Thursday, February 14, 2019

Plus ça change!

Things were happening fast and furiously today.  It began with a now unaccountable matter arising from my perusal of H. W. Fowler's "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage" (1926), another of those "beyond copyright" free books I've collected - and one which amusingly for me is about words, words, words. Somehow it got me researching the meaning of "cynicism" - more specifically the Cynics, a school of ancient Greek philosophers. The Cynics - founded by Antisthenes - were curiously marked by an ostentatious contempt for ease and pleasure which you'll agree is a far cry from the modern understanding of cynicism to mean a disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions.  Initially however the Cynics were guided by rejection of conventional desires for wealth, power, sex and fame - instead inclined to lead a simple life free from possessions.  Early Christianity promoted some of the same philosophy but things went downhill by the late 5th century no doubt due to the influence of Diogenes (formerly a nice boy from a good family) who by choice abandoned his social advantages and lived on the streets of Athens like a dog.

Until then the Cynics adopted Heracles as their hero. Heracles reportedly brought the hound of Hades from the underworld - which had a special appeal to Diogenes, the dog-man.

Heracles upgraded the Hellenistic philosophy by offering people the possibility of happiness and freedom from suffering in an age of uncertainty (an objective and vernacular I can't say is too far removed from present day ambition and conditions - but that's a story for another day). In a nutshell the goal of life was Eudaimonia - freedom from false belief, mindlessness, folly and conceit. The trick was to live according to Nature which - as might be expected - embraced ascetic practices and helped to escape wealth, fame and power that have no value in Nature (not what one would nowadays characterize as a burning abstraction).

All this led me nowhere except to divert me momentarily while savouring the nourishing combination of honeycomb and walnuts washed down by chilled black coffee (my favourite). By eleven o'clock - teeth cleaned and visage sun-screened - I was (as is my custom each day) on my trusty bicycle along Longboat Club Road under an azure sky en route to Bayfront Park. When I got there I perched upon a bench overlooking Sarasota Bay and placidly watched the sea birds and sailing yachts.

Suddenly my bicycle collapsed with a crash. I knew in an instant something was seriously wrong (not merely the effect of a gust of wind for example).  Sure enough the back tire was flat. Whether the flat caused the crash or the crash caused the flat I am not certain. It was a sobering moment nonetheless. I was in a conundrum.  After simmering briefly I called the bike shop (about 2 miles further along Gulf of Mexico Drive) where I had bought the bike.  The proprietor - Charlie - told me he would collect the bike but not people. I am accustomed to Charlie's specificity when it comes to the dynamics of his service - and in fact I admire his obduracy as a valid and workable commercial decision.  Only recently I had encountered similar succinctness from him when I proposed trading my bike at the end of the season for a new one next year.  Though he mistakenly assumed initially that I was only asking him to store my bike until my return, even after I tried to clarify he was so set upon denying what he had presumed to be my proposal that he failed - or refused - to absorb what I was saying. Then - as today - Charlie had made up his mind at the outset and there was similarly no alteration to be tolerated.

To Charlie's credit he arrived swiftly to collect the bike.  Though I attempted to play upon a sense of fairness and generosity he would have nothing whatever to do with my simpering about getting a taxi to transport me home. He left with the bike.  I called a taxi.

My taxi driver arrived about 25 minutes after my initial call to the company. Before his arrival the dispatcher called to advise that the driver had run into traffic when crossing the bridge from Sarasota onto Longboat Key. Meanwhile I sat on a bench in the dappled sun under the shade of a large tree. When the driver (a young, stout fellow) arrived he proved to be uncommonly polite and - if I may say so - more intelligent than I expected. He told me he was born in Miami but raised in Sarasota; that he had worked as a pastry chef, a welder and a construction worker among other things.  When I observed he had a literary bent, he acknowledged he enjoyed reading.  I said to him, "And it shows!"

After being delivered home I called Charlie to enquire when he wished to deliver the repaired bike. He forcefully echoed what apparently is his inbred stubbornness by repeating that he would - as he had told me (a detail he delighted in repeating) - call when it was ready! Once again I was reminded he is not a man to be challenged! While I wouldn't normally endure such obstinacy I reasoned there was nothing to be gained by doing otherwise.  As I say he always performs well even though his mannerism is by my assessment less than ideal or politic. The bike was being repaired (I had also asked him to do an overhaul) and it was a beautiful beach day. Otherwise I didn't give a damn about the bike or Charlie! There are simply occasions on which it is best to step aside from the contaminating flow of life!

Thus relieved I gleefully resorted to the beach where I stationed myself on a chaise longue and soon was happily lost to blue and white heavens. The warmth of the sun drew me to the sea for a refreshing swim.  The water was murkier today than yesterday - I could not see the bottom but nor did I see any sting rays which have recently populated the shore by the hundreds. The particular breed is the cownose sting ray which is a medium sized creature not known to be aggressive. Each Spring it migrates northward from the Caribbean in large numbers. It is only spooky when it travels close to the surface and the tip of one of its wings breaks the water - lending the similarity to a shark dorsal fin.

Apart from that trepidation the swim was invigorating and salubrious. When I got ashore I went for a walk along the beach. The waves were crashing upon the shore, foaming and frothing, rendering a very colourful look of green and white. I felt like a wanton beachcomber as I trod on the edge of the ebbing and flowing turquoise sea.

Not long after regaining my chaise longue I was greeted by a neighbour who invited us to join her and her husband for dinner tomorrow evening.  A confab followed surrounding which venue to attend.  We settled upon Mar Vista at the north end of the island. We very much appreciate this gesture of sociability, the first congregation of a strictly private nature we've been asked to join apart from those we've had here with old friends from Canada. Otherwise all other get-togethers here have been of the corporate model involving all the condominium residents. Our neighbour and her husband are Americans from Georgia. To date we've shared casual acquaintance with them by the pool, always pleasant.

I feel the need to assert something in the nature of a conclusion upon the completion of this day: the polarity of cynicism and Charlie at one end and the taxi driver and friends at the other. The events - though hardly extraordinary by any measure - were nonetheless significant to me. It is perhaps unnecessary - and maybe superfluous - to attach any fermentation to these accounts.

"Every man has three characters - that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has."

Alphonse Karr

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