Just as importantly it reminds me of the speedy exhaustion of time. Not only the day and the month are relevant; the year as well! While today is an ordinary balmy summer day under an azure sky in Mississippi Mills, the word “mardi” has in this part of the world acquired a celebrity assured to erase the root meaning of the word.
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday.” It’s best known as the New Orleans celebration of carnival that leads up to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the season of fasting and penitence during the 40 weekdays before Easter in the Catholic calendar. … Hence, Shrove Tuesday was also called Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras.
French Mardi comes from the Latin phrase Martis diēs “Mars’s day,” so named after Mars, the planet and deity of the third day of the week according to Hellenistic astrology.
Apart from its celestial heritage the idiom of Mardi Gras echoes the more blunt and irresistible enchantment of “eat, live, travel”. Small wonder its epicurean feature blends so readily with that further fascination; namely, romance.
Mardi, and a Voyage Thither is the third book by American writer Herman Melville, first published in London in 1849. Beginning as a travelogue in the vein of the author’s two previous efforts, the adventure story gives way to a romance story, which in its turn gives way to a philosophical quest.
Mardi is Melville’s first pure fiction work (while featuring fictional narrators; his previous novels were heavily autobiographical). It details (much like Typee and Omoo) the travelings of an American sailor who abandons his whaling vessel to explore the South Pacific. Unlike the first two, however, Mardi is highly philosophical and said to be the first work to show Melville’s true potential. The tale begins as a simple narrative, but quickly focuses upon discourse between the main characters and their interactions with the different symbolic countries they encounter. While not as cohesive or lengthy as Moby-Dick, it shares a similar writing style as well as many of the same themes.
As a preface to Mardi, Melville wrote somewhat ironically that his first two books were nonfiction but disbelieved; by the same pattern he hoped the fiction book would be accepted as fact.
The descent of conversation from food to love to philosophy is for me a debasement not entirely unknown. I cannot however pretend that the regression is without its lingering animal rapture. In fairness I am not certain which era of my life – then or now – was more indulgent or nostalgic. By contrast there is no uncertainty in my life regarding romance. To speak globally about it, there is then and now. I have the blessing to look back upon life favourably. Meanwhile I abandon the past and as intuitively dwell upon capturing the currency.
Like Mr. Melville there are many among us who would gleefully plan a sea voyage to the emerald waters of a southern clime. But the moment is not yet propitious. Until then it’s an outright battle with carrot cake and butter tarts. And – if I am to be completely open – it is an occasion to take stock. The predominant mantle of our present circumstances goes back seven years when we accomplished our cleanse and purify ambition. And surprisingly it has taken this long to wipe the hair from our eyes and to see through the wind onto the open road before us. As abstemious and resolute as we may be, the abbreviation has not for a second diminished our fanciful performance.