Perspectives - Spring 2012 - (Page 10)
GORDON S. GRICE OAA, FRAIC
“To be a person is to have a story to tell. Stories have been told as long as speech has existed, and sans stories the human race would have perished, as it would have perished sans water.” – ISAK DINESEN1 “To hell with facts! We need stories!” – KEN KESEY, 1987 “One mark of a second-rate mind is to be always telling stories.” – JEAN DE LA BRUYÈRE2
hen Marlow, the old sailor in Joseph Conrad’s story Youth, describes his ﬁrst voyage to the East he paints a romantic image of “a small boat…a jagged wall of purple at sunset…a wide bay, smooth as glass and polished like ice, shimmering in the dark…a puff of wind, a puff faint and tepid...” I had an experience a little bit like that, except it was the West Indies, not the East Indies, and, although it wasn’t my ﬁrst impression, it was a lasting one. We were cruising back from a meeting in St. Thomas in a small Bertram. It was a brilliant sunset, the crimson of the clouds reﬂected in the water, giving the feeling of being suspended in the bell of a gigantic tropical ﬂower. I saw the ship off the port bow, between us and Great Thatch Island: a sleek black hull and honey-coloured sails. As I remember, it was a hermaphrodite brig—both gaff-rigged and square-rigged—in full sail, to catch the hint of breeze that was rippling down the channel. It was a breathtaking vision. As we drew nearer, we could make out the name painted across the tall stern: Romance, Road Harbour, BVI. Illuminated by the red sky, and reﬂected on the water, the ship glowed like a smoldering ember. “Romance” it was, in every respect. As we came closer to this ﬂoating fantasy, we saw, waddling toward the stern, the ship’s mate, a middle-aged woman with the proportions of a naval decanter (wide at the base to avoid tipping). As we continued to gaze at this postcard image, the mate performed what must have been her daily duty. With one hefty thrust, she emptied the contents of the garbage bucket onto the smooth surface of the sea. Immediately, grapefruit rinds, eggshells, bacon strips, slices of bread, bags, boxes and bottles fanned out behind the ship. Our attention was now drawn away from the sailing ship to this jetsam, bobbing languidly on the surface of the water, glowing with the sun’s dying rays, as we cruised slowly through it. When this event took place, I recognized it as an obvious metaphor, for there is nowhere on earth that is richer in metaphor than the West Indies. In those days, Joni Mitchell, another Canadian
displaced to the tropics, was singing about getting ourselves “back to the garden,” and paving paradise “to put up a parking lot.” It’s an old story: no sooner does humankind behold a romantic paradise than it sets out to ruin it. I was a young architect in those days, working in a tropical Eden, and I was acutely aware of the problem. And like Conrad’s Marlow, this vivid image has stayed with me. As he explains in the story’s ﬁnal lines, “…our weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected is already gone— has passed unseen, in a sigh, in a ﬂash—together with the youth, with the strength, with the romance of illusions.” The old sea captain had learned that, if growing older brings wisdom, it must do so at the expense of innocence. The exchange is not always gradual. At times, youthful romantic illusions are dispatched suddenly and with stunning severity. For Conrad, romance was in the nature of all illusions. For me, Romance will always be the name of a fantastic, disenchanting sailing ship. Gordon S. Grice is editor of OAA Perspectives.
“L’une des marques de la médiocrité de l’esprit est de toujours conter.” Texte de la dernière édition revue et corrigée par l›auteur, publiée par E. Michallet, 1696 ED NOTE: de la Bruyère was incredibly unpopular during his lifetime.
Last Tales. New York: Random House, 1957, p. 3 “Des Jugements: Les Caractères Ou Les Moeurs De Ce Siècle, from Les Caractères, 52 (IV). The Project Gutenberg EBook. Release Date: March 14, 2006. Originally
OAA PERSPECTIVES|SPRING 2012
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Perspectives - Spring 2012