When I first saw the French Riviera I was seventeen years old. I and my sister were in the back seat of a brand new vanilla coloured Ford LTD convertible with champagne interior driven by my father with my mother seated next to him. My parents and sister lived at the time in Stockholm, Sweden; I had just returned from boarding school at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario. The car had been collected by my father in Rotterdam then taken to Paris where the protective gooey muck they applied to the car for its salt-sea air overseas journey was removed. A summer jaunt to the Riviera was mandatory for most Swedes who were exhausted after a winter during which the sun rises at ten o’clock in the morning and sets at two o’clock in the afternoon.
We ended by-passing the likes of Monaco (which was flooded with fashionable beach goers and endless store front shoppers) preferring instead something closer to the Italian Riviera. I believe it was in Sanremo that we stopped. It was nonetheless far more formal than the Mediterranean digs we had just left on the Costa Brava near Barcelona. There on the Italian Riviera while sitting at the lobby bar early one morning I had my first cappuccino coffee in a small white cup with a saucer and lemon rind. My parents had travelled together on the Riviera not long after the birth of my sister in England so I expect they had some terrific memories of their own. On that occasion I am fairly certain both I and my sister would have been abandoned in England with our nannie whom we glowingly called “Auntie Begg” and with whom we kept in touch until our teens.
Meanwhile as we approached Pisa, Italy we encountered a crony of my father’s who ended flying us across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Cagliari, Sardegna where I saw the most gem-like green and blue colours of the water on the coast.
Life for me thereafter was very much as I had decided at fourteen years of age when my father said to me, “You can go to school in England, Switzerland or Canada“. I chose Canada and thereafter pursued undergraduate studies in Philosophy at Glendon Hall in Toronto (where my sister joined me from Switzerland a year later) and then law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Though I have never been a team player I won’t for a minute deny that I have rejoiced in my solo sport of bicycling and my solo practice of law in Almonte for almost forty years. My father and I did at least share that passion for isolation and control. The last time I did anything substantive with my father was in the summer of1964 when we drove together from Stockholm to the Arctic Circle then Oslo, Norway and finally back to Sweden. Along the way I brought two items of importance; viz., my new Agfa Silette LK camera and a ponderous book of Latin instruction. I remember the book was a mustard yellow colour with brown print on the cover. Annoyingly no doubt to my father, I persisted to keep my head buried in my camera or the book. I subsequently wrecked the camera after an abrupt fall but I won a Latin prize at school.
Both Latin and Philosophy proved valuable in my practice of law. Indeed I view many of the traditional legal maxims (which are normally expressed in Latin) to be both constitutional and personal. Things like, “Nemo dat quod non habet” (No one gives what he does not have) is a formidable contractual barrier as well as a sobering emotional reminder of the the limits of expression. Another of my favourites, “Res ipsa loquitur” (The thing speaks for itself); or, “Delegatus non potest delegare” (He who is delegated may not delegate further). The latter is especially topical nowadays in questions relating to Power of Attorney for the elderly where an appointee confronts the need or desire to transfer legitimacy to another friend or family member.
An interesting limit upon contractual obligation arose in the context of my rural residency and law practice. That is this, that a personal service contract is not binding after death. The relevance is not so much the patently obvious restriction of being alive but rather the unrelated matter of literacy surrounding the evolution of the “indentured servant” theme.
When an employer (usually a farmer) preferred the authority of a written agreement, the local Solicitor normally crafted the document in duplicate, one for each Party to the agreement. Naturally literacy was preserved for lawyers and the clergy; no self-respecting country gentleman would contaminate his worth by being able to read. So, after having explained the legalese of the document and having got both Parties to sign with an “X” where indicated, the ultimate precaution was to fold the two documents together then cut with scissors the top edge of the document. Thus if and when the document came into question, proof of its relevance to the other lay in the correspondence of their upper indentures.
There are two customary manners of regarding the final days of one’s life; viz., with despair or with gusto. Though I wouldn’t have thought it possible, my life continues to be a voyage with yet uncovered discovery. Even as I write I am swirling in the atmosphere of our latest odyssey.Nor have we abandoned hope of continuing our peregrination in the Florida Keys whenever this COVID business subsides. Their emerald shores yet linger in out minds.
I have as well some new and some ancient things that dreams are made of. Strangely it is a complement to aging that one’s expansive narrows with time. Thus I am enabled to dwell at length upon the most brilliant features within my command, everything from baubles to buoyancy and sometimes the raw and unsettling truths in between.