I was sitting in Mabrouka’s salon, sprawled athwartships on the aft side of the starboard-facing “U” like I always do when I watch the big iMac 27 I have mounted on the bulkhead as a TV. Reading, a sci-fi story by William Gibson called Spook Country about a has-been, lately ex-Cuban spy/forger family interwoven with that of another “ex”, but a cult musician-cum-magazine reviewer who, unawares, has been set on the trail of an emerging techno-threat in the guise of a new genre of virtual 3D art. I’ve read several of Gibson’s books recently and, through some sort of displacement of mind bred by the confusing fabric of reality he builds in the obscure jargon of his imagined worlds, they take me to unimagined, distorted places.
So, I’d just finished a chapter that had absorbed me into the distorted nightmare of a loser neo-drug addict who’d been press-ganged into helping surveille one of the Cubans. His dream was all fluorescent x-ray-like images of his captor asleep as he wandered naked through his adjoining hotel room. Looking up before venturing into the next episodic vignette of Gibson’s story, I glanced at the large rectangular mirror mounted on the forward bulkhead of the salon. Through its slightly hazy reflection (I can never get it quite clean) I saw the world outside rotating about me as Mabrouka swung on its anchor. The image rocked back and forth slightly and the tops of nearby masts slide by as the gusty Tahitian winds had their way with the boat. The canvas of the dodger flapped impatiently in the imperfect breeze.
But this view of the outside world was seen, I suddenly noticed, through the tracks that drips of salt water had left diagonally across the mirror. They were the tilted temporary tattoos of a leaky hatch in Mabrouka’s house top, memories of turning back midway across the stormy channel that has kept me bound to Tahiti. Salt crystals had frozen on their way down, like tears spaced at irregular intervals along hollow trails the water left slightly less cloudy in its wake.
Coming out of the warped Gibson universe through this image and into my own present, I fall immediately back into the past of a few days ago. Now the tears seems to be something more permanent, like scars. My failed battles against the ragged hillocks of ocean, into the stubborn resistance of the southeasterly gales has left me disillusioned. I’ve tried twice, now, to cross back to the Tuamotos and been beaten by the weather, equipment failure, and my own physical frailty into returning to Papeete’s inexotic urban sprawl. It, and my repeated failure, depress me.
It looks to me as though I sit, not in my own salon slouched upon it’s worn, blue tufted upholstery, but within one of those stark, bright droplets of shifting sky reflected in Mabrouka’s mirror. Every once in a while the clear blue simplicity of my world therein contained slides across an image that interferes with its serenity. This is the world I live in, distinct and separate from that envisioned. Sharp, distinctive lines and abrupt changes of color that impose themselves on what I, in my naivety of expectation, dare to imagine, if not actually hope for my life.
Pardon this cynical place my mood has taken me, but I have grown used to occasionally having to slog from contented past through this thigh deep quagmire of the temporarily disillusioned present to wade forward into an eventually more satisfying future. If anyone considers my prose to resemble any sort of art, perhaps this is the burden that constitutes its germinating core.
Right now this malaise has shoaled around the disturbing thought that my vision of sailing off across the Pacific has left me stranded on the beautiful, but surprisingly lifeless limn of a deserted atoll. The breeze blows warm through the arcing trunks and shimmering grey-green fronds of the palms, rippling the clear water’s surface in a bright sheen that hovers above the white sand bottom, shifting its intermittent aqua and green and brown features into a iridescently webbed dance of color, but the beings that inhabit this present world of mine are illusive, …just out of reach. Fish of fantastically bright colors tempt my fingertips, but dart away. They’d be cold in my hand even if, by some magic, they ceased their frantic wriggling and let me hold them for a moment. On land as well, the margins of beach seem populated solely by beings that encase themselves in shell or boney carapaces, withdrawing with unfriendly cowardice into their dark lairs or their spiraled fortresses at my approach.
The dry rattle of the palm fronds above gasp quietly in a caucaphony of eerie voices, incessantly pontificating in dissonant chorus upon the hidden harshness of this beautiful place. True, it’s a visual delight but, aside from the frequent comfort of the equatorial sun and the gentle warmth of the trade winds, it has little else to offer its inhabitants other than the unceasing struggle to survive.
This is the deceitful illusion I feel caught up in just now. When I set off for the South Pacific, I failed to realize that the allure of my destination, like the post card windows stationed in alluring tiers in tourist shop racks and across the pages of travel publications around the world, may just be the result of the nefarious scheme of some megalomaniacal travel agent, as devoid of inherent pleasure as the glossy paper upon which they’re printed.
Any true pleasure I have gleaned in this, my seaborne exploration of the tropical islands of the Pacific, has accompanied me or come to visit or made its way into the arc of my adventure from outside, …that is, my daughter and my brother and cruiser friends new and old whom I’ve met along the way. I state this only as an observation, not as a plea, but I feel largely alone now. The relentless wind, the jagged, foaming waves, Mabrouka’s continuous demands for physical upkeep only force me to survive.
Or so it feels. Tomorrow I may discover some new, inspirational pleasure or ocean voyager’s conquest that tempts me to believe that it’s all worthwhile, that this paradise is not the sham that it presently seems, but the vibrant and living weft upon which true dreams are woven.