Friday, December 15, 2006

Taking a Holiday Hiatus

See you all soon........

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rasta Boy - Painting in Progress- 11"x15"

This is a departure from the usual daily painting portrait. This is a much larger work in progress, based upon an earlier study posted on the blog. Now that the holiday season has descended upon me, I'll be taking a brief respite from the daily 4x6 paintings as I work on pieces for friends and family and commit more time to larger works such as this one.

I'll still be posting something fresh every weekday, but will be mixing up the material for the next couple of weeks. Don't know what the new year will bring but the daily painting blog will continue.............stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Colonel

Or is he The Kernel? Perhaps reflecting yet another opportunity for me to completely misunderstand The Big Picture.

Despite a preference for cammouflage fashion, this gentleman "farmer" is hardly the stuff of military bearing. Gentle and humble, I don't think I've heard him utter more than a few words each time we've met over the years.Excruciatingly polite. Though he does strike me as someone who could easily conduct guerrilla-style warfare if push came to shove.

He is typically not at home when we come a callin'. If anyone is in the one-room board house, they often nod up to the dense grove of palms, mango trees, avocado, and overall dense tangle of foliage, saying. "he gone a bush."

Much "hailing up" in that direction typically results in a call-and-response barrage of patois. We hear him long before we see him. Finally, the Colonel emerges from the thick greenery and descends goat-like down the last few rocky steps of the steep hillside behind his house.

A true country man of the 21st century, the Colonel wears a tattered marina slung low over his knee-length cargo shorts, casually steps barefoot over the sharp rock-stone, carrying a machete in one hand and talking into his cell phone with the other.

The Big Picture, indeed.

The Colonel
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Something was not right

The first time I met him, he was with his mother and older brother. She introduced herself as Empress Shaniqua, and presented her two young sons to me as Prince Elijah and Prince Iwon. I had to respect the attempt to present herself with great dignity, given that her clothing was sunbleached and threadbare, the princes wore no shoes, and they all lived in a small board house on a remote mountain top, without indoor plumbing.

Well, it WAS her palace and she WAS the resident Empress. And I guess every mother would call her sons "prince." It just seemed as if Empress Shaniqua took it one step further, and insisted that we all address her and the little boys with their formal titles.

When I returned a year later, the Empress was no longer in residence. Seems she was a city girl from Town who eventually came to the realization that rasta life inna country yard was not really her cup of tea, royal title or not. She took one prince, and left the younger one with the Ras.

And she cleaned out the savings account before hopping on the last minibus for Kingston.

So the Ras was left with this little Prince, who clearly had a problem.

My first thought was that the little boy had perhaps suffered some form of birth defect. But I didn't remember him looking like this the last time I'd met him. I don't think it's politically correct to say "mentally retarded" these days, but I must honestly admit that's exactly what I was thinking as I watched him move about the yard. He looked up at us with half open, heavy-lidded eyes; his jaw was slack and he tended to drool.

The Ras clearly had his hands full. As we spoke, he slowly began to talk about the Empress and what they discovered about their youngest prince. He had become progressively worse over the past year, his physical symptoms slowly worsening to the point that a formal doctor had finally been consulted. Actually, I think it took several different doctors before they pinned it down.

The diagnosis: Myesthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis, according to what I've read, is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the voluntary muscles of the body. It is typical for such muscles as those that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, chewing, talking, and swallowing to be adversely affected.The disease is most debilitating if the muscles that control breathing, the neck and limb movements are affected.

When we next visit the Ras and the little prince, I hope we'll have some information about new treatments for the disease.

And I'll remember not to judge a book by its cover, royal title or not.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Very Old Young Woman

She's only about 5 or 6, but has the face of an old soul. Shy and quiet, she moves like a little old woman about the yard. She's carrying some kind of weight I can't quite put my finger on. She always wears the same expression: hopeful, curious, worried....

We took her to the sea one day. I don't know if she'd ever been there before. She was the first in the car, but the last one in the water. The enormity of the beach and the ocean gave her pause.

My daughters helped her up on an inflatable raft, certainly her first time with such a magnificent toy. Within seconds she'd tumbled over the side and without any fuss or flailing arms, she slowly sank to the bottom, her eyes wide, looking up at the sky through the water.

"That's just how she looked, mommy," said my daughter. "She just sank like a rock, on her back, looking up at us." A little hopeful, a little curious, and undoubtledly a little worried.

A Very Old Young Woman
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Ubiquitous Marina

I'd never seen one of these before going to Jamaica. You know what I'm talking about: those cotton mesh tank tops with the deep scoop neck. More than any Name Brand, this is sufferah's uniform, a Jamaican phenomenon not even made in Jamaica.

If you're slender and not too tall, the marina will swing low over your booty, nearly engulfing your cargo shorts. Stylin. It's the shirt that's not a shirt when shirts are required.

It's cool. On several levels.

But I particularly appreciate the cool-as-a-christmas-breeze marina when it is paired with tailored woolen trousers. Or wide-wale corduroys. Top off the look with a freshly-polished pair of Clarks your sister sent you fram farrin and you're ready for the ghetto runway.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Driving While Rasta

I'd have said he was the life of the party, but that honor typically went to Peter. Instead, he was more the ever-present sidekick, the perfect foil. Laid back without being lazy, he was the first to find the humor in any situation, no matter how grim.

He was usually peering at me over some miniscule sunglasses perched on the tip of his nose, more of a nod to style than to the glaring sunlight. He'd top off his mile-long dreads with a jauntily-placed and thickly-knit woolen tam, regardless of the heat, A voice deeper than a basement, he'd patiently repeat himself for me, slowly, when the patois became too thick. Then punctuate his sentence with a slow "aaaaal-riiiight?" and a big grin.

Older, but not necessarily wiser, he struck more as an affable absent-minded professor, ragamuffin style. Hopping in the car on a moment's notice, road-trip ready, he was a self-professed expert on the runnings of 'town. He'd navigate from the backseat when we crossed the Kingston city limits.

"Go soh, go soh!", he'd shout, as we approached an intersection.

"Yah soh? or deh soh?", Peter would shout from the driver's seat, glancing over his shoulder, and uncertain as to whether to make a left or a right.

"Soh, soh, ovah soh", said The Professor.

This particular use of patois was not exceptionally helpful when driving.

"Yah soh" and "deh soh" loosely translate into "here" and "there" respectively. And the simple us of "soh" essentially leaves it up to the imagination. We came to a grinding halt as they argued about yah so vs. deh soh until The Professor finally used his finger to point to the proper choice of roadway. Peter fumed and The Professor laughed.

It's been years since I've seen The Professor. I'd had no idea his peaceful easy facade was propped up by a deep addiction. But looking at him here, without the props of style, I should have known there was more to The Professor than met my eyes.

Driving While Rasta
Ink and watercolor on paper
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

My Bodyguard

This is Antsman, one of my bodyguyards. Heh.

Well, at least I didn't realize he was one of my bodyguards until several years later. It didn't occur to me that a 30-year old woman would be assigned a 13-year old bodyguard but I see in hindsight that was the intention. He and his 14-year old cousin Zeelo, stuck to me like glue whenever Peter wasn't around.

I thought it was just because they liked me.

