Monday, June 29, 2009


Americans fear and despise Vegemite. There are Americans who think that Vegemite is inexorably linked with swine flu and the rise of the Taliban. My husband believes it is poison. I put a dab in his mouth the other day, and he started to scream. “HELP, HELP!” he shrieked. “IT’S BURNING A HOLE IN MY TONGUE!”

He is seriously missing out.

Like many victims of baseless persecution, Vegemite is misunderstood. It is really just brewer’s yeast and salt. I didn’t like blue cheese either, the first time I tried it. Each time my father slathered a slice of bread with liquid mold and brought it reverently to his mouth, I was convinced he was about to die. The fumes alone were enough to make me run screaming from the room.

But many of the best things in life take getting used to. Dry martinis, for example, and shaved white truffle. The first time I tried wasabi, I nearly had to be hospitalized. As a California girl, I just assumed the bright green ball on my plate was guacamole, and popped it in my mouth. Once I emerged from cardiac arrest, the grown-ups explained that wasabi is an extremely strong condiment. In large quantities it is a biological weapon. You must use it sparingly.

And so it goes with Vegemite. The classic error that so many travelers make when they try Vegemite for the first time is that they slather it on their toast like peanut butter. Then they bring this abomination to their lips, eagerly anticipating their first authentic taste of the Southern hemisphere. A half an inch of Vegemite is about as delicious as a mouthful of bleach. They gag, they sweat, they run screaming from the room. And this is how those rumors about the Taliban get started.

Vegemite is not peanut butter, and it certainly is not Nutella. Like a dry martini, Vegemite will make you feel splendid in small quantities. And too much will bring you to the edge of complete annihilation.

Vegemite, you see, is umami. It is the essence of savoury salt, with the slightest hint of sweet. Many cultures have this intrinsic element in their menus. The Italians have several: Parmesan cheese, anchovies, and salt cod would all be examples of umami. Try making a entrée out of those three, and you’ll go into anaphylactic shock. But you don’t see people blaming swine flu on the Italians. That’s because they’re not stuffing submarine sandwiches with anchovies, salt cod and melted Parm. If they were, we’d see a world-wide pandemic that would make swine flu look like the sniffles.

My favorite way to eat Vegemite is to apply a light film over a sandwich made with chunks of good cheddar cheese. It puckers my mouth like a strong Caesar salad, and it goes deliciously well with a cup of sweet, strong tea. Silas, for his part, favors the bite-size cream cheese and Vegemite sandwich. He is a born Kiwi, so this is only natural. Also, he is a baby, so he doesn’t have much choice in the matter.

Peter, on the other hand, is the stubborn one. He has compared Vegemite to axle grease, shoe polish, and teak oil. In my efforts to convert him, I have had to resort to the age-old feminine technique of subterfuge. So far, I’ve snuck Vegemite into baked beans, meat marinade, and beef stew. Despite his best efforts, Peter’s palate is slowly being educated.

Next up, the Vegemite martini. The Vegetini. I predict it will take the world by storm. Failing that, it could probably take out the Taliban.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Now that we’re back in Whangarei, I’ve been meeting with the girls from my antenatal group once a week. We have coffee, watch our toddlers bash each other over the head with plastic trucks, and talk about the things that matter to young mothers. Our babies’ first words, for example. And home remodeling projects. One woman is taking advantage of the down market to move to a bigger house, and one is installing a patio so she can host elegant outdoor dinner parties over the summer. And as it happens, Peter and I are renovating our home as well, so I jumped into the conversation at my first opportunity.

“Our toilet can flush!” I chirped. “We don’t have to pee in a bucket anymore!”

The room fell silent. Sandra sipped her tea.

“And we have a heater! And a stove!” I gushed, sounding like a happy peasant in an ad for the Red Cross.

Leslie reached over and pulled her son’s diaper off his head. “But… didn’t you have those things before?” she asked, genuinely confused.

