Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Let's Not Go Back to Normal

I'm all about finding that silver lining ... always!

Overall, this lockdown isolation (and we are on Day 40 today as I write) feels like a long sea passage -- just the two of us on board alone together. The hiatus has given us time for thinking, talking, reflecting, just as we do at sea with only the waves, each other, and our thoughts for company. It's nicer than a long passage in that we have internet, fresh vegetables, and no night watches. It's less nice than a long passage in that when we finally arrive and get to leave the boat we won't have an interesting new country to explore. Or maybe, just maybe, we as a nation will rethink some things during this quiet time (or even, some things will die of their own accord) and we won't go back to some of the ways that weren't working so well before. If that happens then there could be a new country to explore after all.

“In a rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to,” suggested a meme that I posted a couple of weeks ago. So I have indeed been considering. There are things I miss from my old life, but perhaps fewer than I expected to. My normal life had lots of things I certainly don't miss -- the busy-ness and scurrying about; the filling every spare minute with distractions, mindless entertainment, and shopping; the indifference.

On the hurry-scurry, one of my Spanish friends said it best. The original is perhaps more lyrical than my translation but the point is so inarguable that I'm pretty sure it comes through. “Haste is dead,” he proclaimed. "Today, there is no rush to get up, there is no rush to bathe, no rush to dress and eat breakfast and drive to work. No rush to come home and make dinner and go to bed so you get enough sleep to get up tomorrow and do it all over again. Haste is dead, and time has been reborn.”

I've been pondering the distractions a lot as only essential services are allowed in our state at the moment. What is 'essential services' on the one hand, food, medicine, construction, trash, roads, gas. But almost half of what we have in our local economy … isn't essential. Most shopping isn't essential. I remember reading somewhere that the US has six times more retail space per capita on average than most of the rest of the world. An excess of stylish new clothes is certainly not essential and most of the people I know who have been cleaning and organizing while on lockdown are finding they have clothes to give away, a surplus rather than a shortage. And that goes for many other material things as well. Entertainment, tourism, museum, zoo, art, live music, even the library are all closed as non-essential. These things are also not considered 'nessessary' but they give life meaning, value, beauty. What a drab – and I daresay, brutish – existence we would have otherwise. Maybe post-lockdown we will begin to value experiences more than material things.

The indifference of the old "normal" compared to the generosity we've been offered in this time has been the most dramatic contrast of all. So yeah, that's the part of the old normal that we'll be most glad to jettison, and the thing that we will most remember from this time. Our neighbors and members of the local cruising community have been  amazing.  Grocery angels have done our shopping for us, we've had help from laundry angels, and errand angels while Dan is in strict isolation due to his injured lungs from a scuba diving accident in February. (It's been weird, learning to accept help rather than give it.) We've donated all the money we didn't spend last month on eating and drinking out, to suddenly unemployed servers and coffee shop owners and entertainers. We've learned to live slow, and to celebrate our friends via zoom and videochat, in many ways the one-on-one connections are deeper and richer than the noisy pubs we are more used to meeting friends in.

The virus still sucks, and we are still at risk, and we've lost numerous things we deeply value. I'm still wrestling a lot with my emotions around this summer's sailing season on the Galeon being cancelled. But the results of the lockdown, living slow and having time to think, that doesn't completely suck. We've found a small glitter of silver lining, and going forward, our “normal” will not be what it was before.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Feels Like Defeat (But Really Isn't)

Confusingly, having a car is both liberating, and confining, when you live and travel on a boat.

We haven't owned a car since we left Annapolis in 2013. We've just relied on public transportation or rented when we needed, because really, when you're as mobile as we are in the boat, or spending summers sailing with El Galeon or Santa Maria, owning a car is a bit of a liability. It needs to be moved while we move the boat from one city (or island!) to another, and stored and maintained while we're off adventuring. So instead, we rent while we're in a new area, to explore and to do basic maintenance like provisioning or getting boat parts.

Not having a car, especially in a historic downtown like St Aug, has always felt a bit freeing and European... until now. With so many things in unsettled circumstances, and Dan's lungs so fragile that we don't dare put him in a taxi, uber, or bus, we needed a long-term rental.

The good folks at our local Enterprise office know us and our preferences well. They lined us up with an almost-new Chevy Spark -- simple, small and agile, perfect for the narrow streets of the ancient town. It was delightfully reminiscent of the kind of cars we generally rent on Aruba. Unpretentious, youthful, and fun. Unfortunately, with Dan so isolated and fragile, there weren't many places we could take it! Storage unit, pharmacy, once or twice to parks where we could go for a walk until those closed down as well, and that was about it. All dressed up with no where to go; we couldn't even buy our own groceries and had to rely on favors from neighbors. (There turns out to be something surprisingly intimate about sharing grocery lists, but that's a story for another time.)

As the weeks went on it became apparent that we were in this for the long haul. We went online to extend our car rental, only to see that our local office had closed, though there was another one 15 minutes away that could serve our area. That, I think, was when we realized it was time to buy (gasp) our own car.

If not owning a car feels like a defining feature of a lifestyle of traveling on a sailboat and open to any adventure that comes along, then what does buying a car imply? The beginning of the end of our floating lifestyle? A commitment to stay in one area for a while? Having a much more predictable life, where the boat is just a floating condo? Was it the first step to moving ashore? Committing to buying a car just felt like accepting defeat.

It felt like the virus had ended our cruising dream, and maybe for others as well, as we see the fragility of this lifestyle. All over the Caribbean, Bahamas, and East Coast, our friends who were traveling on boats were reporting weird situations. They were trapped, couldn't move freely or get back north before hurricane season; marinas and ports and borders were closed or closing. I'm not sure what we want either. Early on, when we realized the Spanish ships and tall ship festivals were out for us this summer, as was our plan B of playing in the Chesapeake, we decided that St Aug was a smart place for us to be. We had a great infrastructure here, and many people who could help. We were known, and we knew the area.

The good news is that we had the money available, and were quickly able to find a vehicle that met our needs and wasn't too expensive. With the practical logistics solved, settling our heads was more challenging. Owning a car again simultaneously symbolizes freedom and an anchor or tether. We can go anywhere we want, independently, road trips!; and we're not traveling by boat any time soon, we're staying in this area for probably the next year.

Friday, April 3, 2020


It was only six weeks ago, but the world is so much darker right now. But six weeks ago was exuberance, feathers, sequins. Loud music, dancing in the streets. Laughter. Crowds, kids, sparkles. Family groups. Friends.

The people who participate spend hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours on their costumes (sometimes more!) And walk/dance for hours in the sun; it seems everyone on the island is either in the parade, or watching the parade cheering from the sidelines. All the splendour is a gift to their neighbors -- and has been one of our favourite things to do witness Aruba, every spring.

This year was a "small" carnaval. It "only" took a few hours for the parade to pass the spot we were standing. So here are just a few pictures of the faces of random folks who stopped for photos, happily displaying their artwork. I found the secret of getting those photos, by the way: gesture politely with the camera that you'd like a photo. They'll pause and smile. Click the shutter. Look at the camera to check the image, make eye contact and a thumbs-up or other gesture indicating the photo came out okay and gesture thanks. Then they'll give you the real smile -- the one that is simultaneously "you're welcome" and "thanks for appreciating my art and our island tradition." That's when you take the photo that will become the keeper.

And a few of the "shoulder pieces." Imagine carrying this on your shoulders as you walk 4 or more kilometers in the sun -- then doing it again tomorrow! And paying for the privilege, for bragging rights but mostly just as a gift to your neighbors.