Friday, December 23, 2011

Nostalgia Will Save the World, Part 2

Avast there, messmate--I would read this lingo.
Ha!--may I be water-logged on a lee shore
If our good chaplain's Bible is more true
Than these same statements.

Sailor's in a bawdy house
I do not believe in the reality of many things, including the "good old days," For my light reading on this day before Christmas Eve I have chosen:
Facts Without Fiction and Tales from the Life: Illustrative of the Evil Effects of Spirit Drinking, 1835, Benjamen Bagster, London.
I was drawn to this book by the chapter called: A Scene from Real Life, Or Crimps and Sailors. The introductory poem and etching of the sailors and prostitutes is from the same volume.

Few things have spurred such earthquakes of nostalgia--poems, paintings, and kitsch, as the sailor's life. Yet the sailor was the very bottom of the totem pole, with fewer rights and privileges than any other class of human. The big, many-masted windjammers needed crews, and from time immemorial they were supplied by crimps. These crimps used unsophisticated means to obtain the prospective sailor's cooperation, but almost always it involved liquor. As the line from the sea shanty goes:

 Here's to the tar that drinks away,
And values not the score;
But boldly pays his money down,
Then goes to sea for more.

The crimps of Portland became world renowned for their ruthlessness and disregard for any law or decency. Much has been written about Bunko Kelly, Larry Sullivan, and Jim Turk, but they would never have gotten away with it had there not been a complacent civil society abiding the outrages simply because things had always been done that way, and they were only sailors anyway.

That brings me to today. Today we can look back and say, "Tut, tut!" and think that these are better times. What will the Portlanders of the future think when they read about the thousands of homeless men, women and children who sleep in the temporary shelters, vehicles, and beneath tarps on days like this cold day in December?