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Darwin was every inch a sailor

Living the cliche, baby! Just add pilothouse cutter. (c) Volker Posselt

An unspoken motivation for wanting to sail away into a tropical sunset, with the prospect of a beverage with a lagoon and coconut tree backdrop, is not just the manifestation of a desire for something voyaging in a small boat to a distant and perhaps uninhabited shore...but can rise in part from a dissatisfaction with the society that allows such opportunities to exist in the first place.

It's a paradox: Most people on Earth are dirt poor compared to myself and my family. We are resolutely middle-class (an increasingly vague term, alas) within our own society, however. Our dreams of world travel (which will inevitably involve sailing to the poorer bits) by sailboat are only achievable through fairly strict budgetary constraining. Allied with that is a conscious refusal to participate very deeply in consumer culture (save for the things found in boat gear catalogues), and me switching off lights in unoccupied rooms and riding the thermostat as if we were burning banknotes.
Now with a marina!

These aren't bad habits of mind for an offshore sailor to possess. Waste less, want less, spend less; or be prepared to make up the shortfall. Learn to fish, if fish there be. Hesitate to fire up the diesel. Provision opportunistically...heck, the Scottish gene is so strongly expressed in me that I get stick in my own house for cycling miles to get 10 cents off on tins of tuna...I have been known to buy a crate at a time. Of course, it would be crazy if I drove to do that. But I don't. Owning a car would kill the budget to finish the boat.

I do not see these habits of mind broadly in the general, shoreside population, however. I see much in the way of material enticements, expensive conveniences and minor amusements which serve mainly, it seems to me, to distract or cloud analytical thought. While on my bike running errands, I see people texting while jaywalking, emerging from between parked cars with nary a head turn. I've attempted to cull this particularly annoying herd with a thrown elbow or two, but it's a losing battle: When we made playgrounds safe, and banned snowball fights, and made of our culture one continuous seatbelt, we indeed reduced broken arms, lurid scars and the occasional knocked-out tooth. We also seemingly lost our sense of physics.

Cars are heavy, bikes are fast. If either hits you because you are tweeting your breakfast choices or bowel movements since you started with the flax, it will hurt. You may have reached a rather advanced age for an overclocked ape without experiencing much more than a boo-boo. We, your elders, have done this for you. Wait until you see what we've done to the pension plan....ow!

The clenched fist is because that iPad doesn't have 3G, I bet. (c) Tom Lynn

These thoughts depress me a bit: that my own society may be getting too distracted, overstimulated and undereducated (in ways I would consider life-preserving, if not necessarily enhancing to the ego) to continue without some nasty shocks. And Neil Postman's dead, and his critique was about television in the '80s... In the last month, we have had to explain to our two tenants, highly educated women in the mid-20s, how the recycling works (they have never not had recycling in their world, as far as I can recall), and that if power goes out in one room and not another, it is a tripped breaker, not "a blackout", and that it is fine not to just sit in a dark room passively waiting for a resolution, but to ask the landlord to reset the circuit, after unplugging the thing that was tripping the breaker.

They have in common with many younger people of my acquaintance a sort of passivity and vagueness. They seem both well-informed, if not deeply or critically, but simultaneously unworldly. You shouldn't be able to perform the equivalent of "got your nose!" on an adult in a Western society, but clearly, marketing has become easier since my youth. Only the distribution of marketing has become more complex. It's the curse of neuroplasticity, I guess.

Now, I have no illusions that younger people want to listen to windy old goats such as myself, but there does seem in some cases a declining ability to think clearly. Oh, look at this cat video!

Of course, a difficulty with clarity knows no age limit. The recurring (and, as a card-carrying human, mortifying) "warning: hot drinks are hot!" theme crawled out of Darwin's backside again this week as an adult female in Winnipeg with a mild case of cerebral palsy called for "regulations" against hot tea. A minor road accident caused her to spill her hot tea, leading to fairly nasty, entirely predictable burns. I will refrain from posting the photo of her burns. She was indeed injured.

I'm not sure how to react here. My usual mode is to snort in outright derision. The default mode for tea and coffee is hot: it is a beverage that must be brewed rather close to boiling in order to exist. Handling such a beverage in a moving vehicle is going to be intrinsically more hazardous than, say, carrying it to a table, or having a server not afflicted with vertigo place it before one. It reminds me of the people who have driven into swamps or off hillsides at the behest of wonky GPSes. Knives are also sharp! It leads one to uncharitable thoughts, I can tell you. So did the part of the story where my tax dollars were put to work by CBC staffers to compare several vendors' wares of the hot liquid variety. They were demonstrably hot and liquid!
Smug and sarcastic, just how I like my cup o' joe.
I'm not a stranger to the sudden bad turn of events. Some years back, I slipped on black ice and broke my ankle and leg. I was coming back from a tea party of all things. I did not, however, call for "regulation" of Twinings nor did I wish to sue Florsheim for making a lightly treaded Oxford lace-up. It did not occur to me. I probably should not have been walking so fast down an icy incline. Now the metal in my leg makes for charming discussions at airport security gates. So it goes.

I'm sorry this person was injured. I have to wonder, however, if this is akin to wearing high heels at sea, and then suing the ocean, or the boat builder, for a snapped ankle. I have to wonder if this person understands that hot things are hot and that extra-large hot beverages stay hot a long time, that moving metal boxes called cars in February in Winnipeg are subject to the physics of motion and inertia, and that maybe trying to drink a very big container of very hot tea while a passenger driving, in winter, in Winnipeg, with a case of CP, is sort of, maybe, asking for it. Or sort of, maybe, just an falling off the stern while urinating at sea.
This used to be satire. Now, satire is a product description that indemnifies the producer against legal action.

But mostly, I wonder about how such a person, or such a society, is created. How long can we "progress" if very basic relationships are not understood, or if we grow ever more ignorant of our technologies and the natural world?

And how the heck do you get to a place in your mind where you are sold what you ask for, and yet you feel it's the seller's responsibility to protect you from what you've purchased? I don't grasp this, but it sure is a spur to work for that lagoon-based beverage. Even if I get a boo-boo in the process, because the beverage may be hot, and I have not been warned.


Horatio Marteleira said...

I cast my vote for all the opinions in your post. Don't Forget to place Culatra on your waypoint list. The cafés don't warn you that the beer is cold and cheap.

Rhys said...

I won't forget Culatra, sir! Not at all. For some reason I can't explain, I know several Portuguese sailors who seem to know the place intimately, and know just how to get inbetween the sand bars to anchor is just enough water. I would be happy after safely completing such a maze to be surprised by a cold, cheap beer (probably a Sagres, if my memory serves).

I hope you are getting enough translation work to pay for your expensive boat addiction, Horatio.

Horatio Marteleira said...

Reaching and anchoring in Culatra is easy - Alvor is the Anchorage with the tricky winding channel to be taken only on a rising tide.
Sagres beer it is, Sagres is also a great town with 3 different anchorages for all weather conditions and Sagres is also a majestic tall ship used for training and other purposes.
I still have lots of translation work, it just pays less per word - meaning that I'm a little bit less middle class now.

Rhys said...

I want to sail away from the middle class before I'm pushed out, personally.

Nonetheless, should we ever meet, the first Sagres is on me.

Horatio Marteleira said...

In that case, I'll have a Bohemia Sagres (darker brew), which is 10 cents more expensive.