July 2006
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Day July 14, 2006

Of Paradise Terrestre

Very early this morning, I steered my very over-loaded Land Rover, stuffed to the gills with bedding, temporary deck furniture, books, network gear, half a case of wine (and glasses!), coffee-making apparatus, and a couple of shorts and shirts northward, to take possession of the house on San Juan Island. 

I felt a deep sense of coming "home" upon driving from Friday Harbor to the house.  I’d worked up here as an archaeologist (and student) in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and this island (in particular) had a strong effect on my emotional geography.  The islands have loomed, throughout the intervening years, as my unrequited "paradise terrestre."  I think I became, to quote Lawrence Durrell, an "islomane":

Somewhere among the notebooks of Gideon I once found a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, and among these there occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit.  There are people, as Gideon used to say, by way of explanation, who find islands somehow irrestistable.  The mere knowledge that the are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication….But like all Gideon’s theories it was an ingenious one.  I recall how it was debated by candlelight in the Villa Cleobolus until the moon went down on the debate, and Gideon’s contentions were muffed in his yawns; until Hoyle began to tap his spectacles upon his thumbnail of his left hand, which was his way of starting to say goodnight….Yet the word stuck; and though Hoyle refused its application to any but Aegean islands….we all of us, by tacit admission, knew ourselves to be ‘islomanes.’

Lawrence Durrell, Reflections on a Marine Venus

To begin my first day of intensive Islomane therapy, I arrived on the first direct ferry of the morning, along with a gaggle (herd?) of tourists including about a zillion teenagers bound for some kind of camp, and stopped in Friday Harbor for the keys to the house.  For most of the day, Andrew (from Rock Island) worked on getting me Internet service, via their 900 MHz wireless "Canopy" service from Mt. Constitution (I look out to the northeast from San Juan Island) — successfully getting me between 2-3Mbits down and 5-600Kbits up by the time we were done (thanks, Andrew!). 

After I finished putting together a bed and buying a few essentials (soap, toilet paper, dishwasher soap, garbage bags), I had a celebratory dinner at Steps Wine Bar and Cafe, about which I’ve previously written.  Madden and Tawm took great care of me, and I had some utterly spectacular local English peas (served with yam gnocchi, garlic, and a bit of brown butter), and tiny carrots, in a savory vinegar and molasses sauce, grilled.  Amazing.  I could be a vegetarian quite easily with food like this.  Madden started me off with a revelatory Pineau des Charentes, a slightly sweet aperitif made in Cognac from unfermented grape juice halted with Cognac (basically, a vin doux natural or vin doux licquer).  I followed this with a bottle of 1988 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf from the cellar, which actually needed more air to open up than I thought.  Still great tannins and acidity, and a beefy, iron-and-blood note in the nose, coupled with some spiciness when fully open.  Two hours later I’m drinking the rest sitting on the deck, with red fruit, spices, and definite iron, with less of the beefy/bloody thing as it thins out.

We finished with a bread pudding with an amazing mango puree with fresh vanilla beans and balsamic drizzle, accompanied by a Coteaux du Layon (a sweet Chenin Blanc dessert wine from the Loire Valley), and finally a shot of espresso.

I arrived home just as the sunlight turned golden and sunset occurred, and now as I write these words the last glow is fading, behind Saturna Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands.  The sea is calm and I’m left on the deck typing and listening to the occasional sigh of a wave lapping on the beach, so far below. 

A perfect day for a long-latent islomane to return to what has, after all these years, turned out to be not just a set of memories, but hopefully…..home.