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23 Feb 2010

Generally, Carnival in the Caribees

Posted by Lisette Stevens. No Comments


A million and more words have been written about the festival season of Carnival, so bringing something new to the page could be tricky, but sometimes the brevity of space and a straight to the point type of style can enlighten a few of the wondrous blog readers out there who have never been to a street party.

Carnival literally means ‘farewell to the flesh’ but the origin of the word is still disputed. Some believe it comes from the Latin carrus navalis (“ship cart”) or a float in a religious parade. Others proffer that it comes from the Italian carne levare or similar, meaning to “remove meat” as meat is prohibited through Lent. If the event is linked to a church belief or gathering the scheduled time of the year is pre-Lenten, usually through February and March leading up to Ash Wednesday. But there are other times within the year that are used as a landmark, such as the completion of a local harvest or a centuries old paganish rite that has been revived for the sake of a community knees-up that may lighten up a gloomy winter time in the more northern countries.

When Carnival is mentioned globally, people invariably think of the excitement, colour and party hi-jinx that is Mardi Gras – known as Shrove Tuesday in some Catholic countries, or the last day of a carnival – taking place in Rio, New Orleans and Trinidad & Tobago.  Indeed, these are in the big league when it comes to a ‘money no object’ mix of glitz and spectacle that takes over the respective day to day happenings for at least three weeks, sometimes a month.

In the Caribbean particularly, the Trinidad Carnival is acknowledged as the place to be if you’re a serious West Indian performer or pageant queen as the exposure and rewards are enormous. Carnival follows a well thought out and traditional programme here as it does in other regional islands, with the main shows like Carnival Queen, ‘Dimanche Gras’ – the Calypso Monarch and the Last Lap parades all taking place on the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. This is also the top venue for leading steel bands (pan music) and you can honestly say that you’re on top of the world if your group takes first place in the Trini National Panoramic competition.

Two regional islands I can think of that have carnivals but are not religiously based would be Antigua and Barbados. The Antiguan Carnival is a celebration of music and dance held annually from the last week in July to the first Tuesday in August; similarly Barbados’ festival is referred to as Crop Over and both events are pointed at the tourist market, as this part of the year is the main vacational period for North American and European families.

Everybody, irrespective of competition wants to be seen in costume, affectionately known as mas and groups of one hundred to five hundred following their favourite band or Hi-Fi are not uncommon. Pre-carnival is a flurry of action behind the scenes at the various mas camps, many seamstresses and designers ensure that the eagerly awaited event will be as innovative and colourful – even rather sexy, shall we say – as common sense allows.

For those with a sense for social devilment or innocent mischief, whatever, Carnival Monday can’t come soon enough. This spectacle starts before dawn on the Monday before Ash Wednesday and is known as J’ouvert or ‘Dirty Mas’. It also means ‘opening of the day’ – this is where revellers dress up in old clothes and cover themselves – and you most likely – in blue paint (Antigua)and other  odd cocktails (everywhere). The live music pulsating from an array of mighty speakers atop trucks festooned in bunting and sponsorship web-site addresses, more often than not letting you know that corporate land has underwritten the very equipment and operatives you’re looking at.

If you survive this amazing alcohol squeeze and mega decibels on the street, then Last Lap on Tuesday is a pussycat. On this day full costume is worn plus make-up and body paints/ adornments and each group tries to portray its theme with a greater panache than the other. Eventually, the whole parade meets in the island’s National Stadium for a judging ceremony. Also on this day the Road March King or Queen is crowned. This honour goes to the singer of the most played song of the past two days. He or she is proclaimed winner as well as receiving a cash prize and usually a new vehicle.

So, some may say that Carnival is not for the faint hearted, but if it’s for you make sure your camera’s working and your batteries are charged, you won’t regret it!

Dom Carnival 3

8 Feb 2010

Headlines and Deadlines

Posted by Lisette Stevens. No Comments

No, this is not about furrowed brows or penalty clauses re:  finishing the job late or indeed about anything really crucial; perhaps just a mild observation about the written word in newspaper form.

Through the Caribbean islands, the presence and usefulness of the local newspaper in hard copy is an integral part of the social infrastructure, whether it is good, bad or indifferent tidings, it gets devoured one way or the other. Some islands have a daily paper; others have an edition once or twice a week.

The thing that amazes me is the way that headlines for these journals are chosen for any given day. Take a fairly busy tourist island, in the Eastern Caribbean, let’s say; the banner headline on the first page of its main newspaper will invariably mention the main crime of the last 24 hours: this could be a murder, an assault, a rape etc.etc. – boasting a font size of anything between 48 & 75 and visible clearly via roadside vendors from moving traffic. However on the inside pages the real issues of the day, such as immigration, price hikes, parliament and so forth are tucked away in a less dramatic style.

