Issue 192, Spring 2010
We had conjectured the impact of the blockade: shortages of petrol and tobacco, a dearth of news, an end to the tourist trade. But now we were told potable water would be rationed. Water surrounded us, of course, dappled sea extending to the horizon in every direction from our little island. But freshwater was scarce. Our brackish and brown tap water was drawn from old, depleting wells. For years, potable water had been brought into the harbor on water tankers and trucked to storage cisterns around the island. We had purchased it by the barrel from sellers who made a narrow margin hauling the liquid around the rough roads that traced the circumference of the island.
We were, it turned out, on very dry land.
The Governor-General announced water rationing on the fourth day of the blockade. The taps would now run one hour a day. Even worse, we would have to make do on just one liter of drinking water a day for the months until the autumn rain.
That night, the restaurants in the harbor did a roaring trade, the few remaining tourists bivouacked there still desperately hoping for a boat out, and plenty of us residents congregating on the sidewalk and patio tables, and making a show of our indifference to the new austerity, drinking bottles of cava and mugs of cider, emptying jeroboams of red wine. So we couldn’t drink water, but we could still drink!
The cooks brought out pans of fisherman’s rice, octopus, scallops, sea urchin, and smoked cod cooked in garlic and saltwater, langoustes boiled in salt water, deep-fried sardines. We slaked our thirst with more wine. As our enforced revelry mounted, the waitresses brought out plates heaped with sliced tomatoes and cold, salted potatoes, and the few remaining, wilted heads of lettuce on the island were chopped and soaked in vinegar and oil and deposited on tables. Then, to gasps from the drunken patrons, plates of peaches, melon, and figs were set upon the tables—the last fresh fruit we would be seeing for a while.
We feasted until finally the girls from the nightclubs made their nightly turn through the restaurant district, blowing whistles and punctuating their stroll with castanets, attempting to lure customers to their abandoned venues. Wives sternly observed their husbands’ leers; children ran amidst the long, elaborate gowns of the made-up club girls. We drank until finally, even through our drunkenness, we couldn’t ignore our thirst. The fathers imbibed beer, the mothers more wine, and the children slept fitfully on rattan chairs, their mouths parched and cracked. We made our way home, the buggy rattling over the rough pavement, the engine’s noisy, metronomic clatter almost putting me to sleep until the road began its winding ascent and I shook myself awake.
Perhaps, I thought, this won’t be so bad.