The Ugly American: Safely Out of Reach in Bermuda

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My first concern were giant squids, which, thanks to YouTube, was a fairly recent phobia of mine. So when I got invited to spend a long weekend in Bermuda, I actually hesitated, because Bermuda is an island in the ocean, and I hear the ocean is where squids like to live. But bravely I accepted the invitation on the condition they promised me I didn’t have to encounter any squid, giant or otherwise.

My companions, though, were divers, intent on exploring shipwrecks, something that Bermuda evidently offers in abundance. In fact, Bermuda’s first settlers poured forth from a shipwreck in 1609. They were a prim bunch of British pioneers who must have immediately set about planting flowers, building pubs, opening steak restaurants and otherwise cultivating the island into what it is today – an Epicurean tropical oasis so beautiful that even the lowly airport has breathtaking views. If I were a sea captain in the 1600’s, I probably could not have picked a better place to wreck my vessel either.

Because if you’ve ever seen Bermuda you can’t deny that this island is a neat, tidy, perfectly appointed little paradise. For example, I was consistently astounded by how impeccably painted everything was. Bermudians paint their homes in every single vivid color of the ice-cream sherbet spectrum. From the sky, it will kind of remind you of that bowl of shiny hard candy on your grandmother’s coffee table. It’s got to take endless tending to keep these buildings as beautifully painted as they are, but all these painters must work under cloak of darkness or something, because I never saw a single job in progress. It was all somehow already perfect, as though an army of elves consistently waved wands to make it so. The irony here, of course, is that all this seasoned neatness above sea level is ringed with a wonderland of historic wreckage and debris beneath it. It’s a contrast that is hard to resist. But I did.

Impossible to resist, though, was the island’s official cocktail, an incandescent concoction called the Dark and Stormy. Until now I was never a cocktail connoisseur. In fact my favorite drink in college could have consisted of battery acid and ground glass for all I know, and often it was prepared in a plastic-lined garbage drum while the bartender wore protective goggles. After soaking my head in that for a few years it was almost enough to make me lose my taste for alcohol completely, so it was with reluctance that I even agreed to try the Dark and Stormy. You’ve got to admit it sounds really British, and I remember from my days as an exchange student at Oxford that the British are responsible for culinary oddities like mincemeat pie, “spotted dick” and “black treacle.” I’d explain to you what these things are except I never braved a taste due to the fact that they sounded like something you’d find at a carnival inside a jar of formaldehyde. “Dark and Stormy” hardly sounds more approachable, but I tried one anyway because I’m nothing if not adventurous as long as I don’t have to get wet.

Let me just pause here to explain the ingredients of a Dark and Stormy. It’s one part Bermudian black rum to two parts ginger beer—not ginger ale, mind you, but ginger beer. In the lobby bar at the Fairmont Southampton, they serve this to you on a little silver tray with the rum in a rocks glass next to a dainty pitcher of ginger beer. You mix the two together and voila, you have the world’s most perfect cocktail. Unlike it’s name, it does not taste dark and stormy at all, but rather light and nice, and tingly and not-too-sweet. Upon first sip it immediately became my favorite drink in the history of the universe, though I can just imagine the derision I’ll get when I order this upon returning home to Atlanta (“I’ll have a Bermudian black rum and ginger beer, please”), but I plan to do so consistently until it is a regular offering at the Atlanta dive bars I patronize. It would help, too, if they served it on a little silver tray, but even I know some hopes are unattainable.

My companions made one last attempt to talk me into a dive, but for that day at least I begged off and spent the day near the pool bar on the hotel property, a Dark and Stormy in my hand, the sun on my toes, grateful for this sunny dry spot under a beach umbrella, safely out of reach from the tentacles of any squid, giant or otherwise.