2019, BLOG XV: PAPE’ETE AGAIN

NB: A friend thought that the cats in the previous blog were going hungry. They were well fed by the owners of the Fare Tokoau; both slept in their bed at night. The Multi-colored Miss lost her mother as a kitten and had to be bottle fed by them, resulting in a food neurosis, a problem not unusual among mammals.

Rising in my airless room at the Fare Hau. I went out to look at the view of Mo’orea regretting that I wasn’t there. Out the kitchen window I saw someone had hung leis of flowers on the bushes by the side of the drive and couldn’t imagine why. I decided it must be something my landlady had done.

But it turned out the leis belonged to a family—mother, rather European looking, father handsome Tahitian, a boy of fourteen and a girl of twelve, both wearing glasses. They had hung them there over night to preserve them rather than bringing them into the house. The leis had a significance, but what I’ve no idea, because the parents took pictures of the children in their leis. I ran into them with their backpacks in the market, later in the afternoon. I thought myself stupid, and insensitive because I suggested the restaurant upstairs to them. I thought these were people who could not afford that. However, when I ran into them some weeks later they no longer looked like backpackers but very middle class tourists. However, it seemed to me that the children were being led by their father through some rite of passage on this backpacking trip.

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That morning waiting for the bus, I had no difficulty walking down to the stop, I was joined by an elderly, toothless Chinese man who stood with his mouth agape. He talked to me, in French, while touching my arm, my shoulder, my back, as I moved away from him but not far because I was trying to keep my feet in his shadow so they wouldn’t get sunburned. We kept performing this dance—he trying to touch some part of me, me trying to judge the distance of his arm reach while keeping my feet in his shadow—until the bus arrived, quite full. It was a funny, ludicrous dance.

Getting off the bus I walked to the post office. It was closed. No one had an explanation as to why; no one knew when it would open. It was only later that someone told me, “They are on strike.” Of course, this is FRENCH Polynesia.

Every nation has its indigenous curse–the English their cast system, the Americans bizarre religions, the French strikes.

I went to talk to a woman in a shop I had made friends with about tourist things, which she didn’t know of course.  She sensibly steered me to the Tourist Information office.

But she also told me the story of how she came to Tahiti. Although French she had lived in New York City for many years working with jazz musicians and in the jazz world. Friends had been asking her to visit them in Tahiti but she didn’t come until a potential job in Dakar with a jazz festival did not materialize; she decided it would be rude to keep putting off her Tahitian friends. She came out, this is forty years ago–no electricity, no cars—and in two week, in her words, “I had a job, an apartment and a boy friend.” The boy friend is no surprise as this is a sparkling, attractive woman.

I found a substitute bathing suit in the form of garish shorts with matching shirt. My thought was that if I wore these into the sea a couple of times they would fade. I also found Pape’ete’s premier chocolate shop but managed not to buy.

I ate in the upstairs restaurant in the market, the Cafe Maeva, raw fish in a mango sauce that was a revelation. There was a further sauce that was piquant besides a salad dressing with curry in it. All of this made me happy. I had a praline pastry that looked like a hotdog and was superb.

I bought stamps from a tourist shop upstairs that displayed a most extraordinary object–an open bowl made of pieces of nacre carved into fish shapes and somehow connected. With a light inside and hung from a ceiling, the room’s walls would swim with fish. It was, thank heaven, not for sale.

Down the street at the tourism office I made a date for another dolphin watch with a young man, not entirely bright, but very sweet through whom I discovered that if I want to see The Diadem in the center of Tahiti I am going to do it by helicopter since there is no four-wheel drive trip there and the hike is eight hours in each direction.

I started walking toward the airport through the garden bordering the sea on Boulevard Pomare, asking people about the bus. No one knew and the police didn’t speak any English. At last a woman told me that the bus was running on the street two back from the sea from Boulevard Pomare. I walked back and another woman, in front of her shop, told me to wait there for the bus. I did, paid my 200, got off at the right stop, slogged up hill past the airport motel but somewhere after that I took a wrong turn and was lost.

I approached an elderly man and woman at the gate of their house and said “Fare Hau?”  She, under her bird’s nest of white hair, became immediately frightened and, if she had been alone, would have closed the gate on me. Instead she stood inside. Neither of them had heard of my guesthouse.

I went waved at a car to stop. I showed the young man at the wheel the Fare Hau card; he drove to his apartment, a short way, to get his phone, and called them. I saw as we drove how I had gone wrong. I was extremely grateful to the young man for saving me and also for speaking English. He confessed he too had no sense of direction.

