On the road again

Picking a good read for a roadtrip is harder than it looks. Do you want a book about the area that you are travelling through? In my case that would be the Northern Cape and there are no must-read books that spring to mind there for me. What about a roadtrip classic such as ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac? Or the literary equivalent of ‘Thelma and Louise’ perhaps, whatever that might be. In the end (and because I was in a hurry) I grabbed Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow.

After a slow start I am now hooked. I hope Grad is enjoying it as much as I am (and I know she also struggled initially, which is why I thought I would give it a try too). How to describe it? Time magazine described it (in 1974) as a ‘dazzling variation on the Gatsby theme of lost innocence … an American fugue, rhythmic, melodic and stately’. I prefer to see it as a fun tapestry of ‘silhouettes and rags’ of early Twentieth Century American history. I’m only on page 59 but already we’ve had Harry Houdini; Freud; the narrator’s ‘Mother’s Younger Brother’ getting involved with an infamous sex symbol; Jewish and Italian immigrants struggling in New York; the rich and the poor; Emma Goldman the anarchist; a buried baby and also Peary’s trip to the Arctic. You might be thinking that this is a little manic perhaps. Strangely enough, that’s not the effect that’s created. What we have is snippets of story, woven together as an American tapestry.

As for my trip to Kathu, it’s a little better than I expected. We’re not staying on the army base but rather in a basic bed-and-breakfast. My single bed is so small that when I rolled over this morning I hit my head on the bedside table. The breakfast was a surprise in that Mienie (the owner) made everyone scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage. I forgot that some people actually like slightly greasy meat for breakfast. The best part of the trip? We left on Monday and we’re back on Friday. That means that with any luck I’ll be in Betty’s Bay by the weekend (or at least back at the rugby).

On a sadder note, I’ve been a bit quiet here over the past week because my cousin’s daughter died in a car accident. She was only 25 and it was obviously a huge shock to her family and also to ours. While I was never very close to her, attending her memorial service made me realise how much she touched the lives of those she was close to. She was vibrant with a strong personality and, as cliched as it sounds, she did make the most out of life. It was really moving at the memorial service to see how much she was loved by her mother, her brother, her boyfriend, and her close friends from school. The last time I saw her was several months ago when she and her boyfriend cooked a group of us (including P) a truly delicious dinner which included steak in a mouth-watering sauce.

Over the last week I’ve been reminded how short our lives can be and how we should make the most of them. Next month I turn 40 and it already feels as if at least half my life has gone. Should I be spending less time blogging and more time out there in the real world? I don’t think it’s an ‘either or’ and as one of my patients likes to say, my online friends do add immense value to my life. So I guess this is an indirect way of saying thanks to you, my readers, and may we all remain true to what’s meaningful to us.

Now after that serious note, it’s back to the rag-tag world of Ragtime.

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17 Responses to On the road again

  1. Pete, I’m sorry to hear your really sad news. It’s awful when death visits, but particularly awful when it’s someone young who should still have her life ahead of her. My thoughts are with you.

  2. I’m sorry to hear that news as well. You’re right — life is short, and sometimes the most poignant and motivating reminder of that is the loss of someone who lived it deeply and well.

  3. litlove says:

    What a terrible thing to happen. How awful for all her extended family, and I’m not surprised it’s shaken you. I don’t think it’s possible ever to comprehend the real intransigence of death and its horrific finality. Particularly when someone young is concerned. I don’t know that I’ve managed to live life well yet (although I’ve certainly lived it full-on), but I do know that the virtual world is every bit as potent as the so-called real one. We’re here for each other in the tough times and the good ones, and that’ll do.

  4. Bee says:

    The news about your young relative’s death hit me like a punch in the stomach. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. The sudden and too-young death of any person is just so hard to come to terms with.

    About being 40: it seems like all of our friends are turning 50 and starting to broach the subject of retirement . . . not so much that it is going to happy soon, but this understanding that it WILL happen. Why is growing older always such a surprise?

