Thursday 31 December 2009

Goodbye 2009

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you'll buy your pint cup !
and surely I'll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we've wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o' thine !
And we'll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Goodbye 2009.
The end of a year is always bittersweet. You want to hold it and kiss it goodbye. 2009 will never come our way again. This year has been magical in many ways - I've seen my life change. I was thrown a temporary new home and an unexpected mentor. And a reminder that magic does still exist.

The year felt a bit like a cactus - prickly but with hidden blooms of beauty and resilience.

I did a lot of traveling which was thrilling and terrifying. I visited Jamaica for the Calabash Literary Festival in May. It was the last time I would see Wayne Brown, my writing coach, as he was struggling with lung cancer. He died in September on the anniversary of my mother's death.
In October we visited friends in Bath and I was able visit the Bath Springs.
I saw this schist relief there and it caught my attention. It was found in Cleveland Walk on the slopes below Bathampton Down. It shows three crudely carved female figures wearing pleated dresses. With arms crossed over their chests, they are reminiscent of other mother-figures or goddesses. Bath lies in old Celtic country and there is still evidence of the Druids. Stonehenge is not far away. Mother-Goddesses, found in threes, are associated with Celtic inspiration but are also known from Romano-British context.
These three are a reminder of the power of magic and of the merging of cultures and religions that would have taken place around these powerful hot springs at the time of the Roman invasion.
Different image but I think it's the same message.

Happy New Year to us all. The world over.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Debbie's Glass

My friend Debbie is a very talented artist. These are just a few of her pieces. Her sense of colour and shape is beautiful.

Glass is a challenging medium but also an extremely rewarding one. Colour becomes translucent and vivid. I like glass - stained glass, mosaics, blown glass - I like the idea of controlling a medium that has the potential to be fragile, beautiful, and dangerous. It's no secret that I'm drawn to organic shapes but I also crave an underlying symmetry. Perhaps this is the reason her work appeals to me. Despite the rigidity of the glass, there is a fluidity of shape and colour that makes me happy.
I love the little cups of folly above. Little breakable blooms.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Chutney Garden 2

It was strange having a garden blog with no garden. When I moved out of my house in February, it was sad because the garden as I knew it will never exist again. I am really glad that I documented so much. It will be lovely once we have completed the renovations and I have managed to save a lot. But the fringe benefit was that I got to start all over again with a new space in my rental home. When I arrived here, there was no garden per se but lots of space. The house belongs to my godparents and I knew it well as a child. My godfather grew hybrid hibiscus and it was nice to start developing the space again. Almost all of what I have grown has either come from the old house or has been grown by piece or seed on site.
The fruit trees are an exception. The garden has a lovely cocoa tree which is constantly raided by the squirrels and the parrots, we also have a superb pollock avacado tree, a big julie mango, a sapodilla, a lime, and a soursop tree.

These are just a few of things that were in bloom this morning. I was shooting with the 50mm, 1.8 lens but it really was too bright. Everything is just slightly blown out. But I quite like the boozy feel.

This orchid is on my porch. It is new. I can't help myself when it comes to orchids, but looking after them is a bit like baking. It requres a lot of precision which I do not always have. So when I do have an orchid in bloom, it's a big thing!

Friday 18 September 2009

Orchids in context

It's not hard to see why I love orchids. Orchids belong to the jungly, over-heated place that identifies where I live and where I come from. As simple as that. They belong to the land that I have claimed as my own. It's the only home that I know intimately. Several of these orchids are are indigenous to Trinidad. The delicate purple one above is Encyclia bractescens.

Above is the famous Oncidium lanceanum or the Cedros bee. If there ever was a poster child for the orchid world to warn against over-collecting from the wild, it would be this orchid. Once commonly found growing on the south-western peninsula of Trinidad, hence the name Cedros bee, it is now, very nearly extinct. Over collecting of this little treasure dates back to WWII when American service-men recognised the value of the plant and thousands were removed from their natural habitat and shipped to America to satisfy a growing orchid market.
The Cedros bee reminds me of our connection to the south American mainland. When I look at it I wonder how it first came to be growing here and I wonder if it crossed from the mainland centuries ago with early Tainos and capybaras. It resonates with history of my island. So if you happen to come across it growing wild somewhere in Trinidad. Enjoy it but don't take it home.

