Children on Batanta Island, Indonesia. Photo by the author

Children on Batanta Island, Indonesia. Photo by SE

There’s a difference between experiencing the world as a tourist and a traveler.

In my work with organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Ashoka, I’ve had occasion to do both and to notice the differences.

As a traveler, you become part of the landscape, access the culture in a way that changes your own perspective on the world, and if you can’t quite become native to the place, you at least get to know real people and have deeper experiences.

As a tourist, you are more an observer and your experiences are from outside rather than within. It feels more superficial and distant, like you are collecting experience rather than living it, if that makes sense.

A donor trip to Indonesia in February 2005 was more of a tourist experience than other trips I’d taken where I stayed with locals and worked with colleagues and partners on strategy over longer periods of time.

Not to say that traveling as a tourist isn’t valid. Sometimes you can observe things more clearly as an outsider rather than as an insider living in a place. During this particular donor trip, I wrote a poem about a visit to a small island in the Raja Ampat region of far eastern part of the country.

The poem appeared in OCHO #24, which was edited by Collin Kelly and included poets who were active on Twitter (you can find me there @greenskeptic).

Writing about poetry and technology in The Best American Poetry Blog, poet Julie Bloemeke, writes, “In ‘Village, Batanta Island,’ Scott Edward Anderson creates a world where children interact because they can see themselves in a digital camera.”

I’m not sure how often tourists visited that island or how frequently its children interacted with the likes of us. The exchange we had was genuine and fun, but like the picture I took in the moment (see above), there was definitely a fence between us, both real and imaginary.

Here is my poem, “Village, Batanta Island”:

To the young girl staring at me,

in a village on the island

of Batanta, I have an amusing,

open face; my big eyes,

skin paler than her experience.

I catch her looking at me.

She turns, giggles, whispers

to her friend. Funny gringo

in Ex Officio.

About twenty, twenty-five kids,

crowd around us; all under the age

of ten, most under five.

They pose for pictures

with our digital cameras.

Their scrubbed faces and hand-washed

clothes make neat subjects.

They giggle at the pictures

captured on the viewing screens;

tuck in a stray hair or shirt,

teasing each other.

A long, driftwood fence

lines each side of the one path

through the village. Whitewashed

church, houses with careful,

ornate carvings on the facades.

Neat rows of houses with neat

rows of cassava planted out back,

mango trees and papaya; sand

as white as those houses.

The villagers eat fresh-caught fish

from the sea behind their houses.

One of the men says they must now

go further out each day to find a good catch.

How many people can such a village

support before reaching its limit?

One of my companions,

a businessman from Jakarta,

quickly answers, “One thousand.”

–One thousand. What happens then?

He does not answer; I too am silenced.

Now he turns to the children,

speaks in bahasa Indonesian,

steadies to take another picture.

Ten yards away,

by a thatch-roofed house,

stands another girl,

not more than sixteen,

laundry tub at her hip:

already she is pregnant.

–Scott Edward Anderson, OCHO #24

August 2, 1990. I’m on a boat heading from Naples to Capri. We’ve just learned that Iraq has invaded Kuwait and the United States will likely declare war on Iraq. The world will soon be changing.

I’ve just had an article published in the Naples daily newspaper, Il Mattino, and have been praised and regaled by all sorts of Napolitanos about it.  (It seems everyone reads the papers here!) Similar treatment awaits me on Capri, the home island of my friend Francesco Durante (now editor of Corriere del Mezzogiorno).

On the trip, I’m reading SOUTH WIND, a 1917 novel set on Capri (Nepenthe in the book) by Norman Douglas. (The Bishop of Bampopo is a central character.)

Capri is an intoxicating place, I can see why writers flocked there or settled there over much of the last century: Shirley Hazzard, Graham Greene, Norman Douglas, among many others.

The heady combination of my local celebrity, limoncello, the scirocco (the south wind itself), and the island’s many delights, inspired me to write my poem “Siren’s Rising,” which was published in the journal SLANT nine years later, and then translated into the Italian by Francesco Durante for Almanacco Caprese. Here is the poem:

Sirens Rising
Isla Capri, Italia

“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Romans, 7:24

I.

