Monday, August 27, 2007

Classroom on the Beach



Although Hurricane Dean forced me to cancel our original workshop schedule, he did not put a stop to the classes altogether. Here are some photos of the Children's Watercolor Workshop I held shortly before the storm........






I had as much fun as the kids...




Drying our work in the sunlight.......




The final project, Turtles Under the Sea. They came out beautifully, don't you think?

By Irenee, age 11



By Ellis, age 9

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wine and Cheese Under the Palm Trees



If you happen to be in Negril today, please stop by Whistling Bird on the beach at 5pm for a Wine and Cheese Art Opening Reception.

My art work will be on display and I look forward to meeting and speaking with those of you who can attend........

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Still Standing, Dean-oh . . .



I glanced down at my fingernails as I flicked the mosquito from my ankle. The thin line of black grit confirmed the fact that we'd been without running water, neither hot nor cold, for two days. Some parts of your body just don't get clean when you pour a bucket of water over your head.

The National Hurricane Center website had me whipped into a frenzied cocktail of dread and anticipation, stirred with a shot of excitement, on the rocks, for two days. Would we be flattened like a bald tire that struck a pot-hole on Spur Tree? Would we be able to see the seashore through leaf-less trees from Norman Manley Boulevard? And just how long would the 15 litres of bottled water keep us happy?

Fifteen litres of chardonnay may have been a more prescient plan of action.

We'd packed our belongings back into our luggage, many things in two or three layers of plastic lada bags or my month's supply of ziplocs, and moved to higher ground. That sounds like a torturous trek but really meant moving ourselves 30 yards to a second-story room in a cottage with a concrete roof. Our current cottage had a heavy corrugated metal roof, much heftier than the ubiquitous zinc of your standard board house, but nonetheless more vulnerable than concrete. So we moved 90 feet closer to the sea, but with a roof that could withstand a fallen mango tree.

And we piled into the one-room cottage, 4 of us sprawled out on to the two twin beds pushed together. We left the cottage door open as long as we dared -- well past 10pm, as the trees began to swirl in the darkness and the occasional branch flew across the arc of the verandah which was lit by candles. Er, uh, "kangles." We'd stockpiled drinking water, purchased excessive packages of crackers, jars of peanut butter and a few pounds of rice and dried beans, not to mention a brand-new coal pot and requisite 4-foot tall sack of coal to see us through the horror.

The horror that never came.

Our room grew warm and stuffy as the night wore on. No fan, let alone A/C, and we kept the shuttered windows closed as the wind grew more turbulent and we silently steamed ourselves to sleep. But only a 10-year old could find sleep without dreams, without worry. The rest of us tossed and turned, elbowing one another through the night, waiting for the howling thunder of hurricane winds.

It soon became clear that the loudest thunder we were going to hear was that of the groaning generator for the hotel next door. The Italian tourists at "Fun Holiday" would not be forced to experience Hurricane Dean in the dark. All things considered, I would have preferred the growl of a hurricane; it was like sleeping with a lawn mower circling your pillow.

When daylight finally arrived, we realized we'd actually fallen asleep at some point, that the tree frogs' gleep-gleeping had gradually yielded to the birds' chirp-chirping and that a storm surge had not washed us all out to sea. We pulled open the door to our cottage to take a look outside. Much like Dorothy slowly easing open the black-and-white door of her Kansas farm house, we hoped for a technicolor landscape left intact and not a wasteland of barren trees.

And they were all indeed still standing.

A smattering of mangoes and almonds littered the leafy ground, branches of assorted fruit trees and bamboo stalks lay streaked across the walkways, but the Whistling Bird remained relatively unscathed. The "electric city" had been cut before the storm overtook Westmoreland and the water in the pipes grew to a slow trickle by afternoon, a full stop by the middle of the night. And we began our short-lived, camping-trip version of our vacation, cooking over a fire and bathing with a bucket of cold water poured over our heads.

I wonder how my fingernails would have looked if Dean had really knocked on our door, eeennnh?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The party's over........




I was going to write a story about the wild Emancipation Day weekend celebrations here in Jamaica as an accompaniment to this painting. Sort of a morning after, ode to the debauchery of the night.

