Commentary

Islands

If you're like me, your screensaver is a deserted island with three palm trees surrounded by gorgeous blue water. You stare at it--longingly--and think: if only. In truth, I'd be having e-mail withdrawal within five hours and by day two, my mouse hand would begin twitching. Nature is glorious, but for urban cynics with feet planted firmly on concrete, it usually exists in the landscape of our dreams. Islands turns those watery fantasies into reality--at least the print variety. Until I chuck my beloved rat race, I'll keep Islands tucked under my pillow. Each night, I will peruse its lush photography and offers of a lobster barbecue on a private motu in Bora-Bora and, like James Thurber's Walter Mitty, dream on.

Happily, when I do rouse myself, I won't have far to go. There are four summer escapes, dubbed an "American Paradise," that look inviting. Also, "7 Reasons To Go To Grenada." Here's two: The subway in 90-degree weather. Times Square any time. So shut the door, put your feet up, mix a rum cocktail--tiny umbrellas optional--and gaze, via Islands, at the Earth's wonders. True, I may never get to the South Pacific, because if I have to fly coach, what's the point? It will take 12 hours just to straighten my legs. For now, I'm content to let my fingers do the walking: I'll just turn the pages.

Let's begin with "Seven (or so) Sins on the Isle of Spice." I didn't even know there was an isle of spice--a lacuna in my education. And guess what? It's got a rainforest and a chocolate factory, the only one operating on solar power. I'm talking about Grenada, the island Ronald Reagan invaded while our medical students were surfing. Here, waterfalls cleave to mountainous interiors, calypso rules and tourists go "liming," Grenadian for hanging out. Experience the sin of sloth on GrandAnseBeach, white sand, palm trees, turquoise water and no crowds. After all, part of any island getaway, Manhattan excepted, is the assurance of solitude. But once you're in tourist mode, visit the island province of Carriacou and look for dolphins.

Many of the stories are first-person accounts, like one about soaking in Iceland's Blue Lagoon on the summer solstice. The "milky blue waters" are 100 degrees--and the mushy mud bottom doubles as silica-rich facial clay. It may be a fountain of youth to Icelanders, who have an average life expectancy of 80--but lounging in an outdoor sauna with strangers? I'll sacrifice the extra years in AARP. One consolation: bathers imbibe the Blue Lagoon cocktail, proving that health is best served with a twist.

Yet it's not all kick back and enjoy the elements. Islands peppers its pages with interesting historic tidbits--exploring 19th-century Fort Jefferson, 70 miles from Key West, or spending a day at Ellis Island, a potent symbol of freedom for the 12 million immigrants who passed through its gates. All good stuff, but I was particularly struck by the photo spreads and story on Fiji, since the writer admits he's trying to awaken his soul. In his quest, he listens to the waves break over the coral reef and watches mynah birds march beneath coconut trees. Nights bring dinners of Yasawa lobster in pawpaw coconut sauce and a bottle of Oyster Bay Marlborough sauvignon blanc before a peaceful sleep at the Tokoriki Island Resort. Rates from $457, so start saving. Paradise is pricey.

For closer pleasures, wander the streets of Mackinac Island, Mich., where cars are barred and no less than five fudge makers compete for business in this Victorian-styled town. Transport is via bike or horse-drawn carriage. The latter, I'll bet, is in big demand after the fudge fest.

My guess is that many Islands subscribers don't actually visit the places profiled. Rather, it serves as a form of literary therapy. It's a way to escape your workaday world, especially if you can't afford two weeks in an exclusive villa in the Virgin Islands. Listening to a CD that celebrates the sounds of the rainforest while munching on apartment-grilled scampi isn't a moonlight luau in Hawaii, but it's a start. Just sip your wine cooler and check out page 89, French Polynesia. And, as the Zen masters would say, be in the moment.

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