Floor Sweepings

No grand theme this evening, no rant. Just a few floor sweepings accompanied by a weary sigh.

The latest club drug is apparently something called Coma Juice. You obtain it by squeezing those little pads impregnated with nail polish remover into your Bacardi & Coke and it induces feelings of happiness. Until you discover it destroyed your kidneys.

Why do people do these things? Perhaps because their lives are empty of anything inspiring or uplifting or interesting? The National Literacy Trust just published the findings of their survey of school-age children in the UK. It wasn’t an enormous study but the figures discourage me from wanting a bigger sample taken. 30 percent of those canvassed live in homes with no books, 40 percent in homes with fewer than ten books (and that includes the Bible, Shakespeare and the Argos catalogue), 80 percent owned mobile phones, 85 percent owned a games’ console.  We’re doomed, I tell you. Doomed.

All of which has absolutely nothing to do with Paul Theroux who was speaking in Dublin last week at the very hour I was sitting in Athens airport with a plastic cup of warm wine-type beverage. I admire Theroux’s writing enormously and cross though I was to have missed him I was delighted to read what he’d had to say about cameras. He doesn’t travel with one. A kindred spirit. 

I gave up taking photos long ago. It was no loss to the world and if I really wanted a memento I could buy a postcard. But ten years living in Travelog Central made me aware that tourists now see everything through a viewfinder. They’re not deterred by lack of light or their speed of motion or the fact that they haven’t the faintest idea what they’re photographing. And nowadays they’re not even constrained by the length of a roll of film. On and on they go. Photographs without end.

Venice so brought this home to me that I tried to get into the habit of carrying a small sketchbook in my bag, of stopping once in a while and really looking at something attentively enough to draw it. And then of course I let things slide. Listening to people was easier and more fun and anyway my bag already weighed a ton. But now Paul Theroux has reminded me, most of us need to learn how to look. So tomorrow, even though I’ll be going no further than the Terenure sausage shop, the sketchbook goes back in my bag. Along with the rocks and the barbell weights.

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