    (These two paragraphs seem to be contradictory, but I trust that you can reconcile them.)

  5. doctordi says:

    Oh, Pete, I am so, so sad to hear this – 25 is so young and, yet again, this young woman’s life sounds like one that was full of promise. It’s making tears spring to my eyes – I’m so very sorry to think of everything her family must be experiencing. The one positive that can come out of these situations, at least in my experience, is that it does make one reevaluate one’s life – that jolt of fully grasping life’s impermanence and total unpredictability can be enormously powerful and can unexpectedly make one much less afraid. I agree with LL – this is a virtual world full of real feeling, and you are our friend.

  6. Very sorry for your young cousin and for her loved ones, especially her parents. It is terribly hard to pick up the pieces after losing a child.

    The book I read on a road trip, out loud to my husband, who rarely tolerates such a thing, was Bald in the Land of Big Hair by Joni Rogers. We could not stop reading. We laughed and cried and laughed some more. It’s an excellent and uplifting and true story for understanding the cancer experience. A road trip of an entirely different breed.

    • Pete says:

      phd – Thanks for the suggestion. Bald in the Land of Big Hair duly added. I love audiobooks on a long trip but being read to by a loved one would be even better.

  7. natalian says:

    That is a shock when someone is taken so suddenly! But to know that one has touched the lives of many while walking this mortal coil is more than anybody could ask for. My thoughts go out to you and your family. As for Mienie’s ‘hearty’ breakfast – just reading about it has made me queasy!

    • Pete says:

      Natalian – Well you would have been happy that I managed to bring my blog-friends into the dinner-table conversation. We were discussing German delicacies and so I was able to tell them about Zimt sterne etc. for a start.

  8. Grad says:

    Pete I have that empty, hollow feeling I get when I hear of the death of someone just beginning. I am so sorry. You’re absolutely correct – life is a fast moving train, and you get to your station before you realize it. Being kind and doing some good along the way make the trip worthwhile, albeit not any longer. And as for Ragtime – I still couldn’t get it jump started after my second hopeful start. I will, I will, I will pick it up again and read it.

    • Pete says:

      Grad – Thanks for this, I know it means a lot since you’re still getting over your loss too. And as for Ragtime, well I think if you’re still not grabbed by the second start then maybe give it a skip. I wondered about the lack of empathy towards the characters in an account which provides mostly silhouttes. But I would say it’s worth continuing, perhaps just to see how he wraps up the different plot-lines. Pretty dark imagination at times though.

  9. So sorry for your loss and your family’s loss – I know how you feel, having lost my cousin a few weeks ago. We had a similar relationship. Tragedies like these really do bring home how very short life can be, and how doing good and offering grace and making the most out of things should not be as hard as we make it.

    • Pete says:

      Courtney – Thanks for your good wishes and I’m sorry about your cousin. I’m really hoping for no more losses this year. Could do with a few wins for a change!

  10. Harriet says:

    Pete – I’m so sorry to hear this sad news. How tragic.

    I’ll be 50 in about 2 months. And I’m not looking forward to that at all! I had no problem turning 30 (my son was born the day before my 30th birthday so I was distracted) and I had no problem turning 40 (I got my dog that weekend, yes another distraction). What should I get when I turn 50? No more babies, no more dogs. Maybe a boob job?

    • Pete says:

      Harriet – Well I’m currently a great believer in distractions. Not so sure I’d go for the boob job myself but something fun and attention-grabbing could be just the thing. I’m not taking any dogs for the moment but was thinking of an overseas holiday. London, Paris or Mauritius? Or just Mozambique? In an ideal world I would stop off in London and Paris on the way to New York but, well, that’s never going to happen on my current salary. I may have to wait for a partner on this excursion though.

  11. Pete says:

    Thanks to everyone for the good wishes and condolences.

  12. May says:

    Mauritius is truly beautiful but perhaps a completely different place would mean more to you.
    What about traveling from Rome to Paris with frequent stops in the Italian and French countryside?

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