Bermuda is the only Caribbean island that isn’t really in the Caribbean. When you arrive with your family, a little north of the mark (the real geographic West Indies), to this Atlantis-like puzzle piece that just doesn’t fit in (for example: it gets cold in the winter), the scene seems like a very English garden party. One where complete strangers with yachty expat names like Neville or Trevor order Remy with Received Pronunciations.
The bobbies are black; the tourists are white. And the sunrise/sunset racket is pure Technicolor. Young beach bums, hopping island to island (successfully avoiding either work or graduating college), resemble easygoing Johnny Depps in flamboyant pirate gear. Or, Fleetwood Mac.
More important, Bermuda is so “civilized” that even my father, a literary critic and professor emeritus who doesn’t like swimming or massages, feels comfortable here—swilling G&Ts on the veranda of our rented villa and looking cute wearing the island’s signature “Bermuda Shorts” with stretchy white socks pulled up to his knees.
“Tintin shorts!” I mocked lightly, having just recently discovered the Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s masterpieces here at a local resort gift shop. My dad aims a miserable smile, what I call the “smilish grin,” a combination of moral superiority and philosophic defeatism.
Tintin is a god to me. I greedily bought the entire collection (almost) of colorful adventure tales featuring the slightly androgynous-looking boy reporter and his sidekick dog Snowy (“Minou” in France). I gave into this alternate universe, while Tintin hung out with Haddock, Calculus, and the Thom(p)son Twins either at his mansion, Marlinspike Hall, or out and about abroad somewhere, usually a steamy foreign port-of-call. Man, that cast goes everywhere: to the imaginary Balkan kingdom of “Syldavia,” to the Peru of the Incas, to the American Wild Wild West, and even the Moon! The Crab With the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure were marvelously maritime enough to keep me away from the beach and the water, munching Cadbury’s (then unavailable in the U.S.).
Which was fine by my dad, who had a deep distrust of what lay beneath the ocean blue: sharks and seamonsters and sirens and stuff.
I was pleased as punch and simply delighted when an elderly tourist from Hamburg–sporting an amusingly archaic Hitler mustache–noticed me reading the books in the hammock near the beach. Eyes welling up with German Romanticism, he told me that in Germany Tintin was known simply as “Tim”!
No one knows whether or not Tintin is gay or straight.
The only Tintin adventure readily unavailable in Bermuda was Tintin au Congo (Tintin in the Congo), which is not sold in the U.S. and Anglophone colonies because it is just not PC. In this suppressed classic, Africans are depicted as resembling the worst caricatures of large-lipped minstrelsy I’ve ever encountered—I got a collector’s copy later in France. Imagine, Al Jolson in blackface singing “My Little Mammy!” Little Black Sambo chasing a tiger around a tree who turns into ghee (butter). In the end, a giant totemic statue of Tintin is worshipped by the black Africans on their knees before him.
Besides introducing me to Tintin, Bermuda stands out as the place I first tried Vichysois (what my Grandpa Bob explained to me was “cold potato soup”) at the King Henry VIII restaurant. As a young teenager there, I had to wear my blue blazer and act like a gentleman in order to get an illegal glass of purple beaujolais. Say goodbye to Campbell’s and Cup-a-Soup. So Tintin and Vichysois opened up a new world to me, illimitable, magnificent, magical. None other than the world of the developing adult imagination.
I was proud of the fact that I was a YMCA “Dolphin”—an extraordinarily good swimmer for my age. My parents, tanned as Hollywood movie stars, nevertheless preferred us using the David Hockney-style pool instead of going to the beach with its powerful undertow and surfing waves. To keep me away from the ocean, my Grandma Helen, a Mayflower descendant directly related to William Bradford (who made sandwiches for tramps during the Depression and died on her birthday at the ripe round age of 100), would play endless rounds of Gin Rummy with me. Obviously, a saint.
Now, what’s the worst thing that can happen on a family vacation? It’s best left unsaid. But it usually involves a Missing Persons report. In explanation of why I am still here on planet Earth, all I can say is “Thank God for the Bermuda Triangle!”
The Bermuda Triangle . . . blah, blah, blah.
Rather than waste time listing the series of strange disappearances within this supernatural whirling vortex, or Googling apocryphal material written by ginger-haired madmen computer geeks feeding like leeches on conspiracy theories, I can direct you to Amazon.com. Just chuck into your cart one of the sensationalist pageturners like Mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle Revealed. Come on, it must have something to do with flying saucers and space aliens!
All of this introduction was to prepare you for the shock of my sudden disappearance from Warwick Beach during a rainstorm, while my sister, Sarah, and I sat on the beach letting large waves break over us. Crash!
Next thing I knew, I was tumbling in a painful rinse cycle, then emerged right out in the middle of the ocean, pulled out by a vicious evil riptide!
It was too far to make it back to shore, too late to prepare myself for death. But no, instinct took over and I forced myself into a mind-numbing superhuman Australian Crawl, remembering to swim diagonally to shore. Something was giving me a supernatural boost, and I felt like I was watching myself from above in the White Light—it is not time yet! Getting perilously close to the jagged rocks framing the beach, I changed over to breast strokes to change course. And at last , I was washed to shore by the galloping foam, where I kissed the sand. My bedraggled sister was hysterical with fear, crying her eyes out.
We never told my parents what had happened.
They say that death is the ultimate adventure. I must agree. Years later, I have to be philosophical about my brief sidetrip to heaven and back. The only explanation on how I survived my near-death experience in the Deep and escaped Davy Jones’s Locker (the world’s largest mass grave) was that I was actually inside the Bermuda Triangle! I couldn’t help thinking that I had gotten by with a little help from our “friends”–and the sound of crackling angelic laughter. . . .
About the author:
John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking in Thailand to being caught in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in such magazines as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation,Condé Nast Traveler, International Living, Adventure Journey, Emerging Markets, Literal Latté, Coffee Journal, Lilliput Review, Artdirect, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Glimpse, Big World, BootsnAll, Hack Writers, Trips, Travelmag, Vagasbondish, World Hum, Richmond Review, Borderlines, Go Nomad, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, and a Solas Award (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen. His future bestsellers, Move and Fluid Borders, have not been released. His new work-in-progress, Dubya Dubya Deux, is about a time traveler.
Photo by Meghan L on Flickr