Monday, May 28, 2007

Hidden Depps

Jack's back, and the whole world is watching--or at least waiting in line for the next screening. This time the Pirates have left the Caribbean and headed for World's End... wherever 'tis waiting. Early reviews grumble that the special effects and three-hour length overwhelm plot and character, but I reckon Johnny Depp has enough character to make up for all the whizbanging and slithery creeps encountered.

The nice irony, a big plus for any Rolling Stones fans, is that Keith Richards appears as Jack Sparrow's father, which should be riotous since Depp built Sparrow pretty much on Keef's physical mannerisms anyway, half loose-spine junkie and half fey Ichabod Crane (hmm, another Depp role!), weaving and mumbling and grinning maniacally.

The idea of reaching World's End and falling over the edge haunted mariners for hundreds of years. And the southwestern tip of Portugal, Cabo de Sao Vicente, the furthest western point of Europe, is called just that, the End of the World--a holdover from those early exploration days of sailing when ships from Isabella's Spain and Henry the Navigator's Portugal thought of that lonely barren outcropping as the last bit of land they might ever see...

When I left the U.S. for two years of 'round-the-world travel in the mid-Eighties, sometimes continuing on westward by boat, I was vaguely aware of reversing the course of explorers like Magellan, but really thought nothing about such adventuring until I wound up in Portugal for the winter of 1986-87. My soon-to-be-wife and I chose Portugal's Mediterranean coast, the Algarve region, because we (erroneously) figured it would be the warmest place in Europe to spend the season. (That particular winter was the coldest Europe had experienced for decades--so much for warmth!)

The Algarve has both stark beauty and a rich cultural history, but it has also become overrun with tourists, especially the British, who use the region as their personal Hawaii. Yet the winter months are fairly quiet and mostly devoid of tourists, which was a plus, but we also found ourselves having to invent our own Christmas celebration, for example--scrounging a scrawny tree, handmaking ornaments from beach flotsam and jetsum, cooking up a duck dinner, and so on.

And we actually spent part of Christmas Day visiting the End of the World. The poem I wrote afterwards, two decades ago now, is sadly pertinent still...

At World’s End

A chill wind rising now, and storm clouds
thousands of miles old gathering over us,
arrived from remote Bermudas and Azore shoals:
we lean out looking down and down,
blown upright by the wind, casting our thoughts
below, where luckless sailors drowned,
their boat-borne souls smashing up

against the shear of the Cape, and others put in—
pressed hard to find haven, much less good hope.
Cabo de Sao Vicente served ocean’s masters,
not its victims: those bound south or east,
or west where winter’s sun shutters and dims.
We are here Christmas Day distressed;
we have come to the End of the World…

Portagee sailors looked back on this cliff,
trapped in the currents of history,
hurled by Henry Navigator to the edge
and off his charts, to danger lands and seas
far on the way to the unknown shelves
wrapped ‘round the Pearls of the Indies.
Lord Nelson rehearsed here for hell,

skirting the Spanish fleet, hard-by
a once-sacred reach where older gods
rested--and St. Vincent’s remains too slept,
briefly hidden from the Moorish invaders,
below a guardian host of ravens that
soon chased his bones north to Lisboa.
Oh, this land knew the blooding and blending:

warrior-poets, Christians with Moors…
now their fishermen descendents
sing the fado blues in white-stucco bars.
The wind-stripped coast was laid waste
by ravages of Drake and time,
by gale and earthquake and violent sea
breaking inexorably against its line.

The curious who come now to look
see no caravels, no azulejos or
blossoming almond, no Muslim paradise,
only the rock and water and wind,
where al-Garve, “the Occident,” dies,
and Europe finds its bitter end.
Unseasonably glum ourselves,

we welcome a cliff-top buffeting;
may it dispel this gone-from-home
gloom we’re ashamed to admit, but feel...
A down-day for the postcard sellers.
No tour buses clog the turnaround.
Only the dark man hawking sweaters
has made the drive out from Sagres, town

of crumbling stone where Henry’s Fortress
and ‘ball-diamond-sized Compass Rose
of all directions could remind us that
Europe’s end is its beginning, if we put
sun’s decline and the storm-wind behind us.
We give each other lookalike sweaters,
then ascend the worn lighthouse stairs.

The massive beacon waits for night,
air through its grid whistling wordless fado,
“Perigo de Morte” perhaps; that’s the sign
posted on some wiring nearby.
But we risk “Danger” daily—terrorists
and thieves: romance shocked by reality—
where world’s end conjoins our history.

Home is out there. Here,
sea raven scavengers spire overhead
as the sun burns orange into night,
and the red-blood earth in dying light
drains down to the chop and flutter
of white, the last of land collapsing
back where it began. Battered,

we lean on the cold wind, rising.

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