Reporter's Notebook

A great benefit of freelancing for the St. John Tradewinds has been the chance to meet people like Frank Langley, 75, a brilliant Brit who worked on the Gemini program and who five years ago parlayed a small hi-tech windfall into seed money for a weeklong arts festival on St. John. Optomistic Products, his hi-tech startup, immediately afterward fell on hard times like the rest of the industry, but the arts festival continues with grants from the Virgin Islands tourism department and the Council on the Arts. I interviewed Frank twice this week and enjoyed his tales of growing up on the Isle of Wight, helping out with the space race inFlorida, relocating to New Zealand and then St. John. On any topic, he digresses and then digresses from the digressions, which drove me nuts the first day at Chilly Billy's restaurant, because I was trying to make the ferry to St Thomas with Darlene. But when I transcribed the interview from my Pentax Optio camera, I found everything of interest and was glad I had let the conversation follow its own path. My story on the arts festival and Frank's involvement with it will appear in Monday's edition of the Tradewinds.

Capt. John Clark of the Wind Spirit has invited Darlene and me to the ship this Sunday for lunch, in trade for bringing 20 copies of last week's Tradewinds. He enjoyed the piece I wrote about him and the ship, apparently. My journalist friend Joyce Heard, who lives in France, said she would have used the quote where he said sometimes he wishes he could roll around in some grease on a cargo ship, and I would have, too, except the quote also referred to some term from a cargo ship that I couldn't decipher on the recording. So much great stuff doesn't make it into an article because of space. He also said carrying passengers is just another form of cargo, and it has its benefits. Human cargo lets you know right away when something is wrong, but if the lumber sweats and ruins the coffee you don't find out about it until you get to your destination.

This morning we packed up our stuff from the tent-cabin at Maho Bay Camps, and by the end of the day we will be back at the CaribSurf studio apartment on Frank Bay, in metro Cruz Bay. The Maho interlude had its challenges, namely gray weather and nearly nonexistent internet connection. Neither of us is interested in returning there, but, oddly, we at the same time found ourselves agreeing that next year we would like to figure out a way to spend three months somewhere on St. John, perhaps through a house swap, instead of one month. For me, the Tradewinds connection makes this prospect appealing, and Darlene has always loved the sun and colors of these islands. So who knows?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Frank Langley, left, a Brit who parlayed a hi-tech windfall into seed money for the first St. John Arts Festival just before the bust, gathers in the office of Julien Harley, right, administrator of St. John, and Corine Matthias, Harley's office manager. The trio all serve as officers of the nonprofit which presents the festival, next week making its fifth annual appearance. Posted by Hello

Home, unplugged home, for four more days: Cabin-tent A-3 at Maho Bay Camps. At night we hear the waves, the wind in the trees, and the tree frogs. The cabins are connected to each other and to the restaurant by long wooden walkways and steps. At night you need flashlights to make your way home. Posted by Hello

Monday, February 07, 2005

Island Time

Frank Langley, a Brit who worked on NASA's Gemini Program and now lives on St. John, has created an annual arts festival to help islanders remember what they are losing, year by year, as more and more Northerners flock here to find solace from their ever-accelerating clock, only to establish that very same clock in Paradise. This is not such a new insight, but today my own mind seems to have become a battleground for the rival experiences of time. I thought it would be a minor adjustment to unplug from the internet, in obediance to the decrepit equipment at Maho Bay Camps. But yesterday and last night I found myself laid low by a killer headache after trying to get a few e-mail tasks done that I thought I couldn't delay. It might have been the normal tension headaches I give myself occasionally, but this one seemed to suggest withdrawal pains, as if the part of my mind that plugs into a fast DSL connection in Denver nearly all day long was going through detox. It sounds silly, but I'm actually kind of spooked by it, to think that I have become addicted to the rhythms of the internet. If I moved to St. John, which I am not considering, I would insist on the fastest internet connection available. I would be part of the acceleration of time that Frank Langley worries about.

I am filing this blog entry from St. Thomas, in an idyllic stone-walled, fan-cooled internet cafe with an ethernet connection for the Vaio, but the reaction time is still slow. I wait for more than 200 e-mails to come across from the server, knowing I need to leave soon in order to make the ferry back to St. John. I have no resolution for island time versus internet time. The only idea that has occurred to me is to take on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday internet discipline, leaving four days a week unplugged. But this sort of rigidity seems lame, like an alcoholic setting up some silly limit on his drinking to prove to himself he doesn't have a problem. It's a muddle.

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