Sunday, May 31, 2009

La Soufriere Drive In Volcano

Maybe it's my love of drama but I love volcanoes. It's no coincidence that most of my favorite places sport a lava-spewing peak or two. After the Pitons, La Soufriere drive-in volcano tops the list as St. Lucia’s most recognizable landmark. It’s also the smelliest, with the strong, rotten-egg scent of sulfur wafting over the area for miles. An active volcano with bubbling gases and seething sulfur pools, La Soufriere allows visitors to drive up to a few 100 feet of the crater and then walk through a fault in the substratum rock on a guided tour. It’s a fascinating display, especially Gabriel’s Hole, the place in a steaming fissure where a tour guide sunk into the boiling mud in 1985. He survived with second degree burns but now all of the vents are fenced off. One of the essential activities at La Soufriere is a dip in the gurgling hot sulfur baths. The warm, muddy sulfur deposits are reputed to help arthritis, eczema and instantly soothe mosquito bites. After days lolling around in the Lucian sun,nothing's more refreshing. You can bring a bathing suit, (the sulfur smell is difficult to remove from clothes) or just wade in.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dasheene Moments or Lucian Food Porn

Dasheen plants, also called taro, cocoyam or eddo, grow all over the Caribbean region. A starchy tuber that tastes more flavorful than a potato, dasheen is a staple in most Caribbean diets. The Ladera Resort is located on the hills of a former dasheen plantation, which is how its noted restaurant got its name. If you can't manage to stay at the lovely Ladera, eating at Dasheene is a must. Overlooking the twin-peaked, Piton mountains and surrounded by the Caribbean sea with lush vegetation and flowers everywhere, Dasheene is worth the view alone.

The food however, is the real star attraction. Renowned Executive Chef Orlando Satchell describes his nouvelle Caribbean cuisine as not overly spicy, well-seasoned, with English and French influences. He also calls it sex on a plate, which is exactly how I think of it. The colors, flavors and spices meld together to create the most tantalizing spectacles that it looks like food porn. London-born with Jamaican heritage, Orlando focuses on placing Caribbean cuisine on the international map, using local produce and island flair. I started with the watermelon and heart of palm salad above. A basil dressing gave the sweet melon a pleasant kick.

The fruit gazpacho featured tomato, watermelon and papaya. I sipped it down and it swirled spicy and sweet together for a refreshing and surprising taste.

My main course was St. Lucia cocoa Mahi Mahi. The fillet was pan-seared and dusted with cocoa powder and topped with a dasheen chip. Pumpkin flavored rice, fruit salsa and an assortment of grilled local squash (cho cho,calabaza) accompanied the dish. I can't even describe the flavors except to call them heavenly.

Of course, my favorite part of any meal is dessert and Orlando did not hold anything back. The trio of island fruits were arranged to resemble the Pitons. The first was passion fruit mousse in a passion fruit shell, next was papaya parfait formed into a mountain-like wedge and next was cocoa brulee. Each dessert would have been delicious all by themselves but all three together made them unforgettable.

Drinks are an important part of a Caribbean meal because of the heat. I started with Ladera Punch, which mixes fruit juices with lemongrass, ginger and grated pineapple skin. I thought I'd never get enough of that drink until Orlando revealed Seventh Heaven to end the meal. A locally made ginger liqueur, the lightly sweet and spicy libation forced me to relish every Dasheene moment even more.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Defense of Derek Walcott

I returned home from St. Lucia to discover controversy brewing about the island's most famous son, Caribbean Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. He was a front-runner for the highly prestigious, mostly honorary position of Oxford University Professor of Poetry. But a few days ago, he withdrew his candidacy because of a nasty behind-the-scenes, smear campaign. Instead of a first black professor of poetry, Oxford now has its first woman, Ruth Padel. And there has been nothing even remotely poetic about the fallout.

The issues of course, run a lot deeper than just gender and racial politics. Derek Walcott has been plagued with sexual harassment claims for years. London's Guardian revealed the salacious details of how anonymous opponents of Walcott, largely believed to be backers for Padel, sent photo copies from the book The Lecherous Professor to Oxford academics. The book explores the 1982 sexual harassment claims made by a Harvard student against Walcott. Rather than dignify such underhanded tactics, Walcott resigned from consideration for the 300-year-old post. Walcott supporters, including prominent feminist scholar Herminone Lee, loudly protested the double standard that focuses on an artist's behavior and not his work. They pointed out that if they censored all writers for inappropriate behavior, from Keats, to Byron and Elliot, there would be hardly anyone left. Even his former accuser Nicole Kelby, who sued Boston University for what she believed was sexual harassment by Walcott in 1996, lamented the lost opportunity to hear lectures from the "greatest living poet in our time."

