Monday, September 04, 2006

The Long Black Veil by Robert Cooperman

Reviewed by Steve Glines

I am rarely speechless but this little volume left me in just such a state. I have had this thin poetic novel on my desk, glairing at me, for several months. I have read it and reread it and read it again. I rarely do that. It’s a moving, nuanced novella in poetry. I am haunted by the story and have found myself, at odd times, breaking into the chorus of the original tune on which this story was based, “The Long Black Veil.” By Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill.

Long Black Veil

Ten years ago, on a cold dark night
There was someone killed 'neath the townhall light,
There were few at the scene, but the all agreed
That the stranger who fled looked a lot like me

Nobody knows, nobody sees, nobody knows but me

The judge said son what is your alibi,
If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die
I spoke not a word, though it ment my life,
For I'd been in the arms of my best friends wife

She walks these hills in a long black veil,
She visits my grave where the night winds wail.


The scaffold was high, and eternity near,
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear.
But sometimes at night, when the cold wind moans,
In a long black veil, she cries on my bones.

The Kinston Trio sang it 1962. Joan Baez recorded it, and The Band put a folk-rock version of it on their first album, Music from Big Pink, in 1968 but Johnny Cash did the definitive version at Folsom prison. Since then everyone has gotten into the act. It’s an inspiring song, inspiring enough to Robert Cooperman to create an entire novella in poetry from the story.

Cooperman takes this simple but haunting song and gives voice to a cast of characters that inhabit this confined little world. Miller Waggoner is taken in by his friend the sheriff for the murder of Banker Edwards an act he knows he did not commit because he was “thrashing in the heaven of Emma Richfield,” his best friends wife. Meanwhile, Tom Whitby, the man who ran, explains his hatred for the banker and gives us a good reason to feel sorry for him, his wife is dying and he needs money for a last ditch attempt to save her. The banker refused the loan.

I won’t give away the plot but it is as compelling as any novella. Were Hemingway a poet he could have written this story with its twists and turns and haunting, heart wrenching pleas from the grave. This is a love story, a tale of a love triangle, of blackmail and murder most foul. It yanks at your heart yet tells a universal story of passion. On her deathbed Emma Richfield thinking of both her husband, Conner who forgave her on his own deathbed, and Miller Waggoner, dead ten years, exclaims:

“Stupid to speculate: just worms and dirt
Yet, like a child who still believes
In Christmas, I long to see them both
Their friendship and our love sealed
Not in children’s innocent blood oaths
But in Heavens mild and honey.”

To which Miller Waggoner replies,
our souls soaring together,
all our weary wayfaring over:
a lamp ablaze in a cottage window.”

Robert Cooperman is a masterful poet and storyteller. In less capable hands this might have become a full-blown novel but Cooperman resists the temptation to write prose and the results are remarkable. A story this powerful could only be told as poetry. I liked it.

The Long Black Veil
By Robert Cooperman

$12.95, paper
Higganum Hill Books
PO Box 666
Higganum CT 06441
(860) 345-4103
ISBN 0-9776556-1-X

Thursday, August 10, 2006

For Don O’Brien

The last view of mortal man,
For Don O’Brien

Hospice, last refuge of dust to be
Four walls, glossy green, industrial
Antiseptic, lest they should become soiled

Patent, former self of a close friend, a chimera
Sleeps fittingly between pain
And overdose of laudanum, a wish

Wishing for end to come, swiftly
But it lingers, lingers for 2 years … more
Abandonment of the spirit, please

But the soul lingers against the will
Give up, give up, give it all up
Perversity of nature, fight on and on and …

I sit, next to him, watching football
As we have for years and years and …
“What a bad call,” I cry

I see a smile, I think
But he is “unresponsive”
His children, unresponsive, his wife dead

We sit alone now, just the two of us
Friends unwilling to see a dying man
He unwilling to be seen dying

What he had is gone, mostly
What he has left are memories
Recorded in a book, only possession

“Port to port,” The story of a young mans journey into manhood
“Port to port,” The story of a warship clearing for action
“Port to port,” The memory of those who returned

For years we were “best buddies”
Tied by the sea, the sea, the sea
He the chief, I the collector of stories

He sank a camel in the Suez Canal
The United States Navy paused briefly
On they’re way to save the world, Korea, Indo-China

At the helm of the great ship
In the face of a typhoon
Even the admiral was sick

Military paradise: a .45 on your belt,
A 16-inch gun at your back
And an angry Turkish soldier with bayonet, fixed, at your side

First class, Chief, Master Chief Petty Officer,
Principal character in this poem
You rise through the ranks as you fail

I stare out the window
As he has these many days
Fixed prison of your last view of a mortal man

We shared a beer at thanksgiving
We shared a beer, I drank it, at Christmas
I drank to his health on New Years

“I’m sorry, he’s not here now,”
She said without emotion,
“Call the family,” she said

“We buried him on Tuesday next to his wife,” she said
“Was there a service,” I asked?
“No,” she said and hung up.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Mutability Of Literature

The Mutability Of Literature

I will confess to reading far more than I write and I daresay I read about writing far more than I write. Still the pen is for me as a brush is to an artist. I study the great works mainly with an eye for technique. If I become enlightened or educated as a result it is purely an unintended consequence and inconsequential in the long run. Eventually the pen must be employed to greater or lesser effect, it really doesn’t matter. I read mainly to have something to write about. That I have nothing immortal to say should not surprise anyone, least of all me.

I have found, to my great chagrin, that I am not unique. Indeed every lament I have in my life as a writer has been echoed throughout the ages of recorded literature. That the ancients left no such lament is a great testimony to quality of their editorial boards.

I read indiscriminately. This morning, bored with the newspaper, I pulled a volume down from the walls of my library, a volume scarcely opened since I stole the book out from under the noses of a book buyer who had bought my grandfathers library by the linear yard 40 years ago, one book in 400 yards of books missing. It was “The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon” by Washington Irving. After reading it I pulled the text off the Internet to share with you.

Something in me loves irony. If, dear reader and fellow writers, you read on here are the delicious facts:

  1. Washington Irving has been dead for almost 150 years.

  2. My wife is planning our first (and perhaps last) grand tour of Europe for this fall and our first stop will be Westminster Abby and my first stop within the Abby will be the library.

(from “The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon” by Washington Irving)

I know that all beneath the moon decays,
And what by mortals in this world is brought,
In time's great periods shall return to nought.
I know that all the muses' heavenly rays,
With toil of sprite which are so dearly bought,
As idle sounds, of few or none are sought
-- That there is nothing lighter than mere praise.


THERE are certain half-dreaming moods of mind in which we naturally steal away from noise and glare, and seek some quiet haunt where we may indulge our reveries and build our air castles undisturbed. In such a mood I was loitering about the old gray cloisters of Westminster Abbey, enjoying that luxury of wandering thought which one is apt to dignify with the name of reflection, when suddenly an irruption of madcap boys from Westminster school, playing at football, broke in upon the monastic stillness of the place, making the vaulted passages and mouldering tombs echo with their merriment. I sought to take refuge from their noise by penetrating still deeper into the solitudes of the pile, and applied to one of the vergers for admission to the library. He conducted me through a portal rich with the crumbling sculpture of former ages, which opened upon a gloomy passage leading to the chapter-house and the chamber in which Doomsday Book is deposited. Just within the passage is a small door on the left. To this the verger applied a key; it was double locked, and opened with some difficulty, as if seldom used. We now ascended a dark narrow staircase, and, passing through a second door, entered the library.

I found myself in a lofty antique hall, the roof supported by massive joists of old English oak. It was soberly lighted by a row of Gothic windows at a considerable height from the floor, and which apparently opened upon the roofs of the cloisters. An ancient picture of some reverend dignitary of the Church in his robes hung over the fireplace. Around the hall and in a small gallery were the books, arranged in carved oaken cases. They consisted principally of old polemical writers, and were much more worn by time than use. In the centre of the library was a solitary table with two or three books on it, an inkstand without ink, and a few pens parched by long disuse. The place seemed fitted for quiet study and profound meditation. It was buried deep among the massive walls of the abbey and shut up from the tumult of the world. I could only hear now and then the shouts of the school-boys faintly swelling from the cloisters, and the sound of a bell tolling for prayers echoing soberly along the roofs of the abbey. By degrees the shouts of merriment grew fainter and fainter, and at length died away; the bell ceased to toll, and a profound silence reigned through the dusky hall.

I had taken down a little thick quarto, curiously bound in parchment, with brass clasps, and seated myself at the table in a venerable elbow-chair. Instead of reading, however, I was beguiled by the solemn monastic air and lifeless quiet of the place, into a train of musing. As I looked around upon the old volumes in their mouldering covers, thus ranged on the shelves and apparently never disturbed in their repose, I could not but consider the library a kind of literary catacomb, where authors, like mummies, are piously entombed and left to blacken and moulder in dusty oblivion.

How much, thought I, has each of these volumes, now thrust aside with such indifference, cost some aching head! how many weary days! how many sleepless nights! How have their authors buried themselves in the solitude of cells and cloisters, shut themselves up from the face of man, and the still more blessed face of Nature; and devoted themselves to painful research and intense reflection! And all for what? To occupy an inch of dusty shelf--to have the titles of their works read now and then in a future age by some drowsy churchman or casual straggler like myself, and in another age to be lost even to remembrance. Such is the amount of this boasted immortality. A mere temporary rumor, a local sound; like the tone of that bell which has tolled among these towers, filling the ear for a moment, lingering transiently in echo, and then passing away, like a thing that was not!

