“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”
― Zhuangzi, The Butterfly as Companion: Meditations on the First Three Chapters of the Chuang-Tzu
These past two days have been disorienting. I keep pausing, the way one does when stepping back into daylight after a long, emotionally-gripping movie. Which of my emotions, which of my memories come from my actual life, and which form this other world I have come from? Sometimes it’s hard to remember, to be sure which is which.
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I was last in Punta Arenas. The flat light as we broke out of the clouds, banking low over the Strait, slate gray windswept water below. So vivid a memory that…no, this is now. I’m here, I’m back. The last time I actually got to see Punta Arenas – oh, that’s even longer ago. The last time I came down, mid-COVID, we were shuttled hermetically from airport to ship, from ship to airport, in and out of the country. Never a real foot on “land,” never a stroll around the plaza, not a single step in town, “at liberty.” Northbound, it was easy to imagine that that had all been a daydream.
What a difference two years makes…
And the ice itself? In earnest? Would you believe six years? It’s like when we’re on an icy road, and I used to assure the passengers in my car that it’s okay, I’m from Colorado – I learned to drive on stuff like this. Yeah? And when did you leave Colorado? Mumblemumblefortyyearsago. And how long have you been living in sunny, frost-free Palo Alto? Mumblemumble. No matter how close the memories, how deeply ingrained, after six years away from the ice, it’s worth considering my language more closely when I find myself about to claim “This is what I do.” Maybe, “used to do”?
And yet, here we are, and it all comes back like waking.
It’ll be another day yet before we’ll see the Gould – Marine Traffic shows her safe across the Drake into sheltered waters, now making 10 knots around the corner into the quiet of the Strait. They’ll be buckling things up on board now, looking with eagerness and a little trepidation at this strange and green land they’ve returned to, playing questions over in their mind as to what they’ll do first when they make port. Tucking away those memories they want to keep whole, and unsullied until the next time they’ve got ice and blue water under the bow. Or until they next find themselves around a table with shipmates, far from the sea, passing no-shit-there-we-were and do-you-remember-when tales around with a bottle.
Another month, and I’ll be there, too. For now, I need to keep my eye on the ball, on the job I’m here to do. I have stepped out of the hotel a couple of times. Walked the promenade, made a circle around the Plaza. Made my way down to Mesita Grande (oh, the memories!) to pick up takeout – masked. It helps that our orders are to self-isolate prior to deploying; no temptation to descend the steps into the glorious, wood-paneled claustrophobia of La Union, or find a corner of relative quiet in La Perla in which to sip a rhubarb sour while whatever flavor-of-the-month local band belts it out from the stage. I wouldn’t mind a table at the back of Okusa, an old-country-style waiter at my shoulder – probably a brother or uncle – recommending the chupe de centolla. Por supuesto, I’d say. Is there anything else?
Yes, that would be nice. But for now, those are still dreams. For now, there’s work to do.
Pablo, I’m glad to see you on your way and looking forward to hearing all about it.
Do the places onshore you refer to do takeout?
Some do. I got takeout from Mesita Grande last night (ossobuco with gnocchi). But most of the places, you don’t go for the food, excellent though it may be – you go for the ambiance.
Glad you’ll have some takeout to nosh on then.
The irony is that you are in a period of post-covid super-immunity!
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