You may be as delighted as I am to know that Boxing Day was our last full day in Fiji. I’m a little weary writing about Fiji, so I can understand if you are getting a little weary reading about it.
Boxing Day was also Lucy’s birthday. People with birthdays around Christmas are generally assumed to bear a grudge about it, having endured a lifetime of being gypped with combined presents and multi-purpose parties. Certainly that was assumed about my mother, who was born on Christmas Eve. Looking back, I cannot recall her complaining about it, and she was never the sort of person who kept complaints to herself. Even so, no one who knew her would dream of describing a gift to her as a Birthday/Christmas present for fear of the reaction that might ensue.
I may never know whether or not Ma would have blown a gasket over it. She turns ninety this coming Christmas Eve, so I suppose I could try to find out, but in her current happily demented state, the results are likely to be inconclusive, and moreover it seems kind of cruel. I could give her the same gift ten days in a row, telling her each day was her birthday, and she would accept it gleefully each time. I envy her in this regard. Continue reading 17. Enough is Enough
The sunrise cut through the crack in the blackout curtains like a laser beam, illuminating the room just enough to leave me utterly perplexed as to where I was awakening or why I was there. Frank was nowhere to be found. For reasons that defy explanation, he had left his iPhone broadcasting WBUR, Boston’s National Public Radio station:
“…an assailant stole a baby Jesus statue this morning from a nativity scene outside a Haverhill church and replaced it with a severed pig’s head…”
That’s right, I recalled, it was Christmas morning and I was in Fiji. Continue reading 16. One Helluva Christmas
“Did you enjoy Emori’s tales?”
“Excuse me?” I looked up from the room bill, still reeling from a nine dollar charge for the miniature tube of Pringles out of the minibar. “Tales?”
The front desk clerk clarified. “You took the island cruise yesterday, didn’t you? Emori’s memory is, uh, his stories are never the same twice. How much did he tell you the Dutch man paid for the island he gave his daughter?”
“Fifty-nine dollars and twelve cents!” I barked angrily about the credit card surcharge, head shaking.
“Really? Last week it was seven million dollars. Australian.”
For a moment we regarded each other quizzically. What we were talking about? I realised that having charged my credit card, she was completely disinterested in discussing my bill.
Finally, light dawned. “Oh, oh, the island…um, ten million, ah, US dollars, Emori said. But I thought the buyer was Danish, not Dutch. It was a daughter, though, that much is consistent.” Continue reading 15. New Fiji’s Eve
I have never suffered motion sickness in my life. I was particularly thankful for that this morning, as when I opened my eyes the room was swirling, the throbbing of cannibal drums signalling an impending attack. Frank was gone. Had they eaten him already? In a cold sweat I dashed up the hillside to breakfast.
The whole crew, including Frank, was already there. The waitress filled my coffee cup without even asking. Clara put her hand on my shoulder. “Feeling better this morning?”
“Not really — I was feeling pretty good last night.”
Everyone in the restaurant, including the staff, nodded and smirked. Uh-oh.
Frank sighed audibly, then smiled and asked “Ready for the cruise? We leave in an hour.”
“Sure, sure, no problem. A gallon of coffee and a side of bacon and I’ll be right as rain.” Continue reading 14. Emotion Sickness
We had just sat down for breakfast. I began my morning hand-waving exercises, trying to get the attention of any coffee-bearing person. Shirley arrived and pulled her chair in close, leaning over the table as if she had some state secret to share.
“Just after you left last night, this guy…” Her eyeballs rolled into their left corners as if to gesture at the man at a distant table, as far away as he could be and still be in the restaurant. He was white and woozy, slumped over an empty plate. His female companion sat across from him, unable to attract his gaze, regarding him as if she wished he were a bit farther away.
