Ta-daaa – 180 Days of Magic

Sleights of moment, waving the family wand

Archive for the ‘Beaches’ Category

Down the road and up the gap

Posted by PlayGroundology on November 17, 2008

dsc00050The hot, hot never wavered during our whole stay. Deplaning the first afternoon, walking down the stairs to the tarmac the heat just bowled us over and scattered our senses. Sun is absolute, a monarch, a force unto itself. Three weeks is insufficient time to acclimatize to its intensity.

There are opportunities for relief though. Just after a rain there is a little bit of fresh in the air. As night rises and the bats begin their aerial pirouettes a modest discernible cooling begins that lasts until shortly after sunrise. Of course, there’s always the tried and true sea bath the only place you can exercise in this climate and not work up a sweat.

Then there’s AC – the sub-tropics dream machine. It’s a luxury in houses, one that we didn’t have. Nor did it purr chillingly in our rental car. We went cheap so had to make do with rolling down the windows. But the big stores and restaurants have it. I remember the first time we went into the Warrens Super Centre. It was like walking from an equatorial humidity factory onto an iceberg flotilla in the Strait of Belle Isle in just one, two steps. The super chill down didn’t last for much more than 30 seconds. After that it was a comfortably cooler treat.

In between beaching, kids napping and all the regular running a household, domestic bliss activities, I had some of that fine reconciliation, reflection time – giving thanks for then and now. Driving up the gap where I used to hang with guys from my adopted neighbourhood I see the younger incarnations of Iffrey, Hendy, Inee, Ibee, Sylvester aka Abdul.

Iffrey was the entrepreneur of the bunch hawking goods from a stand that is now long gone. He ran a lean machine with very little in stock, a just in time operation. He sold bananas, mangoes, limes, oranges, single Embassy and 3-5s cigarettes. Like me he didn’t live in the immediate neighbourhood. Years ago I heard that he had been apprehended for herb and incarcerated in Glendairy. I hope he is well.

With the exception of Iffrey and Abdul, the rest of us didn’t have regular type gainful employment. We were a bunch of young men bon vivants as bon as one can be without any dependable income. Most of us still lived in the family home. Iffreys’s stand at the top of the gap with access to a private little yard tucked behind 7 foot high palings was a great place to congregate, itate and discuss local, national and global goings on.

dsc001901I remember the group of us would occasionally downhill it to Batt’s Rock for a swim and smoke. It was a 90 minutes return walk. Batt’s Rock was more of a locals beach accessed by a dirt road track or paths that led through the burnt out shell of a long forgotten night club. We’d return via Black Rock and the University of the West Indies. This route was a less severe uphill gradient but a slog all the same. By the time we got back we needed another dip.

Road tennis tourneys contested outside Iffrey’s stall frittered away many an afternoon. The game was played with a lot of seriousness amidst huge helpings of laughter from watchers and players. A small 8 inches high wooden net bisected the court which was chalked onto the road surface. Each player had a large plywood paddle used to volley, slam, spin, cajole a naked tennis ball into the opponent’s side of the court. It’s a cross between tennis and table tennis. I wasn’t overly adept at it – well no I was outright bad, but enjoyed playing just for the fun.

I stopped the car one afternoon outside of the mechanics shop that used to be Abdul’s workplace and asked a man if he knew the whereabouts of any of the guys. He’d only lived in the neighbourhood about 10 years but had heard of the people. None were there any more. One went to England, another to America, others had moved to different parts of the island. All gone. Thanks men for the time and friendships we shared.

dsc00060I wanted to see Miss D too and thank her for the many kindnesses she showered on Makyla and I while we were under her caring eyes. I went down to her home on Deacon’s Rd. one afternoon with little miss social girl Nellie-Rose. Miss D had just turned 76 the previous day. It was so good to give her a hug and feel her arms full of love around me after all those years.

For more than 2 decades she had been the full time domestic for my former in-laws. When we arrived on the scene in 1982 she just adored Makyla and gave me a lot of help as a clueless first time househusband father. My unspoken part of the bargain was to bring a smile to her face through my actions and antics that frequently didn’t align with the niceties of the Bajan middle class ethos. Simply put, I was a bit of an embarrassment in some quarters – a long hair, rastafari lovin’, barefoot walkin’, herb smokin’, smartass little Canadian shit. My minor key exploits afforded her some good time laughter and amusement.

Miss D now owns the house that she shares with her daughter and granddaughter. The latest addition to the family is great grandson Jovani who’s about 2 months old now. We could hear him cooing away in the back room during our visit. Nellie started out on the floor that day but I soon had to pick her up as she was into everything within reach including a fan. It wasn’t long before Nellie was out of my arms and straight into Miss D’s gurgling, laughing, pulling at her glasses. Miss D’s refrain throughout the visit was, “look at her, she laughing” and “she just like her sister Makyla”.

dsc00011Miss D has not had an easy life. She shared some of her heartaches and injustices that have befallen her over the years. Strong and steadfast she has an unwavering faith in the Lord. She is resolute that anyone who has wronged her will one day have to answer for their own actions not in any sense of retributive payback but more from the perspective of personal responsibility. Miss D still has a lot of friends from her youth that she sees regularly in town and at church. Her congregation worships immediately across from her house in a blue and white tent that is a permanent fixture on Deacon’s Road and the beacon that helped us to find her. We laughed a lot, hugged, told our stories and the years melted away. Miss D I hope we meet up again. Your authentic joy in life is a bright, bright light.

