Havana is a ruinous city, like an old prostitute covered in too much makeup to hide the pain and suffering, but yet resilient and full of life. The crumbling facades of the wedding cake villas and opulent palaces of the former sugar barons and casino moguls, of the corrupt regimes before the revolution, bear witness to the ravages of time, decay and lack of money. Sixty years of neglect, coupled with numerous hurricanes and the salty fecundity of the climate is not a recipe for a well functioning infrastructure.
It’s been a mild winter so far here in Gibsons; no snow, no freeze ups, no icy roads. Mind you, winter isn’t over yet but so far so good, as the saying goes. The days are getting longer, about two minutes per day which translates into an hour per month. Our small town is pretty well shuttered and most of the xmas decorations are coming down to be stashed for another year. I leave our gable lights up for the whole year and just unplug them.
Clare and I have been on an unusual holiday to Cuba
The holidays are over, the Christmas trees are tossed aside; some still with a forlorn strand of tinsel tangled up their spent and brown branches. The relatives have left; the empty bottles have been recycled, the Visa bill has arrived. It’s called the January blues but I feel relived and content to get on with the day without the pressure of presents that nobody needs, the overabundance of food and drink, the cards unrequited and the lugubrious outpourings by the politicians and pundits. I’m glad it’s back to normal and was looking forward to my weekly chat with my friend Campbell, or Camp as I’ve always known him.
As I walked by our storm ravaged wharf in Granthams. I could not avoid the fact that in over a hundred years this was the first time this dock, jutting out into the waters of Howe Sound, had taken such a beating. There were storms before, high tides and driftwood logs jamming up against the dock but never had it been battered and damaged in such a fashion. Was this part of the rising sea levels, or just a combinations of a high winter tides, fierce winds and a lot of driftwood swept loose? Yes, our dock is a disaster but it can be fixed and it’s damage pales against the Anak Krakatau eruption in the Sunda Straight, that caused a tsunami to crash into the coast on the islands of Sumatra and Java killing scores of unsuspecting people, including members of a rock band and their audience at a beach concert. I felt suddenly grateful for the rain and wind here and I had other things on my mind that I wanted to talk to about with my friend Campbell – Camp as we all call him. Continue reading
Two young lovers are forced apart by their different social strata and years later find themselves on opposite sides of a proposed nuclear plant near a pueblo in central Mexico. He forms an activist group while she is a reporter for a conservative newspaper. It’s a fight for a way of life and the environment against the insatiable need for power.
I walked along the stormy shore watching in awe as the high winter tide was hurling big driftwood logs against the beach like sticks in a pond. This unleashed force of nature was a serious reminder of how tenuous our existence is in this world. Such were my thoughts as I walked towards our watering hole. I made a pledge that today I would only discuss good news with my friend Campbell, Camp to all who knew him. For this one time I promised myself that I would not gripe, bitch, complain or otherwise vent my frustration at the unhinged world of Trump or the chaos of Brexit woes or the looming civil war in Hungary. No, for this one occasion before Christmas, I would only confine my weekly chat with Camp to positive themes and events. Let joy and happiness rule supreme.
“Happiness is for pigs and wishes are for children,” Trevor announced to all and sundry. His deep baritone cut like a foghorn through the smoke and noise at Oliver’s Pub, which is located just across from Holly’s Beach and right around the corner from our bookstore. It’s a pleasant place to conclude a day’s work over a pint or two.
“That’s not true,” said the pretty young woman who was standing at the bar, beside where Trevor straddled his favourite barstool. “Happiness is there for everybody and wishes can come true,” she declared with conviction. “Isn’t that right, Jack?”
“Did you hear that the new Mexican president, Lopez Obrador, put the presidential plane, a Boeing Dreamliner, up for sale and prefers to travel like everybody else, by commercial, scheduled flights,” I asked Camp after Rosie set down our first pint.
“ I just hope he stays alive, driving his own Jetta to work, sometimes with his wife and just one security guy,” Camp said, obviously aware of the changes.
