James B. Rieley has undoubtedly had an impressive business career as senior advisor to CEOs of multinational companies and bigwigs in tall towers, whilst also being President of a successful manufacturing company for more than two decades. What I love though is that being in such a position has afforded him the opportunity to change his life and do what so many are afraid of, to seek freedom on the salty cristiline seas of the Mediterannean and Caribbean. Away went the sharp suits and fast paced living, and instead, James, who still consults for leaders of industry to this day, decided that that wasn’t the life for him any more and chose the distinctly more laid back uniform of shorts, t-shirts and barefoot living.
Living on Rocks is James’ memoir of the last 20 odd years and are an absolute pleasure to read. For anyone who has attempted to live on one of those rocks (and if you are reading this then I would say the chances are pretty high) you will immediately feel at home in his anecdotes and stories. From the various foiled attempts of getting anything done within a specific time frame and the resultant effect ones generally laid back personality, to being constantly flummoxed by siesta and August and all things, frankly, Mallorca.
Alongside these humorous tales of mild frustration that we know all too well, are the stories about why he, and you and I, stay here. The kindness and acceptance of the people who also inhabit these rocks alongside us, whether they be locals, expats, tourists or the influx of friends and family who arrive on our gilded islands every year. That feeling of sheer satisfaction when you get a new word correct in a sentence structure that is teetering on the Spanish side of Spanglish. It’s that wonderful realisation that at some point you are not just being tolerated, but you are being invited into the fold, that you belong. The joy with which James recounts these tales, originally written as a blog for those very friends and family with whom he has shared a lifetime of adventure, is truly inspiring. If I didn’t already live in Mallorca I’d have been about two chapters in before logging on to Skyscanner and booking a one way ticket. I may still rock up on his doorstep in Jolly Harbour!
The book is full of colour and light and laughter, though it is also touched by a truthful loneliness which I think we can all associate with as well. No matter how many people we inhabit these mountains in the sea with, there are times when you can feel isolated and a little lost. It is maybe from writing these original posts that James was able to stay connected, even when that connection was remote. For anyone experiencing this I strongly recommend dipping into Living on Rocks as you’ll realise that your story has and is being lived over and over again and that there is always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or perhaps some hidden treasure where X marks the spot on a tropical island is more appropriate. Let James pull you up, dust you off and make you smile.
Probably the most haunting chapter is the one on Hurricane Irma. I first read it two years ago just after the event as it was printed in this very magazine and I remember thinking at the time that it read like an action movie. The only reason I was able to breathe whilst reading it was the fact that I was safe in the knowledge that the person who experienced it was recounting the tale firsthand and had therefore thankfully survived. I can only live vicariously through James’ writing of the event, but it was absolutely terrifying and heartbreaking. But much like James’ memoir it is a story that is forever reaching to the sun and the happy ending that it deserves.
This is not a quick book to read, but when you find those secret moments, with the sun on your face, a pina colada in hand and the azure sea lapping at your toes, sit back, relax and dip back in to see where the journey goes next. For anyone who has experienced island life and living aboard a boat, or needs inspiring to do so, this is a must read. It will make you laugh and cry, but most importantly it will make you smile.
Living on Rocks – A memoir of Sangria and Cyclones by James B Rieley is available on Amazon for actual real physical books, or to download on your Kindle.