In retrospect, I believe they were under strict orders to:

1. Keep me company,

2. Keep me comfortable and

3. Keep the wolves away

Funny, I enjoyed them immensely and I think they really liked hanging out with me, assignment or not. We were windows into one anothers' worlds. Not too many New Yorkers set up camp in the yard for extended lengths of time, of that I am certain.

Likewise, he and Zeelo were my interpreters for all manner of "flexin'" in the yard. I got the susu and backstory on every character who passed through as well as the origin of their nicknames. They provided me with rudimentary patois lessons and were willing runners to the distant shop for a cold drink or snack -- "I'll buy, you fly" was understood. They were funny and curious and kept me from going crazy during those long, hot afternoons when "nuttin a gwan" in the yard.

Antsman was the quiet, sheepish one while Zeelo was the older, confident leader. They were an inseparable pair in those days but their paths have diverged significantly since.

I think Antsman could have used a bodyguyard of his own.................

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Yuh kinda quiet, eenh?

No, he wasn't quiet. Geritol spoke faster than any human I'd ever met.

He spoke at such a rapid speed it seemed his lips barely touched one another, the words bursting forth so fast that his own mouth could barely contain them.

We were taking my first of many bredren road trips, the rhythms of which I'd eventually come to understand and enjoy. But the very first time was like taking a test that I hadn't studied for, like landing on another planet without radio contact to Mission Control.

Houston, I've got a problem.

Peter decided he'd take me to Town. That sounds sweet, romantic even. Except that in Jamaica, when one goes to "town" it is universally understood to mean Kingston. Not exactly April in Paris. Still, I was excited about the prospect. I hadn't been anywhere in Jamaica except the seaside resort town of Negril. Well, that and the brief tour along the south coast that landed me in a rural hospital, so I was ready to get out and see more of the countryside.

First lesson: Never drive an empty unit (i.e. car)  to town

I thought it was just going to be the two of us, but as we headed out of Negril, we made several stops to pick up more passengers. According to the bredren code of ethics, one must always squeeze as many bredren as possible into The Unit. One never knows when a Unit will be available for the next mission, so share the experience. By the time we headed out of Negril, we were five in the rental car: Peter and myself in front, and Rough, Bigga Ford, and Jeremiah, aka Geritol, in the back seat.

Lesson Two: Don't ask what the plan is

I was the kinda control freak who liked to hit the road with a precise destination in mind, a map in the glove compartment, and perhaps some snacks on board. The only info I could glean from Peter was that we were heading toTown, and that I should "jess chill, relax, jess enjoy the drive."

Within minutes, the bredren had begun to talk loudly in the most rapid-fire, inscrutable language I'd ever heard. And Geritol was the fastest and the loudest, punctuating his comments with deep bellowing laughter. Minutes stretched into an hour, and I hadn't a clue what anyone was talking about.

I suddenly began to rethink my decision to agree to take this trip.

The patois was so thick, so indecipherable, they might as well have been speaking Greek. And even in Greek, I'd could at least have understood the occasional "souvlaki" or "ouzo", but this, well this was impossible. Even more frustrating, they were seemingly having the time of their lives. One would fire off an apparently pithy comment and the rest would bust out laughing; I never got the joke. I began to wonder if I WAS the joke. Paranoia set in.

Here I was, on the road to who-knew-where exactly? And to do what? Nobody would say exactly. Not that I would have understood even if they had told me. I started to get incredibly homesick, and felt horribly alone.

Peter must have sensed it because he finally tapped my shoulder and said, in English, "Yuh kinda quiet, eeeh? Yuh alright?"

"I can't understand a DAMN thing anyone is saying," I fumed. "Can't you guys just talk in English?"

Well that just made them all laugh even harder. And they lapsed right back into the patois. But Peter made sure I got food and drinks, pointed out sights to me (in English) and made certain to occasionally ask "yuh alright, Veek-toddya?"

So I made that journey as an observer, rather than an active participant. And I saw more on that 12-hour road trip than most visitors see in a week.

Lesson Three: For all control freaks, "jess sit back an' enjoy the ride"

Yuh Kinda Quiet, Eenh?
Ink and watercolor oen paper
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Some like it ROUGH

Or shall I call him Courtney? In hindsight, that name seems downright ridiculous. He will always be "Rough."

I can't recall if I met Rough during that tumultuous Accidental Weekend but odds are that he was drifting in and out of that experience, well below my radar, somewhere in the background.

Rough eventually became a constant fixture on my Jamaican landscape.

Rough could sleep on a two-by-four propped up on two piles of bricks. And if he tumbled off during the night, he'd drop asleep again before the dust settled. Man need fi sleep, so 'im jess sleep.

He once rode as the passenger on the back of a Ninja, as Peter drove them like one lightnin' ball from Westmoreland to Kingston, with speeds reaching above 120 mph. Big deal, you say? Mebbe so, but Rough would ride upon the back of that bike, lean his head gingerly against Peter's back and quickly fall fast asleep. Man need fi sleep, so 'im jess sleep, even at over 100 miles per hour.

But I remember that Rough liked his ladies soft. The bredren would chide him, tell him to clean himself up if he wanted to find a nice 'ooman. They'd scoff, "yuh frownsey, mon, yuh greeen an yuh need fi go bade" and hurl soap at him. But he didn't seem to lack for the ladies' attentions, particularly the full-figured women. Rough liked his ladies "mampey-sized". He couldn't have been much more than 5 foot 5 himself,  small in stature, but he loved those ladies who tipped the scales at well over 250 pounds.

I remember driving through Mobay with Rough in the back seat, the windows rolled down, of course, and listening to his commentary on the various ladies we passed. He suddenly leaped up and leaned half-way out the window, shouting "Heeeey, MY-Size!" to an enormous woman who was slowly strolling along the shoulder of the road. They grinned at one another and she waved at him as we sped off.

He eventually made it to the States. The paperwork was a bit shady, in typical Rough fashion, but it got him here. He had a baby mother and young daughter in Canada and hoped to work his way northward and settle down. Ahh, we thought, but he was still Rough. How would America treat him, and how would his rough ways serve him so far away from home?

Sadly, not too well.

Rough was stabbed to death in a San Francisco coffee shop.

There will always be someone else who is tougher than tough, rougher than rough.

Some Like It Rough
Ink and watercolor on paper
Print available here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

There's a new Sheriff in Town

This is Reggie. And it wasn't really his fault that my leg was shattered.

Well, at least for about a dozen years I thought his name was Reggie. Turns out his name is Cleveland. I guess if you are a young man growing up in rural Jamaica, you are as anxious to shed the name "Cleveland" as you are to shed your status as a likkle bwoy.

Cleveland became Reggie after repeated bredren viewings of "48 Hours", wherein Eddie Murphy, aka Reggie Hammond, announces the aforementioned sheriff line. I didn't learn this bit of history until many years later, when addressing a piece of mail and was laughed out of the room when I wrote "Reggie" on the envelope. It wouldn't be the first time I mistook a nickname for the real thing.


It was Reggie who was riding on a motorcycle in front of ours, his spiky short dreads held in place by a bright red beret. What is it with these guys and berets? I thought it hysterically funny that in the late 80s to early 90s, a stretched-beyond-recognition beret was a common choice of rasta headgear.

