Monday, December 25, 2006

Tahiti- day 2

I put three gummy worms, leftovers from my twelve and a half hour flight from New York, into my mouth, savoring the excitement of sugar on a lazy afternoon. I eat four more, then drown my remaining craving in a cold glass of water, sensitive to what my father might say if he saw me eating them.

A photographer, my father frequently comments on the bodies of women and girls we meet or pass in the local supermarket; how one is too fat, or another has remarkable legs, or an exceptional ass. It doesn't strike him as unusual or upsetting to speak to me like this, despite my having openly endured years of eating disorders after he told me, at age sixteen, that I was too fat.
I don't say anything, don't tell him that even though I have come to terms with my own body image over the past ten years, it still bothers me to hear him speak women this way, that it's impossible, no matter how I try, not to take it personally. I simply nod my head in casual agreement, hoping it's enough to stop the conversation.

I arrived here in Tahiti two days ago to spend Christmas and New Years with my dad onboard his sailboat, which I have only ever heard him refer to as his yacht. It's a beautiful yacht, a fifty-one foot Swan, black, with a 14-karat gold-leaf cove stripe, and a red boot stripe, though the gold is chipped now and the red is all but faded. My father has called this his home for the past five years, four of which have been spent moored here in Tahiti, though he has owned the boat since 1984.

Tahiti is gorgeous. Not perhaps in the way most people might imagine; it is certainly not without development and industrialization, and the unexploited corners once painted by the likes of Gauguin are now mostly relegated to the unexploited corners of the mind, but there is something special about this place regardless. Perhaps it's the complete physical isolation of it; I'm not completely sure. Whatever it is, it is unique, yet subtle; something I have really only come to appreciate the second time round, my first visit being this time, last year.

It hasn't rained once since I arrived, which is unusual I am told. "You must be a high-pressure system," my father jokes over lunch onboard Scarlet, the immaculate, sixty-five foot red Swan captained by his good friend Mickey and moored within swimming distance of us. Though there hasn't been any rain, there hasn't been much breeze, either, exacerbating the already high temperatures. When the heat becomes more than perspiration can cool- usually around one in the afternoon- I dive off the side of the boat into unspeakably blue waters. I swim for about ten minutes, against the current, never getting very far from the place I originally dove in by the stern, where the swim ladder is.

I climb back on board, wrap myself in a towel, and sit to read a book. I am left undisturbed until I hear the splash of a Leopard Stingray, named for the spots on its back. I never actually catch the ray in time to see it breaking the surface of the water, but always manage to watch it afterward as it swims swiftly back down to the sandy bottom from where it came. When I wake up in the mornings, I emerge from my cabin to see Moorea, a majestic island twelve miles to the west. This has become my favorite point in the day, a moment of silence and reflection before the lunches, the dinners, the drinking….

The island is my trusted companion, one of the few I have here. It can be trying and tiring as the only non-French speaker in my father's circle of friends, French being the official language of Tahiti. Though I am not entirely unfamiliar with it, it requires my focus, which is sufficiently lacking after a couple glasses of wine, to follow the conversation occurring over leisurely meals. I can concentrate for the first half hour or so, but then my mind begins to wander from the appropriate conjugation of vouloir, to the last sentences of my book, or what might be a nice mix of two audio recordings I captured earlier in the day.

People are kind to me here, trying hard to engage me in conversation the best they can by speaking slowly and over-pronouncedly, asking if I have visited before, if I like it. "Oui, j'aime bien Tahiti," I say, aware that there should probably be an article before the word Tahiti, but unsure of what it would be. We then smile and raise our glasses or light cigarettes, trying to fill the silence and bridge the gap between us.

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