Friday, September 28, 2012

Why did the chicken cross the road?

You live on a boat.  You find an excellent deal on 10 kg of frozen chicken.  But when you get it home, you find it is one big fully-frozen chunk of chicken parts - a chickeny-ice-cube far too big for your little freezer.  What do you do?

Cut it into freezer-friendly pieces with a Sawz-all, of course!

This is my life.  For.  Reals.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On the Subject of Hats

I know, it has been a while. How you must have worried! I have been writing, I assure you, but the Papillon Crew has been even less connected to the outside world than usual. Even the SSB has been denied to us, because, for the last eleven days, we have been living on land.

On land? Papillon? Yes, it´s true. The human component of Papillon decamped to a tiny magical motu in the middle of the pass in Raraka, and the home of our friend "Olivier". And while it is true that I have been living in a tent on an island with neither electricity nor running water, it would be a fib to claim that we have been roughing it. Aside from the loveliness of the place - the tiny, sheltered beach, the coral garden just beyond - Olivier has built a beautiful little house with everything one needs to live comfortably. And I can now proudly claim that I can cook: 1. bread, 2. chocolate cake, and 3. butter tarts in a wood-fired oil drum oven. Ha ha!

But enough about our weeks of intensive snorkelling and shark-watching. Today, we are going to discuss hats.

I hate hats. Actually, I find hats both practical and attractive... just not on me. I look ridiculous in hats. Fedoras, ball caps, Stetsons, straw hats - they all look foolish on me. The one hat I have ever made friends with is a beautiful puff of fur and leather that Erik bought me to get me through a Montreal winter. Fur may be socially unacceptable, but that hat is the stuff when the temperature dips to minus thirty and I love it. Not so every other chapeau of my acquaintance, which inevitably looks as though I just borrowed it from someone else, and it would like to return to its rightful owner with all possible haste.

The girls, of course, would (and do) look adorable in a tea cosy. Not that I can often convince them to wear their hats. I have only recently gained ground in The Battle Of The Sunglasses, and one must take these things a step at a time. Erik, champion retriever of stray hats, recently found Indy a beauty. It is woven from palm fronds, with the ends left free to stab the unwary. The top is somewhat charred, but that is the way of things when your hats are found objects. Indy immediately stuck her plastic tiara through the top, popped the whole concoction on her head, and hasn´t looked back. Fashion.

Pointy and chic, together at last.

Our friend Olivier has a large collection of kerchiefs which function as headwear. And the Young French Polynesian Man of Today wears much what the Young Colombian Man of Today favors. Namely, a knitted wool toque. It isn´t immediately clear to me what the benefit of such headwear might be here. On the ski slopes of Whistler, yes. Protecting a small child in frigid January, certainly. But adorning the head of your typical youth in the tropics? I´ll admit, I wouldn´t have guessed.

Erik, as is the way of things, is a dashing figure in a hat. Well, most hats. Sadly, he doesn´t wear a crisp Panama hat at the moment. No, Erik currently favors the battered old Tilly I bought for a trip in ninth grade. Once upon a time, it was a perfectly decent bled of canvas and grommits. But the sun, salt and Erik´s sweat have transformed it into an oil-saturated, mildewed nightmare, complete with corrosion detailing. It is so far beyond the powers of traditional cleaners that the very idea is laughable. Even an industrial cleaning agent is going to have a fight on its hands to get that thing back to its previous state.

My quest for the perfect hat continues. In the meantime, I´ll lay aside my vanity and wear whatever comes to hand. Or maybe I´ll just take a cue from the Young Man of Today and send for my fur hat. I´m guaranteed to be the fanciest lady in the anchorage.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shoes, Glorious Shoes

There sits Erik, across from me. He is working with the sailmaker´s palm and heavy needle and thread. He is not repairing a sail. He is not mending safety gear.

He is sewing shoes.

You wouldn´t think that shoes would be much of an issue for us. We spend an amazing amount of time barefoot - we never wear shoes aboard. But for some reason, in the tropics, the girls´shoes dissolve. And I mean, fail catastrophically.

The Life Cycle of a Shoe, by Amy
1. Purchase sandals for children. Admire their thick rubber soles and tough material. Congratulate yourself on the wisdom of your purchase.
2. Wait three weeks.
3. Note, to your surprise, that the bottom sole has separated from the inner and is flapping in the breeze. Shake your head that the sandal was only glued together. Go home and sew the sole on with whipping twine.
4. Wait four days.
5. Discover that the upper has pulled out of the sole at the back of the instep. Sew it back on.
6. Wait three hours.
7. Now the middle part of the instep has pulled out.
8. Wait seven minutes.
9. Now the front. Give up and sew every point of attachment.
10. Wait sixteen seconds.
11. Aha. The velcro will no longer stick. Sew on new velcro. (If the shoe had a buckle or any metal bits, those corroded away back around step three. You already replaced those bad boys with plastic and twine.)
12. Realize you have, in effect made a new pair of shoes, and would have been further ahead to buy the basic pieces as a kit.

I could claim that we´ve been cursed with poor quality sandals since leaving Canada, but I don´t think that is the problem. It is just a fact that the sun and salt are death on clothes of all sorts, and shoes have a particularly hard job. Walking around on the coral rubble of the motus doesn´t really help the situation. Erik and I have made our Tevas last as long as we could, but the soles peeled off Erik´s a few months ago. He is now in search of a discarded tire with which to fabricate a new sole. And he´ll eke out a few more months of life on the old things.

