Two Trips to Tahiti
©Charles Shere 2001 1: 1987 In 1987 I flew with my brother Timothy to Australia, there to visit another brother John, who had settled there in 1970, having married an Australian girl who wasn't keen on the Berkeley she found in the late sixties. Our mother had died two years earlier, and we found it useful to spend down a small inheritance, and a certain amount of brother-bonding seemed in order. But Australia is a long way from Berkeley, and I decided to break the trip in Tahiti on the way. I had no idea I would be enchanted. I think I even came to look a little bit Polynesian before I was home. The journal I kept was on the desultory side, and I flesh it out a bit here, working from memory. homepage other travel Self-portrait, 14 January 1987
January 3 1987
(writing at LAX, waiting for airplane) Up at nine this morning; worked on address book, on the basement cleanup — very desultory. In that pre-trip mode. To Rick and Victoria's, for Jenan's birthday. Lots of people: one couple knew Huahine, described it as perfect. Then an uneventful flight to LAX, except the shoulder-strap on Tim's dufflebag broken. Beef sandwich at airport café. A Toulousaine at next table.
dawn, Jan. 4, over the South Pacific
Left LAX on time, 11:50 pm. Big plane, full. Eight-hour flight to Tahiti — the longest on Continental Airlines, the steward said at breakfast. Brandy & soda, then slept tolerably well until 6:16 Pacific time. Breakfast: sausage & eggs, and pineapple with mango. Can't eat the egg, T. says, with characteristic grace. But it wasn't bad, except that characteristic microwave texture of the cheese omelet, and only fair coffee. Flying south, sitting on the left: a fine dawn (the above approximation rendered in pineapple juice). Generally a smooth flight, some slight wallowing.
Approaching, 6 am, fantastic clouds — many different types superimposed. First land seen: Moorea, rung by white line of surf. Touchdown, 6:21 — grass, small planes & barns; water clear & blue-green in spite of overcast. It's rained: mud-puddles edging runway. Shacks, corrugated iron, palms. Red-roofed church. Big yellow five-petalled flowers on low bushes.
Walking around Faaa — whose airport had a trio of guitar-singers, vahines with flowers, etc. — we found a›jitney that picked us up for a ride in to Papeete. The countryside looks French — the road signs, architecture, the driving. The smells! perfume in the air. Papeete looks like Ensenada, though — with a bit of New Orleans. A covered old-fashioned market: ducks, chickens, fruits, vegetables. Walked about for a beer : il n'y a pas. Bought one at a grocery store, and a Seven-up for Tim. Walked to harbor, and were caught in a torrential downpour. To a café for café au lait — but it came a café crème — and un café pour mon frère nerveux (avec des pailles, s'il vous plaît). It's necessary to speak French partout. The beer — Hinano — is bitter and serious: like the coffee, very good. Tim is in good spirits — we're soaked through; but we'll dry quickly. Dumpsters reservées pour ordures [word illegible]. Bus back to airport. Book at kiosk, pick up baggage, forget camera, call Enite (the place we're staying on Huahine).
The plane to Huahine, scheduled to leave at 9:50, late by 10, announced for 10:45, is then at 11:45 promised for 1 pm — with lunch (sandwich & juice) thrown in. So we sit in outside café (which is inside the terminal) listening to — merles? — some corvid, black with grey-barred wings. At 2:16 the propellers finally turn. There are perhaps fifty seats, all of them full. Another storm has come and gone; there are some showers still. At 2:23 décollage, abrupt. Showers limit visibility over the port — too bad — but clears quickly. We climb through fine cloud formations — the island off to the left, a river splitting it, surf-ringed.
The pension is perfect — description will follow. It is right the on shore. I trust the table, though haven't yet proved it. Took a shower, a walk to town for two liters water, a short sun-bath and swim, and flaked out, listening to two women sing Huahine songs to guitar & ukulele — one of which I recorded — and to those magpies; then to snackbar Te Marara for 2 beers — Hinano, of course, 1/2 liter each — and (jukebox) radio: island music. Fabulous day-end — see picture above — but no sunset yet: dinnertime. Tim is mellow and pleasant. There is a long wait for dinner lightened by television and a talk with a young man, the only other client; then dinner: tuna salade with celeri, carrot, avocat, poivron; steck. Melon. Long talk with the patron, Martial de Bayonne.
