I arrived in Anguilla on June 4, six days after the island celebrated Anguilla Day. The holiday marks not their independence from Britain, but the beginning of a revolution that cast off the administrative rule of St. Kitts and Nevis. The celebration is like Carnival on the sea, with young Anguillans overstuffing the main barge and smaller groups setting up their own party boats. For local musicians the stakes are high. As one person told me, everyone saves their best new songs for Anguilla Day because you have this large, captive, drunk audience, and can conceivably lock down the year’s summer jam. It seems like an appropriately bouyant occasion for an island that, on its official government page, promises “Unhurried, uncomplicated time to concentrate your thinking on nothing more than choosing which pleasurable activity you will select to round out your day of beach and sea pleasures.”
My host for this short trip was the CuisinArt Golf Resort and Spa, one of several luxury vacation destinations on an island that is making a play to usurp St. Barths as the preferred destination for luxury Caribbean travel. There were several things that the resort wanted known, and with some justification. They have set up a solar powered desalinization plant that supplies not only the whole resort with water, but also sells its excess back to the island at cost, or even at a slight loss. Anguilla barely registered in the Caribbean colonial scramble because it is something of a desert island --- resource poor and scrubby --- and true to form is currently in the midst of a drought. The whole desalinization system is “off grid” (a phrase repeated by enough people to signal that it should show up in whatever I wrote), and with some pride an employee said that it demonstrated a completely attainable possibility for any other resort in the Caribbean. That they said “resort” and not “government” without any hesitation should give you an indication of who holds the holds the levers of power in Anguilla. (Aside from providing water Cuisinart is also one of the largest employers on the island, boasting tremendous fidelity from many workers who have been there since its inception or shortly thereafter.)
There is also a Greg Norman designed golf course, perhaps the finest in all of the Caribbean (I played 18 holes with an incredibly nice ex-NBA champion), a hydroponic farm supplying vegetables and spices to Cuisinart’s vast culinary enterprise, a full service spa, and of course the base-line for these resorts — miles of white sand beaches and improbably turquoise water, in this case looking across Rendezvous Bay at the mountains of St. Martins. It’s all quite nice, but if you are a philistine like me, prone to boredom and constitutionally incapable of appreciating the finer things in life, you might feel a profound and thundering indifference to all this. At a resort the point of hospitality is to be inoffensive (that right is reserved solely for the guests and their wardrobe). You see this in upper management’s style of speech. They have this miraculous ability to add a coda onto whatever topic is being discussed or to steer a conversation into safer waters. The whole point of coming here, after all, is to shut off your critical intelligence, to bliss out, and to remove the hunger for narrative, which is easy to do with all the amazing food they served us (red snapper 14 hours out of the ocean, sushi with foie gras and gold flakes on top) or with the marijuana rum you can purchase at beach bars.
I rented a bike one afternoon and left Cuisinart to explore the island. As one employee told me, most resorts on Anguilla make the mistake of falling into the “Caribbean mentality,” where the whole of your trip should be concentrated in the resort itself and you shouldn’t chance the potentially dangerous conditions “out there.” Cuisinart is at times guilty of this in their internal literature, as well as in how they describe their amenities to the wider world. This might be true for Jamaica or their former controller St. Kitts and Nevis (where hanging as a form of capital punishment has been used as recently as 2008), but not for the friendly folks in Anguilla. And my superficial impression from one afternoon traversing the only major road and its many tributaries is that this is generally the case. You can eat and drink and poke around the corners of what is outside of the resorts a pretty sleepy, sun drenched, low-key island, and everyone is nice and cool. The revolution commemorated on Anguilla Day was peaceful, but in the non-event of resort life I often fantasized about the festivities getting out of hand, of revolutionaries descending from the mountains of St. Martins and speeding across the bay, of one day of nihilistic violence pouring over the walls of the hotels and spas. But, to quote the Talking Heads, heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.