First day in Kingston

Welcome to the photo journal of my vacation in Jamaica. The two days before going into the country, I admired the blue mountains, read on the porch, and had lunch at Usain Bolt’s restaurant in Kingston.

View of the mountains from where I stayed in Kingston

I came and brought cooler air from the north into Kingston.  The mornings were crisp and the mountains had a shroud of fog over their peaks every morning.  I can just imagine how cold it must have been up there!

Morning coffee on the patio over Kingston

Juxtaposed right into the busy city street, somehow I managed to absorb what I was reading.  The cat, Calypso, came and insisted on a rub every now and then and helped me adjust to the quiet and comfortable pace of being on vacation.

Lunch at Tracks & Records, restaurant home of the great Usain Bolt

Our very pregnant waitress was clear in her explanations and had a beautiful smile that she shone on to us as often as she came to our table.  The food was excellent!  I recommend the jerk platter and the bungle of fries.  They are a mix of sweet potato, cassava and irish potato and served with a jerk mayo thingy that was divine!

Usain Bolt's NYAMINS! LOL! They rock!

To Nyam is to eat in Jamaican patois.  Nyamins was a truly appropriate name because everything on the menu looked able to make one lick one’s fingers shamelessly after.

The T-shirt of my friend Paul - BEGGING to be photographed!

All I could do was shake my head… and photograph the thing!

 

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La Noche de Flor De Caña…

Can’t have us drunk AND armed no can we?

The night started around 9 p.m. First we woke up and got ready.  Sleep was sweet and I woke up slowly with a warm water bath bailed from a bucket.  There is running water, yes, but today it is freezing.  It comes and goes on the whims of the river in this city of Ceiba trees.  When it is flowing strong it is caught in barrels for the next time it goes.

We started the night, me, Bo and Myce, in a wide open-air restaurant next to a five-star hotel by the sea. The hotel was beautiful to behold and I was told with raised eyebrows that a night there would cost US$100 (SO EXPENSIVE Bushy!  and I’m thinking SOOOO CHEAP FOR FIVE STARS!  But this is La Ceiba).  La Palapa, our restaurant, had the air of a treehouse with two floors and an open air dance floor that people on the balconies above could look down into.  It was wet but cool and very pleasant.  The smell of the sea mixed with the rain in the air and the liquor of womens’ perfume.

There was a live band, eclectic with horns, maracas and keys and two male vocalists who transitioned perfectly from merengue to punta to bolero to bachata as the crowed willed them.  I am convinced that there are sounds that only a latino can make – a voice both grating and true to the note, more of brass than of woodwind.  One of the vocalists had such a voice.  The other was as smoothe as honey and flowed from one style to another in a way that would make a woman’s knees go week if only he was a bit taller.

The waitress took our orders of Flor de Caña and sprite (sin hielo?  You shooor??  Doble o sencilla?  Doble.  No prableng).  Flor de Caña, the Cane Flower, a rum made in Honduras and neighbouring Nicaragua.  Cane does not flower to the best of my knowledge, but it grows like a bamboo with sugar caked in its fibrous stalk.  The Flor de Caña is a mystical spirit, best on ice but carefully mixed for delicate stomachs this night.

We sat on chairs artfully made from the cross sections of very large trees.  Each seat had a different size and shape but they were heavy and strong.  We took photos with shining faces.

How alike our skins glowed from the Flor de Caña and the joy at being together in La Ceiba!  The honey of the blood of Europeans mixed with the exotic flavourings of our region is the colour of the golden rum.  We are just as fragrant as our rum, as passionate, as flammable as the Flor.  The air of the exotic wafts off our family as we pay our lempiras and leave.

On the way out I take photos of the sign.  It had me laughing when we came in.  “Prohbido ingresar con armas” prohibited to enter with arms.  Latinos are a passionate people.  It would be most unwise to have us drunk AND armed at the same time.

