Nomadic Tempest 2017 by the Caravan Stage Company

An operatic 90 minute show performed behind a gigantic scrim draped off the 100 foot tall sailing ship, the ‘Amara Zee’, with multimedia interface between video, sound and trapeze acrobats. The projected video intercepts featured a wise woman/fairy godmother extoling the evils of fossil fuels responsible for the human extinction to an audience of wide-eyed pre-teens. A philosophical smorgasbord, somewhere between Cahil Gibran and Mad Max, interwoven with Greek and Coast Salish Mythology, repeated over and over in Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin with cryptic English subtitles. Clever use of the ship’s masts and rigging, illuminated and professionally. A permanently oscillating pumpjack kept bobbing up and down at top left of the rig while two gas jockeys brandishing nozzles like guns were dancing at center top, while backlit dancers gyrated to the music at deck level. All of which made for good visuals. But the whole spectacle lacked in story and was basically a naïve, hippyish construct of mankind’s fossil fuel addiction making us all fossil slaves and junkies and thereby destroying life on earth. What the play lacked in plot and linear story, it compensated with mesmerizing acrobatic performers repelling from 100’ long red flags, a phantasmagorical set, talented singers and an overall spectacle for the senses. The frequent and repetitive video projections were a preachy play on guilt and our fossil fuel dependence, eulogizing the demise of mankind, and extolling the rise of a fossil free peace loving future through the awestruck eyes and faces of the young teens. An apocalyptic vision survived only by a lone orca and some monarch butterflies. If anything survives this Armageddon it would be cockroaches and sharks, nowhere near as picturesque. I squirmed a few times but it might have been the cool breeze coming off the water and I had to stifle a yawn or two but it might have been the late hour. A couple of young kids behind us kept asking their parents: ‘”is it over soon Dad?” a sentiment I shared with them.


Changes and Choices

I arrived at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ early and read the paper in order to kill the time until Camp arrived. I have stopped reading the local papers a couple of years ago because I could watch the news on the computer and I also couldn’t stand all the advertising throughout the print media. The news of the day was all about the change in the provincial government, a tenuous mandate at best with just one vote majority for the New Democrats thanks to a coalition with the three Green Party members. Campbell or Camp as the world here knows him showed up right on time and I noticed a bit of a swagger to his step.

“Hey Camp, you look like you had a good day at the store or does it have something to do with Muriel? Muriel Bisset is the Quebecois counsellor on the local town council and as of lately a rather close associate of Camp who is in complete denial about his true feelings for her, which are apparent to everybody, including Vicky the waitress. “Hi Camp, how is Muriel?” she asked him while setting a pint in front of him. “Eh, just fine, thank you,” he mumbled.

When I raised a questioning eyebrow he elaborated: “In fact she decided to support my proposal for the yacht club expansion. With a few tons of rock we can build a new breakwater and double the capacity of floats and boat slips which is a cheap and efficient way to boost the local economy,” Camp said. “No expensive buildings, no land use, just a water use permit from the feds and we’re in business. Mooring capacity for pleasure boats is at a premium all over the lower mainland and we have the space, the place and now we have the means to address that.”

“Congratulations. I guess you two will celebrate your political victory.”

“Well, yes, she has invited me to dinner tomorrow, but you know her daughter Sophie will also be there.”

I didn’t say anything, just winked at him and took a swallow of my beer.

To change the subject I asked Camp what he thought of the latest power swap in Victoria. “I guess a change in government is a good thing but I don’t like the fact that no matter who governs here in BC, or Canada and the US for that matter, only represents half of the populations. The other half is left out of the process altogether and can only vote again in four years.”

“What would you prefer Camp? A monarchy, a military dictatorship? Democracy is still the best form of government or as Winston Churchill said: Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

“I like the Swiss government,” I pointed out, “seven Councillors elected by their peers, representing the major parties of which there are at least five as well as the choice to have a plebiscite on any issue. All the Swiss citizens have to do is collect a certain amount of signatures and the issue will have to be voted on by the people .”

“Yes, I like it too, “ Camp nodded, “except that those parties with the most money can outspend everybody else with propaganda and one could say manipulation.”

