Thursday, January 29, 2009

Twin City Love

When I mention that I love Twin City, I'm not talking about Minneapolis and St.Paul although I'm sure they're lovely in their own way. Twin City is the nickname for the U.S. Virgin Islands' St.Croix and it's one of my favorite Caribbean islands. It's called Twin City because of it's two major towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted. Brimming with quaint, jewel-colored houses and fragrant bougainvillea, ixora and hibiscus everywhere you turn, St. Croix is packed with charm and culture. The capitol of Christiansted sits serenely on a waterfront square surrounded by butter-colored, neo-classic buildings dating from the 1700s. The city also boasts rows of art galleries, which I'll explore in my next post. What I love about St.Croix is that it offers the beauty and lush environment that you'd expect from an island but it also supplies lots of culture and history. Cruzans are a laid-back, brainy bunch and there's nothing better than hanging out in a Christiansted cafe, talking to artists and makeshift politicians. As the largest of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix attracts an urbane mix of people from across the Caribbean region as well as the U.S. In fact, I once considered moving there after I got an offer from the local St.Croix newspaper. The crime rates and faltering medical facilities deterred me but it still remains one of my beloved island destinations.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Zipping Through The Air

Zip Lining is one of those travel activities that intimidates a lot of people. I guess pairing sky-scraping heights with jungles and a single rope to hang from does sound scary. But it doesn't have to be. I sailed through the St.Lucian rain forest with not a flicker of fear. I glanced at the tops of palm trees and touched oversize ferns. A light sprinkle of rain started to fall and the experience was even more magical, even though it was hard to see after awhile. It was exhilarating because I'm tall and I could see the floor of the forest just a few feet beneath my legs. It's not so upsetting when you can imagine jumping from the rope and safely to the ground. St. Lucia is a small island and accordingly, it's zip line tour is relatively small.
On the other hand, I have known the gripping fear that comes from facing a true zip line. By true, I mean a zip line strung atop tree canopies of at least 20 feet. A few years ago in Costa Rica, I forced myself to do the zip line as a way of forcing myself out of my comfort zone. I don't typically gravitate toward many things that require athletic shoes and special equipment. But there I was, trudging through the yawning Costa Rican rain forest and climbing tower after tower of mind-numbingly high platforms, which I was pushed across. I was petrified. I vowed never to do it again but the thing about zip lines is that you can't turn back. You're in the middle of the jungle and the platforms are placed so that only the very last one is near the exit. So I didn't have much of a choice but I have to admit, I didn't love it. Especially when I got stuck hanging in the middle of the next to last platform. The velocity wasn't great enough and I hadn't listened when the guides said I'd have to use my hands to move the rest of the way. Right. A guide had to swing out on his arms and guide me back. So I was thrilling and brave on the St.Lucia zip line only because I'd already lived through the horrors of Costa Rica's. But I would recommend the zip line experience anyway. It's a great way to face your fears.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Forever

Yvonne over at the Rest of Yesterday supplied the alert that you can make these great Obamicons over at Paste Magazine's site. After fighting to keep back the tears as I watched the inauguration,( I was teaching my journalism class and historical or not, I don't think it's a good look for the prof to break down in tears.) I made this one to represent the feeling of hope and pride that the ceremony inspired in me. Words can't even begin to express all the emotions that are swirling, especially when I see familiar Chicago faces like Desiree Rogers and Jesse Jackson Jr. right there with him. It's a special day, a piece of history that I'll never forget.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Devil's Bridge

Although it's not the prettiest island in the Caribbean, tiny Antigua (108 sq. miles) is one of my favorites. The people exude the most genuinely warm spirits that I've ever witnessed and it's the birthplace of one of my favorite authors, Jamaica Kincaid. I spent my first hours in the capitol of St. John, scouring the streets for the library that Jamaica writes about so vividly in A Small Place. I found it in much the same cramped glory that she described almost a decade before but that wasn't one of the island's most memorable spots. That honor goes to Devil's Bridge.

Located on the northeast side of Antigua, covered with sloping hills and luxurious vegetation, you'll find the eerily popular attraction called Devil's Bridge. A natural limestone arch carved from Atlantic Ocean breakers looms up from the water. Blow holes and whipping waves add to the daunting effect of the place. Screaming over the bridge delivers not just excitement but a watery reward; the ocean responds to the kinetic energy and the waves rise in response. It's a splash that I'll never forget.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Rosy Outlook

So it's 10 below zero in Chicago. My forehead feels immovable from being exposed to the skin-slapping wind. People always expect Chicagoans to be used to the weather but you never get used to brutal temperatures. You just adjust. Adjustment for me means focusing on my many tropical travels. I've gazed at tons of gorgeous beaches but the most unforgettable was Barbuda's pink sand shoreline.