And the red beret, much like that infamous red balloon of classic French cinema, went sailing past us as we cruised into Whitehouse, just beyond Bluefields, on the south coast of Jamaica. Ever thoughtful, I tapped Peter's shoulder and signaled that we should turn back and collect Reggie's chapeau. We slowed and began a u-turn into the other lane.

In so doing, we were hit broadside.

Peter saw the oncoming car and leaped from the bike, later remarking, "Mi jump fram di bike but me look back and see yuh still 'pon it", referring to me, the passenger, and shaking his head in wonder. Well I wasn't "pon it" for very long. I shot into the air and had enough time to contemplate whether or not the absence of a helmet was going to be a problem.

You see, the car behind us chose that precise moment to overtake our bike and as they say in Jamaica, don't be an overtaker, or you'll soon meet the undertaker. And here we were jus the u-turn-maker. I hit the ground after what seemed like an eternity in the air, and landed foot first, to the sound of several loud Ca-RACK,CA-RACK,CA-RACKs, then landed on my backside, and finally, felt my head drop back onto the asphalt.

I immediately sat upright and grabbed hold of my skull to make certain it was intact. Skull in one piece? Check! My right leg, however, had a sickening, snakey curve that I knew was not quite right. The audio soundtrack of the previous 30 seconds gave me my first clue.


I guess it wasn't really Reggie's fault. I guess it was my own. And that's how I ended up flat on my back in the women's surgical ward in Sav La Mar hospital.

I met a cast of characters that fateful weekend, a cast that continues to grow and expand, move on and pass away. The Sheriff is no longer in town, but he still lays down the law in a new corner of the world.

I hope we'll see him again real soon. Sans chapeau.

New Sheriff in Town
Ink and watercolor on paper
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Meeting Miss Una

I checked myself out of the Black River clinic against the advice of the sole doctor in attendance. They had no x-ray equipment and no plans for treating me that day so I wanted out and I wanted to get to an actual hospital.

Or so I thought.

No ambulance service was available so Peter hailed down a local driver who insisted on the incredibly acceptable amount of $5 U.S. to transport me to the hospital in Savanna La Mar, some 40 minutes away. I had a makeshift splint on my leg, a shot of demerol, and delictately-split designer jeans, so we were off. Before we were allowed to depart, the nurse insisted on a $3 U.S. payment for services rendered. Done.

The hospital in Sav was not what I expected. I was wheeled in on a gurney, along a sidewalk lined with what seemed like hundreds of people, all ages and sizes, and all curiously interested in the white woman being wheeled past to the ER entrance. I guess it is human nature to stare down into the face of someone on a gurney as they pass, but it is downright bizarre to be on the receiving end, with stranger after stranger just staring you in the face.

After a long wait, various questions and inspections, I was admitted to the women's surgical ward and ascended to the 2nd floor in a rickety freight elevator. I was to spend the night; there were no x-ray technicians on duty on a Sunday so I would have to wait until morning to get a diagnosis for my shattered right leg.

The ward was large and full, with nearly 50 women occupying the narrow beds. An aisle ran down the center of the building, and there were several clusters of 4 beds on either side, broken up by low dividers. The walls were a bright, gaudy turquoise blue. The windows were not windows at all, but slatted wooden shutters, open to the outside, without screens. Remind me to tell you of the bird which flew in one side and out the other, the next morning.

I saw the bed reserved for me, but it had no sheets. It seems we had to provide our own. As I lay on the gurney by the nurses' station, a cockroach crawled along the guardrail. Hmmm. I wasn't certain that I had improved my situation.

Peter had disappeared briefly after I was admitted and suddenly re-appeared, bearing in one hand a small plastic bag filled with peeled oranges and cut-up pineapple and in the other, a small neat suitcase. Behind him stood a tiny, older woman with a cluster of short braids peeking out from under a turned-backward baseball cap. She wore a delicately flowered short-sleeved shirt, and a dark cotton skirt which hung below her knees. I couldn't see her feet.

"This is my mother."

Oh my. I offered my hand and introduced myself. And she shook it with a shy smile. I was surprised to see that although she had most of her teeth, several were black and rotting. A few had long gone. But Miss Una had packed me some sheets and proceeded to help make my bed. After the orderlies gently moved me from the gurney, I made room for Miss Una to sit near my feet. She gently smoothed the sheets but didn't speak much, except for a single word or two, and only when Debbie or I spoke to her.

Under the circumstances, small talk was virtually impossible. She was inscrutable. I offered her one of the oranges Peter had brought me. We both chomped away on them, it was a good alternative to conversation.

Meeting Miss Una
Ink and watercolor on paper
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Debbie and The Accident

I may have followed Isabel's nose to Jamaica, but it was Debbie who was by my side when I was hit by the car near the border of Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth parish.

As we pulled into the clinic at Black River, I remember seeing a hand-lettered sign that read "Emergency Service only on Saturdays and Sundays." It being Sunday, I guess we were in luck. Sort of.

It seemed like hours passed before I was wheeled out of the loading dock admitting area and into an actual operating room. The place felt ancient. The tiled walls were a pale, institutional blue; there were two Ben-Casey-era overhead lights, like octagonal space ships, each with 6 separate bulbs, hanging overhead. There was a plaque in the wall with a nozzle, and the word "oxygen" engraved above it. I had a hard time imagining any kind of actual surgery taking place in this room.

The nurse was very calm. Almost disinterested. She didn't want Debbie to stay with me, but we insisted. She also refused our request for ice, basic first aid, and said simply, "wait fi de doktah." So Debbie asked for a glass of ice water instead. And dutifully plucked the ice from the mug to place upon my injuries.

The nurse asked if she could cut open my jeans. Jeezus. I had to be wearing the expensive jeans. "Can't I just slip them off, ma'am?" I asked.

"No miss, bettah if mi jess cut dem." And she carefully cut apart the seam threads with a razor, making certain not to damage the denim itself. That gives you some idea of how much time we had on our hands until a doctor arrived. Not to mention the thrifty nature of a Jamaican who knew an expensive pair of jeans when she saw them. If they were HER jeans, she'd want them spared. She slit those jeans from ankle to hip, stitch by stitch, gradually spreading apart the leg of my pants.

I think Debbie was afraid to look.

I asked her, "How, how bad is it? What's it look like?"

She glanced down at my leg and then looked at me, blinked once and said, "It's not so bad. Really. Not so bad. I think maybe your ankle might be broken, but really, not so bad."

That's why Debbie is my best friend. She'll tell you the truth when you really need to hear it.

And lie like no tomorrow when you don't.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Where do I begin with Isabel?

Well, with her nose, of course.

Isabel has a spectacularly curvaceous and voluptuous nose. You've heard of a woman's figure being described as Reubenesque? Well, Isabel's nose was, indeed, Reubenesque. She is petite, with dark luminous eyes, thick wavy black hair, a mischievous smile, and all of her features dance around the sensuous, powerful anchor in the center of her face. I cannot imagine her without it.

Her mother offered --no, I guess "highly encouraged her", would be more accurate, to "fix" it when she was a teenager. Isabel was horrified at the thought. Noses were being bobbed or shaved in every corner of her affluent New England community, but this one, Isabel decreed, would not be among them.

For as Isabel saw it, if an adolescent girl chooses to take a scalpel to her face, perhaps it is not her nose that is in need of repair.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Anke, one of the von Trapps

No. Not really.

But those beautiful young German women all look like a grown-up version of those sound-of-music kids. Sleek and chic, a bit chilly in her demeanor, but not unkind. We'd arrived on her doorstep, thanks to Fritz, and she looked at us with an aloof curiosity, if that makes any sense. Not bothered by our arrival but not exactly delighted. I don't blame her. I expect she was accustomed to her roommates inviting all sorts of strays into their home at a moment's notice. Still, she could have shut the door to her room and said "Gute Nacht" and be done with us. Which is what I probably would have felt like doing.

I'd like to think the flowers and wine helped smooth the transition of our role from strangers-on-the-phone to house guests. And the next morning, Anke made us cups of piping hot herbal tea, and then sliced thick slabs of a delicous, dark, German bread for toast, slathered with butter and jam. She was charming and sweet.

And I adored the luscious silk scarves she and her best friend used to accessorize their thrift-shop outfits each day. One day a cobalt blue, the next a deep chocolate brown, and the next a dreamy emerald green. I took note. To this day, I know my winter ensemble is not complte without the appropriate smashing swath of color draped about my neck.........

Danke, Anke.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

When in Berlin, call Fritz

Well, no. We didn't call Fritz. We called Andreas.

Andreas was an acquaintance of my friend, Joan. Joan had met Andreas briefly a few years hence when they crossed paths somewhere in Eastern Europe. Joan had provided me with Andreas' number should we run into any difficulty in Berlin.

"He's cool. He'll hook you up. Mention my name." Of course, that's all I needed.

So we arrive in Berlin, just months after the first chunks of the wall between East and West had begun to crumble. Literally. I have pieces of it stashed in my closet with my winter boots.

And since we'd arrived in the middle of the Amazon at 3am without a reservation, we figured we certainly could do the same in Germany. Berlin would be a cakewalk.

Yeah. Well that's what some of Bush's generals said about Iraq -- "cakewalk."

Anyway. So.

We slowly discover there is not a room to be had in West Berlin because every journalist/carpetbagger/adventure traveler worth their salt was in town for the events which were unfolding daily. We were S.O.L. So I dug deep into my backpack and pulled up Andreas' telephone number and headed for a pay phone.

And Fritz answered my call.

He was one of Andreas' roommates and no, he said, Andreas was not home. Andreas was traveling and would be gone for a few weeks, perhaps a month. Crap. I explained who we were, and how we had obtained Andreas' number and the spot in which we had unexpectedly found ourselves. The closest place with a vacancy was nearly two hours out of the city. We were only in Berlin for 5 days and were hoping we could find a central place to crash, the cheaper the better. Did he have any recommendations?

"Hmmm", said Fritz, "Let me teenk". He paused. "Call me bock und fife meen-utes."

I thanked him, hung up and then we stood, staring at our watches for ten minutes. And called him back.

"You may stay veeth us," Fritz said. "I haff talked eet oh-vair veeth my rrrrooom-mates and vee vant you to come hair." I almost peed my pants. He began to recite their address. I had no pen so I grabbed a lipstick out of my toiletry bag and began scribbling the information with "Cherries On Ice" on the remnants of my boarding pass.

"Vee vill see yooo sooon!" he said and we hung up. We bought a big bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine for our anonymous hosts, hailed Und Taxi and we were off.

I couldn't believe it. He was a roommate of a young man who was an acquaintance of a friend of mine from another country. And he invited us, sight unseen, to stay in his home with his two other roommates.

When that wall came down, I think it freed up more than a political boundary.

It was a wonderful time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


"Alyssa, what? Go on, what were you saying, what was it about NYU? Go on, what were you saying?"

She kept gazing off toward the corner of the room, smiling.

"What? Oh, sorry, I was just looking at all those shoes...... hmm......what did you say?"

That just struck me as hilariously funny.

As many of my fellow NYC dwellers do, we ask that visitors take off their shoes when they arrive at our apartment. The streets are filled with all sorts of unmentionable this-and-that and you can keep a much cleaner house if the Outside Shoes are left at the door.

Some folks are quite the fascists when it comes to street shoes while others --- not so much. The former gives the ardent purveyor of footwear quite the visual banquet upon entering a busy household.

Alyssa was lost in thought at our collection of flip flops, sneakers, leather boots, and Clarks. So much so, that she forgot what we were talking about as she entered our apartment. I had to snap my fingers a few times to get her back. Stay with me, Alyssa.

Here's a question for you --- how old is Alyssa? Don't let the painting fool you........

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lovely Rita

We had a party in NYC to celebrate our journey through South America. I included in each invitation a beaded necklace, from which hung a plum-sized, varnished piranha head, jaws opened wide.

Who could resist?

Rita came, the most beautiful woman at the party. Aaahh, why did I capture her in the least flattering pose, looking straight up her nostrils? She'd had enough partying. The blow-gun contests, the thick black Brazilian Xingu beer and a couple of caiparinhas got the best of Rita.

She flopped on a bed, amidst the pile of all our guests' heavy winter coats and, as usual, struck a glamorous pose.

Girl can't help it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The last in the chair, at the end of the day

And I think this concludes the Amazon series for a while........

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Domino theory in action

Caroline just won those girls over, braid by braid. No sooner was one little girl sauntering through the bush with her new from-foreign-hair-do, then the next sister had plunked herself down on the stool for her turn.

Nary a word was spoken. At least nary a word that could be understood.

But really, what needed to be said?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Have comb, will travel

Caroline took time with each of the girls, from youngest to oldest.

Except of course for the surly, sultry teenager.

But the little girls... what more can you say? They fall in love with you so easily.

Have Comb, Will Travel
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The way to a girl's heart...

--- is often through her hair. Just ask any woman who's suffering through a bad hair day.

We were a group of 6 in all:

Myself and my friend, Ali

A married couple from Swizterland, Ursula and Jorg, who spoke very little English and so were just as isolated from the rest of our tourist group as they were from our Brazilian hosts

A twenty-something single woman from England, Alexandra, also known as Ali (source of some confusion), who'd been traveling solo for nearly 5 months

And a pair of twenty-something single women from New Zealand, Caroline and Fiona. They'd been away from home for nearly two and a half years. They alternated between working in whatever country they happened to be in at the moment and then shooting off on a traveling adventure. They'd just arrived in Brazil after living and working odd jobs for five weeks in Venezuela.

And it was the evervescent Caroline who warmed up the girl children in our host home. She whipped our her comb, brush and some colorful hair elastics and was an immediate superstar.

Solange is delighted with the french braid Caroline meticulously created for her.

No, really. I know she's not grinning from ear-to-ear, but, well, I don't think that she grinned form ear-to-ear very often.

She was shy and slow to smile, but delighted nonetheless.........

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mixed Reviews

Delight coupled with trepidation.

Hmmmm - this was better than the outright disdain of their older sister.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Amazon Adolescent

Despite the warm welcome from The Old Man, not everyone was delighted to have us as their guests.

