Monday, May 7, 2012

The stars. My, oh my, the stars.

Sherry and I recently returned from our first proper vacation in about a year and a half. As someone who already, at much too young an age, has the unbridled daydreams of a retiree, a year and a half is much, much much much (much much) too long to go without squirming my toes in wet sands, bathing under isolated tropical waterfalls or sinking my teeth directly into a still live salmon plucked from an icy Alaskan riverbed. We have left the city since moving here last May. We went back home for Christmas. That was our only trip (save for that Mandarin bus tour we took to Niagara Falls), and I quickly learned that a brief trip home after being away is anything but relaxing. Sugary, spicy, everything nicey, yes. Relaxing, no sir. I've never been so tired in my life. Everyone wanted us to eat. Everyone wanted us to drink. No one wanted us to sleep. I boarded the plane back to New York feeling like I had been trampled by bulls in Pamplona. So this next trip had to be all about following the fleeting impulses of our hearts.

I like to do dumb shit when I travel, and I have this somewhat irksome habit - I've been told - of doing things simply because other people haven't or won't. And when, for that very reason, I suggested we go to Cuba, Sherry just about punched me in the neck. Seriously. That conversation ruined our Valentine's Day dinner. But we settled on Vieques, a place that appealed to both our sensibilities. It's a small island off the Puerto Rican mainland. A former US Navy bombing range and testing grounds, it's now a wildlife refuge and eco-tourist destination. It's a place known for its free-roaming horses and pristine, untouched beaches. Off the beaten path, but safe. Still in our same time zone, it would scratch that travel itch until we're able to unplug for long enough to take that spiritual pilgrimage through India.

There's very little to actually do in Vieques, which made it perfect. It was relaxing and safe. Certainly much safer than, while on our honeymoon, the madams of Bangkok brothels hungrily eyed my South East Asian wife with dollar signs in their eyes. Yet, there was just enough risk involved to be fun. I had a brush with death when the pop-eyed man behind our rental car counter referred us to a bodega up the street where we could pick up some cold cervezas for the hotel. It was clear this was not a tourists' bodega, but it wasn't clear until I entered and walked past a heavily tattooed young fellow dressed in all red, sipping a Medalla. Inside, Puerto Rican eyes fell upon me. Seething, unwelcoming eyes. Predatory eyes. Convict eyes. And I - un gringo poquito in slim jeans, Toms and a porkpie - wanted to haul ass back into the sunlight, throwing frantic glances back as if I were being chased by the Chupacabra.

Once back in our jeep where awaited my bride, Sherry tells me she watched two men approach the jeep from behind, walking down the middle of the street. They looked like Somalians, she said, she thought she was in Somalia, and she thought they had AK-47s.

We didn't go back to that neighborhood, but two days later I almost backed over Sherry with our rental jeep. So there was danger.

But the rest of the trip was nothing but blissful horas upon horas of pure zen. I spoke each morning to the horses freely wandering the grounds of our mom-and-pop-run inn. I absorbed book after book. I drank my volume in Medalla - a terrible piss-tasting light beer, Puerto Rico's pride and joy, and the only beer to be had on the island. I chain smoked cigarillos, got lobster-skinned on secluded beaches, fought waves. The waves won and stole my shades.

But mostly, I just looked. When the sun was out, I just looked and pondered the horizon, the flat flat blue horizon. And at night, the stars. My, oh my, the stars. At night I would lie in the grass and simply look. Who knew there were so many? And think what our most ancient ancestors must've thought of them. Water, grass, dirt, these things are tangible and kind of make sense. Me drink water. Me eat grass. Me sleep dirt. But the stars, my oh my. No matter how tall a tree our Serengeti brethren climbed, they were always just out of reach. The homosapiens must've looked to them, opened their arms wide and in their limited lingual capacities, exclaimed what the fuck? This is where god came from. The stars are religion.

But while Vieques may have god, we have better beer. Plus, New York has it's own holiness among its vast dizzying twinkling windows, and Zen comes in many different shapes, sizes and colors. In fact, I'll tell you something. Opening the window onto our fire escape at night, the cars whizzing to and fro along the BQE, it's just like being lulled to sleep by the crashing waves of the Atlantic. Brooklyn, my own private beach.


No comments: