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.

st lucia 4

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’

st lucia 6

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/

Loss and that common refrain

July 26, 2013 § 2 Comments

clown feelings

If I had lost a leg… instead of a boy, no one would ever ask me if I was ‘over’ it. They would ask me how I was doing learning to walk without my leg. I was learning to walk and to breathe and to live… And what I was learning is that it was never going to be the life I had before.

–Elizabeth Edward

Those words snatched a covered thing and shook it so hard that my breath caught. I thought about the various aspects of loss and how people react differently based on the reason a person is in mourning. When a loved one dies either of old age, illness, or tragically, most people are willing to mourn with that person for as long as they are grieving. If a member of their body is amputated, there is concern for that lost limb and the individual’s well-being until they have come to grips, gotten over, and/or learned to live beyond the pain. But when a woman miscarries, there is a brief understanding, then an almost sudden growing impatience for her to hurry up and get over it.

“You can always have another,” is a common refrain. She is expected to mourn quickly as if a family member didn’t die, or as if she hasn’t lost a member of her body. Most times, even those closest to her fail to understand the depth of her despair; the many ‘firsts’ she thinks of that will never be, and the hurt that looms thick like fog. Or worse, as she vainly laments the changes her body has made that were bound to be buffered by that bundle. More so, the violent ways the body reminds her that it was made for this; breasts that fail to realize that there is no baby in need of nourishment. Surely, she will get over it, will lose the weight and her mammary glands will stop lactating. Maybe she will have another, but like the family member or that arm or leg, from time to time, she’ll have bouts of lows. But above all else, she will appreciate your consolation, some space, a tremendous amount of understanding, and definitely no deadline on her mourning process/period.

*Sadly, I don’t remember who did the painting; apologies to the artist.

Taking the criticism with a grain of salt

June 25, 2013 § 4 Comments

after earth

A little over a week ago, I went to the movie theater to chase the Monday blues with two movies; After Earth and Man of Steel. I saw on the news the dismal turnout at the box office and read the less than enthusiastic reviews by some critics and movie goers for the former. However, I also saw the trailer and it caught my interest. I tend to take most of the film guru’s critical reviews with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it seems as if some of their assertions had seeped in and grown roots because I was ill-prepared for what After Earth had to offer.

It was better than expected and had great philosophy without being didactic; one could sit in their seat and not feel as if they were being preached to. The themes explored fatherhood, how parents mean well but sometimes their humanity often breaks our hearts. It is also a coming of age story which we see from Kitai Raige’s (Jaden Smith) journey. He thinks he knows more than he actually does, is tougher than he actually is, and as his mother Faia Raige (Sophie Okenedo) notes, “he’s a feeling boy who needs his father.” It glances over climate change and our role in it; how we treat Earth and how it is forced to change in turn. Most of all, it addresses a common strand in our humanity: Fear. In one of Cypher Raige’s (Will Smith) exhortation to Kitai, he said:

“Fear is not real. The only place fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me; danger is very real but fear is a choice.”

How many times have we sent our minds staggering, our blood pressure through the roof, and our hearts racing thinking about the what-ifs of tomorrow? Mind you, I am one for planning for the future and thinking ahead but as it has been said many times over, we lose many moments by not being present. And so Cypher Raige offers the antidote for those moments when panic, angst, anxiety, fear, worry etc comes; “take a knee…ground yourself in this moment.” In the film, fear is symbolized by Ursa who can smell it on humans then hunts them down and kills them. It is a clear depiction of how many are crippled by their fears and that in itself is a form of death.

It is hard not to appreciate After Earth especially when it employs so many devices, has such beautiful wisdom, and relatable themes. The most disappointing aspect of going to the movies that day was watching Man of Steel after. Alone, I am sure it stands on sturdy ground but coming out of After Earth, it felt shallow, almost empty. I couldn’t help wondering what the critics’ bone of contention was with After Earth, so I went back and perused the internet. The common theme was summed up by one reviewer from the New York Times who claimed it was nothing more than “a big-screen vanity project.” And that’s when I realized that the problem wasn’t the message or the writing; it was the fact that 90% of the film featured the relationship between Kitai and Cypher (Will and Jaden Smith.)

It’s sad. I’ve seen worse movies get great reviews just because it had many A-list actors, good advertising, or both. For me, this movie goes on the same shelf with Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness, I am Legend, The Ides of March, and Michael Clayton. It is one of Will Smith’s better roles, if not his most mature. As for Jaden, I didn’t laugh as much as I did watching karate Kid but it’s not always about laughter. Sometimes, we have to watch a character grow. Sometimes a story doesn’t need a large chorus for support or laughter to chase. It can stand on its own, be as it is. In those cases you really have to take the criticism cum grano salis.