“It’s not perfect, but it’s better than being powerless and a mere spectator of the political charade played out in our houses of parliament for the next four years.”

“At least in Switzerland the people have a choice. Here, once the party with the most elected members – not necessarily the most votes – rules the roost, the other members or parliament who represent the other half of the population has no recourse, no power and no choices. They can howl at the moon all they want and nobody listens and all their howling and posturing has no consequences.”

Camp was right of course and I said that much. “It’s our system that is in need of an overhaul. You only have to look south to see what’s happening in the mighty USA where none of the people seem to be represented by the politicians, never mind only half.”

“The US is a plutocracy, not a democracy,” Camp said. “Only millionaires and celebrities have the clout and the money to get elected there. And if only half the eligible voters cast a ballot, then a mere quarter of the population is represented by the ones in power, not counting all of those millions of people who are excluded from the voting process for one reason or another. No wonder people stay away from the polls in droves, especially when the choice is between the ‘wicked witch of the West or Darth Vader.”

“And then the newly elected party spends most of their time cancelling policies and laws the party before them enacted. What a waste of time.”

“Let’s just hope that our present new government does what they’ve promised,” Camp said.

“What’s that?” I asked

“Listen to the people.”

“That’s almost as refreshing as this cold beer here Camp. Imagine: Power to the people.”

We raised our glasses to that. Cheers !

Expect the Unexpected

It’s definitely summer time because we couldn’t get our usual table and ended up sitting inside on two high-top chairs. Camp grumbled about the tourists crowding his space even though he lived off them with his bookstore. “A lot more tourists than last year. It’s partly because of the fires raging in the interior which are redirecting a lot of holiday makers to the coast and the island,” Campbell, or Camp as the world knows him, said.

Camp was right. Over 140 fires are burning up the province and have displaced 40,000 people, most of whom are anxiously waiting to return home in make shift camps in Kamloops and Prince George.

“Business must be pretty good these days. I watched the traffic from across the street this afternoon,” I said and Camp gave me a shifty look.

“You could have come in and said hi.”
“We didn’t want to disrupt the flow and we also didn’t want to drip ice cream all over the store.”

“Well, most of the traffic was for the bathroom. At the next counsel meeting I will bring up this issue of more public washrooms or better signage pointing them to those at the end of Winegarden Park. I don’t have the heart to say no to a person in need, but it is a nuisance nevertheless. I also expected the store to do better but we’re in direct competition with the ferry, which uses ferry workers to sell books. It’s not fair competition.”

“That’s just it Camp. We expect things to happen and if they don’t we’re disappointed. Best not to expect anything and then maybe we get surprised,” I said.

“You have a point,” Camp nodded, “I have a poster in my store proclaiming just that. It’s actually the three sources of all upsets. A good friend pointed those out to me many moons ago and I decided to write them down and have them displayed at eye level so I can remind myself of them.”

“Oh yeah, what are those words of wisdom?” I asked.

“The first one is undelivered communication. It’s the most common source of upsets. People always assume but forget to tell each other what it is they assume or they get misunderstood or taken out of context. Or they think they told each other but actually haven’t. I see it all the time, even at council meetings. That’s why we have minutes so one can actually look it up if so-and-so said this-and-that or not. “

“Ok, I get it. Undelivered communications. What’s the second reason for peoples upsets?”

“Thwarted intentions. It’s when we wish to take action and for some reason cannot do so, usually due to a lack of skills or knowledge, or money or time. Like I wanted to go a sunny place last winter but had neither the money, nor the time. So I was pissed off, mostly at myself of course.”

“And the third one. Let me guess. Unfulfilled dreams.”

“Close, it’s unfulfilled expectations. Like my expectations at the store never match reality. Sometimes of course the outcome exceeds the expectations as in this new local beer. The Irish stout is actually better than I expected. There you have it. All our upsets and disappointments fit into one or two of these three sources. Unfailingly.”

“I’ll ask Clare and if she agrees than I’ll better make a copy of your poster and hang it in the bathroom. That way I get to see it everyday.”

“How is Muriel by the way,” I changed the subject.

“I expect she is well,” Camp answered. “Her daughter is arriving next week and Muriel wants me to meet her. Apparently she is an aspiring writer and loves book stores.”