Farrell and I got together several times during our last week. We laughed, reminisced, swapped a few tales and commiserated with each other about the vagaries of work life as public servants. The public service is providing us both with a venue to ply our skills and the wherewithal to butter our bread. In countries with strong democratic traditions it’s all pretty much of a muchness when it comes to the public service – great opportunities surpassed only by the myriad, often internally created obstacles littering the path leading from objective to result.

Farrell is a performer, a writer of plays and poems and a great proponent of the strength of popular culture in effecting change. He spent last year in the UK studying for a Master’s degree in popular theatre. He’s recently written a play on mental health, When Hope Smiles, for the Pan-American Health Organization. Over the years he’s had an opportunity to travel extensively to writers’ festivals to give readings of poems the likes of Caribbean Man. One of his favourite venues was Medellin, Colombia. The physical beauty was stunning and there were massive crowds gathered to meet and hear the writers. People were interested and the writers were truly celebrated and valued as important cultural creators.

Farrell encouraged me to come out and see one of the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) competitions. This is an annual contest that he’s been involved with for years as a voluntary judge. I thought about going to the Speightstown sessions on Saturday but the drive was a bit too far. So on our last Sunday, Noah and I made our way to Combermere School. The auditorium was crowded with about 200 in attendance. We were a little late so had to wait in the foyer until there was a break in the performances and we could slip in.

I am so happy we went. The evening was phenomenal. We saw 2 dramatic pieces, as well as 2 musical and 2 dance performances. Rickardo Reid an 8-year-old with the poise and delivery of a theatre pro delivered a 10 minute monologue that had everyone in the house rolling, reeling and laughing. His timing, comedic sensibilities and the text brought everything together in one package that shouted out absolutely fabulous. Noah was on my knees for the show. When this young boy came on and started his piece, “I gettin’ ready for the next World Cup” Noah’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. He was flabbergast incredulous that there was a boy up there owning the stage, storytelling to a large rapt crowd. As our Noah is no stranger to performing and loves a ladies and gentlemen crowd to talk to, I’m sure he wondered how he might attract this kind of attention and audience himself.

During the entr’acte we had a little snack and got some air outside. A man standing next to me struck up a conversation with Noah and I in French. Turns out he had spent his career in Canada working for the then Federal Business Development Bank. His French was excellent and it was fun to spend some time chatting. He returned home to Barbados on retirement. Many who leave the avocado isle look for a way to reach back home. Looked like things had turned out well for this gentleman.

Before leaving we got to check in with Farrell and meet a couple of his older children who had been in the under 5 set when I left Barbados. His youngest daughter was also there as she had performed that evening. Unfortunately we had missed her. It was good to see Farrell in dad mode. As the auditorium emptied Farrell and I said our goodbyes wondering if we’d get a chance to connect again. Driving home under the star punched sky Noah-David in an unsolicited moment of sweetness said to me, “thanks a lot for taking me papa, it was a lot fun”. We’ve only just begun and I’m looking forward to many more performances with Noah at my side.

As it turns out, young Rickardo did very well. Here’s what The Nation’s reporter wrote following the November 16 Gala at the Gary Sobers Complex: “But the gala spotlight was undoubtedly stolen by the youngest performer in this year’s NIFCA, Rickardo Reid. In the penultimate performance of the night, the pint-sized, giant-voiced, eight-year-old brought the house down. As they walked out of the Gymnasium, patrons were overheard repeating the refrain from Reid’s hilarious recitation; I Getting Ready Fuh De World Cup….Den.”

brothermanNo time for beaching on our last day. I did get down to the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill campus bookshop. For a lover of Caribbean and African literature that was a real treat. When I left in ’84 I gave away the 30 or so Caribbean novels and collections of short stories to the Learning Centre where I had been teaching. Nova Scotia isn’t the best place to find a selection of Caribbean titles. That day, I snatched up The Prime Minister by Austin Clarke, a wry, raw and wistful book about homecomings and political power. I’m still looking for a copy of Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack a laughter infused memoir of the author’s Bajan school years. Other treasures that day included Earl Lovelace’s Salt, Roger Mais’ Brother Man and Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like. This is a book that moved and outraged me when I read it in 1980. My copy disappeared and I always felt it as a loss. The words, words that he lived, were so powerful and triumphant over the apartheid forces that could never silence him. I wanted to read his words again and pass them on to my children.

Then it was time to go, on the plane and back to autumn in Nova Scotia. The young women customs officers who had greeted us 3 weeks earlier had been very pleasant and thought that my continued connection with the former in-laws and their helping with getting us settled in was quite humorous though not something that they would ever dream of doing. Leaving was another matter with forms to be completed in triplicate and a churlish, unhappy young woman officer manning the processing booth that we lucked into. We got through and relaxed in the waiting area before boarding. We picked up some Mount Gay rum for ourselves, friends and family but it never got further than the Toronto airport – sad but true.

dsc00118We no longer hear Noah chirping out, “hello Mr. Lizard” as he walks about the house, or singing a quick snatch of happy birthday to les maringouins – mosquitoes in French – a word which he injects with 2 or 3 extra syllables. I can’t slake my thirst with the velvety cool coconut water whose roadside drive-through vendors rival Nova Scotia’s Tim Hortons in numbers. I can no longer see the bob and weave of Last Dip as she rides the rolling wave crests at Worthing Beach. And the magnificent billowing crescendo clouds migrating in scattered towering flocks are no longer in view. I miss seeing the rain as it sweeps across the sky whispering wet. No more Bond Girl shots of Mélanie in sun dipping silhouette coming out of the turquoise ocean, sensual rivulets of water streaming down her natural curves. When I close my eyes I do see smiles of sand and sun, small feet splashing, hands digging and arms hugging shoulders tight in upsy down waves. I see the pounding bass minibus do a donut at the Shell station, the currant slices in their thick, sticky sweetness lined up on display ready for purchase, salt bread sliced in half waiting for flying fish, or slices of New Zealand cheese, the flashflooding water running through the canefields and into the road after heavy, heavy rain. I see Joseph the itinerant potter from the East Coast and then the one sign seen almost everywhere you turn in Barbados – ‘This way to Earthworks Pottery‘.