It’s been a glorious week of sunny December weather, cold and bright and the reflection of the sun is sparkling off the waters of Howe Sound. The tops of the mountains are frosted and the only sounds are the screeching of the gulls and the crunch of the gravel under my feet. I hold on to moments like this but I know there is trouble in this vale of tears and laughter and my friend Campbell, Camp to all of us, didn’t disappoint.
“Black Friday, Cyber Monday, national shopping holidays next?” I said to Campbell as I sat down, shaking the rain from my hat.
“I take it shopping is not your happy place.”
“I know you run a bookstore Camp and you rely on people shopping for books but what kind of a world is this relentless consumer driven existence. We shop until we drop goes the clichée and unless we participate we perish,” I lamented.
November rain. But just at the edge there was the sun trying to push through the grey clouds. I stopped for a brief look and headed inside.
“Camp, did you hear the latest proposal by the pundits in Ottawa? This one is about Universal Basic Income, UBI for short.”
“Can’t say I have but this idea surfaces every now and then and it even has been tried in a few places and studied to death. How do they plan to pay for it this time?
“With online casinos and marijuana taxes. They figure the bill for a Canada wide UBI program would be $ 41 billion.”
“Being a Swiss of Viking and Celtic extraction I thought you have this innate, Teutonic compulsion for precisions and exactness,” Camp said, as I sat down. “It’s not like you to be late.”
“I’m not late Camp, you’re early, probably haven’t adjusted your inner clock to the daylight savings time. In case you haven’t noticed it’s now getting dark at five o’clock. I really don’t like walking in the dark. I think we’ll have to move up our cocktail hour to get in synch with the daylight.”
“I wish they would just abolish the whole thing. Drives everybody crazy adjusting all the clocks and it’s not my inner clock but the one in the store I forgot to adjust and here I am, an hour and two pints early all by myself. “
“First thing tomorrow, adjust that clock,” I said. It’s just typical of you Camp, the distracted, cerebral professor.”
In October 2018, ten of us, cousins and spouses, ventured on a two-week trip to South Africa, organized by our youngest cousin, who grew up in South Africa. We took an overnight flight from Zurich, and arrived 9 hours later in Johannesburg where we were whisked off to the Johannesburg Country Club, a left over cluster of old manors and lounges from the Brits, sprawled over a few acres of groomed gardens and surrounded by a ten foot high wall, topped with electric security wires. Over a scrumptious, extended lunch we were treated to a bit of history from our cousin who loved this country of his birth with a natural passion and he also knew that we were curious and keen to know where we were.
“Now that we’re through Halloween, Hallows Eve and the Day of the Dead we can get on with life,” I said to Camp after Vicky delivered our first round of welcome beers.”
“My friend’s mom had 130 kids at her door,” Vicky said.
“Wow, that’s a lot of candy.”
“Yeah, guess what my nephew’s costume was.”
“Nope, “serial” killer. He had three boxes of cereal with a knife through them strapped to his back.”
“That’s hilarious,” Camp guffawed, “myself, I’m reluctantly decorating for the next event, the biggest one for book stores.”
Despite the relentless rain this week I ventured outside and walked to town. I certainly didn’t want to drive and Clare was off in the city for work. The leaden water of Howe Sound and the drifting gun metal clouds draped across the coastal mountains presented a monochromatic palette, somewhat resembling my sombre mood on this blustery fall day.
“Camp, did you read those stats in The Washington Postwhich state that Trump told 3250 false statements and lies in his first 500 days. That was at the end of May, he has since added another 970 lies in June and July,” I said.
“The truth doesn’t matter in politics. It’s the message that counts and the messenger,” Camp said. “The crazy thing is that it doesn’t seem to damage his popularity at all, to the contrary, he has an 85% support amongst republicans. In fact he inspires other autocrats like Putin and Erdogan and the recently elected Bolsonaro in Brazil to follow his example. Lie, deny and call everybody else a liar, a cheat and a misfit.”
“Camp, what do you think of the argument that all these Airbnb’s should be permanent rentals, instead of temporary holiday rentals?”
