What then, cried Plato’s ghost, what then?

In previous posts I have tried to sketch a little at least of Mariposa’s mission as a City of Literary Refuge. During my long brain break this summer I have been persistently pestered by Mariposan messages demanding that I recognize also the other essential part of the mission, involving Thinking Action.

Finding cities that are committed to action is not difficult, claims the Mariposa of today, but Thinking Action is another matter. Of course these other cities think they are thinking — no jurisdiction wants to believe that it acts without thinking — but Mariposa insists that what passes as thinking in other places will not pass muster for them. Only the best in thinking will do, and they have passed any number of thoughtful by-laws to this effect.

Being a City of Literary Refuge is important both as a means to Thinking Action, and as an end in itself. There may have been a time in human history, they say, when it was possible to think without reading, in the days before there were any books, for example. But nowadays it is not possible. Period. Human affairs have become so complex — due to the arrival of books and all the enrichment of analysis, understanding, and memory that they allow — that any thinking unsupported by reading must remain ridiculously superficial. Reading does not make thinking easy, of course, it only makes it possible. Reading and Thinking Action are inextricably entwined.

It is true that in earlier times Mariposa was more famous for its lack of thought. The current inhabitants look back with shame on the amiable oblivion that inanimated public discourse in the early years of the twentieth century, so richly and ironically documented by Dr. Stephen Leacock, or by someone pretending to be him. (The latter seems more likely, as there is no evidence that Dr. Leacock himself ever set foot in the place.)  To be so taken in by the machinations and manipulations of Josh Smith! To be so blind to the corruption of the courts and politics, the senility of the church, the incompetence of the crew of the Mariposa Belle, the mindless sentimentality of their own reactions to the human dramas around them, the unmitigated mediocrity and self-interest and general meanness of community life! When after the experience of two world wars and a major depression the Mariposans came to take stock of themselves, they concluded that while they could not escape the stupidity of their history they need not persist in it. They would read, they would think, they would act thoughtfully, and they would atone for their ancestors by building a city around those ideals.

I will tell you how they went about that in future postings. To begin with I will explain what I mean by what I say about the old Mariposa. For there has been much nonsense spoken of that too. Please stay tuned.

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It’s Coming! The Great Election in Missinaba-Mariposa-The Lakes

There is no doubt that elections make pulses race in the City of Mariposa and surrounding areas. Ever since the Great Election in Missinaba County in 1911, where it was decided whether Mariposa should become part of the United States, and whether the flag that had waved over the school house at Tecumseh Township for ten centuries should be trampled under the hoof of an alien invader, and whether Britons should be slaves, and whether Canadians should be Britons, and whether the farming class would prove themselves Canadians, and tremendous questions of that kind, matters which were resolved to such thunderous applause and stupendous effect. Since then the riding has enjoyed 30 more federal elections, along with myriad provincial and municipal ones, sometimes surging one way and sometimes another, but always in the certainty that elections ought to be festive occasions when the electorate is always the winner, occasions worthy of community-wide celebration in that spirit, simply because the event took place and regardless of which party or individual comes out on top.

The constituency now has a hyphenated name, as is the current custom: no longer simply Missinaba County, but Missinaba-Mariposa-The Lakes, to be inclusive.

Mariposans believe, quite possibly unfairly, that elsewhere in the country the election in 2019 will be fought on whether the sitting prime minister is a villain and a fool, or whether the leader of the opposition is one of these or both, or whether any other party leader is, or whether it’s time for a change, or whether it’s too soon for a change, or whether the country can afford the continued presence in public life of person X, Y, or Z, or whether the country is bankrupt or will be or can afford to exist at all, or whether the economy is strong, or whether the land is being systematically destroyed, or whether the middle class is getting a fair shake, or whether the rich are poor enough or the poor are rich enough, and tremendous questions of that kind. Not in Mariposa, however. Perhaps in the past its electors might have indulged in such grotesque over-simplification, but since the Great Transformation into a City of Literary Refuge nothing but the loftiest in political deliberation will do.