They have no idea.

By the time we anchored in Tahiti, we’d been cruising aboard Sereia for nearly two years, and her systems had begun a slow slide into chaos. The Christmas Poo of 2005, for example, possessed our toilet with a demonic force that sealed the outtake hose and mocked us with low, maniacal laughter. Peter eventually managed to exorcise it with a crescent wrench and a vial of holy water, but not before we’d spent a week on intimate terms with a bucket.

Sereia has an excellent diesel-powered heater on board, and when we were first dating, Peter and I spent long evenings gazing into its dancing flames while we cuddled in the forepeak. Then its flue filled up with creosote, so that one night, when we’d fallen asleep with all the portholes closed and the flame on high, we awoke to find our brains cooking with neurotoxins and the cabin filled with a poisonous black cloud. We haven’t had to use it since Northern California, and by the time we reached New Zealand, the heater had seized with a diesel-rust combo that looked like burnt concrete.

Our Force 10 stove, which Peter purchased for me in lieu of a diamond ring, made a valiant effort to survive. In fairness, few marine stoves have been asked to produce Hollandaise sauce, Tarte Tatin and puff pastry, all at a twenty-degree heel at sea. But by the time we reached the Tuamotus, we were boiling water over a gasoline-powered camping flame, and anxiously hoping that our fire extinguisher still knew what to do in a pinch.

Our electrical system is in pretty good nick, despite the fact that countless owners have installed layers of amateurish circuitry on board, so that the tangle of wires behind the main panel looks like a jaunty bouquet of rainbow-colored death. Once, when we were sleeping in the quarterberth, Peter woke up and murmured, “Isn’t that amazing? There’s mist coming down the companionway.”

We watched for a moment, mesmerized. And then we heard the live wire, sputtering and sparking in the bilge. The mist, as it turned out, was white smoke from an electrical fire that we’d managed to ignite beneath the cabin sole.

Now that we have a baby, poisonous fumes, electrical fires and puddles of flaming gasoline don’t seem as fun as they once did. And for some reason, the Red Cross doesn’t have an aid category for unemployed hedonists who live on their yachts. So Peter has been working long hours on Sereia, displaying the dogged work ethic that fathers tend to adopt in war zones and pandemics, when they are protecting their babies from imminent harm.

He is doing a fantastic job. In two weeks, he’s given us a working toilet, free from malevolent forces of evil. Our stove cooks, if possible, better than it did before. And the diesel heater lights right up, warming our little cabin with no discernable toxic cloud.

Soon we’ll have a floating home that’s cozy enough for a baby. If we ever make it to Fiji, we’ll be able to give elegant tropical dinner parties in the cockpit. No patio required.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Letter from Mom, Part 2

The only student I have had who was raised on a boat hated it… If you go through with this and anything happens, yours and Peter's lives will be ruined… Think about what I'm saying because you are 34 now and the last thing you will want to do is count on Silas to take care of you in your old age.
Love, anyway ---Mama.

It’s so nice to have the support of family. Luckily, of course, Peter and I don’t need it, because the kinds of conventional choices we’ve made in life don’t take much in the way of courage or self-confidence. Sailing a small plastic boat across 12,000 miles of ocean, for example, or having a baby in a far-away land. Immigrating to a strange country, where the natives used to be cannibals, and they now eat Vegemite on toast. None of these choices was scary, or even challenging in the least. Sometimes, we forget we even have a family, but that’s just because we’re knocking back the scotch for breakfast while our child shivers alone in the bilge.

The thing about my mother is, no one can ever accuse her of false cheer. Tell her you’re going to live on a sailboat in the sunshine, and she’ll educate you on the malignant dangers of skin cancer. Send her a chatty email about what’s happening in your life, and she’ll respond with news about brain tumors and the pile of termite shit she found behind the living room couch.