Another beauty that I met in orchid collector Sandy Gibson's garden. Lc. Flertie x Encyclia cordigera. She looks like her name - flirty.

Epidendrum stamgotianum is another frilly, flirty beauty. The true shock of an orchid is that the blooms emerge from the most unassuming, often hostile-looking foliage. The discovery of an orchid in bloom has all the excitement of a newly unwrapped present.
This is the orchid that I think of when I imagine deep, cool rivers in the forest. Zygosepalum labiosum.
And one of my favorites. I have never been able to grow it but it is still found fairly commonly in the wild. The virgin orchid. Caularthron bicornutum. The centre looks like the Virgin Mary. She is perfect with her yellow centre and mauve freckles.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Why We Live Here

Trinidad is a complicated home. But when someone picks up a cuatro on a jetty down the islands and begins to sing old time calypsoes, a very tangible patriotism reminds us of what makes us all Trinidadian.
Thanks to Laughing Gull for the lyrics below. Click on the lyrics to see more of where this came from.

By Lord Funny (1966)

Foreigners always asking me
Why in Trinidad people so happy
What to do, man I have to tell them de truth
Ah say, a man could sleep until 10 o clock
Get up and still he eh late for wuk
------------- walk
He getting transport in front he door.
And is poke a poke, dey going all day
And on pay day still draw a big fat pay
If they like, they could call a big strike.

So ah tell dem, sweet, sweet Trinidad
Fus ah love dis country bad
I doh want to leave at all
Ever since ah small
Look ah bawling, sweet, sweet Trinidad
Brother, fus a feeling glad
When ah dead, please bury me
In de center ah de city.

We got we big oilfields just in the South
We have all kind ah tings to talk about
No regret, you just have to get up and get
And anytime tings a little bad
Man, you have a garden in yuh backyard
And doh doubt, the food almost in yuh mouth
We got women, colour class or creed
Any kind of a woman they you need
You could bet, the sweetest woman you could get.

So ah tell you, sweet, sweet Trinidad
Fus ah love dis country bad
I doh want to leave at all
Ever since ah small
Look ah bawling, sweet, sweet Trinidad
Brother, fus a feeling glad
When ah dead, please bury me
In de center ah de city.

In Trinidad, crime doh pay
No, it cyah happen down here no day
And of course, we got de brilliant Police Force
Dem young fellahs, dey eh want no wuk
Man dey liming and feting ‘round de clock
And yes friend, dey always have money to spend.
Dem beggars, wey de want a house for
When dey could sleep in front ah any store
And if you see the beautiful city!

Sweet, sweet Trinidad
Fus ah love dis country bad
I doh want to leave at all
Ever since ah small
Look ah bawling, sweet, sweet Trinidad
Brother, fus a feeling glad
When ah dead, please bury me
In de center ah de city.

We got steelband music, sweet fuh so
And doh talk about we sweet calypso
Bacchanal when it come to the Carnival
And if you see how de island progressing
Every day is new plans that they making
Sun or rain, men down here---they got brain
Man, if I got to tell you ‘bout here
It going to take me more than a year
As you see, a happiness killin’ we.

So ah tell you, sweet, sweet Trinidad
Fus ah love dis country bad
I doh want to leave at all
Ever since ah small
Look ah bawling, sweet, sweet Trinidad
Brother, fus a feeling glad
When ah dead, please bury me
In de center ah de city.

