I set off for the bay at around eleven o’clock, knowing that this was going to be my final walk. That awareness brought with it a certain pressure, and a feeling that somehow today ought to be the pinnacle of what I was doing. If everything went well, today would be the most uninteresting day of all, and everything I’d been struggling with over the last few weeks would be resolved. In short, today would be the very definition of an uninteresting experience.
But as soon as I’d made the descent through the hotel grounds and onto the beach, I realised that it was never going to be that simple.
To start with, it was a beautiful summer’s day. The sky was a clear, intense blue; the air was fresh and hotter than it had been for weeks. The Saint Lawrence river stretched magnificently away towards the horizon, and the mountains in the distance loomed serenely above it. The grass, the rocks, and the pools of water underfoot formed a terrain of infinite variety and texture. This was not a mundane start to the day.
There were other people about too.
After I’d been walking for a while I remembered why I was here and tried to focus a bit more on the ordinariness around me. I found myself able to concentrate on the more unremarkable stretches of sand and rocks and grass, and, to a certain extent, began to find them a little boring.
I continued like this for a while, steadily progressing along the bay. Then I ventured inland a little, partly because I was aware that I was retracing a previous journey’s route a little too closely, and partly because I’d caught sight of a shed, which seemed a good opportunity to disengage with the beauty of nature for a while.
The shed was locked and was surrounded by waist-high weeds, but otherwise looked the same as all the other sheds round here. Next to it was a sloping field with some farmhouses at the top. For a few seconds I contemplated changing direction completely and heading up to the farmhouses, but then I realised that they were the same houses that lined the main road to the village, which I’d walked along many times already. I had no desire to look at them all over again, even if it was from the opposite side, so I opted to continue along the beach instead.
Just then a bird rose up over some trees, and, assuming at first it was a seagull, I decided it was uninteresting enough to photograph. But then, as it got closer, and seemed to circle above my head, I saw it was a bird of prey.
It really was time to get back onto the bay, I thought to myself, and back to the task of seeking out banality and boredom. Majestic birds of prey hovering weightlessly in the air a few short metres above my head were definitely not what I was looking for.
As I continued along the shore I began to reflect on why it seemed necessary to be alone on these endless journeys into the paralysing no-man’s land of boredom. It was probably because other people were too distracting, I decided. When boredom becomes a joint activity, it loses its force: you tend to make a joke out of it with whoever you’re with, you start entertaining each other, or maybe decide to put an end to it by going somewhere else or doing something more interesting. I tried to remember whether on a recent four and a half hour car journey to Montreal with D and P I had been bored at any point. Sure, there were moments, but they’d always been interrupted by a conversation, or by a new song on the car radio, or by idle comments that progress was being made towards the destination, all of which had the effect of shifting the mood away from solitary sufferance.
Shared boredom certainly existed, but that was not the experience I was trying to summon up on these directionless walks. I wanted my own, private boredom, my own subjective sense that at a given moment nothing in the world was interesting enough to shake me out of my existential inertia.
I took another short detour at this point onto a small headland, and then realised that I’d taken exactly the same detour last time I’d come this way. Everything on the headland was the same, except that someone had tipped over a bench that I’d noticed last time had a “private” sign attached to it.
By the time I reached the quay, I could hear music. I remembered it was the Fête des chants de marins this weekend, apparently one of the cultural highlights of the summer in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. I didn’t really want to get involved in anything like that, but short of turning round and walking back the way I’d come, I didn’t have much choice, as I was heading straight for it.
There were lots of people about, soaking in the atmosphere of the festival. Bands, tents, food, picnic tables, market stalls, families, music, dogs, boat races were all around. On another day I might well have enjoyed the spectacle, but today I had other things to do, so I spent a few minutes trying focus on the least interesting aspects of what was going on instead.
But it was an almost impossible task, so I gave up and decided to head in the direction of home.
What lay before me, I began to realise, was my very last journey along this long and tedious road. This awareness seemed to lend the familiar roadside walk a different air. It seemed to pass by much quicker than normal. In fact, it was hardly boring at all.
I did notice however that it had become almost impossible to pay attention to anything along the way. I had, by now, examined almost everything along the route. I’d weighed up how interesting or uninteresting everything was. Every lamppost, kerbstone, house, field, stretch of empty road, glimpse of the river, mailbox, dustbin, boutique, shop, driveway, warehouse, parked car, and tree had fallen at least once under my earnestly vacant gaze.
The ice-cream shop though somehow managed once again to attract my attention.
There had been some police by the roadside just before it, stopping random motorists presumably to check their papers, or to tell them they were going too fast. This was an obvious hit for the people eating ice-creams, who watched the process unfold in front of them as they ate.
Somehow though, I’d hoped something more significant than that would happen on this last leg of my last journey in search of the uninteresting. But nothing had really happened. There was nothing to report. It would be an exaggeration to say that the journey had been particularly uninteresting (I’d definitely been more bored by it on other days). Everything had just sailed by, strangely mute. The whole day, in fact, had been characterised by a curious unyielding neutrality. Everything that I had seen had simply struck me as what it was, nothing more, and nothing less. The whole day had, in this sense, been utterly unremarkable.
And that, I realised, was the point: uninteresting experiences are, by their very nature, not particularly interesting. That seems pretty obvious now.