My heart was broken 25 years ago and I left part of it behind. My Makyla was at Sir Grantley Adams Airport to see me off her 2 little hands pushed against a clear glass window in the visitors’ section. I sobbed and cried on the way to the plane.

My heart is whole now filled to overflowing these last few months. Kyla just turned 26 and we’ll hopefully see each other over the Christmas holidays. Alexa is now out on her own – a brand new thing, 18 just back from the UK and living with friends in the city. I miss her but at least we’re only separated by a harbour. And everyday I am with my love Mélanie and our 2 small ones, Noah-David and Nellie-Rose – our compact little band of adventurers. Barbados was the last sustained time of extraordinary during our 180 days of magic. Noah wants to return and still talks about it frequently – the verandah, the beaches and the sea. Thanks Barbados it was a fine place for us all to rest and be.

The magic is not over, just not able to be indulged in as frequently. Presto voilà there it was tonight. Just before going to bed, Noah-David gave a multiple reprise demonstration of walking quietly. Perspectives on quiet vary according to the listener. Though his new kind of tiptoe locomotion skill with arms akimbo is quieter than his standard gallumping it doesn’t really qualify as quiet to me. In fact because the steps he takes are smaller, the frequency of sound waves emanating out in noisiness is much greater particularly when he breaks into the quiet run. Oh and did I mention the giggling that accompanied the pitter-pattering feet?


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The white sands of Dover

Posted by PlayGroundology on October 16, 2008

In our last week, Dover Beach took the prize as the runaway favourite swimming and sunning spot. Beachside parking available for early arrivals, good mix of locals and tourists, shade, shade, shade, sandy bottom, easy rolling waves with occasional crashers, water depth increasing gradually over 200 – 300 metres and a small convenience store just a short barefoot walk away.

Last Sunday was my fourth visit in as many days. Flip off the highway at the Errol Barrow roundabout, down to the next circle of madness, take the second exit and follow the road until you see the beach public access point on the right. The umbrella and beach chair concession is right there at the entry though a towel and shade from the mature trees just in front of the condo construction site suited us well.

Noah has had a blast at Dover each visit. He’s got the merriment and amusement trinity at his fingertips. There’s the contractor, big, big job work that’s a sure thing. Dump truck, digger, big stainless steel spoon, an empty plastic ice cream container filled with the magic ingredient water are all that’s required for unlimited barrels of fun and major public works projects.

Bobbing in the wet salt salt in maman’s, or papa’s arms almost oblivious now to accidental splashes by rogue waves, Noah is sprouting mile wide seaside smiles framed by soaked curling ringlets. BB (Before Barbados) this cavorting, this comfort in the deep blue sea approaching insouciance would have been incredulous. Now our young dude is getting prepped for swimming classes – learning respect for and survival in the water. It’s a whole new game in waterworld.

Rounding out the trio is ‘kicky ball’ more and more often being called by it’s North American name – soccer, sounding like saw-ker as per Noah’s personal inflection. Dover is wide and long enough that we can kick the ball about running back and forth without bothering other subtropic worshippers or worrying that the ball will end up in the big coral drink. We race, pass, deke, feint, sweat and laugh. Every match we’re in the league of champions.

Those last few days, we were arriving beachside in the 8h00 to 9h30 window. Nellie girl usually fell asleep on the way and continued to nap on a towel after we’d planted ourselves. Not surprising as she was getting up while the nocturnal animals still had a couple of hours left to put in on their shifts. Her every morning early o’clock between 04h00 and 05h00 was the big hand that swept us to bed usually not much later than 21h00 though we stretched it out on a couple of rare nights to 23h00. I guess we were just drop dead wild and crazy in the Caribbean….

Nellie-Rose was a natural in the water floating with the best of them. She likes the wave action, enjoys getting pulled around or supported under her tummy, or being held tightly next to our chests. The water does not dampen her conversational ability and she’s always game to play games with others. Nellie and Silma developed a friendship over talk and a waterlogged leaf that Silma gave the young Nell to play with. There was a lot of smiling, cooing and giggling over 15 to 20 minutes and all the while Nellie held onto that leaf. Silma has a daughter and 3 grans in Vancouver and loves to see them when they visit but has no real interest in travelling to Canada as her comfort, friends and home are firmly in Barbados.

Nellie plopped sitting in the sand unencumbered by adult fussing, or with a popsicle in her mouth, is Nellie in heaven. Following each beach outing she was in need of a serious rinse when we arrived home to wash away all the fine grains from every skin fold and crevice where they could possibly hide. After three weeks, she had not learned the etiquette around peeing at the beach. Then again, maybe we had not been successful in relaying it to her. I just remember that 2 days running, shortly after having brought her out of the water I felt the telltale trickle that grew into a warm and steady flow running down my torso as I held our saucy little pup in my arms. A quick dip and rinse in the sea and we were both pretty much pee free.

