Monday, September 10, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15 knots

On the boat today, I dissolved myself completely into one of my new books, one of those college prerequisites I was supposed to read and never did--The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, a classic in Can(adian) and feminist lit. Karl hates it when I do that. I disappear, for all intensive purposes, into another world. When he speaks to me, I barely hear him. Finally, I look up, and find the boat appearing again around me, as if out of a fog. My college roommates used to tease me by yelling “FIRE!” when I was in my altered book state. Or they would start telling ghastly stories about me, in my presence. It generally took me about five minutes to respond, with an exaggerated, unfaked, “What??”

I’ve had this morbid condition since girlhood. During the summers, as a child, I used to read five books a day. One summer I was loaned, and read, the entire Nancy Drew series, at a rate of two books a day. It’s a pace I can still more or less keep up, when given the opportunity and motivation, although life does get in the way somewhat. As does Karl’s sarcastically arched brow, when he begins banging pots around in the galley for the third meal of the day that I was not involved in preparing.

What can I say? Sometimes I think books are more addictive than cocaine (and better for you!), not that I’ve had any experience with the latter. There’s something other-worldly about being able to completely vanish, for hours, maybe days, at a time, and magically transport yourself to another place, say, eighteenth-century England. When I read Middlemarch on the El in Chicago, I was continually missing my stop. It was always bewildering to wake up and find myself on a train in a 21st-century metropolis instead of in rural England, on the eve of the industrial revolution. The better the book, the better the high.

So The Handmaid’s Tale was very, very good, despite its political reputation. It’s set in a dystopia, a utopian vision for the future that ends up becoming hell for its denizens. In the future, the United States is taken over by a band of Christian extremists, who prevent women from holding property or working. Eventually, as the fertility rate plunges, the men of the ruling oligarchy are allowed to marry (their wives dress all in pale blue), have female servants (called “Marthas,” dressed all in scrub green), and “Handmaids,” women who are capable of bearing children. They dress head to toe in bright red, and wear white shields around their faces to prevent the “Guardians,” the lower-class men, from seeing their faces.

It was a lot better than it sounds, especially read in the context the current political climate. I kept wandering back in my mind to the “Princess” series, a trilogy written by a Saudi Arabian woman of the royal family, that I read last year in Massachusetts. The insane thing is that there are women who actually have to live like that, whose children don’t belong to them, who can’t go outside without being veiled, who can’t hold property or work or even drive. God forbid fundamentalists, of any stripe, from taking over.

So while I read and Karl cooked, another tropical wave drifted over head, bringing thunderstorms and violent yellow lightning. I watched, occasionally, as the clouds turned dark grey through our ports, and ran forward to close the hatch when it started to rain. Sometimes it’s nice to have the choice to be elsewhere.

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