Exhausting and exhaustive, “Moby Dick” is everything you ever and everything you never needed to know about whales, whale hunting and whalers. Woven in amongst the encyclopaedic trivia, there is a plot, that I managed to catch in my trawler net.
The narrator, Ishmael, kicks off the novel with an entertaining story about winding up as a bedfellow of Queequeg, an ex-cannibal (he hopes). The pair of them then EVENTUALLY set sail on what is meant to be a whaling trip but turns out to be a personal revenge mission of the “monomanic” Captain Ahab, whose leg was eaten by the white whale, Moby Dick.
As Ahab sails past any other ship, he yells, “Have you seen the white whale?”
I am reading this novel in the searing heat of Gran Canaria, lying on the sunbed for so many hours that my coccyx has gone numb. I lift my eyes to the pool, brilliant and turquoise, full of sharks and whales (and crocodiles) of the inflatable kind and I think, “Yes, I can see plenty of whales.”
I look around at the sunbeds and their occupants. Since we had been there last year, there were two marked differences in our fellow holiday makers. Firstly was the proliferation in tattoos, some reminiscent, perhaps, of Queequeg’s.
I think it would be accurate to say that most men there had given over one arm to shoulder-to-elbow tattoos. Usually these were based on the kind of intricate doodles one might fill a page with during a dull meeting. Some of them were pretty cool, done by skilled artists. I felt a bit bad for some of the others. Pretty much every adult had a tattoo of some kind – from cartoon characters (nice to see Korky the cat) to calligraphy in various languages to large ornate letters that one might find at the start of a chapter of a Lindisfarne gospel. One that kept catching my eye was this mother and daughter combo – the daughter had a tattoo of her mother’s face on her arm and they sat side by side and I looked from the arm to the face from the arm to the face from the arm to the face…
The oddest thing about this tattoo thing is that… one day there was a change over and one flight went home and other arrived – and all those men with half an arm of dense tattoos disappeared and were replaced by largely tattoo-free guys. So, I wonder if it was a geographical quirk and that the population using one airport followed that fashion that hadn’t reached the other regional airport…
ANYWAY (the tattoos are a by the by)
The second difference with our fellow holiday makers was the increase in general obesity. Last year I remember thinking that there was every shape, size and colour of person. This year there was a striking amount of people who seemed to be physically struggling as they moved around, with excess flesh getting in their way as they got on with their daily lives.
Ahab shouts, “Have you seen the white whale?”
And I think, eh, yes – but isn’t that a bit rude to think that way?
Meanwhile on the news the UK are thinking about increasing the amount of gastric band operations to save the NHS money in the long term. Which would help, I am sure.
But these people who end up obese have been living in a country where food producers pack all the food full of sugar – even in “savoury” foods.
There was sugar in my meatballs the other week. There is sugar in my fajita spice mix. Sugar in tomato ketchup. Sugar in pesto sauce – is it just me? – no wonder people are struggling with obesity when our diet – even our bread – is riddled with sugar.
I want a tax on sugar and better labeling.
I tried to give up refined sugar for the month of June. It is pretty much impossible. It is in EVERYTHING when you read the labels. I suppose that’s why everyone interested in healthy eating these days winds up with the “whole foods” approach.
Ahab shouts, “Have you seen the white whale?”
So I look down from the poolside and get back to this white whale that, by now, has become a metaphor for the food industry. Ahab is sure he is getting closer – “There she blows” he cries.
My metaphor doesn’t end well. Not that I want to spoil the plot of Moby Dick for you – but – I have put myself through reading it – there’s no reason you should. (Watch the movie and google the key quotes, I suggest!)
So, Moby Dick (the food industry) manages to destroy everyone and everything, leaving only Ishmael to tell the tale, floating home in Queequeg’s coffin-turned-life-raft, thinking to himself that the moral of the story is – eh, Ahab, it was daft for you to go after Moby Dick. He never came for you and your leg. You were trying to kill him, so why wouldn’t he have bitten your leg off? It was daft to go after him when he had that form and reputation. Which leaves me thinking that the food industry, intent on selling more and more food on the grounds that it is delicious are not worth chasing and stabbing with the harpoons of taxation and regulation – they will just continue to destroy us with their donuts, pastries and hidden sugars. I will set my sail as I was before – avoiding refined sugars and eating “whole foods”, generally.
Let sleeping whales lie, as it were…