I remember Martial, writing this nearly fifteen years later. Short; stocky; smiling. A typical Frenchman gone native, I think. No doubt an Air France enlisted man, stationed for a time in Tahiti, and took up the native life when he left the service — a modern version of a colonial. It's funny: the plantation-owner played by Ezio Pinza in South Pacific was to be supplanted by the sailor boys after they retired in their turn. I mean: after their time was surpassed in its turn. And what about that honorific "de" in his name? Can that have been his family name, really, or was he simply a native of Bayonne? He looked a Gascon, as I recall.
This may be the place for a description of Maison Enite. I chose the place from a tourist brochure, as I recall: the island was recommended as off the beaten track, and Maison Enite was recommended as a place known for its cooking. De Bayonne had married a native Tahitian woman; she did the cooking; he ran the place. There were three buildings at least: their home, which I don't recall seeing; the dining pavlion with its kitchen at one end; and the dormitory building. This had a common room off the long central corridor; here one could watch videotapes, I suppose, though no one ever did, or one could read. (I found a fascinating biography of Nikos Tundbergen I think it is, the specialist on animal territoriality.) Further down the corridor, left and right, were maybe six or eight bedrooms, each with two single beds, a clothes-press, and a single window; and at the end of the corridor was the bathroom, with a couple of toilets (as I recall) and a shower-room whose stalls gave minimal but sufficient privacy.
The whole compound was quite open, with a sort of lawn, many tropical flower-bushes and -trees, a few palms. It was on the edge of town (Fare, to be described and mapped in the second part of this journal), an easy walk from the grocery store and the dock and, more important, Te Marara; and just a few steps from the beach, a quiet one, the sandy beach a couple of yards wide, overhung with palms and lower trees.
Awoke at 7 after very sound sleep. No mosquitos, thanks to the torcillon. Heavy rain. Insects. Birds. But slept. Breakfast: café au lait, the coffee local and flavored with the local vanilla; bread. Conversations with host — ›Tim beginning to follow. Frangipani, hibiscus. Merles de Moluc.
A long walk to Marea. Very hot, slow. Dog. Coconuts, bananas. Lots of chickens. Still, a 'European feel — I guess, simply non-American. Tim had gone without socks and developed a blister. At Marea, pas des cafés ou bars. Bought Fanta, Pepsi at a store — & chausettes for Tim (I had to ask an English-speaker, providentially arrived, for the word). Walked out to Marea Mahununu — impressive. Kids and firecrackers.
Shacks. Corrugated iron, pastel colors. The new buildings very nice — local sand and cement, open. Greatly extended capitals on posts around porches, all with the same design:
obviously an adaptation of a thatched roof. Wide loggias. Open. No security consideration; no heating concern.
(The bundle, I suppose.) Cheeky, friendly kids splashing in lagoon. Caught ride back in pickup truck. Blue fish in ocean. Snackbar again — Te Marara — for 2 beers. Polynesian-US couple next table: recall older Beat woman yesterday. Drifters: a special category. This café makes me think of Venice — because it's like a vaporetto stop, its deck built out over the water, not rocking, but you're aware of the wash. (Tides here almost nonexistent, similar to the Adriatic, or (better) the Mediterranean.
Vanille à vent — 1000 f.
After the beers, lunch: sardines (I thought pickled herrings at first) with beets, then crab in sauce with a white vegetable like endive or jicama or water chestnut, with green beans on the side. Frozen, I guess, but quite acceptable. Then to town to buy postcards and write Lindsey and go to the post office, and back for long swim — say 500 meters at least. And another walk, and another beer. I asked the bartender: Avez-vous des cacahuetes ou quelquechose comme ça? Non, he said, and a young guy at the bar said in English I might go to the store nearby, but it was too much trouble. Then the guy at the next table (who had carefully inspected a glass, filled it with beer and kept it, then not inspected the other, which he filled for his wife) did go to the store and brought back a can of Planters peanuts, but he broke off the easy-open ring and handed the can to her to deal with; she had to ask bartender for help. She offered me some, in English, but I declined. They are German I think — ›there are some here, notably on a yacht I swam past.
[drawing: watercolor: from the bar Te Marara]
le bar Te Marara,
where we drink our beers.