But not yet. All that lies ahead. Summertime approaches, when the watchword is recreation, and the song on everyone’s lips is:

Stephen Leacock’s Song for Summer, sung to the tune of the Policeman’s Chorus from Pirates of Penzance. The entire song is too long for this medium. The first and last pairs of verses give the flavour:

Let us sing a song for summer, when the weather waxes warm,
And the worker wobbles, weary with the strife,
When the busy man is wishing that he had more time for fishing :
Let me sing to you the Vanity of Life.

Let me lie among the daisies with my stomach to the sky,
Making poses in the roses in the middle of July;
Let me nestle in the nettles, let me there absorb the dew
In a pair of flannel britches with the stitches worked in blue.

… (16 verses in between)

Let us gambol, let us ramble, o’er the flower-embowered lea,
O’er the meadow in the shadow of the elderberry tree;
Let us dress us as may bless us, with no public there to see–
Care not which is proper breeches for a summer negligee;

Or array us to display us in a pair of flannel pants,
Taking chances on advances from the enterprising ants;
Then at even when the heaven reddens to the western sky,
All together in the heather sing a summer Lullaby.

And there we will leave them until September. Your humble scribe is taking a brain break. Or a brain braik. Or a brean break. Whatever.

Have a good summer!

Literary Mariposa: A Little Quick History

If you walk down Mayne Street in Mariposa you will be astonished at the number of bookstores. That is, you will be if you have not already heard of the place, or have heard but don’t know much about it. If you take the Professor’s old description at face value, and think that the place could not change in the ensuing century-plus, then your astonishment will be fully justified, not to mention the moment when you first behold the amazing edifice that is the Peter Pupkin Memorial Public Library, and all those people in the parks and coffee shops reading or talking about books.

Just to get one point out of the way: the Professor who first described Mariposa, in the old days when it was only a little town and had not yet flowered as a city of literary refuge, was not the Stephen Leacock of McGill University and Old Brewery Bay near Orillia, Ontario, but another summer-cottaging professor of the same name. If you want to understand Mariposa past or present you must learn to distinguish between the two.

A quick recapitulation of the history: You probably recall that Zena Pepperleigh married Peter Pupkin around 1910 and they promptly (too promptly, according to gossip) had an enchanted baby, Lena. Then, a year or so later, they had twin boys, Marval and Norval. Then in 1914 Peter went gallantly off to war and was killed. Zena eventually married Josh Smith’s son Hector and had more children. In time she inherited all the property accumulated by Judge Pepperleigh in a long career of crooked judging; Hector inherited the proceeds of his father’s graft; Lena, Marval, and Norval inherited the Pupkin real-estate fortune. In 1946 the whole clan of them — Zena, Hector, her children, their children and their spouses, all significantly bruised by the record of the times — perceived how the wind blew and decided that three ill-gotten fortunes should not simply be allowed to grow with the flow, but should be put to some radically alternative purpose. By now they owned most of Mayne Street and a good deal of the rest of Mariposa besides, so were in a position to make things happen, as soon as they could figure out what they should be. Since they had also inherited the Professor’s library and were all tremendous readers, they decided to go with books. They would turn Mariposa into the most bookish little town in Canada, if not the world.

Thus was born a new Mariposa, a City of Literary Refuge. Of course, in order to be that, it had to be a City of Much More. You can’t hide behind a book, by itself. You have to meet the book in a protected place. Eventually I will tell you the whole story. For today I will simply describe, very superficially, what Mariposa looks like now.

The population, by the latest count, is 47,620, and if all of them lived in a heap it would indeed deserve to be called the City of. But in fact less than half live in town; the rest are scattered among the rural areas that were amalgamated with the urban into the present municipality. Calling it a City was simply a sudden effusion of side on the part of the Council of the day, now long diluted of Pupkin family influence, although not of memory.

