There are 15 Cook Islands spread over more than 2 million square kilometers of the southwest Pacific Ocean. Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook islands but covers only 67 square kilometers. Rarotonga’s main road, Ara Tapu, circles the island, following the turquoise lagoon coastline for 21 miles.
We turn our scooter up unmarked Makea Tinirau Road
past the church toward bushclad, cloud wrapped rugged volcanic mountain peaks that rise from the interior of the island
To the little library tucked in a garden
The relaxed pace of life becomes apparent the first time we go as they are closed for three weeks to celebrate Christmas holidays.
as well as the choice of a librarian….
Librarian as featured in the Cook Island News
When the library opened back up on Jan 14th we scooted up there to find they had just closed for the day at 1pm. So the deal is the library opens at 9 and closes at 1. Ms Voss, librarian, was throwing books for give away out into a basket on the porch. Bill grabbed two. The librarian says, “The basket was full but they are going fast.”
On our next trip we arrived at the tiny, messy, disorganized antiquated Raratonga Library before noon. It is womanned by Sally(who may have arrived with the first missionaries to the islands), a stocky lady with blond frizzy hair who can’t see very well.
I smiled at Sally and said that I was looking for books by Michener.
“Sally scrunched up her already wrinkled face, “Who?”
“ James Michener the author of “Tales of the South Pacific” .
“The fiction is on along the wall, has green tape and is alphabetical,” Sally says in her no nonsense (Jesus, you are stupid) librarian voice.
The alphabet is not my strongest suit and I am easily distracted in a library setting so it takes me a bit to find Mic marked with a sharpie on the green duck tape but I did find an ancient dark golden paperback edition of Tales of the South Pacific and Return to Paradise which I was holding delicately for fear they would disintegrate.
As I was looking through other selections on the shelf a 4 foot tall and as big around as a parking meter, gray curly-headed lady dressed in bright pink muu-muu appeared and in the softest voice said, “The missionaries are up here”, pointing toward the reference book shelf.
“I found the Michener books I was seeking.”
“But those aren’t true, the missionaries books are what’s real,” she whispered with a great deal of pride and piety.
I smiled and said, “I found the books by Michener.”
The little pink muu-muu lady went back to the fuzzy headed Sally to report in a very disappointed tone, that I didn’t seem to want books on missionaries.
I was also wanting a reference to the art designs around the island so they suggested a tattoo book. I found one in the reference section which I would “ not be allowed to check out as they are rare”.
It is $35 to join the library and get a card. We get $10 of that back when we leave IF we return the books within two weeks, and “Don’t forget to bring your card when you come”.
That day, it was a fairly busy place with stuff everywhere, books for sale, crafts for sale, books for free and all ages poking about even though it was now thirty minutes passed closing time. No one seemed in a dither. We crammed the books under our scooter seat and headed back to Sunrise Beach Bungalows in a sprinkle, which turned to stinging rain and then five miles of a Royal Soaking—from the skies and the library and the Drums of our Forefathers show (more on that later)
Two weeks later we returned our books on the proper due date stamped on the little white lined sheet in the back of the book. Rain from a tropical depression (which became Cyclone Garry) was dropping on the island in violent squalls.
Ms Voss, the blonde frizzy headed librarian nodded in acknowlegement of my arrival, pointed to where one returns books. I go look in fiction Mel for Moby Dick. Not there, go up and ask, she rattles off 822 Great American works. Don’t find it—even had trouble finding the 800’s. Go back again and she directs me to the hidden card catalogue down one of the very very narrow aisles between book shelves. Not under Moby Dick in Titles. Ah, it is in Melville in titles and it is 813. Anyone who asks her a question about location she rattles off the Dewey decimal system number. I looked through the Arts and Crafts of the Cook Island and drew a few designs. I checked out Somerset Maugham’s Short Stories as well as Moby Dick. Meanwhile a young man has come into the library to prepare for Cyclone Garry. This he did by laying black plastic over the “rare books you cannot check out”. He moved objects on top of the book shelves and laid the outside signs down on the floor. The library radio was on with nice little island songs when the announcer came on and said “This f***ing weather is no good. We need more music and started another tune going” The little library with the little books with little printed words was closing at noon as I went out in the stinging rain with the whole world in my little plastic bag.