One of my favourite pieces of poetry is a prose poem by the great 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire called Get Drunk. In English translation it goes like this:
It is essential to be drunk all the time.
That’s all: there’s no other problem.
If you do not want to feel the appalling weight of Time,
which breaks your shoulders and bends you to the ground,
get drunk, and drunk again.
What with? Wine, poetry, or being good, please yourself.
But get drunk.
And if now and then, on the steps of a palace,
on the green grass of a ditch, in the glum loneliness of your room,
you come to, your drunken state abated or dissolved,
ask the wind, ask the wave, the star, the bird, the clock,
ask all that runs away, all that groans, all that wheels,
all that sings, all that speaks, what time it is;
and the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, will tell you:
“It is time to get drunk!”
If you do not want to be the martyred slaves of Time,
get drunk, always get drunk!
With wine, with poetry, or with being good. As you please.
– Charles Baudelaire
(translated by Geoffrey Grigson)
I was reminded of this poem when I looked at Tony Gazley’s latest tramping calendar. Regular readers of this website will know that every year Tony produces a calendar featuring a collection of his photos of the great outdoors. Every year he gives me a free copy and in exchange I write a review of it for him. Why does he do this? I have no idea. Has anybody ever decided to buy one of his calendars based on my review? It seems highly unlikely. Does anybody even read my reviews? I’m rather dubious. Is anybody actually reading this now? I suspect not. But Tony seems happy to do it, and being a stingy bastard living in penury I’m happy to do a quick bit of hackwork and throw a few glib words together in order to get a free copy. I then take the calendar down to the Used Calendar Market and flog it off and use the proceeds to buy whatever cheap food scraps I can get my hands on, and I am happy in the knowledge that I will not be lying starving in some lonely gutter, at least for one more day.
As Baudelaire suggests, different people choose different things to get drunk on. Some people get drunk on wine, some get drunk on poetry, and some get drunk on being good. Keen trampers and mountaineers get drunk on the outdoors – and some people like Tony get drunk on photographing them. Like its predecessors, the 2018 calendar features a superb collection of Tony’s tramping photos. Some are of places I have been to (the Tararuas, the Summit Plateau of Ruapehu, the Kiwi-Hope area at Lake Sumner, the Lockett Range in Kahurangi National Park); others I have yet to visit (the Eyre and Takitimu Mountains in Southland). Some are taken in summer and some in winter, matching the particular calendar month they illustrate. All, unsurprisingly, are excellent. My two favourites are probably the one of the Aparima Valley in the Takitiku Mountains, where Tony has superbly captured the lumpy texture of a vast snow-covered tussock field, and the one of Tony wading through Ford Creek, a narrow slit gorge near Blackpool on the West Coast. If I had any criticism at all of the photos it would be that perhaps too many feature the backs of trampers striding off or staring into the distance. I think it would be nice to have a few shots of people walking towards the camera or sitting around camp or in a hut relaxing at the end of the day. The cover photo, for example, features a photo of Lake Chalice in the Richmond Forest Park with a tent in the foreground and the smoke from a campfire out to the right. Tony is standing posed rather stiffly to the left, looking out across the lake, and for my money it would have been a better photo if he had been sitting around the campfire sipping a cup of tea and relaxing. But given that my money was precisely zero, I’m probably not really in a position to criticize.
A calendar is of course the perfect symbol of the appalling weight of time described by Baudelaire. It remorselessly, mercilessly marks out the passing days, one by one. Five days a week we are the martyred slaves of it. But Tony’s photos provide a reminder that, come the weekend, we can temporarily free ourselves from its evil clutches and escape off into the outdoors. So buy a copy and put it up on your kitchen or living room wall. And if now and then, in the glum loneliness of your room, you come to, your drunken state abated or dissolved, take one look at Tony’s stunning photos and you will know it is time to put on your boots, pick up your pack, and head out into the hills, the mountains, the bush, the rivers, and the valleys … and get drunk.
You can view all the calendar photos at www.tararuaphotos.com.
Calendars available from Bivouac Outdoors for $20 cash.