Monday, December 29, 2003

Visit to a Very Remote Island...
Vacation destinations and reliable transportation are inevitably linked. That’s the lesson learned from old Henry Flagler, the patron saint of South Florida tourism. And now the remote islands of the Caribbean have figured it out and are putting that maxim into play. It’s good for the islands’ economies and adds the possibility of quick, exotic journeys for more adventurous travelers.

My sweetie and I traveled painlessly to the island of Carriacou, way down the Eastern Caribbean chain about 1,500 miles from Fort Lauderdale, and not far above South America. We went down and back in less than a week with plenty of time for play and relaxation on the island. It was quick, but good..
We flew non-stop from Miami to Barbados on a major U.S. airline and then on an eight-seat Trans Island Air (www.tia2000.com) plane to my destination. The little aircraft was comfortable, thrilling, more-or-less on-time and provided terrific views of several islands, including Mustique, Union and Bequia, each with its own kind of beauty. Carriacou is 20 miles north of Grenada and is a part of that island nation.

We had chosen to go to Carriacou in late July because we had an interest in the local sailing regatta, an annual event in which fishermen’s locally built sailing vessels are spiffed up and fitted out for several days of racing and festival. It was a lively time to be in the island, but a noisy and active one that was not typical of the normal routine. Carriacou is still largely a secret in North America and mostly untouched by the great media machine that homogenizes the world’s culture into one.

We had arranged to stay at Bayaleau Point Cottages (www.carriacoucottages.com) owned by New Yorker David Goldhill and his Danish-born wife, Ulla. It was a good choice. The green cottage we got -- there are four cottages, all painted different colors -- was comfortable and the view of Bay a l’eau (also known as Watering Bay) was magnificent. We could also see Petite Martinique and Petite St. Vincent islands from the viewpoint high on the hill near the village of Windward.

Between the viewer and the viewed, the Bayaleau estate runs down to its own little beach and boat dock. From the cottage to the water, tropical plants seem to sprout new color right before your eyes. Yellow Birds flit from limb to limb in the frangi-pangi. Antillean Grackles are as enterprising and aggressive as the similar birds we have in Florida, but smaller.

This, I thought, is total emersion in the Caribbean experience and one that few North Americans have had -- so far.

In the evening, the sun in these latitudes goes crashing down, but on one late afternoon during our stay, the last heartbreaking pleas of a goat kid wanting his momma could be heard. Herds of goats seem to roam the island at will, but eventually they each must become somebody’s dinner. Also that evening, one of the cows residing down the hill toward the main road coughs and groans and her friends, a family of jackasses, hee and haw until you wish -- as you might for a cruise-ship comedian -- that they would shut up and go away.

This is the entertainment. The island has no movie theater, no daily newspaper; no gambling casino. You’ll find one gas station and well over 100 rum shops, and that should tell us which is the more popular fuel. Carriacou has one town, Hillsborough, and the town has one important street.

Late at night, the quiet is deafening to a city dweller. Sleeping comfortably mandates a mosquito net in the cottages with no screens and slatted windows. The breeze drifts in and so do a few busy, buzzing Swamp Angels.

A mosquito net changes one’s view of the world; the scene becomes pure and hazy white and it ripples from the breeze or the force of the electric fan. It is a new world of muted colors with heeing and hawing donkeys beyond in the dark.