Sullen and sultry, this 16-year old daughter of the family was less-than-pleased to have yet another noisy gang of foreigners descend on her home. It meant money for the family, yes, but it also meant more dirty floors to sweep, more meals to prepare in the outdoor kitchen and more dirty dishes to wash at the riverside.

And you know how teenage girls feel about housework.

She gave us the once-over as we clambered up on the verandah of their home, and then turned her gaze back across the lagoon from whence we'd come, stealing a few more private minutes to herself.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Cable Knit Sweater in the Tropics

Our plane landed in Manaus at 3:30am and we had neither a plan nor a reservation. A dog-eared guidebook and a little faith in the local taxi driver can make up for the lack of a meticulous itinerary. A 20-minute cab ride to downtown Manaus cost us about $8 US, and we were delivered to the door of the Pensao Sulista.

We woke up the young desk clerk -- well, I guess you'd call him the desk clerk. He was shirtless, and sleeping in a hammock in the cramped lobby. He showed us one of the two rooms available, it had AC, no private bath, and 4 twin beds. Although there were only two of us, we were bleary-eyed and exhausted, so we took it, much to the relief of the desk clerk who clearly was anxious to get back to his hammock. Total cost, 80 cruzados, or about $12 US a night.

It wasn't until we'd spent a few days exploring Manaus, then making our memorable riverboat ride on the Dejard Vieira down the Amazon, that we thought it fit to finally get back into the jungle itself. Our inimitable desk clerk directed us to an independent guide, who was making a pitch to several other guests one morning in the lobby. We were invited to live with a family in the jungle, rustic but comfortable accommodations, all meals, transportation, daily excursions, hikes, fishing in the jungle, all for $30US per person per day, 5 to 10-days tours available.

We didn't hesitate; we put our money down.

And this kindly gentleman was to be our host. We didn't meet him until the next day, after a long, worrisome journey beyond the city limits. We traveled first by boat, then by a local bus which brought us to another boat, which motored across lagoons and tributaries before we pulled up to the shore in front of a wooden structure on stilts.

The owner of the home, this man with the gentle eyes, invited us in to his humble home. He wore this soft, orange cable-knit sweater most days, which struck me as just a preposterous sartorial choice for living in the jungle. I don't recall his name; our guide simply referred to him as The Old Man..........

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Merlene and the Machete

Bamboo grows so quickly, I've been told, you can almost see it pushing up through the sand. Or dirt. Or just about wherever you choose to plant it. And with a two-month stay at Jamaica's Whistling Bird stretching out before us, we thought we'd see the clump of new stumpy bamboo stalks sprouting along the path from our cottage to the beach, soon stretch way above our heads.

Our three-year old was the perfect height to measure a stalk of new bamboo. At Jim's suggestion, we lined her back-to-back with a recent sprout, which was just about ear-height. Snap a few photos now, he'd advised, and then at the end of our stay take another and compare the miracle of tropical flora. There were several looming tree-like bamboo stalks already swaying high up in the ocean breeze, and just a handful of new growth bursting forth to join them.

Line up, 'farii. Kick off your sandals, back up to the stalk and smile at the camera. We snapped away. Of course this was a pre-digital-camera journey, so we would have to wait for the film to be developed at home to witness our natural miracle. Each day we'd give the stalk a glance and do a mental review of where it may have been and how much it might have grown. We thought we might just take a new photo every week, we couldn't wait two months. How cool to watch it spurt up every 7 days, presuming of course that our daughter's summer growth would lag considerably behind?

But Merlene had other plans.

This is the face of the sweet, quiet, demure and always-just-barely-smiling Merlene. Dancing eyes, she has. Quiet, she would walk up behind you and rest one hand gently on your shoulder while casually placing a handful of ginneps or a fresh mango into your lap with the other. Then she'd just smile, gliding off, barely speaking.

And Merlene wields a machete with the same aplomb as your average American woman wields her lipstick.

Yes. You see where I am going this this, no?

We took our usual walk along the path to the beach one morning and were stunned to see all the new stumpy bamboo stalks, including our precious Summer Growing Friend, all laying in tattered bright green shreds. Just the grown-up bamboo, no infants to be found.

Unaware of our rather dorky Tourist Science Project, Merlene had just been doing her job. Keeping the place tidy. "Yuh mus hole dung de bush, seen?" For the "bush" unchopped on a regular basis, is the "bush" run amok.

Merlene and the Machete became our summer story, rather the Miracle of Mother Nature.

It's a better story.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Window to the Rainforest

I'm still working up my notes on the brief time we spent living with a family in the Amazon, several hours inland from Manaus. I want to get it right so for tonight, just a picture of the women of the family, checking us out as we pulled up in the dug out canoe.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Meeting of the waters, meeting of the blood

Just before we arrived at our destination of Santarem by the riverboat Dejard Vieira, we saw a spectacular natural phenomenon, known as The Meeting of the Waters.

There is the giant merging of the Rio Negro with The Amazon (aka The Solimoes), just 6 miles or so beyond Manaus but I expect we may have missed seeing it as we pushed out from the dock in Manaus after dark. But as we approached Santarem two days later, we saw the hauntingly beautiful mixing of the Tapajos River into the Solimoes. The Tapajos is an extraordinarily blue aquamarine while The Amazon here is a sandy brown.

And when the Tapajos tributary flows into the master river, the two typically do not mix, but rather run along, side by side for quite some time. There is a stark, striking differentiation between the two, visible as you lean over the side of the boat and look straight down into the water. It is almost impossible to believe what you are seeing, like oil and water in a salad dressing cruet, remarkably sliding against one another, without mixing.

And of course that is an apt metaphor for the people we met in Brazil, like this child on the riverboat. While in Rio, we saw Latin features nestled within African profiles, or in Manaus, the swimming of European features in the face of an indigenous Indian tribe -- and vice versa. Regardless of the sources, the features live stunningly side by side, creating a spectacular beauty of their own.

Meeting of the Waters, Meeting of the Blood
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

No cable in the jungle; we are the entertainment

No matter how many times Mother called, she stared at us. Who needs tv; American tourists in the flesh can't be beat. So she looked, just as we looked at her. And then she posed. And finally smiled..........

No Cable In The Jungle
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Manioc and Malaria

I became addicted to "farofa", during my stay in Amazonas. It is derived from manioc (man-YOCK), or the cassava, a tuber root which is a plentiful crop in the Amazon jungle. This gentleman is a manioc farmer, a purveyor of farofa.

It is said that the cassava/manioc root gives the highest yield of food energy per cultivated area per day among crop plants, with the exception, perhaps, of sugarcane. A gift of the tropics.

Whether eating at a fine restaurant in Manaus, or at the humble table of a rural family, miles-deep into the jungle, a bowl of farofa sat on our table. It had the consistency of a coarsely grated, yet crunchy, parmesan cheese.

But it clearly was nothing of the sort; cheese would have congealed into a greasy, lumpy mass in that climate. Our farofa was always crunchy and firm. We sprinkled it freely upon our rice and beans, stews or soups or whatever else on our plates that called its name. It provided a distinct firm contrast to its food host.

But as this gentleman farmer advised us, you cannot consume manioc raw, as it contains a poisonous element easily converted to cyanide as it ripens. Our farmer friend showed us how he, working deep in the bush, carefully processed his manioc to remove these toxins.