What I should really do is hire her as a consultant. The very best sailors are the ones who expect the worst. They are prepared for every eventuality at sea: dangerous weather, broken equipment, sickness, mayhem and injury. And despite our best efforts at safety, I’m sure there are some things we’ve overlooked.

We should fly my mother to New Zealand, and ask her to come aboard. She’d take one look at the mast, poke it suspiciously, and ask, “What’s this big metal stick doing, standing up on its side like that?”

“That’s the mast, Mom. We use it to hold the mainsail in place.”

“Too risky. It’s going to crush the baby.”

“No, Mom, see? It’s very strong. It’s held in place with these stays, they’re steel cables under tension…”

“Oh, great, so when they break they’ll go whizzing around the boat like insane vipers and chop your arms and legs off. Then that stick thing will fall down and smash the baby. How are you going to take care of your smashed baby with no arms and legs? Did you ever think of that?”

“No, Mom. I didn’t think of that.”

“Well, you really ought to think about it, because you’re 34 now, and the last thing you want is a smashed baby and four bloody stumps.”

“That’s true. I wouldn’t want that.”

“So sell the boat.”


“And get a job.”


“And move back to California. And live with me. In my basement apartment.”


"Then you'll be safe."

“Yes, Mom.”

And she's right. If we just stay on land, Silas won’t be crushed, or drowned, or raised in poverty. And everything will be just fine.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Language Barrier

“That chap’s a bit of a dag. When he gets on the piss he loses the plot, then he’ll have your guts for garters.”

We came to New Zealand in part because they speak English here, so we thought there would be less of a language barrier than if we’d emigrated to Mongolia, for example, or rural Burundi. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Most of the time, we communicate with our Kiwi hosts just fine, having a laugh at each other’s endearing little accents.

Then, at other times, communication entirely breaks down.

Go to the market, for example, and shop for vegetables. You won’t find zucchini, chard or peppers, but you’ll get plenty of courgette, silverbeet, and capsicum. Ask for a yam and you’ll be handed a small, squat, starchy vegetable that resembles nothing so much as an overgrown maggot. And when you point at the yams, insisting on what you really want, they’ll look at you doubtfully and tell you it’s kumara.

New Zealand English is sprinkled with Maori words, which can surprise and flummox the unsuspecting visitor. When I first heard someone say Pakeha, I assumed he was a former British skinhead talking about pakis, and I’d backed up halfway to the door before he told me that Pakeha are white New Zealanders. “They are?” I asked. “But what does it mean?”

“White pig,” he clarified with a grin. “The Maori were cannibals, you know, and we looked good enough to eat when we got here.” This isn’t true, as it turns out. Pakeha doesn’t mean “white pig,” and it also doesn’t come from listening to whalers yelling “bugger ya!” when they got on the piss and lost the plot. The most serious treatments of the subject trace the word back to Paakehakeha, which were mystical beings from the sea. And that’s the definition I’m going with. I’d much rather be a mystical sea being than a long white pig.

Sometimes, all it takes is a slight accent difference , and I haven’t a clue what’s being said to me. Before Silas’ fifteen-month vaccinations, the nurse asked me if he’d had “whole eek.”

“Whole WHAT?” I asked.

“EEK,” she repeated, even louder. “The white and the yellow of the EEK.” Apparently, the vaccine was eek-based, and she wanted to make sure he’d had white of eek, with no allergic reactions, before she gave him the shot.

There are some words that you simply must learn in order to get by. The dag, for example, is a clump of shit dangling from a sheep’s ass. It’s also used to refer to a joker, or a bit of a hard case. A hard case is an eccentric person, somewhat different but likeable all the same. Someone who’s “different,” on the other hand, is eccentric in a bad way. Peter and I, as weird Americans who live on a boat, are hard case. Jeffrey Dahmer, as a psychopath who ate his victim’s flesh for breakfast, was different.

Sometimes, the confusion can be embarrassing. When Peter tore up the driveway after several days of rain, he rang up the neighbors to ask them what he should do about it. “I’ll come round in the morning,” our neighbor told him, “and give it a bit of a squiz.”

