SPITHEAD REVISITED, 1979
Eugene O'Neill's Bermuda home during the late 1920's was Spithead, a pink sandstone bay-side villa with a long view of Hamilton Harbor some three miles away. I managed an evening's journey into night there after a sweaty Sunday sunset in a guest house opposite Hamilton Harbor, on the same side as Spithead in adjoining Paget Parish. [Spithead is in Warwick Parish. --Ed.] Spithead is not open to the public anytime.
Dressed in my most correct tourist brochure bittersweet chocolate sportcoat, yellow shirt, orange medallioned dark-brown tie, and yellow cotton pants, I set out along Harbor Road, a winding grey-coral-lined speedway for mopeds and mini-cars. The sole walker at a dangerous hour. Sunset.
Three miles and an hour later I was at the gatehouse to Spithead, drenched with sweat. Humidity: 80%. Temperature: 80° in the shade. Time: late July. I left a postcard of Brookline, Massachusetts, in the basket used as a mailbox on the front porch bannister of the main house and walked back up the heavily parked circular carriage drive toward the gatehouse, now a separate home. But neighbors told me They—the Blucks, the present owners —were out on the motorized sailboat which we could see skimming the harbor a few yards off the veranda dock to the right of the house. I went back and stood on the dock with two dogs sniffing me, one wailing weakly that I was intruding, and waited for the boat to dock.
When it did, a young crew disembarked. Celia Bluck-Waters, daughter of the family, was entertaining a group of Bermudan, English, and American friends with a chartered cruise of the harbor. It was after 9 p.m. and I was summarily invited to a veranda/dockside dinner of cold fried chicken, salad, white wine, and the obligatory Bermudan swizzle (high-powered pink lemonade, heavy on the gin cum rum). Everyone unwound and reminisced about the 60's.
It was now ten years later. Celia had been at Radcliffe in 1968 while I was active in Cambridge radical newspapers. Noel Dyer, Jr., the only black Bermudan present (with white wife) had been in the RAF in the Near East together with his Midlands UK friend who was returning to England the next day. A friend of Celia's was returning to Vermont the next morning. I was the oddity. Everyone admitted to not liking O'Neill's plays or his personality. Eventually Noel and the other RAF'er and I played TV Dogfight on a small black and white TV set in the kitchen. (Unfortunately, I won twice. I admitted that I can't even drive, let alone fly . . . why else did I walk to Spithead?)
The setting is better suited to F. Scott Fitzgerald now. The Blucks are Bermuda's premier Dutch antique dealers, so unapproachable that Spithead is never open to the public; and only open to Bermudans during Gardens Week, a charitable fundraiser for "may-basket" charities in a tax-free Bermuda. All of this according to L.J. "Robbie" Robinson, former hotelier, now tourguide for American International Tours' daylong $20 cruise, leaving from Hamilton Harbor daily.
I had broached the unbroachable. I
was even given a minor tour of the rooms and views. Very little of
O'Neill remains in any sense as a presence in Bermuda. Author's
queries regarding O'Neill sent to all Bermuda papers—the Royal
Gazette, Mid-Ocean News and Bermuda Sun—were not
printed. But Robbie Robinson keeps O'Neill's name and fame alive as
the boat passes Spithead in daylight, and he is as ambiguous a character as
Graham Greene's pseudo-vacuum-cleaner-salesman-cum-spy
in Cuba: O'Neill's solo barker in
Bermuda, circa 1979.
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