Just back from a swim in the sunset — great banks of grey clouds, the sky yellow and yellow rose behind; above, the half-moon [drawing] hiding in the clouds — the water, seen from 30 or 40 meters out, copper-sulfate blue-green. Beautiful.
Dinner: fish soup — very good: flavored with crab, ginger, onion, and with noodles in it — followed, curiously, by a whole baked fish accompanied by noodles. Dessert: delicious cantaloupe (after lunch we'd had even more delicious local grapefruit). Then a walk through town and so to bed. Note that Tim had wine at dinner, and ate quite well. When I closed the curtains a lizard jumped onto my shoulder and clung to the back of my shirt; in the shower I saw a huge cockroach, bigger than a cricket — but somehow not disgusting. Before dinner, the discovery that the airplane is full — ›we'll go back by boat, Friday night, and stay at Papeete Saturday night.Jan. 6Yes. Well: there's much to add, nearly fifteen years later. The torcillon was a spiral, about three inches in diameter, flat, apparently made of some sort of incense: you light the outside end and the thing slowly burns throughout the night. A week or two later when I described the thing to someone in Australia he asked, incredulously, if I'd actually used the thing. Damn right I did, I said, and it kept mosquitos away all night. One night I woke up, being bitten: the torcillon had gone out. I re-lit it and went back blissfully sleep. Yes: but did you actually use it, he asked. Don't you know what they're made of? Oh boy, I thought, nerve gas, cancer agent, God knows. They're made, he said gravely, of dried cow manure. And then I remembered that in 1944 when we camped out while driving across the country Dad threw cow chips into the campfire "to keep the mosquitos away."
The walk to Marea was very long indeed. Marea is at the other side of the island, though still at the eastern end; a fascinatingly old site, apparently both sacred and free back in the days of the warring Tahitian tribes: this was the one area one could have gone to safe from intertribal warfare. There are huge old mareae, stone platforms many yards long, perhaps as big as half a football field; these apparently served as some kind of religious center. There are also old fish traps, weirs, built out into the lagoon.
But there were no services, not in those days. The long walk in the hot sun had left us exhausted. I recall now a small shop where we did indeed find socks for poor Tim, whose foot had badly blistered, and where someone cut open a green coconut or two for the cool invigorating liquid within. I recall too the surreal sand-crabs clattering sideways away from us with every step we took when within the palm groves, and the sheet-metal rat-guards encircling the palm trunks five or six feet off the ground, and the copra sheds, small corn-crib-like affairs, at each homestead, and the screens set up at an angle at each home under construction, for the owner to shovel sand through to sift it for incorporation into the mortar for his cinderblocks; and the pickup truck that stopped providentially to give us a ride home.
Slept not that well — very hot and close, though the window was wide open. Woke several times sweating. Then the arrival of the paquebot woke me — I should have got up to watch: it's the weekly event. Did get up finally at six; swam 300 meters or so — ›delicious — and then walked with Tim (hesitant & footsore) before breakfast: Danish roll & heated day-old bread, since the bakery was closed yesterday. (There's only one on the island.) Ate with good appetite: even Tim, who normally skips breakfast, ate half a pastry. Then took a scooter for the day, breaking down at 9:30 at Tefarerii when I stopped to photograph an iris. Stayed there 90 minutes, waiting for guy from the rental agency, before I thought of solution: the old cigaret-foil-around-the-fuse trick (I write this at Te Marara).
We'd stopped at a little village, and a family — two women, two adolescent boys working desultorily at re-bottoming a pirogue, some petits-enfants — tried to help, and the women in fact called. Language was a problem. Finally I found & fixed the fuse and we went on. The beach indeed very beautiful at south tip. Taro plantation, crabs, coconuts, reefs, bananas, very red quarry. Never did find rental guy — tant pis. Back in Fare at noon — now taking a beer before lunch.
Heureusement, je fume, Tim said, in a sudden brilliant access of French, explaining the incident to M. Martial at lunch — soup followed by sole, with lots of butter. And then maplenut ice cream. Then we went on to Mauea, up the mountain (walking), down the mountain, and around the Huahine Ute again pour prendre des photos — and then the accident, the hospital, the boat couche-soleil, dinner (salade de poissons, chicken faux-epinard), Tahitian dance, and home to bed.
