Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Bermudiana



The time of the Bermudiana Hotel came to an end. They tore her down and brought her truckload by truckload by truckload to the quarry. They put her in the Rock Crusher and out she came—a seemingly amorphous pile of pink limestone. As the months went by, the Bermudiana was reincarnated as a mountain in our quarry—she no longer had rooms or windows or long elegant hallways; her dining rooms, as well as the grand mahogany front desk where the bell hops waited for the tourists to come, were all mixed up, thrown together, and now returned to the place they had come from.

Our quarry was a mined out shell of its former self. It no longer provided limestone to the island for building such grand places as the Bermudiana or more humble establishments such as the Bermuda Post Office. The quarry had long been scraped clean of its treasure and so it served other purposes; it held a garage and junked car yard, dry docked boats, a small unkempt exercise track for our neighborhood trotting ponies. Instead of birthing fresh limestone for building purposes on the island, the quarry had become something of a recycling center for used limestone. Any time a house or small building was demolished, they would load up the stone walls and the broken roof that once served as a rain catchment and brought it to our quarry to be offered to the Rock Crusher. The Rock Crusher was the monster of my days on my island in the sea. He started up at sunrise, like an old DeSoto . . . sputtering and backfiring and then? Then he would find his gargantuan rhythm and drone on all day, until quittin’ time, until the time of the Elephant Beer. The little dump trucks, yes, even the dump trucks in Bermuda were minis, whirred up Lolly’s Well Road, and made a stop at the dispatcher’s window, where they gave a wink to my tawny faced neighbor and friend Donna, who made a joke or two back, and then she signed their ticket. Into the gates of the monster’s lair those trucks dove to unload the remains of this or that and the Rock Crusher ate and ate and ate and ate. Then he rubbled his big rusty belly and out came dust, enough dust to build another Bermuda cottage. . .one cottage begat another cottage and so on and so on.

The Bermudiana Hotel died twice actually—she was built in the roaring twenties and burned to the ground in the mid-fifties. Following the fire, a somewhat grander woman was built on the harbor in Hamilton to continue welcoming guests and then the economics of the island cast her out for a younger girl, a girl who came in the form of the reinsurance industry. . .

Somewhere a faded and delicate newspaper clipping sits in a dresser drawer next to a pink satin jewelry box. The clipping is from the now long-gone Journal American, a once prominent newspaper of New York City, where all the social news mixed properly with Manhattan government scandals. The headline of the clipping announces the marriage of the daughter of the Hottentots of Westchester to the son of the Eversoriches of Trenton. The bride was attended by no less than twelve bridesmaids, her dress was tailored in the House of Dior, her pearls were her great-granmother's and her ring was smithed by Harry Winston himself. The happy couple will set sail for a fourteen day cruise to Bermuda where they will stay in The Bermudiana Hotel . . . when the new Mr. and Mrs. Eversoriches arrived by boat in the harbor of Hamilton they were slightly overwrought by the stormy seas that heaved their ship to and fro and fro and to. Instead of being queazy with their new marital bliss, they were green with a nausea that only Poseidon himself could bestow upon them. But they are a pithy couple and they plant their feet on the unmoving dock and turn their backs on the sailing ship that betrayed them. And for heaven’s sake, her father had once sailed the Newport to Bermuda Yacht Race, she knew what she was getting herself into. The Bermuda sun pours over them, and lights them from within. Their parents came to Bermuda for their honeymoon and even their parents before that. This was no time for carping—it was cocktail hour dammit. The Eversoriches spend the next ten days planning the rest of their lives between the walls of the Bermudiana. They play tennis, they ride rattly motor scooters to secluded beaches where they become dark and freckled and blonder and blonder. She wears pedal pushers and a broad brimmed hat that she found in a store on Front Street—dried palm fronds dyed green and pink are woven into the crown and spell out BERMUDA. He wears madras shorts and his thick brown hair is parted somewhat extremely, its shorn close over his ears and neck, but he has a shock of bangs that swoops across his tan forehead. They are lovely together, so close in height and bone structure that they might be brother and sister, but they are not. They return from the beach and shower, separately of course, and dress for nightly cocktails and dinner. And while the cocktails seem to never stop coming, the Eversoriches seem to never become drunk. They are immune to any sort of foible—at least for now they are. They record their doings on their Brownie camera and send brightly colored postcards home to family and everyone in the wedding party. She notes that thank you notes for the so many wedding gifts will be completed upon their homecoming. She privately thinks to herself that she must make the most of this first year, as there will be a baby soon; a baby girl she hopes, who will grow tall and lithe and one day have her own honeymoon in Bermuda.

The Rock Crusher received its greatest sacrifice when the Bermudiana came to the quarry. Never had the men in the trucks brought him such a grand meal! They imploded the old hotel sometime in the spring and the trucks ferried her infinite remains from Hamilton to Smith’s Parish throughout the summer. As the months wore on, as the Rock Crusher ate and ate and ate and chewed and chewed and chewed, the pink mountain in our quarry grew. It occurred to me that the Rock Crusher was going to finally choke on the thing it most desired; and his death from too many offerings would reward us with peace and quiet for a change. But he was possessed with gustatorial pleasure. I hoped and hoped for a broken belt, a leaking crank case, a faulty spark plug, an overheating of some sort, but that devil, that Godzilla in the hole, just lived and lived for more of the pink woman’s limestone flesh.