Peter hung up the phone. “Well, what did he say?” I asked. “Is he going to help?”

My husband looked pale. “I’m not sure,” he finally responded. “He’s either going to help me or pee on me, I’m not sure which.”

Then there’s the local humour, the references you couldn’t possibly understand unless you’d been living here for years. I was sipping tea with the girls from my antenatal group, when one of the toddlers got a bit rough with Silas. “Let’s hope he doesn’t do a Hopoate,” giggled Leslie, and everyone tittered appreciatively.

I sat there like a stunned mullet. “A what?”

“A Hopoate.” Sandra explained, and blushed. Apparently, in 2001, an Australian rugby player named John Hopoate got suspended from the game for disgraceful conduct. He’d developed a new technique for tackling his opponents, which involved jamming his fingers up their anuses. Besides being painful and extremely rude, the rugby authorities decided his conduct amounted to “unsportsmanlike interference.”

I eyeballed the offending toddler, who was pounding an inflatable ball on Silas’ head. I nearly spat the dummy. Then I picked up Silas and sat him safely on my lap. “Would you like to read a story with Mama?” I asked him. “Let’s give it a bit of a squiz.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rules of the Road

When a flock of sheep are coming toward you on a country road, what should you do?

This is not the opening line for a rude joke about farm animals. It's an actual question from the New Zealand Transport Agency's driving test. And as an urban American, it’s a question I never seriously considered. “Run screaming in the opposite direction,” crossed my mind, as did a scenario in which I pressed on the accelerator, hollering “EAT THIS, BITCH” as I attempted to execute as many potential lamb chops as possible before totaling my car.

Neither of these answers, however, appears among the multiple choice options. The real answer is something boring about slowing down and having a chat with a farmer, which is another situation that city life never prepared me for. But then again, living in a new country requires us to deal with all sorts of strange and unusual customs.

Such as driving on the left.

I’ve actually been a licensed New Zealand driver for some time now, but it’s taken me nearly two years to gather the courage to actually learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road. My excuses were many and varied: first, I was too pregnant (and thus too hormonal) to cope with the stress. Then, I was too busy breastfeeding our new baby approximately 900 times a day. Most recently, I was running a youth hostel and my job required me to stay at home and snarl at backpackers, so there just wasn’t any point to it.

All of these, of course, are fabrications. The real reason I never learned to drive is that I’m terrified of roundabouts.

The roundabout, as far as I can tell, is a sort of carnival fun ride in which all the drivers spin around in a circle, flash their lights with no apparent purpose, then shoot off, possessed by a violent centrifugal death force. It does not look fun at all to me. It looks like a maelstrom of the road.

And so I’ve quite handily avoided driving on the left, along with all the challenges it entails. To begin with, you are required to drive on the passenger side of the car, where some joker has mistakenly installed a steering wheel. You must shift gears with your left hand. The turn signals are inverted, which is irrelevant anyway because every time you try to use them, you activate the windshield wipers. And of course, everyone expects you to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Despite these obstacles, it finally occurred to me that I would either have to spend the foreseeable future at home with a baby, watching him unspool the toilet paper across the bathroom floor, or I would have to gather my courage and learn to drive. This weekend, I had my first lesson.

Perhaps it wasn’t prudent to begin learning at night, in a strange part of town, with the baby crying in the backseat. We’d been out all afternoon, and Silas was tired and cranky, and his diaper was soaked through. But I was determined to practice. And on the whole, our lesson had been going rather well. I’d driven straight across town with no collisions, and I’d even negotiated a few roundabouts. I’d also discovered a trick: driving on the left is very similar to driving on the right, as long as you don’t stop, turn, or change lanes.

Then, as usual, Peter ruined everything.

“Pull into this parking lot,” he instructed.

“But then I’d have to stop and slow down,” I protested. “Can’t I just stay on this street? It’s so straight.”

