Silence: In the Age of Noise

I do not follow modern day explorers, and so the name Erling Kagge meant nothing to me until I picked up and read his beautiful prose, punctuated by art, in Silence: In the Age of Noise.

Kagge’s book is a reminder that observation is key to living well, and silence is key to observation. That is not to say silence in the most literal sense, necessarily; Kagge reconciles the silence of isolation, of trekking to the far reaches of the Earth, and the silence of the city, the silence of an individual in a crowd.  Silence of a sort can be found in the midst of noise, if you are willing to observe the moment.

But to say that literal silence is unimportant would be to misrepresent the book entirely. Certainly I have felt inundated by the traffic, the congestion, the constant pressing of others onto personal space, the ubiquitous noise of televisions, radios, and the whispers of headphones deafening the wearers day by day, the periodic pinging of a phone, a watch, an impatient microwave. I have often felt that it is impossible to be self-aware without periodic silence. With noise it is too easy to lose yourself in the cacophony of stimuli, to never have to face the innermost workings of your mind, to never slow down enough to experience poetry.

I am grateful to have discovered Rolf Jacobsen, whose poem The Silence that Follows is excerpted as below; it is well worth reading the whole poem:

The silence that lives in the grass
on the underside of each blade
and in the blue space between the stones.

Kagge also reminds us of the classist nature of society through the lens of noise. We live in age of noise and few people have the luxury to escape to the quiet of remote nature. I once lived in my tiny trailer by a railroad and the popular exit of a highway; the noise could suffocate you, if you let it. The freight trains came at night and enveloped your body in the vibrations of their passing. It was the worst area of town, the part of town people tell you to avoid because the air quality is atrocious, the homeless encampment (the regulars almost exclusively composed of veterans) is next door, and your neighbors are bike thieves and drug dealers. But I was still lucky, because my neighbors were also hard-working immigrant families who gave me fresh eggs, ex-drug dealers who had decided to be responsible single parents, itinerant ER nurses, and young men who dreamed of being physical therapists because, they said, they knew so many people in physical pain who could not afford treatment. And because the time I looked sad and weary, carrying a hiker’s backpack and a guitar in the relentless heat, the veterans on the corner asked me if I needed help. And because my commute offered a sudden escape from the noise, an arboretum with a water body that passed as a creek. I walked to work sometimes because to bike meant less silence.

And when I left my job, I was even luckier, because I was privileged to have unending days of silence on the road.




Food Fights, Barbecuing, and Community

I rarely read one book at a time—and in an attempt to avoid the sunk cost fallacy I sometimes opt out of finishing books—so I thought perhaps I’d review books as I am reading them.A cat on the book!

Food Fights and Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste, by Tom Nealon, is a delightful book by any measure, but most of all from the viewpoint of aesthetics. I can’t imagine this book was at all cheap to produce, as it abounds with hiqh-quality color reproductions of art and historical advertisements, many of them courtesy of the British Library. The writing is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but enjoyably so, at least if you don’t mind irreverent references to cannibalism of “inadvertently delicious” corn-fed Aztec lower classes.

My favorite chapter from the book is on the history of barbecuing; here the tone diverges sharply from humorous to political. The contrast between traditional barbecuing (community affairs involving whole animals  and fire pits) and the commercialized, modern version of restaurant take-out and backyard grilling, is placed in the context of dwindling freedom of assembly. Nealon points out that in many areas of the United States, at least, fire pits are forbidden or at least require a permit, and are generally frowned upon at public parks, although apparently—to my surprise, anyway—barbecuing used to be considered acceptable on public land.