Have you ever seen a reincarnation? I can honestly say I have seen one, perhaps two simultaneously. As the Bermudiana was returned to her birthplace, the hole from which she was mined, the quarry transformed into the mound of stone it once was. With each truck load, with each passing day, the pink mountain grew higher and higher. In the beginning, the Rock Crusher simply spit the Bermudiana’s remains to the ground, but this became wildly impractical and so two trucks were assigned to stand by and receive the Rock Crusher’s regurgitations, one truck would fill up, while another was dumping its just–filled trunk upon the mound. An earth mover began to shape the base of the mountain, and then a switch back road was carved. The road ascended the mountain and so it all began to look a bit like a little boy’s dump truck game: the Rock Crusher crushed, the dump trucks careened up the mountain, dumped their load, and then they rolled back down again, all while dancing with the earth mover.

When evening would come with the sleep of the monster, we, the neighbors of the quarry would gather up our dogs and a perhaps a cold beer or two in hand and we would hike into the quarry to climb the mountain. Donna brought her pit bulls Sasha and Rocky, Py and I brought Jack, and Malcolm always accompanied the delicate and feminine pond dog Riddles. Every night we got a little higher. The dogs would chase tennis balls up and down the mountain road and while Malcolm told dirty jokes, we would inspect our new hill like geologists and anthropologists. From my porch at Casa Verde the Bermudiana mountain seemed soft and huge and made of only one element—the sun bounced off her as though she were composed of pink quartz. Little rays zinged through the cedars and travelled across Lolly’s Well Road and the little farm field filled with carrot tops to come into my house with the Anole lizards, who squeezed through gaps in the windows and who had their own magical ways with changing light and color.

But when we visited the mountain in the evenings, we found something else entirely—not like something your would find in a sandbox or a box of pancake mix or in a lady’s compact filled with pink powder. Oh no, the mountain was much richer than that. The Bermudiana was all there, all of her . . . her wallpaper, her bathroom mirrors, her ceramic tiles, her formica counters, her windows; the windows that offered views of Hamilton’s Harbor late into the nights when the little lights on the ships and the sailboats twinkled. All of it was there, shredded and torn and mixed into something not unlike those ridiculous cement decoupage bricks I would make when I was a child in Beach School . . . we would spend all morning running up and down Compo Beach collecting things...gull feathers, muscle shells, sea weed, treacherous horseshoe crab tails, hermit crabs, sea glass, and pebbles and when we had an armful of treasure, our camp counselor would mix up a bucket full of Quick Crete while we carefully arranged our found beach objects in a high-sided baking pan, and then the wet mortar would be poured in and left to dry while we learned how to swim, or climbed on the cannons, or endlessly swung on the swings near the parking lot. At the end of the day, Counselor would present you with a brick of white concrete filled with your beach artifacts. I remember holding the brick in my tiny sunburned hands and declaring it was far too heavy to hold.

And so the Bermudiana had been reduced to a child’s sculpture really, and we would throw tennis ball after tennis ball for the dogs and drink our beers and kick the sides of the mountain hoping for a new view of paisley wallpaper or bronze-veined mirror. Sometimes the Rock Crusher left more intact than it was supposed to and we would find whole bath tiles of varying shades of pink and turquoise and indigo. The mountain was forever giving away secrets of the loveliest corners of the old hotel that once was.

Our nightly climbs on the mountain were like the slowest elevator ride in the world. Each night we ascended another floor—we not only observed the daily crushing results, but we came within arms' reach of the once out-of-reach walls of the quarry. We observed the darkened limestone that had been mined and left behind some forty years before. Now the quarry walls were covered with lichens and vines that flowered. There were birds' nests and lizards and mysteriously every so often we would see an egg laid by a feral chicken and we wondered how she had gotten herself to such a precarious spot. We could smell jasmine on those walls. And the houses that sat a top the quarry walls got closer and closer. Eventually we could walk level with the houses that used to stare down at us with their superiority—they had a view, we were in the hole!. But now the view was ours! We could stand on top of the reincarnated queen of hotels and look to our west and there, there was Harrington Sound! Some evenings we could spot a little sailboat sailing on the completely contained Sound; its sails fluttering and glistening white, white as the galleons of clouds that were following the sun down the North Shore line. We eventually could see all the way to the Causeway across Castle Harbor, near the airport. As the night sky came on duty, we could watch airplanes take off and glide up, up and away, on their way home without us .

2 comments:

T.S. Dogfish said...

Thank you for this, beyond all things you've ever done for me - thank you thank you:

those ridiculous cement decoupage bricks I would make when I was a child in Beach School . . . we would spend all morning running up and down Compo Beach collecting things...gull feathers, muscle shells, sea weed, treacherous horseshoe crab tails, hermit crabs, sea glass, and pebbles and when we had an armful of treasure, our camp counselor would mix up a bucket full of Quick Crete while we carefully arranged our found beach objects in a high-sided baking pan, and then the wet mortar would be poured in and left to dry while we learned how to swim, or climbed on the cannons, or endlessly swung on the swings near the parking lot. At the end of the day, Counsellor would present you with a brick of white concrete filled with your beach artifacts.

wolfy said...

You are most welcome T.S., I kinda wrote that part just for you!