Barbidoesmiami

How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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Team Tarpum Bay

My core team: Davette, Sterlene, Zach, Lynn, Queenie, Rose, Simone and Louise, missing is Audrey,  team captain

After the Easter celebrations my studio slowly became a hub. Word was out that the lady with the beach plastic needed help. On Tuesday five women came to sew and throughout the day more joined in. Zach had been helping since the first day – my master assistant who washed the plastic, laid it out to dry, cut it up and drilled it.

harvested beach plastic drying in the sun

We had 180 tee shirts to do. 540 bits of plastic to attach. We also had to make 100 napkin rings for a fundraiser lunch on Saturday the 21st. Another 1200 pieces of beach plastic went into those. I did not think it could be done. I worried. Audrey said don’t worry. Two days later she was right and they all laughed and poked fun at my concern as if my worries were the funniest thing that had happened all week, but I had no idea there were so many talented artisans in town.

adding beach plastic to the tees

By Thursday we were doing bracelets and necklaces. Together we sat around big round tables. I prepped each piece, dismembering the monofilament nylon drift ropes that tangle all over the beaches and reefs, strangling birds and turtles and poisoning whales, dolphins and big fish.  The colors of the monofilament are striking and I look for matching beads from turquoise to seed pearls and crystals. The crafters strung them and I attached the magnetic closures.  We did dozens like this.

 

Before  &  After

Friday was earring day and everyone was excited to learn. I prepped crosses by cutting old washed-up lobster traps, bait pouches and one red and one orange crate. Zach drilled holes in their centers. I laid out the findings and gems.

 

Before & After

While we put the earrings together we  compared birth stories. Rose had six kids, Audrey one, Sterlene two. I had three in two births. We talked about which of the Tarpum Bay super markets had OJ.

Sterlene: I have to get myself some orange juice

Me: I need orange juice, I went to Bert’s but they were out

Sterlene: They were out?

Audrey: Try 6 to 10.

Sterlene: And they stay open till 10

Me: They still have orange juice?

Audrey: Yeah they have orange juice, boat came in yesterday

On the island the rhythm of shopping is determined by the boat and the assortment an important part of daily dialog. As I sat and listened to their languid drawlin’ Bahamian dialect I wished I could stay long enough until I had their way of speaking   down.

On Sunday I went to my favorite beach one last time and spent the morning drawing and collecting beach plastic.

Monday was my last day as artist in residence. I packed up all my belongings, my 180 tees, 100 napkin rings and another 100 pieces of jewelry. I was ready for the Eleuthera Earthday Weekend. But I was melancholy. I had loved my time in the Castle and the Prep building. I loved my new friends. I relished in my daily routine of working at the castle in the morning and sharing my trash to treasure process with my local team in the afternoon.  I’d miss my early evening swims in Winding Bay where dozens of giant starfish dot the sandy ocean bottom and coming home salty and tired and having a vodka lemonade while cooking myself dinner and then working more into the night.  I’d been oddly lonely, but I’d enjoyed the solitude of spending time with myself after many years of being immersed in the bustle of my wild and intense family.

Early Tuesday I moved to Palmetto Point, closer to the Beach House where I will show my new collection and One Beach film during the Welcome Party of Jammin’ for Nature, three days of Earthday celebrations sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and benefitting One Eleuthera. Tomorrow friends arrive from NYC to help and party and I shall be alone no more….

Plastic is Forever website

come and join us!


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Up South and Down North

Last Monday, observed here in Eleuthera as Easter Monday and thus a “bank” holiday, I went down North to Governor’s Harbour. This is island speak. Locals tell each other they live Down North or Up South.

My friends Chris and Carolyn  had just arrived from London and were spending their first nights in their brand spanking new cottage on the hill. I had to be there. I also wanted to see  Michele about the arrangements at the Beach House for my big event on Friday the 20th.

I rented a car from Brenda Carey, who lives in an unassuming bungalow behind the castle. Once inside I found myself in a Petit Versailles of chandeliers, throw pillows, tassels, crystal and framed pictures of baroque Bahamian scenes. Evidence that the Eleuthera car rental business is a good one.  Brenda hugged me to her ample chest on all three visits, the last time I was hugged twice because I begged her forgiveness for a schedule screw-up on the most sacred of church nights. Bad Barbi indeed, in my elaborate plan to not screw up her Easter Sunday evening I apparently ended up doing just that.

