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Disappearing act


As December approaches, the evenings darken, and the howling leaf blowers wind up to their intolerable crescendo, we have a refugee problem. Our neighborhood seems to be emptying out as planeloads of climate change deniers head south. The climate change they are denying, of course, is winter. Costa Rica seems to be a popular destination, and the Caribbean, New Mexico and even good old Florida — anywhere where the warm sun can be expected to shine. Whatever horrors the next few months have in store for us here in the Northeast, these retirees prefer not to share the experience.

We who are left behind can’t help feeling a certain unworthy envy as we check our generators, stock up with salt and snow shovels and candles, and anticipate the discomforts and disruptions of the coming season. Why can’t we all go south and leave this whole chilly region to its frozen fate? The latitudes above 40 degrees north should never have been inhabited in the first place. There’s no reason for us to suffer just because our ancestors paid no attention to the weather forecast.

The desire to get away is particularly strong this year. Travelers have been pictured literally dancing and jumping for joy, in airports and on planes, just because they are getting away, and it’s not just about heat and cold. In this eerie post-COVID pause, while we try and fail to guess what’s going to happen next, the idea of escape to anywhere is all the more seductive. How delightful it would be to vanish from here and re-appear somewhere far away, effortlessly and without explanation or apology. It’s an almost universal fantasy, and it doesn’t always remain a fantasy. About three quarters of a million people go missing every year, and many of them are never found. They may be down in Costa Rica, soaking up the sunshine, or even in Thailand or the South of France. Wherever they are, some of them have certainly gone missing by choice. They walked away from their lives, felt the sunshine, purchased some lime green Bermuda shorts, changed their names and vanished.

It is the plot of a thousand novels, including one by the French writer Georges Simenon, a man who was always on the move. It’s called The Escape of Monsieur Monde and the main character is a successful businessman with a family who, one wet, winter day in Paris, walks to his office and just keeps walking. He takes a train, to the south of course. I’ve never heard of anyone escaping to the north apart from a small sub-category of extreme masochists who go to Vermont in January. So, in the novel, Monsieur Monde works in a casino and lives a completely different life for a few months down in the South of France by the Mediterranean before returning calmly to his home and office.

The author, Simenon, gives his hero a happy return. M. Monde is not embarrassed or apologetic but astonishes everyone with his deep contentment. He has learned that he can always escape again, and this gives him a feeling great serenity. I expect that our snowbird neighbors, when and if they return in the Spring from Naples or Paradise Island, will have the same relaxed, Zen-like attitude because they know that next year, and every year, they can simply leave cruel winter behind. We will set aside our snow shovels and our heavy sweaters and welcome them back with open arms, of course we will.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.