As a feminist immersed in Caribbean culture, I feel compelled to add my perspective. Derek Walcott should not be excused for his behavior. Sexual harassment is painful and damaging on many levels. Too often, it's treated as a minor offense but it's not. It's about power and control wielded unjustly and nobody should have to deal with it. That being said, the Professor of Poetry position does not involve any situations where the holder has power or control over students. The position does not include classes or any one-on one or small group workshops. It only calls for 3 university wide lectures a year.

Derek Walcott is of a generation and culture that rewards womanizing. In the Caribbean, men who are experts at flirting and maintaining lots of simultaneous relationships with women are highly regarded. Women expect it and men congratulate it. It's a deep-seated cultural issue that plays havoc with families and women's self esteem. It's an issue that needs to be seriously addressed but Oxford is not the place for that. Derek Walcott is considered the greatest living poet of the English-speaking world. He swirls the heart and soul of the Caribbean with the classic canon for verses that sear into you. He is 79-years-old. There will not be many more opportunities for him to share his genius in person. I believe that it is a disservice to his talent and to Oxford students for him not to hold the Professor of Poetry position. I feel that the underhanded politics that undermined his candidacy reflect outdated colonial attitudes and bias. If the situation were reversed and Walcott was a woman accused of sexually harassing young men, I'd feel the same way. It's not about sex or race but the greatness of talent.


According to the Guardian Ruth Padel, the Oxford Professor of Poetry for just 9 days, has stepped down from the position. She has admitted to sending emails to journalists that emphasized Walcott's sexual harassment charges. A new election will have to be organized and hopefully, Walcott will again be considered.

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lush Living At Ladera

Tropical paradise is an overused term but St. Lucia truly personifies the concept. The tiny island isn't called the Helen of the West Indies for nothing. Helen of Troy's legendary beauty inspired wars but the gorgeous St. Lucia landscape inspires a hypnotic daze. There's jaw-dropping beauty everywhere you turn, from the twin peaks of the Pitons, to the lush rain forests and the cobalt blue waters. Ladera eco resort in Soufriere embraces all this natural beauty. The 32 rooms of the resort display only 3 walls, so that the stunning views of mountain ridges and the Pitons are never obscured. There are no TVs, phones or radios on Ladera. The only sounds you hear are of tree frogs and splashing waves.

The Pitons hover over the entire resort, offering panoramic views from every room's angle. Ladera feels like a luxury tree house, where you can gaze out at treetops and vegetation constantly.

All of Ladera's materials, including wood, stonework, terracotta tiles and decor are made locally. I loved this sink accented with a conch sell that was probably fished out of the sea right near the resort.

Each room includes a plunge pool and fountains. I thought the swing was very enticing. It's like a water-friendly hammock, where you can lounge and dive back into the water when you feel like it.

The Ladera grounds include a spa, hot mineral baths and a famous restaurant, Dashene, which I'll explore in my next post. I'm not usually a big fan of resorts and large hotels but Ladera exudes authentic Lucian charm and loveliness.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dancing the Cocoarena

As if jaw-dropping tropical beauty wasn't enough, St. Lucia also offers one of nature's most important treasures--chocolate! Several cocoa plantations dot the lush southern part of the island. I toured Fond Doux Estate, a locally owned organic cocoa plantation in Soufriere, where I witnessed the cocoarena dance.

After the cocoa beans have dried, workers jump into a basin and dance on hundreds of beans. They swivel their hips and toss up their heels better than any of the "Macarena" girls. Besides entertainment, the dance polishes the beans and removes any blemishes.

The beans are placed in a drying bin and left to roast in the sun for 2-3 weeks. That's after the initial drying and fermentation period of 5-6 weeks. Only a small percentage of the beans make the cut to be shipped to Hershey's chocolate company in Pennsylvania.

Before they are dried and polished,cocoa beans are nestled in cocoa pods, covered in a custard-like substance. I sampled some of the fresh beans right out of the pods. They taste like lychee, with a slightly sweet, vaguely acidic flavor. You don't chew on them but suck them until the flavor evaporates.

