Saturday, 30 June 2012

Small Sargasso Sea - Snapshot Saturday

If you've read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea then you will have heard of sargassum, that sea weed that grows on the surface of the ocean.  Every now and then, large patches of sargassum shows up in Caribbean waters - that's the brown stuff you see in the sea in the pix below.

A large patch in Road Harbour. (Hospital under construction in the background.)

A close-up of the weed floating on the surface of the sea.

Washed up on the shoreline.

Sargassum is actually rich in nutrients so gardeners and crop farmers can sometimes be seen harvesting it from wherever it has washed up on the coast.  The sargassum also enriches the mangroves.  Unfortunately, plastic bottles, bags, etc. (the white dots in the top picture) get caught up in it and can make sargassum quite unsightly.

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Quakers in the Virgin Islands

Few people realize that the Virgin Islands has a long connection with the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers but the Tortolian graves of several prominent members of Quaker community gives these islands a permanent place in Quaker history. 

One of those prominent Quakers was Thomas Chalkley.  In the 1700s, Chalkley responded to Governor John Pickering's request for a minister from the Society of Friends to be stationed in the Virgin Islands.  By the time Chalkley left Philadelphia for the Virgin Islands he had already traveled extensively in the Caribbean, making a total of twenty-one trips to the region.  He was dubbed "the gentlest of skippers, a rare sea saint" in John Greenleaf Whittier's, "Snowbound Among the Hills", for an episode in which, adrift from land for many days during a trading voyage, he offered to allow himself to be cannibalized by the crew.  They rejected the offer and, thankfully, were brought to shore without any need for such drastic action!

Chalkley left Philadelphia on the sloop, John, owned by Governor Pickering, and arrived in Tortola after a rough and windy trip of 19 days.  Though then 66 years of age, Chalkely immediately began a rigorous round of visits and meetings throughout the islands.  It was possibly the furious pace he set for himself that led, a couple of weeks later, to him falling ill.  He succumbed on 4th September, 1741 and was buried at the Friends' Burial Grounds at Fat Hog's Bay on land donated by Pickering.

This is an old painting of his burial site.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Jessamine - an excerpt and giveaway

Almost an hour after Julian left the house, I am in the kitchen getting my breakfast ready when a door slams upstairs. At first I think it is the wind but then I hear someone coming down the steps. I can’t move. I can barely breathe. The kitchen fills with the sweet smell of jasmine, and I brace my hands on the counter behind me, expecting the pain, waiting for it to hammer me. Then she comes in. A woman, her hair and skin as pale as milk, her eyes as blue as the Caribbean sky. She opens her mouth and I scream as the pain hits me between the eyes. She fades, and the smell with her, like incense dispersed by the wind. My keys shake in my hand as I bring them to my mouth. I feel like screaming but there’s nothing to rage against in the empty kitchen; there’s just me and the guiltless sunlight blasting through the glass windows.

Outside, I can hear the faraway thwack–thwack that indicates Alphanus is hard at work, clearing more of the land behind the house. I know it is him and not my imagination because his shoes are on the steps by the kitchen. He walks barefoot around the yard because “me like feel the earth.” That was what he told me when I suggested he keep his shoes on to protect his feet from whatever dangers lurk in the soil. The shoes, he says, are for when he is “pon the road.”

The house phone rings. I contemplate not answering it but if it’s Julian he’ll only worry.

“Grace, are you ready to come back yet?” The rumbling voice belongs to Carlton Spence, my former boss back in Philly. I’m absurdly glad to hear him.

“Not quite but, if you could rush me down one of Max’s cheesesteaks, I’d be grateful.” Max’s was where everyone from the station hung out Friday evenings. “How’s everything, Carlton? Are Benjamin and Kendra getting along?” The two are the stereotypically warring co–anchors for the evening news. There really are good reasons for not sleeping with your colleagues. “Is Lisa doing a good job?” My replacement. Deep down I hope she’s messing up, reminding them every day of my own perfection.

Carlton laughs as I pump him for information. I tell him about the Prime Minister’s party we’ve been invited to, about how it will mark my coming out, so to speak. Carlton tells me I’ll be fine, that they’ll love me but I’m not convinced. We talk for more than thirty minutes. I do not mention the woman or my headaches. Before he rings off I tell him to keep my seat warm and he warns me not to spend too much time lolling under the coconut trees. Carlton was like a father to me at the station. Hearing from him lifts my spirits.

For your free copy of Jessamine, click here and enter the coupon code GJ83D at check-out.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Bath - Mingling Roman and Celtic History

Snapshot Saturday is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

I love poking about in ruins and museums and places that have been built centuries ago so when I was in England one of the places on my "must-see" list was the wonderful city of Bath.  Bath is one of those fascinating places listed by the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site. 

