Friday, May 25, 2012

The Rainy Season, Part One

The girl moved out last week. He asked her too, a couple of weeks before that, but she said she needed time to find a new place to stay. He slept on the sofa until she was gone. It rained every night until she left, and now, it was almost the end of May, and the days were very humid, the sun was wet at eleven a.m. and when he went out to check his tomato plants, the ones he planted early because the spring had been so warm, he found them to be blightly.  His mother would know what to do, he thought, she always knew how to save the diseased things in the garden, but he didn't want to call her for help. He decided to pinch off the blighted leaves and add some bone meal to the soil, and maybe the plants would prevail, maybe he wouldn't have to dig them up and start over.
The last time he'd visited home his mother called him "Sailor" - this made him decidedly uncomfortable. He walked in the door after driving all the way to the mountains, and it was ten o'clock at night and she'd waited up for him. He had a staircase to finish at the house he was he was helping to restore, and well, the day wore on and he just didn't want to put the sander down until he had things just right - the owner was a real bitch for detail, and really, so was he, and it drove him mad when she beat him to the  punch on criticizing his work. He was 28 years old, a master carpenter by all definitions and nobody criticized his work more than himself or the architects he sometimes worked for - that he could take, because architects were never happy, but the bitch owner didn't deserve to see what he already knew he needed to do, he had the list in his head. So he stayed til 7 or so, and then he drove to the mountains right from there. He had a clean pair of pants in the car, and the girl was taking care of the dog, he thought, so he didn't need to go home.
"Hello Sailor!" she said when he came in the door. She came down the hall and put her arms around him. She felt thin, delicate, as though he could crumple her - when did this happen? She was always so strong, pushing wheelbarrows of field stones the add to her garden walls, "just like home, stone walls built by onion farmers, why do I have to live without stone walls?" His father had brought her down here because Massachussets was too full of hostile family members, he wanted to homestead, and Vermont, hell, Maine wasn't far enough away, and so he put her in the Volkswagon bus and drove her to the woods outside of Asheville. They squatted for a while and she convinced her father to buy them the farm, the roof was caving in on the house, the barn had burned down back in the fifties, but it was a farm, according to the land records and besides, she was pregnant with a baby boy, her father had to do something -- his Protestant manners, and her mother, warranted buying his daughter a farm in Nowhere North Carolina, sight unseen, so that the baby would have a place to call home, the VW bus was just not adequate. She began building the stone walls two days after they moved in, while his father repaired the roof, "Toby, maybe the South would have won the war if they had just built stone walls!" And Toby would call down to her from the roof, "Could you go to town and get me more nails?"
Why did she call him Sailor? "Hey Ma, you didn't have to wait up for me." She let him go and a faint oil of wine and magnolia drifted across his senses. She always smelled of magnolias, when they were just past their prime, when the meaty white flowers fell to pieces - oh how he loved that pierce of lemon, of verbena, to his brain. She took his hand and led him up to the kitchen, "I did have to wait up for you! What else have I got to do around here? I like your navy sweater, and the beard, you look like Ahab about to take the whale. Like your great grandfather on Rhode Island. But alas, you never got tangled up in a sailboat sweetie, and I'm to blame for that. Aren't you starving? I am - I'll make us omelets." She poured him a glass of wine and he pulled the eggs out of the ice box, "Racoon got one of my hens the other night - I'm down to three girls now. I am beginning to wonder if it's worth it." She broke the eggs, "There's some nice cheese in there, some stinky blue cheese Ursula brought me the other day -- she insists that blue cheese makes you live longer. So how's your pretty fat girl Sailor?"

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bermuda's Little Napoleon Complex

From The Guardian (May 3, 2012)
Hong Kong: Chinese missile frigate Yuncheng (571) docks
to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover
from Britain to China.
Photo: Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images

Two significant things happened in British news when we were living on Bermuda: Princess Diana was killed in a horrific car wreck in Paris and Hong Kong was returned to Chinese governance from Britain, humorously making Bermuda the largest remaining British colony in the world. What a step down for England and what a boost in ego for tiny Bermuda.
That summer, fifteen years ago, the world was as nervous as the bride's family before the wedding -- Hong Kong was a gleaming boom town overflowing with modernism. What exactly was China going to do with this island city of millions who were so accustomed to the ways of the Western World? Would China install military on every street corner, shut down financial markets, crush the open society, and start rounding up expats for interrogation? While the people of Hong Kong rejoiced under a brilliant fireworks show over the harbor upon their benevolent UK Governor's departure, the world held it's breath. The reign of the British Empire over the Hong Kong Chinese had not exactly been a picnic of Gin and Tonics and Brotherly Love, but Hong Kong was in a good place finally, the Brits had learned a lesson in hands-off management of their dwindling world holdings, and the press, especially the American press rankled at the idea of Hong Kong's flourishing soul being chained by mainland China. But Hong Kong's citizens had other ideas, and fifteen years on, I believe their plan is taking hold -- the BBC made it clear that the people of Hong Kong saw this as their great opportunity, not only to get out from under British control, but to infect China with freedom. Bravely they rejoiced that night as their UK governor sailed away with their now former queen, she took the governor's hand and welcomed him back onto British soil, her vessel became a smaller and smaller pinpoint of light in the Indian Ocean and now the citizens only had the Chinese government to contend with. Extraordinary really.
So there we were sitting in our little living room watching our little TV as the BBC documented every detail of the hand-over ceremonies and nothing happened - there was no sudden rush of military, the skyscrapers remained alight with electricity, and the financial markets did not faulter. And very unceremoniously Bermuda, population 80,000, became the biggest jewel in the crown.
To hear Bermudians talk, it was as if it's new status would bring Hong Kong style riches to the tiny seamount. The 22 square-mile island would gain international notoriety, the UK would bestow greater and greater favors to islanders. Just close your eyes People of Bermuda and imagine this, elevated six-lane high speed thoroughfares surrounding the our little rock, 100-story emerald glass sky scrapers in downtown Hamilton, throngs of expats, money, UK citizenship for all, and more money! A tunnel under the sea leading to New York City or London no longer seemed like Science Fiction.  The collective fantasy was contagious and fascinating -- Bermuda's new status would lead everyone straight to the bank.
Bermuda is one of the few, if perhaps, the only, British colony that cherishes it's status as a servant to the crown, it has no interest in solidarity. It depends on it's reputation as a very British island to lure tourists, it LIKES being British, it strives to be stuffy. Bermudians love their Queen, they send her a field full of Easter Lillies every year -- they celebrate her birthday pompously and quite circumstantially. High Tea Time is revered in every Bermuda hotel. When Princess Diana died, we, Bermudians and expats alike, stood in long lines to sign the condolence book that would be sent to the Royal Family.  Without their Anglo Saxon chains, without the motherland, Bermuda is just a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, independence would render them without identity.
The weeks went by, Hong Kong enjoyed a status quo, the worst fears of the press were not realized - it became obvious that China knew what they had now, the eyes of the world were upon them, and they weren't going to screw it up. And that summer wore on in Bermuda too, and she soon realized that the phone wouldn't ring, the sky scrapers weren't coming to the dance, she would just remain that honeymoon island with the pink beaches of soft soft sand.