Maman at the Fare Hau was all in a dither and wanted Rani to drive me to town the next day. I pointed out I had no difficulty going down. Coming back was the problem. However, as I had cancelled my dolphin trip, Rani drove me to town in the morning.

Maman is a bit of a nut. She would have me writing in the dark, she is so obsessed about turning off lights. Since I complained about the temperature of the water in the shower, I have had much hotter water. She is fixated on money, although for all I know they might be over their heads in debt. But it was annoying to be driven since it meant I didn’t get to walk as much as I wanted.

A friend in Flagstaff emailed me about murals in Pape’ete, spray-painted street art. I saw these as I walked around town, more and more of them. Most are interesting, although some are abstract, geometrical things. In 2018 they had a contest for spray painted murals; artists from all over the world came. Some are moving. Some are subtle protest art.

A little girl, wrapped in a red and white patterned pareu, lies in fetal position, on a pareu of the same design, her long, black hair streaming out behind her. If you look closely at the patterns on her pareu and the one that is a backdrop you see the symbol for radiation and an atomic cloud.

I went into the cathedral without expectations but was surprised by the stained glass windows. At the back is a large, complex abstract window in blue and red. A small arched window above the altar, in jewel hues, of the Madonna and Child is obviously European. I was and am puzzled, because it did not strike me as being French. The Child is represented as a little king with an elaborate crown. I associate this with Czech or Polish iconography. The other windows, however, are local, some to my eye quite idiosyncratic. Doubting Thomas is shown with his head almost completely upside down, a symbol of wrong thinking? There are drums, a guitar, a man blowing a conch. A woman in a rich blue and white pareu, long black hair over one shoulder, kneels in prayer. But my favorite is a small figure of St. Joseph planning a board while about his bent figure dance curls of wood.

Intimidated by Maman I took a taxi home. When we approached the car I asked the young driver if he could do it for 20 rather than 25. He smiled and said, “I would get in trouble with my boss.” He was right.  I know her. She has driven me and has a grim mouth.

He and I talked about the cost of living in places around the world. He wanted to know if prices were as high as they are here. I pointed out that Tahiti is an island and everything has to be brought in from a long way away. He hadn’t thought about that. I also pointed out that people want things. When Tahiti had no electricity, no phones, no cars, no TV it was probably cheaper to live. We talked about Barcelona. I don’t think he had any idea where it is. Finally he asked, “Do they have good sunsets there?”

He won my heart. How superb to come from a culture where the sunset is of such importance that you would not move away from it for economic reasons.

I washed, ironed and packed the next day, preparing to leave for the Marquesa Islands. During the afternoon we had a sudden storm, the rain coming straight down for five minutes in shinning tinsel strands. Then it stopped.

Late in the evening three Canadians arrived. I talked to the young woman, glimpsed the man but never saw his daughter. The woman, however, was a treat and confirmed all my prejudices about Canadians. They had started some months ago in South Africa and had moved about a number of countries there.  She recommended Botswana. She works by computer contacts, which gives her mobility but also means she has to be up at four am. It is always a joy to meet a real traveler. She is one.

5 thoughts on “2019, BLOG XV: PAPE’ETE AGAIN

  1. Dear Karen,

    I feel like I am totally with you when I read your blog. Our thinking and way of approaching the experience is so similar. You could be me and I could be you!

    I live your experience vicariously. It is such a pleasure.

    I am so glad I found you again.

    You are my model for the future. I hope to travel into my 80s and 90s.

    Thank you.

    Kay

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  2. Ah, Karen. Haven’t made much contact lately. But I’m so enjoying following around. Such a delight to see new places through your oh-so-observant eyes. Thank you 🙏🏻

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  3. More interesting descriptions and perceptions.Thanks. I recommend Botswana too; It was 1981 but Chobe National Park and the Okavango delta are amazing places for wildlife.

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  4. More interesting descriptions and perceptions.Thanks. I recommend Botswana too; It was 1981 but Chobe National Park and the Okavango delta are amazing places for wildlife. Love the street art photos especially the anti-nuclear girl.

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  5. So the Brits have their staid casts, the Yanks whacky religious zealots, the French permanent “gone fishing” signs and the Tahitians bedazzling sunsets. So what do we have here in Barcelona? Intrepid tourists? Well, there is at least one world traveler who fits that bill and she wrote this lovely entertaining blog. I hope she intends to keep us armchair anthropologists cleverly engaged.

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