There were tales of choked traffic on the normally sparse Norman Manley Boulevard, cars and motorcycles riding 3 or sometimes even 4 abreast the two-lane road. Young women in varying stages of dress or undress, beach wear was de rigeur even after 11pm. Especially after 11pm. We saw thong-wearing ladies riding on the backs of Ninja's,deliberately grabbing their own bottoms and shaking their exposed cheeks to the cheers of onlooking vehicles.

Or as my youngest daughter said, "Mommy, wherever you look tonight, you see something really silly. Or just plain stupid."

Hmmm. I'm rather glad to hear that coming from a 10-year old. Not necessarily an appreciation of her culture, to be sure, but more on that later. Remind me of her very first introduction to her cousin's "dancing" on a DVD, shot in the bowels of a late-night Montego Bay dancehall party spot.

But that's another story.

Tonight, is about the wait for Hurricane Dean.

We've bought our 5-litre jugs of bottled water, several packages of candles and matches, scores of biscuits and crackers and root vegetables, pounds of rice and dried peas, and even secured a brand new coal pot with a bulging, 4-foot tall sack of coal. We did most of our shopping yesterday at the Hi Lo in Negril, which was still relatively calm, no crowds, shelves full.

Today we returned to the Hi Lo to with draw cash from the ATM, but had to wait for the Brinks truck to re-fill the stacks of jays. The line grew long. We then sped off to Sav, which was more than bustling. It was boiling and bubbling with activity.

"Kang-el,kang-el, kang-el - tree pack fuh one hundred dollah," bellowed the tall, slim man, walking between the cars on St. George's street, clutching his red and white cardboard boxes of slim white candles.

The vegetable market was bursting with food and folk. We bought naseberries, plantains, carrots, irish potato, and two bags of chopped callaloo. We went on a search for cooler in the hopes we could forestall doing with out ice for at least a few more hours after the electricity goes. We found an average coleman-style imitation cooler for sale, the usual size for a family picnic, but the price was over 60 bucks. A bit steep for what would probably prove to be just a few more hours of ice cubes. We passed on the cooler.

We're now back in Negril,darkness has fallen, and the tree frogs have begun to gleep as usual. I am spread out in the darkness, on crisp white sheets of a freshly made bed, a ceiling fan blowing above me, and my face lit by the blue glow of my laptop.

I am struck by the sheer comfort and delight of this moment. Peaceful, calm, clean and crisp....it may be a while before I have such a gift again.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Love Birds



This is a wooden carving which sits at the base of a seagrape tree on the beach front of Whistling Bird, two carved birds.

I'm afraid I don't have a good love story to go with this painting -- but give me a few more weeks, there may be one yet.

On second thought, I may have to wait until next year to tell it. If at all...........that's the way love goes.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

John Chewit, Nanny and the Out House




I assumed he was a figure in Jamaican history. John Chewit, it sounded like a proper English "genkle-man". We'd stayed in the cottage bearing this name countless times over the past several summers at Whistling Bird and are again this summer. This is the view of our verandah, as we turn down the path from the main gate. I never gave the cottage names much thought and was actually most happy not to have a complete understanding of the world around me.

For a change.

As I've noted previously, I often don't really have a clue, when I'm in Jamaica. A complete fish out of water when it comes to figuring out the finer points. At home I read the newspapers and news magazines obsessively, watch the news, read blogs online, try to keep up with current fiction and so forth.

But in Jamaica, I am almost relieved to just give it all up. Throw up my hands and surrender to incomprehensison. It IS calming not to have to know what's going on at all times. Ignorance IS bliss.

In my defense, I am quite adept at understanding patois, tho' pretending to be quite ignorant of such. Very helpful. And I did quickly figure out that "lend me a nanny" literally meant "give me 500 Jamaican dollars" because the 500 dollar note had an image of Nanny Of the Maroons, treasured national heroine, imprinted upon it (read more about her here: http://www.moec.gov.jm/heroes/nanny.htm). It is often MOST beneficial to understand what you can, obviously, but feign ignorance, lest one be completely lead astray.

I'm not one eediot, of course.

So back to John Chewit.

When our firstborn was just a toddler, we stayed out in the yard in Sav-La-Mar, rather than stay at Whistling Bird, or any other place in Negril. We had our own one-room, little board house at our disposal. We had a single bare lightbulb, no indoor plumbing, of course, and we had to hastily nail some loose boards across the opening to the front door just so our little one wouldn't stumble out and drop the 2 feet or so to the ground below.