First, he would peel away the outer skin of the the roots, grind the remaining tuber into a flour and then repeatedly soak the flour in water, using long, hand-carved wooden troughs filled with fresh water. He and his helpers then removed the flour from the troughs and squeezed it dry, soaked it again, squeezed it, soaked it, over and over again until all of the cyanide was, presumably, drained from the flour.

The certainty of this process gave me pause. Just how many times do you soak and squeeze? Shrug of shoulders. As many times as it takes.


Then he finally toasted the flour to a light, crunchy texture. By the time I left Brazil, I was sprinkling farofa on EVERYTHING. And brought bags of it home to New York.

This gentleman farmer lives amidst the plenty of the jungle, yet he is ashen and gaunt. Despite the abundance of his crop, which is a rich source of energy, he appears haggard and drawn. And much older than his years.

He confessed to us that he has been suffering from Malaria for quite some time, and because he lives so far away from the city, he is unable to obtain any treatment. Malaria is another plentiful by-product of life in the Amazon jungle.

Nature giveth, and nature taketh away..........

Manioc and Malaria
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Amazonas Children

Despite their mother's call to go back inside their wooden board house, we were too much of a curiosity to resist. One glanced at Mother with annoyance, while the other stole a look around the door.........

Amazonas Children

Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Getting back to the hammock

So I was telling you about the decision to bunk in a cabin rather than sleep alfresco in a hammock aboard the Dejard Vieira. And what a mistake it was. Woulda coulda shoulda. Have you ever had those opportunities of a lifetime that you squander? Not to realize your mistake until it's too late?

That is how I feel about sailing down the Amazon.

This litttle girl was among the experienced locals who knew how "to flex." Have hammock, will travel.

As I said, I suppose it was just as well we chose to book a boat ride only for the few days it took to sail from Manaus to Santarem, rather than the much longer journey from Manaus to the port city of Belem at the Atlantic Ocean. Upon arrival, we hunkered down in Santarem for a few days before hitching a ride back to Manaus on a small aircraft that gave us a breathtaking view of the jungle from above. So all was not lost.

The sights, sounds and, as always, the people we met on that trip, as well as all of the other precious travel gems that fell in our laps while in the Amazon, were a gift. We did utimatley have a chance to sleep in a hammock deep in the jungle for days on end, under the watchful gaze of a portrait of the British Royal Family, no less

And did I tell you we fished for and ate our catch of piranha, shared table scraps with a tapir, and swam in Amazon tributaries we later found out were home to crocodiles? Or were they alligators? Or caimans? Aaahhh, I never can remember the difference.

And I expect if one had taken a bite out of me, it wouldn't much matter what it was called, eh?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Just when you think you don't look like a tourist....

...the local children will quickly disabuse you of this conceit.

They will stop dead in their tracks, shamelessly gawking at you as their mother tugs them to Come Along. Or they'll perch outside your doorway, leaning on the riverboat railing, and just size you up as you come and go. And the next morning, they'll have one of their friends in tow, to prove to them that you look just as they said you did. Curious without being self-conscious, they come close enough to touch, but wait for you to make the first move.

They won't smile until you do. Then they don't stop.

This is the same little girl who's painting I posted on Friday, but here she has an older girl along for a look see. In the middle of the Amazon jungle, I became the most interesting Science Project for miles..............

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Amazons - at Sunset

No, I'm not talking about the river this time, although it churned slowly in the distance beyond these young lovely girls.

Serious and curious, I think they were sisters. And like little girls anywhere, Amazons or not, they were combing and pinning up one another's hair as the sun fell slowly into the jungle.

Amazons at Sunset
Ink and watercolor on paper
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Changes in Latitudes, changes in, hmmm, where do I begin?

Well maybe, there aren't so many changes after all, now that I think of it. But more on that later.

This is a young girl I met on the "Dejard Viera," a hulking, 3-tiered wooden riverboat. I don't know if I ever learned her name, but she couldn't get enough of me and vice versa.

We spent a few days together as the Dejard Viera steamed down the Amazon river, ferrying us from the city of Manaus to the smaller port city of Santarem in Brazil. We would have liked to make the journey all the way to the ocean at the city of Belem, but budgets and time prevented us from doing so.

Probably just as well.

We foolish gringos had paid for Nice Cabin on the mid-deck, with the promise of comfortable bunks, privacy, security and perhaps a functioning air conditioner. A toaster oven would have been more comfortable. None of the aforementioned-amenities were as promised.

All the locals on board, of course, knew better; pack a hammock and suspend it from the many upright poles supporting the upper deck and sleep al fresco on the broad open mid-decks. The massive Amazonas roiling beneath the hull cooled the hot sticky air to a comfortable sleeping temperature. A breeze, if you will.

Unlike Nice Cabin.

Never forget: when in the Amazon, do as the Amazonas............

Changes in Latitudes
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Bongles By Any Other Name....

To look at this sweet-faced rasta, the name "Bongles" doesn't immediately come to mind. Particularly since the word "bongles" is not in my vocabulary.

Ok, in patois maybe "bongles" is a substitute for "bundles." Still. I'm just sayin. Bundles? Bundles of WHAT?

Oh. Ok. Maybe I shouldn't ask.

I read once that a Jamaican's Original Name, the name 'pon de berf SUR-fi-ticket (birth certificate) is a tiny treasure that is locked up after the day it is given, as if in a precious box, rarely to be seen again. Maybe not until the next rite of passage such as a graduation or a marriage.

Or even death.

On those special occasions, the box is opened and the name is gingerly extracted for a few hours and then quickly put away again. For the rest of your days, all manner of names are worn, either like a pair of comfortable shoes that last and last and last. Or like a closetful of cloaks, which change with the weather.

I know a

Bigga Ford -- something to do with a vehicle, seriously.

Tikka Chest -- has a thick, stout torso.

Trote -- has a large goiter upon his throat.

Bumpy -- yes, has a large, continually-growing bump on his forehead.

Reggie (original name "Cleveland") -- for a kinship with the role of Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours.

Scatta Shot -- a tendency to bounce quickly from place to place, not necessarily with any intention to do so.

Junior -- I must know two dozen "Juniors".

Scallion -- he's quite skinny.

Revvy -- something to do with a decidedly NON-pastor like existence.

Rough -- he could sleep on a 6-foot 2 x 4, set upon two piles of bricks and be quite comfortable. And if he dropped to the ground, he'd keep on sleeping.

Blacka -- skin dark like the night.

You get the idea. You are who you are.

I could go on and on. Even to include one of my mother-in-law's yard pupppies. Can't recall what, if any, name it was given at birth, but after it was stolen by a neighbor and Miss Una had to pay a ransom of one Jamaican dollar and fifty cents to get her back, well, you know the rest.

Th dog is forever known as "Dollah Fifty".

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Runaway Dread

And sometimes you find the right path despite the roadblocks put up in your way.

Losing parents, moving in with distant relatives, running away from home before the age of ten, finding a new family in the embrace of unsavory Dons.

You know what I mean by "Dons", don't you? A Jamaican ting, dat.

And still growing up to be a good man, a kind and Conscious Dread. A man who will sweep out his yard at daybreak, cook up one nice pot of coconut rice and peas, and will have your back in any seetch-yoo-ay-shun, seen?