Mayne Street, formerly a short stump running westward up-hill from the old bridge over the Missinaba River, now runs a considerable distance on both sides of the new one. The literary area, however, is confined to the old, west side, the east having been zoned commercial ugly in accord with current fashion in urban design. Its ethos, however, permeates the whole place. You may find people reading books even in the Tim Horton’s out at the Junction where Mayne Street meets the By-Pass, and as for the motels along the way, you have to book ahead at almost any time of year if you want to get a bed before the literary refugees. Most likely, however, you will be one yourself, because the proprietors of establishments of all kinds, having learned that literary folks are prepared to pay above the going rate for what they crave, and also tip often and well, make no effort to attract other kinds of tourists. Occasionally a party will stray in, and quickly move on.

The Pupkin clan, now swelled by another two going on three generations, still owns the whole square in front of the Peter Pupkin Memorial Library and intentionally nurtures the bookstores, galleries, coffee shops, and bistros that surround it. These overflow into the blocks behind and along the river, where cunning remolding and restoration have turned the old linear lanes into pedestrian pods where conversation reigns. The river is a little too large and lively for recreational boating of the leisurely kind, and since the other kind is resolutely inhibited by low speed limits and a ferocious municipal noise by-law, most of it stays away. If you want to swim you can take a bus to one of the beaches on Lake Ossawippi or Lake Wissinotti. Nobody ever calls them that, by the way —  they are the “north” and “south” lakes respectively — any more than anyone calls the Missinabi anything but “the river”.

What makes Mariposa exceptional is not only the magnificence of its public library, the rich number and variety of its bookstores, coffee shops and bistros, the size and excitement of its four annual literary festivals, its Mariposa Literary Hall of Fame, or the pervasive bookishness of its public spaces, but the way it has woven the book, and now the electronic writing and reading device, into its whole society and economy. When I have room I will tell you about its fine paper mill, its book binderies, its publishers, its editors, its writers tapping away on their keyboards, its poets declaiming in the parks and places, its songs, its plays, its accommodations for readers and for conversation, its money and influence and authority behind them all, and in short the whole wonderful interconnected vitality and verbosity of the place, but not today.

The Train to Mariposa still goes there, but in a very different way.

Posted April 23, 2018, 339 days before the Stephen Leacock Sesqui-cum-triaquarteria-centennial officially begins.

 

The City of the Beginning of Things

In 1912 Mariposa was, famously, a little town. Just exactly what kind of a little town it was remains, or should remain, controversial although largely irrelevant. Now it is a little city, and unlike Stephen Leacock I am going to be very careful not to give you even the slightest grounds for guessing which city it is. He said that Mariposa was “seventy or eighty” little towns. This remains not a bad estimate, as Canada now has somewhere between seventy and eighty little cities, taking that to mean a population roughly between 20,000 and 100,000. Orillia is on the list, of course, but so are a lot of other places from Corner Brook to Nanaimo to Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

If it helps you to give it a specific location, then think Thunder Bay, but Mariposa is not Thunder Bay of course, unless you live in or come from Thunder Bay and would like it to be. A location near to where the great watersheds divide is of course a good thing. So too one somewhat removed from the great metropolitan centres, where small cities nearby tend to get caught up in the maelstrom. I think that when I come to describe it I will centre it around Nipigon. I once located the home of a character in a story “where East and West and North all come together and he can be whatever he wants.” For the little city of Mariposa this is very important.

I will nest it in a regional municipality, in order to make it more creative. I am told that Pierre Trudeau once suggested that tension among levels of government — federal, provincial, municipal — would be stimulate the creative juices of democracy. If tension cubed is good, then how much more can we expect from tension raised to the fourth power? I haven’t done the calculations yet, but it’s a lot more, as any student of logarithms knows well.

The little city of Mariposa demonstrates this arithmetic principle admirably, and particularly in its great Civic Experiment, launched some years ago: its collective resolve to conduct its affairs according to the precepts of the General Theory of Unsolved Riddles, as articulated by their great Patron Scholar (he was no saint) Stephen Leacock.

