January 18, 2006

Alice does Aruba -- and some other Caribbean islands

If you were wondering where Alice has been, she was on Aruba, an island dedicated to tourism seven miles off the coast of Venezuela. While Alice uses Haiti as a comparison base for all other Caribbean islands, she recognizes development and over-development when she sees it. Alice lives in a high-rise building in New York. She doesn't want to contend with an elevator on vacation, yet the island abounds with high-rise beachfront time-share condos.

Alice is not fond of flying five hours to arrive at a spot that could be beach-condo-anywhere, with activity sheets offered as if she were in summer camp. It amused Alice to participate, for the first time, in water aerobics class. Next to the majority of the group -- mostly age 60 to 70 -- and sufficiently overweight to make Alice look skinny, she looked like Esther Williams.

Apart from that, she swam, sunned, read, ate, strolled along the beach, and watched cable TV. (She found it very odd to watch the local New York channels with their snowy weather predictions when we knew it would be 80+ degrees every day, with perhaps 10 minutes of drizzle and an hour of clouds each day.)

What cable/satellite TV has done to the global village is frightening. On Carriacou, an island off the coast of Grenada that is unspoiled and not developed as a tourist safe-water, water aerobics at 11, blackjack at 1, and bridge at 3 kind of place, before cable TV, there was practically no crime. Now, with the world at their TVs, and 24 hours a day of crime and drug stories, theft has become a serious problem. See what too many episodes of Law & Order will do to an island?

Wherever she goes, Alice welcomes her time in the sun -- she appreciates when it stays light until 7 pm vs. 4:30 pm in New York. The shrink thinks it's a good idea too -- unfortunately he can't write a prescription spelling out how much real sunlight she needs, so there is no way to write off the trip.

The time-share vacation is a curious concept: you purchase an annual week, then go to the same spot, same room, same time next year until you die or sell the share. These time-shares are generally offered on the more developed Caribbean islands and elsewhere.

Many people own the week or weeks they stay; others, like my next-door-neighbor, a former-judge with whom I've previously been to Carriacou, rent a week and invite friends to split the cost. We both prefer the unspoiled, bring-your-own-frozen-meat and other pantry items, scenery in Carriacou to the sameness of Aruba's tourism machine.

What amazes me is that people can plan so far ahead as to know that week 3 is theirs in, say, the Aruba Beach Club, and want to return to the same time, same place -- particularly one devoid of local culture, and with an astonishing resemblance to Miami Beach, minus the beautiful people. Why leave your house if not to explore what's in the world, unless you're running errands like going to the bank or the grocery store?

I ask this as someone who visited Haiti at least 20 times in the last 30 years -- an island practically devoid of food, electricity and drinkable water. Only in the last few years did we have a telephone at the beach. What I wouldn't give now for the time I spent there -- I didn't appreciate the fact that I could truly get away from it all -- no one could call, write, e-mail or otherwise communicate with me, unless in person.

Haiti is the least developed nation in the Western Hemisphere, which is another way of saying it is the poorest country with the most fucked-up political situation you will run across anywhere in the world. One day the president is in; next day he's turned out of office in a coup.

Since Baby Doc was deposed and departed, chaos has reigned. One thing I will say in favor of a dictatorship is that at least you could figure out who to pay off and know the money would serve both your interest and that of the recipient. At the time of Baby Doc's departure, my family had a jojoba plantation that, when ripe, could serve Haitians as food, salable oil and otherwise be completely useful to add to the agriculture that remained in the poor soil there.

However, we never could find out what happened to the plantation, as it was guarded by a Baby Doc operative, and once Duvalier flew the coup, courtesy of the U.S., all bets were off. That was 20 years ago next month, and the only time my family ever discussed current events. I was brought up not to discuss politics in a dictatorship, and what has happened to my beloved Haiti is more than I want to mention here.

It makes me sad, too: the last time I saw my father alive was January 6, 2001, when we were returning from Haiti. I remember him promising me from his first-class airline seat, that he was going to get clean, and stay clean. Less than three weeks later, he was dead, and my world hasn't been the same since.

My father taught me to love travel, and I do. It feels appropriate that I was wearing one of his old sweaters on the plane coming home, and I inadvertently left it on the seat. Whatever else I may think of American Airlines, my trips to the Caribbean remind me that my father's spirit is there, in those planes headed south and on the land below.

Leaving his sweater seems an unconscious talisman so I will never forget what we had there, in Haiti; the love I cling to regardless of the years passing.

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Blogger no milk said...

i went to a timeshare sales/marketing event once. it was very hokey and the atmosphere was very much forced merriment and stuff. under all that was tension. anyway, i didn't buy a timeshare. i thought that i could barely think about when my vacation would be and then to go to the same place every year seems much too planed. i'm not that kind of person.

your memories of your father remind me of my distance from my own. it touched me.

thank you for the kind words you left on my guestbook. it's little things like this that make my day. hope to see you again soon.

10:22 AM  

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