The rain has not stopped.  It is as though I have brought with me a deluge to La Ceiba that will continue until I leave.  La Zona Viva (the Live Zone) is alive and well tonight and we pass bars and clubs one after the other heaving with music and dancing people even in the rain.

Soon we arrive at Hibou, a massive nightclub.  It is beautiful and modern, more modern than any club I have been to in the Caribbean.  In fact I struggle to remember the last time I’ve been in a club this nice.  PERIOD.  Clubs in London came close in style and size but could not touch this music or ever come close to the beauty of the people, the women especially, moving to the rhythm.

We are early and get ourselves mas Flor.  The club fills quickly and with our first drink in Hibou in hand we three join a few scores of people on the lighted floor.  The floor is like a Michael Jackson video and I’m tickled pink about it here in La Ceiba.  Who would have thought?

The music also surprises me!  Music from Jamaica, Trinidad, South Beach, London, favourites of mine mixed in with new reggaeton.  The Caribbean meets Honduras in my veins and starts to dance.  For a few seconds it is just me and the music and then Bo comes into view.

I LOVE the latin sense of manhood.  That boy can dance!  And he’s not afraid to, not here, where everyone dances and self-expression is a virtue.  Not for the Hondureños the wall flower macho stance.  Everyone here moves well and with feeling, true latinos.  They don’t have the sharp macho edges of the Jamaicans nor the indian whine of the Trinis but move in smoothe curves, rico y suave.

I am sure we cramped Bo’s style.  His dutch father blessed him with an uncommon height that puts him a head above the others in La Ceiba automatically.  His mother Nena blessed him with a handsome face and eyes that laugh all by themselves.  Myce too has these eyes and they are dancing now.  We both danced with Bo, all three of us losing our voices one song at a time singing out loud to the music and powered by Flor de Caña.

Later, girls hungry for the teenaged Bo’s attention would ask if I was his girlfriend.  This made me laugh out loud – “Aii Bo… tengo diez años mas que tu mi amor.  Puedes decirlas que soy tu “sugar mama”!”  (Aiii Bo, I have ten years on you.  You can tell them I’m your sugar mama!)  But what a compliment!  To think I look young enough to be with a 19-year-old.  I still laugh to write this!

Baleadas de La Línea – 3 a.m. food

Myce and I tired around 3 a.m.  Or was it 4?  We made our way to a waiting taxi.  Bo waved his admirers goodnight and climbed into the front seat, closing the doors behind us sugar mamas.  Everyone was hungry and so we had the taxista pass by La Línea – the famous train tracks of La Ceiba – for baleadas.

In the near future I will have to write something special about the food.  I cannot do it justice in any other way but in its own post.

The baleadas were amazing this morning, with strips of beef and pieces of chicharon.  They were so good they were gone by the time we pulled into Nena’s gate.

Fiore let us in and told us how Monkey had cried until she’d been sick.  “Que rabia tiene esta muchacha!”  But before the story ended I was clean and sliding under my stallion blanket.  Fast asleep in a minute.

Flowers and Food

It is the haven where I sit with my cup of coffee in my pajamas and write for a few hours.  It is my most brilliantly decorated space.  It is where I can feel the breeze filter through screens and dance over petals to bring offerings of fragrance to my nose.  It is my pantry and my showcase where tomatoes, parsley, dendrobium orchids and sun roses overlap like uneven partners prepared for a waltz to begin.  This little piece of Eden is my very own porch garden.

So many things that a woman needs can be found on this eight-by-twelve piece of the world.  Rest, birdsong, breeze, peace, puppies (always at my feet), mint, new blooms, cushions, books, lightning storms, rain, and soon to come, a hammock.  But this morning I will focus only on two essentials.

Every Single Woman Needs FLOWERS.

