We sailed from the Northern Abacos to Northern Florida over a few days. It was an easy and pleasant trip, even though we didn’t get a lot of sleep. Here’s a short video about our passage.
Here’s a good story about Rock Sound, told to me by woman who has cruised there. A single-hander went to the bank, withdrew 500 dollars, which she put in her backpack. Then she went for a hike with a friend, leaving her pack by the path. When the returned, the money was gone. They went to the police station to report. The police chief directly drove out into the community and interviewed some kids who had been hanging around the scene of the crime. They described the other kids they had seen there. Within half an hour, the police chief knew the names of the culprits. She demanded that they produce themselves, their parents, and the 500 dollars in her office, in ten minutes. The woman who lost the money did not believe that they would show up. But the kids showed up, heads down, with their parents, and 450 dollars. One of the kids was a cousin from Nassau. The police chief told him he was banned from the island, and got the parents to agree. Then the kids started to file out the door, heads down. “O, I’m not finished with you yet,” she called out. Then she handed them pails and mops and put the kids to work, swabbing the halls, cells, and bathrooms at the jail. Then she made them wash her car. That’s the way Rock Sound rolls.
How cool is this? We’re sitting on a mooring at LIttle Harbor (it’s not possible to anchor here) and the boat next to us is playing beautiful, romantic French vocal music. Ryan is doing the dishes and complaining because, actually, it was my idea that we clean up after our lovely dinner of fresh-caught mahi, baked potatoes, and grilled peppers. He got down below before I did, and there really isn’t room for more than one person in the galley, so….here I sit, writing. There isn’t anything I can do, really, and he is vociferously complaining. “It wasn’t my idea and here I am doing the actual clean up. It isn’t quite fair.” No, it’s not. I’m happy not to be down below for once, sweating over the oven or stove. He’ll get over it.
And he is over it. And all the dishes are clean, hooray! After all, I got up at 6:30 this morning and washed all the dishes from last night’s dinner, which I also cooked, partly. Well, it doesn’t matter. These are the little spats that you forget about. We are happily listening to the distant tunes from Pete’s pub, which are largely drowned out by the roaring surf. What an amazing place Pete’s parents came to back in the day. His father was an artist at a university who sailed his family away from civilization to work on his art, found this place, settled here, in caves for probably 10 years, built a foundry, and drove on . What a tyrant he must have been. What an adventuress his wife must have been!
Ryan tells the story of the last time he was here. He was with his friend Robert and his brother Brady. There were two other boats, all anchored out. There was no mooring field then. They joined the other boats at sundown for cocktails and brought a bag of wine. They were drinking and goofing around and talking about their adventures. At one point, very early on, the elderly mother on the boat grabbed the mylar bag of wine and said, “this thing, it’s disgusting, it feels like a ball sack!”
Maybe you had to be there. There was nothing here then, only a few shacks and Pete’s pub, made out of an old sailboat, with a sand floor and, often, no bartender. It operated on the honor system. You poured and paid for your own drinks. Now it’s all developed, with fancy moorings and piers and shops and condos. We haven’t gone ashore, yet. More to come.
April 2, 2016
We sailed from Eleuthera to Abaco today with no real turmoil. The jib rolling furler failed, so we had to take the sail down and proceed with just the main. The winds started out in the 20s and settled down to about 11 knots, with clear skies and four foot waves. It was a bit rolly, but not too bad, sunny and pleasant. We had to scram north while the winds were blowing that way because, as usual during this very strange winter, we were running from the wild winds. I really wanted to stay in Rock Sound, where I spent a little bit of time with a woman who feels like a spirit sister, Janice, who runs her dad’s restaurant, Sammy’s, with a great deal of wit and skill. It was sad to say goodbye so quickly, but the cold front coming down from Florida was going to keep us from getting north for quite a while, and we are decidedly heading north. I have mixed feelings about it.
