Camp dropped over for our weekly debrief over a couple of beers. It was my turn to host and l stocked up on some Coronas since I heard that the brand was hurting. Clare let him in but instead of hug gave him a reserved wave from 6ft away. It’s the new intimacy. How will we ever get past this distancing is anybody’s guess. Fact is I don’t like it, coming from a culture where three cheek kisses are customary greetings. We sat down in my upstairs office which has a view of the coastal mountains, Keats and Gambier island but it’s not the same as being in our pub right on the harbour.
No weddings, no funerals, no parties, no team sports, no get togethers, no bars, no pubs, no restaurants, no concerts, no businesses, no conferences
No libraries, no plays, no cinemas, no theatre
No schools, no child care centres, no kindergartens, no universities, no classes, no recreation centres, no swimming pools, no hiking and biking tours, no travel, no socializing, no book clubs, no bridge clubs, no yoga classes
No hotels, no trains, no buses, no hitch hiking, no planes, no ferries, no cruise ships,
No government sessions, no elections
No hairdressers, no beauty parlours, no dentists, no massage therapy, no eye exams, no elective surgeries, no gyms, no alcoholics anonymous meetings
No protests, no marches, no barricades
No courts, no churches, no synagogues, no mosques, no temples, no gatherings
No hugs, no kisses, no handshakes, no pats on the back,
No life as we knew it
Only hospitals, health workers, food suppliers, grocery stores, pharmacies, police stations, gas stations and fire-halls
All working from home:
politicians, bankers, accountants, secretaries, teachers, doctors, etc.
Only isolation, virtual communication and emoji emotions
Only social networks dependent on internet connections
We still have wars, bombings, hunger, sickness, disease, misery, refugees
We hope, always hope for the future, the children, the world
We fear the unknown, dying alone, losing a loved one, the loss of freedom, tomorrow
We have more time to:
read, think, write, talk, walk, watch movies, cook, eat, drink, sleep, play and listen to music, paint, exercise, spend with the children, the parents, the flowers
reach out, reconnect, remember
and plan for a fantastic future
want to hide, climb a tree, run away, call someone, stand still, play
close my eyes, my ears, my brain, my mouth
understand, help, fight, fix
laugh and live
I walked to Muriel’s house where Camp lives now and didn’t meet anybody, even though it’s not an isolated road. It felt kind of eerie, as if the town was depopulated. Camp answered the door and led me downstairs into his den which was strewn with books, maps, a wooden desk with a laptop and several more books on it. A busy place by all accounts.
There was a knock on the door and then Camp stepped in without waiting, being practically one of the family. It’s Saturday, not Thursday. We sat upstairs and I fetched us a couple of cold ones. ‘No draught I’m afraid,’ I said but you have a choice here. Once we had our beers we sat down, rather than stand around the kitchen, leaning on the fridge and the sink, as people are apt to do.
‘Last week I debated if I should close my store and join the social distancing movement,’ Camp said when he sat down at our table which was the only one occupied in the whole pub. ‘This might help to slow down the crown virus a fraction but it definitely would be the death knell for the already non-profit book store. So, I decided to keep it open, wipe the door handle every time somebody comes in and out, wear surgical gloves for the money which is practically non-existent, don’t breathe on people and keep an upbeat atmosphere by playing funky music. No blues, no classical but reggae and jazz like Charley Parker, Miles Davis and such. If nothing else it keeps me in a good mood.
In the last month alone, the world has gone topsy-turvy and everybody is running for the exits it seems, grabbing toilet paper and useless face masks on the way out. Camp and I are looking at all the hysteria and financial market convulsions from our vantage point at Gramma’s Pub, feeling a bit removed from it all since Gibsons is virtually an island, away from the hub-bub of the big city and the rest of the world. In order to not get caught in the maelstrom of panic I decided to propose a game to my friend Campbell, Camp to all and sundry around here.
‘The weather is better but that’s about it for good news,’ I said as I sat down opposite Campbell or Camp, as my drinking buddy is known. He was busily pawing his smart phone – against our rules – but he seemed intense and it was obviously important to him.
‘How would you have handled the standoff between Trudeau, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suet’wen nation, northeast of Prince George, and the solidarity protesters in the Mowhawk territory in Ontario who have been blocking the rail line there,’ I asked Camp after Vicky, our dependable waitress set down two pints in front of us.
‘It’s a tough one,’ Camp said.
Here is my (unauthorized) translation of a review in German from my Swiss newspaper about a new book by Ruud Koopman, a Dutch Sociology professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin. ‘Das verfallene Haus des Islam’ – ‘The decaying House of Islam: the religious origins of the lack of freedom, violence and stagnation’.
‘Here is a fact,’ Camp stated after we made ourselves comfortable on our perch on the glassed-in veranda at Gramma’s Pub. ‘After Trump’s first term in office a quarter of all federal judges, including two supreme court judges, will have been appointed by him, changing the judiciary of the USA for a long time to come.’