Fragment of Helios

Archaelogists believe that Celts were the ones who first settled in the area, drawn by its hot, mineral springs which are believed to have healing powers.  Never slow on the uptake when it came to settling in the best bits, the conquering Romans established the area as a spa town after driving out the Celts.  They built the complex known as Aquae Sulis, believed to have been dedicated to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom.  Minerva's bronze gilt head below was discovered in the 1700s and is displayed at the Roman Baths Museum, as is the fragment above.

The Goddess, Minerva

Me, at the pool.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Digital First Read-A-Thon and Giveaway

I'm participating in the Digital First Read-a-Thon at Book Binge and offering a chance to win a copy of Jessamine.  Here's an excerpt from my guest post.

I wrote Jessamine more than ten years ago after a lovely trip to the island of St. Lucia. The character of Arabella came to me in an old church there and I put together my story folder with postcards, synopsis, character sketches, etc. in the next few months. About a year later I had my first draft which I polished and polished in between any free time I had from my regular job. When I felt it was ready I began querying agents. A few asked to see a partial. And out of those about three asked to see the entire manuscript. One called and offered representation and bubbled with excitement over the story and its prospects.

Her excitement was infectious and I truly began to believe that this might be my breakout novel. One of my novels had already been published by a small publisher and Greenwood Press had published my history of women of the BVI so I'd had some small success before. Reviewers had liked my work but I was still largely unknown. Maybe Jessamine would change that...

To read more and to enter the giveaway, please visit Book Binge!  To check new posts and giveaways on Twitter, look for #DRAT.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Mary Prince - National Hero

More than two hundred years after her birth, Mary Prince, a slave who spoke up for the cause of abolition, and whose life story helped sway many, became a National Hero on her home island of Bermuda. 

The History of Mary Prince
"I was born at Brackish-Pond in Bermuda, on a farm belonging to Mr. Charles Myners.  My mother was a household slave; and my father, whose name was Prince, was a sawyer belonging to Mr. Trimmingham, a ship-builder at Crow-Lane.  When I was an infant, old Mr. Myners died, and there was a division of the slaves and other property among the family.  I was bought along with my mother by old Captain Darrel, and given to his grandchild, little Miss Betsey Williams....

"I had scarcely reached my twelfth year when my mistress became too poor to keep so many of us at home; and she hired me out to Mrs. Pruden, a lady who lived about five miles off, in the adjoining parish, in a large house near the sea.  I cried bitterly at parting with my dear mistress and Miss Betsey, and when I kissed my mother and broters and sisters, I thought my young heart would break, it pained me so.  But there was no help; I was forced to go...

"I knew that Mrs. Williams could no longer maintain me; that she was fain to part with me for my food and clothing; and I tried to submit myself to the change.  My new mistress was a passionate woman; but yet she did not treat me very unkindly.  I do not remember her striking me but once, and that was for going to see Mrs. Williams when I heard she was sick, and staying longer than she had given me leave to do...."

After Mrs. Williams' death, Mary was sold and re-sold to successively cruel masters and finally ended up on Antigua where she became a Moravian and met the man who was to become her husband.  (When her owner found out she'd married the man, he had her whipped fifty times.)  By the time she told her story, she was living in England in desperate straits.

"I still live in the hope that God will find a way to give me my liberty, and give me back to my husband.  I endeavour to keep down my fretting, and to leave all to Him, for he knows what is good for me better than I know myself.  Yet, I must confess, I find it a hard and heavy task to do.

"I am often much vexed, and I feel great sorrow when I hear some people in this country say that the slaves do not need better usage, and do not want to be free.  They believe the foreign people, [the West Indian planters] who deceive them, and say slaves are happy.  I say, Not so.  How can slaves be happy when they have the halter round their neck and the whip upon their back?  and are disgraced and thought no more of than beasts? and are separated from their mothers, and husbands, and children, and sisters, just as cattle are sold and separated?  Is it happiness for a driver in the field to take down his wife or sister or child, and strip them, and whip them in such a disgraceful manner...And then when we are quite done up, who cares for us, more than for a lame horse?  This is slavery.  I tell it to let English people know the truth; and I hope they will never leave off to pray God, and call loud to the great King of England, till all the poor blacks be given free, and slavery done up for evermore."

To read more of Mary's story, check out The History of Mary Prince.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A Recipe - Tamarind Juice

In Jessamine, I mention a lot of the fruits and foods common in the Caribbean.  One of these is the tamarind.

Tamarinds are tart and make a wonderful juice, poured over lots of ice.

The recipe below comes from Native Recipes, published by the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of the Virgin Islands.

Tamarind Juice

12 - 14   dried tamarinds
3 cups    boiling water
              sugar to taste

Select and shell ripe tamarinds.  Pour boiling water over tamarind and leave for about one hour.  Put through sieve, stirring well to allow th emeat to leae the seeds.  Sweeten to tast, chill and serve over shaved ice.

