It has taken me a good three weeks to adapt to life aboard a barge. My body clock (set on fast-forward) took some time to wind down. In the beginning, I felt shackled with lead weights. My body wanted to move forward, but at 4K/hr, I was reduced to a crawl.
The weather has been unseasonably cold. Travel usually involves some regrets as to what you forgot to pack in your suitcase. This trip I really regret bringing gloves. Mittens would have been good. Sturdy gardening gloves would have been better. My fallback has been to buy some pink, rubber kitchen gloves which add touch of color (if not class) to my navy blue pants, blue turtleneck, blue sweatshirt and blue hooded waterproof.
Mornings are misty, and we’ve had our share of rain. To the plus side, we pass very few boats. We have the canal to ourselves and that is very pleasant. I love the rural nature of the canal-side buttercups, Queen Anne’s lace, and cultivated fields interspersed with a green jungle of ivy-clad deciduous trees. Gray herons and ducks abound. Apparently some Mallards have yet to breed and we see a mousy brown female escorted by two irridescent green-headed males. Most often the males follow- one to her left flank and one to her right. She seems oblivious to her courtiers awaiting her notice. She pays them no heed. Which male will catch her attention is anyone’s guess. Those Mallards who have already hatched a clutch of eggs have eight to ten ducklings.
Most of the ducklings trail their mother, but always one or two march to their own drummer. Left to their own devices, they suddenly realize that they are out of step, and they swim so fast to catch up that they appear to walk on water.
We delight in the cuckoos. The cuckoo’s call is regular as a metronome, each “cuc” and every “koo” beating out the seconds with the regularity of a Swiss watch.
I’m reading Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster. I’ve seen the movies based on Forster’s novels: loved Howard’s End, Passage to India and Room with a View, but this is the first time I’ve actually immersed myself in his prose. What a treat! I feel as though I’ve fallen through the rabbit hole and into a candy store.
I am reminded that however true the book is to the script, however talented the actors, however insightful the director, no movie can compare to the written word and the reader’s imagination to film the scene in his mind’s eye.
The book itself is a used, faded, yellow-paged, Penguin Classic from a charity shop. Here on the barge, I have abused it. Now it is really used with stars, underlining, and margin notes. I will not be passing this book on. It will be a textbook of sorts. I have tasted Forster, rolled his wording in my mouth and savored his phrasing. Dare I hope that by osmosis my writing will improve? It is a silly question. If I were to go to an opera and swoon to the music, would I be able to sing equally well the next morning? I think not.
The book’s introduction, appendix and notes add so much. Long Live Penguin Classics! In the appendix I read an exchange between Forster and English poet and translator, R.C.Trevelyn. In a letter, dated 28 October 1905, Forster wrote, “The object of the book is the improvement of Philip, and I did really want the improvement to be a surprise.”
In his letter to Trevelyan, Forster shares his anguish over how to accomplish his aim… to avoid transparency and to not give away too much too soon: “This ‘surprise’ method is artistically wrong and that from the first one must suggest the possibility, not the merely the impossibility, of improvement. I do dislike finger posts.” Foster’s letter is a Master Class in the technique of characterization and the slow reveal. I am tempted to re-read the novel and chapter by chapter and weigh the clues to Philip’s transformation from an amoral, superficial, young man to a man of more substance.
E. M. Forster, master of the slow reveal.