While I sat half-murmuring, half-meditating, these unprofitable speculations with my head resting on my hand, I was thrumming with the other hand upon the quarto, until I accidentally loosened the clasps; when, to my utter astonishment, the little book gave two or three yawns, like one awaking from a deep sleep, then a husky hem, and at length began to talk. At first its voice was very hoarse and broken, being much troubled by a cobweb which some studious spider had woven across it, and having probably contracted a cold from long exposure to the chills and damps of the abbey. In a short time, however, it became more distinct, and I soon found it an exceedingly fluent, conversable little tome. Its language, to be sure, was rather quaint and obsolete, and its pronunciation what, in the present day, would be deemed barbarous; but I shall endeavor, as far as I am able, to render it in modern parlance.

It began with railings about the neglect of the world, about merit being suffered to languish in obscurity, and other such commonplace topics of literary repining, and complained bitterly that it had not been opened for more than two centuries--that the dean only looked now and then into the library, sometimes took down a volume or two, trifled with them for a few moments, and then returned them to their shelves. "What a plague do they mean?" said the little quarto, which I began to perceive was somewhat choleric--"what a plague do they mean by keeping several thousand volumes of us shut up here, and watched by a set of old vergers, like so many beauties in a harem, merely to be looked at now and then by the dean? Books were written to give pleasure and to be enjoyed; and I would have a rule passed that the dean should pay each of us a visit at least once a year; or, if he is not equal to the task, let them once in a while turn loose the whole school of Westminster among us, that at any rate we may now and then have an airing."

"Softly, my worthy friend," replied I; "you are not aware how much better you are off than most books of your generation. By being stored away in this ancient library you are like the treasured remains of those saints and monarchs which lie enshrined in the adjoining chapels, while the remains of their contemporary mortals, left to the ordinary course of Nature, have long since returned to dust."

"Sir," said the little tome, ruffling his leaves and looking big, "I was written for all the world, not for the bookworms of an abbey. I was intended to circulate from hand to hand, like other great contemporary works; but here have I been clasped up for more than two centuries, and might have silently fallen a prey to these worms that are playing the very vengeance with my intestines if you had not by chance given me an opportunity of uttering a few last words before I go to pieces."

"My good friend," rejoined I, "had you been left to the circulation of which you speak, you would long ere this have been no more. To judge from your physiognomy, you are now well stricken in years: very few of your contemporaries can be at present in existence, and those few owe their longevity to being immured like yourself in old libraries; which, suffer me to add, instead of likening to harems, you might more properly and gratefully have compared to those infirmaries attached to religious establishments for the benefit of the old and decrepit, and where, by quiet fostering and no employment, they often endure to an amazingly good-for-nothing old age. You talk of your contemporaries as if in circulation. Where do we meet with their works?. What do we hear of Robert Grosteste of Lincoln? No one could have toiled harder than he for immortality. He is said to have written nearly two hundred volumes. He built, as it were, a pyramid of books to perpetuate his name: but, alas! the pyramid has long since fallen, and only a few fragments are scattered in various libraries, where they are scarcely disturbed even by the antiquarian. What do we hear of Giraldus Cambrensis, the historian, antiquary, philosopher, theologian, and poet? He declined two bishoprics that he might shut himself up and write for posterity; but posterity never inquires after his labors. What of Henry of Huntingdon, who, besides a learned history of England, wrote a treatise on the contempt of the world, which the world has revenged by forgetting him? What is quoted of Joseph of Exeter, styled the miracle of his age in classical composition? Of his three great heroic poems, one is lost forever, excepting a mere fragment; the others are known only to a few of the curious in literature; and as to his love verses and epigrams, they have entirely disappeared. What is in current use of John Wallis the Franciscan, who acquired the name of the tree of life? Of William of Malmsbury--of Simeon of Durham--of Benedict of Peterborough--of John Hanvill of St. Albans--of----"

"Prithee, friend," cried the quarto in a testy tone, "how old do you think me? You are talking of authors that lived long before my time, and wrote either in Latin or French, so that they in a manner expatriated themselves, and deserved to be forgotten;* but I, sir, was ushered into the world from the press of the renowned Wynkyn de Worde. I was written in my own native tongue, at a time when the language had become fixed; and indeed I was considered a model of pure and elegant English."

(I should observe that these remarks were couched in such intolerably antiquated terms, that I have had infinite difficulty in rendering them into modern phraseology.)

"I cry you mercy," said I, "for mistaking your age; but it matters little. almost all the writers of your time have likewise passed into forgetfulness, and De Worde's publications are mere literary rarities among book-collectors. The purity and stability of language, too, on which you found your claims to perpetuity, have been the fallacious dependence of authors of every age, even back to the times of the worthy Robert of Gloucester, who wrote his history in rhymes of mongrel Saxon.+ Even now many talk of Spenser's `well of pure English undefiled,' as if the language ever sprang from a well or fountain-head, and was not rather a mere confluence of various tongues perpetually subject to changes and intermixtures. It is this which has made English literature so extremely mutable, and the reputation built upon it so fleeting. Unless thought can be committed to something more permanent and unchangeable than such a medium, even thought must share the fate of everything else, and fall into decay. This should serve as a check upon the vanity and exultation of the most popular writer. He finds the language in which he has embarked his fame gradually altering and subject to the dilapidations of time and the caprice of fashion. He looks back and beholds the early authors of his country, once the favorites of their day, supplanted by modern writers. A few short ages have covered them with obscurity, and their merits can only be relished by the quaint taste of the bookworm. And such, he anticipates, will be the fate of his own work, which, however it may be admired in its day and held up as a model of purity, will in the course of years grow antiquated and obsolete, until it shall become almost as unintelligible in its native land as an Egyptian obelisk or one of those Runic inscriptions said to exist in the deserts of Tartary. "I declare," added I, with some emotion, "when I contemplate a modern library, filled with new works in all the bravery of rich gilding and binding, I feel disposed to sit down and weep, like the good Xerxes, when he surveyed his army, pranked out in all the splendor of military array, and reflected that in one hundred years not one of them would be in existence."
"In Latin and French hath many soueraine wittes had great delyte to endite, and have many noble thinges fulfilde, but certes there ben some that speaken their poisye in French, of which speche the Frenchmen have as good a fantasye as w ave in hearying of Frenchmen's Englishe."--CHAUCER'S Testament of Love. Holinsh d,i his Chronicle, observes, "Afterwards, also, by diligent vell f Geffry Chaucer and John Gowre, in the time of Richard the Second, and after them of John Scogan and John Lydgate, monke of Berrie, our said toong was brought to an excellent passe, notwithstanding that it never came unto the type of perfection until the time of Queen Elizabeth, wherein John Jewell, Bishop of Sarum, John Fox, and sundrie learned and excellent writers, have fully accomplished the ornature of the same to their great praise and mortal commendation."
"Ah," said the little quarto, with a heavy sigh, "I see how it is: these in modern scribblers have superseded all the good old authors. I suppose nothing is read nowadays but Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, Sackville's stately plays and Mirror for Magistrates, or the fine-spun euphuisms of the `unparalleled John Lyly.'"

"There you are again mistaken," said I; "the writers whom you suppose in vogue, because they happened to be so when you were last in circulation, have long since had their day. Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, the immortality of which was so fondly predicted by his admirers,* and which, in truth, was full of noble thoughts, delicate images, and graceful turns of language, is now scarcely ever mentioned. Sackville has strutted into obscurity; and even Lyly, though his writings were once the delight of a court, and apparently perpetuated by a proverb, is now scarcely known even by name. A whole crowd of authors who wrote and wrangled at the time, have likewise gone down with all their writings and their controversies. Wave after wave of succeeding literature has rolled over them, until they are buried so deep, that it is only now and then that some industrious diver after fragments of antiquity brings up a specimen for the gratification of the curious.

"Live ever sweete booke; the simple image of his gentle witt, and the golden pillar of his noble courage; and ever notify unto the world that thy writer was the secretary of eloquence, the breath of the muses, the honey bee of the daintyest flowers of witt and arte, the pith of morale and intellectual virtues, the arme of Bellona in the field, the tongue of Suada in the chamber, the spirits of Practise in esse, and the paragon of excellence in print."-Harvey Pierce's Supererogation.

"For my part," I continued, "I consider this mutability of language a wise precaution of Providence for the benefit of the world at large, and of authors in particular. To reason from analogy, we daily behold the varied and beautiful tribes of vegetables springing up, flourishing, adorning the fields for a short time, and then fading into dust, to make way for their successors. Were not this the case, the fecundity of nature would be a grievance instead of a blessing. The earth would groan with rank and excessive vegetation, and its surface become a tangled wilderness. In like manner, the works of genius and learning decline and make way for subsequent productions. Language gradually varies, and with it fade away the writings of authors who have flourished their allotted time; otherwise the creative powers of genius would overstock the world, and the mind would be completely bewildered in the endless mazes of literature. Formerly there were some restraints on this excessive multiplication. Works had to be transcribed by hand, which was a slow and laborious operation; they were written either on parchment, which was expensive, so that one work was often erased to make way for another; or on papyrus, which was fragile and extremely perishable. Authorship was a limited and unprofitable craft, pursued chiefly by monks in the leisure and solitude of their cloisters. The accumulation of manuscripts was slow and costly, and confined almost entirely to monasteries. To these circumstances it may, in some measure, be owing that we have not been inundated by the intellect of antiquity--that the fountains of thought have not been broken up, and modern genius drowned in the deluge. But the inventions of paper and the press have put an end to all these restraints. They have made every one a writer, and enabled every mind to pour itself into print, and diffuse itself over the whole intellectual world. The consequences are alarming. The stream of literature has swollen into a torrent--augmented into a river-expanded into a sea. A few centuries since five or six hundred manuscripts constituted a great library; but what would you say to libraries, such as actually exist, containing three or four hundred thousand volumes; legions of authors at the same time busy; and the press going on with fearfully increasing activity, to double and quadruple the number? Unless some unforeseen mortality should break out among the progeny of the Muse, now that she has become so prolific, I tremble for posterity. I fear the mere fluctuation of language will not be sufficient. Criticism may do much; it increases with the increase of literature, and resembles one of those salutary checks on population spoken of by economists. All possible encouragement, therefore, should be given to the growth of critics, good or bad. But I fear all will be in vain; let criticism do what it may, writers will write, printers will print, and the world will inevitably be overstocked with good books. It will soon be the employment of a lifetime merely to learn their names. Many a man of passable information at the present day reads scarcely anything but reviews, and before long a man of erudition will be little better than a mere walking catalogue."