“Well, that’s perfect isn’t it. You two seem to get along just fine.”

“We’re friends. Nothing more. Friends and colleagues.”

“Sure,” I said. “Talk about friends. We’ve been to two weddings in the past six weeks, both of them unions between couples who have lived together for 15 years. In one case it was the 12 year old girl who suggested to their parents to get married. Both occasions were gatherings of the tribes. Nothing like a good wedding to bring people together, including ex-husbands, new girl or boyfriends, as well as wedding crashers who drive around looking for a free party.”

“I don’t really believe in the institution of marriage. Most of them end in divorce and acrimony,” Camp, always the positive thinker, said. “You’re looking at a case in point,” he added.

“Why did you and Maureen get married, was it an expression of pure love or for tax reasons.”

“Neither,” said Camp, I lost a bet. Maureen challenged my love, which was basically pure lust and taunted me with visions of eternal ecstasy. Remember, I was a convinced bachelor, in my fifties when I met Maureen who was in her thirties. The Germans have a good word that describes the state I was in. ‘Torschlusspanik’, meaning panic of the door closing. We got married; the ecstasy never matched the expected fantasy and then reality set in. I missed my freedom, Maureen wanted me to be somebody else and that was the beginning of the end.”

“But you stayed together for a dozen years,” I said, shaking my head.

“Yes, we co-habited. She upstairs, me downstairs. If we wouldn’t have been married we would have probably drifted apart after a few months. Such are the ties that bind. Goldie Hawn credits the fact that she never married Curt Russell for the longevity of their love affair,” Camp added.

“I guess your expectations were unfulfilled, your intentions thwarted and you sure as hell didn’t communicate very well.”

“Live and learn,” Camp said. “I wish we could still be friends but the lawyers ruined that.”

“Here is to friendship,” I said. We drank to that.

Organic or Not

I could tell that Camp was in a tizzy about something. He was fidgeting with his new smart phone that apparently didn’t do what he wanted it to. Campbell or Camp as the denizens of the Coast know him, has finally broken down and signed up for a basic phone plan. “I told them I would only sign up if it’s under $ 50, which means my brilliant phone has no roaming ability, is dependent on wi-fi and has only 100 free min per month. Entering wi-fi passwords I usually delegate to somebody at least half my age. Vicky did it for me here at the pub.” Camp was busily checking something very important since he was mumbling curses to himself. It could only be three things. Affairs of the heart, the stomach or politics. Either Muriel, our Quebecois alderwomen had stood him up or he ate something that didn’t agree with him or Trump scored another own goal.

“Imagine, Trump wants to team up with the Russians on cyber security. Isn’t that like sticking your hand through the bars of the lion’s cage with a steak or jumping head first into an empty swimming pool?”

“I think he has now retracted that brilliant idea,” I said, shaking my head. “Is that what you’re doing with your new smart phone, checking the news?”

“No, I’m trying to change the ring tone to something soothing, like Tibetean cymbals.”

“Isn’t that rather loud and grating?” I said.

“Only to the uninitiated.” Camp retorted.

“Anyway, have you seen the size of the strawberries at the store?” I asked, not really expecting a answer. “There the size of a small potato. It’s not natural. Next, they’ll breed oranges the size of melons and raspberries like tea cosies or tuques or hundred pound cabbages Where is the gene manipulating and designer food going to stop? “

“Whenever people are not buying it,” Camp said, “like the green Ketchup. Remember Findhorn, the town on the Scottish coast where they grew gigantic vegetables even forty years ago.”

“Clare always buys from the organic section but we’ve had disagreements about that. If the whole world would only eats organic crops, we would be running out of arable land. Half the work, half the yield but twice the land. Isn’t that the basic formula? But since we’re living in the privileged corner of the world we have the choice to buy organic. It’s because we can. The only item I usually look for is meat without antibiotics. That I think is a good idea.”

“It’s all a marketing ploy,” Camp said. “Just last week I came across an article citing organic wine growers in Mendocino County whose organic crops were actually cheaper to produce than conventional. The savings in pesticides and herbicides and the infrastructure to deliver (spray) them outweighed the loss in quantity. But instead of passing the savings on to the consumer, they upped the price because people are willing to pay more for the organic label.”

