Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fillet of Place

I’d never been on a bamboo raft.  Never knew they existed. So I sat and gazed at the couple reclining on the bamboo raft as it skimmed the water.  It was coming on twilight and the sun tinged pinky orange the bleach white villas behind them.  The air was cool underneath the overhanging branches.  I could hear their leaves rustling and the ripples as they formed on the water’s surface.  Grasshoppers and crickets began rehearsing the first tentative chords of their nightly orchestra.  I could see the eddy currents forming off the raftsman’s oar as he piloted the raft forward.  I could even hear the mumblings of the conversation being had by the couple. They didn’t mind my voyeurism.  Didn’t even know I was there.   Only the raftsman knew.  He was looking directly at me.

How romantic! I thought. 

I knew this image was taken in Jamaica, but where in Jamaica?  In the pre internet age of my early teenage years Google wasn’t at my disposal.  No.  Where was this place and how do I get there?  This powerful - provocative image became increasingly so each time I saw it repeated in subsequent issues of the magazine it was featured in.   So much so, that I wondered at the advertiser’s aim.  To me, the ad advertised the place and not the cheap cologne foregrounded.

This ad was my initial visual introduction to the Blue Lagoon, or Blue Hole.

Its genius loci had such a profound impact on my young teenage mind, even in 2D, and I decided definitively at that moment that this is where I’d spend my honeymoon.  Wherever ‘this’ was.  Even had the groom already picked out.  No surprise there.  Teenage girls envision this soppy stuff waaay ahead of time. We think of Love, Gossip, Fashion, Boys, Parties, Music, … .  Not necessarily in that order.  Maybe in that order.  It’s how we’re conditioned. That’s what the sociologists say.

A rarely seen vantage point: The courtyard entrances to two Villas

Fast forward three-ish years and I actually had my first real encounter with Blue Lagoon.  I was on a sixth form field trip.  Some wicked trip that.  Rocking and dancing in the aisle to Pinchers, Lt Stitchie and Tiger (Damn Ting! I put Jamaica white rum in di damn ting!) belting out of the superb sound system of the quarter million bus we hired for the day; half of us flirting (not me of course) and quasi-flirting (??  Maybe not quasi-…call me naïve; you wouldn’t be the first). Seventeen year olds: a hot mess of hormones and faux nihilism.

I think – I’m sure, that was my absolute first trip to Portland.  Our destination was Fairy Hill beach, but we stopped at Long Bay and Blue Hole on the way.  I was secretly excited to finally go to a place I’d only vicariously been.

It did not disappoint.

A bunch of us ran out excitedly to tromp all over the grounds…or just to get out of the bus.  The lagoon was aqua-emerald-turquoise-teal and the saturation more intense than I could ever have imagined. As was the foliage.  After catching my breath, I and couple of girls walked alongside the lagoon's edge and into a dense part of the foliage on the almost opposite bank.  Climbing up through there reminded me of climbing through the steep backyards of some of my neighbours’ houses in Stony Hill, sans limestone boulders. 

Eventually I found what had called to me across the water:  Two villas. One in total, exquisite ruins; the other only just.  We conveniently did not hear our teacher call after us to be careful.  We climbed up and lobbed ourselves over the temporal threshold of the latter villa.  It was constructed of wood and painted white.  Inside was silent.  We subconsciously responded to this silence by reverting to our hushed voices.  The chatting and laughter from our party outside reduced to incoherent white noise.  The rooms were a shadow of their former selves, but discernible nonetheless. The villa wasn’t big, but it was bright and well planned.  Much of it remained true and we were able to walk its corridors that led to the remains of room after room and climb a partial stairway leading to what was once upstairs.  It was easy to imagine residing in this space now coloured the faded white of deteriorating clapboard, cloaked in bright green moss and grey-green lichen. 

Easy to imagine sitting on the balcony observing a pinky-orange sunset to the tune of a thousand crickets, easy to imagine falling asleep in the rooms facing hillside to the lull of rustling leaves and the muffled, melodic klaxon of the occasional country bus rounding the bend of the not too distant A4 road above, easy to imagine being awakened by the seven-tiered coo of the white-wing doves and arising to see the morning sun reflecting off the still, glassy surface of the aqua-emerald-turquoise-teal lagoon, easy to imagine planning the day’s occupation whilst lounging in the living room with its French windows flung wide to let in nature.   

Wandering through the villa I noticed that philodendron and other foliage had crept up and vined and snaked their way through the rotted away portions (even the plants wanted to see inside this folly), weaving in and out as they found their way to the sunlight above, tiny bits of which floated down through the holes of the soft, rotted cedar shake roof to rest on the floors and walls, highlighting that peculiar shade of chartreuse that new moss has in the sunlight.  One could hear the intermittent sound of leaves rustling in a cascading crescendo and feel the coolness of the now semi-enclosed space.  The sublime takeover of nature transformed the villa in ruins into a cathedral in the treetops.  A monument to what once was.

