November 28, 2011

Ye Olde Trip Log


Modern technology's weak link is the battery. Freshly charged keyboard died immediately upon entry and now I'm left high and dry for the week. But who cares when we're above the clouds and the sun is present and it feels idyllic just being on the plane, the gentle motion, those surprisingly tasty airline cookies simply via association.

We got upgraded to an exit row and have legroom aplenty. The flight's only two hours and I wish it could be longer to half-sleep, half-dream, think of the past, of band camps in spring, of how we have this entire continent of memory and yet can only access such a pitifully small fraction of it, at least on earth.


Check-in smoothly. Best Western rules. To the beach! I forget, when landlocked, how when I get to the sea I want to read sea books, mythical books really, books that contain no dialogue but the sea's breath, a vast compendium of ocean poetry linked together. "Now the scalloped sea engulfs me....".

Sea reads are not the only type appealing on trips: travelogues in general are, notwithstanding the difference, say, between strolling through Paris and lounging on a beach. I'm reading John Baxter's "The Most Beautiful Walk in the World" about Paris and he mentioned something I hadn't heard before: the English love sun, the French love shade. Makes sense given that only "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun."

We spend the day on the sands but dusk comes early to mid-November Florida. It changes the color of the Gulf from a leaden flatness to a brilliant white, at least where the sun strikes it. Winds produce a fine spray of white sand; like mist it travels over the malleable hillocks.


1988. A poet in Monterrey, California. I was there on vacation and his book seemed a vast improvement over the kitschy souvenirs, for what could improve upon a poet of the place? More than even rock or soil, a writer sings of the distilled essence. And yet that particular souvenir gathered dust. I was more interested in collecting than in experiencing. I was more interested in the idea of re-experience than in actual real-time experience. And yet I knew, or suspected, that the book couldn't live up to my idea of the place, and so it goes... It's like love or God: you feel no one can live up to your idea of love so you collect glimpses, fragments of love and put them away for a rainy day, not realizing every day is a rainy day.

Felt good to be back at the beach, despite the long delay (3pm). The day got behind us too quickly: Mass at 10am after which we went a mile down the rode to see a professional sand sculpting display (they even charged an entrance fee but it was quite worth it), followed by lunch at the Beached Whale. Time spun away from us and it was with a sense of relief I regained a temporary beachhead and the quiet - the blessed quiet! - of wind and wave. We'd been pummeled by noise at the restaurant, where a thousand screens showing pro football games were accentuated by whoops and hollers. Before that we rode 9 miles along a busy thoroughfare with plenty a motorbike. Yes it was good to arrive back at the beach, pleasantly fatigued and ready for books and beer and the music of the breeze.


It's been surprisingly difficult to figure out nationalities just from appearances. For example, I rode up the elevator with one of the more American figures I'd ever seen, like John Wayne with a off-brand ball-cap and that all-American touch of impatience. But when he spoke to his wife I couldn't even identify the language. In hindsight, he held his books - yes, plural, another dead giveaway - too high against his chest. American men are taught from little on that the higher books are held against the body the more feminine the pose. Plus the books were enclosed in a ziplock bag, which seems, again in hindsight, a bit fussy for the average laid-back American paperback reader. Leider (German word for 'unfortunately') I couldn't see the title of the books, nor did I ask him where he was from. He looked pretty blue-collar to be taking books to the beach.

Another difficult case was the man wearing a large hat and a Speedo swimsuit. That would suggest not an American, but he had such a Texas look about him, and he was overweight, which is an American characteristic.


And so to the electric prose (literally): the Kindle and its pleasing array of literature. I feel a bit of a pull to continue reading about glamorous Paris though the scene in front of me is glamorous as well: the swells of waves beyond which carry a pirate ship, complete with authentic-sounding booms (I know, because I've heard pirate ship cannons in movies).

I read in the Paris book of how Hemingway said that the modern world is so full of mechanical oppressions that it's a good thing we have alcohol as a mechanical relief. Surely we're now more, in ways technological, even more mechanically oppressed now. Or not. I don't feel particularly oppressed at least at this particular moment. And I don't think of Hemingway as in any way worthy of emulation except in his writing prowess.

The early retreat of the sun cannot be reversed - at 4:50 it's sitting low in the sky, sort of like the way men are supposed to carry books. Sandpipers hunt and stilt-walk their way along the shallows. The sand under my feet is packed neither too hard or too loosely. All of these facts seem somehow of import.


