Monday, October 03, 2005

10/3 Not letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing

It must always be a puzzle to Molloy’s faithful readers what (in God’s name) could possibly make him think of the things he thinks of.

Molloy, it may be answered, has a sharp sense of the moral and ethical residing symbolically in the day-to-day. In this way, simple travel discourses invariably develop themselves into semi- or quasi- or pseudo-learned (as one will) disquisitions.

For example: daily life is as full of snares, traps, pitfalls, nets, and other hidden and difficult to discern dangers as a lawn during gopher season. The traditional list of the Seven Deadly Sins (in a disco club we passed by recently, we heard Seven Deadly Dins) is hardly enough to provide adequate warning to the innocent.

What (in God’s name) could have incited Molloy, normally a cheerful fellow, to dwell on such a morbid topic?

Driving in the UK.

Certainly, Molloy’s readers are well aware that one drives on the left in the UK rather than on the right. Everything is reversed—right turns are made across traffic; left turns are the right turns of American and other European driving. Every day is opposites day. The only thing difficult about all this is remembering.

The weekend in Scotland with a rented car, therefore, offered many opportunities to re-enact Adam’s original indiscretion in the otherwise laudable quest for knowledge and its disastrous consequences for bumpers and metal bodies, not to mention many opportunities for such acute punishments as only a benevolent Deity could devise. For example, normally Molloy drives with one eye on the road, and the other two on the scenery; another one often examines the radio dial; his hands move smoothly between the doughnuts, candy, peanut brittle, chocolate creams or other goodies on the seat next to him and the CD player. Sometimes, to make driving all the more pleasurable, an educational as well as transportational experience, he reads the CD labels or admires the prettily printed pictures; if enough information is not available from that source, he browses in the liner notes, often with a magnifying glass, since CDs often have quite tiny printing. (Molloy, incidentally, in one of his more intellectual moments, proposed a research project to discover whether, among the consequences of digital technology, there had been an increase in auto accidents due to people squinting to read their CD labels while driving. The project proposal is still circulating, but Molloy has hopes that its funding will provide him with a comfortable living in the near future). But to return to Molloy’s driving techniques: in general, they seem to work out fairly well, resulting in a number of unfortunate and costly incidents that has not yet risen into the six figures in any, shall we say, four-year period.

These same superb techniques, however, have less satisfactory results in the U.K.

In his defense, Molloy must say that the scenery in Loch Lomond and Queen Elizabeth Park is quite beautiful. Molloy knows beauty when he sees it: the windswept mountains, with their alternating patches of light and dark, depending on the floating, fluffy whiteness of the condensed precipitation on high, were identifiable as beautiful because they looked exactly like the pictures on all the calendars of “Beautiful Scotland.” Molloy, you see, would not go to a foreign country without educating himself first. He looked at many calendars, coffee-table books, and postcards and then drove until he found matching scenes: windswept lakes, fluffy clouds, alternating patches of light and dark—they were all on the list he checked off, item by item, on the seat next to him. He approached the holy land of Irelaund in much the same way.

Moreover, Molloy was moved: rainbows. Scotland is the country of rainbows. Especially when there is rain, as there was; especially when the sun slants across the land into the droplets of water, which there were, and as it did, occasionally upon the car itself, on the left side of the road, where Molloy tried to remember that he must drive.

Molloy, also, to his credit, no shirker when it comes to literature, had learned other appropriate responses to the vast, unspoiled magnificence on every hand: he felt his spirit rise like those of the Romantic Poets—no wonder they loved these gusty, sublime scenes. Another reason for their spiritual response, of course, is that they did not drive through them in cars on narrow roads, nor did they encounter that special terror, known only to the left-side novice, of the tour bus coming directly toward them, taking up one and one half lanes of a two lane road. Wordsworth walked. Coleridge sat by himself at night, writing, having soaked up atmosphere during the day on a horse, no doubt, or slogging about on foot after Wordsworth. Shelley swam and worried about Mary’s predilection for lonely, betrayed monsters. Byron—what did he do?

It is not known whether the Romantics had at their disposal the River Rocket Molloy and Leanne could have ridden in—a motorized, inflatable raft operated by a very friendly, amusing, and entrepreneurial couple, which takes its inhabitants flying across the surface of very cold water in the very cold wind on the very rainy, rainbowy day. Sometimes, they said, whales enter the Holy Loch, which has otherwise been fished out so all you can find, usually, are mackerel. Now, Molloy, being an absolute stranger to the joys of fishing, knows mackerel only through their reknowned sanctity, expressed so beautifully in the traditional devotional “Holy Mackerel!” (I confess that Molloy looked in vain for the relics of St. Macquerelle, but the six churches that all boasted fins and backbones made him, shameful to admit, somewhat suspicious of their provenance and authenticity.)

But all this is to establish the context in which Adam’s single transgression was multiplied multi-fold over the narrow, damp roads, with the picturesque moss covering the rock walls holding back tons of mountainside that Molloy was loath to tamper with brushingly or scrapingly or head-on, in a moving vehicle, when other moving vehicles either approached him from behind, frighteningly, and zoomed past (quite indifferent to oncoming busses, trucks, trains, planes, and motorcycles of two, three, four, six, or ten wheels, not respectively), or when all manner of transportation transported itself loomingly towards him, with no respect or fear whatever in their drivers’ glazed eyes as Molloy, in between operating the radio and CD player, ogling the sublime sublimities on either side (sometimes on both sides at once, which was really awesome in a depressing sort of way), bobbed and wove, zigged and zagged, up and down, right and left, backwards and forwards, sometimes on four wheels, sometimes on fewer, sometimes with a kind of rolling motion, over and over and over, other times straight as an arrow, but cross wise to the direction of the road itself, depending on the cant of the roads, which were probably well-enough engineered, but there was not enough of them at any one time and place. To call forth a fitting metaphor, showing that Molloy is acutely aware of the world around him, the roads were often more like spaghetti than lasagna, though in either case equally likely to resist the effort of his fork--or car, in the case, a Nissan Micra, in case the reader was curious (for this simualogy, I can thank residence in Florence, where drivers drive as God intended—on the right side of the road). Molloy feels more comfortable, he must admit, on Interstate 5’s six or seven lanes in one direction than on the A84’s two lanes (one in each of two directions).

The roundabouts are another opportunity for Deadly Sinning, increasing the number of Deadly Sins to at least 400. Only the pubs offered respite.

Molloy need only admit, in a private confession, to one actual transgression: the passenger's side hubcap (which was noticed quite early in the trip to have suffered the indiscretions of other drivers before Molloy) vanished in a fit of pique. It was simply gone with the wind, the rain, and many other equally transitory phenomena, giving rise to the philosophy that hubcaps are by nature transitory and ought not to be worried over excessively.

But the weekend in Scotland, where the right hand rarely or barely knew what the left hand was doing, presto-chango, and now you see it, now you see nothing, was beautiful and exhilarating, punctuated not too very frequently by the less-than-enthusiastic-but-more-than-hysterical screaming of Leanne, who was often huddled on the floor of the rear seat and didn’t much care which CD Molloy wanted to listen to.


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