May 10, 2004

Waxing, wanking, whatever

Is it wrong that I find myself gazing with amourous longing at footlockers?

There's an element of practicality to my obsession; I have been considering sending a bunch of my junk parcel post, in which case I'll require a bit sturdier vessel than a carboard banker's box. But the longing part is I think because the footlockers, with thier metal corner bracing and brass studs, remind me a bit of steamer trunks.

There's a romance to the steamer trunk and all it signifies: Gentle slap of the water against the pilings, tang of the salt in the air, twang and creak of the ropes as the boat tugs against the moorings cruelly lashing it to the dock, the buoyant spring of the gangplank under your feet as you give a rakish tilt to your picture hat and head toward the porter, who'll tick you name off the manifest and hand you a complimentary box of confetti to scatter into the breeze as the dockside crowd yells bon voyage, the men doffing their caps to wave with them so you'll see them a moment or two longer before you slip beyond the horizon of the shore…

Beneath the picturebook nostalgia I have evoked, I think, lies a longing for the sanctified penumbra that ocean travel provides, a cleanly demarcated period of neither-here-nor-there. Travel is a seeking of the new, but to be truly open to new experiences requires a shedding of old expectations, of comfortable habit and routine. To be plunged onto the water, to watch home drift out of vision and wait in the expectation of the appearance of strange lands is to allow for metamorphosis; the boat becomes a chrysalis which allows us to slough off the functional frump and weary armor of our workaday lives and prepare to wrap ourselves in more exotic raiment, awakens us to the possibility of flitting lightly from leaf to leaf, hotel to hotel, Italy to Greece, instead of trudging hunched along the familiar narrow prickled byways of our lives, chewing dutifully through the hours. No wonder that all the old books warn of shipboard romance: two bright young things, snug as a bug in a rug, under the dangerous influence of moonlight.

Still, it's easy to be romantic from a few decades distance; my own grandmother on her trip across the pond saw, between the harbors of Cork and New York, little else but the bottom bunk of her violently lurching cabin, and though most of her managed to stay fortunately put, her stomach faithfully replicated the boat's every heave.

It's equally hard not to be romantic, though, when the ocean crossing is compared with its modern equivalent, airline travel, in which one is disgorged unceremoniously from silver tube to silver tube, like a protein molecule from which all that is worthwhile has been wrung. I acknowledge that I take for granted the utility of instantaneousness, to ability to put myself on the other side of the world in a hundredth of Phineas Fogg's record. But the abruptness of the transition forces the airport itself to take on all the diaphanous unreality which is was stretched over days or weeks on board a boat; and what might be a pleasant floaty little buzz administered in small does is a head-thumping, eye-crossing dizzy-maker when shot-gunned in such a brief span.

(To be continued)

Posted by Diablevert at May 10, 2004 05:40 PM | TrackBack

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