Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

August, 2012:

A Perfect Day for Soup

Perfect soup days are few and far between on the islands. That’s a good thing, of course, because we didn’t exactly come here looking to cuddle up in Snuggies and to sip hot liquids by a roaring fire. Bathing suits and cold beverages are more the norm.

That said, this time of year we can have runs of some pretty warm days. I’m not talking about 100-plus temperatures like you’ve found this year in plenty of places in the States, but during peak hurricane season it can get pretty uncomfortable. This is when the seas warm up, our swimming pool water creeps into the mid-90’s, and the trade winds can literally disappear into thin air. On the other hand, hurricane season can provide a bit of distraction in the form of a serious guessing game. Following each weather disturbance from its inception off the coast of Africa to its arrival or passing involves days of speculation and analysis centered on predicting the ultimate path the storm will take.  Just watch the weather channel.  Storm-tracking is big news and high drama. The dilemma for us, though, is that we’d kind of like some rain; but we’d rather not have any significant wind or destruction. Have the storm pass too far away and you get nothing. Have it pass by with your location just beyond the cone of disturbed weather and you can get the meteorological equivalent of less than nothing where all of your breeze is sucked into the storm and you have dead calm. But wish for the storm to bring you just a little bit of rain and you’re asking for trouble. (See my previous post Hurricane, Hurricane, Go Away )

We were playing that guessing game last week as Tropical Storm Isaac passed through the Caribbean speeding up, slowing down, jogging left, and listing right. The uncertainty was compounded by the fact that Michael was supposed to fly to the States early Thursday morning so he ventured over to St. Maarten Wednesday morning to do some shopping and to spend the night hoping he would be able to travel. Unfortunately, about two hours after he left, American Airlines cancelled his flight and couldn’t rebook him before Friday afternoon. His cell phone wasn’t working, and I was frantic to reach him to have him come back home so he wouldn’t get stuck in St. Maarten for two days if the ferries quit running. He’d already come and gone at the two places I knew he was heading on his way, and while he had already checked in at the hotel, he wasn’t in his room. Luckily he had only gone across the street to a little café with free wi-fi and got my email. He made it back on the very last boat as the winds and the seas were really picking up. 

As it turned out, it was luckier still that we had those two days for things to calm down before he had to return to catch his next flight. I spent a great deal of that time changing all the flights on his calendar and cancelling and rebooking rooms at four different hotels while he rescheduled meetings and dealt with shuttles and rental cars. And all the while, the wind just kept blowing. I’ve only experienced a couple of hurricanes before, and they blew through really quickly. In fact, when Omar hit Anguilla in 2008 around 2 o’clock in the morning it was a Category 4 hurricane yet we were outside cleaning up at first light. In comparison, Isaac may have been ‘just’ a tropical storm but he was a big one and carried on for almost two days. The relentless sound of the wind through the trees on top of the waves’ crashing against the rocks was actually physically exhausting. Even the cats took to sleeping (hiding) under blankets. That was the upside, of course. It was overcast and cool and occasionally rainy. So I made soup. We sat out on the leeward side of the veranda and enjoyed a nice, little, spicy, Vietnamese, noodle soup while we watched the storm roll by. Oh, and we took our cue from the cats and snuggled under blankets in bed, too. That was also a very, nice change. 

(Note: As I am writing this, Michael is out of harm’s way in Kansas City, but Isaac is nearing the Keys and threatening to become a hurricane as it reaches the United States. Here’s hoping that everyone stays safe.)

Goodbye to Tropical Storm Isaac

We are on the tail end of the storm now. Blustery winds all night but no damage. Sadly precious little rain either, but I’d rather have to buy water than clean up after a storm. And the waves are building up our beach rather than taking it away. So there is that.

Here are a few photos of the waves this morning crashing on Round Rock Bay in front of us.

I Hate Electricity!

Ok, it’s not so much that I hate electricity. Obviously I love the benefits of electricity as I sit here with the fan spinning and the lights on with my computer in my lap accessing the internet to watch videos.  I hate working on electrical things due to a deep-seated fear of electrocution which dates back to my childhood. Oh sure, everybody touches the occasional outlet with something metallic or comes in contact with a wonky electrical plug. That’s always a shock (ha ha) but that’s nothing. I was probably nine or ten years old when I had my close encounter. My siblings and I had come in from a day playing in the snow and were piling up our cold, wet outerwear in the basement before running upstairs to sit in front of the furnace grates sipping hot chocolate.  The light above the sink didn’t come on. More specifically, the bare bulb in the dangling socket with the metal chain pull hanging above the enamel- coated, steel, utility sink wouldn’t come on. So, I, a wee, wet person in my bare feet, crawled into the tub and reached up to tighten the loose bulb. 

