Sunday, November 28, 2010

 Grandpa Dan has been documenting Tallulah's new experiences on vacation in New Hampshire.

Friday, November 19, 2010

More from St. Thomas

Latest foraged fruit, from the University of the West Indies experimental gardens.

I'm competing in a new Virgin Islands sport, which involves riding a life jacket while towing a small child and a plastic bag. Here we are coming in for the finish.

"There's a kind of fruit that grows in the cold areas, where there is snow on every branch. And it tastes like a pig being launched into a car."

Friday, November 12, 2010

In the University of the West Indies library, I overhear an exchange between what must be a teacher and student in the psychiatry stacks. The student says, “I wish I wasn't struggling so much with it”--something like that, I haven't tuned into the conversation yet; the teacher responds, “Through struggle you learn, so struggle is a good thing.” Kind of rapid fire, as if this is part of his professor patter, but at the same time he really means it. And then they say something else while I'm fussing with my computer cord and by that point they've moved a yard away and I hear the teacher say, “Manhood isn't something you're born with or given. You earn it. And this is how you earn it.” And the student says, “Thank you. I'll do my best tomorrow.” And he walks away standing a little bit taller, I could swear it, and I think I can see his shoulders square. I'm pretty sure they're talking about a test that the student has to take tomorrow, but they've ended up affirming what seems like a beautiful principle. I realize I've never actually heard anyone talk like this. And it makes me want to ask them, What is manhood? And is there any way that I could earn some, too?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In St. Thomas

Of late I’m impatient with children’s books. Though, thinking back, I remember I read Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish translation to Tallulah as she nursed, two or three months old, soliloquies in Hamlet as lullabies, and Sandra Cisneros’s La Casa en Mango Street before she was two, and she was happy. Lately she revealed an interest in The Odyssey, and sobbed uncontrollably when Beowulf died, and requested repeated chapters of The Sun Also Rises, intrigued by the fishing and the bullfighting and the drinking. (She knows from drunk mans.) She began to invent games featuring Lady Brett Ashley. Hemingway wrote some nice, simple, prose—like a kids’ book, kind of, yet so much more satisfying. (“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”) The Odyssey and Beowulf, though—they were meant to be spoken. The emotions and motivations emerge stark and spare, like hillsides of granite.

I took a walk to the ferry dock at an unaccustomed hour. It had gone dark. I passed the usual detritus, the plastic bags and go cups and empty Medallas shining under the streetlights. The wind was coming from the sea on the other side of the hill as I listened to the sound of the coquís, and one of the men playing dominoes outside the bar lifted his plastic cup of liquor and called out Hi, loudly in English.
Is it tristes tropiques, whatever those are, exactly? (I look up Levi-Strauss on the internet.) Are tristes tropiques like cruisebummers—that haunted sense of something missing, a void to be filled in paradise? I passed the house of a woman we’d known. She had died of cancer two days ago. She’d gone up to her old home in Vermont to die and because I never saw her leave I couldn’t shake the feeling that she hadn’t. I walked past the empty restaurant where a young chef we’d met had started working, when the tourists didn’t come to her restaurant up the hill.
Then I understood that melancholy was something I was looking out of, into the night--displacing it to this other world presumptuously from the world in my own head. The feeling that I don’t belong here, and I can tell, somehow, that I never will. And the places I’ve loved—are they closed to me, indefinitely? That’s the thing about wandering, for me, the intensified awareness that things are always changing and temporary, the craving for difference alternating with the need for certainty, some place that is safe and unchanging. Some place that I now know, and always will, does not exist and yet—like those beautiful archetypes—it is, it must be.