Wednesday 16 September 2009


Chacachacare is the largest of the small islands that lie off the northwestern coast of Trinidad. It has an interesting history as leper colony. The original Leprosarium was located at Cocorite but with the discovery in the early 20th century that leprosy was, in fact, contagious, the colonial authorities moved to establish an "off-shore" leper colony on the relatively remote island. According to Fr. Anthony de Verteuil's "Western Isles"... In spite of many protests, the Colonial Authorities pressed on with the project. On May 20th 1921, paper no.58 was laid before the legislative council for the removal of the Cocorite Leper Asylum to the island of Chacachacare.
Today the island is eerie and deserted. With the advent of antibiotics to treat Hansen's Disease or Leprosy, the Leprosarium returned its last boatload of patients to the mainland on July 24th 1984. The island has taken back the buildings but many have held on tenaciously with the fretwork panels and staircases still intact.
We used to visit the island very often in the early 1990's and explore to our hearts' content. All the beds remained in the wards and patient records lay in their folders. The entire place had the feel of a deserted city. But it is almost all gone.
Despite the beauty of Chacachacare, it is not hard to imagine the misery suffered by the patients separated from their loved ones and banished for a lifetime. The patient's cemetery has been reclaimed by the forest and is now difficult to find.
The jetty still stands with its galvanised roof now frilly and decorative with age.
The history of the Dominican Nuns in Trinidad is closely linked to the care of lepers in Trinidad. These nuns were the primary caregivers of the lepers dating back to 1868. It was natural that they would move to the island and form the backbone of the small colony.
When we visited last month, we we able to find the small Nun's Cemetery that pays tribute to these selfless women who lived and died on the island. Many of the nuns were originally from France with others coming from Madeira. De Verteuil's "Western Isles" tells us that at the death of a sister it was customary that a steamer went round the bay of Chacachacare with its flag flying at half-mast and when passing in front of Marine Bay, blew its siren three times as a sign of sympathy with the sisters' bereavement

Today the bays are deserted and beautiful. There are many stories about these islands. One of the more popular ones is that the Coast Guard had set up a small security post on Chacachacare in the late 1990's. After a very short period, the officers refused to stay claiming that the island was haunted by the nuns. We can only hope that the ghosts of nuns are an equally strong deterrent to errant smugglers and mischief makers.
On the day that we visited, all the Savonetta trees were in bloom as they usually are in August and the sea was full of the lilac blooms. This is also the time of year that the yellow butterflies make their way from the mainland and can be seen coming across the sea in drifting colonies.
The doctors house is now in ruins.But one can still sense how beautiful it must have been in its heyday.
Dr. Wilfred Urich was one of the first doctors to live permanently on the island, in Rust's Bay. His children lived on the island with him until they were old enough to go to school. In all Dr. Urich spent 16 years on the island.

Sunday 14 June 2009

Ganga Dhaaraa Teerath

Last Sunday, I was very lucky to experience a sacred river festival celebrated by the Hindu organisation Hindu Prachar Kendra called the Ganga Dhaaraa Teerath.
According to Creedopeida The Ganga is personified in Hinduism as a goddess: Maa Ganga (Mother Ganga).When Bhagiratha, one of the descendants of Sagara, son of Dilip, learnt of this fate, he vowed to bring Ganga down to Earth so that her waters could cleanse their souls and release them to heaven. Devout Hindus make pilgrimages to bathe in the Ganga and to meditate on its banks.But we were not in the Ganga, we were deep in the moist forest of the northern range. At the 18.5 mile mark to be exact. This festival has been taking place here for several years now and despite the pouring rain, there was a large crowd that had obviously been there from early in the morning.
In 2004, the Trinidad Guardian published an interesting story on this annual festival. Click here to read whole article.
Ganga Dhaaraa provides an interesting study in religious, social and cultural anthropology. The event is driven by an ancient memory of an event of spiritual value as well as social and ecological relevance.
This memory has been transmitted down several millennia through mantras, kathaas, songs, traditions, the deity Ganga and the event of Ganga Dashara which celebrates the coming of Ganga to earth.
Every morning the recreation of Ganga Avataran—”bringing down Ganga”—is recreated by a Hindu ritual at sunrise, charhaawaying jal. Ganga is invoked at every worship and ceremony of life. After the marriage ceremony, newlyweds pay tribute to Ganga at a river. Why, even at death, a drop of Ganga is placed on the lips of the aspirant for transport to a higher existence.
Offerings are made to the Murti in the form of food, money, or flowers. All along the river, altars have been set up to perform prayers and facilitate sacred offerings. There was a strong sense of peace and goodwill and great concentrated prayer. The Murti is carried up the river to be returned to the water. All the while, little coconut "boats" are being prepared to float down the river carrying fire and offerings of flowers and incense. At all times, powerful chants and invocations are being sung all along the river banks. The skies opened almost on cue.
Once the murti has been returned to the water, flowers and lit "boats" are released to float down the river. The message of environmental consciousness is a very strong theme. There are signs all along the river's edge that have been erected for this festival reminding devotees that the river is not to be polluted and constantly reminding of the importance of water and rebirth. There was an equal mix of men and women with lots of children brought along as well.

