Archive for the ‘Vacation!’ Category

Vacation Note: Regrouping

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008


Last night, at dinner, Kathleen asked me why I looked so sad; and when we walked back to our room on the beach, I knew for the umpteenth time how lucky I was and am to have found her.

The night before, I had selected Red Dust from the wallet of DVDs that I’d brought along for our viewing pleasure. Kathleen hadn’t seen this movie, about a Truth and Reconciliation proceeding in South Africa, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Hilary Swank. I had completely forgotten the brief flashes of gruesomeness that punctuate the film whenever Alex Mpondo (Mr Ejiofor), currently an MP, is obliged to remember his persecution under the apartheid regime. Kathleen found the movie excellent but was troubled by the blood. It woke her in the middle of the night, and she had trouble getting back to sleep.

If reports of bad dreams and sad faces sound contrary to the spirit of vacation in Paradise, don’t be daft. This is what our vacations are for: slowing down to a point that allows unpleasant things to be registered and dealt with. Unlike all previous vacations that I can think of, this one is lasting long enough, and quietly enough, for us to break past the running-away phase with which all vacations begin: we can’t believe that we’ve escaped! Now we’re beginning to think of going back, not in the do-we-have-sense (although there’s certainly that), but in the more constructive frame of asking how regular life might be made more like this.

Walking downhill after breakfast, Kathleen wondered if people who grow up in St Croix realize how beautiful it is. I answered that no reasonably healthy young person can live on beauty alone. That’s for folks our age, at least the ones who have amassed plenty of interesting stuff.

Vacation Note: Windy

Monday, November 24th, 2008


In the late afternoon, Kathleen and I took a walk round one end of the golf course, the part that sticks out into the sea. The wind was relentless, a steady blast from the northeast. The shadowed grounds were  a matte green, almost a colorless grey. The leaves on trees already permanently slanted by the wind shrieked and frizzled like pennants announcing the grand opening of a hurricane. But it was just a windy day.

It was odd to be out in such conditions without being soaking wet; for there wasn’t a drop of rain.


Vacation Note: No News

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008


We have reached that delicious sweet spot of complete relaxation. We are no longer looking around to see what has changed since last year. We aren’t paying attention to the other guests — or not so much, anyway. Why, we don’t even know where yesterday’s wedding reception took place. We didn’t ask and we didn’t see.

Ordinarily, that sweet spot is soured somewhat by the knowledge that we will be leaving in a day or so. Not this year! The halfway point in our visit will come at midnight. Now, that is bliss.

The Mermaid, a beachfront café where we usually eat lunch, will be serving dinner this evening, and we’ve got a 7:30 reservation (the last seating!). I will presumably have something different for dinner, instead of the steak sandwich that I’ve ordered, four nights running, in the bar up at the main house. That’s about all the variety that I can handle.

Our vacation has been clouded by two technical glitches that a bit of preliminary checking would have avoided. It took forever to realize that the extra cell-phone charger that Kathleen picked up a while back, identical twin to the one that we use every day at home, doesn’t work. We (I) thought it was everything else. Much tohu-bohu on that score. And I neglected to load the software for Kathleen’s Digital EOS Rebel on to any of the three (!) laptops that we have with us. It’s true that she has not used the camera since our trip here last year. I know that there’s a trick to making the camera act as an external drive, but I can’t remember what it is. Last year, I was using a smaller Canon camera myself. Oh, well. We’re managing.

Oh, yes: we’re managing all right.

Vacation Note: Another Wedding

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008


Here is a very discreet shot of the marriage that was just celebrated a few dozen yards from our terrace. The bride and her father made as they approached the waterfront structure — a sort of topless huppa — where the groom and the scarlet-robed celebrant awaited them.

The bride’s veil drifted over the sand just as dreamily as you might think it would.

