Saint Lucia; Mi yon bèl koté!

October 26, 2013 § 8 Comments

st lucia 5

 

I am supposed to be knee deep grinding out a submission for the Commonwealth Writers Prize which closes on November 30th, but have been doing everything except that. A few weeks back, I was allegedly chasing  inspiration in Warwick, New York. Last week, the beautiful St. Lucia was home for a few days and I deluded myself into thinking that maybe a main character is from the island and needed to return to get her voice.  Unsurprisingly, I left my computer in the United States and embraced the island with voracity.

And if the cab driver who transported me from the airport to my hotel (Coco-Palm Resort) in Rodney Bay was an indication of what the island was going to be like, I knew I was in for a very pleasant experience. He informed that after  3 or 4 Pitons (their local beer named after the twin mountains), I was “going to realize that the world has no problems.” Although I’m not a beer drinker, I decided if I’m going to have a true Lucian experience, I better drink up. It’s not recommended to have alcohol in hot climate but the Piton is refreshing, lite, and maybe just what you need in Paradise. Lo and behold, after the first one on a Catamaran Cruise around the island, I forgot about pressing deadlines and used their kreyol phrase, “i bon.”

I will not profess to be a travel expert on things St. Lucian but if you must  go, do not make my mistakes; remember to pack your camera because no matter how high-tech your phone is, you need a camera. Also, drive the Buggies. More specifically inquire about the Island Buggies Soufriere Safari tour. It is the most exciting way to see Soufriere and the Pitons.  You’ll basically leave from the North side of the island and drive the buggy along the West Coast to the town of Soufriere and I promise, it will be breathtaking. The tour has three stops at various vantage points; the kick is being able to drive your buggy into the volcano, to a waterfall where you can stop and splash and finally at a restaurant atop the hill for reaaaaallly good St Lucian food.

Another must is the Sea to Sky tour, where you will leave one side of the island on the liveliest Catamaran Cruise. The staff has great taste in music, hor d’oeuvres, and sips (amazing rum punch,  piton from the tap, and something they dubbed the ooo-hmmm). When the boat docks, your personal guide takes you to a plantation where you can zip line above bamboo trees, a body of water, some of the rainforest, and fruit trees. Mind you, to return to your original location on the plantation, you have to zip line back. For my fellow thrill seekers, it shall please you when the instructor informs you that if you brake prematurely, it is a treacherous self-rescue as you climb the line back. After, there is another delicious lunch at a restaurant  on the estate with the best Golden Apple Juice. After a few days, you’ll realize the running theme is great food, beautiful scenery, and lovely people (both visitors and nationals from every corner of the world). I made acquaintances on a lot of my excursions with whom it felt like we were friends for years as we laughed and traded experiences. On your return via the Catamaran, the boat docks for a bit for a swim in the Sea, snorkel, some dancing etc.

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view from one stop on the zip line.

Of course, if you’re in the Caribbean you will go snorkeling, lounge on the beach (Reduit is nice) but try parasailing. However, if you aren’t an adrenaline junkie, on Friday nights the village Anse La Raye has street dining and the main dish is fish prepared in every fashion imaginable. It’s my belief that if you’re going to visit a country you have to experience it like its citizens and that’s a perfect opportunity. You can walk the streets and mingle with everyone; they are quite friendly. Afterwards, you can take a cab ride to the village Gros Islet for the Friday night Jump Up. It’s a street fair/block party with vendors, grilled meats, souvenir stands, locals and tourist mingling, music, and exotic liquids. One vendor was selling a blueish-green liquid he insisted was fertility in a bottle, “the baby maker.” I had one sip and concluded if my fertility depended on that, I was going to be childless.

st lucia 7 (baby making juice)

‘baby maker’

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Random New Yorker who shared the cab from the hotel to Gros Islet playing the drum (anyone can) at the Jump Up.

It would be unfair if I fail to give honorable mention to the staff at Coco-Palm. It’s a three star hotel but their service is five star. The food will give your mouth orgasms. Unfortunately, you cannot dive in the pool, and after 7pm swim at your own risk. However, it was the best time to go to the pool. The place is cool, no one is there so you can swim the full length undisturbed,  and the up-lights on the building and the lights in the pool give a warm glow. I recommend staying in the pool view room (it’s not as expensive as a suite and offers a better view [the village, mountains, hotel grounds, and pool] than the garden view). Drink a fruit punch everyday, the bakes are boss, the Kreyol Vinaigrette is heavenly. As a matter of fact, everywhere I went the food was DELICIOUS!