“That’s just it,” I said. “The marketing is as much manipulated as the genes in our food. Did you know that the corn the Mayan’s ate was about the size of a pickle, nothing like today’s cream and peaches ears of corn. It’s not even the same plant anymore.”

“And what about those dozens of Germans who died last year after eating organic bean sprouts which harboured toxic e-coli bacteria passed on via animal manure added to the crop. This use of manure vs. synthetic fertilisers is celebrated by organic proponents. Natural doesn’t automatically equal more safe, definitely not in this case,” Camp said.

“The worst are the name brands. Companies with names like ‘Organic Fruit’ or ‘Bio-Foods’ don’t necessarily sell what their name suggests. It’s just a name, much like ‘Lite Beer’ or ‘Natural’.

“How about our locally brewed beverage ?” Camp asked.

“They grow their own hops and have a ‘farm-to-barrel’ approach. Not sure if it’s all organic ingredients but it definitely makes more sense to drink locally rather then the imports from Holland or Ireland. I for one support locally produced food and drink, not because it’s better or cheaper, it just makes more sense to support local growers. “

“By the way how are you and Muriel getting along lately ?” I changed the subject, hoping for some enticing news.

“Muriel has a daughter in Montreal,” Camp said and took a healthy swallow of his drink.

“Oh, that’s eh… ok, isn’t it. From a previous marriage ?”

“She never said anything about that, just that her daughter studies at McGill and is coming to visit for the summer. “

“At least she is sharing personal info with you Camp, that is a good sign,”

I said with a mischievous grin.

“A good sign for what ? Oh, I see what you’re getting at. You are completely out of the ball park. We’re merely colleagues.”

“And sure enough, speaking of the devil, here she is,” I said.

Muriel was making straight for our table and Camp hastily pulled up an extra chair for her. She gave Camp a friendly peck on the cheek which made him turn red like one of those super strawberries and then she politely extended her hand, “I’m Muriel Bisset,” she said in that adorable French accent, “Campbell’s friend.”

“I know,” I blurted out, “I’ve heard a lot about you. Can I order you a beer?”

“Merci, but I prefer a glass of white wine.”

Camp ordered a glass of Bonterra Chardonnay for his ‘colleague’ from Vicky, the waitress, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“It’s organic,” he said, with a wink in my direction.

“Santé !” Muriel toasted us, raising her glass.

Just at that moment Camp’s phone sounded with the first bars of AC/DC’s ‘Hells Bells’. He scrambled to shut it down but couldn’t find the right button. Muriel gallantly took the phone from him and silenced the heavy rock intro.

“Sorry, I guess I chose the wrong bells,” Camp lamely stuttered.

Muriel looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Tibetan bells,” I said lamely, quickly lifting the beer to my lips to avoid any further explanation.




Fools and Wise Men

Finally the sun is out for more than a day and the ocean reflects the blue sky above, framed by the snow capped coastal mountains rising straight up from the waters edge. There is no more dramatic scenery, no better awe inspiring vista than this spectacular view from ‘Grandma’s Pub’ over the rim of a pint of Persephone’s Golden Goddess. Camp and I drank a toast to the glorious summer ahead.

Campbell was in an expansive mood having just been able to swing a tied vote in council his way, about the expansion of the yacht club. “We need more mooring to accommodate a waiting list which is as long as my arm. The breakwater was always in the wrong place and should have been out by the cliff which is what we now propose to do.”

“How did you sway Muriel, plied her with wine and promises?”

Camp actually turned a shade of red, which was not like him at all, always stoic and in control of his demeanor except for his wild and unruly shock of curly gray hair.

“I see, the intricate twists and turns and wily power shuffles of local politics,” I said, enjoying his obvious discomfort.

“It’s not what you think?” Camp said with a dismissive wave of his hand, “I simply convinced her that a vote for the breakwater is a vote for a better future of the harbor, the yacht club and the town as a whole.”

“Congrats Camp, here is to more yachts and boats. You do know what BOAT stands for?” Camp raised an expectant eyebrow. “Bring On Another Thousand.”

We drank to that and then Camp wanted to get something off his chest.

