I was sitting on the deck this morning, cup of coffee in hand, bright sun on my face, a steady breeze rustling the palm trees and the waves lapping against the dock when I encountered a cri de coeur.
I hadn’t encountered one of those, face to face, in years.
Although, with election season in high dudgeon back in the States, cri de coeurs are flying back and forth like bullets on a battlefield.
No, I wasn’t bird watching.
The cri de coeur that I encountered was on Page 9 of the Sunday New York Times Arts & Entertainment section. It was a reference to an article in The Atlantic magazine passionately titled “Stop Making Film Adaptations of Philip Roth Novels.” The larger story from which this was extracted is about producer/director James Schamus (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain”) who, of course, recently has made a film adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel “Indignation.”
This is a round-about way of pointing out that I am sitting on my deck holding an honest-to-god newsprint copy of Sunday’s New York Times in my hands. It is billowing like a torn foresail as I try to turn the pages and I am absolutely in ecstasy.
And the really really neat part?
I have Monday’s New York Times, too.
The ink is already covering my fingertips! You may not see or hear from me for quite a while! (“Good riddance,” say the orange-tinged Trump-a-lumpians on Facebook.)
Every. Word. Must. Be. Devoured.
After months of scraping right-wing Facebook shit off the bottom of my visceral soul shoes, it is a joy unbridled to read reasoned discourse.
It has always been so.
As far back as I can remember, my Sunday mornings were spent with the Times. A section-by-section dissection. A word-for-word slog through every page and every ad, spelunking for literate gems, shiny insights, hidden witticisms, and cleaver observations.
Of course, eventually you get married, have children and join the men’s Sunday soccer league and there is suddenly less time for such self-indulgences. And so, you spread the Times out over the entire week, perhaps a section a night after the children have gone to bed. You can do that with the Sunday Times since so much of it trucks in ideas, which are, um, timeless.
Usually, I’d start with Arts & Leisure, because that was my beat on the other side of the continent. I’d quickly track over to SundayStyles to see how the other half lives — not that other half. SundayStyles is filled with clever writing, trendies, tastemakers, over-achievers, social climbers, people with screwed up lives who write inspirational pieces about themselves, and the Vows page — pages at this time of year … short nuptial reports and engagement announcements … probably the most optimistic pages found in any newspaper on any topic anywhere.
The antidote for this is the Sunday Review section, where legitimate thinkers, power brokers, movers and shakers weigh in on — on, oh hell, just about anything. There was a time when I went straight to the back opinion pages just to see what the columnist Russell Baker had written. He was funny, brilliant, insightful, unpredictable and sometimes irrelevant and I could never get enough. When he died, you could see an irreplaceable puff of soul rising off the opinion pages.
Same thing happened recently in SundayStyles when fashion and culture photographer Bill Cunningham died. Poof. Something iconic was gone.
But the joy of holding the actual New York Times in my hands is not diminished. Over time, I will work my way through Business, Books, the Sunday Magazine and even skim Travel and Sports and lastly, the meaty front section which holds many stories I am already familiar with, but with a depth and intelligence that makes them new again.
Surprisingly little of it is irrelevant, though I live on a tropical island off the coast of Belize. In fact, I need it more than ever.
There is something viral is reading the civilized discourse in a newspaper written by people who are more intelligent than you. Some of them, any way. It is calming, encourages reflection, diminishes the dark joy of slinging nasty online ad hominems at the “enemy.” You realize there is no enemy, just lots of different opinions, some well-informed, some not. None that requires your attention.
The Times is an antidote for the stupidity which informs the Internet. You won’t find presidential candidate Hilary Clinton referred to as Hitlery or called a skank. Or Donald Trump mocked for his buffoonery. (Well, maybe by Gail Collins in her column.) The news reporting is more often on a level that is critical and informed and for this sin is attacked by hard partisans on both sides. In general, though, the Times tries to get it right, as correct as you can in a daily publication.
So the answer to two questions which I frequently field from people interested in life in Belize:
- What do you miss most about not living in the United States?
My children, grandson, family and friends. And The New York Times.
2. We’re coming down to Belize in a few weeks, what can we bring you?
As you pass through the airport, pick me up a copy of The Times.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the morning breeze has died down and my newspaper is waiting for me on the deck. And I have far to go before I reach Monday’s copy of The New York Times.