Sydney Opera House
I took this from the deck of the ship as we sailed out of Sydney Harbor on April 13.
We’re back in Denver after a journey that has taken us to Hangzhou, Singapore, Bali, Darwin and Australia’s Queensland coast, and across the Pacific by ship. We stopped off along the way at ports in New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the two Samoas (Western and American), and ended our thirty-three day sea voyage in Honolulu. We also got to relive April 23rd
two times over by crossing the International Date Line.
Like some of my literary forebears (Jack Kerouac), I worked my way across the Pacific. But unlike Kerouac, I didn’t have to wash dishes or swab the decks on a pukey tramp steamer. Instead, I lectured aboard a state of the art cruise ship – Royal Caribbean’s "Rhapsody of the Seas" - in exchange for room, board, and passage for myself and Nancy.
Normally I teach a meditation course on these cruises, and that’s what I did on the first leg from Singapore to Sydney. But then by some twist of fate we discovered that there’d been a mix-up in Miami, and two meditation teachers were scheduled for the second cruise. Two meditation teachers was one too many. What to do? I huddled with Patrick, the ship's Programs
Diane took this photo from an upper landing at the pier in Sydney. If you look closely you can see Don and Nancy on deck.
Administrator, and together we worked out an alternative. Instead of meditation, I would offer ten creative writing classes. I quickly worked up a syllabus, the cruise line provided pens and a ream of paper, and we were off like a bride's nightie.
Teaching the writing course turned out to be a nice change of pace for me. Attendance ranged from fifteen to twenty-five, depending on what was going on elsewhere on the ship. I have to say that I was astounded by the quality of the work people put out. There are a lot of excellent writers out there just waiting to be published. Many of those in my class want to produce a memoir for their families; much of what we wrote had to do with personal reminiscences.
We hit six islands on our cruise across the South Pacific. I’ll talk about New Caledonia and Vanuatu in this blog, and then write another about Fiji and the two Samoas later. (Note: not mentioned here is the Isle of Pines which was the second of the islands of New Caledonia. Not much to say about it, other than that the totem photos were taken there).
Diane Self Portrait
That's Joan, Bill, and Don in the background
normal;">Noumea, New Caledonia
I have a tenuous connection with New Caledonia in the form of a girl I dated for a summer in the late 70s. She was Algerian/French, working as an au pair
for a family up in Idaho Springs. Her name was Baya Bouchebelle, which means “Pretty Mouth.” I used to hitchhike up there on weekends to visit her, and a couple of times she came down to Denver to visit me. Baya went back to Paris at summer’s end. Then one day she called to say she was moving to “Nouvelle Caladonie.”
“Where is it that it is?” I asked in my bastard French.
“Only a short flight from Australia,” she said. “Territoire Francaise. The people zere, zey speak French. I can work wizout, how do you say, a permission.”
That was the first time I ever heard of New Caledonia, and the last time I ever heard from Baya Bouchebelle. From time to time I’ve wondered what ever happened to her, and whether she’d stayed on in the islands to make a life for herself.
The day before we docked in Noumea, I gave my writing class the following assignment: “Take
Flag of New Caledonia
The three colored stripes represent (top to bottom) blue of the ocean, blood of the Caledonians, green of the forest. Big yellow sun with a traditional Caledonian design in the foreground.
some scratch paper with you and a pen. Pick an unusual color -- magenta, teal, yellow orange -- and keep a look out for it as you tour the island. Every time you see it, write a quick sentence describing the circumstances.” At the next class, I had each of them select a favorite sentence, read it aloud, then write it on a slip of paper and hand it in. That night, I arranged them according to colors and themes, did a little editing, and this is what emerged.
The Colors of Caledonia
By the Poets of the Deep Blue Sea
Navy blue is a social color. Like the people of New Caledonia, it mixes and mingles with other colors and is seldom alone.
In Noumea, close to the church, a young lady with hair dyed orange enters a hairdressing salon to correct a hideous mistake.
(Toenails of deepest puce sparkle brightly on her toes).
The pale green trains go up and down the hills of Noumea,
packed with people taking in the city sights, the mountain views, the flora
A quick way to see a lot of the island. The tour guide was French but he spoke English and Mime.
strewn with lemon colored blossoms.
Noumea is blue, then shades of grey.
Emerald or turquoise -- I confuse and mix them, but the light is present everywhere, and feeling the peace before.
The roofs of Noumea; unpainted corrugated iron, paisley brown. They rust quickly, but still they’re waterproof.
Away from the rain of Noumea, on the sunny island of Amadee Lighthouse, the local shrubbery is lime green. It appears again in our luncheon as lettuce, as cucumber, as salt and pepper shakers and place mats.
Endless green in a cavalcade of pink defies your thoughts of blue water.
In the Port of Noumea, between the layers of black coal, lies a treasure of lemon yellow. Who’d of thought it? Sulphur – a delight to the soul.
On the green near the port, a monument honors the United States with pillars of red, white and blue.
Azure fleetingly, dipping to indigo, flying to splashes full of intrigue, blue of promise.
Snorkeling in a coral cove on the Isle of Pines, startled by a blue fish
with a bright orange stripe.
Difficult to find in nature, teal finally appears on shirts and a painting at the market in the Isle of Pines.
Flat dull green; a color unseen, but if you seek it out, it’s everywhere.
The rock is pomegranate red, a primitive color favored by our Aboriginal artists. It stands out against the gleaming white sand of the beach.
Meanwhile, back in Noumea, a golden Buddha sits in meditation on the roof of a casino, and swallows in one gulp the great Lagoon of Ansu Vata. Vila, Vanuatu
Again, a tenuous connection. I had a tenant in one of my rental units who had served two years in the Peace Corps on the Island of Vanuatu. Before I met her, I never even knew it existed. But after she told me about it, it seemed that everywhere I turned I’d be hearing about Vanuatu; a news item in the paper, a mention in a travel article, a word from someone who’d been there. So now the mysterious workings of Karma had brought us round to actually setting foot on Vanuatuan soil.
hired a cab -- and a driver named Alfred -- to take us around for the day. He brought us up into the hills for a look at the bay and at our ship way off in the distance, then down to a coffee plantation where we had a cup of the local brew, and finally to the National Museum and Cultural Center.
The docent there wore a breechclout of woven grass that just barely covered his genolickers. He explained some of the Island’s myths and rituals, and played a musical instrument fashioned from cut bamboo poles of varying diameters and lengths, and tuned, more or less, to a Western harmonic scale. The bamboo poles are jiggled to produce a tone that sounds very much like an Italian mandolino.
Being the gnarly Italian dude that I am, I went up and picked out “O Sole Mio” on the danged thing, at which point the docent broke out in a big smile. “Ah,” he said “It’s Now or Never,” referring to the Elvis rendition. So together we jiggled out “It’s Now or Never/O Sole Mio,” with me singing melody and he joining in on harmony. So there we were,
farting around in Paradise.
The other thing that interested me about Vanuatu is that Pidgin is the official language. Pidgin is essentially mispronounced English, its mispronunciations spelled out phonetically in documents and signs. Listening to it, it sounds entirely foreign, but if you can find somebody to pronounce the words slowly enough –which is what I had our driver Alfred do for me – you can begin to make it out. Some examples:
· What is your name? Wanem nem blong yu?
(Want name belong you?).
· I want to eat. Mi wanem kakae.
(Me want cake).
· Where are you from? Yu blong wea?
(You belong where?).
· Thank you very much. Tankyu tumas.
(Thank you too much.).
This, my friends in the English Departments of the world, is the future of English as an international language. Get used to it.
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