Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Rites of passage

I have always been morbid. But morbidity has probably saved my sanity. It's been just over seven months since the death of my mother but the intensity of emotion the bubbles over at the strangest times still catches me off guard. The garden has been a tremendous source of healing and this was a new experience.

Death was a shock but the loss of a parent is the normal course of life, so why the prolonged grief?

When I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this year, I was surprised at the amount of death rituals that I saw on display. The Egyptians excelled in this area and the beauty and form of the celebration of death was of great comfort to me. I am not being terribly eloquent- so will try and summarize-

I needed the ritual to help me accpet the natural passage of death. And obviously I was not inventing the wheel here- it is impossible to fly in the face of death- so the way to deal with it is to ritualize it-
My mother and I talked a lot about birth, especially when it was my turn, death, plants, recipes and all the other things that make for the cement of emotional ties- but I was deeply shocked by the actual physical-ness of it when it happened.
When my grandmother died, she died in bed at home struggling to articulate an urgent message. The story of a thousand B movies but very real in my house. It was a Carnival weekend and everthing moved at such breakneck speed that she was buried the next day, a Saturday. In the confusion, I kept dreaming repeatedly, about her attempting to come back into the house and me having to say to her- go back, it's over - you are dead- her retort to me- you buried me without my shoes- where are they? Questions to my mother were useless- she was having her own drama with my agitated recently deceased grandmother- she kept having dreams of early morning phone calls- my mother saying to her- You are dead, you can't keep calling me. We had masses said, we looked for the shoes and we moved on.
All this came back to me while walking through the Met. Death is not something to be dealt with lightly. It's what makes us human. For us left behind, they live in us and we honour them in living the lives that they helped build. In my case, they live in my garden.
The excerpt below is taken directly from the Met and helped me tremendously.
Lest I seem too maudlin tonight, on the contrary, I am now coming out on the other side

The art and religion of the Asmat people of Southwest New Guinea centres primarily on the spirits of the recently dead. Nearly all Asmat groups celebrate, or celebrated, the mask feast, a series of festivals culminating when the dead, personified by performers wearing full length body masks return to visit the community.
The rites involve two types of masks. The first, a single conical mask depicting a legendary orphan appears as a comical prelude. The second type of mask seen here portrays the dead. Each mask of this type is named for a specific individual. At the climax of the ceremony, the masked performers representing the dead emerge from the forest and tour the village where they are offered food and hospitality. They eventually arrive in the front of the men’s ceremonial house where the dead and the living join in a ceremonial dance which goes long into the night. The following morning, the dead now properly fed and entertained or frightened by threats of violence, depart for safan, the realm of the ancestors

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Friday, 18 April 2008

The Dendrobium Superbum

Dendrobium Superbum is my favorite orchid. Certainly there are more beautiful orchids in my garden but this striking dendrobium blooms just once a year. I associate it with dry season, cool breezy afternoons and fresh clean mornings. I have inherited my love of this plant from my mother and grandmother who both owned lovely specimens. My mother's multi-caned one is still at my childhood home where it gives my father no end of pleasure.

The ritual went something like this:

Me: Hello

Mummy: I have five canes full- top to bottom- you have to bring the camera.

Me: Five Canes!! I only have a measly 1/2 cane.

And so would begin the long analysis of whether my plant was mature enough, did it get enough water before the dry season? And the most crucial question.....did you water it in the dry season? This was a huge thing- the plant was supposed to think it was back in homeland India where it would receive no water during the long dry season before the monsoons. So watering once the rains were gone was a big no-no. Maybe the plant liked her more than me and I should send it down to spend some time?

The Dendrobium superbum has a distinct sweet smell that is almost cloying- I love it as it reminds me of my childhood but my friend Chancy finds it too strong.

At the moment I have moody canes- they are not coming in all together and I only have 1/2 canes.

Sometimes driving through the country, you can see full baskets in bloom with up to 2o canes cascading almost to the ground and the intoxicating smell can waft over a whole neighbourhood.

This is not a plant that you can go into a plant store to buy. It's viewed as an "old time" orchid and does not command the respect that more showy cattleyas and phaleonopsis do. The fact that it drops all its leaves before flowering means that you have a rather odd looking plant for a few months but to me, it is one of the most visual examples of rebirth.

