John McCaslin

Escaping Washington politics is becoming increasingly difficult these days.

I made one such attempt a decade ago when Newt Gingrich and his able assistant, Tony Blankley (now editorial-page editor of The Washington Times), ruled the roost on Capitol Hill.

Seeking seclusion, I traveled by fishing trawler to a tiny cay in the Aland archipelago, about 100 miles off the Finnish coast in the Gulf of Bothnia. Anxiously awaiting my arrival at the dock were the island's sole inhabitants: a fisherman and his family. Introductions made, the fisherman led me to a nearby net house, where amid the weathered tools of his trade, he produced a chilled bottle of schnapps.

"So," he said, offering a toast in surprisingly good English, "you're a newspaperman from Washington, D.C. Do you know Tony Blankley?"

As I struggled to close my jaw, he explained that his sister was nanny to Blankley's children. In fact, he and his family had been guests of the Blankleys the previous summer.

Similarly weary after writing about eight years of Bill Clinton's presidency, I decided there was no better place to retreat than to the end of the earth - more precisely the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. And who should be standing in line behind me, awaiting his turn to sign the guest book at the Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town, but the former commander in chief himself, accompanied by a small Hollywood contingent.

Now, if you will, fast forward to this past pre-Thanksgiving weekend. In terms of proximity to the East Coast, there are few better places to slip away from reality - or so I'd hoped - than the sparsely populated "Out Islands" of the Bahamas. My itinerary took me to Great Abaco, and from there, Green Turtle Cay and Elbow Cay.

My first stop was deep in the marshland of Abaco and the home of 71-year-old Nettie Symonette, an extremely spiritual black woman well-known throughout the Bahamas. Nettie, who stands six feet tall, had sought me out, hoping I would make a delivery on her behalf to a particular person in Washington: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"All I want to do these days, when I should be dying, is painting and writing," she explains, serving up freshly baked johnnycake ("It's good for your soul," she insists.) and "Bush Tea," brewed with fever grass.

"Until recently, I couldn't paint a banana," she reveals. "Then, six months ago, a voice came to me in the night, whispered in my ear - 'It's in a name, it's in a name.' So, I began painting all of these names."


John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on Townhall.com and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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