But you knew that just by looking at his face, no?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Crack Cocaine and the Vicissitudes of Real Estate Taxes

I'm not going to tell you his name. It doesn't really matter.

But you should know that I thought he was one of the "bredren," a good egg, as my parents might say. An "ital" rasta man, as the natty dreadlocks would agree. Righteous, seen?

After all, he was welcomed, told to "siddung nuh", as a half dozen of us sat in a cluster of beach chaises and watched the horizon swallow up the sun one warm July "eve-ling" in Westmoreland. He was a slight man, his khakis hung loosely on his frame, and his natty dreadlocks nearly touched the sand as he padded up the beach toward us.

Yah, suh. All the genkle-men present nodded, we know 'im laaang time, whatta gwan, Natty?

Much patois-rich reminiscing, a remembrance of times past jamaican-style. Ganja smoke is their madeleine. I drifted off.......

So when I was alone on the beach and saw him again, I hailed him up. "Yes, I-yah, can I buy you one cold drink?" I asked. Natty dreadlocks headed straight to the bar and asked for "one cold Heineken. Tenks, miss." Sure, mon, no problem. While it was still half-full and cold in his hand, he asked if I would buy him "one next one, miss?" Now, I know the runnings. And often those who most deserve a round of drinks are those who never ask so I told him I had an errand to do with the children and I'd "soon come back." If he was still around when I returned, sure, no problem, one next Heineken coming right up.

So guess who was still clutching the by-now empty bottle, waiting for my return one full hour later? I dutifully bought Natty one more cold Heineken. Then he pulled me close. He whispered in my ear, "Wha mi really wan is sum money fi pay mi real estate taxes. Mi need $150 Jays, miss, cyaann yuh help mi nuh?"

For those of you who don't know, $150 Jamaican dollars at that time was the equivalent of about U.S. $2.50. Yes, that's right. About two U.S. dollars and fifty cents.

For his "real estate taxes" he says.

When I shared this story with my husband and his friends, they all laughed softly, but with sadness. "The Rock hole 'im dung, mon. Nuh give 'im nuttin more," and they shook their heads.

"Toxes, eeenh? Natty nah own nuttin fi tox. A crack-cocaine a 'im biggest tox. He muss pay it......"

Crack Cocaine and the Vicissitudes of Real Estate Taxes
Ink and watercolor on paper
A print of this painting is available for purchase here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Did Jesus have a fondness for animal prints?

From the moment I saw Miss Ricketts in this hat, well.....words escape me.

I was drawn to the "I (heart) JESUS" sentiment that was emblazoned across the front: lemon-yellow embroidery on a tomato red corduroy. That alone captured my attention, I like a lady in a power hat.

But it was the faux-leopard skin brim that set Miss Ricketts apart from your typical Jamaican church lady. She's rockin' it, no?

And Miss Ricketts deserves our "Are-Eee-Ess-Pee-Eee-See-Tee". We would see her a couple of times a week, carrying her two overstuffed tote bags to the beach front of Whistling Bird. She dutifully pinned dozens of hand-made articles of clothing to a couple of clotheslines strung between the palms and seagrape trees, hoping to catch the eye of tourist passers by.

When the tastes of most beach-going shoppers began to lean heavily in the direction of Indonesian-batiked sarongs, rather than tailored men's short-sleeved shirts with palm trees, Miss Ricketts incorporated sarongs into her inventory. She was flexible. She had her finger on the consumer's pulse, even if she wouldn't be caught dead in a sarong.

Who needs a flimsy rayon wrap, when you can roll with Jesus and the prince of the jungle.........?

Did Jesus Have a Fondness for Animal Prints?
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

G is for Gentle

I am embarrassed to say that I do not even know this lady's first name. Or her last, for that matter.

Yet I have known her for years.

For weeks at a time, Miss G takes care of us, in a manner of speaking. Calm and cool, never ruffled, tending to her job with a quick nod of her head, efficient and matter-of-fact. Shy smiles will skate quickly across her face and when you get a laugh or a giggle out of Miss G, it just about makes your day.

If you see her, ask her about the noni plant and it's cure-all juice. Or to tell you about the long-legged bird that hunts down the land crabs dem - she does a wicked impression of their stalking gait. Or ask her to put on "the Miss G Mix" on the sound system, pull up a chair and relax alongside her as the sun goes down.

A truly gentle way to end your day.........

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gotta go, she says.

And this is why I love NYC. The people.

This is our friend, Gal. I admit I probably added another ten years to her age in this painting, but it's still Gal. And she just had that LOOK. That Manhattan-intense-focus-of-I-love-you-but-I'm-on-to-the-next-event-in-my-life-gotta-go-NOW look. I think the colors I've used are just right, just perfect for this manhattan mixed breed treasure who is on The Move.

Gal's mother is from Bahia, in Brazil -- ay yi yi. "Ma-MAI" is full of life and chat and music and movement and energy. And her father is from Israel. He is slow to smile, steady, cool, serious. So Gal speaks Portuguese at home and spends summers months in the Sinai. Life is complicated, eenh?

She recently visited the Dead Sea and her mother made sure to send me back a tube of Ahava, an aromatic, creamy mud masque made from the mineral-laden sands of said body of water. Eeet is niiiice, Vee-toria, you muss try eeet.

No indication of sea scrolls residue. I am waiting until the perfect moment to use it.....when, perhaps, I have lost complete faith in the ability of my face to be restored to its youthful glory? Yes, perhaps then. I wait.

Thank you Gal, and thank you, Mamai.

4"x6' ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

No sad stories this morning --

Just a hot cuppa minty tea, while sitting in the shade at Alfred's Ocean Palace.

There's no better place to watch Life's Rich Pageant come strolling by under a Caribbean morning sun,than Alfred's.

Breakfast At Alfred's Ocean Palace
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Before we lost track of Poochie -

We took her to the sea.

Poochie was cast out by her mudda an' fadda and sent to live with Miss Una out inna country. Montego Bay was no place for a 5-year-old whose mother had no time fi she. The ghettos of Mobay were ruff enuff and one more unwanted likkle girl was bound to find a better life out in the rural yards of the parish of Westmoreland than the streets of the city.


Poochie was soon under the stern watch of Miss Una out in the wide open hinterlands of Savanna La Mar, some 20 miles west of Negril, along the south coast of Jamaica. Miss Una was the aunty of a cousin of Poochie's mudda or half-sista of a cousin of an aunty or a half-sista of her cousin or, well, it doesn't really matter.

Miss Una took Poochie in without a second thought. Even tho' Miss Una was finally finished raising her own pickney.

Miss Una and her youngest daughter, Felecia, shared a bed in her two-room house. One more likkle girl squeezed in under the covers didn't put anybody out. So Poochie stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

Miss Una is my mother-in-law. And my two little daughters, her grandaughters, loved Poochie. Poochie was as foreign and as mysterious as a jackfruit, a soursop, a plate of ackee. And she was a girl who knew how to climb a ginnep tree in a flash and deliver a bunch of ripe juicy fruit, fearlessly shoo away the loose grazing goats and knew which little shop on the lane had the coldest boxed drinks. Poochie could run up an' dung pon da gravel barefoot, while my girls didn't dare take off their sandals for fear of piercing their soft city-girl feet.

