Why are we?

Harry Drabik

Getting away, leaving the familiar, is, I suspect, generally good in helping reveal what’s taken as granted. Doing so I recently learned cruising is not for me, nor, I admit, unfortunate travelers stuck with me for 28 days on the bouncy seas.

Reasons behind my trip are too messy for getting into here. Enough to say I thought I’d give it a try, am glad I did, and will not for any reason short of funerary try it again. It was that good.

But, what point or value in regret? Little as I see it especially when unsatisfactory experience is useful. Not having the time of my life I was at least having time alive, in life. Something plus.

It was in that mode I took the news of a port change. Nice and Monte Carlo were off. Sardinia was the replacement. OK, darn, too bad; I made a mental shift of gear. The news, coming a few days in advance, didn’t hit me as odd. Guiding canoe trips I’d had to shift according to the weather. Once route “b” replaces “a,” a different set of campsites and portages had to be used. Yes, too bad, but better than confronting novice paddlers with water beyond their ability.

My party of 10 no way comparable to a ship holding 2,000, but there are similarities. Now enter the genius of people who’ve never once run a trip for others, let alone do so for decades.

A breakfast table authority announced with clear pique the reason for the change of ports was economic. “Nice is too costly so the line saves money not going there.” Plausible, yes, but the conclusion was delivered with knowing certainty of a bitter and disappointed guest made dead sure of their conclusion because “The captain couldn’t know the weather in advance?” Again, plausible; a plausible invention, however.

In canoe country the possibility of a three-day storm is sensed by season and skies. When I’d divert a trip I was somewhat guessing, playing safe. The safe side would not be a bad place for a cruise captain who’d know there were sure to be unhappy travelers.

A captain’s experience plus forecasts made a call much denounced that breakfast where cheapness and cost cutting were the villains served with poached egg and toast. Ever hear of a mistral? I’d heard the word describing a wind coming out of France and Spain to blast the Mediterranean. When it arrived, the mistral made a November gale on Superior look modest. Phoenicians, Romans and other long-ago sailors had to have a good weather eye or end up dead. Wicked weather that mistral.

But of course a breakfast table genius knew better and would happily stay ignorant of a U.S. carrier in the same storm taking damage to one or two $30 million aircraft. The captain being cheap was more satisfying to propound at table.

Ah, and in the same time frame while docked near ancient Ostia a sudden wind broke the bow cables so the ship ended up on the opposite side of the harbor. Wicked wind, that, but a table-oriented genius complained of missing their dinner as a result.

Why are people like that? Why can’t we ask or inquire instead of self-centeredly assuming the all-knowing? Fear of being wrong? Fear of being unimportant? This is the problem of those no longer useful as they once were. For many of us purpose provided dignity, status and importance. To no longer be important is a serious personal loss often compensated for by huff-puffing.

The need to be right and have a worshipful audience is an ill habit, one academics are especially good at. They, however, are far from alone in expertise on bowel gas. The mighty, noble, expert, academic leader in sciences, religion, politics or industry is more fart sniffer than fact giver. Seeing authorities as no more than fart-sniffs is an (I think) necessary insult giving perspective.

The insult is deliberate, but think a moment how often an advanced degree is often little more than a review of popular farts.

How to tell? When close questioned a defamed academic raises a great stinks in defense. But cut the grand-expert down to size we must, starting with their manner of aggrandized gas appreciation. Any given day hundreds of them take to the air in business or first class as fits their importance as they pilgrim to this foundation or that center to meet other sniffers under comfy (could say lavish) conditions for comparing the latest in fart appreciation. Reinforcing and refining their sniffers is more central to their authority than coming up with anything useful. In fart-sniff world utility falls far below unanimity in stink appreciation. I know many nice people who go on junkets of supposed high purpose that are little more than fart smeller rallies.

A way to tell is disagree on a major point and see how quickly your scent rules you out. Fart and butt sniffing being closely related, you can figure out where this goes and gauge for yourself a good sense of its value to you. An outsider (someone with the wrong smell) spots the sniff-group surely as we’d see a pack of coyotes recognize by butt-sniff. The in-scent will be licked and groomed. The off-scent gets a nasty growl. In perspective, it doesn’t matter of the coyote is two legged, was flown first class and stays in a swank kennel for a conference of important conferees it will still behave as a butt and fart sniffer sorting out who and what’s important in olfactory world. You can be sure the coyote knows what scents it’s after.        

Back when I canoe guided I also did archaeological surveys for the Province of Ontario. Every season produced a formal, published report. Important results? I’d say not. The value was in doing the surveys not assuming I knew what it meant. In 10 or 15 years maybe we double or triple the number of known locations. So? Maybe nothing. Only time and slow accumulation of more info might add up to a better picture. No agenda gives no butt to sniff. Regardless of merit, guess where that goes.