The morning had been splendid. I'd never ridden a small-wheeled motorscooter before, and enjoyed it, though it was tricky to handle after years of riding big-wheeled motorcycles. Huahine is really two islands joined by an isthmus, and we managed to explore most of both by lunchtime, in spite of the 90-minute layover — which was in fact amusing: the family was interesting to watch, the naked babies playing in the sand, the teenagers working on their canoe, all of them trying to be helpful though none spoke French any better than I did, and I knew (and know) no Tahitian at all.
And the teenagers were amazed when I found the source of my problem, a blown fuse; and then they seemed to offer to telephone the rental agency, though perhaps now I think of all this so many years later we misunderstood one another and they were saying they couldn't telephone him for some reason. And they were even more amazed when I remembered the foil. They watched curiously as I tore a strip from Tim's cigarette pack, and wrapped the fuse and re-installed it, and the little motorscooter started immediately on the first kick. You never saw such grins, on the Americans as well as the Tahitians.
After lunch, though, and after resuming our ride around the island, while climbing a slight hill on a slightly curving road, something happened — front wheel in a rut, or Tim shifting weight; I'll never know. Down went the scooter, and since I was wearing shorts, not long trousers, I skinned my left leg on the road — which was made of ground coral. It looked like hamburger, but wasn't seriously injured, I thought. M. Maynial though otherwise, and sent me to the "hospital," really a first-aid center, where a fellow I assumed to be a doctor looked at the leg, slathered a yellowish antiseptic on it, and bandaged it.
Then we hobbled, Tim and I, back home again, and then a few hundred yards down the beach to the nearby luxury hotel to amuse ourselves with one of Huahine's few tourist attractions, a sunset cruise on the lagoon. The hotel was a swank affair, lots of low outbuildings under the palms, connected by wooden sidewalks, with a central hall for its dining room, bar, and dance floor. We'd sauntered over this way earlier but realized it was not for the likes of us. Its beach, for example, was clearly for guests only — European tourists, German and French as far as I could tell, young and thin and well-to-do, though they apparently could afford little by way of clothing: many of the women didn't even have tops to their swimsuits, poor things.
The cruise was pleasant enough. Sunset is quick this close to the equator, but the clouds form and re-form magnificently, and the colors pass through an amazing range of hues, all of them intense. There are no pastels in the tropics. We struck up no conversations: I thought the hotel guests rather disapproved our presence, and indeed my bloody bandage wasn't pretty. In retrospect it's surprising the hotel folks took us on at all. After the cruise we all trooped into the hotel dining room for a dinner show, where natives of both sexes and several ages demonstrated drumming and dancing, the former loud and martial, the latter sinuous and expressive — sometimes like a Hawaiian hula; sometimes a Caribbean limbo. And then the painful hobble home, and so to bed.
Up at 6 am to wash (with difficulty) & go outside to sit & meditate on my stupidity. An earned penalty: I was vacationing too fast & furiously. And the penalty carries its own just healing: enforced inactivity. It's hard to walk, since my knee won't bend, and I can't put a shoe on my left foot. I hope this won't take too long, though. Things should heal fast in the tropics, if infection can be avoided. My fingertip, which I cut slicing bread a few days ago, grew back together Sunday and Monday, even though I swam a lot Monday. Good thing I took that long swim! So now to sketch and write, to read a bit, and maybe — ›finally — to confront my own projects.
So with light heart and cheerful disposition I repaired to Te Marara to continue my examinations of the local population — German yachters, an occasional villager, that eccentric ex-airman who had gone completely native and wore only a pareu, that short colorful wraparound that I soon adopted myself, in spite of my ugly left leg. I even made a watercolor or two. The mood was not to last.
