Friday, March 09, 2018

A Tale of Two Samoas III

The airport is a mere concrete block beside a long strip of grassy tarmac. I am not a good flyer at the best of times and I dread what is to come, especially after we too are weighed along with our luggage.  The plane when it comes seats nine, and all seats are assigned.  I am a little envious of LYL who gets the co-pilot seat, which seems appropriate since that is also the name of her type of Ray-Bans.  I am just behind the pilot which allows allows me a good view, particularly of him as he busies himself with the switches and knobs, then occupies himself with his iPhone for most of the short 20 minute flight.    During this time the plane seems to trace a mere parabolic arc up and over the sea and the Date Line to American Samoa.  We aren't high enough to get the usual view of little atolls that never fail to impress, like little ringworm scars on the surface of the earth.  But I do get the flotilla of shadows drifting beneath clouds.

The drive to Pago Pago is again 45 minutes.  The villages are more built up, of concrete and corrugated iron, a far cry from the more organic materials of the other Samoa. Western culture as superimposed on the tropics.  I attribute this to the American influence, but as a lapsed American my eyes tend to the flaws associated with my birth country.  Not a good thing, admittedly, and perhaps a good New Year's Resolution.

For it is December 31 again, and Sunday, and the television hanging over the bar of Sadies by the Sea is all NFL.  The hotel is a good oasis for the holiday, with a nice swimming beach and functioning pool, though the latter is filled with rambunctious kids.  We laze about for most of the day before going over to the original Sadie's Inn for dinner.   I am normally drawn to more historical hotels, particularly those closely associated with one of my favorite writers, Maugham, whose best-known short story "Rain" was set here.  The story was three times adapted by Hollywood, and the rooms bear the names of the actors of those films:  Swanson, Crawford, Hayworth.  José Ferrer too is here but no Maugham, nor can I get an answer about which room had been his.  The rooms are indeed more quaint, but the location not as ideal as the sister hotel up the road.  I do like the vibe though, especially as the few diners here are all expats, and overheard conversation is rich with anecdote. It gives the place an end of the world feel, peopled with characters that are Maugham characters writ-large.          

I don't usually stay up for New Years anymore, and having done so the night before has wiped me out.  I sleep a couple of hours until 11, then LYL and I go out to join the party at the bar.  Unlike the revelries of the night before, this party is a bust, just a few tables occupied by bored-looking hotel guests.  Only the Russian seem to be enjoying themselves, the only ones to dance.  LYL and go sit out on the seawall and look out at the lights over the harbor.  Few things mark the passage of time better than the flow of water.  We simply want to greet the year and go to bed. Then the DJ surprises us by doing the countdown 10 minutes early.  Maybe he too just wants to leave.  But everyone goes through the usual kiss and champagne motions. LYL and I wait, puzzled, trusting only our own time pieces.  A strange anti-climax to the double New Year scheme concocted two decades again, by a more party-friendly young man.

It was an easy prediction that nothing would be happening on the holiday itself, so we've arranged a driver to take us to the National Park of American Samoa, a geographical anomaly too good to miss.  We trace the shape of Pago Pago Harbour, past the Charlie Tuna processing plant, then up and over to the island's quieter north shore.  Following NFL seems to be an important past time here, considering that American Samoa has provided a good number of linemen for the sport (Samoans by contrast  tend to prefer playing rugby).  Each fale has been tagged with the logo for a team, and many houses have flags expressing their particular patronage.  I forget to ask the Chinese owners their favorite, as we stop at their small general store off the road.

We stop at the Lower Sauma Ridge Trail, and our driver immediately pulls off his shirt and leans against the pillar of a fale.  I soon realize that he has the right idea, as we sweat and slip down the steep slope which opens onto an incredible vista of deep blue broken only by the swell of white crashing onto the black of rock.  Seabirds swirl below us, protecting their nests.  Nearby is a prehistoric Star Mound, once an important place in the spiritual life across the Samoas, but today just an nonchalant little bump on the hill.   It is harder work climbing back up through the cloud forest, but it goes more quickly than expected, and we arrive back at the hotel by late morning.

The heat isn't quite up yet, so we take a kayak out into the harbour, riding just inches above the coral heads easily visible through clear water.  We spend the rest of the day down by the same waters, enjoying their cool breezes beneath the restaurant's fale, for it seems hotter here than on Upolu. Behind us, the TV cycles through the usual collegiate bowl games.  Then the sun finishes the first of its 365 rotations.  As man is naturally attracted to that which is light, it seems obvious that we would allow the sun to dictate our relationship to time.  Yet isn't it the moon, now rising as a massive and brilliant orb behind Rainmaker Mountain, the true keeper of time, as it dictates the flow of water, the cyclical nature of women to give birth.  And cultures too, ever guided by this greatest of satellites,  which inspired the mythology of the ancients, and harkens the poet to verse.  The sun of course enables us to live, but it is the moon, which allows us to live more fully.  

On the turntable:  The Getaways, "LA Getaway"

No comments: