BERMUDA THROUGH THE EYES OF MARK TWAIN
Mark Twain, the ever articulate, globe-trotting American humourist once remarked, "Bermuda is the right country for a jaded man to loaf in."
It is as I'm checking into the luxurious Fairmont Hamilton Princess that I spy the familiar figure of Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain, sitting on a lobby bench behind me. I am initially taken aback. Here was the author of my childhood favourites, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn and the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with his trademark bushy moustache and unruly thick head of hair, sitting relaxed, legs crossed, and arm extended along the bench's back. I realize, as my eyes adjust, what I'm seeing is the master wordsmith immortalized by a life-size bronze statue.
Mark Twain was a frequent guest here at the Princess, in the opulent hotel's early days. He would relax on the veranda puffing on his cigar, reciting poetry and regaling guests with tall tales. He had fallen in love with this tiny and pristine island, far out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina, since his first visit in 1867. Twain loved the pace, the company and the weather. Bermuda's impeccable location means the island is warmed by the Gulf Stream and the sun's rays, but free of the tropics' relentless heat.
Bermuda is blessed with an abundance of charms. Iridescent turquoise waters, pink beaches and tropical flavours attract most visitors, but the island is also safe, clean, orderly and polite. There are many enchanting little nooks to explore, a rich history, diverse cultures and exceptional natural beauty. The famous author found life on Bermuda the perfect medicine for his harried life on the mainland. "There is just enough of whispering breeze, fragrance of flowers, and sense of repose to raise one's thoughts heavenward," he would say.
The island paradise would call Twain back another seven times, and for some 187 days over the next 43 years, and he would become one of Bermuda's most famous advocates. He wrote about Bermuda's seductiveness, and these stories helped attract many affluent visitors. On January 1, 1885, the Hamilton Princess opened to accommodate these new travellers.
Mark Twain was one of the first visitors to experience the Crystal Caves, an underground world of delicate splendour. Two youngsters discovered the caves in 1905 during a game of cricket, and visitors can now descend easily into a magnificent cavern of crystal stalactites and stalagmites which surround a deep lake of azure blue.
In Hamilton is the picturesque Par-la-Ville Park, where Twain admired the enormous rubber tree during his first island visit, though he was disappointed that it didn't bear a crop of hot water bottles and rubber over-shoes. The formal flowerbeds, exotic plants and quiet places to sit invite visitors to take a refreshing break from shopping or sightseeing.
Exploring Bermuda, one comes across the footsteps of Mark Twain everywhere. Besides the bronze of the writer at the Hamilton Princess, another statue stands inside the Bank of Butterfield and an imposing bronze bust is in the front entrance of XL Capital's Bermudiana Road building. During a most memorable meal at the historic Waterlot Inn, a charming dockside restaurant established in 1670, I am told by my waiter that Mark Twain was once a frequent diner. I'm not surprised. The Inn can't be surpassed for history, local charm and quality of food.
As Twain grew older, he spent more and more time visiting the island-so much so that he fought to ban cars here. Though the bustle of vehicles is apparent now, no rental cars are available for island visitors. The best way to get around is by taxis or motor bikes, which are fun, if a little dangerous. No worries, if you run into trouble with your scooter, you can visit the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. Twain helped raise funds for various projects on the island, including what was then called the Bermuda Cottage Hospital. Other modes of island travel are ferries, horse-drawn carriages (favoured by Twain), and an extensive and friendly bus system.
As travellers still do, Mark Twain encountered something very special during his first visit to Bermuda, and went back to seek it there again and again. "You go to heaven if you want to," Mark Twain wrote from Bermuda in 1910 during his last visit, "I'd rather stay here." The writer seemingly got his wish - though he died shortly afterwards, he seems to live on in this island paradise.
IF YOU GO
Where to Stay: The Fairmont Hamilton Princess was one of Twain's preferred residences, this classic Bermuda property features the statue of Twain in its lobby, and has a suite named after him. The property also provides free ferry service to its sister resort, the palatial Fairmont Southampton on the island's south side. Visit www.fairmont.com.
Visitor Information: Contact the Bermuda Department of Tourism www.bermudatourism.com.
Photos by James Ross
1. Meeting Mark Twain at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess
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