Campbell, Camp to us all, took a long swig from his cold beer and sat back in his chair. This was going to be a long answer. “First of all you can’t force people to rent out their extra apartments or rooms to people who can’t find affordable housing elsewhere,” he pontificated. “You cannot roll off a communal and collective responsibility onto the shoulders of individuals. You can tax holiday rental income and put that money to work and you can limit the amount of Airbnb’s in specific communities and maybe even give out licenses but then you’ll have the big operators buying up all the licenses and leave the mom-and-pop operations out of the loop.”
“There were always B&B’s and holiday rentals and exchanges. I remember my parents renting somebody’s flat or farmhouse in the mountains for ski holidays. Cheap and affordable. Nothing new about all that except Airbnb have really cornered the market with their user friendly and peer reviewed platform. We use it all the time when we travel.”
I love Indian Summer. Balmy, sunny days, harvest festivals, pumpkin pie, a palette of red, gold and brown leaves lazily floating in the air, cool evenings and maybe a fire in the hearth and candles for dinner. The walk along the pebble beach to my weekly tète-a-tète with Campbell, Camp to all and sundry, is the most pleasant this time of year.
“Camp, do you know what day it was yesterday?”
“Wednesday. Oh you mean national Mary Jane day is what you’re referring to isn’t it. You know my take on all of that don’t you?”
“Yes, you did run it by me before but please let’s have it again. I know you’re not totally in favour with the whole process.”
“We would have been better off to decriminalize marijuana instead of legalizing it. Just take the crime out of growing, toking and eating it, throw the jails open and give every one with a criminal record for pot an amnesty and then treat it like all the other famous drugs which are legal now.”
“What famous drugs?” I asked.
“How about sugar, the world’s biggest drug which brought about slavery, rum running and made untold riches for the plantation owners, importers and refineries. Or coffee, which is making fortunes today for the likes of Starbuck’s and has everybody walking around with a non-disposable cup of the black liquid. Did I mention alcohol? Please don’t make me count the ways the drink makes the world go round, right to this table here at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ on the lovely Gibsons’ harbour.”
“Yeah, you’re right Camp and we all know prohibition doesn’t work but it’s quite an achievement for the federal government to legalize pot. I’m not sure if there are any other countries that have done that. I know there are about 26 states in the US and I think Portugal has legalized all drugs about ten years ago but it is quite a radical policy for a federal government of an industrialized nation, don’t you think.”
“Yes, I agree but all they want is control, like for alcohol, and get a bonanza in tax dollars. I’m afraid that giving out licenses will result in a few big corporate players to monopolize the market and leave small operators who have cultivated and produced some fine products over the years, out on the street and possibly on the wrong side of the law. This would take a huge chunk of commerce and money out of small communities like Gibsons and Nelson.”
“Yeah, the usual. Good for corporate share holders, bad for small time operators. Let’s wait and see what happens. It’s been promised by Trudeau’s dad, Pierre, 45 years ago. The world will be watching.”
“I’ve read that the first problem will be one of supply,” Camp said, “meaning that no government sanctioned pot is available as of yet and nobody is in charge of the store, meaning, no pricing, no standardization, no packaging, no labelling, no distribution and no grading. Maybe they’ll have somebody like that Parker guy who grades wines for weed?”
“You mean something like: This ‘Kubla Khan Purple Dagga’bud is 93 points and on special this week.”
“That’s not going to happen any time soon,” Camp laughed.
I still think it’s a day worth celebrating. In fact I’ll buy the next round.”
“I can live with that,” Camp said, quickly downing the rest of his pint.
“You two seem to be in a good mood today,” Rosie said as she brought us a fresh round.
“We’re celebrating legalization day,” I said, “don’t you think that’s worth a toast and a pint?”
“Next you two will want me to bring around a couple of reefers and a cup of ginseng tea instead of beers.”
“No fear of that Rosie,” Camp said, we’ll stick with the golden liquid but I know that Muriel will grow a couple of plants in the garden, just because she can.”
“I think they should make the 17th October a national holiday, it’s a historic event,” I said.
