Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

Winter is on us. You haven’t noticed, you say. You’re too busy heading off dread by reaching deep in your man-purse for extra-strength insouciance. No dice there, you can always do the Zilbadone in a pinch and keep body and soul together that way, and stay warm in the process. But there is a state of mind in which it is sometimes asked: how many more of these winters can one in all good faith suck up? The marigolds in the Nikas flowerboxes are ruined. The restaurant’s door has begun to jam. It always jams in November. Inside however, the Artemis figurine continues to strike a pose in her wall niche, her bow drawn for all of time; or for as long as the place has pride of place on an NDG high street. I was going to say that every cabbie in town knows this souvlaki outlet, but the saying so would be an untruth—The Toronto mayor appears to be infamous worldwide. He apparently is crackers, to go by the news that accosts one in dusty little corners of one’s ears. There is always a good two-bit scandal percolating somewhere in this fair nation-state. Why, even in Montreal such scandal has been known to occur. Because why should the Yanks garner all the plum plaudits for Scandal Unlimited? And why should they always take the palm when it comes to vulgar effusions of speech in mid-range restaurants? Unless it is the Brits who routinely steal that particular march. Moreover, the private has obtruded upon the public in a thorough-going reversal of what George Orwell said was coming for us by way of 1984. There may be thorough-going electronic surveillance. There is electronic snooping as would tickle the fancy of any nosy control-freak (I have got in mind a cave in Syracuse where the tyrant Dionysus kept his political prisoners, eavesdropping on them all the while, the acoustics excellent). What Mr Orwell perhaps did not see coming is the full-court press of the mobile phone and a hundred conversations a day that one never wishes to hear. It is finance wizardry in your face when all the cell phone chatter one hears in Ontario is pretty much Hey, I’ve got the buyers lined up, have you got the goods? I have read and done with Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea – Why the Greeks Matter. (2003). Unlike earlier writing systems, forged to count wealth, to ensure control, to invoke the patronage of a deity, the ancient Greek alphabet announces a civilization of leisure. To hell with your ponderous obsessions; let’s have some wine, women and song—And it may be assumed that the party’s still going strong, despite a few world cataclysms and an altered climate and the less than encouraging signs for humankind’s future well-being. The book is a decent introductory survey of ancient Greek culture in general, but it is prim. The author would steer clear, and mightily so, of stuffy academe, but the book is prim. It is prim with PC-ness and the insinuation that our pop culture is our Greek moment, as if Mr Springsteen constitutes a Periclean threshold. Because, God knows, it ain’t Mr Bieber, the sort of entity Cavafy would have said was hanging about the gates, looking for his jollies. I happen to be reading a revisionist study of Caligula and whether or not he really was the monster the ancients claimed he was. This book is stuffy but it is not prim. Who would have thought that a stuffy book could steal a show? I do take issue with Mr Cahill when he suggests that Mr Odysseus, returned from his wanderings, back now in Ithaka, treated to the spectacle of Ma Penelope’s suitors who are not only trying to crash the old nuptial bed but are depleting the Odyssean stores, has all the spiritual depth of Major Hoople, that blowhard of American Sunday funnies once upon a time. And then, Odysseus, having revealed his true fatherly self to his kid Telemachus; having formulated a plan by which to rid his home of the aforementioned pests, will certainly make good on all that bravura of cartoon strip violence. He and the son – chip off the old block – will get down to it and slaughter at will a giggling gaggle of pretenders. What? A scene not to be taken seriously, seeing as it is derring-do that annuls the laws of physics as we know them, à la Superman? What? Are only radical femmes allowed to take back the night? The scene in question is about a world that is either to be predicated on something true or something false. And whatever is in play at any given time, it is the sort of argument forever at the heart of things. Mr Cahill seems to nod and wink at the notion that to be civilized is to never really know what the distinction is between something true and something false. You know, it is arduous, let alone expensive, to ascertain that distinction. I suppose it is easy enough to dismiss Odysseus as amounting to nothing more than a militant survivalist or a Tea Partier with a hotline to God and a copy of the Constitution stuffed under the pillow. For, in the end, the rage of Achilles is stilled only in the bed of Penelope. Perhaps there is something in that, even after Mr Cahill has done with undermining anything in the fancy that could contribute to a healthy affirmation of life and enhance a commonweal. And there may be something to the following, as when Mr Cahill says that for the Romans, Troy represented the ideal, a world of lost nobility; a world unbesmirched with equivocation. No matter that Ithaka was also hallowed custom and ceremony and yet, even so, ‘innocence’ and ‘beauty’ had a fighting chance against the depredations that practicality and realism insist are the essence of life. Yes, and Aristotle was more right than Plato ever had been, but such a bore he was. By now, in respect to my reading of Mr Cahill’s book, I have begun to suspect the author of double-speak of a kind. Yes, he will hearken back to those days of a lost nobility that may or may not have had any reality outside the imagination of a poet, but he will also intimate as follows: but of course, this sort of ‘honour’, as it were, only gets us all the chauvinisms, and there is no reason to stand for or against anything—A day later. Morning. Nikas. In walks Irish Harpy with retinue (hubby, son). She is a matriarch with the mostest. Her mostest always clashes with that of Alexandra the waitress who is also a matriarch, but of another temperament. The day of Irish Harpy generally begins with a bang and marching orders. The bang consists of finding fault with some aspect of the restaurant’s operations. The marching orders consist of guilting out the waitress. Trouble is, Eddie the cook is a looker, and Irish Harpy cannot resist his charms and so, she will chill out and the waitress will get her reprieve. Even so, even if the toast is not gamey and the coffee not lukewarm (or too salty); if the restrooms are not dodgy; if the AC is not on the fritz (summers); if American Idol is somehow not on the up and up; and even if there is, oh god, really a god hitching a ride on the back of the universe, and what a douche bag that fellow must be, well then, there has to be something amiss with the very air one breathes. Or else I’m not lord-ess of all that I survey, between here and Grand Boulevard—Afternoon. Nikas.  Cell phone. Shady deal. Drugs, most likely. Alexander the waitress, still on the premises, has the look of a woman awaiting her very own designer deus ex machina to spirit her back where people know how to live. I cannot say if those Greeks in Greece know better how to live than we under the New World jet stream, as I have not had the pleasure of the country and long nights of knocking back the ouzo. Cold nights here bring indigents in the wee hours to camp in the foyer of my apartment building. This morning I swept up the cigarette butts and other leavings. That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions—Santayana said that. And Captain Kydde had his soirée last night, and other stuff got said. There was shrimp gumbo with sausage. There was hilarity. There were acres of wine. Fine view of the city looking east from a 10th floor eyrie. In the course of the evening, as the stilton and the brie were being knifed through and consumed, a poet was Youtubed. “What a profile,” someone was heard to enthuse about her. Was this profile mimicking a Roman cameo? Was it a spoof – that Edwardian smoky gaze? Is the George W. Bush smirk still at the bottom of everything that has come unhinged? “Yes, but she has an ear,” someone else was heard to point out. The relation of digital text to attention-span deficit is a myth, so says a monitor of such phenomena. Well, look around you. Novels are getting longer; TV dramas are all the more sophisticated and elaborate. Next thing you know, and we all of us will be cultured, literate, too. And we’ll have us a hot time in the old town, tonight. “There was a wild colonial boy / Jack Duggan was his name—” Or: I am a wild colonial boy / my name you’ll never see / My land is ruled by Anglophiles /and forces foreign to me—McGravitas out on the balcony putting what was left of his wits to song. A late evening commuter train was rolling by. Cars were clattering over the Champlain Bridge—