The human stories that matter are those that endure

June 13, 2013 § 2 Comments

Americanah

Ever read something that makes you feel naked, but not in a way that embarrasses you? Instead it tells a truth you were unable to articulate, or only disclosed to a select few because the shame or pain of that experience was still raw and required a kind of vulnerability you didn’t have the strength for, or could not afford. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most recent novel, Americanah did this to me. The more I read, the more undressed I felt; large fractions of my most intimate stories, save for a few differences, splayed across pages.

It is no secret that I have an affinity for books that address the immigrant experience. More so, those that tackle the subject in a fashion that doesn’t beg for sympathy but authentically explores the struggles, triumphs, and the things we consider too taboo to disclose to the outside community so we keep them amongst ourselves. Some of my favorites are Jhumpa Lahiri’s the namesake, Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brown stones, Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation, and now Amerincanah.

Like one of the main characters in Adichie’s novel, Ifemelu, I was a foreign student and as a result found it quite easy to identify with her. I won’t be presumptuous to assume that every foreign student or immigrant would feel this kind of kinship. However, a lot of her experiences mirrored mine. From the letters in bold print from the bursars office; “YOUR RECORDS WILL BE FROZEN UNLESS PAYMENT IS RECEIVED BY THE DATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS NOTICE,” and the voice of the love she left behind trying to buoy her via a phone line, to her inability to work because of her status. Or, more seriously, the circumstances that would eventually cause the fissure that grew between them.

I am not sure if Adichie’s life or that of someone close to her informed this book. However it is very clear that she took care in making sure that it was as authentic as possible. For example, the exchange in the hair braiding salon:
“How you get your papers? Aisha asked.
“What?”
“How you get your papers?”
Ifemelu was startled into silence. A sacrilege, that question, immigrants did not ask other immigrants how they got their papers, did not burrow into those layered, private places, it was sufficient simply to admire that the papers had been got, a legal status acquired.
“Me, I try an American when I come, to marry. But he bring many problems, no job and every day he say give me money, money, money.” Aisha said, shaking her head. “How you get your own?”
…I got mine from work.” She said. “The company I worked for sponsored my green card.”
“Oh.” Aisha said, as though she had just realized that Ifemelu belonged to a group of people whose green cards simply fell from the sky. People like her could not, of course, get theirs from an employer.

Ifemelu’s observation of Aisha’s reaction reminded me of the hierarchy in some fractions of the immigrant community. Not that Ifemelu was guilty of it, but I’ve found that a lot of immigrants can be judgmental, even harsher than a group of Xenophobic Americans. With those immigrants, there are tiers of relevance and importance. At the top are naturalized citizens, followed by permanent residents, and just above the undocumented or illegal aliens but below the permanent residents are the visa categories (F-1/international students, H-1 work visas, H-1b/spouses and children under 21 of H-1 holders etc). Also, how one gains their green card may rate their importance. It is not sufficient that this type of scrutiny already exists outside of the community. We must be perpetrators too and carry it out on each other.

But Americanah does not only explore the immigrant experience. It is in essence, a love story; definitely not a cliché but one that examines other themes such as race in America. For example, the dinner party that Ifemelu attended where she belted, “When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, look how far we’ve come. Just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.”

Adichie allows her characters to say things we have all thought of at one point or the other. At least I have, and seeing it on paper made me chuckle. Case in point: “He had at first been excited about Facebook, ghosts of old friends suddenly morphed to life with wives and husbands and children, and photos trailed by comments. But he began to be appalled by the air of unreality, the careful manipulation of images to create a parallel life, pictures that people had taken with Facebook in mind, placing in the background the things of which they were proud.”

However, it would be a severe injustice to portray Americanah as a collection of heavy themes, political commentary and satire. It is more than all of these. Chimananda Adichie wrote a story that is honest, unpretentious and very realistic. It is exquisite literary fiction that explores a lot of the things people, more so expats experience and does it with a very careful hand. It is a very well constructed novel worthy of every minute spent reading its 477 pages. Quite honestly, I am tempted to disclose more of its content; the lighter, laughter inducing stuff. But that’s a disservice to you. On the other hand, I will admit that the ending is a little unbelievable. I thought the conclusion was a little too easy and that in reality, it might not end that way. Nevertheless, Americanah will be one of my all time favorites because, as one of the characters said, “The human stories that matter are those that endure.” And this one definitely mattered.