The mountain, Fare Head, seen from Te Marara
10:17 am: Went to clinic after breakfast — full, lots of people waiting. Receptionist says it will take hours; go to private physician. Did: Dr _____, a young man from Lille who then went to Cannes for two years. He says it may be 3 or 4 days — 's'il est belle; maintenant il n'est pas belle. He asked about tetanus: I must look into that. Must return tomorrow. Fee: 3.50. He confirms quick healing in tropics — but I must keep from flexing leg. Outside his office, next door to PTT [post office], a young woman was just leaving in her jeep: I asked for a ride, and she took us back to Te Marara. People here — 'natives, I mean, Tahitian or French, but rarely vacationers — are really very friendly. Yesterday the clinician, a Tahitian whose name, the Doctor told me this morning, is Gils ____ and who, he said, is not a doctor: there are no Tahitian doctors (I suppose he is merely a nurse or paramedic) — and who (Gils, I mean) speaks no English — was very sympathetic and, in a more than professional manner, concerned, not only about me but (and indeed probably more) about the Polynesians, who eat wrong, he says, and don't take care. There were lots of posters advising the basic food groups, proper care of teeth (and of hair!), and so on. 'A healthy Polynesia: our best future. Tim asked why the guy at the PTT was so unfriendly, and he is in fact the exception: brusque, almost surly. A fonctionnaire, a petty bureaucrat.
Lunch: sardines & beets, sautéed fish (corang) with peas and carrots, papaya. Nap. Very much bored today. The Raiatean couple left by the morning ferry for their home island; an American woman has arrived. Tried painting before lunch; napped after. In early morning washed some clothes before going to doctor. After nap — awakened by downpour — simply sat for 2 hours. Now at Te Marara drinking jus d'ananas — w. ice cubes, & sand at bottom of glass — & wondering about a slight gripe in stomach. After yesterday's elation, definitely down today. Partly loneliness, partly irritation at myself. I am not even-tempered.
notebook page: fog over Fare Head
NZ: Chalet Cheown, 14 Brighton Rd Parmele 390-291
Fiji: Nandi Hotel, economy. 70000. Suva. Grand Pacific Hotel. Tours: At Suva Travelodge, Ana jäk oitoga, UTC, & Mgt Laio, know about tours. Patt Hill or Patricia, ME artist, 313.500: Adventures tours Ltd.
[the above, in box: only notes for day: information from American woman]She was a young woman who did a lot of solitary traveling, is all I remember now, fifteen years later. She spent the day off by herself, exploring the marae, I think, and the forest out that way — country I hadn't explored, and wouldn't, now, with my leg all bandaged. I'd asked about a place to spend the night in New Zealand, for we were to change planes there three days later, and I was beginning to worry about the trip, which would be difficult with this mobility problem. And it had crossed my mind that the leg might take longer to heal than planned, and after a couple of weeks in Melbourne I was to fly home alone, stopping off for five days or so in Fiji — where I'd planned to teach myself scuba diving.
After the bad day/night of 7 Jan, yesterday was greatly improved. The gripe was trots, of course. Skipped dinner — soup and lamb chops, which Tim liked — and slept very badly, partly because the torcillon went out. Loud thunder, too, at one point. Up at the usual hour, feeling better, but took only black coffee for breakfast. And fruit — and watermelon and that great grapefruit. At doctor's , 5 or 6 patients ahead of me. Leg is healing, no fever, weigh 86 kg (!). Tomorrow return for instructions. After Dr., lunch — took one tomato slice but no tuna (or, regrettably, coconut-tree shoot), rice, but no ragout. We'd mistakenly bought 2 liters of pure lemon juice, thinking it citron pressé, and I drank that in place of wine. Then continued to read long magazine article on K. Lorenz — must read him — and started to nap when Martial invited us to tour with him, his wife (Marc Antoni Enité, her grandpère having been Corse), and their friends the Papeete restauranteur Carguy ____ and his wife and round, beaming daughter in a Kodak gimme cap. We made exactly the trip Tim and I had made, but stopped to visit a marae on the south coast of the north isle where Martial snagged a fallen palm with his rear bumper as we were leaving . He was a bit gone — had taken a Cognac with Tim after lunch! — and Mme continued the drive. We stopped quite a while at the Hotel Bellevue — a beautiful site, but remote, off the beach, and unsuccessful therefore: apparently only two couples. (Never more than one other room occupied at Enité than ours, and Bali Hai also far from full: Martial blames the high costs; I tried to tell him about travel-agent's lack of enthusiasm.) Boissons: for me, a huge pastis — equivalent of three. For Martial, similarly huge (6 oz. at least) whisky. Tim and cook had beers. Considerable conversation with cook, who is vacationing next-door in a friend's house. Fifty, Papeete-born, Cantonese-speaking, he learned cooking from a Marseillais in Papeete. (His bouillabaisse is said to be 'better than any in France by Martial.) Actually, talked with Chanquy later: he, over drinks, talked (in Cantonese) with his friend the father of the Bellevue owner — who made his money, according to Martial, in épiceries, and is losing it in the hotel: tous les métiers sont pas pareils. On our return, at sunset, further drinks: soda (Sprite) pour moi, ponch-coco (coconut milk & rum) for Tim (!), and talk. Dinner: a good chicken broth as I'd asked, followed by very good gigot and flageolets, with Patt Hill joining us. And then a long causerie on the possibility of changing the world, and a good night's sleep, 10 p.m.All these conversations — causeries — have receded into that dim black hole, of course, but I do remember the Bellevue. The "lack of enthusiasm" had been for the island of Huahine, which the travel agent had rather dismissed when I brought it up, having read about the cooking at Maison Enite. (Where? in a Lonely Planet guide?) Much of the business on Huahine seems to be done by ethnic Chinese. Not that there was much business conducted on Huahine. I recall only two grocery stores (épiceries) in Fare, Huahine's one real town, and a tour office of some sort that was open only a day or so a week, and the moto rental agency, and the bar Te Marara, and one cheap hotel catering to surfers (who we never saw, because of course they spent all their time out beyond the lagoon, in the surf outside the reef), and of course our own lodging, Maison Enite.
