“The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slowly moving, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades. It is a river of grass.” – Marjorie Stoneman Douglas
President Obama spent Earth Day in the Florida Everglades, flying in the face of global warming denier Governor Rick Scott (R) and his mandate that bans the word “climate change” from the Tallahassee government dictionary.
After two hours of waiting in the heat, humidity, bugged by flies and the stench of porta-potties, the program announcer must’ve been as dopey as I was and his nonchalant introduction came after Obama had already stepped onto the freshly-cut grass. Mentally unprepared for the skinny man who casually crossed the lawn as if he was on his way to a neighbor’s picnic, I was almost disappointed, but as soon as he got behind the Presidential insignia Obama appeared to expand into his presidential stature and gave a strong speech that was full of sound bytes designed to create ripples (but not storms) in tea party cups. When the president said: “climate change can no longer be denied. It can’t be edited out. It can’t be omitted from the conversation,” it was clear who he was targeting, and he continued to speak specifically to Florida: “because in places like this, folks don’t have time, we don’t have time — you do not have time to deny the effects of climate change. Folks are already busy dealing with it. And nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in south Florida. No place else.”
Day flight on Air Force One tomorrow with the President. We’re going to # ActOnClimate.” He was instantly torn apart by retweets that called his plans “more like a way to pollute in style.” But what could he do? Nye was Obama’s personal scientist and warm-up act, providing that selfie-with-star moment for the hardworking officials, to which Nye submitted himself with all the blasé enthusiasm of a modern-day celebrity. read the rest of the article here
I get a wan smile of panic, then the introducee bolts to another circle in search of meeting star people like J.Lo’s derriere masseur, Lohan’s life coach, Madonna’s Manolo shiner or P.Diddy’s Cuban cigar lighter…
It was, last night, the Barton G. launch party of VAULT, his new magazine, held at The Villa, his new Art of Being Social intimate inn housed in the former Versace Pallazzo
boxing ring location
Barton G., a Houdini who, 20 years ago, took Miami Beach and boiled it down, distilled it, infused it, let it sit and then blew its essence out into a gawdy kitch trippyness he branded the Art of Being Social, naming himself the master of ceremonies – the Jeff Koons of party planning.
We went to snoop.
The book GdeV Studio (husband and me) is doing on Miami had just reached a point of critical mass – the days that Versace fell in love with South Beach, and built his pallazzo from ruins on Ocean Drive among the locations trucks, NY models, Jewish retirees and crack dealers…
The VAULT launch party was the perfect pretense to have a mosey
While a boxing ring the size of a cereal box was being lowered from 11th Street into the infamous swimming pool courtyard by a 100 ft crane (for a 3 round boxing match between a supermodel-by-day/boxer-by-night and an I’ll-fuck-your-face-up-bad boxer, which the spoiled crowd watched with as much fervor as if they were watching Jo Biden eating oatmeal) we wandered into the Villa’s inner courtyard and climbed the stairs all the way to the roof, to Gianni’s lair inside the watchtower strewn with pillows and overlooking Ocean Drive, the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. When Alastair trespassed further he was confronted by what may have been a ghost of nineties security, a Men-in-Black guard with the charm of Scarface.
A standoff on the Pallazzo rampart ensued.
Patrolled Versace Villa rampart
The Architectural Critic versus the Blackwater Mercenary
(Culturally way more interesting than what was going on below in that tiny boxing ring)
I felt a chill and flashed on Alastair being thrown off the roof and me becoming another lonely widow spawned by South Beach debauchery ( Donatella being so much the brand-widow of Versace)
After chest puffing and rank pulling Blackwater won and we descended back down to where the mortals were allowed and found a quiet pocket of civility – a small wood-paneled bar that was deliciosuly air conditioned and served a variety of pink wine and champagne. Only two people had discovered it before us.
Nanci and Louis.
Alastair joked that the palazzo was ground zero of Miami decadence and Nanci complemented my dress
In typical Miami Beach style, the evening turned on itself.
Degrees of separation were discovered that ranged from Lawrenceville to the Berkshires, high powered careers in NYC,, friends and children and a shared fascination with life on the beach in all its excesses.
