Our solitude is double-edged. It’s both an unprecedented restriction on basic freedom, and a privilege to be in the group who can safely be confined. But the experience of separation is not totally new.
What is the comfort of today? Cufflinks, jackets, ties become a mocking audience, hooting almost audibly to remind us of a register of dress this era has rendered ridiculous. Not a possession to dazzle me, but one to make me wryly laugh: an old, beautifully patterned silk scarf from Sulka Paris had to become my ersatz mask for a couple of outings. I supposed that’s the closest a possession has come to helping screen me from reality.
Soul wasn’t just a music genre for Bill Withers, who sadly passed away recently, but an impulse – an expression, and a way to speak plainly about the tribulations (and successes) that defined his life and career. He may not have been a preacher, but he certainly preached – whether it was heartbreak, the war in Vietnam, or the suicidal thoughts of a failing husband (as in ‘Better off Dead’) Withers’ music endures because he was strong enough to reveal himself to us, peppering his smooth crooning with the occasional cry for help. That’s why we’re so endeared to him; why he’ll be missed.
I’ve been inspired to turn to The Sartorial Travel Guide by the inimitable Simon Crompton for a glimpse of what already seems like a very different time, one where we were free to move around without fear of killing or being killed, one where brick-and-mortar retail existed and was worth the journey.
I’m sure you’ll remember the scene in Adam McKay’s masterwork Talladega Nights in which the dastardly (French) villain Jean Girard challenges our hero Ricky Bobby to name one thing of value that Americans have given the world. As a proud American, I’ve often wondered how I might have answered, were I in Ricky Bobby’s shoes. One tempting answer might be that classic of Ivy Style, the penny loafer. But this isn’t quite right. The penny loafer was born in Norway.
We cannot outrun history’s arrow. d’Artagnan and his boon companions the Three Musketeers learned that over 5,000-odd pages of Alexandre Dumas’ rambling historical fiction. History’s arrow? I should have said history’s cannonball, since that is what ended the real d’Artagnan’s life at the siege of Maastricht, an inevitability Dumas had to write into the life of his invented d’Artagnan, at the very end of the last Musketeers romance, The Man in the Iron Mask.