It was hard to reverse track and exit this ruin.  A stark contrast to the solid, sure, concrete villas on the other side of the lagoon, yet just as majestic in its faded glory.  I found myself lamenting,

‘Who didn’t love it enough to preserve it?’

Few things last forever.  I suppose.

Pastel drawing of Restaurant
'Orchid Cay' with foliage
I was in a very pensive mood on our departure from Blue Hole and on to the next stop, Fairy Hill beach, which held its fair share of delights.  My pensive mood returned once evening fell and we headed back to Kingston.  I knew I would return but I never knew that I was destined to see my first moray eel and spotted eagle ray at the Blue Hole.  That I’d go on several trips to Portland with friends when on vacation from college and revisit the lagoon each time; that I’d get my diver’s certification there and nearby Trident Wall; that it would take eight different shades of blue and nine different shades of green pastels to recreate an image of the lagoon for an art class; that Master Bates, the unofficial mascot of the lagoon would remain long enough to gain a bit part in a YouTube feature decades hence; that I and my schoolmate/blindly-unbeknownst-to-me future husband (who was also on the trip) would, on our honeymoon,  swim out to the tiny little cay and climb it, stand at the top, and in youthful, destructive ignorance, pick two purple orchids as I selfishly and carelessly exerted my power over nature.

I regret doing that to this day.   That cay is now bald, that marriage long dissolved, Master Bates half rusted and shabby, the wooden shed in my pastel itself a ruin, the once lush bank to the left of the lovers on the raft now transformed into an abhorrent man-made, polluted, dumped-up beach.
I’ve been accused of being naïve, and a hopeless romantic to boot. Guilty as charged.  And I wouldn’t have me any other way.  It’s probably why it never occurred to me that Blue Hole’s timeless, startling, ethereal beauty would not go unnoticed by anyone who encountered her; in either 2D or real D.

The systematic destruction of the lagoon draws my soul and pierces my heart deeply.  I am at a loss as to why such a move was undertaken and why nearby inhabitants of the lagoon, some of whom wield significant power and influence over public policy and decisionmaking, have turned a blind eye to its demise. I find myself asking myself,

Do they not love it enough to preserve it?

Master Bates

 - Torsdag

Save Blue Lagoon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

To Floss or Not to Floss that is the Question?

“How come you are staying here?” my client exclaimed when he dropped me off at the Altamont Court hotel in Kingston, JA.

“Because this fits my needs. It’s efficient, safe and clean. I am family when am here plus, it’s fantastic value for money. Why?” I am curious.

“Because someone of your stature should be staying at the Spanish Court Hotel, you should be holding your meetings there to show people who you are. And act more white!”. He replies with open conviction.

Nowhere else is the appearance of wealth and social status more ridge and important for display than in Jamaica in 2011. The need to show ones ability is no longer judged by ones credentials and authority those solid foundations have been replaced with gauche peacock parades of bling and wild grandiose titles they have self bestowed online. “CEO’s” without staff, “Presidents” without revenue and “Tech Guru’s” and “Consultants” who aren’t even bankable by a major brand to hire them as staff. So many, just Kings new clothes….

The diaspora moved to foreign lands and worked hard for ‘the man’ and created the barrel mentality arriving back looking like they’ve been ‘in farin’. But times have changed and as anyone who is abroad can tell you. The life in Jamaica is often a much better quality than the struggle for ‘stuff’ here. There is a lot of hard work to be done and quite frankly many that I know on the Rock couldn’t even stomach the long hours and the tough environments that workers have to make that $. Plenty of times I’ve been approached by people with laundry lists of high end items they want, yet these same people when I have found them work, quit so soon as they “won’t be working for no slave driver!”. Interesting how they would see the long hours I put in and the trudging through the winter snow, hail and rain to be there on time. OK for me to work for the man? But it’s not for them.

Why are so many folks buying into this flossing? This hyperreality that they back up with online gusto? Putting on pedestals the worship of goods and faux social status over value and endurable credibility of solid education and employment resumes. Personally, I think it’s the degeneration of ‘Jamaica the brand’. People are looking to America and having all those brands be the badge of their success. There’s little perceived value to buy-Jamaica or be-authentic-Jamaican anymore. There’s no respect or fair-trade ethos to support anything other than the flash named brands. The disinterest to preserve the vibrant valuable culture is seen in JTBs global campaigns that bolster the glossy All-Inclusive market over the meet the people smaller hotels. The only way we can buy back that trust is to not, hook line and sinker buy into the floss. The more Jamaicans buy into the brand floss like debt riddled America the more negative an impact it will have on the country and culture. Jamaica you don't know what you have till it's gone.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." -Lost with the seduction of crass consumerism - It’s costing folks their lives, literally.

- Jane Buchanan