But women gathered in little pockets to perform pujas. While watching these women I could feel the strong matriarchal bonds that run thorugh these groups. After some of the pujuas, there was dancing among the women which was especially lovely to see.
The predominant colour was yellow. Saffron coloured clothing, saffron painted coconut shells, and, of course, masses of yellow allamanda.
I have been asked about the significance of the white dot but don't really know what it means so would be happy if anyone would like to comment on this.
This girl was particularly lovely as she made her offering.
There was a tangible sense of euphoria to this day. The power of prayer, chanting, collective gathering for goodwill is always something to celebrate, whatever our religion.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

The Butterfly Doula

My sister Jennifer is an interior designer, but she has many talents not least of which is the ability to lure monarch butterflies into her garden with delicious milkweed, nurture them to maturity, and even hold an umbrella over them so they are not crushed by their first rainfall. My sister, the butterfly midwife.

This is the email that she sent me about the butterflies -

I intentionally planted Florida Milkweed (Asclepias feayi) to attract Monarch butterflies. They happily arrived, laid their eggs and then the caterpillars feasted. One Saturday morning I was horrified to find they had munched through all of the Milkweed plants and were dropping off the bald stalks. They were supplied with more flowering plants.

About two weeks ago I noticed the caterpillars had disappeared. A friend told me that they spin their pods discreetly on the undersides of leaves...areca palm leaves, green bell pepper leaves, spinach leaves, sage leaves. The pods are light green with delicate markings in gold so they were difficult to find. While searching for the pods, I discovered the hideout for my resident flying frog. Yay.

Saturday morning, I noticed two pods were transparent (the orange and black butterfly folded wings were visible) and I waited. The pod split and the butterfly sort of climbed out with damp, crumpled wings. Then he slowly unfolded his wings out and stayed in the area flexing wings for about two hours before flitting off to a nearby shrub checked Wikipedia...the males have two distinct black markings (called sex scales) over veins on their hindwings and I've noticed they are bigger.

One of these pods split down the side but the transformation wasn't complete. Poor thing, she was half-baked and didn't make it. I wanted so badly to help but thats just nature saying something wasn't right.

This morning, the transparent pod in the picture I sent you this morning had fallen off a leaf so I placed it in the crook of two orchid leaves. The pod split, she wobbled out upside down and wrestled with the shell of her chrysalis before it dropped. I watched her fan her wings out this morning, took some pictures. When I went back an hour later to check, there was a small puddle of orange fluid on the table below her. Apparently while pumping this fluid into their wings to make them stiff, some drips out. And it is most definitely orange.

My yellow butterfly ginger "Hedychium flavum" is also flowering at the moment. It has a spicy gingery scent.
Alright, I will keep you informed and entertained with the Monarchs - I spotted four pods today. Have only just figured out how to take clear pictures with my camera. Don't zoom. Just stick the camera as close as I can.