Welcome to the final installment of this journal — these jottings on National Review’s latest cruise. For the first two parts, go here and here.
Where were we? Can’t remember, but let me tell you this: At some point in the cruise, I learn that a reporter from New York magazine is aboard. Gonna write us up (or do us dirty, or . . . we’ll see). This is becoming an old trick on the left. Been done twice before, that I can remember. Once in The Nation. Once in The New Republic.
The guy from The New Republic
later had a comeuppance, in the form of a big scandal. (Big for journalism.) Was stripped of an award and all that. His article on the particular NR cruise was poison, just poison. Rarely do you see something so loaded with malice. I trust that The New Republic
Anyway, the malicious, we will always have with us. But that doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy a cruise, with nice people . . .
We arrive at the Honduran island of Roatán. Extraordinary place. Walking up to the main road, I encounter a gauntlet of taxi drivers, vendors, and other hopeful providers of services. This gantlet is maybe 150 yards long, and includes maybe 50 people.
I talk cheerfully to the first couple of guys, not slackening my pace. I don’t want anything. I’m set. Further ahead, a young man starts toward me, and an older man, who is probably his boss, says, “Let him walk.”
Music to my ears (as I tell him). And they do, to a remarkable extent, let me walk. A contrast with Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
I hear all sorts of exotic-sounding birds, off in the brush. Wish I could see them.
Lots of people fantasize about escaping to the Caribbean, for a few months, or a few years. Forever, maybe. Walking around Roatán, I think of Claude Lévi-Strauss (author of Tristes Tropiques, among other works).
He said that, when he was in the Amazon, all he could think of was being in Paris. That’s where he wanted to be. And when he was in Paris, he wanted to be in the Amazon.
I see a man bending over with a small blade, a small scythe, to cut grass. An arresting sight, in 2012. Couldn’t the scythe be longer, at least — like the length of a 4-iron?
Village life seems happy, on the surface. Is it truly happy? I would not say no.
There are many, many churches, of various denominations. I wonder if the religious life here is not more vibrant than in my slice of Manhattan . . .
And these churches run schools. Is the education sound? Sounder than that in, say, P.S. 136? I couldn’t possibly say.
A man tells me, “One hundred percent of the black people here speak English as their native language. The others speak Spanish. We [the black people] study Spanish in school; they study English.” And it works out. “We’re all bilingual, more or less.”
When he was 16, he went to work on cruise ships. At that time, Roatán had no electricity, no telephones. Miami was the first big city he saw. “All those electric lights, the place bright at night. I was scared to death!”
He worked on cruise ships for 20 years. Like so many others, he sent the money he made back to his mother, and other family members. “You in America, you have Social Security and things like that. But we have to work to support our parents in their old age.”
The people of Roatán do not appear to be keen environmentalists (and they have a lot of natural beauty to spoil, or preserve). I wonder what our greens would say. Would they condemn the people? Or excuse them, somehow, saving their condemnation for those norteamericanos who don’t sign on to every jot and tittle of the Sierra Club agenda?
On the ship, I have lunch with Bernard Lewis and his significant other, Buntzie Churchill. Bernard is the great scholar of the Middle East (and great scholar, period). Buntzie is not related to Winston — but she has a Churchillian spirit about her, I think.
We talk over many questions, from the important to the trivial. I have a not-so-important question for Bernard. “For a time,” I say, “the prime minister of Israel was Barak, and the president of Egypt was Mubarak. Are those the same name, more or less?”
Yes — both coming from the verb “to bless.”
(Jews and Arabs are cousins, though many don’t want to hear it.)
Onstage, I bring up with Bernard yet more questions — different ones. Did he ever have a leftist flirtation? He did indeed, “when I was an undergraduate.” By the time he got to grad school, however, he was cured.
“That was fast,” I say. “What cured you?” He answers: Knowing what was going on inside the Soviet Union.
Some people — lots of people — knew exactly what was going on. And remained on the left, supporting Communism and the Kremlin, nonetheless.