We had to walk to the very back of the yard to use the outdoor shower, which was really just 3 pieces of barely vertical zinc, surrounding a rather meager shower head atop a skimpy pipe. Likewise, for the outhouse, which was a frightful destination after dark. I once approached it in the pitch of night, flashlight in hand, only to find it surrounded by belching bullfrogs. I tiptoed amongst them, pried open the squeaky wooden door only to find several more INSIDE the actual house, including a very bold fellow aggressively belching from his position upon the seat itself.

A determined stamp of my foot didn't shoo the bulging, slimy frog off his perch. Rather, it only caused him to leap directly INTO the hole of the pit itself, right through the seat, waiting for me to continue on my mission. I never used the outhouse after dark again. I'd rather squat behind the house in the bushes.

And when we had our second child, I succumbed to the lure of finer accommoodations in Negril. I just didn't feel like camping out anymore. It was fine when it was me alone, but for the few weeks I had to travel each year, presumably on VACATION, I decided I really didn't want to rough it with two small children.

So it was back to the beach, and a cottage at Whistling Bird. The property is lovely, lush and naturally landscaped. Not covered with concrete and manicured grass. It is almost a quiet, small jungle. We all squeezed into a one-room cottage that first year, sharing a bed with one child and setting up the other in a portable crib. The cottage was called Banana Quit.

To me, it sounded like the name of a luscious tropical dessert. I'll have one thin slice of Banana Quit, please, with coffee, hmmm?

For several years after that we stayed in Nightengale, which had two rooms and was more comfortable. It was after several years in Nightengale, the girls grew bigger and ours stays grew longer, before we moved up to the much larger cottage of John Chewit. We had much larger rooms, a screened-in porch off to the side, and a kitchenette of sorts with a mini-fridge and countertop with a sink on the verandah. We pack a couple of hot plates and haul a coal pot out from the country and we're good to go, cooking up a storm or just making a morning pot of bush tea at breakfast.

And after 16 years, I still wasn't hip to the pattern. Clueless, as usual.

The cottage names struck me as so very odd and eccentric. In addition to those I mentioned - John Chewit, Banana Quit and Nightengale -- there were also Night Heron, Cling-Cling, Parrot, Aunty Katy, Petchary, Tananger, Parakeet, Doctor Bird and Jacana. Seeing them all in a list, perhaps, makes it so easy.

The sharper tacks among you will now see that John Chewit is, of course, hardly a proper English genkle-man. He is, rather, a simple bird, as are the rest of the characters proudly adorning the name plates of the cottages at the W.B. -- it is the Whistling Bird, after all.

Don't think I'll be ordering a slice of Banana Quit any time soon...........

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The only thing Jamaicans do fast is DRIVE



It was too good to be true.

Our bags burst through the rubber slats straddling the carousel, one right after the other. We'd barely made it across the broad expanse of the new Customs wing at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, before we spotted the first bulky black bag trundling along that winding rubber road. One by one, the others began to follow. We spotted them immediately.

We'd given up on our previous half-hearted attempts of tying brightly colored yarn to our luggage to make them stand out from the crowd of similar black bags. The yarn always shredded during god-knows-what journey it took in the cargo hold. And it seems everybody else had the same idea, of course, and by the time we arrived, weary and bleary eyed, I could never even remember the color of the yarn we used. Pointless.

So I finally bought some bright, cobalt blue plastic luggage tags and affixed them to each of our bags. We'd also replaced some of our battered black bags with some new ones, colored in a bright tomato red, hoping those would also stand out from the field of basic black.

I think Kmart and Walmart, however, must have been running a sale on red bags since the sea of black perched on the carousel was now peppered with bright red bags throughout. Next year, we go for purple.

Still, thanks to the blue tags we soon saw our odd assortment of red and black bags quickly pile up at our feet as Peter hauled them off the moving belt. Five out of six, I counted. And we waited. And waited. I turned to the luggage carts upon which he'd stacked the bags and counted again, just to be sure. Still only five out of six. The remaining bags on the moving belt were quickly plucked up by their owners until a few lonely odd sorts remained, only to circle the loop again and again unclaimed.