But, as with all things boat-related, there is a trick to this shoe business. It is the same trick you need to use everywhere you travel. In short: What Do The Locals Do? Because they have feet, too.

And here is the answer. Leave your flip-flops back in central America. Save your US-style sandals for Miami. In French Polynesia, you need jelly shoes.

Do you remember jelly shoes? Those soft, plastic-y injection-molded creations of yesteryear? I coveted a pair when I was about six, and ended up with a pair of pink sparklies that I couldn´t have loved more if they were covered with diamonds.

Here, everyone, infant to grandfather, wears the jellies. They are white, sturdy, and perfect for the place. You can wear them in the water so as not to get stung by stonefish. You can toodle around town when out for a stroll. You can wander over sharp coral rubble with nary a murmur. And, if they get a split, you can melt the pieces back together using a heated machete blade. Hooray!

When we go to town today, it is my fervent hope we will all come back with jelly shoes. Because I will quite happily never sew up another sandal.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sleeping in the Great Outdoors

My family did a lot of camping when I was young. Every summer we hitched our pop-up trailer to the big red van, and toodled around the great campgrounds of Southern Ontario. When I was a little older, I was introduced to the joys of a damp sleeping bag when I was sent to a summer camp in Algonquin Park. This was a canoe trip kind of camp, and we girls were sent out for a few days at a time to paddle the lakes as the blackflies buzzed and the mosquitoes whined. After a long day of paddling a canoe and acquiring a mild sunburn, occasionally punctuated by a tiring portage, our counsellors would guide us to a campsite. As the sun went down, we would coax the wet sticks we found into a fire and try to cook something before falling dead into our drippy canvas tents. (Note to the interested: Kraft pizza mix is a superior camping meal. Wrap the dough around a stick, cook it in the fire, then dip the dough stick into the tomato sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Cést magnifique. I only had this once during my camping career, and still remember it clearly almost thirty years later.) As a parent, I see how wise it was to tire out a quartet of nine-year-old girls in this way. Although I didn´t care for camp as a whole (too much rigidly-scheduled cheerfulness), I have fond memories of gliding across still lakes, listening to the birds overhead, and eating charred, sticky marshmallows at the end of the day.

The years went by and I encountered My Dear Spouse. It should surprise no one reading this blog that Erik is keen on camping. But Erik was a proponent of La Vie Sauvage in a way I could never be. For example, winter camping. True, there are no bugs to worry about, but actually choosing to sleep outdoors during a Canadian winter only begs the question: why? Nothing he said abut the crisp beauty of the thing fizzed on me at all. There I draw the line.

Happily, there is a middle ground between trailers and snow forts. When we travelled around Europe during university, we slept in a two-man tent Erik bought in Compiegne. In the years that followed, out little Jamet took us through the mountains of Switzerland, climbing in New Hampshire, hiking in Maine, and into our own backyard when Stylish was young. And while I never developed an antipathy to camping, I thought my days of sleeping on the cold, hard ground were over.

We recently celebrated Erik´s 40th birthday in the atoll of Makemo. After a day spent snorkelling around reefs with a fish population to put the world´s finest aquarium to shame, we decided to camp out on an uninhabited motu for the night. After a dinner of fish grilled over the fire, we laid out a bed of palm fronds on the coral rubble, pitched our old friend the Jamet, and crawled inside when the sun went down.

It is rather entertaining to camp in the Tuamotus. Huge parrotfish abound along the shoreline, and their dorsal fins and tails flap out of the water as they munch on the coral just below. And, rather than worry about snapping turtles, one has to be on the lookout for sharks. Although the shallows beside the motu are only a foot or so deep, still blacktip sharks as big as Indy patrol right to the shoreline. This morning, as I washed out the breakfast dishes, I was surprised when two large-ish sharks suddenly turned and swam away from me. They were only three feet away when they turned, and whether they objected to the hot peppers I´d rinsed away or didn´t like the look of their reflections in the big metal bowl resting on the bottom, I don´t know.

I am still getting used to reef sharks. I prefer a certain cultured aloofness in my sharks. But the sharks here, especially those of human size, are interested in us and want to know what we are about. So they circle, ever so slowly. Our local friend and guide told us the sharks would likely not bother us, provided we didn´t move much or follow them. I am hardly about to go chasing sharks. But it isn´t always easy to freeze like a popsicle when a higher predator glides past only four feet away. The rule is, no splashing, no noise - just stay resolutely large and wooden. The largest sharks we´ve seen were 12-14 feet long, and the largest pack held at least twenty bodies. I am delighted to report that these refined animals feigned the lofty ignorance of our presence of which I so approve. Their smaller comrades should take a lesson.

It is crucial when camping up north to hoist your food. Otherwise, critters from racoons to bears will get into it, no question. We also had to hang our food at night on the motu... because of the hermit crabs. The hermit crabs here are the size of my fist, and they are wonderful cleaners. Anything left out at night will be gone by morning, and one can hear the clack-clack of shells sliding over the coral rubble all night long. The hermit crabs were especially fond of the plastic Ikea forks we´d brought, and we had to retrieve these well-chewed items from all sorts of far-flung and unlikely places.

The sun came up, and little eyes opened. Maybe it was the mild tropical night. Maybe it was the lack of biting insects. Or maybe curling up with our girls on a Thermarest as the stars circled overhead is just one of life´s small pleasures. Because all of us agreed when we woke up - we would stay the next night as well.

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