Sunday Salon: On Curling and Maritime Disaster

As I sit here in unexpectedly dry Nova Scotia, contemplating the three feet of snow that have just descended on Père Sycorax in Washington, DC in the second round of the Snowpocalypse and contentedly remembering the ceaseless mocking I got from so many friends along the east coast on the subject of the impossibly frigid northernness of my new home, I thought I would open with a picture from my autumnal trip to Puerto Rico.  There is something about it that tickles my more Baroque sensibilities: the combination of Caribbean landscape (palm trees and all) and the revelatory, Rococo roils of clouds and light.

All week my home has been flooded with light - more light than we got during out drenched day of sightseeing in Puerto Rico, with the curious effect that it feels warm and summery here.  But how have we (my visiting mother and I) spent our week, apart from working, cooking, cleaning?  We have devoted ourselves (in the absence of any sort of success for our beloved Tar Heels in our traditional winter sport of college basketball) to becoming curling junkies.

Those of you who live south of Minnesota and Scotland may find this raises the hackles of your skepticism, but curling (the icy equivalent of shuffleboard or  bocci or pétanque) is an incredibly engrossing spectator sport.  Which is lucky, because at any given moment in the day, it is showing on at least two major Canadian sports networks.

We are now deep in thrall to the personalities of the upstart PEI (Prince Edward Island) women's curling team, knee-high in incomprehensible discussions of the button, peeling, and all the minute considerations that come to bear when delivering the rock.  We have taken to yelling "HARD!!!" and "Whoa! WHOA!" at each other at unexpected moments around the house, which I am sure endears me to my neighbors. (Be sure to take a look at Stephen Colbert's attempt to decipher the sport and earn a place on the US Olympic Curling team, which includes an intervention in which Stephen prompts the guys to talk about how hurtful it is when the skip, or captain, screams instructions to the sweepers with what can only be described as bloodcurdling urgency.  That is the tone my mother and I have adopted in our domestic cries of encouragement.)  Still, it is preferable to last week, when we watched the entirety of True Blood's first season in an unnaturally short period of time.  After that, I kept catching my mother looking covetously at my jugular, just at the periphery of my vision.

Today we had a bit of an outing to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, down at the Halifax harbor, which, rather like curling, is unexpectedly delightful.  The exhibit on the 1917 Halifax Explosion (the largest manmade, nonnuclear explosion in history) was particularly moving.  It was finally brought home to me why Haligonians consider the city of Boston to be bound to them by indissoluble bonds of kinship: after the collision of two foreign munition ships caused the fiery destruction of all of the buildings and many of the residents of the North End of the Halifax peninsula, and a blizzard made life untenable for a now homeless population taking refuge in military tents, the city of Boston and state of Massachusetts immediately sent ships filled with doctors, medical supplies, and donated housewares to their neighbors to the north, the other major port city of the Northeast, with which Boston had been doing daily business for centuries.  The total value of Bostonian support to the struggling city of Halifax came to $750,000.  Three quarters of a million dollars! In 1917!! To this day, Haligonians speak with fondness of Boston, and send them the annual gift of an enormous Nova Scotian Christmas tree.

The Halifax Explosion was the Haiti or Katrina of its day, drawing support from the other corners of the Empire (a huge gift from Australia), from the monarch himself, from the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom, from the company that owned the culpable munitions ship, from various churches, and from the city of Chicago (which sent $150,000, but gets no Christmas tree for their troubles).

The Museum also boasts an enthralling exhibit on the Titanic, whose messy aftermath the port of Halifax was almost solely responsible for cleaning up. Bodies clogged Nova Scotian waters and washed ashore in the days after the collision.  90% of men on second class tickets died in the disaster, I learned, but nonetheless the assertion that women and children were allowed into the life-rafts first seems to hold only partially true: adult men on first class tickets had a significantly higher rate of survival than children from third class.  And when every available Haligonian boat brought the salvaged bodies back to Halifax to be embalmed or claimed, the first-class passengers were brought ashore in coffins.  Second- and third-class passengers were placed in canvas body-bags.  Because death may part us, but it doesn't relieve us of class.

