Seeing and Being Seen

Travel

Lately, I am trying to rectify the pop-popping of fireworks every morning at 3am, which suspiciously coincides with the Olde Dutch Cafe closing for the night. My cat and I wake with a frightful start, looking at each other like cartoon characters: eye to eye, swivel of heads, then back to eye-to eye. I pad out to the window, the hallway, peer through the windows and see nothing. The streets are empty and the air is still…a nice time of the day for thinking, but an even better time for sleeping. For lack of a better assignation, fireworks seem to be a cultural thing here. They illuminate the sky on Wednesdays at 10pm, or on a slow Tuesday, and certainly now every morning at 3am. They are becoming un-special.

Previously I wrote about car horns and the Curacaoan honking rituals, but now that I’ve been here almost a year, I am pretty sure this phenomenon, as well as the fireworks galas, are part and parcel of the noise-making habits of the local population. The mantra goes like this: “If it is quiet, I must make noise, then you will pay attention to me.”

I’m used to a pretty quiet life now with one cat and one husband, but growing up I was part of a large noisy family, so I understand the need to speak loudly. But in Curacao, all this attention getting seems rather pointless. If tires are squealed loud enough, if radios play at unspeakable decibel levels, someone is bound to listen, but what is being said?

Every day I see road workers wearing big scarves or old tee shirts on their heads (once I saw a guy wearing a paper bag, like the Unknown Comic), which I presumed were worn to stave off sun, heat, or mosquitos. I was told recently by a local they were wearing these apparitions because they don’t want their friends to see them working. Apparently, roadside work is a bit embarrassing, even though it actually pays pretty well. I’m not judging (maybe I am) but it seems like shooting off fireworks in the wee hours is as silly as wearing a paper bag on your head. If Curacaons want to be heard (now that they are their own nation) they should  begin with meaningful gestures and stop saying “Fsst! Fsst!” to women walking down the street.

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The Everyday Act of Killing Coral Reefs

Travel

As I sunned myself drowsily by the pool today, I watched oiled-up sunscreen laden Americans waddling around the terrace until they could no longer bear the 90 degree heat, whereupon they would jump into the water to cool off. Being a bit put out by the aspect of swimming in this warm swill soup, I opted to dive into the ocean. There were a few people there too, but much more dispersed. After toweling off, I set upon the newest issue of Outside Magazine. In a tiny column about which sunscreen to buy for which activity, it was noted that up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen per year washes off swimmers, leaving behind not only dubious looking body scum, but a threat to coral reefs worldwide. In 2008 National Geographic published a more in-depth article, fingering the devious ingredients therein: paraben, cinnamate, benzophenone, and a camphor derivative. In my unscientific nutshell, these common ingredients cause an algae virus to emerge, replicate quickly, bleaching and killing off the coral. The article said that “Even low levels of sunscreen, at or below the typical amount used by swimmers, could activate the algae viruses and completely bleach coral in just four days…” I am going to take the advice of the Outside and buy Soleo Organics All-Natural Sunscreen SPF 30, available at their website or on Amazon, which if not a complete solution, is at least a conscious decision. I’m hoping my fellow Americans visiting the Caribbean will do the same.