May 27, 2020

No News From Doodlebug Island, by William F. Jordan


Long-time residents of Doodlebug Island Dwayne Murchison and his wife Peggy are just returned from a trio up the Rhine River during which they had the pleasure of continuing their pastime of pleasant disagreements. For, though they are devoted to each other, each finds pleasure in different things. While Peggy is buoyantly optimistic and devotes herself to finding spiritual connections with the people she meets and the beauty of her surroundings, Dwayne has a more detached and philosophical perspective that more than somewhat borders on the skeptical and sardonic.

“Bill,” he said to me, “Every little town or village in Europe has at least one ancient, spire-crowned church, abbey, or cathedral, and often have two or three. Why, the whole place is weighted down with run-down castles and churches that are, for the most part, unused by locals and seem to serve only as destinations for tourists.”

“Isn’t that what you went to see?” I asked him.

“Now, don’t take a patronizing tone with me, my editorial misfit, or I’ll drag you through a screening of the pictures I took on our trip!”

“It’s bad enough I have to listen to your travel descriptions. I hoped I could be spared the drudgery of looking at an endless collection of scenery and pictures of people neither of us will ever see again.”

“I took those photographs largely for your edification and enlightenment. Besides, I think they show something more important than the ritualized worship of the past. They speak volumes about the crafts and craftsmen who erected those buildings. What time shall I bring them by?”

Meanwhile, Peggy was having coffee with my wife, and all the while extolling the virtues of the people she’d met on the boat, the lovely meals aboard and in the hotels, the accommodations, the natural beauty and harmony of the countryside, and the high devotion of residents who sacrificed so much to erect the cathedrals and castles that her husband vilified.

“It was heavenly, sailing through such lovely countryside, waving to people working in the fields, admiring the cozy cottages and the grand country estates. And, oh! The magnificent churches with their spires and vaulting stonework! Each one seemed central to everything going on around them! I was simply caught up by the high devotion of people who would work so hard and sacrifice so much to finish monuments to their belief!”

Told of his wife’s reaction, Dwayne replied, “Well, it’s fine to admire the devotion of the people who built these edifices if one can ignore the ignorance and superstition which were the mainsprings behind it all. In fact, everything about this business is two sided, so to speak. Buildings that dwarf the very people who erected them, humbling them to the level of ants
rather than magnifying then and their potential for greatness; beautifully crafted stone work put in place by the roughest element of society, those profane workers whose vision unquestionably extended merely to payday and beer with the boys; buildings that took centuries to complete, and at the sacrifice of generations who didn’t live to see the results!”

“I love my husband,” Peggy confided in my wife, “but traveling with him or visiting centers of cultural interest is, at times, like wearing a hair shirt. His mind runs to analysis, and he is more apt to look at what could be called the “big picture” rather than seeing things through the eyes of common people trying their best to cope with the pressures of their own lives. Recently, he’s developed the habit of looking for the design flaws in those cathedrals we visit. And he finds them! The Washington cathedral, for example, inexplicably admits rain in the north transept; many need the support of flying buttresses; some are sinking. Anyway, you get the idea.”

“Why don’t you simply visit battle fields or parks that feature natural scenery?” my wife asked.

“Oh, I tried that. By the time we finished touring Waterloo, Dwayne had figured out why Napoleon lost and how, if he’d applied Dwayne’s tactics, he could have won. He’s done the same thing for the lost cause of the confederacy. I’ve refused to visit Revolutionary sites with him. He’d likely figure out how the British could have kept us a colony! And as for the natural scenery of our national parks, he finds himself torn between investment opportunities and what he considers exploitation by present concession holders”

Travel may be broadening, but the results are open to interpretation.

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