We met another couple from England with a toddler on one of our Dover excursions. They were also staying in a family home far from the coastlines (in Barbados that means measuring the kilometres in single digits). Danny is a trumpeter who plays in the West End production of Wicked. His wife Louise had a few suggestions of kid friendly places to eat out. Our culinary adventures were taken care of by Chefette, Curry King across from Palm Plaza in Wildey, St. Michael, cheese cutters from rum shops and a ginormous feed of battered and spiced Bajan flying fish – a delectable treat tucked into a salt bread bun. Louise has recorded a number of songs and is working on a release strategy. Her sister is also a singer and is down in Barbados this week performing. Her brother is a guest conductor with orchestras around the world.

Both Mélanie and I enjoyed their company as brief as it was. I was hoping we would meet them and their daughter Alicia before we left but it wasn’t to be. Danny and I compared notes a little and we were all suffering from the sandflies and the it’s so hot it’s silly heat. We agreed though that there was no substitute to living in an actual home with everything that implies – room for the kids to play, privacy, access to food and cooking at all hours, a place to invite people to, a space that is more of a home than a hotel type venue.

My last visit on Sunday was solo. I quaffed a Banks beer after plunge 1 and walked from the piazza skirting the washed red umbrella hamlet interspersed with the deep red of new to the sun parasols all with fringes dancing in the wind. The young boy, 7 or 8, was there with his boogie board looking for a wave to hop and ride. I didn’t see his father so I kept him in view out of the corner of my eye. On my back and weightless I saw a whorl of clouds parading across the late morning sky, highstacked, soft sculpted towers and formless swirls of misty white. The peaceful float was sweet but I missed the sproglets and Mélanie. I didn’t know it at the time but it was the last trip to the beach. The talked about Monday sortie didn’t happen and really it would have been miraculous to take a last plunge and make AC flight 967.

It would have been nice to loll and laze on Dover’s white sands a couple of weeks earlier. The beach had been on our radar screen from day one. We bumped into a few English blokes over at Folkestone on our first day who told us there were a few turtle nests cordoned off at Dover. We headed that way later in the week but got lost at the roundabout after the ABC Highway Errol Barrow roundabout and ended up at Worthing Beach. Worthing was worthwhile but we should have persevered in our quest for Dover.

In winter’s cold dark I’ll think back to days of lazing laughter with Noah and Nellie locked in my and Mé’s arms as we rolled and swayed warm and carefree in Dover’s caressing waters. Then I’ll hit play to see if I can swing back to beauty, heat and Bajan beat.

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Turtles, mangroves, and TV

Posted by PlayGroundology on October 5, 2008

With the exception of the underwater world, and it’s facing its own challenges, wild Barbados is just about gone. A centuries long monoculture, small land mass, growing population and a very high intake of tourists all place a signficant strain on the island’s ecosystems.

Barbados’ fringing reefs are bubbling with life. Glass bottom boats are a sure way to get a close up look at some of the common fishes and the various types of coral. We boarded at Folkestone Park just north of Holetown on the west coast. We skirted the shore motoring south and passed over an intentionally sunken wreck en route. Our guide cut the engine at Payne’s Bay no more than 200 metres from the beach. Three catamarans had already dropped anchor.

The ‘cruise directors’ from all 4 vessels were throwing small fish into the greening blue to attract sea turtles. Within a couple of minutes they were rising in the water column to take the free food. According to our guide they got fed 20 to 30 times a day. It was a thrill to see them swim below and beside me – almost close enough to touch on a couple of occasions. It would have been even more breath taking if I had a prescription mask or goggles. I was in the water for about 15 minutes and could easily have enjoyed another 20 but without a prescription mask, my underwater vision was somewhat impaired. Even more important, Mélanie was in the boat with the 2 sproglets and although they were very well behaved, Mé rightly requested me to haul my butt out of the water and over the side to get on with some of my parenting duties. Further adventures with Jacques Cousteau would have to wait.

A conservation program is in full swing for the Hawksbill Turtle in Barbados. Both Hawksbill and Green turtles continue to nest on the south and west coasts of the island. I do wonder though what impact an almost continuous presence of human interlopers has on their behaviour as we insert ourselves into their environment. To the untrained eye those turtles we saw flying through the water with the greatest of ease off of Payne’s Bay looked like they were holding their own. I hope the conservation work is successful.

We stopped at the wreck on our way back and got out for another swim. Down below were beautiful brain, mushroom and fingers corals and lots of fish. Throwing food over the side made a rolling shimmer of shiny bubble to the surface wherever the pieces of bread hit the water. The sergeant majors and jakes racing to reach the food were a spectacular sight.

But all is not rosy in the world of Bajan reefs as reported last week in The Nation, one of the island’s two dailies. On a positive note, the intrinsic value of the reefs are generally well recognized, a critical advantage in the conservation efforts that are underway to ensure their health as a natural and economic legacy for future generations.

On the land side there’s a relatively new project that is preserving the last mangrove habitat in Barbados, the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary (video). This 35 acre reserve located opposite Worthing Beach on the island’s south coast is a great family trip. In a postage stamp pocket of nature there are a variety of bird species, both wild and in aviaries, green monkeys, mongoose, tarpons and let’s not forget the insects.