I knew then, during that 1987 visit, of three resort hotels on Huahine, but I don't think the travel agents knew about them, for some reason. One of them was the one we visited for the sunset cruise. It was brand new and very ambitious and not all that full. I expressed some surprise that it had been allowed, for Martial had explained to me that all the land on the island was owned by the native population — that is, that there was no private ownership of land; only of coconut trees. Or rather, of the fruit of the trees. I expressed some surprise that a lease had been allowed for the hotel. Oh, it won't be there long, Martial said; they won't be able to keep it open, because they won't get anyone to work for them. The people here only work for a little while, long enough to buy a washing machine, or, if they're really ambitious, a pickup truck, and then they stop working. How do they live? They fish, and they pick up coconuts. What do they do with the coconuts? They sell them as copra, after keeping them for a certain period in those coconut cribs we've seen outside people's houses, scattered here and there among the coconut trees.
The Bellevue was another one, a complete surprise to me when we visited it that day; and the third was at the eastern tip of the island, Tim and I had ridden past it on the motorbike; I think it may have been some sort of private resort, something like a Club Med. Though I was later to learn otherwise.
In any case the Chinese are an important presence here, a fourth presence, the others being the native Tahitians (themselves nearly all partly of European descent), the French (two kinds: administrators and gone-native), and us tourists.
All that was yesterday. Up this morning at 5:50; shower & wash hair; breakfast (with Patt and Tim): grapefruit and watermelon with usual. Talked to Patt about art — should it be sold, or made for money, etc. — then L. called with news from NEA!
Write to SERVAS,US, 1 Johns T Rm 406, NY 10038
Changed $50, went to Doctor, who sold me supplies, and bought 2 tickets on the boat — CFP1100 each, as I recall — then lunch: avocados, egg and cucumbers; grilled roasted chicken; papaya and watermelon. Then, after leave- and photo-taking, went to boat at 1 pm, too late for a place under cover — must describe boat later, too tired now, but note: pigs, kids, blonde, couple with baby and Dylan, car, sunset, Huahine disappearing, lightning, downpours. Arr. Papeete ca. 9 pm, walked (mistake) to Royal P. Hotel, washed clothes, hung everything, to Chez Eric for a galette gruyere epinard-oeuf & cidre, home to bed at 12:30 pm.
That was a hard day, January 9, 1987. I can't imagine why we hadn't bought round-trip air tickets when we flew to Huahine: perhaps I was thinking of hopping off to another island before heading back to Papeete for the next leg of our flight to Australia. In any case we hadn't bought round-trip tickets, and when it became clear we wouldn't be going anywhere else and I tried to get air tickets back it turned out there were no seats to be had. The airplane only went a couple of times a week, and it was full. Nothing to be done about it. We were lucky there was a copra freighter going — I think I found out about it at the sleepy little travel office in Fare, but I'm not sure. Martial knew about the boat, of course, and maybe Patt Hill did too: she was an experienced traveler. The supplies were gauze bandaging and antiseptic agents of various kinds; maybe a pill or two as well — seems to me there was something systemic to combat possible infection. The leg was still quite open and weeping and it was essential to keep it from getting wet.