Snow White

And I don’t mean the hastily selected gas station bouquet held behind his back when he comes on his first date.  I mean her very own blossomer that she teases and talks to and sings to and protects that will once or twice a year reward her with gorgeous flowers round and sweet.  I am an orchid lady.  My girlfriend in college was a daffodil woman.  My aunt in Jamaica dwells amongst her proud ginger lilies and birds of paradise.  My mother has never been able to love one flower over another and has every possible bloom she can get her hands on hanging from and propped against her trees.  Pick your flower or love them all, flowers are a necessity.

Moving from the city to back home was a big change for me.  I found myself in tears at the most unexpected times, I had nightmares and the silence of island life and pressures of work began to drive me crazy.  One afternoon after a particularly bad night of tears and alcohol I woke up to find a white dendrobium balancing on my bedside table.  My mother, helpless but relying on the power of the flower, had gone to town in search of a way to help me see past the clouds.  She selected something of beauty that would change my life.

Another darling to join Snow White

It was my first orchid.  Today she is blooming in bursts of purity right next to me as I write.  She is over two feet tall and makes me very proud.  Several others have joined her but she is very special, my first.  I learned that morning as I fawned over young blooms through tear-tired eyes that I too can blossom out of nothing but air and water.  I made the decision there and then that I would be an orchid lady.

Every Single Woman Needs FOOD

Vegetables.  And fruits.  And roots.  But how about we start with veggies.

Young Herb Garden

Anyone who tries to eat healthy or, more difficult, to become a vegetarian, will tell you that it can be very expensive.  Picture a supermarket cart full of fresh vegetables side by side with one full of processed chips and pastas and rices and butter and all things bad for you.  The veggie cart will always be more expensive.  Worse now that we are in a recession.  If you are in the USA, run the experiment of shopping at the local Whole Foods store and then go do the shopping at Publix and see the difference.  The grocery bill for healthy food will blow your mind.

In comes the garden.  Lacy mint and proud parsley, crawling cucumbers and bright tomatoes.  You decide how much to sow and how much to reap.  You putter over the pots in your slippers with a watering can in one hand and your coffee in the next.  All for the cost of a few seed packs and some soil you can have your own grocery cart full of vegetables.

Mint

In our strained economic times it is very easy to feed off the bottom with places like KFC and Popeyes, Wendy’s and Burger King.  But you are still spending for three meals every day more than a pack of seeds and some soil for food that will not clog your arteries and take years off your life.  Do it right and those seeds will be the gift that keeps on giving.  Many a Single Woman has discovered for herself a green thumb she didn’t know she had until she lost her job or had financial troubles tumble down toward her.

But why wait for disaster?  We have no excuse.  We don’t have a husband or a boyfriend pressuring us to put greasy toe-cheese on the plate every day.  Just like our financial plans need to be independent and geared toward protecting us into the future, so too should our bodies be invested in as the vehicles that take us into tomorrow.  We need to keep our tyres changed and oil checks up to date – we need to eat our vegetables.

I encourage every Single Woman today – if you have a garden outdoors don’t shy away from it.  If you have a patio like mine or a porch, invest in it.  If you only have a window in an urban apartment, open the blinds and let light fall on something that is growing.

As my tomatoes peek out from their little seed pods I can already taste the tang of vitamins as I imagine biting into the first red fruit.  I’m sure in the supermarket they will cost me up to $2 a pack.  But for that amount of money I can have the all year round from my little trees.

One tree's crop for $2

Pieces of Sunshine for Aunty

Aunty J had a stroke.  She’s in the hospital.  Daddy was so upset he sent it to me on blackberry messenger and my blood went cold.

You know the piece of sunshine in the family, the woman who is always doing something, always taking care of others with never a moment for herself.  Always cooking, ironing even my undershirts, scolding me for not dressing for the weather.  Her house always smelled of ripe plantains and was as warm as Jamaica even with the snow falling outside.