Morning comes early. The sun creeps in and the Goldhill’s gardener, called Popo, floats up the hill silently, a voodoo apparition; the undead seen through the white net.
The old woman was alone in the cathedral before I barged
noisily in. I could hardly see her in the gloom, but I could make out that
her head was covered with a shawl and that she knelt before the Virgin and
assorted saints and a dozen sputtering candles. Her needs were great and she
stayed there a long time, muttering at the dark, holy place.
The cathedral was far from Florida, but the time was now,
not 500 years ago when the cathedral was constructed by Spanish conquerors.
The Spanish had tried to exterminate the woman's Indian ancestors or to
enslave them or to convert them. The conversion part worked as the woman
showed me, praying to a distant Spanish deity.
Her lips moved and if sounds came out, I couldn't hear them
nor understand them if I heard them. She was speaking a language spoken in
this volcanic, quaking part of the earth long before the Spanish came.
But I knew she pleaded with her god and begged and
apologized and promised as all people do when their needs are great.
Travel overseas still allows us to recognize the
universality of life on this planet. Going is a thing worth doing. But it is
not easy. My friend says it's like childbirth. It's awful, but the reward is
great and after a while, you forget how awful it was and you do it again.
The airlines don't do much to make travel a pleasant experience, but when
you get to a nice or mysterious place, your frustration fades quickly and
you take in the new experience without question or malice.
In the place I went recently, I looked hard through the
morning haze to see - or partly see and partly imagine - the outline of
volcanoes not far away. Was that fire at the top, lava lapping over the rim?
Should I be worried. Should I abandon my breakfast of papaya and huevos
rancheros and run across the courtyard of the old hotel? To where? Nobody
else seemed to be worried. They should know. Their folks were here long
before the Spanish came knocking five centuries ago.
The other diners were speaking softly as if they were having
breakfast in England. The clinking of silverware on plates and cups on
saucers spoke more loudly than these travelers. I took comfort in their
Outside the hotel, other silent women, dressed in ancient
Indian fashion of screamingly loud colors, passed, selling shawls and
fabrics they carried from place to place in bundles on top of their heads.
These Indians are squat, powerful people, accustomed to marching up and down
mountains bearing enormous burdens that even San Franciscans couldn't manage
without heart attacks. Wheels won't work on their terrain. Man and beast
work hard here and get strong far beyond what might be predicted by their
These mighty Mayans are not only physically powerful, but
they developed art and philosophy and astronomy and engineering and
agriculture and a civilized way of living long before the desert religions
that dominate their lives today were thought up.
I was interested in the way Gov. John Ellis (Jeb) Bush dealt
with the case of Terri Shiavo, the Florida woman who as been living in a
vegetative state for the past 13 years.
Her husband, you'll remember, said that since she has no
cognitive brain function and that there is no hope for her to recover, the
plugs should be pulled.
But Gov. Bush, guided by his faith and some politics, I
suppose, said he didn't agree and he persuaded the legislature to pass a law
that pertains only to Mrs. Shiavo. It said she could continue as she has for
the last 13 years - or for another 100 years, if it works out that way.
It is unusual for a legislative body to pass a serious law
that pertains only to one citizen. Sometimes a legislative council of one
kind or another may proclaim a day to honor a person, but laws that favor
one out of many are usually avoided.
But I can see that it is a legal process that could hold
great appeal for Gov. Bush.
Jeb could, for example, get legislation passed that says
that all state laws pertaining to the use of controlled substances will not
apply to Noelle Bush.
He could engineer a proclamation that says that regulations
relating to tariffs and duties on imported foreign goods should not apply to
Columba Bush.
The governor could get a law made saying that George W. Bush
can operate a motor vehicle in Florida while in a condition that may have
been induced by the ingestion of distilled products.
Gov. Bush could bring about the suspension of all state laws
governing savings and loan institutions as they might pertain to Neil Bush.
Jeb probably would have a hard time with a proposition that
would allow somebody in the Bush family to sell water pumps to African
countries receiving a lot of U.S. Export-Import bank money through his
brother's administration, but then, there seems to be precedent for that.
The governor might have better luck with a new statute that
said that the words Iran, Nicaragua, arms, cake, hostage or loop may not be
uttered in the presence of the 41st president of the United States, George
Herbert Walker Bush, while he is visiting in Florida.
Just to be on the safe side, Jeb could get a law made that
says that all Florida criminal statutes relating to the regulation of
securities, banking, real estate, arms sales, contraband, pharmaceuticals,
oil exploration, foreign aid or baseball do not apply to anyone related to
the 41st president.

Those of us who have been a little critical of the deficit
the government is running up - the largest in history, leaving Ronald
Reagan's in the dust - are being naïve.
We act as though the government doesn't know what it's
doing. I think, upon more careful refection - that it does know.
Republicans have said at least since Nixon that they believe
in smaller government. Every time, they get power, they end up creating
bigger government. We think they are being silly, but I think they are
simply bad salesmen.
I think the desire is virtually to destroy government as we
know it. The device they intend to use is to create so much indebtedness
that they will have no alternative but to back away from areas in which they
believe government does not belong. These areas include, education, medical
insurance, social services, environmental protection, business regulation,
veterans' benefits ......
If you think I am making this up, look what has happened to
public education in the last few years. Can this voucher business have any
effect other than to impoverish and undermine public education?
Here is their logic as I see it in Plain Speak:
"Sorry, we can't afford to run wars in distant lands that
nobody ever heard of and provide medical insurance for a bunch of geezers at
the same time. We have to make a choice. We must choose the war in order to
defend liberty and truth and justice and the American Way."
The idea is that the cutbacks start as temporary rollbacks,
but then become institutionalized. In time, government is out of education,
out of environment and out of the geezer business together. Everything is
privatized and the donor-Pioneers who own everything get richer.
Historically, they get their plan going, but soon it starts
to look like disaster to the voting public, so the planners are voted out.
In other words, the reason this hasn't worked as well as it might is that
every once in a while, the Democrats win control and redirect government to
the people and for the people.
If Ronald Reagan had been in office as long as Franklin
Roosevelt, we would be living in a very different Brave New World.
Government might turn over the prison business or the
education business to private companies, as they are doing, but never the
police powers.
These guys clearly see the kind of future they want, and
they want to shape government to fit their plan. They may be wrong, but they aren't stupid.

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