Bumping into humor

November 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

Before the evening I sat in the condo of a Vanity Fair magazine writer’s living room, I had never heard of him or any of his shows. But as I waited in the awesome presence of books to be read, temptation got the better of me. And against the hammering of my mother’s caution, “do not touch what does not belong to you,” I reached for the nearest one, pried it open and was introduced to Dick Cavett.

“Being the offspring of English teachers is a mixed blessing. When the film star says to you, on the air, “it was a perfect script for she and I,” inside your head you hear, in the sarcastic voice of your late father, “Perfect for she, eh? And perfect for I, also?” -Dick Cavett, It’s Only Language, Talk Show.

As a daughter who also hears her (Headmistress/ Principal) mother’s voice, I could not prevent the laughter that spewed upon reading the above. To be quite honest, I laughed a little more quoting it here. With such an attention grabbing first paragraph, I felt compelled to dive into the advance copy of Dick Cavett’s book, Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets.

When the VF writer appeared, I announced my discovery and how much the first paragraph tickled me. He raved about the wit and intelligence of Cavett, and luckily for me, after citing past shows, he said I could have the book. With my curiosity piqued to the height of Kilimanjaro’s summit, I wanted to Google Cavett but fear that the internet would taint my views led the other way. Whether on the 2, F, R or Path trains, splayed across my bed, or on the throne, I voraciously consumed the compilation of essays, page after page.

Sometimes unaware of my surroundings (because the book pulls you in,) I would almost burst at the seams of my ribcage with laughter. Other times audibly (but not too loudly) re-read the euphoria inducing words to the death stares of New Yorkers who would rather ride the train in graveyard silence. A few times, folks who witnessed my giggles, cast sideward glances at the book or inquire about the source of such glee. Like an Evangelist, I rushed to spread the gospel.

Talk Show is ladled with satire and intelligence. In the essay, The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla, Cavett examines Sarah Palin’s famous ability to string words that make absolutely no sense. But if you think you’ve heard or seen that moot dissected and debated in every possible way, I say, you’ve never had it Cavett’s way. Whether he was unearthing encounters (private or on his show) with literary canons such as John Updike, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal and John Cheever, or famous actors such as John Wayne, Richard Burton or Marlon Brando, he holds the reader’s attention hostage.

Imagine the delight to have read about another fraction of the Watergate scandal. More so Dick Cavett’s strand of that experience and how much of a fixture he was in the former president’s mind. Talk Show grazes in pastures most memoirs do not and is a celebration of diverse experiences. From his youthful days, to writing for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, and Jack Paar, dealing with depression, telling on himself and many embarrassing moments, politics, friendships, reunions, et cetera, it is the epitome of a life being lived colorfully.

However, it was not all giggles and doubling over with laughter. There were somber tones. In What my Uncle Knew About War, merely labeling wars as horrifically brutal and senseless killings was insufficient. Instead, Cavett carved a niche beyond the surface of the cranium and into the reader’s psyche. For example: ‘“Tom [his (uncle’s) best friend] and I were trotting along, firing our rifles, and I turned to say something to Tom and his head was gone…” He said the worst part was that while still holding the rifle, the body, now a fountain, continued for four or five steps before falling. He hated to close his eyes at night because that ghastly horror was his dependable nightly visitor for years- like Macbeth, murdering sleep.”

On the other hand, I have a single ought against, or should i say disagreement with Imus in the Hornets’ Nest. It is very clear that Cavett respects Don Imus in part for his ability, as one of the few public figures who does not assault the English Language, to pronounces all the c’s in arctic. But as an African woman, his nappy headed ho comment bruised. Cavett can not understand why the mob came at Imus because no matter how much he knows of slavery or segregation, he is not a woman of African descent. In said essay, he asked many questions, and to answer whether he (Imus) meant to harm or not, I say, it does not matter. Sometimes the best intentions do not make things right. It hurt. He should not have said it. Imagine a prominent African saying C****ker ho as a joke on the airwaves. That would definitely be career suicide. Or let’s take for example CNN anchor, Rick Sanchez being axed for his joke. I am not against free speech, but with it comes responsibility.

Nevertheless, the flavor of the book is not tainted by this. As a matter of fact, what is a book that does not enlighten, or evoke emotions that last a train and bus ride, or tickle the reader who in turn raises the ire of their fellow commuters? Cavett’s does all of this. Talk Show is a remarkable collection of essays from his New York Times column and a must have for the reader who appreciates humor, honesty and good writing. It will be on sale November 9th, 2010.

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