Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

On August 28th, before sunrise, we were treated to a spectacular show: a lunar eclipse. Strange hour, I thought, to see such phenomenon, but I made sure I was awake.... not easy!

The moon had been full and bright, and from our balcony overlooking Biscayne Bay, it was magnificent. The ocean reflected the light, it was so bright and round. Once it started, the shadow of the Earth moved slowly across the surface of the moon. The sky looked so clear, like a mantel in the background. At some point the moon turned reddish. Of course I have no idea why or how this happened... but the sight was worth having left my cozy bed at such ungodly hour.

I stayed up until the moon moved behind one of the many tall buildings now dotting the edge of the canal separating our small key from the mainland. As I went back to bed, I thought of another such phenomenon, years ago in Curaçao. Not a lunar eclipse then, but solar. On February 26, 1998, our small island was one of the best sites to observe this. Reporters and scientists from around the world descended on the island and everyone talked about it for weeks on end. Preparations were made for the day; newspapers, television and radio stations organized play by play reporting. Friends planned parties, families planned getting together by the beach, at someone's home. Nobody was immune to the fascination of this event and the fifteen minutes of fame conferred to our island.

Once the Oohhs and Aahhs faded, we had weeks more of comparing photos, videos and accounts of where and with whom did we watch the eclipse. Enterprising photographers made money with beautiful pictures made into postcards or with videos that were much better than what most of us could produce. T-shirts were sold as souvenirs. A small eclipse industry flourished for a while. After all, we needed to send these mementos to our children, family or friends living abroad.

In contrast, looking out into our small island on the mouth of the Miami River, I could see that my enthusiasm for this event, was not shared by many....or by anyone! Like the sunsets I so much admire, this was ignored. I don't think anyone has the time to look at the sky anymore. How sad! I do miss the slow pace of the Tropics that allows for a breather now and again to concentrate in something more than what is at eye level.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Only about two weeks ago, I was writing to my friend Vicki about the changes in our bridge group. Three of us have already moved away and a fourth one is on her way. Farewell bridge mornings with lunch and memories, exchanges of addresses, promises to keep in touch and visit when we can, have become too frequent. This has happened before, but now it takes a new meaning. As we grow older our lives change, when we move away and start anew chances are coming back will be harder. Still, I know we will try and succeed.

This weekend it was different. On the Saturday morning, Vicki called and the seriousness of her voice told me it was not to ask me how I was. Her voice broke when she told me that Hilde, one of our friends, had passed away! I sat down and tried to grasp the news. What? how was that possible? had she been sick? where? so many questions came to mind. First and foremost, I remembered how she was sensible and no nonsense, straightforward and plain spoken, a good listener and realistic. She was planning our trip to Vermont this Autum. I am sure all arrangements were made to perfection. We will miss her!

There were not many details yet about her passing, but they were not necessary at the moment. A link in our chain has broken and it will never be the same. In our small group, this is going to be very difficult indeed. I have no idea what arrangements will be made, I am sure though, that each one of us will try hard to be there. The need to gather in times of sadness is strong, especially in a small community with an expatriate presence where your friends become your family. In our bridge group, without being each other's best friends, we have been there for each other in good times and bad. As the warm blanket we were once compared with, we will mourn together and offer comfort to her daughters. May she rest in peace!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Curaçao is outside DEAN's path

Hurricane season has peaked with a vengeance! DEAN is cutting a warpath in the Caribbean with high winds, torrential rains and destruction in its wake. Once more, Curaçao will be out of the danger zone. There probably will be a lot of rain and high surf. The authorities will secure the Queen Emma pontoon bridge across St. Anna Bay and everyone will be advised not to go in the ocean. Water will be rushing in the streets and some parts of the city will flood. Thankfully, that will be the extent of this.

Once the tally is taken in the nearby islands in the wake of the storm, the inhabitants of Curaçao will once again heave a sigh of relief. I always felt secure when I lived there. The storms were never something we really fear. We would take precautions and heed warnings issued by the government, of course. In the end, we would remember that the island has not been hit by a hurricane in more than one hundred years!

Now, living in Miami, I have developed this hurricane fear. Not only do I check to see if the storm is heading our way, but I check how close will it be to Curaçao. Four years in South Florida have taught me that no place is safe, and we all have to be aware of what's brewing in the Tropics! Is it my imagination or in recent years the storms are getting closer and closer to the Western most Leeward Islands and the coast of South America? Let's hope not!

Monday, August 13, 2007

So hot......maybe we need a good storm

That is exactly what we need. It's been brutally hot and one can almost touch the humidity...yuck! I know, everyone is now thinking the heat has gone to my brain. Well, not exactly. Rain is the cooling system of Mother Nature. When everything gets hot, temperatures soar and the earth is parched, a good downpour is the answer. It clears the air, everything looks clean and fresh.....remember the phrase "a break in the weather"?

I do miss that from the Tropics. Everything feels brand new after the first storm of the rainy season. All the dust and dirt wash away and the sky looks clear and bright. The earth drinks the moisture and everything comes back to life. I love the smell of wet earth, don't you? It says so many things: life, fertility, gratitude.

