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No More Bonus Day

January 3, 2009 Leave a comment

miguelst

A month ago, I wrote about the unexpected extra day Joel had in Seattle at the end of Thanksgiving weekend because fog led to the cancellation of his flight back to Boston. It was already after midnight when JetBlue cancelled his 11:25 PM flight out of Seattle and we had to scramble to get him on a flight the next night while he watched the chaos at the gate area before taking a taxi home. Two weeks ago I wrote about our second bonus day, which came about when Joel flew home a day early to avoid a big snowstorm due into Boston on the day of his scheduled flight. Well, as this post’s title says, no more bonus day, which is good. We just dropped him at the airport. He’s due out in 45 minutes and we hope he makes it as scheduled.

Joel won’t be gone long. His spring break is the first week of March. He may fly home on the night of February 27, getting here in time to celebrate my two non-birthdays that weekend: February 28 and March 1. But it’s been interesting to think about his departure today in the context of my reading Patrick French’s biography of V.S. Naipaul, The World Is What It Is. I wrote at the end of November about my intention to read the biography and again just the other day regarding my having started it. I’m now about a third of the way through it — page 166 — and Naipaul has just returned to Trinidad for a visit after six years in England. (He left Trinidad in 1950 at the age of 18 to study at Oxford, then moved to London, coming back for the first time in September 1956.)

The book has focused so far on Naipaul’s family background in Trinidad, his early struggles in England, and his developing relationship with his future wife Patricia Hale. Especially poignant is the story of Naipaul’s father Seepersad, his efforts to make his mark as a writer and to support his family. This is all well known in fictionalized form, since Seepersad is the model for Mr. Biswas in Naipaul’s great early novel A House for Mr. Biswas. But I read the novel decades ago, and reading in detail about Seepersad’s early life, I was heartbroken by his early death in 1953 at the age of 47, after three years of continued devotion to his distant son through frequent letters. Even as he attempted to advise and support Vidia from afar, he hoped Vidia could use connections in England to get some of his work published.

Joel’s return to Boston is hardly of a piece with Vidia’s move to England. Plus, with email, cell phones, texting, iChat, and the rest, he may as well be just down the road. I don’t aim to draw any false analogies. (But Joel, could you use your connections in Boston to publicize my writing?) If anything, just the opposite. I’m struck by how painful it was for Seepersad to be so remotely connected to his son for his final three years, in contrast to the quick and easy access we have to each other. And coincidentally, today is also the day that my nephew Mark flew from Paris to Miami, where he will work for the next six months. For the last three-and-a-half years, he has split his time between school in Nantes (two hours from Paris by fast train) and home in Paris (for vacation and work). Now, as the last step in getting his graduate degree from Audencia Ecole de Management in Nantes, he will work for l’Oréal. After that, he may stay in the US for a while, depending on what options develop. (He has lived his entire life in France until now, aside from vacations.)

Of course, Paris and Miami aren’t so far away, and neither are Seattle and Boston. Not compared to the distance between Trinidad and England in the early 1950s, whether measured in time of travel, time of communication, or culture. The cultural divide between the world of Oxford and London and the world of the colonies has been at the heart of Naipaul’s fiction and non-fiction throughout his career. If you haven’t read his work, I urge you to do so.

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Categories: Culture, Family, Travel