Vacations by the Vocation

Many Vineyarders enjoy traveling during the off-season; some choose to go places based on the work they do or to learn something new.

Learning Spanish in Nicaragua

Summer was over. My last bed and breakfast guests had come and gone, and I craved the August Vineyard vacation of my childhood. My well-traveled friend and lifelong beach buddy said Nicaragua had the sun, sea, and nice people I needed.

“Ah-ha!” The light went on. “I will study Spanish by day and dance salsa all night.” I booked a flight for December 1.

Managua was my port of entry, where a friendly, young man with a dusty truck fetched me and my one piece of luggage. We drove to the colonial city of Granada, known for its well-worn church and enormous lake. There, I attended Spanish class for one week. I housed with a woman who took in boarders, catered, and sold clothing to office workers on the side. My first impression was “very Vineyard – three jobs to make ends meet!”

After a week of city life and being introduced to my Spanish ABCs, I said goodbye to new friends and headed to the seaside where I was booked to stay – and study – the rest of December. The same dusty truck bumped past fruit farms and fields to San Juan del Sur, a little fishing village just north of Costa Rica on the Pacific side.

As the truck turned the corner and the San Juan harbor came into view, tears welled in my eyes. It looked just like Vineyard Haven harbor with its mix of boats and feeling of safety. The gush of emotion reminded me how much I cherish my Vineyard home.

San Juan’s houses are as colorful as the gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs, and the main activity of the day is a magenta-rose-orange sunset that floods the sky, visible anywhere from town or from the mile-and-a-half-long beach. The people are relaxed. Europeans, Canadians, Americans, and of course Latinos mill about the town. The hillsides are sprinkled with development that is a complicated blessing and curse. It was hot and humid with a breeze blowing off the sea. My buddy was right. Here was a Vineyard summer – three weeks before Christmas.

My casita was freshly painted white and hot pink with green plantain trees and poinsettia bushes around it. My host, Mayra, laid out three meals a day for me – a vacation all in itself! She sat at the table with her boarders (some of whom attended other schools in town) to talk in Spanish and help us learn.
A welcoming blue storefront was the Latin American Spanish School – two rustic wooden rooms with a desk in each corner. All lessons were one-on-one, with the same teaching method applied as in Granada. I began to speak Spanish in full sentences, ask questions about the government. Eventually I engaged in heart-to-heart girl talk with my teacher about everything from the troubling Sandinista years to the more personal talk of family life, love, marriage, children, and such – all in my newly acquired Spanish.

No bailar became my woeful mantra (albeit in fractured grammar) when I realized the only dancing in town was reserved for the late-night twenty-something crowd. But I made good friends, baked in the sun, went to magnificent deserted beaches, and truly began to hablar español.    
– harriet bernstein

A sabbatical in Israel

During the spring of 2007, my wife and I enjoyed a two-month sabbatical in Jerusalem. The opportunity to be there for Holy Week and Easter and to be volunteers at the Anglican Cathedral and St. George’s College was a great privilege. The college sponsors pilgrimage tours and educational opportunities for all Christians, though most of the course members come from Episcopal/Anglican churches from around the world. As the chaplain for two courses and Deborah as an assistant, we toured the holy sites, led worship, and interacted with groups about the cross-cultural realities of living and learning in an Arab/Israeli/Jewish/Christian/Muslim environment.

“What was it like?” “Were you safe?” “Wasn’t it dangerous to travel?” “Are there any Christians there anymore?” All of these questions have come up with frequency. It is fair to say that the political situation between Palestinians and the government of Israel is not what any of us would hope it might be. The vast majority of our time was spent with Palestinian Christians, and we traveled throughout the country (except for Gaza) in areas under Palestinian and/or Israeli control without any trouble, and we were welcomed wherever we went. At no time were we met with anything but courtesy and kindness by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

Family relationships are most important and precious to all the Palestinians we met. They were surprised that we did not have photos of our children with us. They are always asking about family and all the particulars of children. Their photos come out of drawers at work, wallets in their purses, or better yet, children come out of the back room in person. Their family and extended kin relationships are vital to their identity and their sense of worth as part of humanity. We found this to be true with both Muslims and Christians across the social and economic spectrum.

This also translates into their feelings about the land. It’s about family heritage and how many generations have gained life from that soil. The “separation barrier,” bypass roads, checkpoints, annexation, and confiscation of land bring social confusion, frustration, and despair to the Palestinian population.
The word “critical” tends to be used with frequency when Middle Eastern topics are under discussion. I almost do not want to bring the word into use now, except to say that the Christian community is currently in critical condition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank: Numbers recently quoted suggest that less than two percent of the population of this area is Christian. The Anglican Cathedral of St. George the Martyr, the seat of the Anglican (Episcopal) Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, has a membership smaller than my parish in Edgartown. The Arabic-speaking congregation numbers approximately 120, and the English-speaking membership runs from 60 to 80 members.