Nanci was interested in my work as an activist designer but then again she was a New Yorker
turquoise monofilament drift rope bracelet
Two weeks earlier I had rushed back from Eleuthera because I’d been invited to be part of a Miami Beach sustainable fashion show and award ceremony called Sustainatopia
I had made my “red carpet” dress in Eleuthera and Iona would be my model
But when we arrived it was clear that the event was as awkward as the name suggested
We hung around backstage at the Fillmore for a while but when no one seemed to know about the staging or order of show we turned around and went home. I dont think anyone ever missed us and I’d spared my 15-year-old daughter from an embarrassing cat walk across a vast and empty stage…
I was a bit sad because she looked so beautiful
Iona in the Plastic is Forever “red carpet” dress
But nothing could bring me down from my Eleuthera high and I looked forward to speaking the next day at the Impact Conference, where Pam Longobardi, Cynthia La Grou and I were billed as a panel about Envisioning Alternatives in Social Investing.
What the hell did that mean?
Hadn’t we prepared to each speak about Driving a New Economy through the Arts, Design and Media and addressing the problem of plastic pollution? John Rosser, the organizer of the sustainable conference, confessed he’d changed our title because he felt he’d “taken a risk alienating his core constituency on our behalf.”
Fear of being too green?
Fear of being too sustainable?
The fear of being unsexy in Miami and being taken for a hippie in this city full of glamor addicts.
But wasn’t he the organizer? If not him then who?
Oh well, for the party after the panel I’d curated a small show at the Botanical Gardens and about a hundred people came to see…
Pam’s drift web installation in the Banyan Tree
Pam Longobardi drift web made from marine debris. Photo by Myra Wexler
Richard and Judith Lang photographs
red beach plastic tags collected and photographed by Richard and Judith Lang.
My new piece, from neck size to wall size, a large wall installation
rainbow strings of beach plastic
Bucking all sustainable trends like recycling and green design Miami has turned out to be unexpectedly mercurial
Whereas Eleuthera has been surprisingly supportive and open
Soon I will go north for the summer
But I’m determined to overcome my conversation-killer stigma when I’m back next year …
Beach plastic cross bracelet with grey seed pearls
A Plastic is Forever pop up shop on Friday the 20th of April was the climax of my three week stay in Eleuthera
It was the welcome party for a weekend of Earthday Festivities in Eleuthera and I was the featured guest with a gallery full of Plastic is Forever – earrings, bracelets, necklaces, scarves, tees, kerchiefs, stationary, and even a pair of pants and a “red carpet” dress.
linen “shipwreck” pants hand sewn with orange mono-filament
I took over the Beach House Boutique which belongs to my friend Jude (she had generously donated the space for the day.) Usually the shop is a cornucopia of treasures, a feast for the eyes, a trove of endless fashion goodies- something for everyone, but I had planned to strip it down to a white, bare, breezy gallery space. A place where the colors of a new generation of beach plastic would speak loudly to an audience that came from all over to celebrate Earthday in Eleuthera.
For starters I needed five sheets of plywood, painted white, to cover the walls, and had located them as soon as I’d arrived in Tarpum Bay. They were stored at the fire station, they were already white, and they were mine for the event, but eventually would end up as the ceiling of a community building. Perfect, no waste, they would be recycled….
On Thursday, the day before my installation, I drove past the Governor’s Harbour park where Saturday’s festivities would take place. Stalls for local vendors (food, crafts, drinks and community info) were already built around the perimeter and in the middle stood a small hand-hewn stage prepared for the eight consecutive hours of island music and speakers.
The white backdrop of the stage looked vaguely familiar. It was made from five sheets of roughly painted white plywood.
Of course I panicked.
But no one else did.
I melted down NYC style. Where TF was my plywood?
Don’t worry man… they laughed…
The next morning between 9am and 12 am ten sheets of plywood materialized. And a jar of white paint. And two brushes. Word had gone out that the lady of the plastic needed plywood…
poster in the Sands liquor store
I was disappointed that the dates of my daughters’ FCA tests in Miami made it impossible for my family to get to Eleuthera in time for my event.
I was sent three fashion angels… the A-team of style mavens … they arrived from NYC on Thursday night…
Julie Gilhart, Christine Park and Berrin Noorata had planned to spend Earthday in Eleuthera. To help me! After two weeks of lonely nights in my castle I had a house full of women – four sleepovers – I couldn’t believe my luck and they couldn’t believe where they had landed – paradise – a mere five hour trip from Seventh Avenue (same as a trip in the Hampton Jitney to Montauk on a Friday afternoon in July).
We spent Friday hooshing. I laid out the store after the plywood had gone up. Gallery in the front, One Beach screening room and check-out in the back …
front to back
Julie, Christine and Berrin have worked together for years and easily fell into creating the pop up store.