When we told Noah-David there would be flamingos he started to do his one-legged balancing act – an impersonation in honour of his pinkified buddies whom he had last seen at the San Diego Zoo. The sanctuary is well laid out for the little ones. The red brick path is very wide and easy for children to follow. Noah did much racing back and forth on the path interspersed with looking in the waterways, appreciating the ibises, the parrots and spoonbills and straining his eyes in search of green monkeys (we weren’t fortunate enough to see any). This is an excellent natural attraction that provides residents and visitors with an opportunity to learn about a fragile and threatened ecosystem. If we lived here this place would be on our recurring visit schedule. Just prior to leaving, we fed the tarpons – giant silver fish in rest mode under a bridge until the food pellets hit the water. Then they sauntered out their 3 to 5 foot long bodies moving effortlessly with the swish of a tail. We watched as they skimmed just below the surface until every last pellet of food was gone.

Tip – if you visit, the Sanctuary is a great place to park your car under the shade and proceed to Worthing Beach which is just across the street.

Outside there is nature, people, commerce, rocketing roads, the sea, sand and hot, hot sun. Inside there is heat, lizards, itinerant birds, sticky sleep with trickling sweat, skeeters, sandflies and TV. TV is our distraction when the sun dips down and when dawn cracks its redding light. Where we’re staying there is a satellite system installed that pulls in the Caribbean and South American affiliates of American networks and specialty channels such as Discovery Kids.

There are some familiar Canadian programs such as The BackYardigans, Daniel Cook, Emily Yeung and Lunar Jim. There are others that I’ve never seen before that I wish we could get at home – Lazy Town, Jakers – The Adventures of Piggy Winkles, Mister Maker and Pinky Dinky Doo.

The station has a cute little mascot Doki, a mostly white animated puppy with a black ring around one eye. He serves as the bridge between programming and advertising. His 2 favourite utterances are ya regressa and continuamos. The first, “right back” is one of Noah’s favourite English expressions although with him it’s linked to his movements and whereabouts and not television programming. Commercials for programming on the station are in Spanish as are the station IDs and all advertising. The programs themselves run in English. We haven’t been able to sort out the rhyme and reason for this language approach but it’s been an amusing opportunity to test my retention of university Spanish nearly 30 years later. On the note of advertising, I’m very pleased that Treehouse TV back home is a commercial-free zone.

A sad last note on TV tribulations. We’ve been Barney bopped. In Nova Scotia, Barney and Friends is interdit. In Barbados it has slipped by because it first appears on air at 6h00. It’s really the only quiet thing we can engage them in at this time of day to manage their exuberance so that it falls within the no peels or squeals of laughter zone, or wailing of tears, or gnashing of teeth. We don’t want to wake the neighbours

Barbados treating us sweet. More later when I find time to write.

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Round and roundabout we go

Posted by PlayGroundology on September 29, 2008

The morning chorale of cock crows caroms from yard to yard – an avian call and answer as neighbourhood roosters puff up and let loose. They’re at it from 3h00 with brief sign offs filled by crickets, operatic frogs and yabbering, yapping guard dogs owned by just about every household. The cocks of the walk pick up momentum until just before dawn. As the red sun readies to creep over the horizon, it’s easy to distinguish 5 or 6 different voices cranked up in a flurry of self expression. It’s a sound we don’t hear in urban Canada.

There is much different to sound and sense here – the deep reds of bouganvillea, the star white blossoms of the breadfruit tree, the myriad shades of green to luxuriate in, the buoyant salt sea with steady dreaming breakers, the heavy elixir smell of humidity. Every day there is the bite of a nearly equatorial sun, the cooing of mourning doves, the bass beat boom throbbing from mini-buses and lizards skittering across walls in all directions.

Lots of marvel eyed wonder from Noah-David. He is particularly enamoured of the lizards. “Mr. Lizard what are you doing?”, he calls out to the green mini-dragons. He enjoys seeing the yellow throat sacks inflate as they pause to take in their surroundings. The water has been a real hit with him too. He shows no reservation, no reluctance to get in and get wet and will bob and float with us for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. The water skittishness seems to have been skittled by the greening blue shallows of the Caribbean Sea, the warm air and the hot, hot sun.

Nellie is the Queen of the Warrens SuperCentre. We’ve been shopping here 4 or 5 times and without exception Nellie-Rose makes friends with fellow shoppers and staff alike. It’s her whole face is a smile, hiya look that gets strangers pulled right in and engaged with our little imp. She talks up a storm in her own dialect amidst giggles and oh so cute facial expressions. She likes the water, isn’t ga-ga about it but usually will give an abbreviated squeal of delight before she heads back to the sand where there is potential for unsupervised mischief to get into.

This first week we’ve been on the beach-a-day plan and have floated, soaked and submerged on the west, south and east coasts. Getting there is a fair sized production. With prepping the sproglets (a basic marinade in the highest SPF sunscreen available and a serious dousing with insect repellent), travel back and forth to the deep blue sea (which invariably includes a “we’re lost” component) and the actual baptism, immersion into the mystically cleansing and refreshing waters, we’ve been out and about for 2 to 3 hours.

Each beach has its own distinguishing characteristics. I’d return to all of the ones we’ve visited to date: Folkestone, Batt’s Rock, St. Lawrence Bay, Bathsheba and Mullins. Some are sandier than others, or have a gentler gradient leading to deeper water. Some have crashing breakers while others have a barely noticeable swell. Some have plenty of shade, at others a big beach umbrella is de rigueur. All have a breath of breeze en route from South America, Central America or Africa. Some have winds that blow and froth and chop and undercurrents that can quickly drag a person to an unhappy end. Those waters are for extreme enthusiasts or fools. I crave the security of safety for our 2 little ones – simple pleasures in soft, calm waters sporting the occasional splashy breaker.