Steph woke up with a mild sickness and so it was to the doctor we went, a walk-in clinic, where the old gathered in the waiting room as if in living proof that as we age we breakdown, and all "getting better" is merely temporary. They come to the clinic honestly and we see our future: one of us routinely waiting in doctor's offices or emergency rooms as if it were a hair appointment. It's not unpleasant, reading the Kindle with the distraction of the noise of Kathy Lee Gifford on the television. Most of the visitors are neither reading nor watching tv but simply sitting and waiting with perhaps the patience of an older generation, or one comfortable with, and interested by, their own thoughts. I hadn't seen Kathy Lee since the days of Regis's little show and I wondered if she'd been able to resist the omnipresent desire of older women to go under the scalpel. She looked fake-young to me, with long yellow hair. In this world the phrase, "She's looking older," is apparently worse than "She looks like she's had surgery" and I think we're the poorer for it. Taking care of oneself is great but knives, well...A huge billboard in our neighborhood, advertising for a politician named Young, says it all concerning our society: "Act Young, Be Young, Vote Young".

Afterwards there was the issue of the prescription, with the closest pharmacy cross island. We waited for a trolly, not the most punctual of modes of transportation for the patience-impaired. Vacation has unwittingly forced me to slow down. After a wait we made our way down the long Estero Boulevard of paradise regained to the CVS. American efficiency reared its pretty head and within ten minutes we had the medicine, after which we waited 45 minutes or so for the next trolley, after a few false starts of "special trip" vehicles.

Back at the hotel by 1:30pm, and to the beach I went. Under the Brisbane-ish sun I ran down the beach a mile and back, enjoying the second half more than the inertia-breaking first half. I decided an early happy hour was in order and proceedeth thence to open a Dogfish Head "Rasion D'Etre". I sit in the same spot, the spot where the sun unfailingly seems to shine as if making a path to the sea just for us. Shining diamonds crystal in front of me while the pirate ship booms. Two German lesbians lay out to my right, an extended family to the left.

The weak link in this vacation is the food: breakfasts are continental with hard-boiled eggs, functional only. Dinners are micowaveable since there is no conventional oven. So it's not a pretty picture unless and until we go out, which we did on Sunday with a sun-defying visit to The Beached Whale (whose t-shirts we definitely don't want). The carbo-rich breakfasts and dinners make me feel as though the weight is being put in exponential fashion.

The childhood pool game Marco Polo is being played nearby. We varied it, back in the late '70s, by replying "Polo, ol' chap". I think we thought Marco was British or something. Plus it was a cheeky way of saying "you can't catch me", via the extra syllables said in that detached 007 way.


The definition of a leisurely morning: a walk on the beach with the concomitant pleasure of a shoreline of seashells that line the Gulf like trinkets. Early on we have the beach nearly to ourselves while later many share the view. I find myself looking, as often as not, towards the empty terraces and balconies that lace the shoreline. So many vantage points from which to see the sea, so many with that same exhilarating scene from lofty heights.

Then we got on our bikes and headed towards the "Times Square" area for an American breakfast at a Greek cookery. Yum, if undaring. We followed with a bike-ride past the pastel buildings of the Square to the quiet harbor before putting out to Bowditch Point, at the extreme end of the island.

To the beach at 11am where I started to run: oh how I'd secretly craved a run! I sprinted down the beach "like a gazelle" Steph said. I felt in better shape today than the first day down here. Beer and sun will make me run. (Er, that didn't sound right.) Who wants to read when there's ground to cover, fleeting sand underfoot, barefoot down the beach past gliding pelicans and piping sand pipers (I refer to pretty much all sea birds other than gulls as 'sand pipers' because it's the only type I know.)

Speaking of Europe, my "can you spot the European" game show continues with today's slam dunk: a blonde woman with bunched shoulders wearing white shoes with black socks. Nothing says "European" like an unlikely flirtation with black. The easy way to tell a foreigner is simply anytime you notice them, since one tends not to notice the overly familiar. Thus when I was talking to a guy from Ottawa, technically a foreign country but who gave off all the signals of an American, I said without realizing he was one: "there are a lot of foreigners here." Not that there's anything wrong with foreigners of course. Some of my best friends happen...

Is the popularity of tattoos a metaphor for the modern tendency towards short-term thinking and live-for-the-minute? The conventional wisdom is that tatts may look good now, but will they when you're 60? "They're not thinking about 60," goes a school of thought. On the other hand, if everyone in your generation is getting tattooed, then it seems like what "looks bad" will be culturally defined downward by the time they get to 60. In a sense it seems a risk worth taking given how much beauty is culturally influenced. What surprises me about tattoos is how there's a segment of the population that becomes addicted to it, and keep going in for more.

The vacation is starting to get long in the tooth, Thursday being our last full day. I feel a bit nonplussed about it, assuming I know what nonplussed means and I'm not sure I do but I know what I'd like it to mean. Saturday was a travel day, Sunday a semi-travel day given the long journey down Estero, and Monday a semi-travel given the illness. Today is the first full day of beach, nothing but beach.


Woke up with disquieting dreams, including one in which I was back in high school and the powers-that-be suddenly added a new requirement: crucifixion. Yes, we all would be crucified our senior year. Needless to say I was very upset and agitated about this development. Perhaps this speaks to my subconscious protest to our having to give ourselves completely to God. Needless to say we Christians are expected to, if not be crucified, at least carry our cross towards that end. Perhaps it's guilt at being able to go on so many vacations.

So it's day five already and a bit of fatigue has resulted from the fatigue and exercise. The weather ebullient, as it has been all week, although tomorrow is supposed to cool down, relatively speaking. This week the weather has been decided warmer than normal, for which I am not ungrateful.

Got out by 10:30 or 11-ish and enjoyed the fine sea breeze while reading the surprisingly engaging "Eyewall", about a fictional cat-5 hurricane striking a Georgian sea island. A nice light beach read, perhaps the pluperfect one. No "Drood" today, though a spot of Kingsley Amis' "Every Day Drinking".

The great hours at the beach are 10:30am-12:30pm and 3pm-5pm. In the first, you get the "thrill up your leg" as Chris Matthews might say that the day is young and the sun is high and you're high on that sunshine. By 12:30 or 1pm, I feel ready for some movement, exercise, something else. Too much sitting/laying about. By 3pm, I'm usually drinking, which is its own reward as drink and drug (can't we say "and/both" despite Chesterton's admonition that both drunk and teetotaler miss the fact that alcohol is a drink, not a drug.)

Spotted an amorous display of affection involving a guy wearing a speedo. Is that a wise move given the visibility of sexual appreciation in the male? A good reason not to wear speedos. Speedos often reflect the quintessential mistake: "as I think, so will females". "Skin to win" is a mostly ironclad rule from the male perspective but most females are not so sight-motivated. Of course I generalize here. Some men have an exhibitionist fetish (hence the prevalence of male streakers and Anthony Wiener-type tweets.) There's nothing quite as dispiriting as seeing a group of naked bikers with the great majority being male.

The sun is so blinding off the water that when people walk by they become silhouettes, surrounded by the glory and glamour of the sun. Even average-bodied figures become as transfigured, acquiring a kind of transcendence and poetry.

4:30 and the clouds have blocked the sun to egregious effect. Cool winds zephyr up our legs and down our backs. I put on a shirt and Steph covers with a towel. Beer, the great warmer-upper, helps but the cloud bank is huge and extends for half the sky and it's cool as an Irish fall evening. Boats nod in the choppy waters. The wind feels exhilarating, it gives a feeling of windswept nostalgia like the grainy videos of JFK at the Cape. Or it could be that no one is more melodramatic than me on the penultimate day of vacation (or really any day on vacation for that matter).

Never bet against the Sunshine State. No sooner had we retreated to our unit when the sun shone bright beneath a huge dark slab of cloud. The sliding doors, facing west, flood the room with savor-able light. Parisian painters of the 1800s used to appreciate the "melancholic light" of 5-7pm. Me, I appreciate any given that I live in Columbus, aka "Cloud-umbus".

And now the sun begins its precipitous decline. 5:20 and we live on borrowed time -- but then don't we anyway? Isn't all time borrowed? Meanwhile Steph is reading my Kindle (I've created a monster!) and so I can't get back into Goddard's rich Shakespearian feast.

So the winds blow through the hunter-green fronds of the palm in front of our balcony. A single spear juts from the base of the palms. White sand and water complete the endlessly appealing backdrop. And sky - so much sky! The fronds wave as if weaving goodbye; they look so creaturely for plant life.


It's funny what the water brings in. Yesterday a half-pumpkin the size of a canned ham. Also an ear of corn. But no note in a bottle, alas. Until yesterday the beach was clean as a lick, with just light-colored shells undulating along the shoreline. Then, apropos of nothing, driftwood and bamboo sticks in quantity appear, marking the beach with dark matter for a mile or more.

Lots of "Heaven and Mirth" followed by a mirthful 20 minute run followed by a beer & malted milkshake runs. The weather is of paradise, which is how Ft. Myers markets itself. To my knowledge no one calls Vegas, or the Grand Canyon, or Niagara Falls paradise but I saw two road signs claiming such, and one bike rental operator refer to the sunshine, warm temps and beach as such.

"A fish just ran over my foot!" complains a 20s-something youth. A lot of rowdy "civilians" (non-hotel residents) at the beach today, presumably because of the holiday.

Overheard elsewhere: "The water is muddy-looking, probably from the dredging they're doing." There is a sand restoration project going on as I write this: a big ship in the distance runs an underwater tube to the shoreline from which great gobs of sand are emitted.


So it's "Black Friday", so-called because it's when retailers get in the black economically but for me it's a black Friday because I'm heading north back to the land of cold and shadow.

We got up early and walked the beach one last time. The sunshine state delivered yet again, I thought to myself. On the ride to the airport we met yet another transplant: this time from Tennessee by way of Michigan, last time via New Jersey. Tempting that... I like that Steven Riddle move south.

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