My erstwhile physician wrote me a short note yesterday or today from the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia where he is currently sojourning in the South Pacific Ocean or what I suppose is more accurately identified as the Coral Sea. His daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter live nearby (comparatively speaking) in Melbourne, Victoria closer to the Tasman Sea and the next proximate continent New Zealand.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, separated from the coast by a channel 100 miles wide in places and over 200 feet deep. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.CNN labelled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world in 1997. Australian World Heritage places included it in its list in 2007. The Queensland National Trust named it a state icon of Queensland in 2006.
Meanwhile I am listening to music by John Williams from the original motion picture soundtrack Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It is quite impossible to picture the crocodiles and poisonous tiny jellyfish in the Great Barrier Reef without linking one’s mind to the equally spectacular image of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. My friend in Australia puts me in mind of the adventurist balloonist Uncle Edouard in The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B by JP Donleavy,
Balthazar B (whose final name is never revealed) is born to riches in Paris. His father dies when he is young and his mother neglects him for her lovers. Instead he is brought up by a nanny and relies for male advice on his Uncle Edouard, who instructs him in the worldly life of an elegant roué. He is shipped off to a British boarding school, where he makes a lasting friendship with Beefy, a similarly displaced laird, who is eventually expelled. On a return to Paris at the age of twelve Balthazar is initiated sexually by his 24-year-old nanny, Bella Hortense. She is dismissed when the brief idyll is discovered and it is only later that he discovers that she had a child by him.
Uncle Edouard said, “Be always handsome witty and brave. To police and lawyers and many others too, my dear boy, make no sound that can be used against you. Try never to teach the world a lesson, for they will forget it within a week. Be honest till the temptation comes to tell the truth. Then dear boy it is time, believe me, to say nothing. Keep your wine cellar cool. The bowel clear. The foreskin clean. Use soap perfumed of the fern.”
While these fanciful themes have been percolating through my brain I have sought to improve myself (after last evening’s inordinately nutritional indulgences) by sailing down the beach from Coligny Beach Park to Sea Pines Beach Club. The high tide today was at noon and the wind was 23 km/h from the northeast, a serendipity affording an overall compatible currency. The weekend traffic throughout the Island was noticeably diminished from the weekday circulation. Yet while there were fewer automobiles about, the number of pedestrians, family groups and cyclists increased on the pathways and beach. As I was entering the beach at Coligny I spied in the distance a fellow cycling against the strong wind easterly in my direction. I could see that he was struggling. When he dismounted from his bicycle and began walking on the boardwalk to enter the park area, I quipped to him, “Well, you’ve earned your martini this evening!” He knew of course about what I spoke. He was visibly lagging from his previous cycling effort along the beach. He then proceeded to tell me the direction of the prevailing wind. I assured him I had already taken account of it. Upon hearing which he enquired whether I lived here. I paused, then said, “For four months” to which he then remarked, “Well, then you know all about it“. We laughed and continued in our opposite directions, he to the park, I to the beach. I had wanted to advise him of the invaluable Tide Chart that is available on-line; and to instruct him in the interpretation of the effect of the prevailing winds but it was all beyond the moment. Instead I had only the gratification of knowing that my own private investigations and findings had not been for naught.
There is so much of the world to discover. Yet without any sense of deprivation we have strategically confined ourselves to what we know best, to what we know works, to what for us is both convenient and comfortable. We haven’t for example an underlying motive to climb Mount Everest or complete any other exotic metaphorical ambition in order to soften either our self-image or devotion to the imperative of new intelligence. Besides which I can barely walk upright these days. Sitting on a bicycle is about the limit of my physical exertion. Yet nor do I view the overall limitation as an inadequacy because our present circumstance invites what for me at least is an expression of other desirability – namely, driving an automobile. It may not be a balloon or a kayak or surfboard but it indescribably heightens my enjoyment of life. Luckily for us both we share a coincidence in these trifling matters among others. My perception is further enhanced by my oft-repeated adage, “There ain’t no ship to take you away from yourself” which is not to say travel is for me or everyone an escape, but that for me at least at this late stage of life and accommodation generally, I prefer the path of least resistance. Accordingly we have for the moment settled upon the Florida Bay instead of the Coral Sea from which to regard the setting sun.
“A drink, Miss Martin.”
“I don’t know.”
“I really shouldn’t.”
“Full bodied sherry. A round maderia. Iced muscatel.”
Smith at the bottles. The long necks, the little, the fat. Green, brown, two red and twenty deep dark green. All gently cared for through the cold winter, sealed off safely in their temperate darkness.
A Singular Man. J. P. Donleavy.