“There are a lot more fools then wise man on this earth. The fools are usually found in a crowd while the wise man sits by himself enjoying the big joke. You want to know what the big joke is? It’s the difference between what we think we are and what we are or as Albert Einstein pointed out, planet earth is really the insane asylum of the universe.”

“Yes and the patients are running the shop and nobody is in charge.”

“Considering this planet contains upward of six billion people, half of whom are simply too preoccupied with food and shelter to care about anything else, it is a miracle that as a species we have made it this far. Most of the time we scramble through life blindly, from day to day, from one thought to another, from memories to ideas, from dreams to action, not necessarily in that order. If life turns out OK we say we’re lucky and if things go wrong then it’s never our fault and is just plain bad luck. We pay lip service to the ‘live and learn from your mistakes’ theory but do we actually practice it?”

“Some of us try, Camp. Not everybody can be a success, especially measured in material wealth. There have to be failures, otherwise how do we measure success? Better to be a failure who tried his or her best then be a success due to the place of birth, which is totally arbitrary, life’s great lottery.”

“Not sure about that,” Camp mused. “I’m happy to be born in Canada and I try to do something worthwhile with that privilege. Anyway, my point is that fools stumble along, following the herd over the cliff and thus never find out what their potential could have been,” Camp paused, staring into his empty glass. “I’ve been a fool most of my life but luckily the herd I was running with didn’t actually go over the cliff, they just sort of dispersed in the wilderness and left me wandering in the wild. I finally found my own way.”

“I guess what saved me from myself is my better half Clare,” I said, “she always points the way to worthwhile goals on the horizon, to a positive outlook, to better self-esteem. I never really see anything that far ahead, maybe to the next pint and possibly the one after that.  I’m usually still trying to figure out what I’m doing at the moment.”

As Vicky the waitress set another couple of cool pints in front of us I added: “As a loyal fool and self-respecting member or the working class I limit myself to a philosophy of simplicity, which is just another euphemism for laziness.” I looked out at the breathtaking view, not really seeing the beauty, being pre-occupied with our beer-philosophical musings. “Instead of following the herd I took some chances Camp, and rather then follow my dreams I chose the easy route and opted for the job that paid the most money,” I admitted.

“You’re not alone buddy,” Camp said, not showing too much sympathy, “you’re lucky to have Clare as your compass in life.”

The fear of failure always loomed larger then the vision of success and I wasn’t about to tell anybody about my hidden fantasy life because it kept changing.

“Don’t I know it,” I said. “Clare is wiser than a tree full of owls. She doesn’t question reality, she lives it. She has no illusions about herself and accepts the person she is, the body she inhabits and the people she encounters. Whatever made her fall in love with me is one of the great, unsolved mysteries of life.”

“Love is a great mystery,” Camp said, nodding his wild unruly head of hair.

“You always know where you’re at with her. And honesty and compassion aren’t cultivated virtues, she’s born with them,” I said.

“Honesty is one of those ambiguous qualities in politics,” Camp said, “sometimes the truth hides in silence and honesty is admitting fault.”

We sipped our beers, enjoying the sunny vista and blue sky.

“Do you remember Clare’s old aunt Dorothy?”

“She had that old gnarly walking stick and always wore gloves, even in the summer.”

“Yeah, that was her. She had eczema on her hands. She was an avid reader and could quote history books and she regularly read her newspaper, didn’t trust the TV but on the other hand she was unable to look after herself. All her life Dorothy was dependent on her former husband to cook, to pay the bills and to manage. Widowed for the last ten years, she just went on living as if nothing had changed and ended up in a complete mess, physically, emotionally and environmentally. She didn’t pay her hydro or phone bill but instead gave away her money to charities of every description. When we saw the list of her benefactors at the bank we were flabbergasted.”

“She was swindled out of her money by telemarketers and cyber criminals masquerading as charities,” Camp said. “It’s a massive industry, stealing from the elderly. Depraved lowlifes and bottom feeders, the dregs of humanity.”