After they beans have been completely dried and polished, about five percent are selected for roasting and then grinding with a mortar and pestle. The beans are grounded into a paste and then rolled into cocoa sticks,which are used to make the Caribbean favorite, cocoa tea. Cocoa tea is basically hot cocoa with a richer, more earthy flavor. After watching all of the work it takes to produce organic chocolate, I'll savor my gourmet chocolate treats all the more!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Angst About Amy

So I couldn't escape it. I really tried but facing Amy Winehouse up close was too much. I got sucked into all the speculations, media hype and general preoccupation with her state of mind. It is not good. I'm a fan of Amy's soulful, jazz-inflected vocals. I had hope that her 5 months on St. Lucia had helped heal her demons. If any place could accomplish the task, it's the dreamy beauty and gentle-spirited people of St. Lucia. But it doesn't seem to be working. One glance at her unfocused eyes told me all I needed to know. I was only a few feet away from the stage so I saw everything and it was painful to watch.

She ambled out in an aqua-colored mini and the requisite pile of hair. She grinded provocatively in her 5-inch, white Louboutin's. After 2 off key songs, she bends down to take off her stilettos. Her back is to the crowd and she flashes her white panties. Amy starts singing and then stops midway, announcing that she's bored. In the meantime, a monsoon is starting on St. Lucia. Buckets of rain pound the stage. Mounds of volcanic mud cling to everything. The stage lights shut off and Amy walks off to loud boos. She turns around and performs a ska version of Sam Cooke's "Cupid." She swigs what looks like rum from a plastic cup and starts flailing her twiggy arms off beat. Amy hangs on to a back-up singer for support. She gazes off with a sad, lost look. "Get a cup of tea!" yells a crowd of rowdy Brits. She needs a lot more than tea. She squats to put on her shoes and then takes them off again. She manages to get through "You Know I'm No Good", stares out at the crowd and then walks off the stage. The audience rewards her with thundering boos.

During the entire spectacle, I was standing next to her bodyguard. I watched for signs of concern on his face and detected none. There were whispers of getting the paramedics floating through the crowd as he bounded backstage. Of course, no interviews were allowed and Amy later released a statement saying the storm forced her to abandon her performance. I felt tainted after watching Amy struggle through her show. It was like quietly watching someone commit suicide. I stayed in the same villa community with Amy and other journalists. She acts like a rambunctious toddler, skipping and jumping around barefoot and sucking her thumb. I asked her where her lovely shoes were and she replied, "never you mind." I don't think it was a coincidence that she never got to sing her signature "Rehab." She's clearly not going and there's nobody around her to care that she doesn't.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Off To The St.Lucia Jazz Fest

I'll be covering the St Lucia Jazz Fest for the rest of the week, which means chasing headliner Amy Winehouse around, hanging out with local star Shayne Ross, eating saltfish and green bananas and soaking up the Caribbean sun! I'll post lots of photos, music reviews and cultural musings when I get back. So until then, talk amongst yourselves!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Dish On Chicago Deep Dish

When Gennaro of Enduring Wanderlust invited me to write about the best Chicago local eats, Chicago pizza popped up immediately in my mind. We've got hot dogs and brats and steak but there's no food more quintessentially Chicago than deep dish pizza. My post inspired a lot of hungry comments on his blog so here it is again and please eat before reading!

For Chicago visitors, a taste of Chicago style pizza is a must. Noted for its thick crust and gut-busting piles of cheese and toppings, Chicago style pizza reflects the city's brash attitude and heavy Midwestern palate. There are hundreds of eateries in Chicago and out, that claim the best Chicago -style pizza but my recommendations for tourists are:

Pizzeria Due, ( an iconic Chicago restaurant credited with being one of the first restaurants serving Chicago style, it's decor is basic and it's always crowded because the pizza is authentic. Due is the second restaurant that was opened because the popular Uno was constantly over-crowded. Unos has expanded into a restaurant group across the U.S. but Due is still one-of a-kind.

Giordanos ( is another famous eatery that's favored by locals. There are over a half dozen city-wide locations but the one at 730 N. Rush offers lots of energy and people watching, in addition to excellent stuffed pizza.

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. ( Less well known but equally as memorable, Oven Grinder creates a signature pizza pot pie that's not to be missed. Located in a charming brownstone in Lincoln Park, this restaurant, like it's neighborhood, supplies an understated stylish vibe.