Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Adams in Eden

Henry Adams, American historian and novelist
Extract from Chapter 1 of Children of Eden:

When Adams and La Farge returned from Tautira, Tati invited them to join the family in the festivities to commemorate the opening of a bridge on Teva land near Papara. Here again was the comic opera aspect of the island - the pomp and circumstance of a European empire paradoxically recreated on a tiny South Sea island.  Adams delighted in the incongruities and the local color alike.

The Salmons and their guests were up early and had the Teva house ready by 9am to welcome the French Governor. The men were dressed in dazzling white suits, the women in their best dresses with wreathes of flowers in their hair. The Governor – a Martinique native with the imposing name of Étienne-Théodore-Mondésir Lascascade - was a small, middle-aged man with mutton-chop whiskers and receding hair. He had arrived from Papeete in his coach, sweating in the tropical heat. As representative of the great motherland of France, the Governor was very affable to Adams and La Farge, but Adams was impatient with the absurdity of diplomatic conversation. “We had to be formal for near two hours with this little man in a tall silk hat, frock coat, and tricolor sash.” So Tati sent the Americans on ahead to the bridge with Marau, Cheeky, and the Brander boys, along the coastal road, which was lined with two hundred natives in bright dresses waving French flags, in expectation of an official spectacle.

Adams found the ceremony itself anticlimactic but thoroughly enjoyed the luncheon that followed because of the interesting dynamic that existed among the principals of the drama.

The lunch was served European style on two parallel tables. The Governor, as host, sat on one side of a long table with a big bouquet of exotic leaves in front of him, which blocked his view of the person sitting opposite him. This just happened to be His Majesty, ex-King Pomare V wearing a pair of eyeglasses that looked remarkably like goggles. Adams was relieved to see that, at that hour in the morning, Pomare was not obviously drunk, and was keeping a low profile. At the second table, almost back to back with her ex-husband, sat Queen Marau. Despite being close enough so that they could not fail to brush against one another from time to time, the couple studiously ignored each other’s very existence. Adams, sitting across from Marau, was able to watch the tense body language of the divorced couple to his heart’s content while sipping the Governor’s imported Bordeaux. As Adams gleefully observed in a letter home, “it was the sort of thing that one naturally puts in a novel.”

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