David Bouchier

David Bouchier

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Award-winning essayist David Bouchier's observations.More from David Bouchier »

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David Bouchier: A Time Not To Relax

Our long vacation in Europe is coming to an end, and it has been a luxury and a treat. A luxury because, having retired from almost everything except life itself, we can sometimes afford to be away for several weeks at a time, and a treat because the only real vacation is a long one. Most working Americans are seriously short-changed on vacation time. If you travel away from home for only a one or two-week break you are heading back again before you fully realize where you were. It frees you from the hamster wheel of working life just long enough for you to realize that you are – well – a hamster. If you stay at home, you are likely to spend the time doing little jobs around the house. There is nothing more mortifying to the human spirit than doing little jobs around the house. It is the very essence of purgatory, which is a place of laborious, meaningless and endless tasks. Our culture was founded on the Puritan values of self-control, obedience, hard work, and humility. Puritans don

David Bouchier: No Nostalgia Necessary

As we crossed from France to England last week I was half expecting things to be different. For years I had come to think of Britain as part of Europe. Now, after the decision to leave the European Community, known as 'Brexit,' that may not be true much longer. I don't know quite what I was expecting on the British side – fewer French and Italian restaurants perhaps, or patriotic Union Jacks on display outside people's houses. I was suffering from a kind of pre-emptive nostalgia, mourning for a vanished world that hasn't vanished yet, and shows no signs of doing so. All national boundaries are artificial. I have never understood the passion for passports and visas, customs barriers and flags and all the tedious apparatus of nationalism. Most frontiers make no sense at all, you can simply step over them, like the imaginary straight line drawn between Kansas and Colorado. But the imaginary lines become real in our minds, like the game that little boys play when they build a den or a

David Bouchier: Against Nature

Ten years ago we moved into a house with central air conditioning, a luxury we never had before. It made me nervous at first. When I pressed the switch the house began to hum like a factory, and freezing air came roaring out of the vents. The electric meter was whizzing around like something in the Indianapolis 500. Now we have this difficult choice to make every day in summer. When the air conditioning is on the house feels like an outpost in Antarctica, or a corporate office. When the system is off it feels like a Turkish bath, with President Erdogan turning up the heat. The modern vogue for air conditioning began in the 1920s, and as you might guess, it began in Texas, which long ago replaced California as the world capital of unreality. Houston is reputed to be the most air-conditioned city in the world. In such places ordinary fresh air is regarded with about as much enthusiasm as poison gas. For several months of the year citizens live in an artificial bubble, very much like

David Bouchier: Siesta Time

Summer is a threat to our most cherished and perhaps our only national virtue: the work ethic. As the temperature rises a lot of otherwise puritanical and hardworking people will drop off to sleep during the hottest part of the day, and then feel guilty about it. Taking a nap is fine when we are ill, or watching late-night TV, or during the pagan celebrations surrounding the winter solstice. But at any other time the daytime sleeper wakes with the ghost of old Ben Franklin whispering in his ear: "Time is money. Early to bed, early to rise. Plenty of time for sleeping in the grave." But never mind Ben Franklin who, I'm sure, took naps like everybody else when he was ambassador to France in the 1770s. There are solid psychological, sociological and even environmental reasons to encourage the midday napping habit, which I shall now describe. First, naps are entirely natural, which must be good. Most animals drop off without apology whenever they feel so inclined. Cats, who have the

David Bouchier: Potter in the Basement

We've had a potter in the basement for the past few days. This is the kind of thing that can happen when you live in a village devoted to arts and crafts. Every year an international festival of pottery and ceramics brings amateur and professional artists here from all over the world, and space has to be found for them to display their creations. So the visiting artists are shoehorned into courtyards, garages, spare rooms around the village, and into our basement. What we call the basement is a vaulted stone space under the house at street level, where farm animals were kept in the old days. It could be a garage if the street was wide enough to turn a car into it. But with a few tasteful electric lights strung along the roof it makes a perfectly acceptable gallery. Visitors are encouraged to take a walking tour of all these exhibits and, for a few days, the village has the air of a major tourist attraction. Then it lapses into is normal state of slightly dazed tranquility. The