Since St Lucia is very close to the Grenadines and Martinique, it is a great opportunity to kill a few birds with one stone. With an extra $185 you can sail to Martinique which is considered the France of the Caribbean where you can shop, tour the island with a guide or just explore on your own, and dine (covered in the $185). The grenadines will cost about $400 dollars in a small plane but imagine having to buy individual airline tickets for all three locations. Yes, it is a steal!

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sunset onboard the catamaran

 

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the town square in the capital, Castries.

The sad thing about a vacation is that once it’s over, you’re planning another and I shouldn’t be doing that but I am. Instead, my attention should be on that submission. I should be sitting at the computer piping out pages. Instead once again, I’m telling myself stories; claiming to be channeling my inner Alice Walker and the Color Purple, searching for characters in random places. I know they aren’t city people…but I learned they aren’t Lucian either. Nevertheless, every day on that island was worth it and the experiences dampened the guilt of not writing.

Glossary of terms

Mi yon bèl koté!: what a beautiful place

i bon: It is good.

Chasing inspiration in Warwick

October 8, 2013 § 2 Comments

Warwick, New York

Fall is by far my favorite season; cooler temperatures, post card worthy scenes of yellow, wine red, rust brown, and burnt orange desiccating leaves, apple picking, and the prestigious Commonwealth Foundation/ Commonwealth Writers Prize welcoming entries for its short story prize (Oct. 1st- Nov. 30th). Admittedly, as much as I look forward to the competition, I am always nervous to begin my submission, and before long find myself arguing out loud with the story. That kind of mania demands a step back and away from the laptop. So, last weekend I took the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors at Maskers Orchard in Warwick, New York. To say it was a worthwhile excursion is an understatement. Even the hour and change drive through West Milford, Butler, and a great deal of New Jersey was refreshing. The trees in the city aren’t quite into their change, but further away they are every shade of Fall. My inner country girl had a field day; winding roads, windows down, singing Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” at the top of my lungs. I love the small town feel of Warwick, pumpkin picking, apple cider donuts and tea, or simply roaming the orchard eating way too many apples, absorbing the fresh air and scenery, and the juicy Golden Delicious, Idareds and Empress apples of Maskers.

apples on tree cheesing with applesapple shadebiting that apple

It’s safe to say, I feel sane enough to resume my efforts. Last year, I wasn’t even fortunate to be shortlisted. However, after the winners were announced, I received an email to re-send my entry and through a few exchanges learned that the Caribbean region submitted very few entries. So, Caribbean writers, if you’re up north, as the temps dip, huddle under those blankets and share your stories. If you’re in the region, pull a fan close and get to typing. Other than the attractive monetary prizes for regional winners (₤2,500) and (₤5,000) for the overall winner, the greatest benefit of winning is that it ‘connects writers and storytellers in a range of disciplines…builds communities of less-heard voices and links them to groups which seek to bring about social change.’ And if/when frustration hits, get out, and enjoy a bit of mother nature. Or, like the Dixie Chicks crooned “touch the earth…break it in [your] hands, grow something wild and unruly…be the only one for miles and miles.” Seek your inspiration, then follow the link: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/

Imbibing

May 3, 2013 § 2 Comments

The worst feeling in the world is the homesickness that comes over a man occasionally when he is at home. –E. W. Howe

It is weird the unrelenting ache and longing for a place you’re very much in, more so than when you were not there. Ever since my return home, I’ve been missing it. Some days I look out the back window of what used to be my grandmother’s bedroom before she died. I do this for no other reason than the fact that it and I happen to be here and that simple reality is a buoy. Sometimes I’m drawn to the mundane; the tamarind tree I religiously visualized while living in New York for fear that I would forget how many yards to the right of the cherry tree it was, and how many to the left of the lemon & lime trees that are no more. A lot of things are as such and yet so much are as my memory clutched for. My German Shepherds are gone while my mother’s puppy is now an adult Pitt who has mistaken me for chow and the birds he keeps trying to catch in the backyard. This is not how I envisioned my first piece of writing about this visit. I thought it would explore the emotions of coming home after a long time, followed by a series of exciting snippets about a fun-filled vacation, and punctuated with a satiated piece about returning to the US. And even with a cache of amazing, fun-filled memories, sun stained skin, a few extra pounds and a new trajectory to explore, I’m not quite satiated.

Mind you, there is much to return to the United States for. A whole life; wonderful and round in the truest and most literal sense, and it calls me, but an indescribable sadness begs for more days, moments for more memories, and time here. Almost a decade after my previous visit, everything floods into me; the heat whose harshness is rivaled by the cool of the winds that consistently blow from the Atlantic, experiences that either bowled me over with laughter or were so perfectly serendipitous that they will stick for a lifetime, along with the beautiful people who either etched or shared in those moments. And of course, foods that are constantly on repeat that had the circumstances been different, I would have been sick of by now. I’ve been imbibing all that wasn’t but now are, and doing a lot of it.