Like Tiberius I’m torn
between the flesh & its blood.
Like him, too, I’m of this island’s
dark side facing the sea.
You can languish here, succumb
to the madness this island provokes,
or you can flee, denying
your venereal appetite.
Night after night, I give in
to the relentless lure of Pan.
The raucous Neapolitan song
calls to me, instructing my lust,
filling my ears with its chaos.
I am full of life, full of limoncello;
blood hurries through my veins,
as if it had some destination–
beyond circulation.

I chase the Roman beauties:
sloe-eyed enchantresses
with slate-black hair and aquiline noses
and arched brows of la seduttrice.
Their spry and conclusive limbs
stretch from capricious figures
–they are entanglers.
I may as well be on all fours,
as I creep from taverna to piazzetta.
Together, we fall to my bed,
oozing sweat: couple, come away,
con amorosa cura.
We are sargassum
drifting in a pelagic daze.
In the wretched heat,
the moon is as still and cold
as a marble floor.

II.

Sister Serafina,
the unassuming saint of this island,
once induced the prince of darkness
into an adoration of the Savior.
With me, her task is doubly difficult, I’m afraid.
She tries to inveigle me to the Grotta Azzurra
–that knife-wound across the ribs
of Capri’s beguiling torso–
for she knows the blue grotto yields up
not the bagno where Tiberius
cooled his erotic fires,
nor the relentless lust of legend,
but the Madonna’s bluest robes
–the color of sanctity.

It’s too late.
I’ve already gone over the edge,
like the Bishop of Bampopo,
I turn a chaste eye to murder
and drink the sweat of my lovers
in an evaporating recline.
“How shall that come out of man
which was never in him?” the Bishop proffered.
I defile the flowers of Capri,
and search for the power of wild beasts,
deep within the grottoes, dank with sea-wrack.
The dizzy swirl of heaving breath echoes
from every corner of the cyanic cavern.
“Sono io, sono io,” they claim.
“Sono io!”
The Sirens respond to the cry:
“We will succor your willfulness.”
“We will cater to your whim–”
Once again I go to them,
into the depths of an endless night.
They lure me with their dancing
as exquisite as their song
–daughters of Terpsichore!

III.

Within sight of Vesuvius,
I follow the trail of obscure desire,
rounding the mealy stone groin
of Arco Naturale. I grow fins,
am lost.
Atop the Salto di Tiberio
and his Villa Jovis,
Tiberius revels in my plight.
He is the dragon of Capri,
whose fiery breath still infects the island.
I see, as if for the first time,
the island’s bone-white prominence,
rising above the loam-dark sea.
Grey-pink tufa crags, white limestone,
tender mauve reflexes
upthrusted in pulpy stillness.

And I am born of salt
scorched from the sea’s clutch;
the scirocco dashes the island
with its dry spite.
Born of desire,
I return to desire–
The heat
renders my body viscous,
my skin a rubbery porpoise-armor.
I leap from the sea
to plunge to its depths;
the Sirens guide me down
like pilot fish.
I am blessed by their bodies’ charms,
their sea-feathers slicked back
by my expert tongue, their breasts
rouged the color of pomegranates
from my rough beard.
“Possess these shores,” they whisper.
It’s more likely they’ll possess me
the Sirens,
in their pagan trinity:
Persuader, Brightface, Bewitcher.

IV.

The piazza is a droning blur
at this hour.
The handsome waiters are busy trafficking
caponata and spaghettini alla puttanesca.
Women are smoothing their dresses and reapplying
lipstick and rouge, between sips
of dry gin with lemons.
The brackish aroma of homemade wines
and barrels of oil-cured olives,
mingles with the tourists’ perfume,
which trickles down their salty cleavage
–intoxicating mist!
I am seated, most nights,
at the table nearest the bar.
It’s the closest thing
I’ve had to home.
This place for a brief time mine.
Leviathan among the Siren victors
–my life, their spoil.

(For Francesco Durante & Alessandra Carolla)

–Scott Edward Anderson, SLANT, Spring 1999