We were cautioned to get on board the boat well before departure, but no one said exactly what that meant. I was pretty smug about boarding an hour before casting off, but we found the deck completely covered. All the spots in the shade were taken, of course, and all the spots under cover. The freighter seemed gigantic. There was a big pigpen at the prow, with jury-rigged shade for the pigs, who seemed to take this voyage for granted. Aft of the pigs was a considerable pile of motorscooters. The car was a small one, lifted up jauntily by a crane from the dock, then deposited near the motorscooters.
There was one other non-Polynesian passenger, a redhead as I recall, and the blonde girl standing at the rail, where Tim and I took up a station too, to keep the island in view for a while. I don't recall now the couple with baby and Dylan — does that mean they were listening to Bob Dylan, or what? No idea.
Below in the shallow harbor there were kids frisking about in the lagoon, and people going to and fro making last-minute deliveries to the ship. Ultimately the ship finally cast off. All the Polynesians who had been at the rail immediately took up stations in the shade and under cover, next to friends or relations who'd been saving spaces for them. Tim and I looked around for a spot but couldn't find more than a couple of square feet of deck to sit on. The deck was steel plate, of course, and incredibly hot from the sun, so we returned to the rail to watch the island disappear as we chugged into a tropical sunset — a glorious one, which for some reason seemed to hang on longer than any we'd yet seen.
As soon as we hit open water all the Polynesians immediately fell asleep. It was as if someone had given a directive: they'd all been talking and gesturing and in a few cases laughing, and then they were suddenly all asleep. I'd never seen anything like it. The air was warm and relatively still and the night drew around us, streaks of lightning at the horizon.
Then suddenly it was raining, harder than I've ever imagined rain could fall. I'd taken the precaution of wrapping my leg in a garbage bag in case it might rain, but hadn't thought it could rain like this. Poor Tim was completely soaked and miserable. The redhead, seeing our plight, gently and generously gave up his position, hardly sheltered at all but better than our tiny square of deck. Somehow I kept my leg dry, and Tim didn't drown — though he was so thoroughly drenched I was worried he might.
As soon as the downpour hit the Polynesians all woke up, of course. They all began laughing. They weren't really talking, or singing, or calling to one another, and they certainly weren't complaining: they were simply laughing. They continued to laugh all the time it rained — say twenty minutes — and then when the rain abruptly stopped they all stopped laughing and began to sing. Someone had a guitar, someone else — as I recall now — an accordion. The songs were amazing: Protestant missionary hymns alternating with French children's folksongs. I knew all the tunes, Rock of Ages and I Walk In The Garden Alone and Sur le pont d'Avignon and so on. But the words were like nothing I'd ever heard, and I don't think they were Tahitian translations of the originals, to judge by the ribald expressions and chuckles that peppered them.
I don't recall who had recommended the Royal Papeete, a good-sized flophouse hotel in those days, right on the waterfront. There were a few streetwalkers on the sidewalk outside the café, and they seemed to be mostly transvestites. As noted, we rinsed out our clothes and hung them on any projection we could find in our miserable room, then repaired to the beach for dinner at one of the food trucks, washing down an improbable Breton crèpe with an even more improbable bottle of cider.
Awoke first at 5:50, then 6:50. Two curious dreams: A) Backstage at an opera. Orch. begins like intro to Tosca, baritone rushes on stage (singing) and begins to assemble a bed; soprano is heard — she's known to be aging — amplified, but that turns out to be necessary only because she's rushing on stage from very far upstage rear. All in brisk 3/4, bumptious and funny.
B) L and I have called a hardware store whose propr. agrees to come open for us though closed that day. We walk there along an avenue in a large clean city speaking of absurdity of going there — don't need tools yet, don't like this place. He turns out to be v. obnoxious, says we should go to Ace, etc.; we look at pipe dies, other unnecessary tools. Another patron (or perhaps clerk) is considering wines to lay down in his new house. City sparkling, similar to Los Angeles near Wilshire (and the obnoxious clerk refers, snootily, to Paolo's "job in Washington.")
Interpretations: A) Pavel & Giovanna's bed; the singing on yesterday's boat. B) boat + John > Paolo.