Yes, I do have my own car here, my beloved red GMC truck, which unfortunately runs on only three gears, and husband made me promise that I would not drive it on extended trips. Governor’s, 20 minutes north, is, by island standards, an extended trip and so I rented.

After spending the night at my friends’ unassuming local cottage also with an unexpected interior, this time not Versailles but World of Interiors style, I set off for my meeting at the Beach House. I opened the car door, threw my bag inside the rental, turned around to get my beach towel, and, being parked on an incline, the door fell shut. Ca-cloink. All the automatic doors had locked themselves. The keys were inside my bag that sat innocently on the passenger seat.

Not long after I was at the police station, yet another unassuming building, this time more in the Knickerbocker Gang style.

A friendly policeman, who looked like he’d had a jolly Easter celebration, was making calls for me. He was trying to locate a mechanic (or a crook) who had a car-door opening jimmy. After a few failed attempts at finding a Slim Jim we started chatting. I voiced my frustration at the independence of the rental car’s door system.

How is this possible? I lamented…

We once had a police car like that, he said.

Seriously?

Worst was that time when we stopped these two guys on the Queen’s Highway near Gregory Town. Ya man, we felt we had reason to search their car, turned it upside down, took forever, found nothing. When we got back to our car it was all shut up. So we had to go ask those guys if they’d  give us a ride back to the station.

Did they? I ask.

Of course, he laughs. We got rid of that car.


He’s behind a high counter. I put my elbows on its battered surface and look down on him. He is on his Blackberry, which is charging, and the white cord is stretched across his face, practically wrapped around his nose. Behind him is a benign looking composition book and written on the side, in green marker, it says “CRIME REPORTS” .

While he chats with a mechanic about their church’s Easter beach party I think of the pumped up US police officers who recently shot that old Vietnam vet with a heart condition in his own home.

OK, he says, Mr. Culmer will be at your car in twenty minutes….

As I walk back I wonder.

Is it these simple, funny things that make Eleuthera so lovable?

Like the burglar who politely said Hi to me on the landing of our house before bolting. Or the story of the petty thief who swiped an orange Princeton sweatshirt during a prowl across someone’s porch that was reported to the police. Twenty minutes later he was picked up wearing same bright orange sweatshirt on Cupid’s Key a few hundred yards from the police station. Or my friend Ann who called the fire station when the brush right beside her house was on fire and their response was: do you have a bucket?

And do those small but meaningful things accumulate into bigger things like caring for your community, helping when help is needed and a 99% voter turnout?


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Rhythm

view from my writing turret

It takes a while to settle a routine as an artist in residence and its hard to let go.

I miss my family yet they just keep movin’ to their usual beat.

First I want to do it all, and then I don’t know what to do.

But I have so much to do.

I need a rhythm, a rhythm.

Winding Bay

I went to  Winding Bay last July with 28 kids from the Cultural Center but this time I am alone. This time I follow the “public beach access” sign and turn left instead of right to take the sandy road all the way to the end.

At first I am annoyed, I am still annoyed by the pedestrian e-mails that came in from life back in Miami, like a client who’d promised to send a wire last week and now tells me that she sent a check by mail. Bullshit stuff I don’t want to deal with, but it’s the jostling and jousting we all do for our lifestyle, from health insurance to school acceptance letters and 2011 taxes.

I am annoyed that the local public beach is half a mile up a potholed dirt road whereas private vacation homes are conveniently dotted all along the easy access paved road to the right. I know it’s silly but I still feel controlled by the powers-that-be back home. I am so not in the here and now. I am allowing negativity into my life. I’m not feelin’ the island love. I am grumpily thinking that I have no freedom no matter where I go.

After much bumping around I make it to the end of Winding Bay beach. I park the car and get out. The wind swishes through the Casuarinas, they may not be indigenous, they may kill other plant species, but I do love them for their sound, that gentle hush through their long thin needles. A rhythm. I walk across the burning sand to the water’s edge, it’s high tide and perfectly clear. Tiny waves lap back and forth. A rhythm. I notice a small turtle swimming a few feet away. I stay very still and watch her. A tiny head breaks the surface and she glances at me while taking a breath.

