Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Markers

“And we note our place with book markers
That measure what we’ve lost.”
(The Dangling Conversation, Paul Simon)

     Allow me a small digression. Today I will not be writing about Skylark, or even The Odyssey (I’ll get back to them in my next posting), but rather about something a bit more personal.

     A little more than two years ago, I had an overpowering urge to watch once again, after a span of more than half a century, the absolute favorite TV show from my childhood – James A. Michener’s Adventures in Paradise. It originally aired from 1959 to 1962, and it was the first show I can recall actually setting aside the hour it was on in order to watch it. I was absolutely enthralled by its faux exotica and cheesy plotlines. Basically, Adventures in Paradise was about the affairs (in all the meanings of that term) of Adam Troy, skipper of the schooner Tiki, based out of Tahiti in the South Pacific. Week after week, Captain Troy would foil criminals, expose murderers, battle the elements, and play matchmaker to confused young couples while sailing about the enchanted islands of Polynesia. (The show was filmed in California with liberal usage of stock footage taken in the South Pacific.) Somehow, despite never once seeing it in reruns, the passage of time hadn't seemed to dim its magic. I could even still remember the theme music - note for note!

Gardner McKay as Captain Adam Troy 

     So when I found online where I could buy a 17-DVD set of 65 episodes (out of the original 91), I snatched it up. The picture quality was terrible, some episodes were missing scenes, and the soundtrack ranged from barely acceptable to grating on the ears. There was often a static override that on occasion would overpower and drown out the dialog. But I didn’t care! The show turned out to be as good as I remembered it to be – maybe even better, and I fell in love with it all over again. I paced myself watching them, but last night, two years later, I came to the inevitable final episode (“One Way Ticket”) on the last DVD. There are now none left to look forward to, and the words of Paul Simon (quoted above) hit home like a ton of bricks.

     Can it be that when we experience something, that in a way… we lose it? Is the knowledge that there is something more to look forward to more dear to us than the memory of its occurrence?

Shukichi Somiya (Chishû Ryû) peeling an apple in Ozu's Late Spring

     Or perhaps it’s just the approach of Old Age that’s affecting me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always kept a list in my mind of “Books I will never read for the Last Time”. Works of such power and beauty, of such richness and depth of meaning that one could never fully plumb the depths, no matter how many times you returned to the well. On that list were many of the Classics (e.g., The Divine Comedy, Canterbury Tales, Moby Dick) as well as more personal, if not idiosyncratic, titles such as Simak’s Time is the Simplest Thing, Jack Vance’s Alastor novels, or even The Skylark of Space. I just couldn't conceive of myself ever saying “I’ll never pick this book up again with the intention of reading it through.”

     But now I am painfully aware of the fact that, if I ever do get around to once more going through, for example, Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, it’ll almost certainly be for that once unthinkable Last Time. That is... (dare I say it?)... if I have not already done so.

“That day we first
Beheld the summit of Mount Blanc, and grieved
To have a soulless image on the eye
Which had usurped upon a living thought
That never more could be.”
(Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book Sixth, lines 524-528)

This posting is dedicated to the memory of my brother Richard, who died suddenly (from a heart attack) a handful of hours after I wrote it. We shared a love for Adventures in Paradise. In our very last conversation together a few months ago (we lived on opposite sides of the continent), 
we both agreed that it was possibly our all-time favorite TV show.

Goodbye, my brother. Your real "Adventures in Paradise" are just beginning...

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