Grandma died when my dad was a toddler and Aunty J, even from a distance, has done her very best to fill the gap.  She is the grandmother I know.  Her home was my home when I moved north for university.  She cooked countless Sunday dinners and sent monthly care packages full of her special banana bread, chocolates, coconut cream, ackee and salt fish.  Always ackee and salt fish.  In a brown shoe box.  I would get a slip in my mailbox saying to please collect the large package at the porter’s desk.  Where Aunty got all those shoe boxes I have never thought to ask but there they were in a steady, reliable stream, one for every month of four years.

The cake would last from month to month with the new one arriving just as the last crumb of the old one disappeared.  The rice and peas didn’t come out right the first few times but soon I was a professional.  But the major hit was the ackee and salt fish…

Aunty would be on the phone on a Sunday – we always spoke on Sundays – and walk me through every step of ackee and salt fish until I got it right.  And if I were to take the train ride down to her for the weekend she would have the fish soaking in the kitchen as she boiled the water for my hot water bottle on cold nights.  I would wake to ackee and salt fish on the table with fried dumplings and fresh fruit with coffee and orange juice every morning that I woke up in that house.

Some people light candles.  I, like Aunty, prefer to cook as I pray.  Yesterday while she was in the Intensive Care Unit I was picking fresh ackee out of the red shell. This evening after hearing of her improvement and her move out of the ICU I poured hot water over the golden ackee flesh, boiled the salt fish and shredded it, and threw them together in a pot with thyme, onion, a spoon of oil and family secret pepper sauce.  I will send up savory steam rather than smoke, heavy with the smells of our shared experiences and a bond like no other.

I pray Aunty will soon be back on her feet and taking care of everyone again.  Cooking delicious tropical delights in a grey wintry northern city, ironing, sending birthday cards (never does she forget a date), cooking, walking to the post office, taking the bus to the grocery store, cooking and being the rock that so many of our family have been built on.  And cooking.  But today I am doing her cooking for her.

Get well!

Mango Dreams

© Brent Mclennon, 2011

What woke me three minutes before my alarm was the taste of mango in my mouth and the smell of star apple in the air.  The senses were so overwhelmed that I stretched in bliss, hit the bed-head, and woke up smiling.  Actually smiling.  Three minutes before my alarm.  Small miracle.

I was with a group of friends on a visit to Jamaica and we were being driven cross-country.  I had six weeks off from work and had left the work blackberry at home so the little red dot wouldn’t drive me insane.  We had driven from Kingston through St. Catherine, ever climbing, through Manchester’s mountains, and down the corkscrew of Spur Tree Hill into St. Elizabeth.  In the mountains of St. Bess we stopped at a road-side fruit stand.  None of this actually happened in the dream, but isn’t it strange how dreams come with their own memories and knowledge like a zip file?

In the dream my friends were negotiating with the language of Yorkshire and of Kent over bananas and sliced pineapples with an wide-eyed-with-awe country-man and tasting sugar-dense naseberries for the first time when a car pulled up.  I was called away by name and turned to find an old friend from my high-school days.  He was holding the biggest mango I had ever seen and looking very handsome.  (Probably because of the mango.)  He pulled off the road to speak to me and I remember lamenting to him that it wasn’t star apple season.  He laughed and pointed up to the tree above my head and, as if commanded by his finger, ripening star apples appeared and filled the air with a heady syrup that hit the tongue through the nose.

My magical friend gave the vendor his mango, asked him to slice it in half.  The mango had no seed! He then reached up to pick the nearest star apple.  When my teeth sank into the mango I woke up.

Smiling.  Three minutes before my alarm.

All Hail the BFF!

She told me to meet her at the sushi bar we often confuse with home.  Kawasaki (not his real name, but don’t tell his boss) always experiments on us, putting a new roll on the plate for us to pop like calorie-free pills.  Isn’t sushi soooooooo good?  We forget it’s food!

And so does he.  To Kawasaki sushi is art.  Poor chef had no idea he was handling the most powerful thing in the world.