“Pull into the parking lot,” he repeated. “It’s good practice.”

“What’s that man doing there?” I asked, as I eased the car off the road. “Why is he holding a chain?”

What he was doing, as it turned out, was closing off the parking lot for the night, presumably so that it would not be invaded by idiot Americans who didn’t know how to drive.

Peter kept his voice calm. “OK,” he began. “So now you’re going to have to back up, watching for traffic, and move on to the next parking lot.”

“Got it,” I said. “No problem.” I’m an experienced driver, after all. I’ve had my American license for almost twenty years. Quickly and confidently, I popped the car into reverse and backed into traffic, then shifted forward and headed down the road. And that’s when Peter started screaming.

“LEFT! LEFT! LEFT!” he shrieked, swinging an imaginary steering wheel in front of him.

There is a strange thing that happens when all your driving instincts, built over a period of decades, must be altered in some fundamental way. I had executed a three-point turn just exactly the way I’d done it hundreds of times in the past, and yet all of a sudden, my husband was bellowing and making clawing motions at the dashboard. My mind went blank. Left, right, or round and round, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. All I knew was that he was insistently pointing at danger, and that danger was directly ahead of us.

Clearly, he wanted me to turn. So I signaled. And turned on the windshield wipers.


So then I made a U-turn. Into oncoming traffic.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?????” squealed Peter, in the high-pitched whine of a frightened little girl.

He tried grabbing the steering wheel, but at that moment, the haze lifted. It occurred to me that I was turning in an imprudent direction. So I corrected my course and drove on. I switched off the windshield wipers. I turned into a quiet street. And then I started to cry.

Silas, on the other hand, had gone to sleep. And Peter? He’ll get over it. As soon as we extract his fingernails from the dashboard, he’ll be back to his old self in no time.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Imagine leaving your toddler alone for fifteen months, tethered to a post in the backyard. You wouldn’t neglect him completely, because that would be unkind. Instead, you’d seek out a responsible caretaker, like the borderline alcoholic you found wandering the docks. This person might be persuaded to provide food and water in exchange for beer money. He would look in on your baby twice a month, pat him affectionately on the head, and check his lines for chafe.

After one year’s time, your child would probably survive. He would look like a feral wolf, crouching in a pool of his own filth and attempting to express himself by making paint out of dirt and the bodies of crushed snails. While other children were getting ready for school by learning their colors and counting from one to ten, your baby might bond with a large, hairy spider he found crawling around in the grass. He might hold it close, and learn to love it in some basic, primal way. Or, he might snatch it up and eat it for additional protein.

Essentially, this is the state of Sereia after a year of neglect. We did pay someone to board her and run her engine twice a month, and he pumped the bilges occasionally, so that the cabin sole wasn’t flooded with noxious black ooze. She didn’t sink, and she didn’t float down the Hatea river and out to sea, for which we are very grateful. It appears as though the critical organ systems—the hull, rig and rudder—are all intact.

Everything else is a fucking mess.

The bottles of scotch we purchased in Panama, on the other hand, are in great shape. When we first boarded Sereia, we immediately excavated the tangled disaster of dock lines, diesel jugs and fenders to get to the booze locker. I poured two healthy shots, then handed one to Peter, who was sitting quietly in the quarterberth, muttering to himself.

“Da da?” asked Silas, looking inquisitively at his father. But Peter was in his own private hell.

“Run the engine and fix the steering column and check the rudder—how can I check the rudder?—and service the chainplates and the head doesn’t work and where’s the waterpaddle for the windvane and what about the roller furling and I can see rust on the turnbuckles, I know there’s rust on the turnbuckles, and the windlass, I’ll have to rebuild the windlass, and there’s leaks everywhere, this whole place is a fucking sieve…

Peter paused for breath and knocked back his scotch. I rolled my eyes impatiently. “Don’t be such a drama queen. We’re only going to Fiji. It’s a thousand miles, for Chrissake. What’s the big deal?”