That is all I remember until I regained consciousness to see my mother’s terrified face begging me to wake up and then screaming at me to never ever do anything that stupid again. I have spent the rest of my life trying to avoid coming in direct contact with current.  That all falls on Michael. He replaces switches and ceiling fan motors, runs wires, and does everything else electrical while I stand nearby chanting “kick him away, don’t grab him, kick him away” so I’ll hopefully do the right thing if he starts to twitch.  Sure, I rewired that pool pump last year, but I had to. Nobody else could seem to figure it out. And don’t think for a minute that unplugging the rusted, 220V plug from the outlet under the house in the damp, poorly ventilated pool pump room was easy for me. I don’t even know what will happen if a storm blows through when Michael is gone, we lose power, and I have to switch over to the generator. I’ve got detailed, labeled and color-coded diagrams to take me through the process step-by-step, but I’m still not sure I’ll have the guts to flip the last switch. I’ll probably just sit in the dark and start eating food out of the freezer. 

Last week, though, I had to step up to the plate. The car battery died. Michael was off island. There is no AAA here. Unfortunately, I have never touched jumper cables before except to hand them over to another person. I googled. I researched. I watch videos on how to unhook the battery, how to clean the contacts, how NOT to inadvertently touch the cables to the wrong thing, and finally how to jump a battery. I took copious notes. And I was more than a little bit dismayed to find that the order for applying and then removing the jumper cable clamps is a matter of opinion. Different helpful ‘instructors’ did it differently – more like medicine and less like math. Who should I trust? The burly guy in the mechanics coveralls or the nicely dressed, young woman making the not-so-subtle point that car maintenance is easy? 

Then, to top it all off,  I had Michael on the phone from 3,000 miles away urging me NOT to attempt to jump start the car. What if it explodes? I’m sorry, what if it explodes???? I hadn’t even considered an explosion! The internet hadn’t said anything about explosions. If I was going to be so foolhardy as to attempt this myself, he felt I needed to at least call somebody at 8AM on a Sunday morning to be with me. Someone to chant “kick her away”, I guess. So I tried. But the surrounding houses here are rentals. They were empty and nobody answered the phone. But I heard someone next door. So I walked over and knocked on the door. Nothing. So I pounded on the door. Finally, the housekeeper answered.  I have to say that I felt pretty stupid as I explained to her that I was going to attempt to jump start my car and in the case of an explosion I would appreciate it if she would come to check on me. But Michael had me scared enough to swallow my pride. 

There’s a happy ending to the story, of course. I managed to jump start the battery without killing myself or causing a fire. (I think I fell to stereotypes, though, and went with the grizzled, old mechanic’s instructions.) While the cars were still running to charge the dead battery, I went back into the house to “review” the procedures for removing the clamps…one more time; and when I came back out, the very pregnant, bare-footed, housekeeper from next door was standing in my gravel driveway. No, she hadn’t imagined an explosion. She just wanted to be sure I was OK. I don’t know what that says about how nervous I must have appeared when I asked for her help – at least as nervous as I actually was, I suppose. But bless her little, electrical-conducting heart for caring. That was as sweet as the hot cocoa my mom used to make.

Go Forth and Multiply

I don’t have children. This is not due to any known physical problem but rather because many, many, many years ago I made a conscious decision NOT to have children. In California, elected childlessness was not particularly unusual. I always figured there would be plenty of other women in the nursing home someday who, like me, would not come armed with copious photos of their grandchildren, so I felt no social stigma whatsoever. 

That changed when I came to Anguilla. All of a sudden, my situation was deemed unsavory. When people would ask if we had kids, we’d always answer that Michael did but that we didn’t have any together. Some people would just move on in the conversation. But other folks would get all sad and tell me how sorry they were thus prompting me to explain that my childless state was a choice not a curse. Again some folks would then move on to another topic. There were other people, though, who would take it upon themselves to lecture me about my poor judgment with the aim of getting me to hurry up and have one of two before it was too late. That’s when directives like God’s “Go Forth and Multiply” would come up. One guy in particular told me that I just had to have kids because your kids are the only thing in life you can really call your own. So I asked him how many kids he had. Six, apparently. And where were these six kids? St. Croix, apparently. And when was the last time he had seen his kids? Years ago but apparently the fact that they existed somewhere in the universe was a comfort to him like jewelry in a safe deposit box. It’s just nice to know it’s there. 

