Out Of Season

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This was, says Harris, the finest Royal Naval dockyard in the Western Hemisphere; today it is the only one. Not only does it hold the splendid Maritime Museum, but with its good shops, restaurants, and galleries, it hopes to attract people who may find naval history less than compelling but have a dollar to spend. Harris clearly can’t conceive that anyone might lack the historical gene, and he regularly castigates government agencies in word and print for not doing enough to maintain Bermuda’s treasures. The town of St. George’s and the forts that ring Bermuda are, he says, all that survive of the first period of English settlement in the New World. “Anything built in America that early was made from timber and is gone,” he says, leaving St. George’s with “probably the largest collection of early historic houses and commercial buildings of any of its competitors in North America.” Officialdom simply doesn’t understand what a boost to tourism these treasures could be if they were well preserved and researched, and their story better told.

Very likely most visitors still want Bermuda to hold on to that long-lived poster image of pink sand beaches and championship golf courses wrapped in the brilliant colors of the tropics. But the real world is getting harder to keep at bay, and a week’s reading of the venerable Royal Gazette reveals all the problems with drugs and crime (albeit on a much smaller scale) that tourists thought they left at home. After a half-dozen admittedly brief trips here, it’s coming clear to me that Bermuda’s particular charm lies in the very real tension between the fantasy paradise that the tourist establishment has successfully marketed for more than a hundred years and the island’s authentic historical past.

—Carla Davidson TO PLAN A TRIP