And no number six.

You know when you are the last people standing at the luggage carousel, for 10 minutes or more, that it is a bad sign. I walked over to the black rubber slats where the bags punched through the wall from outdoors and poked my head outside. The baggage handler standing on the other side confirmed what I feared. No more bags coming from the Delta flight.

So we made the long walk back across the customs hall to the small cluster of desks near the entryway, where we were told to report our missing bag. One desk had an Air Jamaica sign with a smiling uniformed attendant at the ready, another sported an American Airline sign and was similarly occupied by an attendant smartly dressed in red white and blue.

And squeezed in between the two was a nameless desk, with a bored looking woman wearing neither an airline uniform nor a pleasant expression on her face. She was wearing a bright fluourescent green vest, the sort that indicated she spent much of her day out on the tarmac, dodging vehicles and airplanes. I approached her, asking if I could report a missing bag from a Delta flight at her desk.

She slowly turned her face toward me, expressionless, casually tossing her long, auburn hair weave over one shoulder. She nodded and came around the desk.

"What does de bag look like?" she asked.

Now I thought the description portion of the report came later, after submitting the baggage receipt, flight number, name, and so on but I figured she was going to go at her own pace.

"It's black and looks almost identical to this one," I said, pointing to another of our large boxy black bags, with the extendable handle, which allowed you to pull it on its small wheels. "But I have the baggage receipt sticker right here," I said, "I've checked off all the other bags and this is the one that is missing", showing her the official receipt with it's ID number.

She clearly was not interested in filing any paperwork. She took the receipt from me, still looking quite bored, and began to walk away from us, heading across the vast room, toward our flight's carousel, which by now had even stopped circulating. She was not going to take us at our word that the bag had not arrived. She was going to see for herself that it was not on the carousel.

And she walked as if her feet carried ten pound cinderblocks in each shoe. Through a field of Molasses. She simply could not have walked more slowly. Slightly knock-kneed, and wearing uncomfortable looking chunky heels, we stood watching her slowly sail off, as if she were a tiny rowboat setting out to cross the Atlantic.

This was going to take longer than I thought.

We'd been up since 5 am, our flight and connections were delayed by several hours each. We should have arrived at 2pm but it was now nearing 8pm and we were anxious to get to our cottage. But Miss Baggage Boss was not about to hustle on our behalf.

When she finally reached the carousel, she stooped over each remaining bag and carefully read the ID number on it's long flapping sticker, comparing it to our missing bag number. It seemed to take hours. After finally confirming that we were indeed missing our bag, she turned and began her slow walk back across the hall to us.

It was like watching grass grow.

I felt my New-York-City-Everything-Innna-Hot-Minute attitude bubbling under the surface of my calm demeanor. Losing my cool would only provide her with some entertainment and a good story to share with her co-workers. Over the years I've learned that The White Lady Fram Farrin Temper Tantrum is only grist for the mill and never gets you anywhere. If anything, it will slow up the process even further.

She slowly slid behind her counter and reached beneath to get a claim form for me to complete.

"Fill in dis part here, and dat part here and sign at de bottom." She handed me a pen. She told me the bag would be delivered to our hotel when it arrived. She began slowly punching ID numbers and all of our information into the keyboard at her desk.

"Thank you so very much, " I said. "You are such a professional, I really appreciate this, I'm so worried about the bag." I delivered this compliment with as much sincerity as I could muster. Not so easy considering I felt like throttling her at that very moment.

She slowly tilted her head up at me, blinked and slowly smiled. Her entire demeanor changed. She probably had never been called "professional" in her entire life. She visibly straightend up, gave me a beautiful grin and began typing even more furiously into her computer. "Do you think they'll find my bag?" I sighed.

"Oh, of course, they'll find it Miss," she beamed, " It soon come, in just a day or two. And we will have it promptly delivered to your hotel. Here is your claim numbah, and I will also give you the phone numbah for dis desk so you may call tomorrow and check to see if it has arrived. We will, of course, call you at your place when we collect your bag. No worry yuhself, Miss," she cooed,still smiling, " it WILL arrive."

Ok, so maybe there's something else Jamaicans do fast -- they'll soak up a respectful acknowledgement of their worth and repay it in kind. Just as anybody else would do.

Now if we could only do something about those driving habits..........