burnt plastic neighborhood
Thursday, December 26 2013
location: Room 208, Royal Sea Aquarium Resort, Curaçao
Today was Boxing Day, a holiday that means nothing in the United States but might mean something here in Curaçao. It was also Gretchen's father's 69th birthday, and his daughter Sadie had written a poem to commemorate the day (she refers to him using the Yiddish term "Zadie," which still confuses me with its similarity to "Sadie"). Unfortunately, poor Sadie experienced a sudden case of stage fright and the poem had to be read by someone else. And then I read it a second time as though it might be an important piece of literature.
After coffee and some more reading of articles from issues of The New Yorker, my snorkeling carried me once again up along the ocean side of the seawall protecting the beaches to the northwest. When I wearied of snorkeling, I landed on the beach and walked back toward the resort, eventually fording the "canal" by swimming across it back to our resort. I think I was stung lightly by a jellyfish during this final salt water swim of the day.
In the afternoon, I had it in my mind to perhaps get my own independent supply of alcohol (either beer or rum), so I could meter my own doses and liberate myself from the sad communal pincushion sixpacks of Polar (eight ounces per bottle) and Presidente (seven ounces per bottle). This was a vacation, damn it, and I needed to be drinking more ethyl alcohol!
I crossed from out resort's island and went along the beach just a little inland from where I'd walked back from my snorkeling. There's a fancy two-tier pedestrian shopping area parallel to the beach called Boulevard, and I hoped to perhaps find a retail establishment selling beer. Unfortunately, though, the only kinds of businesses along Boulevard are douchey bars, restaurants, high-end clothing boutiques, a tattoo parlor, diving equipment merchants, and a store that sells three or four locally-produced aloe-based cosmetics. I soon gave up on Boulevard and walked out to the nearby street (Bapor Kibra), walked northwestward past a casino, and then turned northeastward at a dive shop and took Goetoeweg to its end. I was hoping to find a corner minimarket, but instead I got a view of the local neighborhood. Curaçao is prosperous by third world standards, and in this suburb everyone appeared to have some sort of vehicle in addition to chickens and dogs (both of which either wandered in the street or were confined behind the low concrete walls used as yard fences. The dogs all barked as I walked past, but they waited until I was very close before starting and stopped the moment it was clear I was continuing on. There were also a number of small lizards, all of which scurried away at impossible speeds. Given the number of lizards and street dogs present in Curaçao, you'd expect to occasionally see them as roadkill. But I hadn't yet seen even one instance of roadkill. Beyond the ubiquity of chickens, the clearest indication that this neighborhood was in a third world country was the oppressive bitter odor of burning plastic (it smelled like burning polyethylene). A second strong third world indicator was the strong sewage smell coming from the one creek I crossed (12.09013N, 68.900853W).
Back at the resort, I fixed myself a vodka screwdriver using some of the 160 proof vodka I'd packed in 3 oz. containers specifically for use during airplane flights. I would have preferred to reserve it for that use, but it seemed doubtful I would need all 3 oz. I had on hand for that specific purpose. While I was sipping that on the beach, Gretchen discovered that one of the resort staffers was selling cheap booze drinks by the pool. Eventually we relocated to a tentlike poolside cabana and Gretchen fetched us two drinks containing lemonade, Sprite, rum, and Blue Curaçao. For the first time on this whole vacation, I felt like I was drinking the quantity of alcohol someone should drink on a Caribbean vacation. This is not to say that such drinking was essential or even necessarily to be desired; for me alcohol is more about what it signifies than what it is.
To celebrate Gretchen's father's birthday, all of us convened at an Indian Restaurant across the canal on the upper tier of Boulevard called Bollywood Bar & Lounge. We sat in an island of outdoor seating with a view through the palm trees of the sun setting into the Caribbean.
As is common in Indian restaurants, our table was given an initial couple orders of papadum. I don't really think of papadum as having much in the way of flavor, but my nearly-ten-year-old nephew Mikah took a bite and reacted as if he'd just chomped down on a habañero pepper. Unlike any other incident on this vacation, this showcased the sheer hopelessness of getting the kids to eat real food. Mikah subsequently said good things about a samosa, though he only liked the breading on the outside, which was comprised of little more than flour and grease. Gretchen ordered all the food, and initially it seemed as if perhaps she'd ordered too little. But the thing about Indian food is that it's always unpleasant to eat too much of it, and most orders, even when they look small, are too large. It seems we ran out of food just as we were approaching the threshold of collective discomfort. As for drinks, all anyone had was water, in keeping with the generally Mormon tenor of our vacation.
Gretchen had prepared a birthday cake back in Hurley, which she'd frozen and put in a suitcase that she'd checked (along with a number of vegan staples, all of which proved unnecessary) as airline luggage for a $25 upcharge. This afternoon, she'd secretly made a frosting and assembled the cake as a multi-layer confection. My only involvement was to help with detaching it from the freezer box of the minifridge in our room, to which it had adhered like a tongue on a frozen flag pole. Surprise! Happy birthday. We uncorked that bottle of champagne and watched the rest of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Gretchen was unhappy with the way the three hour movie ended, because, spoiler alert, it didn't prove to be a happy ending for everyone. And my disappointment was that the message ended up being less subversive than it could have been. Meanwhile Mikah had his own traumatic experience. He doesn't like frightening or suspenseful moments in movies, though violence itself doesn't seem to be a problem. For him, the hardest thing to watch was the scene where a ticket checker was coming through a train (supposedly in Italy, though it had been filmed in Budapest) while two of the protagonists, recently robbed at gunpoint, were riding without having bought tickets. Mikah had such a stressful time watching that scene that he actually blocked his ears so as not to hear, even though the dialog was entirely in Hindi.
Me by the pool at the resort.
A lizard on the sidewalk in that neighborhood I walked through.
A woman evidently walking to work down Bapor Kibra (which is called Dr. Martin Luther King for some distance).
An iguana near the bridge to the resort.
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