Peter’s eyes began to water. Silas opened a starboard locker and pulled out a scraper, a sort of metal razorblade covered in lead-based paint. “NOT FOR BABIES,” I informed him, snatching it away. “Here,” I said. “Play with an oily rag. It’s much less toxic.”

“Now.” I turned to Peter, pulling out a notebook. “Let’s prioritize.”

So we did. The first priority, we decided, is to make Sereia liveable, because we will be homeless in one month’s time. This involves a sort of primitive triage, in which we ask ourselves: what is necessary for life? Hot water and refrigeration, it turns out, are not necessary. They are pansy-assed luxuries for the hopelessly land-bound. But even the hardened crew of Sereia, it turns out, has to eat and shit.

“But the head is frozen solid and the stove is dead,” Peter protested, looking desperately at his empty shot glass.

I refilled it for him. “See? There you go. That’s where you start. Fix the head and the stove. Then we can think about less important things.”

“Like the rudder?” asked Peter. “Because I still don’t know how I’m gonna check the rudder. We’ll have to haul out, or careen her, or—”

“Pish-posh.” I cut him off. “We can’t go cruising without Eggs Benedict. Start with the stove.”

Silas smiled cheerfully, a warm, earthy stench wafting up from his pants. And then it occurred to me.

How the hell do you deal with diapers at sea?

And all of a sudden, a thousand miles seemed like a hell of a long way away.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fun With Flotation

Silas’ new PFD is a sort of floating straightjacket, serving the dual purpose of keeping his head above water and restraining him as though he were a dangerous lunatic. This is a necessary design feature, because toddlers share many key characteristics with the criminally insane: they babble nonsensically, have regular shrieking tantrums, and if permitted to do so, they will happily eat paint.

And so, as parents, it is our responsibility to keep Silas safe at sea. As we have never sailed with a baby ex-utero, we plan to fulfill this task with equal parts research and improvisation. I began this process months ago, by Googling such useful keywords as BABY SAFETY AT SEA and CRUISING WITH TODDLERS. Some of the advice I found was diplomatic: “Sailing with Toddlers is almost always challenging. Once they start crawling around, there is no stopping them.” Some, on the other hand, resembled a bumper sticker from hell: “KIDS DO FALL OVERBOARD.” But my favorite bit of wisdom came from a man who had clearly been there, weathered the storm , and barely escaped with his life. He wrote, simply: “It is toddlers that are the real stuff of nightmares.” Then his post ended abruptly, as though he had to go mix himself a stiff drink and lie down.

I also found this curious piece of advice, which made me wonder if any of these people had actually taken a baby to sea, or whether all of these websites were just a big practical joke on reckless idiots like me:

the simple hammocks they make for hanging food stuffs and such in the saloon area is great for them, providing they are not too heavy.”

The simple hammocks to which this person refers are an excellent way to turn fruit into jam. They also work nicely for tenderizing an old leg of mutton. They are not, however, a practical place to stow things, unless you are deliberately trying to liquefy them. Stowing things in hammocks is a typical mistake for new cruisers, right up there with flushing tampons down the head and allowing a swarming metropolis of cockroaches to make babies in your V-berth.

Hammocks are picturesque, and they make people think of Treasure Island, and how cute Johnny Depp looked in Pirates of the Caribbean, parts 1, 2 and 3. People who have never been to sea imagine their hammocks swaying gently in the bosom of Mother Ocean, rocking their babies to sleep in a primordial flow. These people have never been close-hauled in a steep, short chop, or found themselves sailing downwind in a rolling swell. Sometimes the ocean’s rhythm is gentle and sweet. Other times, it’s like being in a car crash.

And so, Silas will not be sleeping in a hammock at sea. We will need to come up with our own solution. I am considering, for example, placing him in a safety helmet and an armored car seat, then through-bolting him to the bulkhead, then encasing the whole package in fifty feet of water-resistant foam. I realize, however, that this may make it difficult for him to play with his toys.