If you ever come across one, they are very easy to propogate- once the flowers are gone, lay the cane across a medium such as coconut fibre or loose potting mix. keep attached to mother plant if possible. Your cane should shoot little plantlets (is that the right word) which you can then separate and repot.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

James O'Connor

James O'Connor is another exciting young Trinidadian photographer who manages to capture something about our essence in his work. Lest that sound like flippant marketing copy, a look at his photos brings home the point- I don't think these pictures could be taken anywhere else in the world. They are quintessentially Trinidadian. Some good old fudge and coconut cake.

I find this photo very interesting- it is so unusual in its composition and content and despite the skeleton, manages to convey life, youth and learning.
A whole life ahead. Good morning world.

A different perspective; feet are so vulnerable. They get me everytime.

Flowers, flowers everywhere
A real commonwealth shot.
James can be found at his webite jtography.com

The University Of The West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago

The University Of The West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago

Monday, 14 April 2008

More cocoa

I paid a visit to the Cocoa Reseach centre at UWI (University of the West Indies) today to try and identify my cocoa. I did not walk with a pod but just by pictures, it seems that it may be the hybrid 919- hhmmm-
The Cocoa Research Centre is an excellent facility and I plan to go back up with pod in hand to get some more genealogical data on my plant. What it was bred to achieve etc.

I am going to reprint an article that was written by John Spence, a well respected Agriculturist who writes frequently for the Express. This article was forwarded to me by the Cocoa Research Dept.
Chocolate - new black gold
John Spence

Thursday, March 29th 2007

My last three articles were mainly on this country's production of cocoa beans. In this article I shall discuss the possibility of a high quality chocolate industry based on our fine flavour cocoa.
A recent article in the UK Independent indicates the rapidly expanding market for dark or bitter chocolate (referred to in the article as "Black Gold"). In that article Trinidad and Grenada are mentioned, the former as providing cocoa for a manufacturer in France (Valrhona) and the latter as producing an up-market chocolate from cocoa grown in Grenada. The Grenada Chocolate Company is reported to be producing Organic Dark Chocolate using cocoa from a particular farm in that island. The chocolate is described as "deeply flavoured and lingeringly complex".
Dark or bitter chocolate is now all the rage in the United Kingdom and other developed countries since medical research has suggested a role for chocolate (acting through the presence of an anti-oxidant- possibly epicatechin) in lowering the risk of heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes. It has also been demonstrated that chocolate increases the flow of blood to the brain and this may assist in combating Alzheimer's disease. Perhaps the fact that we no longer have a cocoa drink in the morning ("cocoa-tea") may in part explain the currently high incidence of heart disease and diabetes.
Research should be undertaken locally to determine the efficacy (if any) of the use of cocoa in lowering the incidence of these killing diseases in this country. In the United Kingdom cocoa was a popular drink before coffee. Why do we not attempt to revive that custom by using our petroleum wealth to invest in cocoa houses in the UK?
Dark chocolates are now displacing milk chocolates that have more sugar and less of the desired anti-oxidant. Dark chocolates are bitter to the taste hence the alternate designation (bitter chocolates). This is where the quality of the cocoa becomes important. Since the cocoa flavour is not masked by other ingredients the intrinsic flavour characteristics are tasted. Most expensive dark chocolates are made from fine flavour cocoa which is in short supply on the world market.
However, fine flavour cocoa beans are not traded as a separate commodity but are given a premium price that fluctuates with the world market price of ordinary cocoa. This can be addressed by selling our beans to individual manufacturers. However the big money is in the elite bitter chocolates manufactured from fine flavour cocoa.
The good news is that one of our most successful entrepreneurs, Mr Lawrence Duprey, executive chairman of CL Financial Limited, has entered into the production of cocoa on his own farms. Mr Duprey, made a presentation to the Faculty of Science and Agriculture in which he spoke of his interest in cocoa. UWI Today (12th March, 2006) reports that Mr Duprey, who owns a large acreage of cocoa estates and says he "has cocoa in his blood," processes Trinidad cocoa in France and exports it under the Tamana label as a super premium brand of chocolate to Japan.
It is to be hoped that Mr Duprey will expand his initial penetration into the international market and progress to manufacturing fine chocolates locally. The technology could be bought or developed locally by the relevant professionals. If a small entrepreneur manufacturing chocolate in Grenada can get on the world market with chocolates made from local fine flavour cocoa the myth that we should continue to export cocoa as a raw material or that we can only import non-fine flavour cocoa to manufacture run-of-the-mill milk chocolates has surely been exploded!
UWI Today further reports Mr Duprey as saying that Government had "failed to understand the value of its agricultural assets and the extent to which scientific developments had created the power to leverage these assets into new products and brands that could be successful in the global marketplace". This precisely expresses the views that I am attempted to convey in these five articles on cocoa (Express, March 1, 10, 17, 22 and 29).
This country has developed elite varieties (in the Ministry of Agriculture), the fermentation technology (developed by our cocoa farmers and the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture-now UWI) and is now pioneering research on flavour at the Cocoa Research Unit. With our industrial experience we could manufacture fine chocolates for which there is an expanding market.
The popularity of dark chocolates has increased the world demand for cocoa beans since more cocoa is needed to make this product than to make milk chocolates. In addition there is a world shortage of cocoa. This emphasises the short sightedness of our Government, for had there been action on advice given in 1992 and again in 2002 our crop could have been at least five times greater than it is today!
In view of Government's lack of interest our only hope for development of the industry may therefore lie in the initiative of private entrepreneurs such as Mr Duprey.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Centeno is just one of the government's agricultural farms. Many hardy varieties of fruit trees can be found here and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. When I visited a few years ago to buy a cocoa plant- they were amused- why did I want one cocoa plant? It's a sensible question because there's not much you can do with one cocoa tree except admire it and occasionally eat the pulpy white flesh from around the slightly bitter pod. I must have really lucked out that day because I got a sturdy, prolific plant that seems to be a different variety from the ones I see on the old cocoa estates. My cocoa is yellow with a nubby skin. Many others that I see are smoother skinned and are often smaller and run the gamut from yellow to red to the occasional magenta. I keep meaning to find out how many varieties we have on the island. With just 17,000 square feet of land, serious cocoa production was never an option, but a bumper crop last year resulted in so many seedlings and I am toying with the idea of trying to make my own chocolate.
Trinidad's cocoa is world renowned. It is said to be the best in the world and before the heyday of oil, this was the first black gold to carry the country's economy.
According to The Worldwide Gourmet ......
Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela… cocoa trees were introduced to the West Indies by Benjamin Dacosta and from there began to be propagated in the northern regions of South America.
Some are listed on the stock exchange. They constitute 8% of the market, representing fine grade cocoa, the market's other "black gold." They include the Trinitario cocoa grown in Trinidad and Grenada, the national cocoa of Ecuador and some criollos from Venezuela.
Trinidad's Trinitario