We learned that as the political situation continues to be in turmoil, many Palestinian Christians are seeking to emigrate, which, while understandable, continues to weaken the Christian presence in the Holy City. The glimmers of hope we saw were found in the enduring patience, remarkable good humor, and deep desire for peace of so many across the religious communities.
 – The Reverend Robert D. Edmunds, Rector St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Edgartown

An artist’s vision in New Zealand

I met Jules Worthington about sixteen years ago. I was in a craft show at the Victorian Inn for Christmas in Edgartown, and I asked Jules to join me at the show. He also helped me when I started the Vineyard Artisan Festivals – he was a trustee for the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society and was instrumental in helping us get our start. Jules has been showing his art with the Artisans since our first show twelve years ago.

Ten years ago, Jules met a wonderful woman and married her, and Judi and I became fast friends. Jules and Judi started vacationing in New Zealand in the past few years, bought property there, and built a yurt. Last February they invited me to come to New Zealand, and I spent a month with them in the yurt.
It was a house tent about thirty feet in diameter, with a canvas exterior, a wood floor, windows, and a front door. We had an outhouse and a sun-heated bag we hung for hot showers. We had a gas stove outside that we cooked on and a refrigerator that was plugged in. I remember at night I heard a “hooooo” sound, and when I asked Judi what it was, she said it was a rare kiwi – it’s an endangered flightless bird, and the only one in the Coromandel (the area they live in).

We actually didn’t spend all the time in the yurt. We spent most of it traveling around North and South islands – in part to see things artistically creative. Our first endeavor in that realm was literally straight off the airplane for me.

I landed in Auckland and we drove to a marina, where we got on a ferryboat to an island called Waiheke to see Sculpture on the Gulf. This outdoor walking exhibition includes some of the most creative artwork I have ever seen – works from all over New Zealand. The art was displayed outdoors: some on cliffs overlooking the magnificent coast, some in the water floating, and the rest on land. One in particular was like a bathtub plug – the kind you use to stop water from going down the drain – only it was twenty feet wide and floating as if you could pull it out and the whole ocean would drain away. It was supposed to symbolize our impossible attempts to control the ocean; in particular, how that links to the availability of drinking water on the island in summer.

We went on a six-mile walk that day, up and down a hilly part of the island. You can imagine how exhausted I was from traveling, but halfway up we stopped for a picnic and wine tasting at a house right on the coast. It had the most breathtaking views you could imagine (this is where Lord of the Rings was filmed). We ate lunch from a paella pan, which was the size of a cauldron. We tasted wine from local vineyards and olive oil from local farms. There was music to dance to, and what can I say? I thought I was in heaven! We continued down the path and finished the art trail, and I must say I would love to see something as spectacular on our Island. Maybe some day.
 – andrea rogers

A writing retreat in Costa Rica

I arrived in Costa Rica late on a Friday night. All the apartments at the colony were dark. I unpacked my bag and set my computer on the small, square table beneath a large window. The studio apartment was my home for the month of January while a resident at the Julia and David White Artists’ Colony in Ciudad Colón, a small village in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.

The sun pouring through the blinds woke me early the following morning. I pulled open the curtains on the picture window and gasped at the view: a lush valley with mountains stacked into the distance.

I went out to the front porch and found banana, orange, grapefruit, and lemon trees in full fruit. Beyond, in a little wing of the valley, the small town of Ciudad Colón – its church bell was chiming seven. I ate a banana off a tree and decided to walk to town.

A small farmer’s market was in full blossom alongside the church I had seen from the porch. I was reminded of the twice-weekly market each summer in West Tisbury. Local farmers had sawhorse tables set out, piled high with mangoes, coconuts, beans, squash, eggs, and melons. I stocked up on provisions, then sat on the sidewalk and watched people. I was anxious to begin writing but needed to familiarize myself with my new, and foreign, surroundings.
During the summer on Martha’s Vineyard, I run a small but busy landscaping business. For most of the year, I’m unable to devote myself to writing. But this past winter I received a fellowship to Julia and David. I gathered the ideas scribbled on the backs of envelopes, nursery receipts, and leftover lunch napkins floating around the compartment of my truck – the skeleton of a memoir.

At its heart, the memoir is an exploration of my father’s impulsive journeys and how they have influenced my life. Some on the Island may know me as a poet – I teach poetry and read frequently in public – but recently I’ve felt the need to write something with a larger narrative arc that could express more complex issues.

I set a modest goal: write five hundred words a day. It seemed meager, and yet the mystery writer Raymond Chandler wrote dozens of novels by adhering to this limit. I’d tied hundreds of peonies to stakes in a single day, certainly I could stake a few hundred words to a page.

There were seven other artists at the colony: several writers, a painter, a sculptor, and a photographer. In the evenings, we had dinners on the porch where we could see the lights of Colón like stars in a dark lake. It was inspiring to be part of a community, to talk about the creative process. In a few days, I was dwelling entirely in the story, living and breathing it.

This winter I am again going to a quiet retreat, to add muscle and skin to my memoir. It is necessary to take time away from my hectic life for such an endeavor.
– justen ahren