And when we visited Jamaica, we'd always take Poochie and a handful of other pickney to the sea. We'd buy her one fresh bath suit and take her to the ocean for a swim, followed by platefuls of jerk chicken and endless bottles of Pepsi or Kola Champagne. The exotic seaside was a place she saw once a year, when friends or family fram farrin would load up a car with all the little yard pickney an' tek dem a beach.

But one year Poochie was no longer in the yard with Miss Una. Something bad had happened to Poochie.

As if enuff bad tings had not happened to Poochie already.

A lonely, old coot of a man on the lane had taken to asking for Poochie's help to collect limes way out inna bush, several mornings a week. Poochie was permitted to go as her share of limes would contribute to the family funds.

Unitl it became clear that very few limes, if any, were being collected.

Long hot hours of walks way out inna bush often resulted in just an empty bucket. And a Poochie who grew despondent, angry and withdrawn.

Poochie was barely 12 when she was sent back to Montego Bay. After all, no one could send the Old Coot off the lane. So the little girl, who had already been cast out once for her own good, was returned-to-sender for the same reason.

We don't know what has become of Poochie....

Before We Lost Track of Poochie
Ink and watercolor on paper
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Haille, as in Selassie, as in Haille-Bailley-Bo

My youngest daughter's name has a convoluted history, perhaps too convoluted to go into here. Suffice it to say that Haille (HIGH-lee) has evolved into series of self-reflective nicknames which bear little resemblance to the original. Haille begat Haille-Bailley-Bo begat Bo begat Boo begat Goo begat Ghost. Who and where you were in the timeline of acquaintane determines which name you choose to use.

Such a good girl, she will acknowledge them all.

Ink and watercolor on paper
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

There is a little place called Whistling Bird--

And this fine old gentleman was the carpenter who gave its cottages such a warm and inviting serenity. It's a pretty, pretty spot in Jamaica, the Whistling Bird. And good old Mendez can take at least some of the credit for it's natural beauty and charming character. Julie and Jim take alllll the rest.

And speaking of character, Mendez is a Jamaican original. From back in the day when Negril was nothing more than a sleepy fishing village, with a few scattered structures on its pristine 7-mile beach. Sand like powdered sugar. The beach is still pretty, the Whistling Bird is a little preserved niche of jungle-like beauty.

And Mendez is still at work with his hammer and nails.

I believe he's a bit younger than he looks (he could pass for 70). He has few of his original teeth but still manages an engaging smile. And, at first glance, seems incredibly hard of hearing, but he manages to find out the names of the ladies who come into view.....

The twinkle in his eye gave all that away, tho' didn't it?

Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chud, Chud, stop tawk an' siddung Chud

This is Chad.

Tho' to hear the older children call him, it sounds like "Chud". Stop talking and SIT DOWN, Chad.

He is full of beans, as are most little 7-year old boys. He is Shara's little brother -- likkle brudda. Last year's school report said that Chad was "very intelligent, with great potential for high achievement, but he must not miss so many days of school......" Chad is full of questions and answers and funny faces and uncanny observations.

But he cannot always afford lunch money.

Or books.

Or school fees.

Or a pair of shoes and a uniform.

So Chad misses too many days of his public school.

It seems I unconsciously chose a rather "high-key" color palette for this painting of Chad. Almost-electric colors -- perhaps that is because Chad is FULL of ENERGY. He doesn't stop moving nor mugging nor chatting. Not a shy nor sad little boy --- or as they say in patois, one BRIGHT likkle bwoy.

But I caught him in a moment where all of that seemed to hang in the balance.

Chad could end up squandering all of those brilliant qualities because the system requires shoes over curiosity, a uniform over enthusiasm and lunch money over a hunger for knowledge......

"Chud, Chud, Stop Tawk an' Siddung, Chud"
Ink and watercolor on paper. 
Purchase a print of this painting  here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Miss Una .....

... a mother of seven, only five of whom survived their childhood. She raised them all without electricity or indoor plumbing or a husband, in her small two-room wooden house. I wonder which of those three things she missed having the most....? She still cooks her meals over a fire outside her home. She lives in the same house where Shara sat in yesterday's painting.

Lots of layers of paint on this face -- lots of layers of life.

This is a 4"x6" watercolor and ink painting on paper.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A painting a day - Shara in the shadows

This is Shara. Another little child of a country yard in Westmoreland, Jamaica. She's sitting just inside the doorway of her grandmother's tiny wooden clapboard house, which sits about 3 feet off the ground, each corner barely balanced on a rickety pile of misshapen stones. It's hot outside. Not so cool inside "nydah" but she's cooler in the shadows.
Well, I had a rough time painting Shara tonight.

Sometimes it flows and sometimes it seems as if everything is conspiring against you to paint. Between children who've waited until the last minute to do their homework and "have just one question" to a cat who has chosen to cough up a few fur balls on said child's bedding, and so forth. Well.

So when I sat down to paint Shara I got her almost completely finished but then she became overly worked in paint. Too many layers, not enough definition.

I got so frustrated I ran the whole darn thing under the faucet. Well, actually, I spritzed her with a forceful spray bottle right between the eyes a few times, until her face was back to a milky, tho' splotchy, cream color. And then i had to let her dry and begin again.

I knew the result wouldn't be clear transparent layers of color -- that's the risk you take when you submit a watercolor to the spray bottle. Kind of like scraping back an oil painting but with much different results.

But I kept at her. Even added some goache to create more opacity and brought her down into the deep blues. She's not anywhere near how I began but perhaps that is for the best.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

A painting a day - Miss Birbeck

Aaahhh, I had fun with Miss Birbeck today, she doesn't miss a trick. She's fairly quiet, sees all, knows all. But says not a word......

Miss Birbeck No. 1
Ink and watercolor on paper.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Instead of a painting a day today, this will be Paintings-in-Progress-Day

Rather than let this blog lie dormant over the weekends, I've decided to post images of larger works in progress. During the week you have been seeing my daily 4"x6" ink and watercolor pieces, which I hope you have enjoyed. At the same time, I'm also working on larger pieces which clearly cannot be completed in one day. They are not intended to be, as they are larger, typically 11" x 15", and will take more time to complete.

I thought the blog would be a good place to share how these pieces progress and change. Here are a few drawings I've made this week, which I intend to more fully realize with watercolor.

The first is my daughter, Tafarii. The drawing was done using the aforementioned bamboo pen with india ink.

The next, is a drawing of our friend, Danny, also known as "Bongles". This drawing, as you'll notice, has a finer, more precise line, as it was done with a Rapidograph drafting pen. He has the longest dreads I've ever seen piled up under that leather hat.

This is another larger drawing of Ichamar. I was so pleased with the small 4"x6" version of this little boy, that I'd like to try another painting of him. This is also a Rapidograph pen drawing.

Finally, this is Tasha, Ichamar's cousin. I drew this one with the bamboo pen and india ink. It gives a much looser feel to the drawing than the already-loose Rapidograph line. Tasha often lives in the same yard as Ichamar, the home of her father, but is usally found in her mother's yard.Baby Madda and Fadda don't necessarily live together.......