SUMMER is supposed to be a time of convivial living, of “dropping by” and “getting together” in a no-fuss, no-muss fashion.
The ideal summer social opportunity for most of us is cadging invitations to other people’s waterside digs. That way, we moochers can avoid setting mousetraps, getting the septic tank drained, cutting the lawn, and all those other chores that people who own vacation properties endure.
Even if we don’t manage to score a coveted cottage invite, right now most of us are oriented toward leisure and company. So the fact that my Ottawa friend Remy is still fantasizing about establishing a remote destination called Misanthrope Lodge is startling, to say the least.
Shouldn’t he be stocking up on Bick’s hotdog relish and Frisbees like 34 million other Canadians? Sadly, Remy wants no such fun and games. He’s had it with his fellow human beings, except his vivacious wife and their three almost grown-up kids. There are only a handful of people that he’s going to allow to visit them at Misanthrope Lodge, and he sees me as just curmudgeonly enough to fit in.
Recently, he put me in charge of the lodge’s communications – you can’t call it public relations, since the proprietors just want to be left alone. If you want a piece of Misanthrope Lodge, they say, build one yourself.
As a professional, I’ve realized that the lodge needs a back-story. The essence of it is this. Remy (whom I’ve known since we were 16) and his missus, Ariadne, are intelligent, ethical people who both worked long, hard and well for their separate employers. Then they got new bosses and suddenly they were being constantly and gratuitously harassed. Remy lost his job while Ariadne had to take stress leave – horrified, each filed a formal complaint. In both cases, their bosses were found by their highers-up to be fully to blame, were given slaps on the wrist and, as seems to be the norm in these situations, moved on to trample other employees.
It’s no wonder that when Remy and Ariadne imagine retiring, it’s to somewhere so far-flung that you can only get there by float-plane and portage. I asked Remy what residents of Misanthrope Lodge would do all day, given its vast distance from art galleries, dog spas and other signs of civilization, but he had distressingly little to report.
When I suggested, for instance, that it would be good to have Netflix in the common room, he said, “There will be no television, and no common room.”
I asked what was on the menu at the lodge. Remy was unresponsive, which led me to conclude that breakfast would be oatmeal, and lunch and dinner, bean soup. I didn’t like the sound of that and said so.
“‘Soup du jour’ does not mean ‘the same soup every day,’” I pointed out.
“Who cares?” was Remy’s response.
“I assume there’s no swimming pool,” I continued.
“You assume correctly,” he responded.
“Is there WiFi?” I asked.
“No computers,” he said.
“Any books?” I asked. “Could this ‘resort’ have, at least, a library?”
“What sort of books are you imagining?” he asked suspiciously.
I sighed. “Anything other than the latest ones by Jon Krakauer or Sebastian Unger about frozen corpses rolling off mountains or quarrelsome fishermen tumbling out of boats. You know, like, fiction?”
“Depends,” Remy said gruffly. “By whom? I liked Life of Pi. We can have that. And Ariadne enjoyed Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, so that would be okay.”
“Only Canadiana?” I asked warily.
“Well, Ariadne’s Greek, so works by Greeks are fine. Our son likes everything Scottish -- if you can find some fiction by Scots, that’s allowed. Also, in his honour, commercially made shortbread will be served daily.”
“The complete works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series, then, plus the plays of Euripedes?” I said. “Party on, Remy. And are we permitted to read those over our oatmeal?”
“Of course! Conversation is firmly discouraged. In fact, if you wish to discuss Inspector Rebus or debate the quality of the oatmeal with anybody else, you'll have to take a five-km. hike to the chatting hut on the precipice.”
Sheesh – I remember when Remy liked nothing better than pulling up to Harvey’s for a cheeseburger in his mother’s Alfa Romeo, yakking non-stop about cars with The Beach Boys blaring.
“What are we supposed to do when we’ve consumed all the Pierre Berton and Scottish pirate stories we can stand?” I asked.
“Walk around,” he said. “We’ll be in the wilderness. There’s lots to see.”
“Squirrels. Chipmunks. Black flies,” he replied. “Bark.”
“Bark? I feel like crying,” I responded. “If there are all those squirrels, can we not at least have squirrel stew occasionally?”
“Sure, if you can be bothered catching and skinning ’em,” Remy said affably.
Suddenly something dawned on me. It was amazing that it hadn’t occurred to me before. “Wait a second. This isn’t an ice hotel, is it?”
“Only for three-quarters of the year,” said Remy.
“I’m out,” I said, and I meant it.