Monday, February 22, 2010
Reading Belloc at Ecola Beach
I think I might be the first person to compare Belloc writing of the Alps to Ecola beach in Oregon, or the first person to have read Belloc at Ecola beach, period! But that does not mean Belloc was a stranger to the west coast; in fact, he imported his wife from California, after having traveled there cross country, mostly on foot--at a time when there were no cars! Belloc was also a man who loved the sea; he wrote about, and others wrote about, his sailing adventures around England. So Ecola beach is a fitting place for Belloc, since no where else in America does it appear that mountains proceed out of the sea (though, in reality, they are only hills.)
So, before I proceed in getting sentimental, placing Belloc’s quotes above pictures from Ecola (which, you will see, I’m soon about to do, to either your approbation or bemused amusement), I want to make it clear that Belloc is anything other than a sickly-sweet sentimentalist. He is actually one of the funnier writers in recent memory. His Path to Rome is full of hilarious episodes.
To give one example, he describes an episode where he had just emerged from the Alps in Switzerland, crossing several peaks, and averaging thirty miles on foot a day, when a peasant with a “brutal face” driving his cart “very rapidly, came up with me. I said to him nothing, but he said to me some words in German which I did not understand. We were at that moment just opposite a little inn upon the right hand of the road, and the peasant began making signs to me to hold his horse for him while he went in and drank.
How willing I was to do this you will not perhaps understand, unless you have that delicate and subtle pleasure in holding of horses’ heads, which is the boast and glory of some rare minds. And I was the more willing to do it from the fact that I have the habit of this kind of thing, acquired in the French manoeuvres...I held the horse for the peasant; always, of course, under the implicit understanding that he should allow me when he came out to have a drink, which I, of course, expected him to bring in his own hands.
Far from it...the peasant sat in there drinking with his friends for a good three-quarters of an hour. Now and then a man would come out and look at the sky, and cough and spit and turn round again and say something to the people within in German, and go off; but no one paid the least attention to me as I held this horse.
I was already in a very angry and irritable mood, for the horse was restive and smelt his stable, and wished to break away from me. And all angry and irritable as I was, I turned around to see if this man were coming to relieve me; but I saw him laughing and joking with the people inside; and they were all looking my way out of their window as they laughed. I may have been wrong, but I thought they were laughing at me. A man who knows the Swiss intimately, and who has written a book upon ‘The Drink Traffic: The Example of Switzerland,’ tells me they certainly were not laughing at me; at any rate, I thought they were, and moved by a sudden anger I let go the reins, gave the horse a great clout, and set him off careering and galloping like a whirlwind down the road from which he had come, with the bit in his teeth and all the storms of heaven in his four feet. Instantly, as you may imagine, all the scoffers came tumbling out of the inn, hullabooling, gesticulating, and running like madmen after the horse, and one very old man even turned to protest to me. But I, setting my teeth, grasping my staff, and remembering the purpose of my great journey, set on up the road again with my face towards Rome.” [Rome, 125-126.]
“Here were these magnificent creatures of God [beholding the Alps]...” 
“These great Alps, seen thus, link one in some way to one’s immortality.” 
“...and could strike one motionless with the awe of supernatural things. Up there in the sky, to which only clouds belong and birds and the last trembling colours of pure light, they stood fast and hard; not moving as do the things of the sky.” 
“Their sharp steadfastness and their clean uplifting lines compelled my adoration. Up there, the sky above and below them, part of the sky, but part of us, the great peaks made communion between that homing creeping part of me which loves vineyards and dances and a slow movement among pastures, and that other part which is only properly at home in Heaven.” 
“So little are we, we men: so much are we immersed in our muddy and immediate interests that we think, by numbers and recitals, to comprehend distance or time, or any of our limiting infinities...” [113-114]
“Let me put it thus: that from the height of Weissenstein I saw, as it were, my religion. I mean, humility, the fear of death, the terror of height and of distance, the glory of God, the infinite potentialty of reception whence springs that divine thirst of the soul; my aspiration also towards completion, and my confidence in the dual destiny. For I know that we laughers have a gross cousinship with the most high, and it is this contrast and perpetual quarrel which feeds a spring of merriment in the soul of a sane man.”