Reflections: Isla Mujeres
by Robert Earlywine
Back from Mexico. The tone of my writing changes down there, from the usual gloom to the ecstatic. Me, a kid in Paradise. A real world beyond Disneyland. The Caribbean Sea and its impossible ever-changing sunlit ultramarine and indigo. Waves generally gentle as a mother’s loving hand. Though sometimes not. On the beaches of Isla Mujeres I try to observe like Darwin in the spirit of Shelley. Sheer beauty stops the enquiry. Here we have no choice but to be what we see, we become the sea we feel around us and in us. When my Virginia goes into the sea she is the sea.
But when Paradise is found by everyone it becomes less and less Paradise. The island where development goes on for more and more money. Gas fumes in the street in tiny downtown. Mopeds and cabs and golf carts crowd the street, taking polite turns, leaving a stench in their wake. The cabbies overcharge those they know to be tourists. The mayor, we’re told, takes what he can steal. The Mayans whose home this island was are being pushed off into Cancun. The island houses a naval base. Once in a while, a truck load of armed soldiers goes by. Thieves prowl the beaches at night, hoping to find tourists not home. The need for more construction of profit-share skyscrapers and rich homes, the more poorly-paid workers are brought in to work on the island.
The poor don’t like being servile to the rich. If you’re not rich, but you’re down there, the people who live there still think you must be rich, and comparatively you are. You can afford to go down there, down to Paradise, down to the most beautiful sea, the sunlit Caribbean, whereabouts the beautiful Mayan children, their dark-glowing, guileless and beguiling eyes, look as if they would never deceive anyone, little brown girls who may not want to become movie stars when everything anywhere else must seem less than where they are and what they have: coconuts and pineapples and diamonds sparkling in the small waves of the sea.
It’s the one hundred-fifty year anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. So it says in the National Geographic, which I found in the bookcase beside the bed, inside our rented room, less than a fifty yards from the sea. My best friend on the beach, an iguana I named Butch.
Mornings Butch comes out from the other side of his craggy sea-rock, climbs up on top, sits stone still and looks out at the sea. I didn’t see him do this, simply noticed one morning that the rock had a strange pointed pyramid on top, then I made out Butch. Until he turned his head he looked like part of the rock.
I’d begun my spiritual journey by feeding bread crumbs to the long-tailed grackles, which were plentiful around the pool and patio outside our door. The grackles are beautiful and ugly at once, iridescent blackness and a gift for quick flight, faces pointy, sharp black bills. When they stand still with their beaks open, their small yellow eyes are the image of greed. They grab up the bread without acknowledging me.
Then beyond the little fence I found Butch. I’d draw him closer, pitching the crumbs closer and closer to me. If I dropped the crumbs too close to me, he’d turn and go away, back behind his rock. Though from what he took to be a safe distance, he’d chew, swallow, and look directly at me. Iguana, a cold-blooded lizard, yet more grateful than grackles.
I could get a leash for him. Pet cargo. I’d let Butch lead me into the pub, and he’d tell jokes in a lazy off-handed manner, and appreciative friends would laugh and buy us drinks. Home, I’d open the windows and let him feed on all the flies we’d train to fly up from the dumpsters. But what about his rock and the sea? His morning meditations. His sense of invisibility.
Last night or the night before, in the gloaming, I walked to the edge of the sea, its rocky fringe, found a big rock smooth enough on top to sit on, and watched the Caribbean fold and refold with a sound like a conch shell held to the ear. The light from inside the sea, the sun-drenched sea, the sky less bright than the sea, sky of ever-changing violet, the intermittent soft wind steady as always. The smell of the sea, the smell of that mother. I sat still and became invisible, invisible like Butch, till I had the thought of it, and then I wasn’t invisible anymore, but rather a puny version of The Thinker.
Virginia does it better, drifting in the pool on her pneumatic mat, belly down, belly up, her brown legs ever so shapely. Her sunglasses and big straw hat. Butch can’t one-up her. She’s there. Invisible to herself but not to me.
My voice changes on the island. The other side of melancholia must be rhapsodic giddiness. Like moving from nihilism to Jesus. The island apart from the sea behaves more like the grackles than the iguana, though his kind thrive here within the bushes as well as the rocks. But the fumes from cabs, mopeds, golf carts stink up downtown day and night, stink up the street in front of where we stay. We’ve heard the politics stink worse. And the developers, the worst stink. There’s some kind of right wing god in all that. Fruit ripens and goes bad quick. Don’t drink the water.
Nights she and I look up at the stars without city light clouding them over. She thinks the Big Dipper is the Little Dipper. I forgot how to find the North Star. We watch the moonlit white mares of the sea roll in.