Saturday, March 23, 2019

Funny, how that happens!

There was a time when I imagined the fortuity of coincidence was a mystical feature of life - mine in particular. It is a subject which was well documented by the English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy who wrote in the tradition of the "Victorian realist". Broadly defined it is realism which attempts to represent subject matter truthfully without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions as well as implausible, exotic and supernatural elements. Realist authors chose to depict everyday and banal activities and experiences instead of using a romanticized and similarly stylized presentation.

What's peculiar about the realistic accounts is that in spite of their plausibility the resulting circumstances are frequently extraordinary - contributing to Mark Twain's (1897) adage that truth is stranger than fiction (because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't). I can't say that there is anything especially remarkable about my life, but I am regularly gobsmacked by the way things transpire.  Invariably one thing leads to another.

Yesterday for example I chatted with acquaintances on the beach about booze and food. If I recall correctly the conversation about booze began with their allusion to the previous evening's misspent habits of wine drinking.  It prompted me to mention the famous Savoy Hotel (1930) Side Car cocktail recipe (which I subsequently emailed to them). Later this morning - in the middle of the night actually, around 3:00 am - I explored the matter more intently on the internet.  I came upon a sequel reference to the martini, particularly the quotation of Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899 - October 1, 1985) who used to write for The New Yorker that the martini is "the elixir of quietude".

Jane Austen and I once had a strong alliance with martinis in front of a blazing Vermont Casting on a green leather chair over recovered-pine floors, subdued by sheets of late afternoon winter sunshine.

The second topic of confab with my acquaintances was cheese.  In that instance I referred to Crotte du Diable ("droppings of the devil" - to employ the more polite translation).  I later discovered on the internet that its manufacture has apparently exhausted. It ranks as one of those highly stinky cheeses which frankly I adored.

All this talk of booze and cheese came to a head upon receipt of an email from the same acquaintances inviting us to join them for dinner at Speaks Clam Bar in Sarasota near St. Armands Circle. The nautical and culinary themes instantly spoke to me.

Coincidentally I lately read in my digital subscription to Country Life magazine an article about the Burlington Arcade in London.  The arcade was built in 1818 to the order of George Cavendish, 1st Earl of Burlington, younger brother of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire who inherited the adjacent Burlington House on what had been the side garden of the house and was reputedly to prevent passers-by throwing oyster shells and other rubbish over the wall of his home.  It was designed by architect Samuel Ware.  Burlington Arcade was built "for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand for the gratification of the public".  However it was also said to have been built so that the Lord's wife could shop safely amongst other genteel ladies and gentlemen away from the busy, dirty and crime-ridden open streets of London.  There is a good deal of symmetry with the commercial purpose of St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.

Strictly as a sidelight, the arcade is patrolled by beadles in traditional uniforms including top hats and frock coats.  The original beadles were all former members of Lord George Cavendish's regiment, the 10th Royal Hussars.  The arcade maintains regency decorum by banning singing, humming, hurrying and "behaving boisterously" - not perhaps precisely what one would fully expect of St. Armands Circle during the season but nonetheless close to its civility.

After our manicures and pedicures this morning we went to Blue Dolphin Café for breakfast. There, while waiting for a table, we met a gentleman who was a relative of Milton Hershey of the chocolate fame in Pennsylvania. He also informed us he was distantly related to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson; as well as having encountered as a child (while playing baseball) both Mickey Mantel and Roger Maris. Not to be outdone our server advised that last night he had catered a party of six people among whom was writer Stephen King (whom we had last seen when staying at the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street in New York City).

As if all this hadn't been enough this afternoon I heard from another beach denizen that "Gabby" Gerald Regan (former Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia) winters not far from our condominium.  I mentioned that my late father had known Mr. Regan and his erstwhile political crony Eric Balcolm (who passed much of his leisure time at West Palm Beach). But that's all another story.

When we dined with our friends this evening at Speaks Clam Bar I was shown a photograph of Ernest Hemingway (to whom one of our members bears a slight resemblance when bearded).  I instantly recognized the photograph as that of Yousuf Karsh, former Ottawa resident.  In fact he and his wife for a time lived in residence at the Château Laurier Hotel where I had once played the grand piano in the empty ballroom while Mrs. Karsh sat tranquilly at the back hidden under a large-rimmed hat, holding a parasol.

We party-goers rounded out the evening with a short performance by me on the grand piano at our condominium.

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