Vacation Note: Breakfast

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008


I’ve made it a point, this vacation, to get up early in the morning and head to breakfast. It’s very simple: I want to be tired when it’s time to go to bed, without having had a lot of wine to drink. So I’ve been getting up before seven, or shortly thereafter, and climbing the hill in hopes of snagging a table with a view like the one above, which I enjoyed for several hours this morning. On my way out of the room, Kathleen promised to join me, “in a while.” It’s true that, when I finally called the room to see how she was doing, she answered immediately and was obviously awake. She crested the hill about fifteen minutes later.

Between finishing my own breakfast and Kathleen’s arrival, I finished reading Diane Johnson’s Lulu in Marrakech, a novel as important as any that she has written and particularly important reading right now, when Americans are thinking about getting their groove back in the world. It’s largely about the waste of American intelligence — particularly the intelligence of women. I didn’t have much left to read; I’d had to put the novel down in the middle of the 42nd chapter — out of 45 — shortly after eleven last night. (See? My plan is working.) Then I got out my notebook.

I do not plan to write up Lulu while on vacation, but I do intend to take notes that are good enough to allow me to write it up later without feeling that I have to reread it. This is something that I ought to have gotten into the habit of doing a long time ago. In the summer of 2007, I read about ten books without either taking notes or writing them up promptly, and now they’re as good as unread. (I’m particularly distressed about Vikram Chandra’s amazing Sacred Games — which I wouldn’t mind re-reading if re-reading weren’t so very, very expensive in terms of time.) This summer, four books slipped by, two of them novels of the first rank: Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Rachel Kushner’s Telex From Cuba. In fairness, it wasn’t just poor note-taking skills that held me back. The power of both novels seemed to derive from something concealed beneath their smoothly engaging surfaces. Both were exciting, but the excitement struck me as a kind of sleight-of-hand. I brought both with me to St Croix, and I hope to start re-reading them tomorrow or Monday. In addition to taking notes as I read, I’ll try hard to summarize my immediate impressions right afterward.

Yes, it’s obviously the thing to do, and I point out my not having done it as a sort of incidental indictment: there are things that I don’t do very well, usually for the reason that, until I began keeping Portico, I didn’t need to do them at all. Oh, I ought to have mastered these skills when I was in school, but — school! As I’ve aged, I’ve grown less thick-headed. When I was young, I could not learn a thing that I wasn’t ready to learn: a vicious circle if there ever was one. Like the people who say, “What do I need a computer for? I get along perfectly well without one!”

As I say, the waste of American intelligence. It’s got to be something in the water.

Vacation Note: Spy Update

Friday, November 21st, 2008


As a vast wedding party descends upon the hotel, trying to work out who’s related to whom makes for a fantastic parlor game. Kathleen is much better at it than I am, because I tend to let my imagination run wild — like the children in the gathering who are having a blast. Kathleen will overhear a key remark and say, “See? I was right.”

It’s hard to believe that, only last weekend, I was a father of the bride!

We talked about the snow and cold back home. That’s what everybody here is talking about. “Have a wonderful day,” said the assistant at the general store. “Every day here is a wonderful day,” said the customer, a man of about my age. “Where I come from, it’s seventeen degrees!” (That would be Fahrenheit.)

“Well,” said Kathleen as we came down the hill, “this year, I don’t feel guilty about enjoying the good weather while everyone back home is suffering. I just don’t have the energy.”

Vacation Note: Uncertain

Friday, November 21st, 2008


I almost fainted at breakfast, when I read yesterday’s Citigroup closing price. I thought that I was getting away for a bit of vacation. Instead, I rather feel that I’ve left the house on fire.

Reading Robert Shiller’s The Subprime Solution yesterday, while edifying, was probably not great vacation reading. Slim, readable, and chock-a-block with magnificent and profoundly capitalist ideas — what could be more capitalist than shorting real-estate futures? — the book is ultimately depressing, because, as Mr Shiller often says (and as I myself know from having attended a couple of panels in which he was a participant), the financial establishment regards him as something of a wild man. In fact, he is the soul of good sense, endowed with an American knack for the new idea. Next to him, the people who actually run things are shown to spout nothing but eyewash and bromides.