Before I left JFK, several promises were made; for the next 35 days I’ll do only what I want to and exactly as I want every single day, I’ll be present in every moment, I’ll have fun, and will write about it daily. The latter I’ve failed to accomplish mostly as a result of the other three promises. After all, won’t there be enough time for writing back in the US? And who’s writing when they’re drowning in a particular moment? So like the last visit, I have no regrets but unlike then, I can hear a bell toll for the end of my vacation. The sadness is awful, coarse, somewhat bitter, and threatening to take the joy out of the remaining days of my vacation. Mostly because back then I didn’t have a personal concept of how swiftly one’s life can change. I know now that circumstance(s) can build barricades, and that particular piece of knowledge may be the root of my forlorn feelings. I’m seeking consolation in the promise of a return that won’t be as far and wide as this one is to its predecessor. Still, sometimes there is no balm for, as Maya Angelou puts it, “the ache for home [that] lives in all of us.”

walking those emotional miles

January 1, 2013 § 2 Comments

I’m not one to make ridiculous and extravagant resolutions, or any resolution for that matter. After age 10, I refused to set myself up for any end of year disappointments and have long since come to grips with my inability to fix every shortcoming. I will not call as often as you’d like, will not write enough entries in my blog, will not meditate every day, and will not… You get the gist. However, at the end of each year, I still take stock of my life; will assess my behavior, decide what gears are in need of shifting, and which short term goal needs adjusting. It’s a reflection of sorts, a checking in with me. What have you done with your life? Where are you going? Are you where you should be? Are you on the right path? Are you surrounded by the right people?

In the past, I had to sift through piles of pros, cons, and experiences before the correct conclusion/answer for those questions could be found. This year the answers came so quickly that I chose to reflect once more just to be sure they were accurate. In the wake of my walk through 2012 was a myriad of situations, people, and their convictions, that I’ve discarded. And if I’m to be honest, I began wondering if this lighter version is really on course to the best me, or am I letting go of too much and too many.

It is safe to say I’ve never had a problem with goodbye. But as this year closes, I found myself questioning if it’s too easy for me to get rid of people. Yesterday, a friend inquired about the best and worst moments of 2012, and the answer to my worst was “the unexpected demise of a friendship/sisterhood.” Initially, it wasn’t a conscious decision to let go of that person and quite frankly, the whole ordeal might have been avoided if our egos weren’t involved. But I hate people challenging my resolve, or my willingness to be okay with their silence. So the distance grew and I refused to offer a log to build the bridge back to what we used to be. If she wasn’t willing, neither was I. I simply held my ground until the tragedy of walking those emotional miles apart took its toll, and before long, we had gone days and months, and milestones in silence.

On the other hand, I believe in an attempt to be Renatta 28.0, I may have reopened doors to folks who aren’t willing to accept that we as individuals may never agree on all things, some of which the other may feel passionately about. People who don’t recognize that even in light of our differences, we must respect each other’s right to their belief system, opinions, and to act accordingly. I’ve learned that such tasks require a level of maturity that sometimes even age doesn’t bring. More importantly, I am even more aware that in my friendships mutual respect is the most important tenet. . A lack thereof is a deal breaker and at this point I stand firmly behind my unwillingness to accept disrespect in my life.

But that’s the easy part. Like I said, I’m pretty good with goodbye. I can shovel experiences and memories like silt and dispose of them without a backward glance or much regard. However, each year I strive to grow and after 2012’s reflection and a few cousins inquiring whether I was willing to let the years of love die in a clash of egos, I had to look at the former friendship I spoke of in paragraph 2. The catalyst for growth would be to challenge myself; push beyond my ego, even break the first word, and try to resuscitate the pulse that used to beat so beautifully between us.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were each other’s tandem and knew that one could freefall and never crash because the other has their back. But times have changed and we’ve shifted and calved like icebergs. Admittedly, I don’t want to put a friendship on life support, or keep someone in my life long after their season has ended. But every so often a birdie would sing a tune that either fastens the belt around my resolve and refusal to engage that person, or in rare cases, would drop a seed of doubt. Is this truly the end? I may never have the answer. Maybe the years would answer it either with our ongoing silence of consent, or something else. For all I know, this may well be added to the list of things that may never fix.

On the other hand, I’ve had a beautiful group of people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing space and time. 2012 has been one of my better years in almost all aspects of my life. It has truly offered more joy, peace, love, renewed hope, and a load of amazing memories than many of its predecessors. As it closes, I pray for the best of everything in my life and yours too.

Happy New Year!!!

For peace is. Knowing we are a work in progress.

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