Is a travel memoir the proper place for these dreams? During this trip, in 1987, I was still thinking of a possible production of my opera. Giovanna and Pavel had been promised a bed as a wedding present. Paolo lived in Los Angeles in those days, near Wilshire Blvd. A hardware store was the first place I had visited on my first visit to New York City, in 1964, when I travelled there with yet a fourth brother, Jim: we arrived early in the morning, it was freezing cold, nothing was open but, oddly, an old-fashioned hardware store (this was in Greenwich Village, before boutiquization). And at this time, 1987, I was building our house, which entailed endless trips to the hardware store.
And, of course, the business about the NEA — the National Endowment for the Arts. I'd received two grants from them, one as an art critic, the other as a composer. And I'd served three years on an NEA panel, going to Washington once a year to help distribute money to programs that encouraged the commissioning and production of new operas. Though I was on vacation from the newspaper for the month, and hadn't expected to hear from them, they'd actually called me breathlessly, while I was still on Huahine, with the news that the NEA wanted me once more. I told them to put it, whatever it was, on a back burner until February. It turned out to be unimportant.
breakfast: 2 café, 1 croissant: 460 f. Changed bandage — which left me a bit light-headed, partly for after-effects of boat. Wound healing well. Out on the town. A fine shopping center recalls Grenoble — music store, good librairie, supermarché, cafés. Tim changed $100 (at 113/). Café for boissons: pamplemousse — extra! — & cidre, which Tim liked so last night. I left Tim to pay, & he paid 1000 — which seems high but may be right. On to librairie for $50- of books (charged) & fruitless search for a Tintin aux îles — but found a book in Polynesian to try. Then walked down Pomare to the pearl museum, new a month ago v. interesting with documentation across the centuries — the chinese began implanting oysters (with Buddha-images!) 700 years ago! — & a scale model of a pearl farm. But the pearls are expensive — well, not really: $100 apiece is possible — & store closes at noon: indecisive, I abstained. Walked on to another bookstore, stopping first at a pizzeria which won't open 'til noon but which recommended Acajou for lunch. But it too won't open 'til noon, so took apé — pamplemousse (Tim) Suze (moi) — & eau m. at le Mauava, v. good restaurant: then tomato and egg salad; niçoise (T), mahi mahi menthe Bearnaise (m), white wine. Then cards, rest. Then museum. Ride back part with woman. photos. Cider. Dinner at Pizzeria — parliamo Italiano, ma non beviam del Fernet. Tomato and green salad, pizza (T), agneau en brochette (m), côtes de Rhone, grappa. Then home to last night in Tahiti — pack, wash shirt, bed at 9:30.
Misc. notes; night of 10, cop and manhole dream — v. strange. Morning of 11, standby! for the flight on to Auckland and Melbourne÷
The Polynesian franc is 130 to the dollar as I write this, September 2001; it was stronger in 1987. I don't remember how it's pinned to the French franc. The shopping center was then fairly new; Papeete was in transition between sleepy provincial tropical town and spiffy new destination. Tahiti of course is famous for its black pearls, and the museum was in fact a fascinating place, probably funded jointly by the tourist board and the pearl industry. Le Mauava was a pleasant restaurant, quite empty; I don't recall how much the meal cost — it was the first restaurant meal we'd had, and seemed luxurious but inexpensive. The waiter followed us out onto the sidewalk to return the money I'd left on the table for him: in those days, at least, one did not leave tips.
We took a bus out to the museum, a small but absorbing place, its architecture based on the native traditions (open timber structure clad in thatch) but of course modified to allow for security. But we could not wait for a bus to take us back into town, or perhaps there was none until quite late, or ever again — the bus schedules seemed oriented toward commuters, whether to work or to shopping. The Pizzeria was low, dark, and conventional, with bunches of plastic grapes hanging from the make-believe arbor forming the diningroom ceiling. The menu was in both French and Italian, but the staff spoke little French and no English; only the absence of Fernet Branca — which I could have used, given my condition — lessened the authenticity of the place. The lamb was delicious: they raise good lamb in the islands.
I don't recall anything about the cop and the manhole. We took le truck out to Fa'a'a next morning for our flight to New Zealand. That was nerve-wracking: our flight wasn't in the computer, for some reason, and we flew standby. But we were lucky: the first plane out had two empty seats, and we were on our way to Auckland.
(Part two is in preparation)
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