Il bel far niente - the island way

We're halfway into our two week vacation on the island of St. Croix. It's been six days since I've even found the need to leave "the compound" on the beachfront. You know immediately that you are staying at a nice house when it is referred to by others as "the compound." It's private and gated. It has a beautiful pool and the ocean view is incredible. In addition to my partner Ed, and our travel companions, the only other humans I've seen have been the pool boy, the Terminex man, and Carl (an abbreviation of a much longer local name that is impossible to pronounce) the gardener.

The gardener first came by yesterday to remove large palm fronds and numerous coconuts from the grounds; debris from the wild weather of the day before. He explained to us that it had just been a "big wind" rather than a "storm." Carl also mentioned that he would line up all the fallen coconuts for us and he then explained how we needed to place one sharp end of a pickaxe in the ground and bring the coconuts down on the other point of the tool to break the husk off the coconut. Our friend Lisa told him she would check the tool supply to see if we had a pickaxe.

This morning Carl was back, while we were all still in bed, cutting the large area of lawn with a weed-eater. The noise woke Ed and I. Soon we were up and around. Carl came through the gate yelling "good morning" with his thick Caribbean accent. Ed went out to greet him and was handed a number of religious tracts. Carl explained that we could read them later if we wished and he was asking for no money. (The exchange seemed oddly appropriate as we had just watched the movie Jesus Camp the night before. Oh, that Rev. Ted Haggard is a wild and crazy guy!)

What excited me was seeing that Carl was dragging a pickaxe. He quickly went to work husking our collection of coconuts. You know you are truly in vacation mode when someone husking your coconuts is the most exciting event of the day.

With a hammer and a screwdriver, Lisa then cracked the coconuts and salvaged all the milk for tropical cocktails. We had fresh coconut meat with our coffee as a pre-breakfast snack. Lisa and Bev then went for their morning walk. Ed was is the gourmet kitchen preparing a crustless Florentine quiche. I was on the beach doing my daily harvest of multi-colored beach glass for the jewelry I hope to design. (Hey, it's only been over 30 years since I've designed any jewelry pieces.)

This is how we've learned to vacation over the years - and we usually take two or three incredible trips annually. I've never experienced more pleasure than when we are really doing a great deal of nothing.

In the book I am currently reading, Eat, Pray, Love (Carol, our long-time cleaning lady, recommended it due to all the travel and food content - even though it is kind of a "chick" book), the author Elizabeth Gilbert writes that Americans don't know how to vacation and do nothing. In discussing this with an Italian, by the name of Luca Spaghetti, he explains that in Italy people do not have this problem as they "are the masters of il bel far niente" - the beauty of doing nothing.

Gilbert writes, "The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work (for the Italians), the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life's achievement."

Ed, our friends, and I seem to have mastered this art form. I remember that years ago Ed was telling his mother about the fact we had rented a 300-year-old Italian villa with eight friends and we were going to be gone for a month. Her immediate response was, "But what about work?"

Ed's answer was, "That's why I work, Mom."

And so we really do enjoy our vacations. We don't need to visit every tourist site. With numerous great cooks among our friends we seldom need to go out for a meal. None of us must be doing something all the time.

Several years ago we traveled to Italy with a woman who needed to be doing something from sunrise to late in the evening. No tourist site went unvisited. No hilltown left unexplored. She had two days of her trip scheduled for a visit to Rome. I asked what she intended to do while in the city and she took a sheet of notebook paper out of her backpack. On both sides of the paper was a list of all the sites she planned to visit - in two days! My first thought was: I'm sure glad I'm not going to Rome with her. A second realization made me kind of sad - I finally understood that her crazed schedule of events was due to the fact she had no intention of ever coming back to Italy. See it once, say you've been and then there's no need to ever return. We haven't traveled with this individual since.

Today Ed and I went skinnydipping in the pool, waving to the occupants of the seaplane flying a little too low over the neighborhood to check out the houses. Cranky phone lines and a dial-up connection make the desire to go online less than when at home. Each morning Ed performs his duty as "Crab Rescue 911" - saving the crustaceans that have fallen into the pool during the night. Our breakfast discussion was menu planning for future meals. Ed went online to see that it will be raining through the weekend at home in Portland. Naps were had by all. We played dominoes at the table on the patio. Ed spent some time as a chemist, making up a tropical cocktail concoction. We all read from the library of books brought with us - most on the topics of food, travel, or both. (I think I've read seven books so far this trip) An amazing dinner of pan-fried fresh sole (with my homemade tartar sauce), fries made from locally grown white sweet potatoes, Cowboy Jeffie's cole slaw (I'll post the recipe in the future) and assorted beverages is currently being prepared. After dinner we may watch a movie. Tomorrow it will start all over again. What we don't accomplish on this adventure may get done on our next visit to the island.

For some, it might be somewhat exhausting finding the beauty in doing nothing. For others it could easily become a way of life.

© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives


Dave said...

Mrs. Dave says you bordered on TMI with the pool thing, but otherwise she said if you're ever interested in adopting her, she's open to the idea.


Jeff Fisher LogoMotives said...

D. -

First of all, Mrs. Dave is just jealous because it's really winter in Baltimore. We'd love to adopt her - but are you ready to handle the kids on your own?

- J.