Attache-toi papa“, buckle up is Noah’s mantra as soon as we get into H1096. It’s an unloaded compact – automatic transmission, manual everything else. Haven’t checked the make as yet but it’s running fine having proven itself climbing the summits of the east coast hills and providing us a safe return to St. Thomas. All tourist rental cars bear the mark of the “H”. This is a designation that’s as readily recognized by good samaritans as those whose interest in the tourist driver might run more toward prey. Our experience to date with strangers has wavered between positive and neutral. No nasties and that’s how we hope it will remain.

Back to driving and the buckle up admonition. It took me 4 days before I would drive at night and then only along a familiar route. The non-highway roads are narrow, twisty-turny, watch out what’s coming at you type thoroughfares. In addition to the buses, motorcycles, minivans and regular old cars bearing down there are also the pedestrians and ditches at the side of the road to preoccupy a driver’s mind. Driving on the left fully consumed my grey cells for the first few days. It was characterized not by near misses but by constantly ripping the wiper rubber across the dry window because it was on the left hand side of the steering column where I usually find my direction indicators. Driving is an adventure that requires constant vigilance and if you’re not careful can send you around the bend especially if you’re not paying strict attention to the approaches to and traffic flow on the roundabouts.

Over 70% of the roads are not named on maps. They look to be accurately represented in relation to their position and scale but sadly the all important identifier is in most cases not there. This does not augur well when lost because it is very difficult to precisely pinpoint where you’re located with the general result that the lost lasts a little longer. Although not as abysmal as the map situation, road signage is not always brillant. For example on the way back to Bridgetown from Bathsheba, the main road comes to a “T” junction with no indication of what lies in either direction. On that particular one we made the wrong choice and had to backtrack. With all its vagaries driving can be a quixotic pursuit where the road not taken could in fact be the one you are desperately looking for to arrive at your destination.

By end of day, or earlier, we like to be back at Bagatelle. As the sky falls, the sinking sun pinks and roses migrating clouds, light scrapers reflecting the day for just a few moments longer. As the dark fills the dying day a helter-skelter squadron of bats displays its aerial magic. Each individual flight path undulates to a constantly shifting take out counter with only one item on the menu – insects. Three cheers for the bats and any other natural enemies that take a bite out of the 6-legged population.

The bugs have proven to be quite formidable – skeeters, sand flies and gnats would fare better in hell than they would leaving their fate in our hands. Mélanie gets an allergic reaction to the bites – a more significant swelling than what most individuals would experience. With all our chemical repellents, there is still a need for stalking and I’m proud to say that Mé has become The Terminator – tracking down biting bugs for the final kill. The kids are not bothered by the bugs at all, a fortunate turn of events for them and us.

Plenty of discoveries and rememberings still to come from the outlier island, a coral beacon at 13° 10′ North and 59° 32′ West.

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Why can’t we see the wind?

Posted by PlayGroundology on September 20, 2008

Earlier this week we hopped in the car ocean bound in search of wind. The air was breathless still in our yard as we readied to go – not a blade of grass in motion, not a whisper of leaves to be heard. On the trip out for what I hoped would be our first kite adventure together, Noah asked, “why can’t we see the wind?”

Now before you think that our just turned 3-year-old is a budding philosophical giant wrestling with the metaphysical, I need to come clean. During a far ranging discussion on storms the previous week that encompassed lightening, thunder, rain and other meteorological mysteries we did bandy about the concept of wind’s invisibility. Noah took this information to heart, tucked it away and in a puff of curiosity as we motored along Cow Bay Road breezily popped the question.

My answer was less than stellar and certainly not scientific. It was along these lines – you can feel, hear and see the effects of wind but cannot see or touch the wind itself. As we were driving I was able to point to a flag aflutter as an example of seeing the effects of the wind while not being able to eyeball the wind itself. This has satisfied our lad on the wind issue for the time being. A quick google provides one, two alternate responses. Take your pick in the event that this question ever comes your way.

Rainbow Haven Beach had just what we were looking for – even though we couldn’t see it – lolloping, blusterous gusts of blowy wind. We assembled our $3, “Made in China” clown face kite very rapidly and thrust it into the air. It swayed and danced tethered on a string its tail swishing 20 metres above our heads. Noah wanted to know if any birds would visit the high flying kite but nary a one glided anywhere near. Maybe like some young children, birds are spooked by clowns. Perhaps it’s the rictus-like, just a bit too happy perma-pressed smile….

Our first time kiting was a great success. Noah-David took the helm himself on 3 separate occasions and looked skywards into the sun as our paper (oops composite fabric) bird tugged and bobbed and weaved. The wind’s pull was steady enough to tire his arms so he asked for a couple of breaks. This will be an ongoing past time with many more outings on the horizon. We’ll continue to spool out the fun, string flying through our fingers and kites sailing away on eddying updrafts. As we speak almost exclusively in French with the 2 sproglets, I was curious to find the origin of cerf-volant. Seems it wasn’t a flying deer at all as a literal translation would suggest but a flying serpent, snake, or dragon…

I’ve also enjoyed kites with my 2 eldest daughters. Alexa and I had many kiting adventures on the other side of the harbour. My favourite spot was the springy moist ground above Pebble Beach at Duncan’s Cove. Never any question of having to search for the wind there. Always a blow, a gust, a send a kite into the air breath of wonder. Makyla and I did our first kite flying when she was just over one-year-old in Barbados. There’s a big Caribbean tradition of kite flying at Easter that we took up one of the 2 Easters we lived there.

