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Islomane No More

(In June 2003, journalists Mark Frauenfelder and Carla Sinclair uprooted themselves from Los Angeles and moved to the South Pacific. Their first stop is Rarotonga. They brought their two young daughters with them.)

Five days ago, I dropped Sarina off at school and drove to the café for a cup of coffee. I picked up a copy of The Cook Islands News, and the front-page story was about a flu epidemic that had hit the island. The article said that the hospital was overflowing with extremely sick people — especially kids.

I downed my coffee in a single swig, jumped back in the car, drove to school and pulled Sarina out of class. We’d had enough of pneumonia and bronchitis and ringworm and toenail fungus and lice. We left Rarotonga.

Now we’re in New Zealand, checking out another island. It’s called Waiheke. It’s a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland. The rain is pounding against our windshield as we wind through the vineyards and hilly roads of this subtropical island, which is four times the size of Rarotonga. With a population of 8,000 (compared to Rarotonga’s 9,500) Waiheke feels almost deserted.

There’s no plumbing on the island. Every house has a big tank to collect rainwater from the roof. In that respect, it feels like a step backward from Rarotonga. We look at some houses for rent. They’re much nicer than Rarotonga houses. They all have views of beaches and gently rolling green hills.

"This is a good house," I say. "I’ll bet it’ll have lots of light when it stops raining."

"Uh huh," says Carla.

Waiheke’s main town runs along a narrow street. There are a lot of touristy art galleries, reminding me of the ones you find in Palm Springs or Carmel. They’re depressing. They make me miss La Luz de Jesus.

Hungry for lunch, we walk into four or five different restaurants, finally stumbling across a hippyish place that seems interesting. It’s funky and noisy and mysterious. If only the rest of the town were like this.

Back outside, on the street, Sarina says, "I don’t like it here."

"Why not?" I ask her.

"I just don’t."

We’ve gone anhedonic. We seem to be unable to feel enjoyment. I’m wondering if our time in Rarotonga has made us immune to natural beauty. I look out at rugged spires of rock in a cove we’re driving by, and feel nothing. My mood is flat. But maybe it’s something more than that. Maybe I’m suffering from the repercussions of a shattered fantasy.

Waiting for a ferry to take us into Auckland, I think about my lifelong interest in islands. The British novelist Lawrence Durrell coined a word for people like me: islomanes. Something about an island’s limited size, its clearly defined boundaries, made me believe that I could figure it out. By living on an island, I thought I could eliminate the possibility of unanticipated influences and events, and have more control over my life.

As I learned on Rarotonga, I was wrong.


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