I love Bahamians. And I am sad to be leaving the islands where most of the businesses are owned and run by Black women, like Lorraine’s Restaurant in Rock Sound. The food is fabulous and the service unparalleled. There’s also a very homey, ordinary feeling about the place. You can go round the corner to visit with Lorraine’s mother, who bakes sweet coconut and whole-wheat bread that she sells right at her dining table. Get there early because it sells out quickly. While you’re waiting, you can chat with Lorraine’s granddaughter. Four generations of strong women live next door to one another, keeping the restaurant going and working other jobs, as well. Lorraine’s daughter has a white-collar job on the island, so her daughter stays with her great-grandmother and grandmother after school.
I’m not so happy to be returning to the Abacos, because the racial politics are so different there. White Bahamians dominate these northern islands, even though the majority of Bahamians are Black. Many Southern loyalists settled there after the English lost the Revolutionary War, bringing their slaves, if they had them. Slavery was abolished here earlier than in the U.S., but the institutions–prejudice and segregation–are still felt in the Bahamas as at home. Generally speaking, in the Abacos Whites have better jobs and there are still islands where Blacks are not welcome as neighbors, only as workers.
Consider Man-of-War, a pretty little island, to be sure, very industrious with a fantastic boatyard. There you’ll still see the Black people stepping wearily onto the ferry at the end of the day. They go home to their own neighborhoods on Abaco, the big island, which is segregated in many ways that tourists don’t usually see. Throughout the mostly White, northern islands, Blacks work as gardeners, fishermen, garbage collectors, waiters. On Eleuthera they are shopkeepers, grocers, owners of property and property-producing businesses. Below is a photo of Rosie, who owns a gorgeous house on a cliff overlooking the sea, where she cooks up the best food on the island.
Wow! We are listening to an outstanding live jazz from a gazebo about a hundred yards from where we’ve anchored our boat in Governor’s harbor. This is by far the best live music we’ve heard in the Bahamas. We got here this afternoon, dropped the hook, invited our friends from Valinor and our new friends from Pearl for cocktails, had a wonderful little party, and now the sun has set and this amazing band started playing. The acoustics are fabulous, clear, acute. The vocalist is Gabrielle Saveli, or something like that. She’s great, so much better than Diana Krall. Governer’s harbor turns out to be pretty sophisticated. We’ll have to spend more time here next time we come down. Eleuthera is amazing. We cam here from our favorite place in the Bahamas, Rock Sound, where one of my spirit sisters lives and runs a restaurant called Sammy’s. Have you ever had that experience? When you meet someone who you know will be your friend for life? You just know.
Once again Ishmael draws a contrast between the dark-skinned harpooners,
a far more barbaric, heathenish, and motley set than any of the tame merchant-ship companies which my previous experiences had made me acquainted with,
and the three White sea-officers,
every one of them Americans; a Nantucketer, a Vinyarder, a Cape man.
Race is on Melville’s mind. No doubt about it. But where he stood on the issue, how he felt about slavery, that’s the question that critics can’t decide on. Because the novel is not simplistic. It’s not a pro- or con-anything kind of book. It’s not a politician, or a manifesto, or a vehicle for any particular ideology, but rather a complex portrait of a complex, violent society of violent injustices.
At last, also, we meet Ahab, who emerges on deck for longer and longer periods the further south the ship sails. Ishmael compares the Captain’s “whole high, broad form” to a Cellini bronze statue of Perseus.
The myth of Perseus,son of Danaë, whom Zeus impregnated as a shower of gold, is worth considering here, for it is deeply bound up with the sea, with brutality, murder, and money. Again and again, beginning in his infancy, Perseus is exposed to terrible dangers that should but don’t kill him.