"My very good sir," said the little quarto, yawning most drearily in my face, "excuse my interrupting you, but I perceive you are rather given to prose. I would ask the fate of an author who was making some noise just as I left the world. His reputation, however, was considered quite temporary. The learned shook their heads at him, for he was a poor, half-educated varlet, that knew little of Latin, and nothing of Greek, and had been obliged to run the country for deer-stealing. I think his name was Shakespeare. I presume he soon sunk into oblivion."

"On the contrary," said I, "it is owing to that very man that the literature of his period has experienced a duration beyond the ordinary term of English literature. There rise authors now and then who seem proof against the mutability of language because they have rooted themselves in the unchanging principles of human nature. They are like gigantic trees that we sometimes see on the banks of a stream, which by their vast and deep roots, penetrating through the mere surface and laying hold on the very foundations of the earth, preserve the soil around them from being swept away by the ever-flowing current, and hold up many a neighboring plant, and perhaps worthless weed, to perpetuity. Such is the case with Shakespeare, whom we behold defying the encroachments of time, retaining in modern use the language and literature of his day, and giving duration to many an indifferent author, merely from having flourished in his vicinity. But even he, I grieve to say, is gradually assuming the tint of age, and his whole form is overrun by a profusion of commentators, who, like clambering vines and creepers, almost bury the noble plant that upholds them."

Here the little quarto began to heave his sides and chuckle, until at length he broke out into a plethoric fit of laughter that had wellnigh choked him by reason of his excessive corpulency. "Mighty well!" cried he, as soon as he could recover breath, "mighty well! and so you would persuade me that the literature of an age is to be perpetuated by a vagabond deer-stealer! by a man without learning! by a poet! forsooth--a poet!" And here he wheezed forth another fit of laughter.

I confess that I felt somewhat nettled at this rudeness, which, however, I pardoned on account of his having flourished in a less polished age. I determined, nevertheless, not to give up my point.

"Yes," resumed I positively, "a poet; for of all writers he has the best chance for immortality. Others may write from the head, but he writes from the heart, and the heart will always understand him. He is the faithful portrayer of Nature, whose features are always the same and always interesting. Prose writers are voluminous and unwieldy; their pages crowded with commonplaces, and their thoughts expanded into tediousness. But with the true poet every thing is terse, touching, or brilliant. He gives the choicest thoughts in the choicest language. He illustrates them by everything that he sees most striking in nature and art. He enriches them by pictures of human life, such as it is passing before him. His writings, therefore, contain the spirit, the aroma, if I may use the phrase, of the age in which he lives. They are caskets which inclose within a small compass the wealth of the language--its family jewels, which are thus transmitted in a portable form to posterity. The setting may occasionally be antiquated, and require now and then to be renewed, as in the case of Chaucer; but the brilliancy and intrinsic value of the gems continue unaltered. Cast a look back over the long reach of literary history. What vast valleys of dulness, filled with monkish legends and academical controversies! What bogs of theological speculations! What dreary wastes of metaphysics! Here and there only do we behold the heaven-illumined bards, elevated like beacons on their widely-separated heights, to transmit the pure light of poetical intelligence from age to age."

I was just about to launch forth into eulogiums upon the poets of the day when the sudden opening of the door caused me to turn my head. It was the verger, who came to inform me that it was time to close the library. I sought to have a parting word with the quarto, but the worthy little tome was silent; the clasps were closed: and it looked perfectly unconscious of all that had passed. I have been to the library two or three times since, and have endeavored to draw it into further conversation, but in vain; and whether all this rambling colloquy actually took place, or whether it was another of those old day-dreams to which I am subject, I have never, to this moment, been able to discover.

Thorow earth and waters deepe, The pen by skill doth passe:
featly nyps the worldes abuse, And shoes us in a glasse,
vertu and the vice
Of every wight alyve;
honey comb that bee doth make Is not so sweet in hyve,
As are the golden leves
That drops from poet's head! Which doth surmount our common talke As farre as dross
doth lead. Churchyard.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The New Renaissance

The New Renaissance, Number 37, Fall 2006

I shouldn’t do it of course. I shouldn’t read a magazine like a novel but I do; I find hidden meaning, hidden connections between disparate works of art or literature that were never intended to be read together much less strung together in a readers mind like chapters in a mystery novel. Perhaps it’s the editor in me that tries to make a theme from anthology. Most magazines are constrained by time not theme so it is unfair of me to judge a magazine by a theme that was never intended but I will anyway. It’s my prerogative, its any reader’s prerogative.

I don’t go out of my way to be politically correct or incorrect but I do try to remain sensitive to people’s private and public hurts. Smoking is bad; I know I used to be a smoker. Racism is bad, I once knew a woman of my parent’s generation, long gone, who would not eat food touch by skin darker than her own. I also know that since 9-11 most of America sees not black and white but us and them. Political correctness has not caught up to the man on the street. The bad guys of the near east want a religious war and there is just enough folk memory left in the west to remember the Nazi holocausts and be frightened. Black and White becomes a defense against the infidels, a defense of Vienna, a rally around the flag boys; they are coming over the hill to murder your wife and sister.  If Bin Laden had come a generation later … who knows we might have forgotten.

Literature speaks for the time it lives in. Shakespeare’s incomprehensible “forsouths” and whatnot spoke loudly to a generation 500 years ago but only softly today. It took a reading of Stephen Greenblatt’s “Will in the World” for me to realize how much of The Bards work has been lost through the passing of history. In his day Shakespeare was as topical as any sitcom or high drama on television today. We loose that in reading him today. On the other hand the word “literature” somehow implies a timelessness that may or may not be real. Shakespeare was timely yet has become timeless. That speaks volumes for Shakespeare and says nothing about magazines that publish “Literature” as opposed to, say, Soap Opera Digest.

When, in the opening act of an opera, the first voice to be heard is shrill it is hard to withhold judgment on the rest of the performance. One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and people on first impressions but we do. So when I read the “Editor’s Comments” in the latest edition of “the new renaissance” I had to stop myself from thinking “liberal pabulum” while I got mildly nauseous.

I am a liberal so don’t get me started but I can’t stand blind adherence to the current dogma of political correctness. Who decides these things anyway? The current liberal, “politically correct” dogma has cost the Democratic Party all three branches of Government in the United States. The “Editor’s Comments” consisted of a shrill (but probably correct) call to save the tropical rain forests. Along the way there was the obligatory warning about global warming.

That’s where I get off the train. Years ago, long before I ever heard of “global warming,” I met a PhD in Climatology, a very long-term weatherman.  His specialty was the last 15,000 years, give or take a millennium. At the time the climatological buzz was all about how we were due for another Ice Age. Statistically they happen with frightening frequency but my friend assured me that we were in a temperature upswing as predicted by some arcane things like water levels in the Great Salt Lake.

Most of what I learned I have subsequently forgotten but I do remember that there was something called the “climatic optimum” about 8,000 years ago where the earth was several degrees warmer than today. Then, the desert belt had moved north into Europe and the deserts of North Africa and Arabia were a tropical green. There was a little ice age following the collapse or, perhaps, causing the collapse of the Roman Empire. Among other things this sent the men of the north, the Vikings, in search of a warmer place to live. The Viking age ended abruptly when an exceptionally warm period melted the ice around Iceland and Greenland and colonists headed north once more.

In 1000 A.D. the Labrador straits and Eric’s Fiord in Greenland were free of ice in the summer and the land produced enough during the near 24 hours of sunlight for foraging animals to be sustained year round. Whatever global warming has taken place it has not yet cleared the Labrador straits and Eric’s Fiord of summer ice. Of course by 1300 we were in the middle of “the little Ice Age” that lasted well into the middle of the 19th century. So are we going into a warming period? Probably. Is it hotter than it’s ever been? No, it was hotter in the time of Eric the Red. Did man cause “global warming?” I don’t know but hubris dictates an affirmative answer.

Should the tropical rain forests be saved? Of course, managed perhaps, but until there is an economic incentive to do so we have to recognize that it’ll never happen. There is archeological evidence that most of the Amazon basin was once cultivated and that most of the rain forest as we know it today was gone. It could be that deforestation of the Amazon 1500 years ago gave rise to the global warming that lead to the discovery of North America by Leif Erickson? That’s a stretch but the truth is that we/I just don’t know. It’s good that we are asking the questions but how much do we really know or is it that we think we know more than we do. Time will tell and it won’t be for me to decide. In the mean time I’ve been enjoying the warmer winters.

There is something about modern American literature that is very dark. The call to preserve the rain forests was succeeded by two poems by Daniel Tobin. The first is called “Effifi Tumuli,” which begins, “Wasted mesa. Earth stripped to bleeding mounds.” Oie! Is there no light in the world? The next is “The Scream (after Edward Munch).” Is there a pattern here?

I will confess that there are lighter poems and short stories in this edition of TNR such as M. E. McMullen’s touching story titled “Louise Berchine,” a story of unrequainted love. Another bright spot in this anthology of darkness is Thomas Robert Barnes’ poem “Dogwoods.”

Still darkness prevails. Lynn Veach Sadler’s poem “Purple Irises,” about the shelling of Dubrovnik by the bad guys of the last Balkan war left a palpable pain in my heart. My mother was a world traveler whose two favorite places in the world were Dubrovnik and the island of Gozo in Malta. The world changes but it’s not supposed to be for the worse. Does literature merely chronicle life or does literature lead life. Does art merely imitate life?

We have another theme creeping into this story. After the unrequainted love of adolescence we make mistakes in our love life. We all think about the one that got away, the one that might have been if only …. Keneth Rapoza performs just such a dance with his story, “Greetings from Portugal,” the love of ones life given up for a passing flirtation. Even when we know we are making a mistake we cannot help ourselves. Bruce Douglas Reeves gives us a different view of romantic lament in his wartime story titled OBSESSION. One has to wonder if anyone who writes for the New Renaissance has ever been happy or lucky in love. Is it really true that happiness makes for lousy writing? I hope not. The Gods, they must be laughing at us.

There is quite a bit more in the fall 2006 issue of TNR, most of it pretty good even if a bit on the dark side. The one exception I must make are the gray on gray reproductions of what must be vibrantly colored works of art. Rendering large ink drawings or etchings as halftoned images does neither the magazine nor the artist justice. The devastation of the third world jungles are served all to well in black and white so I would have preferred to see the small color well that was devoted to color pictures of burning jungle and farmers markets devoted to reproducing art instead … but that’s just me. This volume is worth reading.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Summer is finally here I hope

Summer is finally here, not that that will make living any easier or cheaper. Memorial Day marks the semi-official beginning of summer where we trade our dress blues for our summer whites and our $3.00 a gallon fuel bill for our equally expensive air-conditioning bill. Here in New England we have a very short spring. That was it, last week. If you missed it you are not alone. It rained a 100 years flood and never got above 50 degrees during this years spring. Still the consensus among old time New Englanders, and now that I’m over 50 I can count myself among them, is that we’ve had an early spring. Yep it was about a week early and packed a little tighter. That means that the crocuses were up late but everything else was up early.

I got my garden in, well most of it. I’ve been living here about 5 years and I finally got a fence up around the raised beds I built last year. Pounded the stakes in three years ago. It took me 10 years to get the garden I liked in Belmont so I’m really not procrastinating. I haven’t touched the front yard yet or even thought about it much. I really don’t care what neighbors or drive-by’s think. It is an ugly house and there is very little I can do about it except hide the blemish that it is. That’s part of the reason I haven’t done anything about the curb appeal of the house. Friends of mine in Real Estate call it a “teardown.” Which is something I’d love to do were it not for the fact that I need a roof over my head. I’d have to borrow money to tear it town and even more to put it back up. The house I can afford as is, anything else and I might as well wish for one of the plastic coated mansions that are going up in the neighborhood and selling for nearly a million. In other words, “forgetaboutit.” When the tasteless developers run out of land to build their insipid mansions on and if there is still a supply of newly wealthy but culturally deprived homebuyers (and there seams to be an inexhaustible supply) then I may jazz the front up just enough to sell the crumbling ruin and retire to … where? Florida is to hot, Maine is too cold, Fiji, to far. Something to think about while I wait for the offer I can’t refuse.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What to write what to write?

What to write, what to write? I’ve been so busy that I’ve sorely neglected this blog. This will be a trivial entry between marathon bookends. The Bagel Bards, an eclectic group of word nurds that meet in the basement of a bagel joint in Harvard Sq. every Saturday morning and to which I claim the honor of belonging, has produced an anthology. The rules were that to be eligible you had to attend at least one bagel bard meeting, not hard, and you were allowed one poem of fifty lines or less and a biography of fifty words or less. I took it upon myself to design it. It’s beautiful and can be found at

I’ve also put together yet another web site for the Wilderness House. This time as a Wilderness House Literary Review. It’s at Now that it’s up I can finish the regular WH web site and announce our next guest, John Hanson Mitchell, noted naturalist author and Littleton resident. That will be June 10th with a cookout on the new grill the Rotary got NEFF.

I’ve decided that I need to get my writers CV more together than it is so I’ve started to enter various writers contests. All these writers I know that get published all call themselves award winning writers although they rarely actually list any awards. I want to actually list some awards after my name. Perhaps with some credibility I can get off the high tech rat race and write something fun and get paid for it for a change.

More later.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cartoons used to be funny

The cartoon depicts a hooked nosed Jew dressed in black, grinning demonically as he drags a diminutive black Sambo to the auction block by the chain he has clamped to his neck.

As an American I cannot imagine a cartoon more offensive. It’s anti-Semitic and racist. No one in North America or Europe would think of publishing a cartoon like this without risking being marked a neo-Nazi. Unlike the legal maxim I believe that ignorance is an excuse but once enlightened that excuse is no longer valid. We have been informed that the cartoons of Mohamed represented as a rag headed terrorist, are as offensive to non-terrorist Moslems as Sambo is to black Americans. Why then do we (and in this I include the Europeans) continue to publish these cartoons in the name of “Free Speech?”

There is a responsibility associated with free speech. I am free to say anything I want in public. This is an unalienable right in all western democracies and, we all hope, eventually the rest of the world, but if I yell “fire” in a crowded theater I am responsible for the consequences of that act. We have forgotten that the right to yell “fire” in a crowed theater carries with it the responsibility not to.

If ever there was a situation that called for restraint this is it. Extremists on all sides are working their blood lust to a fevered pitch and should the genie of armed racial hatred fully combine with extreme religious zeal this century may well see the end of the modern age as we have come to know it and the promise of progress, of a broad upland of economic security and spiritual enlightenment will come to an end.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Urban Orchard

Urban Orchard

This leafless winter, a seven of nine stand of century old apple trees catches my eye as I drive to work. The spot where two trees should stand, in symmetry, is empty.
I wonder … what manner of plague broke this visual equilibrium. It bothers me that I may never know.

I could stop and ask at the house sitting easily next to this stand. A house separated by a partially paved driveway, two parallel patches of concrete, the style used to support the tires of a 1930 vintage car, but a tired experience within me tells me that this house is rented. The owners, distant relatives of the original inhabitants, great grandsons perhaps, themselves retired to Florida.

If I asked I would expect to hear that Great Great Uncle Frankie moved here from Boston in 1880 and built a farm that he was very proud of, had over 500 acres. This house was built in 1910 for Great Grandpa Joseph with ten acres that he bought from Great Great Uncle Frankie and paid for by working the farm and odd jobs around town.

Perhaps Great Grandpa Joseph cleared the land, or perhaps it was already cleared by a generation or two earlier. In any case Great Grandpa Joseph planted nine apple trees from the seed of treefall apples scavenged while working on Great Great Uncle Frankie’s farm in nine large red earthen pots that he inherited from Great Great Uncle Frankie.

When the apple trees were tall enough, about 3 tears old, Great Grandpa Joseph planted them where they now stand. Five or so years later, about the time Grandpa Timmy was born, Great Grandma Marie made the first of thousands of apple pies that became famous. So famous that Great Grandma Marie started baking apple pies commercially while Great Grandpa Joseph was away in the Great War.

“Marie’s Apple Pies” scrawled in popular commercial calligraphy became a familiar site in grocery stores all up and down the Middlesex Turnpike. When Great Grandpa Joseph came back from the War he bought a Ford truck, three actually, and started delivering “Marie’s Apple Pies” all the way to Boston. Pretty soon “Marie’s Apple Pies” were being baked in Lowell, Somerville, Laurence, Portsmouth, Nashua and, of course, in Billerica but not in Great Grandma Marie kitchen anymore.

By 1928 “Marie’s Apple Pies” were being baked in New York, New York, Chicago, Washington DC and Atlanta. “Marie’s Apple Pies” were famous. Great Grandpa Joseph and Great Grandma Marie moved to a mansion in Boston but kept the little house next to the Orchard because Great Grandpa Joseph liked to drive out to the country in his fancy Buick Roadster on weekends and needed a destination. The little house next to the orchard with nine apple trees was a perfect destination.

The Great Depression was a little hard on “Marie’s Apple Pies.” expansion plans for San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver had to be put on hold and the bakery in Manhattan was moved to Astoria Queens. Finally they had to sell “Marie’s Apple Pies” but they got almost 20 million for it.

Great Grandpa Joseph let his brother Great Uncle Thomas and his wife Vicky live in the house because Great Uncle Thomas was out of work and that was what you were supposed to so with your relatives who were down and out. Great Uncle Thomas died just before the war and you just couldn’t kick Great Aunt Vicky out could you? She stayed there until Grandpa Timmy, you remember him don’t you, came back from the war all banged up and needed a place to recuperate what with all the nursing he needed. Great Aunt Vicky moved to Florida with the help of some cash Great Grandpa Joseph gave her. No I don’t know what happened to her or her sniveling little brat Benny. They showed up one year and made total asses of themselves. We never heard from them again.

Grandpa Timmy, like I said, had been hurt real bad in the war and it took him a couple of years to get better. He married one of his nurses, Grandma Joan, and immediately had my mother who grew up in that house.  Grandpa died when my Mom was about 10 and, if it hadn’t been for Grandma inheriting lots and lots of money from Great Grandpa Joseph and Great Grandma Marie I don’t know what would have happened. Great Grandpa Joseph and Great Grandma Marie were killed in a car crash someplace like Florida I think. I don’t really know.

Grandma moved to Boston and rented the house. We still rent it. My sister and I inherited the house from Grandma along with her cash.  

How did the Apple trees die? I don’t know.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Seven Days in Fiji published

I promised a week ago that I’d have “Seven Days in Fiji” available as a book. I uploaded it 2 weeks ago and got my initial copy a couple of days ago. This morning I went to the bagel-bards meeting in Harvard Sq. and sold my only copy to Afaa Michael Weaver. Selling my first copy to Afaa is worth bragging about.

There is nothing like instant publishing to make a writer feel like an author. The initial edition (First edition I suppose) is exactly what you can download except that it’s printed and perfect bound. It’s the 100 pages of color that make this expensive at $27.99. I apologize for that. I’m also going to do “Seven Days in Fiji – Travelers Edition” with the inside in black and white. That’ll cost about $8.00. Enjoy and let me know what you think. For the moment you can get it here. Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More Fiji thoughts - a book on the way

When I came back from Fiji and started to write about my experience there I thought I could write about 2000 words on the topic. As you know it became an opus major that topped out at almost 17,000 words. When I mentioned my struggle with brevity to the poet Afaa Michael Weaver he said, “Your writers OCD kicked in.” He was right. I became obsessed with telling the complete story and now it’s done.

When I finished it I realized that it was too big to sell to a magazine and to short to count as a real book. It was also to long to post as a single blog entry so I split it up into chapters that almost stand-alone. I tried to post them all in reverse order so that they could be read in the right order. That failed so now you will have to scroll back and forth to read the blog in the right order.

That’s nuts, so I recreated the blog in book form. Yes you’ll be able to buy one from  (if you really want it) but for now you can download the PDF version at

It is 108 pages (12 mega-bytes) with a lot more pictures than I put in the blog. It even looks more like a book. I’ll post the URL for the printed version when I get one from Lulu.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

12 Seven days in Fiji - One More Stop

One More Stop

It was getting late and Aruind said we had to make one more stop. He wanted me to meet his sister and his “auntie.” We drove back in the direction of Nadi but turned up a dirt road and, after making several turns ended up in front of another corrugated steel house nestled in the middle of a small compound of similar houses. Indians tend to have more furniture than Fijians and Aruind’s sisters house was no exception. On the right as you walk in was a large couch and an overstuffed chair. On the left was a dining room table while overhead the standard bare light bulb. All about the room on various pieces of furniture were small shrines including one apparently dedicated to a Snoopy who occupied the central position in a shrine surrounded by candles and cloth. Aruind’s sister and “auntie” were interested in how I celebrated Christmas while I was interested in their daily lives. When I described putting colored balls and lights on a pine tree Aruind’s sister pointed to a small, decorated plastic tree in the corner of the room. In her pantheon a Christmas tree deserves its own shrine.

When we got around to her life and situation I was a bit circumspect. Most places I’ve been to partially define “middleclass” as a household where the women don’t work outside the home. By this definition most of America has fallen back into the role of working class without admitting it. If I asked Aruind’s sister what she did for work I thought I might insult her but that is exactly what I wanted to know. Aruind understood why I was being timid and said, “Fiji has no middle class, all rich and poor, nothing in the middle.” That took care of my reluctance Aruind’s sister how she spent her days.

If I were in China or some other country known to be politically dangerous I might have been a bit more attuned when listening to her nuanced answers. At the time her pleasant and matter of fact delivery lulled me into mentally just recording the facts about jobs in Fiji. It is only now, some weeks removed from the events that allow me to understand exactly what is happening in Fiji. A while back I recorded my impression of the history of Fiji. My history more or less ended about the time Fiji gained independence from Britain. Let me bring you up to date.

Fiji is a multicultural society living under the thin veneer of British Civilization. I put that in capital letters to emphasize what everyone in Fiji truly believes I their more sane moments. Fiji is, for all intents, 50% Fijian and 50% Indian. In the 1990’s Fiji created a constitution that was truly multicultural. The first president of Fiji with Indian blood in his veins was elected and it was beginning to look like Fiji had made or was poised to make a leap few countries ever make to a racially mixed, racially blind democracy. It was not to be. The Fijian party controls the police and the army and most of the land in Fiji is controlled and communally owned by Fijians leaving Indians as permanent second-class citizens. The coup of 2000 effectively removed all Indians from the government and sent packing hundreds of Indian businessmen with investments on the islands. The Fijian counsel of Chiefs, that holdover from pre-Colonial days now appoints the President who may or may not accept the Prime Minister elected by parliament. Democracy is a fragile form of government, there will always be people who don’t like the outcome of popular expression and will seek to pervert its institutions.

Aruind’s sister had been employed in a textile factory that closed soon after the coup and has not reopened. Working in the textile factory was almost the only hope of attaining a middle class income and life style in Fiji. We, in America, may scoff at textile workers earning a small fraction of what we do but to them it is a lot of money. Just $2.00 US an hour would bring an income more than the national average in Fiji.

Time was running out but before I could go I had to have more kava. Aruind explained that beer and wine were too expensive for the average Fijian so kava was the national drink for everyone, Indian and Fijian alive. We all clapped and I was handed the small coconut filled with the dusty liquid, which I chugged. Aruind made his kava considerably stronger than the kava I had had in Nadi. My lips were immediately numbed. “What is this supposed to do,” I asked? Aruind laughed and said, “It’s very good for family planning. It numbs everything”

I needed to use the facilities, which gave me the opportunity to explore the house. I’ve already described the “living room.” The bedrooms were unadorned mattresses on the wooden floor with a small bureau. The kitchen was in an adjacent corrugated steel covered porch with a hibachi. The facilities I was seeking were behind the house in a separate row of “outhouses” with flush toilets. A small Indian neighbor girl, giggling with curiosity waved at me from her back yard.

It was dark as we left the house. On the way to the airport I asked Aruind how well he could read if I sent him a letter. “Dear boy,” he said, “I passed the fifth form.” That’s 11th grade I thought, I’ll have to send him a postcard … and some auto parts.

The airplane ride home was uneventful. If there was turbulence I slept soundly through it. I had left Nadi airport at 10:30 P.M. on a Saturday evening. I arrived at 6:00 A.M Monday morning in Boston. I have a seven-hour jet lag or is it 17 hours and it snowed 10 inches last night.

Figure 8 Steve Glines is a writer with a sunburn from Fiji

11 Seven days in Fiji - Another mystery trip

Another mystery trip

We drove along the shore road and into the sugar cane area paralleling the narrow gage railroad.

Between Nadi and Lautoka, the town just around the bend from Nadi, are a number of sights worth seeing. The mountains you see when you get off the airplane in Nadi are called "the Sleeping Giants," and they do look like a man and a woman sleeping on their backs. At the base of the "Sleeping Giants" is the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. This famous orchard garden, a combined commercial nursery and fantasy garden, was once owned by actor Raymond Burr (Perry Mason). It was closed on Saturday so I'll have to live with Aruind's description of it, which included every color known to exist in the English language.

Past the entrance to the Sleeping Garden are the Guns of Lomolomo. Fiji is just one stop beyond the last island Japan occupied during WWII and if not for the battle of the coral sea Fiji might well have been occupied. The Guns of Lomolomo, one gun actually, is a remnant of the need to protect the Nadi airport from marauding Japanese ships. The guns are actually remounted 6-inch British navel guns with a provenance that includes the Boer War and the relief of Mafeking during WW I. We would have had to climb up a steep hill and over private property to see them and neither Aruind nor I were feeling that energetic so we pressed on to Lautoka, Fiji's second largest city. Lautoka was built on sugarcane and all the narrow gage railways that wind up each of the valleys end at the massive sugar refinery almost at the end of the main dock.

The area where the city of Lautoka now stands was first sighted by Captain Bligh of HMS Bounty who rowed ashore with loyal crewmembers after the famous mutiny. Lautoka is also the landing spot where thousands of indentured Indians first came ashore to work the sugarcane fields and refinery. The sugar harvest had just ended and the yards were full of empty railcars.

Aruind and I sat on the seawall in Lautoka telling stories and speculating on what we could do to make our fortunes. I suggested importing a French Chief, or two, from Tahiti. Aruind gave me a curious look when I said that. Later, when I was at the airport, I ate a slice of pizza at an airport stand. To my surprise it was relatively good. Relative in that it was the best tasting food I had eaten all week. As I was enjoying myself I noticed two young women with backpacks in their early twenties looking very hungry. I knew what they were going through so I mentioned to them that the pizza was actually good. Both gave me a very sour look and one said, "Please, we are going to wait until we are in Los Angeles to eat. We've had the most disgusting food for the last two weeks here in Fiji."

Aruind said that he knew how he could make a fortune. All he needed was a container full of auto parts. I laughed and reminded him that in America I was not a rich man. "OK," he said, "then send me three sets of mag hubcaps, one set for my cab so that I can advertise and two to sell. We'll split the profits; we'll make a fortune."

I don’t know cars but I intend to send Aruind whatever I can find. If you would like to go into the auto-parts business with a hustling Indian entrepreneur in Fiji Aruind can be found at:

Aruind Keshwal
PO Box 9368
Nadi Airport
Fiji Islands

His phone number is 9951187

10 Seven days in Fiji - A fine-tuned hot-rod

A fine-tuned hot-rod

I hopped into his station wagon and we were off to the beach. It was not one of the gorgeous beaches you see in the flyers but rather the Nadi town beach. We parked at the end of a dead end street and just talked about everything under the sun with the beach and mountains in the background. Aruind was ambitious. His passion was his car and he lamented the high cost of the accessories that would make his car unique among cabs.

Figure 6 Nadi Town Beach

Back in the 1950's when I was a small kid we used to drive into town on Saturday nights and watch the "greasers," teenagers and older who wore tight black pants, greased slicked back hair and rebuilt cars from the 1930's into Hot-Rods. Hot-Rods were the 1950's expression of America's car culture. Today they are called "tuners" and while the average slightly geeky "tuner" may not relate to the "greaser" of old their passion for rebuilding autos is just as intense.

Hot-Rods would announce their presence by the throaty roar of the straight-through unmuffled pipes. The direct decedents of these hot-rodders are the owners of chopped Harley-Davidson motorcycles whose rumble en mass can be heard from miles away. Today's hot-rodders, tuners, rumble through town in camouflaged Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen sedans. You will only know the car is a tuner when the occupants crank up the volume on their overpowered stereos. Most unmodified cars have amplifiers that power their speakers with as much as 50 or 60 watts. Crank it all the way up and most people will feel 120 decibels of real pain and quickly turn it down.

Figure 7 Aruind at Nadi Town Beach

Aruind is tuner. Tuners turn the entire cavity of their autos into drastically overpowered sub woofers pushing as much as 1000 watts. These are the cars that rumble through the streets, shaking nearby houses with a rhythmic earthquake as they pass by. Tuners, while more sedate than their candy apple red and metallic lime hot-rod ancestors still want to dress up their more or less ordinary looking cars. A Honda Civic with rotating chromed hubcaps is a "way cool" tuner addition. If you added "Mag" hubcaps, fluorescent and metallic fire appliqué and a 1000-watt stereo system to Aruind's Toyota station wagon and you have Aruind's dream cab. Add a red and blue flashing fluorescent tubes under the hood (the red timed to look like bursts of fire as the car revs up) and Aruind, being a Hindu, would think he had died and been reborn in Detroit.

9 Seven days in Fiji - Nadi


We continued on to Nadi and my room at the Capricorn Hotel. Aruind had offered me his spare bedroom and I wish I had taken it but I wanted to see Nadi the next morning. We parted with a promise that I’d call him in the morning and that we would tour more of this part of Fiji.

Nadi is on the western part of the island along with the nice weather, the tourist resorts and the Internal airport. If Suva is cheap, Nadi is expensive. Anywhere in Suva costs $1.60 for a cab ride but in Nadi the minimum is $5.00. Nadi itself is not a destination. It’s a small town compared with Suva. If you are a rich tourist then you head by boat, airplane, helicopter, seaplane or cab to the resort of your choice. Nicole Kidman was said to be in Fiji when I was there but in a totally different milieu. I am sure that wherever she stayed the food was excellent and the creature comforts identical to those of New York City, London or Paris.

I took the $5.00 (Fiji) cab to Nadi center from my hotel, passed the second McDonalds in Fiji, and walked the length of the town. Nadi is not a very big town and end-to-end is about a ten-minute walk. Since tourists pass through Nadi the pressure to sell and sell quickly is far greater in Nadi than in Suva. I walked down the main street and allowed myself to be drawn into a store selling reproductions of Fijian battle instruments and carved toys. My intension was to buy a $20 souvenir. I am pretty good about sticking to my intensions so I was not afraid of a full sales broadside. I always assume that I might learn something from these exchanges.

My “personal” salesman introduced himself as Steve. Fijians adopt English names but often pronounce them differently enough to become unrecognizable. In this case my salesman spoke perfect British English and knew enough Americanisms to be almost annoying. I want local authenticity not an imitation of where I’m escaping from. Nadi is full of these Americanisms. There is a pizza restaurant run by an expat Australian woman.
There is a McDonald’s and then there is the “Texas” clothing store, which sells blue jeans and other western gear, made in Indonesia.
The store I was in was named “Bula,” which means something like welcome or ciao or just hello. Everyone says bula, even people on the street whose eyes you catch by accident. Every other store in Fiji has “bula” as part of its name. This particular store sold handicrafts and I was determined to buy a trinket. In most stores around the world you explore the merchandise, with or without the help of a store clerk or personal salesman and I began to explore the shop on my own. Steve, my personal salesman, said, “No before we shop we must have kava.” He asked me if I had ever had kava and indeed I never had. Kava is one of those drinks that make you wonder if there is a hidden drug in it. I was suspicious but willing to suspend judgment.

The ceremony begins with everyone sitting cross-legged on the floor. The kava powder is mixed in a large wooden bowl with some kind of ornament pointed at the guest of honor. Since I had the credit cards I was the guest of honor. Kava is a made from the root of a plant closely related to the black pepper plant. According to the Wikipedia:

Kavalactones are the main psychoactive components of the roots of kava, a shrub. … The rhizome and roots of the shrub are ground, grated and steeped in water to produce a non-alcoholic drink which is said to promote sociability, mental clarity, and reduction of anxiety). The quantity and ratio of kavalactones present vary dramatically and are highest when roots are extracted with solvents rather than by conventional tea. … Effects of kavalactones include mild sedation, a slight numbing of the gums and mouth, and vivid dreams. Kava has been reported to improve cognitive performance and promote a cheerful mood. Muscle relaxant, anaesthetic, anticonvulsive and anxiolytic effects are thought to result from direct interactions of kavalactones with voltage-dependent ion channels
Yikes! What was I about to drink? After mixing the powder with water, stirring it for a minute or so the master of ceremony handed me a small half coconut shell filled with a white milky fluid. I was told I had to chug the drink after everyone clapped three times. So clap, clap, clap, and I emptied the coconut bowl. Kava tastes roughly like watered down un-flavored Kaopectate, that chalk filled drink that stops diarrhea. We clapped three times and everyone chugged a cup of kava until the bowel was emptied. Besides the slight numbing of my lips Kava was not a memorable experience.

Steve then proceeded to try to sell me everything in the store. I ended up buying a small, carved sea turtle for $50 that I should have paid about $20, the power of kava. I might have done the same if I had been offered an espresso.

Towns are a place where commerce takes place. Even if the primary occupation in a town like Nadi is to sell things and services to tourists there is always a component that services the local population. Off in the back of the town there is a large market. Part of the market is in the open air and part in an enormous shed. The most colorful part of this outdoor market was the spice and vegetable market.

I walked through the market wishing I could buy everything in sight if only for the color feast.

I walked though the market, passed the piles of kava root, pineapples and fish and emerged in a large square surrounded by shops and restaurants. In Boston we have Faneuil Hall; Nadi has this square. I get the same feeling of hurried commerce in both places.

At the far end of the square was “Bula Bargains”, a charming local equivalent of a K-Mart having their pre-Christmas sale. They had small plastic electrically lit Christmas trees, made in India and laughing Santa’s made in China. It’s a world wide economy.

Nadi is a small town and I had seen most of what I wanted to see so I paid $5.00 and went back the Capricorn Hotel and checked out.

I had promised to call Aruind in the morning for some more guided sightseeing. I thought I could call from the hotel but they had a 10 A.M. checkout policy and I was out of the room and all paid up so why should anyone let me use a phone. Public phone, what is a public phone? The Hotel didn’t have one … but there was one half a mile down the street. So I went looking and found a public phone. It didn’t take coins or standard credit cards, just a TelcomFiji prepaid phone card. I didn’t have one and I didn’t see any stores nearby that looked like they might have one so I went back to the hotel thinking I might have to take a cab back to Nadi just to call Aruind. Fortunately every hotel catering to tourists has a store that sells everything you need and lots you don’t. I bought a “telecard” for $3.00 Fiji and headed back out to call Aruind. Aruind was at the store but he would come get me as soon as he got back, assured his wife. I went back to the hotel and fell asleep by the pool. I’m not sure how long I was asleep but Aruind came over to me and woke me up, with a start. “Lets go,” he almost screamed, “We have things to see.”

8 Seven days in Fiji - Mystery Trip

Mystery Trip

“If your class had ended at 4 PM instead of 6 PM,” he said, “ you would now be looking at the most beautiful sunset in all Fiji. I tried to take a picture of it but it was really to dark. A Google search reveals what I should have seen:

As we drove on into the night we would occasionally drive through Fijian villages. A large sign and a speed bump would precede the village entrance. The speed limit would drop from 80 km/hr to 20 km/hr. Fijian villages at night are a busy place. People milling back and forth with the occasional roadside stand selling roast goat from a charcoal stoked fire. Every house had a front porch with a single fluorescent light welcoming the milling crowd. Every few houses there would be a gathering, men mostly, sitting on the floor drinking kava and speaking in hushed tones of the important things while women and children milled about chatting and giggling. Fijians walking along and across the highway as though there was no traffic would occasionally turn, wave a welcome and cry “Bula,” welcome. Aruind pushed on. There were long stretches of empty highway and Aruind would gun the engine as we went up and down the hills.

I asked Aruind if there were any large animals that could jump out in front of a car and cause damage? He looked at me quizzically. I told him of the majestic beauty of the American Deer, that prancing, horned animal that grace the forests of Americas Northeast, an animal that will occasionally impale itself on the front of a passing automobile causing catastrophic damage.

Aruind thought for a moment and said with a smile, “There are wild pigs that can run into the street but they don’t often cause damage. The only big animals we have here that won’t get out of the street and can damage your car are the Fiji people.” As we drove along I began to notice that indeed there were lots of “Fiji people” walking along the highway at night along these seemingly lonely stretches of highway.

Fiji is blessed with natural resources in the form an abundance of hydroelectric power. Every shack in Fiji has power but few homes have a landline telephone. Fortunately the cell phone infrastructure is excellent and everyone has a cell phone. We had been driving for almost four hours when Aruind got a cell phone call from his wife. The instructions were to pick up some cousin bring him home and have some tea. Aruind asked if I would I mind a ten-minute detour? Heck no, more adventure.

We turned off the main road and into what looked like a typical suburban subdivision. Aruind’s cousin was waiting for us at the intersection and hopped in the back seat. “One town,” Aruind said. “Fiji people here, Indian people there,” he said as we turned down a small dirt road. We made several turns and finally arrived in Aruind’s compound. It was dark out so I may not have seen what was really there but the compound looked like it was perhaps 90 feet long by forty feet wide and enclosed by a six to eight foot tall privet hedge or an equally tall chain link fence covered in vines. We pulled up to an open-ended garage and stopped. For the moment the headlights served as our only light.

Aruind’s house had been built by his father and grandfather just a short 100 feet from the Pacific Ocean. Tea was served in the garage. I sat on a bench made from a half log and Aruind sat on a small stool. As we sat sipping tea we talked about the construction. The floor was a poured concrete slab into which 2x4’s had been set. Also sets in the concrete were large eyebolts. The walls, both interior and exterior as well as the roof were of corrugated steel. Through each corrugated steel panel ran a quarter inch cable terminating in a turnbuckle at the eyebolts. At the center of each room was a single incandescent light bulb. Enough to see but not enough to do detailed work like reading.

I asked Aruind about cyclones, as hurricanes in this part of the pacific are called. He pulled on a cable and said with a smile, “This house may be underwater in a cyclone but its not going anywhere.” Occasionally they get very bad cyclones but Fiji is located directly in the middle of the spawning ground for south pacific Typhoons and as such they are usually relatively mild as they pass by. Fiji has not had a cyclone for five years and Aruind predicted that the next one would be very bad. A lot of building has taken place since then.

7 Seven days in Fiji - The ride to Nadi

The ride to Nadi

It was all arranged before I left the Hotel on Friday morning. I would be taking a cab back to Nadi and spend Friday night at the Capricorn Hotel before flying back home. Apparently there is constant cab traffic between Nadi and Suva and if you know the right people you can get a deadheading cab for next to nothing. In my case it was $70 in Fiji dollars, about $40 US for a five-hour ride.

My class was scheduled to be over at 5:00 P.M. and the cab was called for 6. There are lots and lots of cabs in Suva and most of them are pretty run down. You can go from one side of Suva to the other for $1.60 Fiji, about $1.00 US. I was expecting a beat up clunker of a car for the ride to Nadi. I had 24 hours to get to the Nadi airport and if the car broke down (as I was warned that the busses often do) I could still make it one way or the other. I’m adventuress and nothing in Fiji ever installed any kind of fear in me. When the car arrived, instead of a beat up clunker there was what looked like a brand new Toyota Corolla station wagon. It wasn’t a Corolla but rather an underpowered right hand drive car I suspect Toyota makes for the third world market. The maximum speed limit in Fiji is 80 km/hr, about 50 miles per hour. Cars and trucks don’t have to be able to achieve the speeds common in the US so all the cars and trucks are underpowered. The Fijians would laugh at us if they knew what kind of mileage we get.

My driver was named Aruind. His cab was decked out in what I have to describe as a combination “American Tuner” and “Indian modern.” Occupying the first foot of the back of the station wagon were a set of homebuilt gigantic speakers, the kind that make the ground shake as the car drives by, all base and no treble. On the dashboard was a tasseled red velvet throw that looked to have been tailor made to fit. Hanging from the oversized add-on mirror were more tassels and on the instrument panel was a cutout picture of some unrecognizable Indian god. “You should have ended your class at 4:00 PM,” Aruind said in his Indio-British accent, “You will miss the most beautiful sunset anywhere in Fiji.”

As we drove out of town I leaned out of the car window to take pictures of “typical” Fijian houses. The typical house, at least on the road between Suva and Nadi, is a single floor wooden structure built on stilts about two feet high with corrugated steel for the roof and both interior and exterior walls. This is common even way up on the hills of Suva. I imagine that his improves air circulation and in low-lying areas helps prevent flooding. There is no need for insulation just protection from wind and rain. There was a time when only Indians lived in these tin sheds but the practically and durability of these structures over the wood and thatch construction of the more typical Fijian house has lead to their adoption by the more urban Fijian population.

A mile or so out of town Aruind turned and asked, “Do you smoke?”

“No,” I answered, “I used to but quit, go ahead if you like.”

Aruind then asked, “You’re an American, right? You know Jamaica?”

“Yes,” I answered cautiously. I wasn’t sure where this was going.

“I can tell from your eyes you know what I’m talking about,” he continued, “Mind if I smoke a spliff?”

“Go ahead,” I answered.

From there the ride got more interesting as Aruind became more animated.

The national speed limit in Fiji is 80 kn/hr or about 50 miles per hour and most cars and trucks can only speed on a downhill slope. Aruind wasn’t the only cab heading back to Nadi and we played leapfrog with his friends for nearly an hour before loosing them in the dark. At one point we ran into a police checkpoint. We stopped while the police looked all over the vehicle and checked Aruind’s drivers license. It was a completely perfunctory roadblock. Aruind and the policemen kept up a banal chatter about sports, the weather and who knows what else while they went through their ritual. After we were waived through, Aruind explained, “No one in Fiji has much respect for the Police so they have to show themselves to the public every once in a while.” “Are you impressed now,” he asked with a wink as he pulled out another joint.

“I hear it grows wild here in Fiji,” I said.

“Nah, maybe in the mountains but drive up any road here and you will find it in everyone’s back yard,” Aruind said.

I sat back, enjoying the darkening view and the air rushing past my face. Everyone drives with the windows open even at 50 miles per hour. It’s too hot to drive with the windows up and to cool to turn on the air-conditioner if you have one. I was slowly falling into that mesmerized state we fall into when presented with endless scenery. When my children were young and restless I could easily put them to sleep by getting in the car and going for a “mystery trip.” This was becoming my mystery trip. Aruind suddenly swerved off the road and stopped.

6 Seven days in Fiji - Workweek


The fact that I was in Fiji at all is a testament to the Internet. Eight of my students were employees of Vodaphone, a British cell phone company that has the cell phone concession in Fiji and two “students” worked for Datec a training company with an office in Fiji. This was their class. Datec offers consulting and training all over the South Pacific and are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Vodaphone had asked Datec to create this class for their employees. Datec couldn’t find anyone that could teach it so they contacted the Australian division of a company based in Dubai called Flane. They looked on the Internet and found me. When they called I incredulously asked if there really wasn’t anyone between Boston Massachusetts USA and Suva Fiji who could teach the class they replied that they couldn’t find any. Good news or bad news? I’m either on the cutting edge of the new technology (which is what I like to believe) or I’m just a relic of a passed up branch of technology more suited for academic study than real applications. With competition I’d at least feel validated.

I had 10 people in my class, eight Indians, one Fijian and an “expat” Australian. I mention this because it was my first hint of how the Fijian society has segregated and isolated itself. Over the week it became apparent that Indians occupy the professional class in Fiji and if there can be said to be a Middle Class in Fiji they occupy it.


I belong to a Rotary club. For those of you who don’t know Rotary is an international organization consisting of over 30,000 clubs. Put in its most simple form, Rotary is about world peace and cooperative living. Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, all with capital letters belong to Rotary, its not about politics it’s about people organizing to help people. In my town we’ve paid for part of an industrial fish farm in Guatemala, lit the Christmas trees on the town common, sponsored a literary retreat ( and paid for an industrial therapist to help the town fathers work better together. Our club meets Tuesday mornings for breakfast while most of the other Rotary clubs nearby meet for lunch. This is the pattern all over the world. If you miss one meting you can “makeup” at another club. Our club gets a high “makeup” traffic simply because we are a breakfast club.

In Suva there are four Rotary clubs, three meet for lunch and one meets for dinner. Because I had been imported to teach my class from such a distance I must be important so for the entire week lunch was catered. This is where British gastronomic tastes put a small damper on the beauty of Fiji. I think it can safely be said that British taste in food was vastly superior to the prevailing taste when they first arrived, roasted rump of one’s fellow man being rather unappetizing. However there is no excuse for rice and yellow curried chicken followed by rice and chicken with brown curry followed by rice and chicken with black curry and peas. You get the picture. No insult intended but why couldn’t I have gotten a job in Tahiti. Since Datec felt they had to cater lunch I felt honor bound to eat it. That prevented me from doing a “makeup” at any of the lunchen Rotary clubs.

I admit that what I am about to say is pure conjecture as I have but the scantiest evidence for what I am about to say save a list of names. Most towns the size of Suva sport one Rotary club. Suva has four. From the list of members names one is all Fijian, one is all Indian, one is all expat, that is, all Aussies and Kiwis and one is a dinner club suitable for making up if you miss the club of your ethnic choice. I managed to do a “makeup” at the Suva Peninsula club, the dinner club.

There were eight of us for dinner at the fanciest Chinese restaurant in Suva. The Rotary club web site said that dinner started at 6:30 so I was there 10 minutes early. I was the first one to show up and began to wonder when no one else had arrived by 6:45. “Fiji time,” I was told with a laugh, which means that everything in Fiji starts late. By 7:00 we had 8 Rotarians. I cannot remember most names but on my left was a large Fijian gentleman on the board of some large local corporation. On my right was the President of the club, an expat, who ran a canning company. Like all things in Fiji the Fiji Rotary clubs are modeled on their British counterparts. The president wore a ponderous gilded chain around his neck when conducting the meeting. In the states we assume that the man at the podium is the president, an assumption that has yet to fail me.

Of the remaining 5 Rotarians I remember only the two charming women of Indian extraction. The first, Dr. Bernadette, (I was told that I could never pronounce her last name) is a professor of dentistry at the University of the South Pacific as well as President of the Fiji Dental Association. The other was a charming well-healed pharmacist named “Josh,” a name that was short for something unpronounceable. Both were charming, animated, and very British and both invited me to be their guests at a meeting of the Fiji-British Alumni Association.

The Fiji-British Alumni Association had been created as an all-inclusive organization where Fijian, Indian and other Commonwealth types could meet and interact. It is the perfect type of an organization for a Rotarian to belong to. Unfortunately the coup d'état of 2000 purged the government of most Indians and put an end to an ecumenical government. The Fiji-British Alumni Association had gone into suspension soon after the coup as ecumenism was frowned on. Time cures most things so the Fiji-British Alumni Association was trying to revive itself. This was its second meeting post coup.

