Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Thursday, July 14, 2005
With the excitement and chaos that has been this week, I neglected to document my trip to Tangier Island. I'm glad I went. Really. It was relaxing (some parts of it anyway), and it was truly remote. Defintely NOT a vacation destination per se, but an interesting window into the culture of a dissapearing way of life. A rich lifestyle that is uniquely American. I would describe the atmosphere as a cross between Nantucket and chabby chic.
Some of the facts:
1. There are 3 Bed and Breakfast places, which house a total of about 50 people combined - maybe less. These seem to be used as overflow housing for relatives and friends - not tourists. I stayed at the most "luxurious" one. It had TV. No phones, no cable, no pay per view. But the farmhouse breakfasts were amazing. My cottage, including breakfast, was $100 / night. 2. There are no banks, and not a single ATM on the island. The B&B's, and one of the 5 gift shops will accept a credit card. Other than that - it's a cash only culture. I asked one of the local waitress girls how they managed without a bank or ATM. Her reply? "You don't miss what you ain't never had". 3. No commercial anything. No chains. No signs. No Starbucks, Subway, MacDonald's, etc... Even the ice cream at the little ice cream parlor was home made. No Ben and Jerry's. 4. There are 3 restaurants which are strictly vinyl tablecloth or picnic table affairs with lots of local seafood (fried or broiled), and an amazing assortment of local homemade desserts. I made friends with the owner of one of the restaurants while I was there (Carole) and she took me on her skiff to a local uninhabitated island called "Porto Isabelle" to pick wild blackberries to make pies for her restaurant. I had a blast. 5. The lifestyle is completely centered around the Bay and what little tourism they get from the ferry every day in the summer. The watermen are on their skipjacks by 4:00 AM, crab / fish till about noon, and then come back to drop off their catch in the tanks for peelers, and pack bushel baskets of crabs to send to the mainland for processing. This one little island of less than 700 people is responsible for most of the soft (Blue) shell crabs in the world. $25 a dozen on the island. They sell for $4.50 apiece on the mainland. Anyway, the waterman's day is over by 2:00 or so, but that's still a very hard 10 hour day. 6. There is one ferry / mail boat a day to and from the mainland. It arrives around 2:00 and leaves the island around 4:00. The restaurants close at 5:00. There are two sandwich shops which are open in the summer till 10:00 PM, and serve pizza and subs. 7. It's a dry island. No booze is available for sale or consumption in the restaurants or stores. "You don't miss what you ain't never had." BYOB if you go. 8. It costs $4 to bring your bike with you on the ferry. It costs $2/day to rent one. Fenders, big tube tires, wide seat, wicker basket, the works. My 20 speed mountain bike would not have garnered me favors, let alone let me blend in. When I rented my bike at the dock, the woman told me to "go around back and just pick one out." Me: "Don't you need my name or driver's license or deposit?" Her: (Looking at me like a mentally disable person)said patronizingly: "It's a small island - we don't ever lose them". 9. The language. This little trip was worth it just to hear these people talk. They have turned the vowel into an art form. I don't believe they use hard consonants at all. Due to their 200 years of relative isolation and inbreeding, they have an accent that is VERY southern (all drawl), but with an odd Scotch/Irish "upspeak" at the end of their phrases, and an even odder Elizabethan phrasing. Instead of saying: "It's almost time", you might hear: "The Taaahhhm is ahhtt hahheend". It was VERY hard to understand them - especially when they were speaking just to each other.