“Well, Clare put me in charge of her aunt’s finances since Dorothy would only listen to a man but not to a woman, no matter how wise. But I was put in charge of figuring things out after they happened which meant that I was basically like the Dutch boy with the finger in the dyke, unable to stop the outflow of her money until it was all but gone. Dorothy would never believe that she’d been taken for a ride. She didn’t want to acknowledge that there was a seedy side of life and firmly believed in the good of humanity and her donations, even if she was blatantly ripped off. She led a good life, mostly inconsequential, average, but dignified and I just couldn’t take that away from her and so refrained from telling her the ugly truth. After all it’s dignity that is the most important human quality, for fools and wise men alike.”

“You’re right there,” Camp acknowledged. “You could have saved her some money but she would have lost not only her dignity but her faith in humanity and that in itself was priceless.”

We drank to that. “Now, having myself arrived at certain mature age I consider myself to be a combination of both: a dignified fool.”

“That, I suppose, makes you a wise guy,” Camp said, toasting me with his empty mug and a wink. “Until next week.”

The Retirement Conundrum

I sat down across from Camp who was already halfway through his pint. Not that I was late but he was unusually early. Nine out of ten times I was the early one, since I did not have a job or a schedule to follow and had time at my disposal, something I’m trying to take advantage of. We’ve been meeting at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ on the Gibsons Harbour most Thursdays but especially ever since I’ve been officially retired. Camp of course doesn’t just frequent the pub on Thursdays. It’s part of his daily routine since ‘Coast Books’ – a non-profit business as he calls it – is only a few steps from the pub. “The advantages of owning a book store are threefold,” he told me once. “First off: stellar working hours, from ten til four; secondly: literate and usually intelligent customers and thirdly: books don’t go bad. If I only could add: and it makes money.”

I felt today was as good as any to broach a subject close to the top of my mind. “Camp, you’re a man in his prime with a business and political career, single again and healthy. Now, I know that you always sneer at retirement like it was some sort of disease people succumb to,” I said. “That’s ok if you have a passion for your work or a proper ascending career but people who toil for wages and rent out their bodies and minds for somebody else’s scheme or project, have a different view. I’m one of those who couldn’t wait to stop working for the man, even if the man happened to be the film industry.”

“I’m happy to lend you my ear,” Campbell or Camp as even Vicky, the waitress addressed him, said. “But first off: What is the definition of retirement?”

I figured this was a rhetorical question and we both paused while Vicky set two cool pints in front of us.

“To be able to do what you like, and have enough money to do it, is my take on the whole issue. Not to have to worry about money and spend your days doing the things you love, that is surely the prescription for a happy, fulfilled existence,” Camp said, “except it is never as you planned and different from what you expect but retirement is not for everybody.”

I couldn’t agree more and I knew where Camp was going with this. “I get it, people like you and for that matter, Clare, love their jobs and see no reason to quit because your work is also your passion or even calling. For the rest of us minions who are working for the weekend, as one old pop song pointed out, and the never-ending stream of bills to pay, have a different view. I couldn’t wait to say no to the next job, until every day was the weekend.”

Camp took a healthy draught and then said: “Retirement is a trap for many people who first off can’t afford to quit working and secondly, have no idea what to do with their long days ahead. Just being put out to pasture like an old nag who has no practical use anymore is not a future one looks forward too. Retirement is only desirable for those who can afford it. Lucky for me, I can’t neither afford it nor do I desire it.”

Camp had a point. To be old and poor is not an enviable option and to be of no use to society except as a statistic is definitely not cool. I feel very fortunate to be part of a generation, the boomers, which is the richest generation ever and which enables many of us to look forward to a designer lifestyle at an age where we’re still active, healthy and engaged.

“Here is what a retirement counsellor pointed out to Clare and me at a seminar we attended last year: There are three stages, of retirement, each stage roughly ten years in duration, which correlate directly to how you should invest and use your money.”

“If you have any,” Camp said dryly.

“Well, yes. Anyway. First come the go-go years. That’s when you travel, help out your grand kids, visit friends and family, finally purchase that season ticket for the ski hill or your favourite sports team. In other words: it’s when you spend. Then come the slow-go years, 75-85, when you stay home a lot more, read those books on your bed side table, a page at a time before you nod off, walk and talk slower and drink and eat less. Then you enter the exalted stage of the no-go years. No need to elaborate here.”

“Go-go, slow-go, no-go. I like that,” Camp said.” I’ll drink to that.”