An example of a misconstrued front page headline appeared recently on a well known and popular island north of Dominica. It read: “Tourist Maimed in Chopping Spree”. This was interpreted by many – who never bought the paper – as an attack by some villain, carrying a cutlass/machete against a visitor, when in fact the injury was inflicted accidently during a light hearted frolic, where cruise ship tourists were invited to compete against each other. The object being that each competitor, with provided cutlass was assigned a clump of derelict banana trees and the individual that felled the most trees in 5 minutes would be awarded a bottle of champagne at the captain’s table. Thankfully, the injury was superficial and the local medics did a great job of patching up the guy’s Achilles heel. Yet, some people left that island convinced there was a danger element on the patch to some degree, simply because of a banner headline.

Obviously, this headline thing is not a regular anomaly, but why jeopardize anyone’s impression of a certain piece of paradise by a flippant choice of emotive phrases from an editor or suchlike minions that are not thought through?

Of course, for a popular rag or newspaper to say, “We Are Banishing Headlines!” is a headline in itself

19 Jan 2010

The Real Estate Agent, The Buyer, The Music?

Posted by Lisette Stevens. No Comments

For sale 2

Even in the Caribbean, it’s a well known ploy – should you be selling your pied-a-terre, your house or your homely sanctuary – that when your potential buyers arrive, you should have the kind of aromas wafting through the rafters that they are accustomed to, for instance: freshly ground coffee, bread in the oven – maybe a quality furniture polish fragrance cascading et al.

But think of this: some suitable listings on a real estate agents website can be miles apart, depending on island size and demographics, so if the eager property advisor has arranged to take the possible buyers – usually couples – on a well thought out itinerary, maybe the ploy should come a bit sooner. A little of the right background music over the miles in the agent’s car may inspire a feeling of well-being and induce a graceful fast-forward to the future parting of ‘spondoolies’ – colloquially known as CASH! ………….read on….

Try to keep the audio volume below conversation level, avoid instrumental tracks and make sure the lyrical content of your chosen songs is completely lucid and understandable, as a well written line to some is a subtle brainwash to others. Pass on the emotive stuff like ‘New York, New York’, ‘I Love Paris’, ‘Chicago’, ‘China Girl’, ‘Country Roads’ and Dvorak’s ‘Going Home’… blah-blah! – Totally counter productive; think more along the lines of ‘Rally ‘round the West Indies’ a la David Rudder on form, originally penned for the cricket fraternity, an anthem no less – ‘Our House’ a ground breaking ska-linked ditty by Madness, Sting’s ‘Fields of Barley’ if you’re in St Lucia or Grenada, ‘Sugar, Sugar’ from the Archies, if St Kitts is your location; ‘Blue Bayou’ – the Roy Orbison/Linda Ronstadt definitive laid back blood pressure curative – if you’re exploring Antigua & Barbuda. As for Dominica – well, ‘Up a Lazy River’ conjures up its own kind of magic – as does ‘River of Dreams’, Billy Joel’s well crafted musical missive. Stephen Bishop came up with a great number for Jamaica, the melodic ‘On and on’ that captures the very essence of sun, sand and see what I’ve just bought! And indeed it does go on.

Of course the whole tune-filled library could be linked up as a continuous loop, ensuring that your nest egg or investor type ‘prey’ eventually gets the message.

The urge to put reggae, pan music, compa, bouyon or calypso material through your speakers on this trip – albeit indigenous – should be shelved as it surely will be construed as an obvious ploy; your smart visitor will pick up quickly that you’re trying to make him/her/they so much at home even though they haven’t bought one yet.

The subject is broad but subjective; if there are wondrous readers out there with their own ‘tongue in cheek’ choice of material for potential buyers wishing for a piece of the rock in the Caribees’ – lets hear about it!

31 Dec 2009

Christmas as usual – Election or not!

Posted by Lisette Stevens. No Comments

Wow, what has happened to Christmas? Santa’s hues seem to be on the back burner at the moment. The colours in profusion as I write seem to be – in alphabetical order – blue, green, orange and red with an occasional white if you’re throwing in the towel!  Amazing!  Election fever has taken over Dominica.  It is more fervent than Carnival – never has there been so many trucks with Hi-Fi’s’ blasting music here in the country, night and day.  Christmas seems to be forgotten.  We are bystanders just listening and watching, hoping that everyone respects one another’s point of view and that things work out happily on Election Day for each individual.

