Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Last American Man

I hit a wall.

After a week of being a hard core tourist in Paris, I hit a wall. I woke this morning and knew that the last thing I wanted to do today was see anything in Paris. My legs were tired. My back ached. And I just got plain old tired of muddling my way through French, of my Type-A map study tendencies and my marathon walks around the city. 

See, I don't slow down. I don't stop. I collapse.

Balance isn't my forté. 

So after a lovely picnic in the sunny and verdant Jardin du Luxembourg, I returned to my quaint Parisian flat to curl up and read the book I picked up yesterday at Shakespeare and Co.

Sitting outside Shakespeare and Co. 

I stopped reading long enough for a photo so that one day they'd frame the photo and hang it in the store like they did for this guy:

And I hope they stick my books in the store like they did for him, too.

In the book, she talks of Eustace Conway, a man who hiked all over America, a man who escaped the comforts of suburbia to live in the mountains, a man who lived off the land for 20 years... and still does. 

And I'm complaining about walking all over Paris for six days?!

Gilbert speaks of the the Last American Man as the last frontiersman. The guy who got on his horse, went out west, wrestled with bears and skinned deer. The modern age has all but eliminated this heroic icon of our youth. Our heroes are the AAA guy who tows our car off the freeway and the computer guy behind the Genius bar at the Apple store. But then Eustace Conway comes along and shows her that there is at least one of those frontiersmen left in this world.

When I first purchased the book, I wondered why I was compelled to read it. I'm in Paris. I should be looking for My First French Man, not reading about The Last American Man. But as I read, it dawned on me why I was compelled by this book.

My dad is the Last Canadian Man. 

I stopped in to see my dad when I was in Canada a few weeks ago. My sister came along, and a good thing she did. She's about the only person who can find him. He lives off the grid in the backwoods of freezing cold Canada. But he does it and he loves it. When I saw him, I saw a man that was truly happy, which is more than I can say for a lot of men out there who have a lot more than my dad. Materialistically speaking.

Living off the grid isn't an easy life. One must give up comfort and find interest instead in fishing, hunting, mending, building and a lot of other verbs necessary to live off the land successfully. 

Dad fishes like a man obsessed, he can build anything from anything and he spends evenings sketching out his next projects. A mold of his hands should be taken for the Smithsonian. His pinky finger is bigger than the thumbs of mere mortal men. And the skin is calloused and thick from years of pioneering.

He, like Eustace Conway, was Reusing, Reducing and Recycling long before it was cool. And he went further to include Reconsidering and Refusing. He just doesn't want a lot of things.

I never asked him why he lives the way he does. I suppose I would have if he seemed miserable about it, but he seems so gleeful that the answer is written in every line on his well-weathered face.

I don't see him often. He lives in a place that makes him hard to find and I live in a lot of places, which makes me hard to catch. When I saw him this last time, I studied his face. Partially to look at how I will look years from now. Not out of vanity but out of curiosity.

We can look at our parents faces for clues on how it's all going down.

I noticed the aboriginal lines of his grandmother shining through: high cheekbones, dark hair, and the definitive crows feet that appeared, hopefully not from stress, but from squinting in the sun. And I also hope, from laughing a lot.

Don't get me wrong. He's not perfect. Not by a long shot.

But as far as being a mountain man like Eustace Conway, he too, is pretty darn competent. And whose to say that the way they live is wrong? They might have it right and the rest of us, in our air-conditioned SUV unsustainable cappuccino land, may have it wrong. We're the ones running around like mad stress cases trying to make a living.

They are just living.

And they seem quite happy about it. 

So after reading about how Eustace Conway was hiking 30 miles a day, starving and cold on the Appalachian Trail, I guess I can buck up tomorrow and do another round with the cobblestone streets of Paris... The Last Canadian Girl in Paris?

I wouldn't go that far.


  1. Few things:
    1) Guy in photo with the kitty - LOVE IT
    2)I've been to Hemingway's home in the Florida Keys. DID YOU KNOW..that he loved cats?? There were a zillion of them running around everywhere! AND they each had an extra "finger" on their paws. Even today, if you see a cat with an extra finger, it's most likely a descendant.
    3) "Genius bar at the Apple store" - brilliant!
    4) "Cappuccino Land" - impeccably brilliant!
    And 5) nothing wrong with a leisure day!! Put your feet up, relax, read and it...

  2. Wow Jan that blog has bittersweet overtones.Im glad you went to see your dad,he is a survivor just like you

  3. WOW, Janice this blog is truly priceless I can picture you standing there talking to your dad and studying his face what you write in your blog is so true,And it is so nice to read about our busy lives and your dad as you read his face you knew he was so happy I hope you keep writting because I want to keep reading you are truly an amazing writer

  4. One of your best blogs. And definitely Gilbert's best book.

  5. Aw, Paris! I was just lamenting on not being able to be there right now. It's so much more Paris-y at this time of year.
    Feet up young one and who knows what tomorrow brings.
    You're my hero! Please please please, eat a butter cookie from Poilaine for me? In a kind of solidarity?
    Merci bien!


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