At this time of the year when you are coming back to the island after your holidays, as the plane approaches the airport, you can see the landscape, brown and dry. In a couple of weeks, after the break in the weather, everything changes to green and lush and the island looks so beautiful with its fresh cover. So, let's apply the same here: what we need is a good storm that will clear the air, make everything look fresh and new and will usher in the cooler weather!

P.D. It's August 14th now. What did I tell you? Coming out of the Coconut Grove public library this morning, it was raining! Waiting for it to diminish, I stood outside in the veranda that surrounds this very tropical building. The sound of the rain, the sprinkles of water, all felt wonderful! The temperature had cooled down considerably since I had arrived about an hour earlier.

I stayed there enjoying the sound and scent of the rain made even more familiar in this setting: a building that truly belongs in this climate, with shady trees around it and a sense of being suspended in another time. It will probably rain all afternoon, and you can feel everything getting clean and bright. I love it!!!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Holiday Travel

One of my best friends, Kathleen, is rounding up her Summer holiday, not vacation mind you. British that she is, vacation sounds too American, she says. The point is to make the term easily understandable to everyone she knows. An expat peculiarity, I'm sure. Anyway, she has been to the UK for three weeks, Cyprus for two and is now in Holland for one! With no husband or children waiting at home, she is free to roam the world during her Summer break (about six weeks) from her school librarian job. She'll get back with only hours to spare before school starts! She is by far not the only one doing this.

Now, how is it possible to achieve all this in these hard times? It works this way: this time of the year, with school out, a lot of islanders just go on holiday. Sort of a given thing when you are an expat: you visit your home country, your children living abroad, friends that have gone back to their countries or just take a trip to avoid island fever. It is just something you plan and, in a way, expect to do I guess. Everyone that can, will travel.

Can hear rumblings again! These are really spoiled people! Not at all, because some cannot do it every year and save for this purpose. Let me try to expalin. Since prehistoric times, people from the Caribbean have moved from island to island, from the mainland of South and Central America to the islands and viceversa. So, it's no wonder this comes naturally to islanders : traveling within the Caribbean is a given. Nowadays, there are daily flights from every island to every other island, how else can one get by in this vast watery world?

Then, traveling between Curaçao and Holland is easy and one can get great deals. After all, most everyone has family or friends there. Chidren go to study there, marry, get jobs. Traveling to Miami is easy, and again, deals pop up frequently. Some come to the States to study, get marry, find jobs. What is everyone else to do, but visit?

If you just happen to live in Curaçao because of your job, married a local or simply love it and retire there...... you need to travel! As with everything you do and enjoy, the more you do it the more you'd love it. Traveling becomes an important part of your life. So before the Summer holiday season is over, I plan to visit my children. Later on, I will go see my bridge friends when they get together for a weekend in Vermont when the New England landscape turns a glorious riot of rust, red, yellow and orange. Other reasons to travel : a change in the air, crisp and cool days, soft rain and endless shopping! There is a reason to travel, every season of the year!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cool Tiles

For the last two days, I have been without central airconditioning from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Our building needed new cooling towers for the central AC units. What a joy! In the humid and hot Summer weather, this has been difficult.

There are no lack of places one can go in the city to keep cool, but you don't want to spend your day wandering about. Going out without a purpose, doesn't make much sense. As I work from home in different projects, I have a lot to do during the day. So I decided to stay put. Usually, I have our apartment unit on automatic. This means it only turns on at a certain temperature... cools everything and shuts down again. The house is comfortable without getting too cold. I know, why? you might ask. Well, all is a matter of taste, habit or being environmentally responsible.

Back on the island, and Curaçao is hardly an exception in the rest of the world, energy is very expensive. Central airconditioning units are a rare thing. Most everyone has individual units in bedrooms and family rooms. These are turned on at night or when we gather together for some entertaiment or family time. The rest of the day, we go about our lives without the benefit of this modern convenience. It took me a while to get used to that when I moved there, but I adjusted. So much so than when I moved back to the States, I kept turning up the temperature of our unit every morning after getting out of bed. Most of the time it doesn't bother me....... when it is too hot, it starts by itself!

During recent hurricanes, we have been lucky. We never were without power for more than a few hours. Twelve at the time, in the middle of the hottest month...... this is a first. Still, I am coping much better than the rest of the people in my building, who are used to central AC for the whole day. I woke up earlier than usual, closed all the blinds and verticals, keeping the house dark and the coolness of the night inside. Bedrooms doors and windows were kept closed.

In the middle of all this, I remembered something. When things get really hot on the island, and people either can't afford to turn the units on during daylight hours, or simple do not have them....... they have a neat trick. Get your biggest towel, or a pair of old sheets and lay them on the tiles. Yes, the tiles. Haven't you noticed that they never get hot? They can be hard, but they keep you cool; and when your spot turns uncomfortably warm..... move your improvised bedding. Simple and cheap solution. My good friend Jerri once told me that she remembered this trick from her childhood, when the hot Summer days got so oppressive, her mother made a beach on their living room complete with towels, bathing suits and lemonade. It was so much fun in........ Indiana!!!!