Living in Paradise

Travel

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New Year’s Day in Curacao. A lot of smoke and mirrors. Sometimes just smoke (photo by me).

With my relocation to the Caribbean two years ago, it’s been difficult explaining to my New England brethren that living here is different than visiting here. My complaint that it’s hot, hotter than the center of the sun hot, seems gloating, whiny, pithy compared to their ice storms, high taxes, 4:00 p.m. sunsets. I confess, the view from my balcony was unmatched, life is slow, and I’m a writer with a lot of free time and endless sunshine. Paradise, or so I’ve been informed by those left behind, is comprised of such elements. And I live there. To my thick Yankee blood, however, I feel like there’s bunker fuel running through my veins, and with a dysfunctional oil refinery nearby, it’s quite possibly true. There’s lots to love in the Caribbean (proximity to South America, warm water, island insouciance) and loathe (half-assed carpentry, pollution, bad drivers, island insouciance)and to scuba divers, Dutch interns, and international businessmen, there’s no better place to be.

One night my husband and I awoke to an explosion and saw out our bedroom window a car afire in an empty parking lot across the street. Later that evening I observed two men stealing usable parts from its metal carcass. Then, for the next several weeks, people simply parked around the blackened debris. We used to live happily in Oakland, California, no stranger to burning vehicles and slow police response, however we thought and hoped we’d live there forever. But distance is the great equalizer and the East Bay, with its wall-eyed culinary fetish, ludicrous property taxes, and political righteousness, can be insufferable too. So where, I wondered as I watched the two plunderers casually liberate auto parts, is the perfect place to live, if not what most consider paradise itself?

We move a lot. My husband’s job demands it, and we don’t get to choose where we live. Every few years we pack up our cat and Cuisinart, beer making supplies, cookbooks and cough syrup, and alight unto new environs. Once settled we soon figure out the silly customs and sad truths, myths and mores, dos and don’ts, eating and exercise routines, real estate prices, languages and accents, people and plants of our new homeland. We manage to fit in, make more friends, find our way around supermarkets, Internet providers. And thusfar, we’ve evaded malaria, bombs, scorpions, sharks, children, cancer. Each move necessitates new jobs, clothes, weather, acquisitions and airports, neighbors. Subsequently, our wants and needs and thus our perfect place to live becomes revised. In Maine we met, got married, built fires, swatted mosquitos, wondered what it would be like to live elsewhere. In Sweden we stocked up on sweaters, candles, free education, Hans Wegner chairs, bought a Volvo. In Virginia we re-learned American history, watched hurricanes, ate ham biscuits, drove. In California we bought surfboards, ate locally, felt earthquakes, made friends. The only constant in our mobile life is that we are constantly mobile and my husband’s assignments, while not perfect, are usually determined by a perfect stranger.

And now, our collection of maps and brochures are almost as random and comprehensive as my Curriculum Vitae, which would be thinner if we were not dispatched hither and yon. But along the way we’ve met diplomats and terrorists, presidents and homeless people, hunters and World Cup skiers, authors and boors in train stations, caves, runways, refugee camps, boats, bars and consider our woes luxury problems. Meanwhile, the cold weather citizenry scoff at our prickliness at being summarily displaced to tropical climes, but in reality, this gig was a short time on a small steamy island bookended by monumental to do lists, endless trips to the hardware store, suspicious foodstuffs, and the fact that we never envisioned ourselves so close to retirement surrounded by car fires in a country we had to Google to locate. As my husband and I are sent across the world and back, I can’t stop fantasizing about the perfect place to live, a scattered and schizophrenic hobby that may be incurable. I am like the soldier who returns from combat, adrenalized by the roiling tenor of gunfire then lands a job at Lowe’s. Simply said, I now require more than just a roof over my head…wherever that may be.

For four more days, we live on the Caribbean sea with a 240 degree view of the sea itself. What’s great about living here, I suppose, is the opportunity to do so, a small consolation for almost losing my mind in the process.

On Saturday, we’ll pack up our cache of coral, scuba gear, air-conditioners, bathing suits, juicer, Cuban cigars, and leftover rum and be faced with another move for maybe one, maybe four years. But before long, when location is no longer decided for us by a young man in a uniform who knows absolutely nothing about us, we will be faced with the terrifying and insoluble dilemma of choice.

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Mouth taste and moral taste and other thoughts from Adam Gopnik

Food, Reading and Writing

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Charlie the Tuna, France, the film Hugo, and a salad dressing recipe. All that and then some in my essay about Adam Gopnik’s The Table Comes First.