Another depressing thing: remembering the awful reviews that Diane Johnson’s Lulu in Marrakesh got in both the daily Times (Michiko Kakutani) and the Book Review (Erica Wagner). Both reviewers completely misread the narrative, which is, to say the least, unreliable. As I recall, they both thought it unlikely that the CIA (unnamed in the novel) would hire a simpleton like Lulu Sawyer. It would appear, however, that she is exactly the kind of simpleton that the CIA goes in for. It takes a special kind of dingbat to refer to a fellow houseguest as “a gangly British laureate poet.” Thanks to Francine Prose’s praise in The New York Review of Books, I realized that my doubts that Ms Johnson could have written the bad book that the ladies of the Times reported were justified.

Vacation Note: Room Service

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Kathleen claims to have seen the reflections of clouds on open water back in our part of the world. Not me.

To move or not to move: that is the question. We thought we’d been given the room that we had last year. But in fact we were given an even nicer version of the more deluxe room that we had the first year. The difference is very simple: the room that we liked — at the moment, it’s more the case that I liked it; Kathleen is quite comfortable where we are — had a more beautiful view, since it’s high up on a ledge, and the view could be seen through a pair of arched French doors.

The room that we have is twenty yards from the surf. The view is, indeed, quite nice, but it’s visible through a great plate-glass window. I hate picture windows. To me, they represent everything that is wrong with the modern world. All right, almost everything.

When we arrived yesterday, all the rooms of the type that I wanted were taken, but several will open up tomorrow. We’ll be offered a choice then. Do we pack up and head up the hill? Or do we stay put? Place your bets.

Vacation Note: RJ the Spy

Thursday, November 20th, 2008


At breakfast this morning, I recognized a couple from last year’s visit. They’re from Denmark. I know this because I stood behind them on line for the plane back to San Juan when it was time to go home, and the tags on their carry-on luggage bore a Danish address. (Denmark is one of the previous owners of this colonial isle. That’s how the town across the bay comes to be called Christiansted.)

You could call it “spying” if it involved anything meant to be private, but all of my speculations about fellow-guests at the Buccaneer are conducted in the rather full publicity of mealtimes. Last night, a Proud Papa showed up at the bistro with his three little children, two boys and a girl. A Proud Papa is, typically, a fit, conventionally good-looking father in his late thirties or early forties who radiates the satisfaction of paying his own way in the world. It is of the essence of Proud-Papa-hood that children are truly part of the vacation. Unlike Dads of the past, today’s Proud Papa can be seen playing with his children at some point each day. He probably works in a round of golf, but he does not live on the course.

It is also very typical of the Proud Papa to shepherd the children to dinner while Mom — well, who knows what Mom does; the point is that she has a moment to herself. Last night’s Mom materialized about twenty minutes later. It is of the essence of Moms married to Proud Papas that they are quietly lovely. Although often radiant, they do not call attention to themselves. They smile, but you don’t overhear them laughing, unless everyone else at the table is laughing louder.

Fifteen minutes after Mom appeared, another couple showed up, sans kids, and was greeted warmly by all the children. This almost certainly meant that one or the other of them was the (presumably younger) brother or sister of Mom or PP.

It is of the essence of this game that I play that I “win” when all my deductions are shattered by the facts. That is always great fun — not to mention a learning experience. It doesn’t happen very often, because the facts rarely reveal themselves. People come and go at a resort; they check in and out without warning. What usually happens is that at the very moment that my family portraits teeter tantalizingly on the verge of corroboration, the parties involved are heading for the airport — and I never find out if that surly teenager merely suffered hormonal surges or really hated his step-father.

I remember being very surprised, a few years ago, when almost everyone staying at Dorado Beach checked out on the day before Thanksgiving. I had thought that, like us, our fellow guests were escaping Thanksgiving at home. Evidently not: a learning experience.