Thursday, June 03, 2010

Private Idaho and Insular Tahiti

now reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Meant to be? Perhaps it's a little soon to be using that phrase, always a favorite of mine. But it certainly seems beyond fortuitous that despite my best efforts to launch my re-re-reading of The Whale in March, and then April, I would really be best able to plunge into it now, after from my voyage to Tajikistan.

Upon returning from the other side of the world, I came home, took care of a few re-entry tasks, and then headed with Brian to his family's vacation home on Lake Michigan. I picked up Moby, a month neglected, and read those first paragraph words that I thought I had understood before:

"It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can." - p. 3 (which is really page 1, it's totally one of those)

I have such a literary crush on Herman-as-Ishmael. And seriously, could he put it any better? I sit here thinking about him and I get a sad little rush as I think about what he would have had to say about airplane travel. Not that I would want it to take away from what he has given us about the ships and the sea and the whaling voyages. I just kind of want him to live twice, I suppose, to grace us with his philosophy about our 20th/21st century times as well. We are so damn lucky - all of us! But, I've said this before. Those of you who complain and bitch and moan about the companies that fling us around the globe in mere hours aren't worthy to even open your mouths about higher powers.

Sitting there on the sands of Lake Michigan, I re-re-re-re-read the 100+ pages of Moby Dick I had accomplished in the spring, with only a bit of skimming, and then I pressed forward, totally in the right place and mental space now to read it all. What a wondrous thing it is, this classic novel.

I think the entire process of reading it might be worth it for Chapter 58 alone. "Brit" is one of Herman's philosophical bits, with some explanation about the ocean all wrapped up nicely with a statement about humanity. He has quite a few chapters like this coming fast and furious in this section of the book. This is the one in which he thinks about the "universal cannibalism" and "eternal war" going on in the sea, then compares it to the human being, in whose soul "lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life." - p. 299

I loved this so much that I just sat there and re-read the chapter. Brilliant, Herman. Seriously.

I spent a lot of time in both Turkey and Tajikistan talking with fellow travelers who understand my need to galavant about the world. As Herman/Ishmael rightly points out in the beginning of the book, our time is short, and every funeral ought to serve as reminder that the time to travel is now. And shut the !@%* up about the airlines already -- maybe once you've handled a whale-line from the line tub you'll get over yourself and your carry-on baggage.

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