“And what would you call it?” Rosie chuckled, “Cannabis Day?”
“It has a certain ring to it,” Camp said.
“I’ll drink to that,” I said. “Here is to Cannabis Day!”
“Sue told me that her husband is very sick and has been in intensive care for a few weeks,” Clare said just before I left to walk down to the pub. “I know he’s Camp’s friend and I’m sure he’s aware of it. Be easy on him,” Clare said, “it’s not a good situation.”
“I guess we’re lucky to be healthy,” I said.
“Luck is arbitrary but we eat well thanks to your cooking,” she said, “and as the saying goes: Every day spend some time looking after your health otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time spending on your illness later in life.”
“Well, that’s a cliché,” I said. “Life’s a lottery.”
I walked along the quiet waterfront and tried to enjoy the beautiful fall weather, the changing colours, which were also indicative of the cyclic nature lo life. Nature takes its course but we don’t like it if it attacks us personally with nasty cell mutations and painful malfunctions.
Camp was sitting at our table, intent on his smartphone, which he swiftly pocketed when he saw me approach.
Without my prompting he broached the subject of his sick friend. “I visited a good friend today, who has been in the hospital for the past 3 months and it doesn’t look like he’s coming out any time soon,” he said as I sat down at our usual table overlooking the harbour and Keats Island in the near distance.
“Clare mentioned him to me. What’s wrong with him? Not the c-word I hope?”
“No, it’s not cancer. Fact is he is deathly ill, hooked up to a multiple of beeping, flashing, dripping and ticking machines. It has a definite Frankenstein feeling.”
“It’s sounds miserable,” I said.
“Miserable is an understatement. If it was me I would be furious, like they’ve cheated me out of dying. Instead of a medical miracle I would feel more like a human catastrophe. ‘Death by instalments’. ”
Go easy on Camp, Clare said. What does that mean? “Maybe I should go talk to my doctor and make sure that wouldn’t happen to me,” I said, “maybe put something in writing. We plan everything from buying a car to vacations, why not plan how we would like to die?”
“It’s not something people want to talk about, not when they’re healthy. Death is still a taboo, sort of right next to erectile dysfunction, or a bad case of flatulence, or the plunging stock market. Not exactly welcome conversation topics around the water cooler or dinner table,” Camp said, “but you’re right, it would be smart to have a plan in place, just in case.”
We both looked out at the sparkling waters of Howe Sound, each with our own thoughts. Vicky appeared at the table and took one long look at us. “Somebody die?” she asked, intuitive as she is.
“Not yet,” Camp said, sighing and shaking his head.
I just remembered what I was going to show Camp and dug my cell phone out against our unspoken rule. “I just got this video from my nephew about their four months old baby girl. What a delight and joy this young life is bringing to her parents and all those who meet her,” I said. “In a way it’s the complete opposite of your friend’s condition.”
Vicky put two fresh pints down and squealed with delight at the baby pictures. “That’s why you two guys need to enjoy every day, every moment and every beer,” she said.
“Tell that to my friend,” Camp said, trying not to sound too cynical. “To him life as he knew it is over while for this little girl it’s just the beginning, while you and I my friend,” pointing his finger at me, “are just two spectators, passing through this vale of tears and laughter and enjoying the movie of life.”
“So much for this week’s episode of ‘One Life, two beers’,” I said, trying to maintain a modicum of humour. “We never even touched the week’s politics.”
“What a relief!” Camp said, raising his glass. “To life.”
Fall is here and summer is just 8 months away. Kind of depressing unless you like rainy, cold weather and five o’clock twilight. Clare diagnosed me with s.a.d., seasonal-asshole-disorder and I tend to agree. Nevertheless I put on my sunglasses and head out into the rain towards the village, the pub and a couple of frosty pints.
“Camp do all of us go back to our childhood days to figure out why we are the people we are today, afraid of commitments or driven to succeed, maybe resentful and bitter or over protective of our space, even depressed and unable to hold down relationships and jobs or even addicted to a smorgasbord of vices and delusions?”