Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Drawbacks of Paradise

I do love Curaçao. I love living here, I love its 'prickly kind of beauty', its contrasts, its contradictions. To me, this tiny island that so few people have heard of -- and of those who have, most relate it to a blue orangey-tasting liquor -- is paradise.

But paradise, any paradise, comes with drawbacks. And, depending on who you are and what you love, the drawbacks and their relevance to you may vary:

Prohibitive traveling to -- well, anywhere. We may be just off the coast to Venezuela, but flying to Caracas (a 40-min flight) is just as expensive as the just-under-three-hour flight to Miami. Even Aruba, which is a stone's throw away (if you're, say, Walter Johnson), isn't exactly weekend-escape cheap.

Cost of life. I mean, this is an island. And the soil isn't particularly fruitful (though that's changing; more on that later). So everything is imported. Take a stroll through the produce section at a supermarket and I dare you not to gasp at the prices.

Choices (or lack thereof). Again, it's an island. Containers full of goodies come -- and get snatched up (in spite of ridiculous of pricing) faster than you can say Yay! And they leave behind nothing but a memory, because chances of restocking within a reasonable time span are nil. Even weather offers no variety -- which might seem like a wonderful thing when you're sitting up in North Dakota in the middle of winter, but -- trust me, one summer of 30C temps and no wind, and the idea of snow becomes so much more appealing.

Limited socializing. There are 150,000 people living in Curaçao. It's not Saba (pop. 2K), but if you've ever lived in a small town, you know how quickly these 150,000 become more familiar than your family.

I could keep going. Everyone who's lived here, whether native yu di Kòrsou or imported, has their own list of complaints. For those of us who stay, though, the negatives are a matter of perception. Sure, traveling is a hassle, but how often do you really need to travel? Everything's more expensive and there's little to choose from, but it's a relaxed social atmosphere; do you really need that much? And there's a small-town charm to knowing everyone, even for antisocial curmudgeons like me.

Image: Eureka Booksellers
Everything has a silver lining, right? Yes. Except for one thing. And this one drives me insane.


There are ONLY TWO BOOKSTORES in Curaçao. And while they have a decent selection (maybe even more than decent) in Dutch, I don't read Dutch. My bad, I'm not integrating or assimilating or whatever. Sure. But the fact remains that, to an avid reader like myself, not having a single bookstore that I can browse through for longer than five minutes is torture.

But -- non-Curaçao residents tell me -- now there's Amazon (and other online book sellers). Sure, browsing a website is not nearly as much fun as browsing a bookstore (there's that book smell missing, for one) but -- hey. I can get books. Problem solved.

Let me explain why that solution is no solution at all. On the 6th of June I ordered through Amazon two books for my poetry reading circle. First problem: international shipping isn't always available, especially for second-hand items (the books I wanted, a volume of Rilke's poetry and Rimbaud's Illuminations, were not available new). I finally found one that did ship internationally (supplied through Amazon) -- which brings me to the second problem: the cost of shipping was more than the price of both books together.

Okay. Fine. I ordered anyway. It wasn't even expedited shipping, but it didn't matter; I only needed these books by the end of July, when we'd start reading one of them (the poetry group was kind enough to leave the decision of which to read to which one arrived to Curaçao first -- cool group of people). Six-seven weeks should be enough time, I thought.

I thought wrong.

By July 20th, when nothing had arrived, I contacted Amazon. A super friendly guy checked on the packages and told me one had been returned "due to damage in transit". I'd been issued a refund; did I want to place the order again? Yes, sure, but what about the other one? "It seems to have arrived at the destination," he told me. "But the carrier is delaying delivery for some reason. Never seen that before." Great. "I'll issue a refund for that shipping charge," he said. I really appreciate that, but what about my book? "The package will be delivered by July 25th. By the absolute latest." Well. Okay, then.

July 25th came and went. No book. I gave up on it. And then yesterday this showed up in the mailbox:

Yesterday was August 6th. My order was placed on June 6th. Two months. And the reason was written all over the envelope.

Third problem: when I say no one knows where Curaçao is, I mean it. Not even postal services. Some creative (and certainly well-intentioned, if misguided) soul added St. Eustatius to my address. The only relationship Statia (as the island is known in these parts) has to Curaçao is that once upon a time (pre 10/10/2010) they were both part of the Netherlands Antilles.

Large red circle is Curaçao. Teeny circle at center right is St. Eustatius.
Yeah, real close.

Well, no wonder the package was delayed. Except it doesn't seem to have made it to St. Eustatius, either. Instead, there's this:

Misguided. No sh*t, Sherlock.
Dominican Republic? DOMINICAN REPUBLIC??? How did--? No, forget it. I don't even want to know.

And don't even ask about Rimbaud's Illuminations, the other book I ordered (which I reordered after it got returned because of "damage in transit"). Amazon says it'll be delivered Aug 20th. If past experience is any indication of future expectations, it should arrive somewhere in late September.

Bottom line, though: I have a gorgeous volume of Rilke's poetry. Having given up on ever receiving it, you can imagine how outrageously pleased I was yesterday. And there you have it, a silver lining after all: shattered expectations do, sometimes, lead to unexpected joys.


  1. Oh dear, two months. Amazing, especially today. Yes every place has it drawbacks, but everyone dreams of somewhere else and drawbacks never surface during those dreams. ;)

    1. Too true, Yolanda. The grass may be greener, but there's a price :) (And, by the same token, there's usually a silver lining in not-so-green grass ;) ) Thanks for the visit!

  2. And this, dear Guilie, is why God invented e-books. ;-)
    By the way, I'd had no idea where exactly Curaçao was until I recently Googled it.

    1. I spent pretty much all day yesterday on this post, Bob -- stuff kept interrupting, had errands to run, etc. My point is that I had a lot of time to think about it (which is probably why it came out so long, haha)... but not once did I think about even mentioning e-books :D I guess that proves how old-fashioned I am. Yes, I do buy them every once in a while; the poetry group had its first reading of Rilke on Thursday with a PDF someone was kind enough to circulate, not the right translation but at least we could start. So yes, they do save the day... But there's no substitute, for me, for the pleasure of holding an actual, physical book in my hand :)

      Re Curaçao: you're most certainly not alone :D I didn't know where it was until I got here. Literally. I flew down here with the vague idea I was going 'south' but without any real geographical clarity. I think it's the same for a big, big part of the world. Unless you're Dutch :D

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I knew where Curacao anyway I know because I like looking at maps. I would hate not having a bookstore where I can browse through and still not see all the books. I may want to visit but not live there as I love the 4 seasons and the cold especially at Christmas. I also love, love, love fruit so I would go broke buying fruit. I am glad you enjoy it for the most part though.

    1. Yeah, the seasonal-change thing is something I miss, too, Birgit, although I grew up in a place with a relatively temperate climate. Still, non-stop heat gets old fast :D You're right, though, I do enjoy it, and wouldn't trade it easily. Thanks for the comment!

  4. I don't understand. Is it a gorgeous volume or is it Rilke's poetry? :)

  5. Hi Guilie - the 'returned to damage in transit' is a ploy! I've had that a couple of times - the money is refunded ... but it's a pain.

    I'm sure things do wrong - especially living in the beauty of Curacao ... but am so pleased you got the Rilke book in time.

    Yes - paradise can have its drawbacks ... take care and cheers Hilary

    1. Thank you, Hilary! I'm afraid you're right about the "damage in transit" ploy... At least, like you said, I got the book in the end. I'm curious to see what will happen with the other one that's supposed to arrive by Aug 20th. Maybe more "damage in transit"? :D

      Thanks for the visit!

  6. Hi Guilie. Amazon delivery takes about a month to Australia most of the time. Two months is a little extreme though. But what a lovely book of poems. I hope you poetry group loves it.

    I'm sure Curacao is gorgeous. Most islands are. But yes, most are expensive too.

    Be well. Enjoy Paradise. And I'm looking forward to seeing what you post for WEP. (I'm greedy for poetry.)

    Denise :-)

    1. Thanks for the visit, Denise! Yeah, every place has drawbacks; it's really about what you can live with and what you absolutely can't. Curaçao, for me, is a place of wonder and beauty (even taking into account the book issue), but I've seen more people come and go, fed up with -- fill in the blank --, than I care to count. But--wow, a month to Australia! That I did not expect. You'd think Amazon would do better for such a huge market. Ah, well. On the other hand, you do have kangaroos. And koalas :)

      Very much looking forward to the WEP hop!

  7. Hi Guilie! I'm coming late to your post. Interestingly at this very moment I am TRYING to track the ebook order I gifted to you a few weeks ago and amazon says I have no orders, not this year, last year or in 2013. Which is clearly incorrect. I sent it to the email address you gave me a while ago which you thought was linked to your Kindle (even though you prefer books! I do too! But I LOVE my Kindle also)

    Thank you for pointing out exactly where Curucao is exactly!!! Thank you for your slice of life, always interesting!

    How lovely that your Rilke book arrived! Enjoy contemplating!


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