‘And now Trump has declared himself the top cop in the land as well as judge and jury. As of today, Trump has pardoned twenty-five convicted criminals, some of them pals of his, undoing years of prosecution and legal work,’ Camp said.
‘Let’s switch to the other hot topic of the day,’ I said.
Life is a beach goes the saying except around here life has been a puddle with a few rays of sunshine to brighten up the dreary, soggy days. Lucky are those who can escape to sunnier climes and I envy people who aren’t bothered by the wet winters in the pacific Northwest. I grew up with real winters, white wonderland, blue skies, hot coco and skis instead of gumboots.
I lumbered into Grammas Pub, looking for Camp who was already seated at our usual table and sat down with an exasperated sigh.
‘If it’s not raining, it’s about to,’ my friend Campbell said – Camp to everybody in town – with a dispirited sigh as he plunked himself in the opposite chair at our weekly watering hole by the sea.
The good news is that spring is only a couple of months away,’ I said lamely. Just then Vicky, the only ray of sunshine, put down a couple of pints of the golden liquid. ‘Cheers’, I said, raising my glass, it’s sunny somewhere in this world.’
Camp arrived at the pub a tad late – not like him – and rather dishevelled. ‘What’s up Camp,’ I asked. ‘Something wrong?’
‘I can’t believe the kids today. No manners, no respect, no shame,’ he said with a heavy sigh. Good thing Vicky had a fresh pint ready the moment he sat down.
‘Oh, what brought that on. Not like you to judge and condemn without a proper trial.’
Camp sat down with a heavy sigh at our usual table.
‘What’s up? Trouble at the home front, the store or the world?’ I said.
‘All of the above. Muriel is tired of the weather and commuting into the city and wants a change. The store is kind of in a funk after the holidays and I hope it’s just a lull. Book buyers are becoming a rare breed. And the world? Don’t even get me started.
Gibsons was in the clutches of an Arctic deep freeze this past week that convinces even the hardiest local climate deniers that yes: It does snow in Vancouver and yes, winter tires are a good idea and no, Vancouver and the lower mainland are not prepared for accumulative snow falls and have inadequate or no snow removing equipment. Despite the brazing weather I’ve made my way faithfully to my Thursday meet-up with my friend Camp at our pub which was empty except for our stalwart waitress. ‘I don’t get paid if I don’t show up,’ she said with a shrug. Camp eventually walked in looking like ‘The man that came in from the cold’. Before I could even ask about the store he said wryly: ‘Been closed all week due to climate emergency,’ while extracting himself from his soaked overcoat. ‘What’s on your mind besides the weather this week,’ he asked.
The first thing that struck me about Lisbon is the immense width of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River), more like a lake, and how all the downtown buildings are attached to each other like four storied walls with windows. They are all built in a perfect grid, starting at the large Praca do Comercio, the main square at the vast river’s edge. There is no church or cathedral anywhere near the square but a heroic monument in the centre of the Marquis de Pombal, who rebuilt this city after the devastating earth quake of 1755. Pombal, a secular pragmatist, ousted the Jesuits but when Maria I came to the throne, she banned him from Lisbon’s soil, being heavily influenced by the Jesuits herself. Since the word terra means both ‘ground’ and ‘earth’, the story goes that the clever marquis packed a crate of soil from outside the city and put it down to step into it when he came back to Lisbon. (Voltaire Voltaire wrote Candide soon after the Lisbon earthquake and held up, as exhibit #1, the senseless death toll of the innocents in that catastrophe as conclusive proof of the absence of any Divine power, and certainly not any benevolent one.)
‘How was your trip to Mexico,’ Camp asked. We were both sitting once again at our usual table at our pub by the sea side, looking out at the choppy water, and the grey skies, nursing our pint.
‘We love Patzcuaro, the small Mexican town amongst the volcanoes, and I could spend a lot more time there, but Clare still has a good job in the real world. The weather was perfect, kind of like June around here. How about your trip to Portugal?’ I asked.
December in the rainforest in the Pacific Northwest consists of liquid sunshine, monochromatic grey skies and gun metal coloured water. People wear clothes from the same palette – shades of grey and black – and my mental state around this time of year reflects the weather and the clothes. Having a couple of beers with my friend, and sometimes mentor, Camp, is one of the week’s highlights, even though we mostly dredge through the most recent slew of bad news, politics and pet peeves. No different this time. It’s raining, the choppy grey water is mirroring the low hanging clouds and dusk is only a slight change from the rest of the day. I was early at our usual table, and to while away the wait I swiped through some news clips on my silly phone. Camp showed up soon thereafter, shook the water from his coat and hat and sat down with a contended sigh.
‘Are you aware that the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index was released a couple of days ago, rating 57 countries.’ Camp said as he struggled out of his coat and placed his hat on the empty chair next to us. At that exact moment, like choreography, Vicky arrived with two lovely pints.
‘How safe is safe,’ I asked Camp just as Rosy, our Irish server, put two pints in front of us. ‘I’m referring to a travel advisory I came across which lists all the places to avoid, like parts of Mexico, Central America, Venezuela.’