First chapter down, and already I remember why I have such a love-hate relationship with this book. I’m drawn in by the prose that waxes romantic about water, yet I end up reading the same paragraph over and over because there’s just a little too much description. Let’s just move on already!
However, reading this again at this time in my life, I notice new and different things. Like the grim first paragraph – Ishmael is suicidal! He literally starts by saying, when I can’t handle things anymore and it takes all I can not to step into traffic or shoot myself in the head, I go to sea. Poor dude. And, while I won’t go into it too much, I’ve picked an apt time in my life to start this blog. I’m on the tail end of a pretty rough period of depression – not as severe as our friend Ishmael, but you don’t have to have suicidal thoughts to get the rough end of the mental illness stick. I think I’m going to identify with Ishmael to begin with
The next few paragraphs go on to describe the allure of the sea. This I remember, and this is why I love Moby Dick. I love the ocean, too. I live in Australia, where water is a huge part of our culture, and is one of our main draws for tourists. And for me personally, too. Even when I can’t swim in the ocean, I like to be able to see water.
When I was nineteen, I spent a few months in the Sacred Valley, Peru. It was beautiful, and mountains have their own sort of draw. But I remember missing being able to see water. Or being able to hop on a bus or train and see the ocean in half an hour. Then, during my first degree, I was swim teacher. It was a fun job to have – working with kids, and in the water.
So, yeah, Ishmael, I get you. The water does have a draw for many people.
The chapter concludes with a few forboding passages about monsters of the sea.
Now, because this book is close to two-hundred years old, there are a few things that I don’t quite understand. As a part of this post (and as many posts need it going forward) I’m going to include definitions of phrases, words and locations I’m unfamiliar with.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next chapter.
‘Driving off the spleen’ – to get rid of feelings of irritability and melancholy.
‘My hypos get such an upper hand of me’ – according to this forum thread, hypos is short of hypochondria, which in the 19th century referred to a low mood, or depression.
‘Insular city of the Manhattoes’ – apparently the Manhattoes were the native inhabitants of Manhattan. So this is a roundabout way of referring to island of Manhattan, New York.
Corlears Hook – a park in Manhattan just south of the Williamsburg Bridge on the Lower East Side.
Coenties Slip – a small street in Manhattan somewhere south of Two Bridges and Tribeca (forgive me if I’m getting this wrong, I’m going off of Google Maps).