Personally I hadn’t realized the distinction between “barbecuing” and “grilling”, or considered how neatly the backyard grill fits into a capitalist paradigm of individualized consumption, a co-opting of a once inexpensive and widely accessible form of community-building and social discourse. To the extent that barbecues can still be held today, they likely require the privilege of land ownership and the privilege of a permit. Which is to say, if you have the advantage of a place and permission to barbecue, you should pay heed to Nealon’s concluding paragraph:

It’s not the world’s biggest surprise that corporations and governments have been destroying barbecue culture to further nefarious agendas. No, it is as it should be: barbecue has been forced out of range. Attempts to co-opt and commodify only prove the point: humanity and barbecue need one another. It is up to us to exercise some self-control the next time we have a hankering for some ribs: to build a fire instead of ordering in, to dig a pit, invite our friends, acquaintances, and one or two enemies, and stir up a sauce, a marinade, and a rub. As our lives become ever more full of flickering lights, ephemeral sounds, and unmoored notions dancing in our peripheral vision, it becomes more important than ever to take a moment, a breath, a mouthful. Every day we are enshrouded in a digital chaos so complete that is has become a sort of order, and I submit that what it screams for, more than anything else, is a properly made pulled-pork sandwich. All you vegetarians out there, don’t think you are off the hook: catch yourself some root vegetables, perhaps a great woolly radish, a tremendous turnip or an outrageous rutabaga. Find yourself a pumpkin the size of a space hopper and barbecue some soup — but take it slowly. S-l-o-w-l-y.

I’d probably add that you should invite some random passerby, too. And perhaps consider barbecue-as-protest.

Clayton, NY

The milk stout at Wood Boat Brewery is worth a try.Lunch

Make sure to stroll down along the waterfront.Waterfront

Riverside Drive

Oh, Canada

Pause to admire the relic of war.Relic of War

And try some dressing? Or not.Closed storefront

Mysterious claims.Authentic Maine Quality


Final pass through Quebec

With the road trip now on a winter hiatus, I thought I’d put up a few comments on the last leg.

Rounding the Gaspésie peninsula, I stopped at The René Bureau Cliff to learn about the Age of Fishes. The park (Miguasha national park) became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, in recognition of the number and well-preserved nature of the fossils found there dating from the Devonian period.René Bureau Cliff


The rest of the 132 loop follows a valley dotted with covered bridges. Plenty of places to pull over for the night, if you weren’t in a hurry to stop driving on Québec roads.Sample covered bridge


Stay in Mont-Louis for a few days. The camping is convenient with the Gulf of St. Lawrence on one side and the Appalachians on the other, and the restaurants are good. You can also buy delicious smoked fish at Atkins et Frères.The best food is at Auberge Marré café bistro


Gaspé is a bit dull, but it does boast a museum with public archives, as well as the Jacques Cartier monument, which documents the arrival of the Europeans and their interaction with the locals.Jacques Cartier Monument


Percé is also worth more than one day. This little town has survived more than one storm that devastated the seashore. There are informational signs along the temporary boardwalk discussing the effects of climate change on the coastline. You can see remains of the former boardwalk.Percé

As well as damage to neighboring property.Old barn

It is probably worth the overpriced boat tour to Rocher Percé and Îsle Bonaventure. The latter is where the gannets nest. Just the corner of the island is visible here.Rocher Percé

Parc National du Bic

The Parc National du Bic is a nice place to stop, but all the provincial parks in Quebec are expensive, so be forewarned.Parc National du Bic


The Rioux family farm was established in the early 1900s, and the family lived here until the land was expropriated in the 1970s. The Rioux were apparently allowed to return each summer until 1981, which was the the date of their final expulsion, and probably when the park decided to turn their barn into a welcome center. I’m not sure other residents were extended the same courtesy.Ferme Rioux


Check the tides first, but walk along the beach if you can.

Some trails are only accessible at low tide.Chemin-du-Nord at Cap-à-l'Original

Quebec City

We took the ferry into Quebec.View of Quebec City from ferry

The view and traffic are superior to driving.Beauty and Cement


Welcome to Vinland,Vinland

where you can buy chocolate sausages.Reflecting on chocolate sausages


The streets are colorful,Colorful streets

and lively,Mural and Tourists

and invite exploration.Invitation to Explore


Make sure to visit the citadel;Lovers at La Citadelle

it seems the apples are tasty.Feasting on Apples


And we even found a beer fest in a pool!Beer Fest in a Pool!


Parliament was surrounded by a construction fence that prominently displays a promise—one perhaps applicable in the context of natural disasters, but otherwise impossible to fulfill.More secure and more welcoming