Here is the story that Robert Graves assembled from various ancient sources, which suspiciously blame women for starting all the trouble:
Danaë’s father, Acrisius, having heard that his grandson would kill him, locked Danaë and the infant Perseus into a wooden ark, which he cast into the sea. It washed to Seriphos, where a fisherman, Dictys, nets it and takes it ashore. The King of that place, Polydectes, adopts Perseus and tries to marry his mother, who resists him. Polydectes tries to trick Perseus by sending him after the Gorgon Medusa’s head, which he ostensibly wishes to present to another princess as a marriage gift.
Athene helps Perseus because she hates Medusa, originally a beautiful woman who led the Libyans of Lake Tritonis in battle. Somehow she offended Athene, who transformed her into a hideous creature with venom-dripping snakes for hair and a face so ugly that she turns all who look upon her to stone. Hermes also helps Perseus to kill Medusa by teaching him how to obtain winged sandals and a helmut that renders its wearer invisible.
On his way back to save his mother from Polydectes, Perseus falls in love with Andromeda, the Ethiopian princess chained to a cliff to be devoured by a female sea-monster. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, had boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids, and Poseidon responded by insisting that she be sacrificed to the beast. Perseus slays the beast and wants to marry Andromeda, but her parents attack him with a force of 200. Perseus turns them all to stone with the Medusa’s head and returns home with the marriage-gift and discovers his adoptive father threatening his mother, Danaë, and the fisherman Dictys. He rescues them, turns Polydectes and his aggressors to stone, and then gives the kingdom to Dictys. Then he sails with his mother and Andromeda to Argos, where he accidentally kills his grandfather with a discus.
Perseus is a tragic hero who, like Ahab, kills female monsters and sails oceans. He murders the King who wishes to marry his mother, his wife’s parents, and his only grandfather, along with hundreds of others who oppose him. The gods help him to commit these deeds for arbitrary reasons of their own.
The author of an on-line guide to reading Moby Dick observes that Melville alludes again to Perseus, whom he calls the first whaleman. He leaves out Medusa’s head altogether and suggests that the monster the demigod slays to save Andromeda is a Leviathan. Ahab’s skin is bronzed from his time at sea and his singular, mad pursuit has made him hard.
What strikes me when I look at Cellini’s statue is the prone, sensuous body of the Medusa under Perseus’s feet and the beautiful visage on the head he holds up. I’m wondering if Melville, whether consciously or not, imagined Ahab as a dominating man, whose patriarchal power derives from his ability to conquer the dangerously sensuous feminine elements in the world?
Ishmael falls in love with Queequeg, whom he calls “a real friend.”
Ishmael may be in a biracial relationship but he is still a racist.
Ishmael recounts the biographical history that Queequeg gave him, and uses rather offensive terms, and I can’t make up my mind about them. What is Melville intending to do by having Ishmael describe his friend as a “new-hatched savage” or a “fine young savage, this sea Prince of Wales”? The story reminds strongly of Aphra Behn’s
Oronooko, which Melville must have read. Like the prince of that tale, Queequeg is born a chieftain and comes to the New World. Unlike Oronooko, Queequeg is not sold into slavery, but like him he feels stained or besmirched by the treacherous and wicked ways of the Christians he encounters. Queequeg, like Oronooko, is “noble savage,” an exalted figure imagined to be outside of civilization, a creature of nature at the top of his or her species’ food chain, a noble beast, like a lion or a elephant. He may have good manners, but he is still an animal.
More Complicated Racial Commentary
Queequeg and Ishmael leave the Spouter Inn carrying their things in a wheelbarrow, and the people stare at the sight of a White Christian and a non-White Pagan “upon such confidential terms…as though a white man were anything more dignified than a whitewashed negro.”
Melville is clearly challenging the racial assumptions of his society, but he doesn’t seem to go so far. What does he mean by “whitewashed negro”? I’m sure I don’t know.
Queequeg teaches one of the “boobies and bumpkins” a lesson about respect, and the White coward brays to the captain of a nearby ship. The captain takes the White boobie’s side, but is soon distracted by his boom, which has come unlashed and sweeps the boobie overboard. Queequeg masters the boom and save the bumpkin from drowning.