You will no doubt be anxious to know what adventures they had, and you shall know. But not today, except for one. It led them to dedicate an entire year, beginning tomorrow (March 28th 2018) to preparation for the Great Riddler’s combined sesquicentennial and septuagintaquinquennial (150th and 75th) anniversaries in 2019. He was born on December 30 1869 and died on March 28th 1944.

This blog, its companion blogs (www.playstephenleacock.wordpress.com and http://www.paulwconway.wordpress.com), and its connected web site (www.voyageurstorytelling.ca) are doing the same. The Mariposa part of that story will be told here.

 

 

 

Re-Discovering Mariposa

January 17, 2018.

This blog began with my desire to re-write the story of Mariposa. I am not sure that I want to do that any more, because I am not convinced that Stephen Leacock got it wrong. I think people have been reading it wrong, and I would like to set the record straight.

I am not yet ready to give you the whole load, only a quick preview: Mariposa is not Orillia, nor would the people of Orillia want it to be if they understood what Leacock said. Mariposa is a warning, as is Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich, written two years later. Mariposa and The City are in fact the same warning, against particular ways of thinking that have to do with Unsolved Riddles.

Leacock’s warning was brilliantly done, but unfortunately his method of giving it was too subtle and most people missed it. They thought he was being satirical when in fact he was being prophetic. He himself compounded the problem by getting caught up in his well-deserved reputation for being funny, and all the pleasures and rewards thereof. A scholar or two here and there caught a whiff of the truth, but by and large scholarship was content to follow the lines laid down by popular opinion, and to embroider on them elegantly without examining the cloth.

I am no scholar, although I do have some tools that could be used for that purpose. In the months ahead I intend to use them.

Thank you for reading, and please stay tuned.

It’s Confederation-Becomes-Official Day in Mariposa, also Prince-Edward-Island-Becomes-the-Seventh-Province Day, and British-North-American-Colonies-Divide Day. All these are important days in the formation of Canada, which remains a work in progress.

In case you need to be reminded, Mariposa is the capital of Conundropia. On public holidays the population flocks there in their thousands to take part in the celebratory conversations.

They celebrate July 1st, of course, but not as a birthday. Despite all that pressure from the media, politicians and people around them, they continue to hold the belief that Canada was not born, especially not on one particular day, but rather created, piece by piece and act by act, through the courage and hard work of politicians and their publics over dozens of decades.

The Conundropians believe that they cannot care for present and future if they do not take care of the past. That’s where the lessons are stored, in our memories of the past. They also like a good party. They have therefore organized their year into thirty or more civic celebrations, honouring the courageous political decisions of the past, around which they have built their mythology. They continue to add more as the story unfolds.

It’s not that they ignore the wars, rebellions, and upheavals that occur when politics break down, or the heroism they sometimes invoke. It’s just that they view them as tragedies or failures bearing death and destruction and thus poor excuses for a party. Both good things and bad things have happened in the story of this country, they say: Let’s celebrate the good things for 31 days in the year, working for more of them and fewer bad ones for the other 334¼.

The calendar of Canadian celebrations, in its current form, looks like this:

It is notable that they celebrate no Aboriginal Day, any more than they celebrate a British Day, or a French Day, or any other similar day. They are certainly not unware of the Aboriginal presence in the Canadian story, in all its diverse colours. They believe, however, that the act of political imagination and courage necessary, on all sides, to include them properly has not yet occurred. When it does it will be awarded its day, identified by its act as with all the rest.

The necessary imagination and courage will come, yes, from politicians, but also from their respective publics supporting and encouraging them to do what they know needs to be done. They will culminate in a political act recognizing that a reconciliation has occurred for practical purposes and that we can now go forward together. The Conundropians have no preconceived notion of what that act will be. That question remains one Unsolved Riddle among the many, although one of huge importance for the future of the country. In its wake will follow a host of other Unsolved Riddles arising from the need to keep it alive, in quality if not content very much like the Unsolved Riddles that flow out of acts of the primordial French and English, their descendants, and all the more recent arrivals from all the myriad lands of their origins.