That’s when I forget about wires and threatening e-mails from Bank of America. It all dissipates as I stand knee deep in water and watch and listen to the harmony of what happens around me. I hear the chorus of birds in the trees behind me. I see two more, mature, turtles who also check me out. Their perfectly round heads pop in and out, black and glistening against the aqua marine water. A rhythm.

           

I take out my camera and change the lens to macro. This forces me to really look, drawing me into my environment and out of myself. I notice the texture of a bleached branch rather than just a dead tree, the repetitive patterns in the sand, the sharp edges and chiseled surface of the rocks and their shadows. The color of water, sand, wood, rock, shell, seaweed, plastic, all become part of me as I shoot frame after frame.

My rhythm.

  

  

I sit down to draw the patterns of the sand. I am happy. I can stay here forever but a big fat black fly comes at me with persistent rhythm and eventually drives me away.

           

pen and ink:  “sand”   and   “rhythm”

Click on image to see larger


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Columbus Will Come To Check It Out

The MacMillan Castle in Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera

I had a restless sleep in my tower. The myth in the village is of course that Gordon MacMillan Hughes’ spirit still haunts his castle. Never mind that he died in Ireland, about 4000 miles from here, a mere practicality the spirit-world does not recognize. I went to bed with my windows open. I needed to hear and feel my first night in the settlement. As soon as the sun went down and darkness settled the town had become quiet. No more children shouting and laughing. No more passing cars. For a while there was the shrill pumped-up engine of one lone motorbike, a rebellious teenager with a new toy I imagined, going back and forth crisscrossing the small streets until he got bored or hungry or his mother finally pulled him inside.

I fell asleep in silence but sudden random noises woke me. First a dog barked, then a woman cried out. I’d drowse off and a lone car passed by or a drunkard sang in the distance. It was too hot, a mosquito had found me, I dreamt that my husband and my teenage daughter were smoking pot together and I shouted is this is what you do as soon as I leave? They laughed at me. Throughout my dreams I wasn’t wearing my contacts so everything was blurry. Only people with very bad eyesight can appreciate this dream, when the powerlessness of our disability becomes full-blown reality.

Just before dawn the dogs started their ferocious chorus. In rural towns all over the world stray dogs herald daybreak before the rooster. Maybe they are the ones who wake the roosters who get all the credit for waking us humans.

I got up and closed my windows, turned on the AC, took a Claritin for the mosquito bites and slept till 8am when the sounds of the settlement grinding into action drifted past the humming air conditioner. A group of girls in crisp white shirts with little bow ties that matched their tartan skirts walked by on their way to the elementary school that lies a few hundred yards from the castle. They played loudly in the schoolyard until exactly nine when all went quiet again. Next I heard the teachers starting class, their voices drifting up the hill and from the roof terrace I could see right through their open classroom doors to the bright turquoise water of the Caribbean.

view from the roof, the settlement, the elementary school and the Caribbean

I made my morning cup of PG tips tea and turned on my shower. It sputtered and a grinding noise came from the pipes but nothing happened. I was not surprised. To expect perfect plumbing at a castle would be unreasonable. I called Metta, MacMillan Hughes’ daughter and the castle’s keeper.

“Columbus will come over to check it out,” she said.

He was short, wiry and ageless. His once-white skin had weathered into almost black and was deeply grooved yet his dark brown hair didn’t have a strand of grey. His  legs were short and bandy, and his back was bent but appeared strong under his dirty white tee that advertised the name of a marine supply store. When Columbus and I crossed the roof to my turret chamber (and shower) he lamented the fact that he couldn’t see both oceans from this highest  vantage point in Tarpum Bay.

“Only you would care,” I said and Columbus laughed like we were both in on some cosmic joke.

Yes I am here and voila, I am Barbi scissorhands.

I arrived at the MacMillan castle yesterday afternoon for my tenure as the Tarpum Bay artist in residence.

I’ve never been an artist in residence before.

I’ve not been a princess in a turret either.

I’ve been a model and a designer and a wife and a mother but never a damsel in a tower in the Bahamas (beats London). Can I handle it? Alone for the first time in god knows how long (sure I’ve been away from my family but somehow it doesn’t count when I have to show up for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a client.)

OK. So.

I just figured out that if I stand on of one of the towers facing the tiny library on the next corner I can get a good enough signal to upload my pictures and first daily blog….