Thursday, July 15, 2010

Do We Really Miss the Hungry Years?

The ideas are good; the sentiments ring true. The fishermen lounging in the sun that I wrote about in the last post lives in the present and is content with what he has. The tourist who thinks the fisherman should fish constantly and amass a fortune is set up in the Heinrich Boll story to look a little foolish, wanting the fisherman to strive after what he already has.

For some reason, the story reminded me of the song "The Hungry Years," written by Neil Sedaka, about a couple who had everything they needed in their early, poor years and who lost their connection with each other as they became more successful.

My first thought was that I love this song, especially sung by Rita Coolidge. My second thought was that I really wouldn't want the hungry years back at all. Sure, there were positive things about those years, but there were negative things that caused stress and worry. Sometimes hungry isn't a metaphor, and sometimes in the (often) student years, only a few dollars separate one from social assistance. One small bump in the road can become a pretty big catastrophe.

Maybe we all want a peaceful idyll, a pastoral innocence, and certainly living in the present moment, content with what one has, is always the best prescription.

But consider: the fisherman cannot retire; when he's ninety-two, he will still have to fish for his daily needs. What if he gets sick? What if there are one or two really bad fishing seasons?

The tourist, following his model of working really hard and amassing a fortune, will be able to retire - and in comfort. He will be able to lounge in a boat in the sun, but will also be able to jet off to see an opera at La Scala if he chooses. He won't have to fish almost daily and will have some resources built up in case of a catastrophe.

Ultimately, there is a lifestyle clash between the tourist and the fisherman. Neither would like the other's life very much.  Like anything else, both have advantages and disadvantages and could take something from each other. The fisherman likely has a tight-knit community around him which would support him in tough times. The tourist likely has more mobility, more choices in life. 

Being in a situation more like the tourist's, I like the sound of the fisherman's life, but realize that it involves much more constant and necessary physical labour and more restrictions than I really want

"The Hungry Years" is a great song, sadly nostalgic for things lost, but conveniently forgetful of anything negative. I don't miss the hungry years, and I don't want them back.  

(The whole double take on the Boll story reminds me of my own views on readers trying to fix THE theme of a work of literature. Themes there may be, but to light on any one as IT, is usually somewhat foolish.)


askcherlock said...

This is a beautifully sad song which says so much. We tend to lose perspective, don't we. You have deftly and provocatively given us much to think about here.

ChrisJ said...


I love her version of this song, better than anyone's.

It's never easy, is it?

Ciss B said...

It is a sad song, and when I think of who she use to be married to it almost seems a comment on her own life (Which I'm sure it is NOT!).

If I'm honest in my own life, I DO NOT want those years back either. I'm much closer to my husband - and the kids are gone!

ChrisJ said...


I wonder if that's why she chose to sing the song - I've thought that before too.

I hope your computer woes are solved.

vivien said...

Poverty is ugly and may my life be fortunate enough that I never visit the experience again. Idealism around poverty comes from those who haven't had a toothache without the money for a dentist.

ChrisJ said...


Exactly. Hunger and pain aren't romantic.

Pearl said...

Yes, the fisherman may have people who'd look after him but they may predecease him. The rich man may be able to pay for nursing care, but one economic collapse, personal or collective and he's back to square one too. Or the fisherman may migrate to the city and join the cash economy after a while, or the cash-economy fellow cash out and drop out. As you say, pros and cons both way, but also any direction from here.

ChrisJ said...


Change is the only constant - too much so to make the kinds of predictions that I am making.