Fortunately the meeting of the Fiji-British Alumni Association was being held at the Fiji Lawn Tennis Association, right down the street from me at the edge of Albert Park, and next to the Cricket game that was still going on. The meeting of the Fiji-British Alumni Association was a completely informal dinner. I wore a jacket and tie, which I quickly shed. The Fiji-British Alumni Association was made up of almost equal parts Fijian and Indian with a reasonable representation of Ausies, New Zealanders and me. After an initial pleasant mix of pleasantries everyone segregated themselves into Fiji and Indian tables. I sat with Dr. Bernadette and Josh.

Apparently, the meeting of the Fiji-British Alumni Association was a major social event with the Fiji Times sending both a reporter and a photographer. Yes my picture was snapped with Dr. Bernadette and Josh but I don’t think I made the social column. There was an Indian woman who is a famous Judge, a very big deal I was told. She mugged for the camera and made sure her picture was taken with everyone present. She looked like an old fashioned politician running for office. I mentioned this to Josh who reminded me quietly what the last coup was all about. Apparently there is an expat woman that might indeed become a compromise candidate for Prime Minister. Fijian politics is a very strange beast.

I can only hope that Fijians and Indians come to some understanding before someone resorts to violence again. Fiji is a beautiful place with a thin veneer of civilization provided by British institutions but with an unfortunate history of ethnic problems and an equally unfortunate British taste in food.

When the event ended I walked with Dr. Bernadette and Josh to the cabstand on Victoria Parade. We walked pass a group of Fijian youths hanging out with smoke wafting up from their midst. I was enjoying the night and oblivious to the real world around me. “Lets hurry,” Dr. Bernadette whispered to me, “They are smoking marijuana and two Indian girls and middle aged white man are a very good target for mugging.” I didn’t recognize the smell, I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, and I still didn’t feel threatened but my escorts did so we hurried.

“It’s a weed,” she said. “Did you know it grows wild here,” Dr. Bernadette asked?

“I think it grows wild almost everywhere its allowed,” I answered.

“They found a fully grown pot plant in the courtyard of the Town Counsel building in downtown Suva last summer.” She went on. “You can imagine the furor over that,” she went on with a giggle.

We walked on in silence, giggling to ourselves.

Monday through Friday

With the exception of my Thursday evening feast at the Fiji-British Alumni Association my week was as predictable as it would have been if my class were in Peoria Illinois. I got up early, had breakfast at the bar/restaurant, taught my class and toured the town looking for a good place to eat and be entertained.

I’m from New England in the northeast corner of the Unite States of America. We have a delicacy found nowhere else on earth, Maple Syrup. We take it for granted and use it (or maple flavored corn syrup if we want to be cheep) liberally on pancakes and waffles for breakfast. To someone used to the maple flavor anything else is … unnatural. Fiji’s major export is cane sugar and the syrup of choice is a mild molasses. Breakfast became a source of nourishment rather than a celebration of the senses.

In the evenings I scavenged the town like a feral cat in search of a meal. I sniffed at the door of almost every restaurant in town. The choices were between Indian and Chinese cuisine. In most cases I opted for a Chinese appetizer (yes you can ruin a spring roll). Almost every restaurant, both Chinese and Indian, also served “Fish & Chips” which became my staple dinner simply for its lack of curry. On my way home each night I passed the American Embassy where the guards began to recognize me and say hello. I passed the girls and “puftas” assembling for the night’s work. After the first night they too said hello and “Have a good night Sir, we’re here if you want us.” I think it became a sport for them to spot me and say hello. As the week wore on it became a rising chorus. If I had worn a hat I would have tipped it to them. Although I was told that it was a bad corner to pass through I never once felt threatened, the livelihood of to many people depended on the corner being safe and so it was.

One truly remarkable feature of Suva Fiji is the complete lack of Japanese tourists. I’m not sure why but I can speculate that they haven’t discovered it yet or there is a lasting distaste for visiting lands once threatened by the rising sun. Should the Japanese ever discover Fiji they will not only improve the cuisine on the islands but also discover that the Fijians also drive on the British side of the street a feature shared only among British Commonwealth countries and Japan. It should be a natural.

There is an active nightlife in Suva but since my body took its time adjusting seven hours to Fiji time I faded well before any of the hot spots got cooking. In Fiji the nightlife begins at 10:00 P.M. and continues well past the legal limit of Midnight. The music on the radios and in the nightclubs is the same in Fiji as it is anywhere in the US. The only difference is that on Radio Fiji the DJ’s speak with that ever so delightful British accent.

I had been scheduled to leave Fiji on Saturday as I had come in, a flight from Suva to Nadi and then home. I had mentioned to the manager at Datec that I’d rather take a buss from Suva to Nadi so that I could see the countryside. Would I rather take a cab I was asked. That option never dawned on me since Suva and Nadi are 200 km apart by car. Of course I’d rather go by car with a knowledgeable guide.

5 Seven days in Fiji - A short history of Fiji

A short history of Fiji as seen through the eyes of an itinerant American

Sundays in Fiji are a day of rest. Nominally almost half of the population of Fiji is Methodist. Historically the native chiefs would pledge themselves to Christianity while it was convenient but the lure of eating ones enemies constantly proved overwhelming to some. There are some alive today who knew someone who was a cannibal. See “The Whale Tooth,” Jack London's fictionalized story of the killing (and eating) of missionary Thomas Baker. Civilization is a thin veneer at best and when a violent cultural tradition collides with modern pacifistic civilized ideals a cultural tradition of violence usually wins. I kept this in mind when I asked about Fiji’s history and politics. I’m not an expert in Fiji history and what I am going to report is just an accounting of Fijian history as seen through my eyes.

Two characters of marginal repute unwillingly created modern Fiji. The first was an ambitious local chief named Ratu Seru Cakobau who was elected Fiji’s first president in 1865 by a short lived confederacy of Chiefs. The second was a corrupt American Charge' d' Affairs who had an active import/export business. On the 4th of July 1849 he had a party with fireworks that ended up burning down his house and warehouse. The natives took advantage of the situation and looted what remained. Over the next twenty years, a bill for damages mounted and eventually the United States threatened annexation over the non-payment of the so-called debt, sending two sorties of warships over the years.

Political unrest and instability ensued, as western influence grew stronger. In 1871, with support of the approximately 2000 Europeans in Fiji, Cakobau was proclaimed king and a national government was formed in Levuka. His government, however, faced many problems and was not well received. To pay the American debt King Cakobau agreed to sell 200,000 Fijian acres to the Polynesia Company Ltd. which was consortium intending to grow cotton in Fiji. Things had started well enough when King Cakobau pledged the land which, unbeknown to the Polynesian Company's representatives in Fiji, were not wholly his to give. In return, the Company agreed to settle the indemnity levied by the United States government. An advanced payment ensured that his Fijian Majesty's problems with the United States government were over.

In early 1871, other problems were just beginning with investors showing concern about the land purchased for the Polynesia Company Ltd. Eventually, all the Company actually got for their money was approximately half the land it had originally been promised. Cakobau's feudal allies in the Suva Bay area, where some of the land in question lay, agreed to the transaction; but the chief of Rewa, the king's avowed enemy did not. Despite spirited onslaughts by the natives, by the middle of May 1871, eighteen of the forty allotments were ready for planting. What is now the town of Suva and a suburban reserve had been cleared as well.

King Cakobau actions were not well received by the Counsel of Chiefs and on October 10, 1874, after a meeting of the most powerful chiefs, Fiji was unilaterally ceded to the United Kingdom. This was the end of Ratu Seru Cakobau and the beginning of Pax Britannia in Fiji.

Fiji's first Governor under British rule was Sir Arthur Gordon. Sir Arthur's policies were to set the stage for much of the Fiji that exists today. In an effort to preserve the people and culture of Fiji, Sir Arthur forbade the sale of Fijian land to non-Fijians. He also instituted a system of limited native administration that allowed the native Fijians much say in their own affairs. A council of chiefs was formed to advise the government on matters pertaining to the native people.

Apparently the native Fijians were (and I can say still are) a happy lot and were not inclined to seek employment in the cotton and sugar cane fields. In order to provide cheap non-native labor for the plantations, the government looked to the crown colony of India. On 14 May 1879, the "Leonidas", the ship with the first indentured laborers from India, arrived in Fiji. Today, Indians (“FBI’s,” Fiji born Indians) make up over 45% of the population and clearly dominate the economy of the main island of Viti Levu.
If you think the United States has racial problems please visit Fiji. The tension between the Fiji and Indian population is palpable. As you enter the country there is a form that anyone traveling on a Fiji passport is required to fill out. It asks what race you belong to, the choices being: Fijian, Indian, other South Pacific Islanders, Caucasian and other. As you exit the country those of clearly Indian extraction are searched. As I stood in line expecting to be searched I received one of those, “I’m not here to search you, stupid,” looks from the Fijian inspector as she waved me though.

To the uneducated eye there isn’t all that much difference between Fijian and Indian people walking down the street. All have very dark skin, the Fijian people being mostly Melanesian rather than the lighter skinned Polynesian and the Indian people are mostly just as dark skinned. I made the mistake of mentioning my observation twice, once to a Fijian and once to an Indian. The difference, I was told, are that the Fijian people for the most part have more curly hair then the Indians and that, for the most part, the native Fijians are a stockier, bigger people than the Indians and that the Fijians have broader faces than the Indians, for the most part. There are Indians that look like Fijians and Fijians that look like Indians. It’s really hard to tell walking down the street but the conflict is there and is real.