“This guy…” Shirley continued, “…walked into our cabin asking ‘Where’s the party?’ I told him ‘No party here!’, but it didn’t seem to register. Lucy got up, I could tell it was a fight or flight response and she was not about to fly, you know? She said something like ‘You’d best be getting along’, but he ignored her, too. Lucy doesn’t take well to feeling threatened or ignored. So, like, all hell is about to break loose when Aydell pokes his head around the divider. I guess he heard the commotion from next door. ‘Is there a problem here?’ he asks. The guy just says ‘Where’s the party?’ again, but this time he leaves.” Continue reading 13. Fit for Purpose
The roar of the rain was incentive enough to stay in bed well past noon. It was the best sleep I’d had in a week, much of which had been spent drunk. Every year the “silly season” lead-up to Christmas seems to get a little sillier, and 2014 was no exception. My work in the public service alone provided five career limiting opportunities in the form of Christmas parties — although in truth the only significant “career limiting” decision one makes in the public service is to join the public service.
There was the “Program” party, which entailed drinking with the people with whom I actually work. Then the “Branch” party mandated imbibing with the people who work with the people I actually work with, followed by the “Division” party obliging a touch of the tipple with the people who work with the people that work with the people I actually work with. The “Group” party dictated spirited festivities with distant colleagues I generally avoid. Finally the “Departmental” party was a tedious affair, swilling with the swells and the swine. Continue reading 12. Drinking in the Holiday Season
Christmas is a wonderful time of year to be a kid. I have few happier childhood memories than Christmas morning. Toys, candy, noise, laughter, food, surprises and a three-hour period when my older siblings were well enough distracted to not beat me up. Heaven.
Even the obligation of an afternoon visit to Snarky Grandma was not enough to take the shine off the day. Snarky Grandma incessantly commented on everybody else’s shortcomings, and she didn’t miss a thing. She would give a full accounting of each of us, citing the numerous debits and paltry credits in her ledger of righteousness. Her subtle yet incendiary verbal devices were a marvel to behold; genius, of a sort. Worst, she always gave us clothes for Christmas.
As compensation, the evening would include a visit with chain-smoking Salty Grandma who stretched credulity with lurid tales that would make the Brothers Grimm shudder. She spent much of her life on her boats, lending credibility to her sailor-like demeanour. From shooting skeet with Clark Gable, to piloting the largest oil tankers in the world, to proofreading an entire edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, she had done it all. Best, she knew exactly what kids of all ages want for Christmas: cash.
Continue reading 11. Dangerous Cargo
The Duncan Road house where we stayed in 2012 was a two story building divided into two spacious three bedroom homes. It was in a relatively affluent part of Suva, popular with ex-pats, with plenty of well-heeled Fijians about. A common indicator of a good neighbourhood worldwide, there were several good schools run by religious sects, mostly Christian, nearby.
The organisations that place volunteers in Fiji tend to be security conscious to the point of paranoia, so our compound was surrounded by a six foot fence topped by decorative sharp steel fleur de lys, at the ready to impale transgressors. If that wasn’t enough to detract any would-be evildoers, the “Beware of the Dog” was intended to dissuade them, although the aging hound that lounged in the yard was quite happy to welcome strangers in hope of getting fed. Continue reading 10. Get a Grip
Having explored as much of Suva on foot as we cared to, we decided to look further afield. At dinner Aydell suggested we head to Pacific Harbour, the closest “real beach”, an hour’s bus ride out Queens Road to Suva’s west. Frank’s eyes lit up, as he recalled that a colleague had opened the resort there, The Pearl. A quick review of a fistful of tourist brochures followed, the results supporting the notion that Pacific Harbour was a place to check out. Whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, zip-lining adventures, “Jetski Safaris”, reef diving, scooter rentals, laser tag on the rain forest beach, big game fishing charters, “Snorkeling with the Sharks”. I wondered whether the big game charter fishing operator had realized the potential synergy of teaming up with the “Snorkeling with the Sharks” people to save on bait costs. Regardless, there seemed no end to the testosterone tantalizing treats that awaited the intrepid and continent at Pacific Harbour.
It promised to be an exciting day.
Continue reading 09. Extreme Retirement
It was the perfect day to discover the real Suva: 35 degrees in the shade, 125% humidity, a searing sun interrupted only by ominous cumulonimbus clouds, dark, anvil shaped and towering to dizzying heights. We left the brollies behind, as if we found ourselves on the mean side of one of those monsters, our bumbershoots would be bumbershot in a lightning flash, literally.
Continue reading 08. Walk Like A Man