Servings - 2.

80 calories per serving. (with 2 tablespoons of sugar)

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Queen's Diamond Jubilee Parade - Virgin Islands

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Birthday Celebrations in Road Town, Tortola, Virgin Islands, 4th June, 2012.

The RVIPF Police Band Starts Things Off

The Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) in their Dress Whites

The RVIPF Cadets

The Seventh Day Adventist Pathfinders With Flags Held High

Governor Boyd McCleary Observes the March Past

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Soucouyant - A Caribbean Vampire

The first time I ever heard of soucouyants was when I was in high school and some friends from Trinidad expalined that soucouyants were dangerous creatures, generally old women who took off their skins, left them safely in a mortar or under a special tree and turned into balls of fire.  As a ball of fire, the soucouyant then floated around on the air looking for houses with open windows.  When she found one, she darted in to look for an unwary sleeper and began to suck his or her blood.  Soucouyants preferred the blood of babies or infants but would make do with that of adults, if desperate.  Soucouyants had to be back in their skins by daybreak or risk being caught and beaten to death or covered with salt by outraged soucouyant hunters.

I'd never heard of such a creature and was intrigued, as any fan of the great Stephen King would be.  Did the soucouyant become a human again in order to suck?  My informants couldn't tell me but it seemed obvious to me that the soucouyant must turn back into its human form or risk burning its victim before it was able to feed.  Yet, the skin was needed in order for it to turn back and it had left the skin behind when it turned into a ball of fire so how could it have turned back without returning for the skin?  It was all very confusing. 

This is a production by a UWI student of an entertaining soucouyant story -

The one thing that could stop a soucouyant was to scatter salt or grains of rice around the beds of sleepers or around the house, itself, as Phyllis did in my novel, Jessamine.  Soucouyants are also known as Ol' Higue and Loogaroo and stories of them are common in the islands that were once, or still are, French such as Trinidad, Dominica, Guadeloupe and Saint Lucia. 

A perennial favourite for children, this poem by Wordsworth A. McAndrew, "Ol' Higue", is full of creepy drama.  Try saying it in a cackly voice and see how great it is!

"Ol' woman wid de wrinkled skin,
Leh de ol' higue wuk begin.
Put on you fiery disguise,
Ol' woman wid de weary eyes.   
              Shed you swizzly skin."

"Ball o' fire, raise up high.
Raise up till you touch de sky.
Land 'pon top somebody roof.
Tri'pse in through de keyhold - poof,
            Open you ol' higue eye."

For the rest of the poem, found in West Indian Poetry, you can see here.

Mc Andrew's is a traditional treatment but Trinidad's LeRoy Clarke situates the soucouyant in modern times as a sort of deity presiding over the rot of a city in "Soucouyant", taken from The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry.

"...the soucouyant, her eyes
a million flies, wide and sharp...

among broken knives and smoking pistols
among stain and glitter of costumes
of clouds, of armies and police,
among salutes and commendations....

the soucouyant perched, her eyes
a million flies wide and sharp overlooking...

...licking her gums over bones of school,
of church, of prison, of star, entering
a pore, turning turning
each skin to bone to skin..."

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Coronation Celebrations, 1952 - Snapshot Saturdays

The Virgin Islands has been a British territory since the late 1600s.  For Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1952, the capital, Road Town, was decorated with bunting and the celebrations included a parade and enactments representing the various peoples of the Commonwealth.

The view of street decorations along Main Street, Road Town in 1952.

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Guest Posting at Kindred Dreamheart!

Excerpts from my guest post over at Kindred Dreamheart -

"Slavery in the British-ruled islands and countries of the Caribbean came to an end on 1st August, 1834 and today we celebrate that important event with festival parades, re-enactments and so on. Few people think about what happened after the Emancipation Proclamation was read – about its impact on societies which, for hundreds of years, had been based on a sugar economy that was dependent on slave labour. Changing a culture or a way of life has never been easy and it wasn’t easy to transform societies that had defined themselves by the enslavement of black people. It took scores of years to heal those societies and create equality. Some might argue that, even now, despite the tourist ads, we’re still not there yet.

"In Barbados, they had a folk-song they made up when emancipation was near “Licks and Lock-up done with” which revealed the hopes of the people for what their life would be like. In fact, abolitionists and missionaries and, of course, the slaves themselves were very optimistic about what freedom would mean for them. Their optimism was somewhat misplaced. Even before the end of slavery, planters in the West Indies were having a hard time turning a profit. By the early 1800s, the glory days of West Indian planters were well behind them. Hurricanes, droughts and competition from other sugar colonies drove many of them into bankruptcy while the rest hung on, desperate to survive."

To read more, click here -

Jessamine, Available Now!