Has anyone taken a toddler to sea? Do you have any wisdom to share?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Other People's Houses

You can’t really burn the ocean, or melt it, or dent it in any way. This is very relaxing for Peter and me, because on land, we are a force for destruction. Over the years, people have been naïve enough to offer us their homes when they leave the country. We seem normal, as though we would be capable of bringing in the mail and feeding the cat. So people blithely hand us their keys and the secret codes to their burglar alarms, then traipse merrily away on holiday. This is invariably a mistake.

Sometimes, the consequences are minor. When my brother’s family was away in Greece, Peter and I made shrimp scampi over a volcanic flame on their restaurant-quality range, thus charring the wooden cutting board that fit neatly between the burners. Half an hour later, the maid walked in on us as we lounged naked on the living room floor, loudly slurping shrimp carcasses and making out like teenagers.

“¡Ay Dios Mio!” she shrieked, slamming the door behind her.

When they got back from their vacation, my brother called me to protest. “I didn’t say you could have Roman orgies on the living room floor. I just wanted you pick up the mail, and scare away the burglars.”

I pointed out in my defense that the burglars had clearly been scared, as had the maid, who hadn’t shown up for work since. But my brother was unimpressed.

Then there are the cultural misunderstandings. I had a very worldly childhood, and I know what a bidet is. But when I was twelve years old, stumbling down a darkened corridor on the first night of our summer holiday in France, I was just looking for something cool and ceramic to sit on. In retrospect, it could have been worse: I might have found the bathtub, or the smiling face of a garden gnome. But I didn’t. By the time I located a light switch, it was too late. My eyes flashed in horror from the pristine toilet to the bidet, where the proof of my crime crouched accusingly, coiled like a viper.

It was then that I noticed the ski glove, abandoned on the bathroom shelf by a previous tenant. Slipping it over my sweaty palm, I reached in and grasped the turd, quivering and warm like a newborn lamb. I slipped it furtively into the toilet, then flushed and flushed, and no one ever knew.

It was harder to protest my innocence when I allowed my father’s chicken to be raped to death while he was wintering in Paris. No one ever told me that ducks are such dangerous perverts, or that a drake’s penis is barbed like a torture device from the Spanish Inquisition. And Quackers looked so cute when he was fluttering around, playing kissing games with the little red hen. But then her insides started coming out, and I had to concede that something was horribly wrong.

By this time, no one in France or North America will allow us to house-sit for them. The fires we’ve set, the maids we’ve terrified, the turds we’ve laid have spoken for themselves, as has the trail of mutilated chicken corpses. But we’re in a new country now, a new continent, a new hemisphere. Like all immigrants, we can begin again.

And so we are house-sitting for Peter’s distant cousin in Whangarei. Brenda and Bob are rightfully proud of their home and grounds, with a meticulously maintained garden and a kitchen that fairly glows with loving care. Brenda is particularly fond of her ceramic cook top, a flawless black surface that strikes fear into my heart every time I use it. In order to maintain its pristine finish, it cannot be scrubbed or scoured. The stove must be allowed to cool, then lightly scraped with a razor blade, then massaged with special solvents and polished to a glittering sheen. It must rubbed, cleaned and coddled like a thoroughbred racehorse. It terrifies me.

Brenda and Bob do not heat a kettle on the stove when they make tea. They use an electric jug. This is actually a far more efficient way to heat water, and it’s very simple to use. You just plug it in, turn it on and wait a minute or two. That’s all. You do not, for example, place the electric jug on the pristine ceramic cook top and then turn on the stove, melting the plastic into a toxic ooze and filling the kitchen with acrid smoke.

Like Peter did. Last night.

“Antonia!” he called from the kitchen, where he was making me a cup of tea. “ Come quickly! I’ve done a terrible thing!”

