What will Hell be like once one arrives there? What if (horror!), it turns out to be a gigantic cruise liner on an eternal cruise?
Cruise ships and ocean cruises are on all our minds at the moment because of the terrible plights thousands of cruise passengers have found/find themselves in in these foul, contaminating COVID-19 times. Cliché-prone commentators keep saying that these cruise ships are "floating petri dishes" of viruses.
But even before all this, cruise ships have loomed large in my nightmares because a cruise on a cruise liner (it is something I would never, ever do) has always been my idea of Hell.
In Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit three characters, just deceased, find they are being punished by being locked in a room together for eternity. Soon getting on one another's nerves they find, famously, that "Hell is other people" in keeping with Sartre's certainty as an atheist there is no such Hell as the ludicrously action-packed supernatural one the Church describes.
I mention this because, cruise averse, blissfully happy with my own company (or, better still with the company of a dog) I never think of ocean cruises without thinking simultaneously of Sartre's insightful play. It is true that an ocean cruise doesn't last for eternity (although for some of us it would feel as if it did) but the principle, being stuck somewhere with people one can't get away from, is the same.
I am desperately sorry for the ocean-cruising souls caught aboard their floating public housing apartment blocks (for that is what today's cruise ships look like) and don't for a moment criticise their choice of that kind of holiday.
And, to (only slightly) digress for a moment, what a lot of masturbatory self-righteous criticism there is flying back and forth at the moment! How some of us love to get all hatchet-facedly judgmental about cruise tourists, about sunny-dispositioned people lolling on beaches, those dynamic shoppers harmlessly obeying their inner-squirrel by buying and hoarding toilet paper. It as if the anxieties being stoked in colder bosoms by these times are driving the cold-bosomed/hatchet-faced blamemongers to think spiteful thoughts.
So your warm-bosomed columnist won't point a bony accusing finger at the cruise-goers.
And yet their choice of ocean cruising does bewilder. Those of us who like our travelling to be footloose and fancy-free and unscheduled, feral, quirky and haphazard, tuned to whatever suddenly surprises the mind and seduces the feet, struggle to understand the attraction of holidaying with great flocks of fellow tourist-sheep always only ever going where the shepherd and his insistent border collies instruct us to go.
Perhaps I'm using sheep analogies here not only because cruise passengers remind me of live exports (although since cruise passengers do come back home I realise this analogy is not up to my usual high analogy standards). No, it is also because modern cruise ships with their great stacks of cabins look as if they are in the business of transporting vast quantities of some non-human cargo.
In another of my Heaven/Hell nightmares I am somehow marooned by some misfortune in Tamworth at exactly the time of the annual Hell of the Country Music Festival. I care about music and awful music (Australian country music, so unAustralianly, culturally-cringingly derivative of its superior American role model, is the worst there is) deeply upsets me. It is the same way in which everything vulgar, lurid and banal (even including rooms with hideous wallpaper) understandably upset that sensitive aesthete Oscar Wilde.
It is true that an ocean cruise doesn't last for eternity ... but the principle, being stuck somewhere with people one can't get away from, is the same.
So imagine my double horror when (at first I thought my mind was playing cruel tricks with me) one day last week in The Canberra Times I found an advertisement for a Cruisin' Country Serenade of the Seas eight-nights ocean cruise (departing Sydney in October).
This ordeal will sport Lee Kernaghan and Troy Cassar-Daley and other cowboy-impersonating artists I always spring to the radio to turn off whenever they start to warble in their affected fake Nashville voices. It is to be Tamworth afloat, really, with no possibility of escape from the vessel and its twanging torments.
The thought of it suggests an adaptation of Sartre's play. Now entitled No Lifeboats it is set aboard an ocean liner with, as the hellish other people, boot scootin' fellow passengers who don't share my passion for the music of J.S. Bach.
If Hell is individually tailored to give the maximum torment to each soul sent there (one wouldn't put that past the spiteful God, our PM's God, of the Old Testament) then I am destined to sail for ever on a Cruisin' Country Serenade of the Seas.
A cantata a day ...
Meanwhile, though, classical music rules!
In his spirits-lifting Washington Post piece 'In A Time Of Uncertainty, Classical Music Provide A Sense Of Permanence' reporter Michael Andor Brodeur rejoices at how with concert halls,closed orchestras and musicians isolated at home are ingeniously supplying all of us (with devices) with an unprecedented banquet of music.
Of all the many links he gives my favourite features Peter Whelan, home alone, somehow theatrically managing to be all the singers and players required to bring us a glad-to-be-alive get-up-and-dance passage from a Bach cantata.
It is not only that at any time too much J.S. Bach is not enough but also that Peter, bless him, is giving such a display of just what grace, wit and ingenuity our dear species (so cruelly menaced at the moment) is capable of at its best.
Courage, dear readers! We will survive this. As often as you can, wash your hands and listen to some J.S. Bach. Cleanliness and a cantata a day keeps COVID-19 at bay.