Jack crumpled up his napkin, carefully pressed it down into his coffee cup, placed it on his plate, put the plate on top of everything on my tray put my tray on top of his now empty one and shoved the whole caboodle over to the neighbouring table. Then he dug into the pockets of his jacket, and extricated two envelopes with photos.
"Pictures from my trip," announced Jack with a flourish.
I said "Frankly, I didn't even know you'd been away."
"Only for a week," said Jack, "but that's all I needed to put an end to my end-of-winter doldrums. I'm ready now to tackle my garden."
I think I've told you that Jack likes to travel. He's been to all the continents, except the two Arctics and Australia and New Zealand, as far as I know. I'm sure he has plans to reconnoiter those also.
"Where did you go this time?" I asked, as Jack was getting ready to show me his photos.
"Bonaire," he said, "best snorkelingand scuba-diving in the world. Ever been there?"
Jack knows I lived on the two neighbouring islands for several years, so his question was not uninformed. However, I had to confess that I'd never been to Bonaire.
We looked at the pictures, mostly of underwater life and coral formations. And some also of the flamingos for which the island is famous. Very good pictures, in fact; Jack knows how to handle a camera.
"Why don't you go sometime?" asked Jack.
I said "I've seen enough of the world. I'd hoped to see a bit more, perhaps, but the few spots I would want to visit are all hotbeds of political unrest. Besides, I like hanging around the house -- lots of things to do. And if I want to, I can always go in my imagination."
"Spell it out for me," said Jack.
I said "When I was in high school, bored out of my mind sometimes, I amused myself by imagining that I was visiting the places I'd seen in photographs, or just making up landscapes. I've been doing it ever since when I had nothing else to do. Or when I wanted to do something other than listening to the dentist's drill. At a moment's notice, and without the benefit of a travel agent, I can be in the South Pacific on the prettiest beach you ever saw. You say you've seen Mount Everest ... well, I can conjure up a mountain twice as high, put myself on it, and not suffer from oxygen deprivation, freezing temperatures and howling winds. I can enter any jungle, admire the scenery, hear the birds sing, the monkeys chatter, and the tigers roar, and yet not be stung by a single mosquito, strangled by a snake or bitten by a tarantula."
"But you can't taste the different foods in all those places," said Jack.
"Maybe not," I said, "but I don't have to suffer Montezuma's wrath either. Besides, most cuisines are now adequately represented in Ottawa. Maybe that's not quite imagining it, but it's satisfying nevertheless."
"Nyah," said Jack, "but it's not the same as being there."
"Certainly," I said, "but it is a lot less costly, and it has none of the disadvantages of travel: missed buses, delayed planes, nasty customs officers and so on. And at the end of it, all you have left, really, is memories -- which are not a bit more substantial than any image I can call up in my mind from nothing, at a moment's notice .... and some photographs, which I bet I can find in travel books in any good bookstore. Taken by professionals, and you know I'm not putting your snapshots down. I don't want to drizzle on your exotic parade here, but I just don't feel the need to travel. I go places when I have to, but I satisfy my need for adventure in my garden or at my piano or tripe writer."
"Poor you," said Jack. He shook his head at my appalling ignorance of the delights of travel. Jack is a firm believer in G. K. Chesterton's dictum that 'an inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered; and an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered'. Jack's travels have taken him from one series of inconveniences to another, and yet it has never shaken his faith in the delights and benefits of travel.
I, on the other hand, with my imaginary travels, have never lost a single piece of luggage.
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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