As a kid I loved the bat kite and stingray designs. We’d have dog fights with them high above our playground that bordered on Toronto’s 401. The bat kites with their red decal eyes and foreboding black silhouettes could be vengeful marauders when they swooped into or dove onto other kites. The material couldn’t withstand direct hits and a mid-air collision would often result in rips and tears that we would doctor the best we could with hockey tape. Broken strings would break hearts too as the wind would waft a flopping kite across the 401 never to be flown again by its original owner again.

40 years down the road the materials have become much lighter and more resilient. Despite the increased technical sophistication, I think a young boy, or a young girl’s thrill of flying a kite hasn’t really changed much in the thousands of years that we’ve been looking skyward string coursing through our fingers and wind teasing our hands. For more on kites, consult Best Breezes an excellent blog and website on this enduring source of of fun and simple pleasure.

Nellie-Rose is making headlines again with an alarming means of expression. She’s really throwing herself into it head first. In some circles her new move is known as a Glasgow kiss. In less picturesque language it’s simply a head butt. You wouldn’t think there would be much cause for shying away from a wee baby’s forehead. When Nellie gets excited though she lets fly and usually the closest target is somewhere on our faces. She would be a mean striker on a soccer pitch. Given that she can propel her cute little noggin backwards too, we need to be doubly alert. Really what we need is eyes in the back of our heads. If she gets a direct hit or even wings the cheekbone, or nose with the exceptional velocity unleashed from her well developed neck muscles, we’re talking big surprise and some measure of pain. We can usually see these special kisses getting telegraphed but there’s still a need for caution and defensive measures as she’ll try and pop off 5 or 6 in rapid succession when she’s in that exuberant, ecstatic zone. We love to see Nellie-Rose in that state of happiness and so far none of us have had to get treated at emergency. Here’s hoping that this is a phase that will quietly fade away into the night with minimum of fanfare.

Before leaving the lovely Nellie altogether, take a listen to this whooping crane recording and then throw in a soupçon of bray and you’ll have an idea of the insistent and not quite endearing sound that our girl makes when she wants something to happen right away as in yesterday. Her ‘honk’ is a bit more prolonged and the pitch is not as high. Fortunately this Nellie call is of relatively short duration and has a low daily frequency. The goos and the gaas, the i yaaas and all the rest are how she really converses with us inviting us to her world as she crosses into ours. Thankfully the whooping honk is reserved for special occasions.

Not to be outdone by his sister, Noah-David tools along on his own path. On this birthday week that has meant: fingernails that are growing now that they’re no longer velcroed to his teeth; the first afternoon at tiny tot soccer – a high energy giggly gang of 3 to 4 year olds being put through a basic soccer boot camp by 3 teens; the first time that Noah asked to have his picture taken – an action shot falling off the bottom of a slide at the Woodside Playground; and his first selection of a toy bought with his own money, birthday dollars from his great grandma in Québec.

As soon as he tried the Color Roller – a real sight and sound extravaganza – the sale was clinched for Woozles. Despite suggestions, nothing else would do. Six days later the intensity has started to diminish but this number is still in the revered land of top toys. The roller’s sound factor combined with Noah’s ability to push it like a lawnmower are attributes that should ensure this toy a long, playful life.

A couple of quick postscripts. Noah’s highlight at tiny tot soccer was getting to hold on to the only yellow checked ball. That afternoon on the Tallahasee gym floor our lad was flashing pretty constant smiles and rolling in the giggles. The next outing is sure to be fun.

This afternoon walking Nellie-Rose back and forth in the front room while patting her back softly to ease her into napland, our darling little sweetpea returned the kindness and gently patted my shoulder for a couple of minutes. Shortly afterwards, she was asleep in my arms. This was just the cutest.

Only 2 more sleeps and we board a plane for Barbados.

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A beautiful day

Posted by PlayGroundology on July 1, 2008


It was the first day without rain or threatening thunder for the last week. Hot sun baked our tracks as we rolled down the 133 flanking the Richelieu River. We’ve got a picnic on board and the 2 little ones are getting rocked to sleep, car cradled coziness. Original destination Mont St Hilaire but the beautiful weather urges us on to the source of the river and we track all the way south to Venise-en-Québec a tiny community hugging the shores of Lake Champlain.

It was just before our picnic on the big bowl of a bay stretching to Vermont and New York state with cotton ball cloud collages dabbing a sun soaked sky that I saw it. It, was complicity in spark. I was in line at the local épicerie check out to pay for a shovel, pail and other sand toys when right there in front of me it happened. The spark was almost visible, the complicity delicious. It was a smile, a glance, a sparkled eye, a shift of shoulder, a tilt of the head, an inflection, a last lingering look – all speechless but speaking volumes. Not sure if the young check out woman and her would be suitor were lovers, strangers, or somewhere in between but quietly, almost imperceptibly they sparked right before my eyes leaving a smile in their wake.

Down the road a couple of miles we pulled into a private beach – $10 to park . It’s the waterfront adjunct of a camping ground across the road – full of urban refugees like us seeking open, halogen-free skies. A front end loader – big bonus for heavy machinery crazed Noah – had recently finished smoothing a fresh batch of sand along the 200 feet of lakeshore. This was our open air home for the next couple of hours, our first beach since California. We spread our blanket, lathered on more sunblock, made sand castles and dipped our feet into the water. The only minor annoyance were seados and speed boats buzzing like horseflies across the bay. Nellie-Rose and I found a remedy for this in a 4-seater garden swing where we glided in the shade with her cooing in my arms for what seemed like a welcome eternity. Just before hitting the road, I took the plunge in the water which was a lot warmer than California in early May. The sandy shallows extended 100s of feet from the shore. We might try and get back to this spot and at the very least, we’ll be sure now to carry bathing suits and towels with us at all times….

