Talking Story

Island Notes 94

Just a few years ago, I was shooting a film on the Big Island of Hawaii.  We were heading down a narrow, dirt road that winded through a banana plantation.  Up ahead were two pickup trucks haphazardly stopped along the roadside and two big Hawaiian guys were in serious dialog with each other.  I asked my driver what the problem was.  “No problem.  Just two local boys talkin’ story.”

“Talkin’ story?”

“Yeah.  It’s important here on the islands.  We take time to stop and talk to each other.  We just don’t rush through the day like the howlies (Hawaiian slang for foreigners or white people).”

I have not yet discovered the Bonairean phrase yet for “talking story”, but the communicative act is just as prevalent here.  Whenever I walk or bike somewhere and need to arrive at a specific time, I always leave early.  I leave time for talking story.  Just the other day I was walking with my dog, Sparky, along my favorite seaside street, Kaya Playa Lechi.  Within a couple of hundred yards, we stopped three times.

The first person we encountered was Yellow Man.

“Hey Yellow, how did the fishing go yesterday on Klein?” I asked.

“Got some red snapper, a small wahoo, and a ….”, Yellow Man was searching for the English word.  “Rainbow Runner!  Catch of the Day!”  Yellow Man flashed a big smile and a glint of sun bounced off his gold, front tooth.  We discuss fish for the next half hour.

A few steps later, we met Ismael Soliana.  Ismael is deep in his 80s and has spent most of those years at sea, first sailing multi-masted schooners, and later freighters.  He goes down to Kaya Playa Lechi early each morning to check on his traditional sailboat, Etienne.  It is a single-masted, wooden fishing boat, the last of its kind on Bonaire.

Ismael Soliana aboard Etienne. photo-Nathalie Meyfarth


“Haaaaaaa!” greets Ismael.

“Bon dia, Ismael.  How is Etienne today?  I inquire.

“She’s good.  I come down to look at her.  She’s OK.”

Ismael is sporting his billed sailor hat today complete with gold anchor and circular life preserver.  He still has a twinkle in his eyes and loves every day of life.  Our conversation goes on and on and we finally bid each other adieu.

I must interject here that talking story is different from bull shitting, shooting the breeze or chewing the fat.  Those all have a connotation of simply filling time with all the trappings of continental drift and large societies. Rather, talking story is intimate and socially important, even expected.  It would be rude of me to just idly chat.  Its roots are deeply based in island time, that wonderful concept where space and the clock blend into a fluid concoction of tropical bliss and friendship. We’re talking story.

And that is what I do one more time on this fine August morning of blue sky, waving palm trees, and melodic tropical orioles.  I run into Asko Tabasko at the Yellow Submarine dive shop.  We exchange our usual pleasantries.

“Good morning, Governor! I exclaim.

“Bon dia, Capitán!”

Asko and I then drift into talking story of Bonaire’s underwater world.  When we arrive back at the surface, a boatload of sweating, wet-suited tourists await him, and for me, it is another cup of coffee at home.

So Sparky and I return.  The hammock awaits.  I relish mentally playing back the conversations I have just enjoyed.  There is nothing better than talking story.


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