Stretching for 10-miles non-stop, with nary a beach towel or umbrella stand in sight, Barbuda's beaches resemble true paradise. I keep two bottles of the blush-colored sand on my bookshelf. Today I've been staring at it hoping it will transport me to Barbuda or at least transmit a bit of the tiny island's heat. It hasn't worked. At least I have my memories. The most vivid of which is spending hours in postage-stamp-sized Codrington Airport. The waiting area and outside yard serves as Barbuda's socializing mecca. Women lounge around to discover who's flying in or leaving and kids play cricket with homemade bats. People pass out food and ask about your family. It's like the warmth of Barbuda's people is reflected in the rosy sands of its beaches.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Wicked Rhythms

A colorful Barbados memory that will always stick with me is winding down craggy country roads with the lovely resort town of Bathsheba as a backdrop. Only my attention wasn't on Bathsheba and its milky waters splashing the shores. I was singing a clever calypso led by art historian and musician Trevor Marshall and trying to figure out the punch line. A good calypso tune bursts with double entendres but it's not always immediately apparent. Trevor introduced me to this famous hit by Dave Martins and The Tradewinds and I'll always associate it with Barbados, even though the group members also represent Guyana, Trinidad, Grenada and the Cayman Islands. It's quite wicked, which is how I like my calypso!


A honeymooning couple was in a bedroom/ packing up to go away/in the middle of June/

Well all of a sudden/ a big argument break out/listen to the bridegroom/ listen what he shout/

You get on top/ that's the way it must go/I am your husband you know/ you get on top/

don't make any noise/ shut your mouth/ that's the only way/ it will work out/

Chorus: Bettah get on top/ ting a ling /a ling/ Bettah get on top/ting a ling/ a ling

Next ya hear a commotion/ behind the door/ somebody fall down/ boop on the floor/

and somebody shout out/ hey ya squeezing me hard/ now this time it's the lady/ she telling the
man/you get on top/ that's the way it must go/ I am your wife now you know/ and it's 50/50/
you get on top/ don't make any noise/ shut your mouth/ that's the only way it will work out/


Don't talk about how they grunting/ and they breathing hard/ imagine me outside/ man I going
mad/ quiet as a church mouse/ listening to this thing/ now this time the lady/ she start to sing/

and if you hear she says/both of we on top/ that is the way it must be/ and the husband says
yes I agree/ definitely/both of we on top/ don't make any noise/ shut your mouth/ that is the
only way/ it will work out.


Now I am no peep man/ ask anybody/ but two of them on top/this I got to see/ so down by the
keyhole/ I put me eye/ and what I saw man/made me laugh til I cry/it was a man and his wife/
and the two of them on top/ if you see them in this funny pose/well the two of them sitting
down/on top a suitcase/it's a suitcase they trying to close/

Both of we on top/ ting a ling/ a ling/ both of we on top/ ting a ling /a ling/ both of we on
top/close the blasted thing.

If you want to hear Dave and the Tradewinds sing the bouncy melody, check it out here:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Playing in the Clay

You can spot piles of clay all over Barbados but especially in Chalky Mount, a little village in St. Andrew famous for its potters and rich clay reserves. I didn't make it to Chalky Mount but I did witness the three generations of artistry at work in Fairfield House. Perched on a rocky incline in St. Michael's, Fairfield House Gallery and the adjoining Red Clay Pottery factory, three generations of the Bell family have molded Bajan clay into terra cotta pots and unique pieces like the mermaid mirror above.

I watched Maggie Bell, the main Fairfield designer, whip up bottles and bowls on the homemade machines that fill Red Clay factory. Her father Peter, had originally designed it as a clay processing plant. Now Fairfield is the largest pottery maker in Barbados and all of the wares are created from local materials and then individually painted. The Fairfield House has been in the Bell family for 70 years and I could feel all the history seeping through the walls. When I was searching for authentic Bajan souvenirs, I discovered that besides rum, hand-crafted Bajan clay items are a great reflection of Barbados culture.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Snow on the Mountain and the Christmas Candle

Okay, so I'm not over Christmas yet. I just started feeling it last week and now it's over. Blogger was also not cooperating during Christmas week and I couldn't post these lovely pics. So this will be my last holiday post.

Silver bells and twinkling lights might signal the holiday season up North but in Barbados, the vibrant blooms of yellow Christmas Candle pants means that the season has started. The island doesn't get any snow but the delicate white blossoms of the Snow on the Mountain plant cover the hills just as prettily. Both plants bloom only during the winter months when temperatures drop into the cool low 80s.