I scrambled into the kitchen to witness a nightmarish tableau: Peter lifting the electric kettle off the cook top, tendrils of melted plastic dripping from its base. On the precious ceramic surface, a noxious plastic stew was bubbling.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” I shrieked, and Silas started to cry.

We spent the evening scraping melted plastic off the stove with a razor blade, and all I could think was: We’ve got to get out to sea. We’re better on the water.

At least we haven’t figured out a way to break the ocean. Yet.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Da Revolution Begins

“So how much do you want to sell it for?” Peter asked, inspecting our collection of unwanted crap. We’d filled a few boxes by that point, full of plates, mugs, and old clothing. I was busily sorting through Silas’ toys.

“Nothing,” I declared. “We’re giving it away.” I pulled out a stuffed baby kiwi and tossed it in the box. Silas watched, giggling. He had no idea.

“We are?” Peter held up his CD collection. “But couldn’t we get a few bucks for all this?”

The baby crawled over and picked up his plastic saxophone, a hideous little toy that I’ve always hated. I yanked it away and threw it in the box. Silas looked down at his empty hand, confused. Then he started to cry. I rolled my eyes. “Here,” I told him. “Have a beer bottle. It’s empty. You can roll it.”

He took the bottle carefully, then held it upside down, a trickle of warm beer dripping down the front of his overalls. “Da da?” he asked, not quite sure what he was supposed to do with it.

I continued throwing away his toys. “DA!” I repeated. “That’s right! Da! Today, DA REVOLUTION BEGINS!”

Now Peter looked worried. “What are you talking about?”

“We’re not selling ANYTHING,” I told him. I had thought long and hard about this, and I knew what had to be done. “We’re giving it away. We will subvert the bourgeois supremacy!”

“By giving away our toaster?” Peter sounded skeptical.

My eyes blazed. “We are revolutionaries. We seek the abolition of all private property.”

Silas started rolling the beer bottle across the room, heading for the kitchen cabinets.

“But I was in Berlin just after the wall came down,” Peter protested. “People have tried this before, and it didn’t work.”

“Ha!” I scoffed. “You can’t intimidate me with your cheap intimidation tactics. I won’t be cowed. You can’t cow me with your Capitalist cattle prod, you Capitalist Cowpoke!"

The beer bottle made contact with the metal oven, then shattered into several pieces. His toy now destroyed, Silas started pulling cans of tomatoes out of the cabinets, enjoying the crunching sound they made against the shards of broken glass.

“Shouldn’t we put some shoes on the kid?” Peter was using his soft voice now, the one he employed when I was pregnant and drinking all the juice out of the pickle jar as though it were a mystical elixir.

“The proletariat must bathe in the blood of his convictions,” I insisted. “The boy needs no shoes.”

Peter picked up Silas and sat on the floor, in a slurry of warm beer and broken glass. The baby was no longer crying. He was playing with a fork he’d found on the ground, waving it about and occasionally making stabbing motions at his eye.

“Let me get this straight,” Peter continued in his softest voice. “You want to give away all our possessions in an effort to end Capitalist oppression.”

“Yes. You cannot make a revolution with silk gloves.”

Peter ignored my pithy Stalin reference. “What about our money? All the savings we worked for, the past fifteen months in the asshole of the world?”

I considered this. “That’s different. We must control the means of production in order to successfully conclude the revolution. The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea!”

And then, just like a pig-dog, Peter seized on my one point of weakness. “Yeah, speaking of the sea. What about Sereia? Are we giving away our sailboat, too?”

“Um. Well, no,” I conceded. “But we can give away our teapot. And our chickens.”

Silas, for some reason, found this hilarious. He dropped his fork and started clapping his hands, giggling like a crazy baby. I took him in my arms and held him close. “That’s right,” I whispered in his ear. “Who cares if we give away all our stuff? We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

“Fuck that,” said Peter. “I’m keeping my chains. I need them to anchor my yacht.”