It is Trinidad that leads the pack, however, with its favoured growing conditions in which soil, climate and tradition team up to produce a top-quality product. On the forest-covered hills, 120,000 trees produce up to 100 tonnes of the finest cocoa, trinitario, a hybrid created in 1939 from the fragile criollo and the hardy African forastera, a graft that received the blessing of the Imperial College, the colonial cocoa administrators. Delicate flavour combined with strong fruitiness are the marks of trinitario cocoa which goes into making the world's finest "couverture" chocolates. It grows on what is here called "cocoa soil," a sandy clay soil looked after by ladies in hair curlers who slowly and methodically weed around the trees. The men trim the cocoa trees yearly, cutting them back every four years to maintain a height of 5 to 8 metres to make harvesting easier.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

A Lifetime Ago

This is not the work of some retro Trinidadian photographer. This is a walk down memory lane courtesy my sister's new scanner. Now I know where these pictures vanished to-
My sister Jennifer is five years younger than I am and lives in Miami. She squirrels away photos, clothes, Enid Blyton and TinTin books, and other miscellaneous bric-a-brac from our childhood every time she comes home to visit. She sent me these photos today. Seeing them after so many years was bittersweet if not downright painful.
As children we spent lots of time in Mayaro, that long, lovely stretch of beach on the Southeastern coast of Trinidad. The golden light of the old photo perfectly captures my nostalgic memories of this time- swimming at dusk with Tramp. Tramp adopted us and was a loyal companion for years. He was a great dog, a good old pothong (pothound) as we say in Trinidad. He actually belonged to a neighbour but preferred our house and eventually they just gave him to us. He would "sing" with my father when Daddy came home on a Friday night with a few after-work drink under his belt. In this picture, he is obviously annoyed with me for making him pose with me when he was wet and probably cold.

