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.