Together we played shop and it was fun…
Christine hangs the napkin rings
Berrin styles packaging and check out
Julie works pricing
At 3pm a giant inflatable plastic purple foot floated across the deck outside the shop’s window. Barefoot Wine, the sponsor of the One Beach film and the wine sponsor for the event, had arrived for set-up. Erected, right outside my temple against beach plastic pollution, was an inflatable purple plastic palace constructed from enormous Barefoot logo feet.
Those purple bare feet were not walking the One Beach talk. The message about plastic pollution, as in the single-use senseles plastic gifts of purple plastic leis and purple plastic barefoot key rings which were handed-out to our guests, evidently had not trickled-down from Napa Valley to Nassau.
With Miss Bahamas Earth
The welcome party was a hit. Over 200 people attended and we sold a lot of Plastic is Forever pieces.
Wich means that whether we “get Away from it all” or “throw our plastic trash Away”, Away is the same place – the beautiful beaches of Eleuthera – and how we, visitors, come from societies that litter the oceans. I urged the crowd to take responsibility, on behalf of Eleuthera, the place we all claim to love so much, and help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans and on the pristine beaches of Away – Eleuthera, Hawaii, Bali, etc.
Shaun Ingraham introduces the One Eleuthera Foundation. Photo: Azaleta Ishmail Newry
The next day Michelle and Craig Symonette hosted the VIP lunch at their stunning home on Twin Coves. VIP indeed, $600,000 was pledged to One Eleuthera and they were off to a flying start. Shaun was beaming when I handed him my, by comparison, measly check, the % contribution to One Eleuthera from the sales of the previous night. I pledged more to come as a % of Plastic is Forever will continue to benefit One Eleuthera.
table settings with the first ever beach plastic napkin rings
Saturday night was party time in Bayfront Park with reggae, rap and even a Junkanoo…
Sunday morning was very wet as a storm passed over the island overnight but Shelby White who created the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, in memory of her husband, said it was the best gift mother earth could have bestowed on Earthday – rain was what they needed most.
Shelby White, #1 on Eleuthera’s best-dressed list with Craig Symonette #1 fun host
The afternoon picnic at Coco di Mama hosted by the Urgo family was a windy affair.
Most people stayed indoors and drank.
Mark from the Leon Levy preserve at the Coco di Mama party
Coco di Mama is by far the cutest hotel on Eleuthera on the usually calm and turquoise Alabaster Bay . It has been my favorite ever since it opened. With the Urgo family as its current owners it is poised to expand to 42 rooms by January 2014, which is great news for the island.
Coco di Mama seen from the sea
By the end of the day, thanks to three powerful weeks and Sammy’s cocktails, I was giddy and somewhat worse for wear.
And sad that I had to tear myself away from Away….
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….
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.
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?
My family never went to church. My grandparents did not go to church. My great grandparents were the last church-going generation. After the 2nd world war my parents’ generation was alienated by religion. My father was one of thousands who’d spent four years in a concentration camp and not many of the lucky survivors ran to church after most of Amsterdam’s Jews had disappeared because of their religion. In post war Holland being an atheist was part of being modern. Still, every Christmas Eve my mother played the same Carl Orff recording of the Christmas story on our gramophone. I knew the story of Jesus, but for my family that tale had little to do with faith, it was more of a cultural thing.
So whenever I went to church, like for weddings, funerals and the occasional religious holiday with a friend, I felt like I was cheating and everybody knew. Then, at age 34, I fell for a minister’s son and his father married us on the beach in Amagansett. I’d managed to avoid the embarrassment of a church wedding, but not the minister. At first I felt like the imposter in the family but eventually I realized that the reverend Gordon paid little attention to my ignorance of all things theological.
Tarpum Bay Methodist Church congregation on Easter Sunday
Ever since I’ve been coming to Eleuthera I’ve been fascinated by the many different churches in each settlement and when I hear the congregations singing I sense that I might be missing out on a weekly dose of joy.
the junior choir
Today I overcame my fear of being found out and went, by myself, to the Easter service at the Methodist Church of Tarpum Bay. I spent the first twenty minutes fighting back an overwhelming urge to burst into tears. It wasn’t just that seeing the beauty of families all dressed up in Easter-best made me miss my daughters, I was also deeply touched by the congregation’s sense of dignity and love. The joy of singing together made me feel like I’d been holding on to something very tightly and if I let go I would fall apart, maybe even have one of those seizure epiphanies, collapsing in the aisle, eyes rolling back into my head – hallelujah – my experience was that powerful. But eventually my Dutch side prevailed, I got used to the ambience and enjoyed two hours of singing along to a giant projection screen with the hymns (so much better than fumbling for the right page in the psalm book), watching children of all ages recite, sing, dance and I was even brave enough to ask permission to take pictures of the ending.
a sand-cast mural on the castle wall depicting MacMillan Hughes and wife....
