Sunday, February 20, 2005

Tahiti

This place is a trip. I suppose I'd forgotten that Tahiti was a domain of the French, and what that would entail. Throughout my travels, I've noticed that, when I took the trouble to think about my firt impression, it was invariably some mix of prior travel experiences: fitting the unknown into the context of the familiar, which is to be expected. Most places I go I generally don't have any real idea of what it is I'm going to find there (beyond the Lonely Planet maps, anyway), hence the above mental machinations. I've generally found (or at least have been convinced by my father that such is the case) that high anticipation and preconceived notions lead to disappointment. (I happen to think he's right.) That's kind of hard to avoid with a place like Tahiti, though. The myth of Polynesia is a very popular one. I suppose I expected Hawaii but on a smaller and more charming scale. If I had enough money to stay in the nice hotels here, which is what I'm used to in Hawaii, I probably would have been right.

But instead, here's the amalgam of experiences this place reminds me of: my spring break visit to Rosarito a few years ago (lots of rain in a place where you'd counted on not having it, plus that same kind of dinginess that comes from poorly-maintained brightly-colored buildings). France, because let's face it, that's what's going to come to mind when I'm in a place where everyone speaks french and I'm living off baguettes and salades nicoises because that's the only thing on the menu where I know what I'm getting if I order it. And finally, my grandmother's house. I'm staying at a pensione called Chez Myrna, which is just outside Papeete, and while I haven't yet figured out who Myrna is, I do know that the proprietor is an old man in his 70's and the house reflects it. It's decorated using materials and patterns that were hip decades ago, but more than that, it has that smell. I don't know how to characterize it, but I'm sure you know the smell I mean. The smell of furnishings that have been there for years. Nostalgia makes it pleasant. Also the fact that I can relax and do nothing and not feel all that guilty about it because it's pouring outside. Thank God I had the foresight to buy a few books before I left New Zealand. Although I'm almost done with the first one, a 500-600 page novel by Michael Crichton, and I've got a few days to go. Not encouraging. My last resort (and last book) is a copy of Vanity Fair that will either take up lots of time or inspire me to find other ways to fill it.

I'm heading to Moorea tomorrow to see what the rain is like over there. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for sunshine: there's only supposed to be a 10% chance of rain on Wednesday.

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