This is Jennifer with Tramp and this picture is taken minutes before we went for a swim.
Jennifer and I- circa 1976?
Another Mayaro shot This is the only shirt that appears in all my childhood photos- This red with the white Vee was a hot favourite. And both Jennifer and I seem to have worn it daily for several years. In this picture, Jen is between Natalie Farah (Coutts) and I. It was the Farah's house in Mayaro that was our Mayaro base until we became adults. The grown ups had a very set routine. We would wake up to a huge breakfast with fried bakes, black pudding, eggs, bacon- the whole sheebang- after which Mummy and Daddy would play doubles Padda with Uncle Jack and Auntie Shirley. The children would sit on this bench and watch this game- One love, deuce! Game! Waiting patiently for the game to come to an end and the swimming to begin- this routine went on almost every weekend for years.
Mummy playing pool in Mayaro.

Daddy relaxing in Mayaro.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Stephen Broadbridge

For the next few days I will be uploading the work of photographers in Trinidad that I think are doing amazing work. I'm starting with Stephen Broadbridge, a neighbour and very respected tour operator.
Just up the road from my house is No 9 Fondes Amandes Rd. This charming residence is the homebase of Caribbean Discovery Tours which is run by Stephen Broadbridge.
Stephen has an obvious deep love of Trinidad and Tobago and it shows in his photography. He manages to capture the essence of natural Trinidad with its cultural nuances and extraordinary wildlife. Having just travelled around the Western Caribbean, it's amazing how different our topography is to the rest of the Caribbean. We are really so much more South American.

Stephen offers wildlife and adventure tours and the copy on his website http://www.caribbeandiscoverytours.com/about_us.html
reads in part that as a photographer of wildlife he supplies an archive of forest, wetland and urban images for international publications-periodicals, brochures and posters such as The Economist, Island Magazine and Eco Traveller Magazine.
Stephen offers organisation and management advice and guidance for academic courses and special services for Filmmakers. He co-produced the award winning wild-life documentary, "Wild T and T" and assisted the BBC on their filming of "Wild Caribbean
I really believe that different sides of our twin Republic are shown through the eyes of every lens. But onto Stephen's work.
Copyright of all photos below belongs to photographer Stephen Broadbridge. Thanks for letting us see your work, Stephen.

An aerial view of Tobago- Isn't she lovely?

Green Honey Creeper, Northern Range. Trinidad. I don't think I've ever seen one up this close.

A Red legged Honey Creeper. Northern Range.Trinidad is considered one the top 10 best places on the globe for birding with over 450 species.
I'm not sure what type of bird this is? Craig, help!
Or this one. Craig or Stephen, help!
Tobago- I love this photo because Tobago's Immortelles are indescribable. Rows and rows of this incredible red tree. Often called "mother of the cocoa" or "madre de cacao" becuase it was used on the cocoa estates to provide crucial shade for the cocoa trees.
A Chestnut Woodpecker. This one is different to the one I had posted before which was black and red.
An anaconda which can get enormous. These snakes are hypnotic in their sheer size and muscular movement. As beautiful as they are, I would not like to come face to face with one of them in the mangrove.
Local porcupine. I have only ever seen one in my life. They are quite secretive and not commonly seen in urban areas.
Dawn at Manzanilla Beach on the Southeastern coast. The massive collection of coconut estates runs for several miles along beach. Many of the oil rigs are located off this coastline and at night, it is often striking to see the oil rigs on the horizon under the rising moon

Celebrating Divali. The traditional Hindu festival of lights that usually takes place in October. It generally ushers in the Christmas season and has become one of the country's most beloved festivals.
Phagwa- Another Indian festical where coloured water called "abeer" is thrown on celebrants.
Phagwa is a festival of fun and laughter. It celebrates springtime and renewal, harking back to the ancient life of the holy youth Prahalad, whose name means joy. The climax of the day is the Festival of Colours, a street celebration where people arrive wearing white and leave alive with colour, their clothes having been squirted with brightly-dyed water called abeer. This is Pichakaree, an art form in which humanity is the canvas. The festival offers devotees a unique opportunity for release and self-expression. http://www.search.co.tt/trinidad/phagwa/what.html

La Cuevas Beach
Sorting anthuriums in the country. Mending the nets

One of our very special ecosystems- the Nariva swamp