Monday, October 1, 2018


Conflating the Universe and one’s personal life may initially seem both ludicrous and impossible, an undertaking far too exact to be of any import. Yet kindling our private response to public affairs is the legitimate product of any analysis in spite of its admixture of general and specific, abstract and particular, theoretical and practice. The contrast is especially evident in a time of great social and political turmoil such as the current global challenges surrounding nationalism, pluralism, entitlement, sexuality, democracy, freedom and religion.  The  ingredients of conjecture and detail precipitate the evolution of some unanticipated reactions ostensibly unrelated. It is however Nature’s product, the sometimes bizarre unfolding of intimate response to abstruse philosophy.

"The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding, but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence."

Today my dental hygienist told me her three year old son insisted upon wearing a tie for his Junior Kindergarten class photo. This unlikely tale sparked my immediate interest. As I said to the hygienist, “Nothing happens without a reason!” And while I didn’t verbalize it to the mother, I am convinced the child’s trifling detail is illustrative of a broader picture; specifically the character of male possessions and their egocentric perspective.

Matters sartorial are hardly the exclusive domain of the so-called fairer sex. In fact in many instances the substantive difference is inextinguishable. One need only consider the popular TV character Young Sheldon - the purely intellectual transformation of Ferris Bueller.

As outmoded as it sounds I am nonetheless convinced there are differences between boys and girls - admittedly a dangerous proposition in an era when girls are applying for the “right” (as though it were a constitutional elevation) to play hockey on a boys’ team. Yet historic differences in my opinion linger between boys and girls. As offended as we are by disapproval of some Arab states to the right of women to drive an automobile, until I went to law school at 21 years of age I honestly felt uncomfortable pushing a grocery cart in a supermarket. That was something I had as a very young child only seen my mother (or women) do; and at the age of 14 when I went to boarding school and later to residence for undergraduate studies, prepared food just arrived at table in a dining room. All that changed at law school when I moved into Domus Legis, the fraternity residence where we had a communal kitchen and responsibility to buy, prepare and cook our own food - which I can assure you was for me a cosmic learning curve and frankly one I never really accomplished until I began practicing law and met my physician who in addition to being a “renaissance man” in every sense of the word was a distinguished cook. It was he for example who introduced me to bagna Càuda (but that’s a story for another time).

Just to be clear on the sartorial distinction of wearing a tie, I opened what little I could conveniently say to my dental hygienist about her son between her routine scaling of my teeth by briefly relating to her some Almonte history. I told her about Almonte's senior businessman, John Hawley Kerry, who I had recently learned from having read his biography written by his daughter, Karen Hirst, had insisted upon wearing a jacket and tie when attending his rural high school.  To this day John (who is now 89 years of age) is well-turned-out. He is living proof that "manners maketh the man" and that if you're asking someone for money, wear a tie.

"Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."
Orson Welles

It doesn't require imagination to target the cherished material ambitions of men, everything from knives to guns to golf clubs and cars. But forging from the style of dress I was animated to speak about the significance of a bow tie - by which I mean a real bow tie, not one of those clip-on numbers. I began by promoting the pragmatic value of the bow tie - it avoids the risk of drifting into one's soup plate.  It is naturally an undeniable "statement" with pointedly different implications when worn with evening wear or a cardigan. I emphasized that the supreme advantage of a bow tie is that, contrary to popular supposition, it is remarkably easy to tie. As taught to me by the late L. C. Audette, QC, OC, "If you can tie a shoe lace, you can tie a bow tie!"  I cautioned the dental hygienist not to read written instructions or follow graphic representations of the process, utterly redundant! I speculated that the singularity of the technique would appeal to her young son.

Though I disguised the theses as evidence of my vast knowledge of raising children, I quickly descended into what was recognizably a shameless material indulgence.  It is for example a small step from formal wear to a discussion of cuff links and studs (though to my credit I avoided the superfluity of Egyptian cotton dress shirts).

From there it was a leapfrog to the domain of pocket watches, fobs and clocks, including a hurried diversion to an explanation of why a real ship's bell has no face (and the associated meaning of the "dog watch" at four bells in the early morning).

The extrapolation to maritime interests was accordingly immediate (without any literary reference to Ishmael on Nantucket Island). While I may not be conversant with hunting and sports, I know a thing or two about nautical imagery.

All this is to say that the relieving nature of personal hobbies and fascinations is that it distances us from the sometimes incomprehensible activities of the sphere surrounding us. What can be more engrossing and comforting than the familiar circumstances of one's drawing room?  It is paradoxically within these shallow contemplations that we discover the depths of our soul!

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