Chillin\'Earlier in the day, Noah-David and I sortied at our usual just after 6 time for another in the continuing episodes of early morning adventures. I drove some new roads in Sorel and after juicing up with 2 timbits and a coffee we took rue Victoria to the end of the line. Where the street ends a farm begins – there is really no transition, a manicured hedge and then the symmetrical row upon row of corn now pushing 2 feet out of the black earth. There are 4 large horses on this farm that were gathered together unhurriedly eating as we approached the fence penning them in. As we came closer, each in turn lifted its head in our direction and sauntered over. They must get lots of visitors and be the darlings of the neighbourhood children. These huge horses have a solid presence like sentinels silently proclaiming their strength.

We rolled east along the St. Lawrence passing by palatial homes until we were in full blown country – farms, woods, churches, the occasional store, baling fields and tractors. We turned around where the tour boats for les iles de Sorel dock right next to a dinner theatre and le Survenant restaurant. It was getting time for the girls to be up. We quickly slipped into Presse Café to check the wireless and I was able to get a little MacBook netblast. Noah-David was able to check in on his 2 downtown fountains, 1 of which has 2 waterfalls that continue to keep him spellbound. When we got home, Nellie-Rose and maman were ready to rock ‘n roll – so we did right on down the highway.

Grandpapa We had a great ending to our day – a double celebration. Grandpapa Raymond had a happy 61 birthday and Mélanie’s sister Stéphanie and her love, Jasmin, just bought their first home. We had a delicious meal at their new place and got back to rue Hébert sated, satisifed and ready for sleep. Noah-David stayed behind with Grandmaman Nicole and Grandpapa Raymond to have just a little more fun. By the time he got home, Nellie-Rose and I were already away in the land of Nod.

I still had that smile from just before lunch. I was reminiscing on all the arcing electricity that has sparked Mélanie and I, la fébrilité as she calls it, and looking forward to all the current that still has its course to run. Yes, Mélanie was the hottest woman on the beach, filling my dreams, shaping our tomorrows.

A beautiful day.

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Los playas, les plages, beach, beach, beach

Posted by PlayGroundology on May 16, 2008

Today is our last full day in San Diego. Just as we ready to pack our bags, the sun has arrived cracking hot. The standard weather forecast from locals has been, “May, gray – June, gloom”. Our days were a fairly consistent mix of gray gloom but very enjoyable nonetheless. Throwing the sun into the mix has been like letting the party out of the box. It’s made possible a whole new appreciation and understanding of Ca-li-for-nia…………. I’m now in the sway of those easy listening America tunes which I’ve been hearing on an internal loop track for the past couple of days.

We got personally mobile yesterday with our very own compact rental automobile. We headed straight for Mission Beach, a trip of maybe 5 kilometres from Point Loma HI but oh so much easier and quicker by car than by transit. We did the boardwalk – one side abuts the beach and the other a series of vacation rentals/condos overlooking the Pacific.

We could almost feel the sun crackling our pale, winterized skin as we walked to the sound of the surf pushing our Noah-David and snugglying our Nellie-Rose. The boardwalk was crowded with strollers, bikers, bladers, joggers – a great place to celebrate the outdoors. About 25 metres offshore were pods of 3 and 4 dolphins diving and surfacing, seemingly watching our more gravity bound progress. Above us small groups of pelicans were either coming back to shore, or heading out to fish with their strong measured wing beats and formation flying. Sea and sky came together in a soft heat shimmering pastel focus.

The kids eventually woke up after the long walk and we took a quick stroll over to the mini-amusement ground – a roller coaster, a carousel, a submarine ride and a few other old-time type rides. Maman and Noah-David tamed the bucking broncos on the merry-go-round and we all had some cotton candy – barbe à papa – to share. An added bonus on this excursion was big brother Bob Marley shirts for the 4 of us.

More sand, sea and surf after supper as Noah and I headed down for a guys night out at Ocean Beach. We got a rockin’ parking space immediately opposite the beach just off of Newport Avenue. Noah was wearing his sporty new one-piece swimsuit, all pistachio green and summer sky blue. He looks fantastic – as one woman on the pier said, “he should be on a postcard”.

Before hitting the beach we grabbed a quick ice cream cone – strawberry for Noah and chocolate for me. Fortified with dairy and sugars we made our way down to the high tide surf. The waves were pretty big and after the second, or third washed up around Noah’s waist with some considerable force and his face was liberally doused with salt spray, he opted to nestle in papa’s arms. We swayed together like that, hugging and holding, watching the surging surf wash around my legs, tracking the skybound planes jetting across the Pacific just quietly being and loving each other.

We left beachside with Noah on my shoulders and climbed the stairs to the longest pier on the west coast. We sauntered along and saw people reeling in sea bass pulled out of the water 20 metres below. The sunwas sinking rapidly and the lad was developing a chill though he wouldn’t fess up even when asked. When we reached the end of the line the sun was just slipping below the horizon and there was a tearful admission of being cold. A quick hug and toweling and a change of clothes washed away the tears and we walked a smiley, happy boy riding high on shoulders back to land.

The sky was dark when we pulled into Udall St. It was time to run in and see the girls and have a bowl of cereal before a camp down for the night.

Today’s adventures are just about to begin under blue San Diego skies.

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