David Bouchier: Body Language

I'm always on the lookout for new fashions among the young, in case I might be missing something important. But, frankly, I haven't had much success in catching up with the enthusiasms of youth. I've missed just about every trend in music and fashion for the past forty years; I've missed video games, ipods, smart phones, SnapChat, and just about everything an up-to-date six-year old needs to know. But now here comes a trend that I just might be able to follow. Our local paper in France published a big article about the newest thing in tattoo art for youngsters. Instead of decorating themselves with the traditional embarrassing love messages, skulls, and spooky abstract designs, they are choosing to flaunt inspiring messages. So each young body becomes a sort of perambulating self-help poster. Most of the messages quoted in the newspaper article are familiar anodyne phrases attributed rightly or wrongly to Gandhi ("Where there is love there is life.") or the Buddha ("What we think we

David Bouchier: Changeable Weather

Right now the sun is shining, the sky is a dazzling deep blue, and the temperature has just reached ninety-one degrees. I'm sorry if it's not the same where you are, but that's the reassuring thing about weather. If you don't like your climate you can change it, simply by moving a few hundred or a few thousand miles. I am probably too sensitive to weather. Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, just like the old John Denver song. A rainy day produces instant depression, and I find really cold weather intolerable. If this a neurosis, I have plenty of company. I have been reading a wonderfully eccentric book by Alexandra Harris called "Weatherland." It's a history of English weather and how it has affected the lives and works of writers and artists over the centuries. England has more and more annoying weather than anywhere else, except perhaps Scotland, and we talk about it all the time. So this is a rich and promising subject. Apparently there have been fashions in weather, and we

David Bouchier: I've Grown Accustomed To Your Face

Right now there is a flurry of media interest in biometrics. This sounds very scientific and mysterious but in fact it simply means the measurement (metrics) of living things (bio). So your height and weight are biometrics, for example. Recognition depends on a whole complex pattern of biometrics, whether it's your mother, your cat, or your potted plant. All animals have this astonishing skill. Like most our skills this is about to be taken over by machines. The so-called security procedures we use on our computers are becoming more and more useless. So the new idea is to use biometrics to identify ourselves: eye scans, fingerprint scans, or even heartbeat scans. These are supposed to be unique to each individual, so that no cheating is possible. I would like to say that this is the most ridiculous idea that I have ever heard, but there are so many stronger candidates for that distinction including those that appear in the election coverage every day. It is no doubt a wonderful

David Bouchier: Clothes Make the Man

In recent weeks it has been hard to avoid the bombardment of bizarre images from the big European fashion shows in London, Milan, and Florence. Bizarre is not even a strong enough word. The designers are wheeling out their latest creations and they want us all to know about them: but why? The newspapers are happy to fill their pages with ludicrous fashion images during the summer season, although, goodness knows, there's plenty of real news to report. It may make commercial sense, but does it make any other kind of sense? To put it plainly, are they all crazy, or am I missing something? In my naïve way I assume that a fashion show should be about clothes, the way a car show is about cars or an agricultural show is about cows. But nothing resembling clothes is on offer at these events. The scraps of material hung on the bodies of the unfortunate models are, if anything, costumes in the theatrical sense. The report from Milan showed some costumes that would be perfect for, say, a

David Bouchier: Offensive Driving

Our local library, like many others, sponsors courses on Defensive Driving. These are aimed mainly at senior citizens, and it's true that on today's roads we need all the defense we can get. In its simplest and most direct form, Defensive Driving means simply buying a very large SUV, or better still a full-size truck or a military surplus armored vehicle with weapons still attached, and daring anyone to argue. If you don't believe that the best form of defense is attack, you can enroll in one of the many Defensive Driving courses that claim to offer a kinder, gentler road to safety. You can even get a small reduction on your insurance premiums. After several near accidents with maniacs running stop signs at fifty miles an hour while talking on their phones, I almost enrolled in a Defensive Driving course myself. Instead, to sharpen up those survival instincts, we came to France. The transition from American to European driving is always a shock. Your European car seems the size of a

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