The most determined of my detractors raised the bar just a little bit higher, however. After the usual, ‘but you gotta have kids’ litany, he actually asked me, “When you die and go to heaven and God asks you why you didn’t have any children, what are you gonna say?”  I was taken aback so my defensive, smart alecky side came out when I responded, “Well, I don’t honestly think SHE is gonna care.” Then the horror on his face made me rush to soften the blow so I threw in some fluff about how God might look favorably on me for having helped to raise my husband’s children. (Like a beauty queen tossing in that hope for ‘world peace.’) And then I promptly moved us on to another topic.

Suffice it to say, that having children is considered important work here in Anguilla. And young women can be extremely eager to make a baby for some guy and to have said baby for themselves.  So on the topic of pregnancy and on the heels of my previous post about a female, Olympic athlete, consider this.  Last month, at the close of the 2012 season for the Anguilla Female Football League (soccer to you Americans), the Anguillian newspaper reported that the Female Development Officer (not a female) “mentioned that the standard of football this season was poor when compared to others. He noted that the late preparations by the various clubs, player injuries and the sidelining of senior players due to pregnancies were the main reasons for the poor performances. He urged the players to plan their pregnancies not only for their well being, but must also take into consideration that the lack of active players can make it difficult to receive funding for their development. “ 

How’s that for a directive?

Alice’s Restaurant

Well, actually we were eating at a nice little French restaurant called le Chanteclair at the Marina in Marigot, St. Martin. But while I was there, I was reminded of “Alice’s Restaurant”, one of my very favorite songs from my childhood. For those of you too young to remember Arlo Guthrie’s classic anti-Vietnam War ballad, please do look it up (here’s one version:  Alice’s Restaurant 2005 Performance ) It’s almost 19 minutes long which made it a real treat when some DJ and their superiors gave up the required air time to play it on the radio (this was also long before iTunes and the internet), and learning all of the words provided an ideal competitive challenge for my brother’s and me. (Do you still remember the lyrics, Bros? Good times.)

But just as Guthrie opened the song by saying,

“This song is called Alice’s Restaurant, and it’s about Alice, and the Restaurant, but Alice’s Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant,that’s just the name of the song…”

This isn’t really a post about a restaurant. It’s just the name of the post.

The restaurant was just the reason I ended up thinking of an old 1960’s song while enjoying a lovely dinner under the full moon light on the marina of a tropical island (life is good). Well, actually the reason was the conversation we were having with the folks sitting at the next table at the restaurant. They were staying on St. Martin but had taken a day trip over to Anguilla the day before. Their bus tour of our island had made a big impression. They certainly felt the beaches were lovely but they were also found it noteworthy that the island has six stop lights. I was taken aback. Seriously? We’re up to SIX stop lights. No way. I had to count them. Well, darn if they weren’t right. We do have six stop lights now. That was a shock. When we first came to the island, Anguilla was very much like the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts as Guthrie described it in the song, “They got three stop signs, two police officers, and one police car”. That song cue is what has “Alice’s Restaurant” playing as an earworm in my head.

Of course, we’ve all come a long way since then. In 1967, I was a prepubescent child, “Alice’s Restaurant” was released, and Anguilla declared her independence. It wasn’t until after the revolution that Anguilla even got paved roads and electricity. So back in 1967, there were NO stop lights. When we first vacationed here in the late 80’s there was one stop light. Then they kicked it up to three until a hurricane took them down in the 90’s. Then there were none for a while. And apparently now we are up to record high of six.

To borrow another 1960’s song title, “The times they are a-changin’.” Heck, back in the day, we couldn’t buy fresh milk on island; there wasn’t a single t-shirt emblazoned with catchy tourist slogans; and diet coke was nearly impossible to find. Now there are T-shirts galore; you can find soy milk and fresh buttermilk; and for a ridiculously inflated price, I can even buy Starbucks coffee in the grocery store. Of course, not all of the changes have been good. American Eagle used to fly three flights a day to Anguilla from San Juan. Now not a single major carrier flies to the island. Of course, if Michael didn’t have to go over to St. Martin the night before in order to catch an early flight out to the States, we wouldn’t have been enjoying a lovely dinner at le Chanteclair in the first place. So there is that. Always a silver lining.