23. marec 2008

The Day Before

It really was a dream holiday. My wife Miriam and I had agreed on this over dinner on the terrace of the Great House restaurant: the pride of the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club tourist complex. This was where we were spending our eight-day holiday. I well remembered the restaurant from the year before, due to an amusing misunderstanding when I had not been able to have a look at its interior.

For many years I have been introducing some variety into my business activities by going to a conference every year. Of the several hundred possible educational events on offer I always choose one that takes place in an interesting town. In this way I can combine business with pleasure. Several professional publications and the Internet enable me to keep in touch with state-of-the-art legal informatics; however, I feel that meeting the people who are at the forefront of this field is of the utmost importance. In previous years I had attended various fairs in Hanover, Munich, London, San Diego, Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago and Honolulu. And for 2000 I chose a conference entitled Lex Cybernatoria, at which the participants would discuss the cross-disciplinary issues of legal practice and the latest in information technology – the area that interests me most. The fact that the conference was organised on Nevis, a small Caribbean island then still unknown to me, didn't make me any less keen on attending the event. On the contrary, I always like to spend the one week per year that I can dedicate to my personal development in a pleasant environment and where I can get acquainted with new places. The conference on Nevis turned out to be very small in terms of the number of participants, but one of the most fruitful and useful I have ever attended. It was attended by various professors, business people, trendsetters and venture capitalists, mainly from the USA. We exchanged information about our work from the first to the last minute of the event, not only during the formal sessions, which were held on the open terrace of the Mount Nevis Hotel, but also beside the swimming pool, during meal times, as well as on our short trips into the surrounding countryside.

One day we agreed to have supper in the Nisbet restaurant, which was recommended to us as the best you can find on Nevis. About eight of us set off in two taxis for a gourmet’s adventure. When we turned in to the Nisbet Plantation, where the slaves used to work in the sugar-cane fields, we caught sight of a beautifully arranged area and a traditional restaurant situated on a gentle rise: The Great House. We quickly noticed as we approached the door of the restaurant that most of the tables were free and our mouths began to water at the prospect of Caribbean delicacies and cold cocktails. But we were in for a disappointment: at the entrance a friendly hotel manager approached us and in a sad voice he said: “Sorry, gentlemen – no shorts allowed!” Our pleading was in vain. We tried to explain that we were a group of respectable business people and that “money was no problem”, but the manager – who I now know was a Mr Don Johnson – preferred to forego the evening’s profit in order to maintain a long, originally British tradition, according to which men were only allowed to enter a reputable restaurant in long trousers. As a result, we had to drive to a far-away place where, sitting on an unprotected terrace and being pestered by mosquitoes, we ended up chewing on some sort of pizza. The incident irritated me then, but later it stayed in my memory as something very positive: as a successful way of preserving traditional values. And maybe this particular memory prevailed in my mind when I was later choosing a destination for our family holiday.

And now Miriam and I were sitting in this beautiful restaurant, well protected by thick nets from the mosquitoes (though I hardly noticed any this time), and in the cool air under the big, rotating, colonial fans we were being treated like royalty by the friendly hotel staff. To use the expression hotel does not really do it justice: the Nisbet Plantation is a complex that sweeps down from its entrance at the top of the hill to the beach. It starts with the classical, supper-only restaurant; next to it there are clubs, a reception and a small shop; further down among the well-kept meadows, flowers and palm trees you find the beautifully located bungalows for the guests. On the coast you can make use of a fantastic breakfast bar – raised above ground level, covered with a roof, but otherwise a simple, open area – a kitchen, the “Coconut Restaurant”, which is only open during the day and also includes a small bar, a swimming pool and a wonderful sandy beach. As one would expect, the supper served in the Great House is truly a ritual, an event that you really do not attend in short trousers, on the contrary, you go there in your best suit.

For families with small children the ritual starts a few hours earlier. In case you don’t attend afternoon tea at 5 pm – which would be a great shame considering the rich assortment of teas, sandwiches and desserts on offer – a member of the restaurant staff will find you in your bungalow or even on the beach, just to ask you: “And what would your children like to eat this evening? You know how impatient hungry children can be when waiting for their treats. Our children, Toni and Mariansa, first mastered English in the area of food, and after a few days they were already able to order things for themselves: “Fish and mashed potatoes” or “Chicken and french fries.” (These English expressions also slipped out of their mouths at a Sunday lunch one week after our return to Slovenia, when we went to the pilgrimage centre in Brezje and later had our meal in the tourist resort of Lake Bled.) The chosen order was conveyed to the kitchen and when we brought the children to supper at 6 pm, they immediately got their meals, as did the other children whose parents had also decided to have such separated suppers. After the children had finished their food and drinks, a friendly hotel hostess came to collect them – Toni and Mariansa still remember the smiling Rozlyn – and took them to a playroom with lots of children’s games and a big television. (Otherwise there are no televisions in the bungalows, which is considered to be a sign of the highest category of hotel; however, the ordinary hotel rooms on Nevis do have televisions.) The children are happy to spend time in the playroom while their parents can really enjoy the slow and ceremonial supper that starts every day at 6.30 pm. It may seem a bit unusual for the parents and children not to have supper together, but in reality it is an ideal solution. After all, on holidays we spend all day together anyway, we talk to each other and play a lot, so that both sides welcome the evening’s separation. The numerous members of the hotel staff appreciate it as well, because such organisation of the evening meal makes it easier for them to keep every item of cutlery in its place, every plate positioned correctly and every glass kept full at all times.

In such moments, even after eight years of marriage, loving hands meet and Miriam and I agreed that life for us couldn’t be better. Health is always our first concern and on Nevis the children got rid of all their runny noses and the other remnants of the unpleasant European winter. The two of us, already middle-aged, occasionally have minor health problems, but, thank God, it is nothing serious. Our other concern is money: apparently we have enough of it, if we can afford a winter holiday including a three-day stay in Miami, an eight-day stay on Nevis and also three-days of fun in Orlando’s Disneyworld. Since we started our new family relatively late – we were both in middle age – we both had plenty of opportunity to get used to feelings of loneliness, with disappointments, a desire for children and the other secret longings of parents. We were lucky to find each other; our characters are very much alike; our values are very similar, especially our enthusiasm for the “happy family” (as we were defined by Mariansa) and our determination never to be separated.

Until then our holiday on Nevis had been wonderful, we still had three more days in front of us, and then we should head towards Orlando, the destination to which the children were most looking forward. For quite some time I had been thinking of climbing to the top of Nevis Peak on the following day, and at that restaurant table I even asked the service manager Dave whether there was any path on our side of the island leading to the mountain top. He firmly warned me against climbing the mountain on my own and referred to a dreadful case that occurred a few years previously when a tourist got lost there and spent three days on the mountain before he was rescued. I thanked him for his advice but I had my own ideas: surely that tourist wasn’t such an experienced climber as I am. Of course Miriam would have preferred for me not to go climbing, but, on the other hand, she wanted me to experience the additional pleasure of seeing the whole of the island from its highest point. And, above all, she knew well my passion for the mountains and knew that I had attempted similar climbs several times before, for example, on our previous summer holiday. On that occasion I had set off from our resort on the Adriatic island of Bol to climb the mountain called Vidova gora and returned home in good time. We also thought that one advantage of this particular adventure would be the fact that after my return I would still have two days to rest in our heavenly complex of Nisbet.

We were very much in love that evening. However, I also felt a tinge of bitterness: life was so good that it couldn’t get any better; it could only get worse. But I never could have guessed how dramatically our heavenly feelings would change on the following day.

From my book: Second Place of Birth: Nevis

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