I am, however, focused on Christmas, making the Christmas cake, decorating the home, welcoming friends and neighbours alike for their favourite tipple and an English traditional mince pie! Many Dominicans admit to having a sweet tooth and find that this tidbit goes down smoothly. But sometimes when offering a mince pie it’s not unusual to get a guarded response from my friends such as, ‘I am a vegetarian and I don’t eat meat’ – supposing of course that mincemeat originates from some helpless four or two legged creature.  Well, the recipe for a classic mince pie is a covertly kept English secret – pastry notwithstanding – my mincemeat is made from dried fruit, currants, raisins, sultanas, mixed peel and apples plus nuts soaked in brandy and sherry; it can be extremely  decadent and more than likely delicious, served in a sweet pastry with a sherry cream filling.

Originally the mince pie did contain meat – mincemeat was a way of preserving meat by mixing it with fruit, spices and alcohol. The initial mince pies were large rather than bite size. It is sometimes said that the large pies were cooked in an oblong dish and that the top often used to cave in. As a result the mince pie looked a little like a crib, in keeping with the Christian nativity story. Over time the amount of meat was gradually reduced until it became the fruit only substance we know today.

With this in mind we wish all the readers a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous 2010 which is literally around the corner.

We are here to write each week about anything interesting for the followers of – not necessarily in a controversial way but extending an upbeat overview of life in DA and other blessed territories. We enjoy doing this and will continue to absorb the comments from a valued readership.Mince pie 2

23 Dec 2009

Prune by the Moon:a lunatic’s take on it!

Posted by Lisette Stevens. 1 Comment

Prune by the Moon: A Lunatic’s Take on it

We all know what it’s like when someone unexpected comes to your patch, be it town or country, day or night, Monday or Sunday – you pacify the dogs, hug your visitor(s) or, give them your condolences, if they are tax inspectors and suchlike, then sit them down. One’s version of a welcome varies of course from folk to folk- so after offering whatever lubrication he or she drowns in, they do a 360 degree sweep of the property and proceed to tell you what needs doing…..grrrrrrr – Still with me?

So it happened recently when a good friend – or so – proffered, amongst other things, that one of our avocado (pear) trees needed a good seeing to; as in pruning. I must admit the tree in question was a little rag-tag & bobtail but this was the seventh time this year she’d nit-picked on the verdant forest view at our rustic hideaway and the time for action was looming.

I contacted a knowledgeable man of the Dominican hinterland, still enjoying his 75th year on the planet that let me know this in no uncertain terms: ‘Laurie, November 25th is looming and according to the Moon’s dictation – plus being 30 days from Christmas – this is the ideal time for you to replant or prune.’

I was always aware that all aspects of farming were affected by the gravitational forces between the Sun, the Moon and Earth, but honestly I had put zilch effort into finding out more.

My regular help was called up:

‘Samson! Me an’ you are goin’ to climb the front pear tree and trim de branches a lickle, stop the tree collapsing with the weight of fruit, make it healthy and you have a job for life’ He say ‘Mr Laurie, I no like heights and it be slippy’

I said ‘Samson, you told me, did you not that in your previous life you thought you were a parrot! Right? How can a born again Sisserou or Jaco suffer from no grip and vertigo?’ … (Gulp!)…No matter……..

Down the road an engaging chap from the Carib territory gave us all a lesson in how the haircut should be accomplished. He scaled the withered branches like a gymnast and talked me through methodically what he was going to do with his trusty machete and a carpenter’s saw.

On completion of an excellent job, I pondered a while then decided to probe a little further into the Moon’s extraordinary manipulation of perennials & kindred crops on Earth.

There are reams of information out there, so in the interest of brevity I’ll cut to the chase:

The Moon basically passes through four phases – New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon and Last Quarter. The number of days between each change of phase can vary between 6.75 and 8. The twelve hours before and after the exact change of each phase is not a good time for sowing, planting or pruning. During the New Moon and First Quarter the Moon is waxing or accumulating light. Sap flow increases – good for sowing and transplanting. Through the phases of Full Moon and Last Quarter – aka the Waning Moon – the sap flow gradually decreases and is considered the best time for sowing and planting – I’m still a little muddled, but you can check out numerous web sites and get muddled, worser or worserer.

After all this I still had avocados on my mind, or rather the lack of them next year due to the pruning. Ambling in thought towards the public market in Roseau I saw three smartly dressed ladies in a Bank uniform coming towards me, probably enjoying their lunch break – one was carrying this huge avocado. Wow! I said ‘What a lovely pear you have.’ Her friends looked at each other, then looked at me and burst into laughter; in a second the girls scooted onward. I shouted after them ‘What’s funny? What did I do?’

Wax lyrically I say and wane not!

Prune moon2