So, today being Confederation-Becomes-Official Day, and British-North-American- Colonies-Divide Day, and Prince-Edward-Island-Becomes-the-Seventh-Province Day, and Monday being Québec-City-Founding Day, we wish the Mariposans and all Conundropians well in their celebrations which will extend for a full four days. And we wish them a speedy recovery in time for Manitoba-Becomes-the-Fifth-Province Day on the 15th.

 

Exploring Conundropia: Leacock’s Land of Unsolved Riddles

In my previous post I called the country I was mapping for you Leacockland. I have decided not to go forward with that name. I suppose it’s all right to name a country after its first map-maker, but “Leacockland” is neither euphonious enough for my taste nor descriptive. This being a country of Unsolved Riddles, its constitution grounded in the General Theory thereof,  I have decided to call it Conundropia.

Conundropia, of course, comes from “conundrum”, a word which appears to be an unsolved riddle of its own, as nobody knows where it came from. It sounds like Latin, but is not.

Welcome to Conundropia, Land of Unsolved Riddles. Location: your surroundings, however you imagine them; Population: diverse; Gross Domestic Product: multifarious.

Foundational Documents: The General Theory of Unsolved Riddles; The Conundropiad (National Epic); The Declaration of Interdependence; The Constitution; The Charter of Liberalities and Optimisms.

Motto: Knowledge, Imagination, Good Will. (These are of course packed words, each one an unsolved, or at least only partly solved riddle.)

The Capital of Conundropia is, of course, Mariposa, the well-known, much misunderstood little town, perpetually asleep in the sunshine, or so it is said, bearing approximately the same relationship to The City, where things get done, as Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I am talking about the relationship, not the cities. Mariposa is nothing like Jerusalem, either in fact or mythologically. I don’t know whether The City is like Tel Aviv; I have never been in Tel Aviv. I know The City well, however, in several manifestations. I have been in that other place called The City, which is the financial district of London, centre of the Empire. I even had an offer of a job there, many years ago, but turned it down. The City of Conundropia, however, is not the City of London.

The City has a name, of course, but nobody uses it.

Mariposa is the birthplace of The General Theory of Unsolved Riddles and hence mythologically vital. Hence its designation as The Capital. For you, and for everyone like you, it is the place where you learned to be human.

The City is the place of work, of action, of the machinery of government and business, of crowds and excitement, of demands and stress. Due to modern transportation and communication, The City reaches away out into The Country and may even have absorbed it.

The Country is the place, the physical place, you go to find relief from The City. It may be a farm, or a cottage, or a resort, or a retreat, or any spiritually similar kind of place. It could be a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship. It could be the branch of a public library, or a club. It could be a park or a trail. It could be your home, or a room therein. If your home life is inescapably tumultuous it could even be your office or workplace, if you are among the fortunate who have workplaces of that kind. It is the place where The Rus can rule.

The Rus is the place where you imagine things were different, or are. If you came from a good place you remember it with nostalgia. If you came from a place like most places, with some good and some bad, you may pour over your memories the blessings of nostalgia, and conjure up only the good. If you came, or come from a bad place, it is the place you dream of being.

I have named these regions of Conundropia with reference to Stephen Leacock’s own experience, as I understand it. For him, Mariposa was Mariposa, the place he passed through briefly in his early years. I have no reason to believe that he viewed it with nostalgia, although he thought others might. His City was first Toronto, then Montreal, with the city of Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich thrown in. His Country was clearly the cottage in Orillia, and the University Club in Montreal. His Rus is, I believe, an unsolved riddle. It might be his British Empire, which was certainly not the real one. But I am sure it’s more complicated than that.

That leaves one more region, which I have called The University, which is the place where you learn to be wise, to the extent that you do. To a notable extent Leacock’s three universities — Toronto, Chicago, and McGill — were his Universities, and that’s how it should be. But I think perhaps his reading was more important. He was a tremendous reader, in several languages. I am not sure what kind of a listener he was — perhaps a good one, when he was listening. But I get the impression he tended to be more of a talker.

Perhaps reading should be dignified as the National Pastime of Conundropia.

More of all this anon.