Saturday, June 16, 2018

The South of France and the Austrian Jew

I was in the south of France over 50 years ago when I had just graduated from Upper Sixth Form at St. Andrew's College.  After one month's sojourn in an apartamento adjoining the Mediterranean on the Costa Brava in Spain we headed to Paris en route to Stockholm (where my father was employed as Attach√© with the Canadian Embassy). After leaving Spain we had a car accident in the Pyrenees. As a result my enthusiasm for driving was seriously dampened and the trip to Stockholm was cut short a month while I lingered in Paris with my school friend Ricardo Schmeichler.  He was staying in Montmartre with his uncle who owned a Jaguar dealership in town. As far as I knew Ricardo was a Jew who came from Austria but his family then lived in Caracas, Venezuela where they maintained their business PAR (which I understand was named after the three boys, Pedro, Alfredo and Ricardo). The only other detail I recall about Ricardo is that his mother would sometimes fly to Canada from either Austria or Venezuela then take Ricardo to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City to buy new clothes and shoes. The last I heard of Ricardo was that he had been mowed down by machine gun fire in front of his bank in Caracas.

This afternoon as I lay in the sunshine by the pool of my friend's place in the Village of Ashton I distinctly had the sensation of being in the south of France. The buzzing flies, the aroma of the wild flowers and the chirping of the birds were - apart from the dog's repeated huffing as he raced after his ball - the only interludes in the balmy atmosphere.

I needed the escape. Lately as a result of my bicycle accident in February in Florida I have experienced the same paranoia and moderate psychosis which stigmatized my recovery from open-heart surgery in 2007. I blame the narcotics used in the surgery. I have at least the favour of knowing the effect of the drugs eventually evaporates - which although precipitous nonetheless takes as long as a year.  It doesn't help that I recently made the mistake of reading the physicians' formal reports following my discharge from hospital in early March.  There were unsettling references to acute pneumothorax, traumatic brain injury, pulmonary contusion, basilar skull fracture, major neurocognitive disorder with behavioural disturbance and complete heart block. My instinct tells me that the miracle that is my body is bravely tackling this variety of conditions while at the same time attempting to endure the reduction of Lyme disease and the novelty of medicinal marijuana. I am a veritable toxic waste site!

But an illusion persists in the south of France...

What has bothered me more than anything is my prevailing lack of interest, the intellectual equivalent of having no appetite. I acknowledge that the scope of my agenda is limited and probably considered by most people as perfectly dull. Yet traditionally I have always aroused myself by repeating my usual habits and indulgences - simple things like bicycling, driving the car, my favourite things and my favourite foods.  But these resources were lately not paying off. Clouding my every perception was a feeling of insufficiency or inadequacy, almost as though I had arrived at the disabling conclusion of Ecclesiastes that, "Vanity...vanity, all is vanity!"  Thankfully however I am shaking off this trepidation as well. While the majority of improvement is purely physical, it may also be the product of having slowly accomplished the list of details which have hounded us since our return to Canada in April. The productive spirit never wanes.

As the sultry summer days begin their ascent on the calendar I happily succumb to the idle contemplation wrought by the heat and leisure. In the blinding afternoon light I close my eyes in willing submission to the memories of the past as they permeate my imagination.

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