While we were there, we saw a rather surreal event: a theatrical performance about the second Canadian winner of the Victoria Cross, an Afro-Canadian soldier whose parents were escaped slaves from the American south.  This was not, in and of itself, surreal, but the piece ended with a hip hop performance by the youthful actors about the importance of self-esteem and self-determination, a performance which culminated in the assertion that we have no excuse for indolence, now that "we have a black president." Wait, my mother and I whispered to each other, Obama is the president of Canada?  We were still grappling with this question when everyone began to laugh and cheer, and the play as a whole concluded with a room-wide chant of "OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA!", which left us (the only people in the room who had voted for Barack) feeling oddly ... co-opted?  flattered? indoctrinated? proud? unsure what this had to do with nineteenth-century warfare?

What have I been reading this week? In class, we have moved out of the sex farces of last week, alas (Lysistrata and Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw), and into a pair of reflections on the violent intersection of religion and sexuality (Peter Shaffer's Equus and Dulcitius, a miracle play by the tenth century nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim, in which an evil Roman governor tries to rape some virtuous Christian maidens, but is miraculously befuddled by God into assaulting some kitchen implements instead).  The students don't seem to be wholly on board with this shift of gear. I, however, think it is a fantastic transition, and continue to harangue them about the social or moral value of comedy.

I continue to make my slow way through the Beckett trilogy of novels (my blogalogue partner's thought-provoking reflection on the first novel can be found here) and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, which has taught me never to entail my property, always to leave specific instructions for the care of my daughters before I die, and, according to the refreshingly callow Marianne (a.k.a. Sensibility), that I somewhat beyond hopes of romance myself:

     "I know very well that Colonel Brandon is not old enough to make his friends yet apprehensive of losing him in the course of Nature.  He may live twenty years longer.  But thirty-five has nothing to do with matrimony."
     "Perhaps," said [her sense-filled sister] Elinor, "thirty-five and seventeen had better not have anything to do with matrimony together.  But if there should by any chance happen to be a woman who is single at seven-and-twenty, I should not think Colonel Brandon's being thirty-five any objection to his marrying her."
     "A woman of seven-and-twenty," said Marianne, "can never hope to feel or inspire affection again; and if her home be uncomfortable, or her fortune small, I can suppose that she might bring herself to submit to the offices of a nurse, for the sake of the provision and security of a wife.  In his marrying such a woman, therefore, there would be nothing unsuitable.  It would be a compact of convenience, and the world would be satisfied.  In my eyes, it would be no marriage at all, but that would be nothing.  To me it would seem only a commercial exchange, in which each wished to be benefited at the expense of the other."
Oh, the shocking, thrilling cynicism of those last lines, which so cruelly (and with the myopic certainty of teenaged romanticism) pinpoint the harsh selfishness of many marriages.

I have read two remarkably enjoyable romances in the last couple of days (The Proposition, by the reliably fascinating Judith Ivory, whose exquisite, tormented Black Silk I just gave to my mother, and Laura Kinsale's newest, the charming and hopeful Lessons in French), and I hope to review them soon.  I am also on the very brink of finishing the mind-expanding 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick.

And, lastly, I have recently been glancing back over the now surprisingly long history of my blog.  I will leave you with a few of my favorite posts from the nearly four years of Sycorax Pine.  Till next week!

  • The Pie of Dorian Gray and Other Tidbits , in which our heroine attempts to bake her first pie, and discovers in it an emblem for life in Los Angeles.
  • A Little Touch of Harry in the Night, in which the author examines the nationalism of Harrys and Jacks, and thereby draws into comparison such disparate wastrels as Harry Potter, Shakespeare's Henry V, the heroes of Lost and 24, and (implicitly) the miracles of image-rehabilitation that are the current British princes.
  • Returned! , in which yours truly reveals why her first romance novel will be largely based on true events from her own life, no matter what Marianne might say of her.
  • The Road, which has proved to be the most traffic-generating moment in the illustrious history of Sycorax Pine.
  • O Who Would be a Pudding, in which our heroine delves again into questions of national allegory, focusing this time on anthropomorphized Marsupials and Puddings rather than Harrys and Jacks.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Wendy says:

    Hi Ariel - what a lovely post! I remember that discussion on The Road - fun, wasn't it?

    Thanks for dropping by my Sunday Salon yesterday and posting your thoughts on the grammar in Wolf Hall...I wanted to let you know that the email address you used to subscribe to comments on that post is used ariemwatson (at)gmail (dot)com

    Would love to "fix" it for you, but it doesn't look like my blog allows me to do that :( There have been several interesting comments since you left yours.

  2. Hi Wendy! Thanks! Those were definitely the golden days of blogging for me: so much fun.

    And thanks for letting me know about the wrong email address - that is what happens when I use a different browser, and no longer have my autofill options available to me.

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