Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson

24 September 2013

A little known fact:  Robert Louis Stevenson, author of "Kidnapped" and "Treasure Island," (and of course "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde") a man who set a novel in the British Virgin Islands, moved to Samoa for the last four and a half years of his life.  Built a huge house.  Died in Samoa.  And is buried there.

The huge house was used by the Samoan head of state, by various individuals, the goods were sold off, and as is the way of many homes such as this, once owned by venerated artists, the building eventually was given to the nation of Samoa to be used as a museum honouring the memory and achievements of Robert Louis Stevenson.

The home stands on a large flat tract on a hill overlooking Apia and the harbor - it's a huge sprawling house made of imported timber (one wonders why, but so it is).  The museum is now furnished with some retrieved items that originally belonged to the Stevenson family, but also reproductions and other household items similar to those used.

Most impressive (to me):  A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson painted by John Singer Sargent.  Yes, THAT John Singer Sargent!!!

Apparently RLS was very friendly to the Samoan people, visiting rebel chiefs who were in jail for defying the German colonists, and making friends among the Samoan population rather than the Germans.  And for this, he is much loved by the Samoan people, to this day.

His grave is further up the mountain.  Our new friend Sandy, a writer from Montana who just happened to be staying at our B&B (though we saw her in passing in American Samoa), went with us to visit the RLS home, and she and I decided to try hiking up to the grave.  Despite the fact that it was closing in on noon, and we only had a partial bottle of water each.

We hiked uphill.  We climbed up steps made of board and gravel.  We clambered over fallen trees and jumbled rocks.  We continued on the narrow path as it climbed more and more steeply uphill, with frequent breaks to see the view, catch our breath, have a sip of water, cool our steaming faces.

And then, when it looked as if we were nearly to the top, the narrow path turned into a steep almost vertical ascent with a knotted rope to drag oneself up the dirt and gravel.  A little further along was the remains of a landslide, whether from Cyclone Evan in December or the more recent rains, we didn't know.

And that was it.  Steep ascent over mud and dirt?  Hand over hand on a rope?  Climbing over a landslide?

We decided that was our breaking point, and we turned around and hiked down.  Yes, we maybe could have made it - but we knew the hike down wouldn't be without some effort. Yes, we were probably some 400 meters to the grave.  But was it really worth killing ourselves over?  No.

So we had a decent hike down, with occasional spots of steadying one another over rocks, or going over a steep spot on our tushes.  We tried, we had a good hike, we saw great views, and we decided that discretion truly is the better part of valour.


Stevenson requested that his 'Requiem' inscribed on his tomb:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

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