I am here because I love Eleuthera.
My love has been reciprocated and the island has given me many gifts. First I found the beach plastic and became fascinated by its implications. This fascination led to a new stage of my creative life where everything I’ve done so far has come together, taking me to a new level of engagement. Over the past year I’ve been invited to share the life of people here and work together to not only make Eleuthera (which is already just perfect as it is) prosper but also to be a beacon to the world. In the coming two weeks we are working together to create a memorable Earthday that is genuine in its intent to increase respect for our environment; the beaches, the ocean and the island’s natural heritage. The Nature Conservancy, Ginny and Eleanor, have made an amazing effort to make this happen and the new organization One Eleuthera, Shaun and Michele, are poised to make a huge impact on the ecological future of the island. I am proud to be a part of this team, and feel so priviliged to be the island’s artist in residence.
handmade details from the castle, a glass window light, the studded “portal”, cross on the old back door.
In the kitchen of the castle hangs a sepia picture, a history of the island with a map made from bits of sea glass and it is framed with local shells. MacMillan Hughes, the original Eleutheran artist in residence and creator of his castle, wrote in perfect calligraphy the legacy of Eleuthera’s name and the first settlers who came to escape the “rigid imposing upon all, in matters of judgement, whereby divisions have been made, factions formed, persecutions induced.”
Does this sound like elements of our culture? Has Eleuthera’s destiny come full circle?
Here’s what it says.
Centuries ago the Arawak name for the island was Cignateo or Cigatoo and when a certain Juan de la Cosa drew his first chart of the island this fact was not known. In 1598 Ortelius of Antwerp called the island Cignatoe, then in 1631 the Dutchman Hondeus printed a map on which Eleuthera is called Gjantteo and also Guatteo. In the 1700s the island usually has two or more names, such as Lucayous, then Alebaster or Cigateo. On very early maps a group of rocks on the eastern coast of Eleuthera are called the Alabaster Rocks. However in 1731 a Natural History of the Bahama Islands was written and Catesby called it Ilathera. Historians have now established beyond a doubt that the name Eleuthera is derived from the Greek word Eleutheros, which means freedom and that was what the early settlers sought through religious liberty. Many people think that the name Lucayos is a derivative from Los Cayos or Cays.
A certain William Sayle of England in 1647 placed an advertisement in a poster called the Broadsheet. This resulted in the formation of a “Company of Eleutherian Adventurers” in London whose purpose was the settling of the island and the establishment of a colony where religious liberty could be enjoyed. The Articles and Orders of the Company of Eleutherian Adventurers was drawn up on July 9th, 1647. They announced publicly that the Eleutheran Colony would be a republic and enjoy Freedom of Conscience in religious matters.
The Establishment of The Eleutheran Adventurers “Resolved to insure … WHEREAS experience has shown us the great inconveniences that have happened… by a rigid imposing upon all…in matters of judgement and practice in the things of religion, whereby divisions have been made, factions formed, persecutions induced. Whereas experience has shown us, that the peace and happy progress of all plantations doth much depend upon the good government thereof, the equal distribution of justice and respect to all persons, without faction or distinction the certain knowledge and manifestation of everyone’s rights and properties and careful provisions for common defence and safety to those who showed godliness, sobriety and justice.”
During the summer of 1648 William Sayle with a group of seventy settlers set sail for Eleuthera. His partner was William raner together with an aged clergyman Patrick Copeland. There was also a young man, Captain Butler, who later quarreled with Sayle and they parted company on reaching Eleutheria as Sayle called the island in his dream of unbounded liberty. After the setback Sayle then set out for what is now believed to be Spanish Wells. Most of the settlers were driven from their homes by the Spaniards in 1680 and many, being destitute emigrated to Boston, setting in North Yarmouth, near Portland Maine. Forty one heads of families are listed in the “Early Settlers of the Bahamas” and to this day many names such as Bethel, Culmers, Ingraham, Knowles testify to the pioneering spirit of the settlers.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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….
I am woken up at 6.30 by my fifteen year old daughter. Depending on her teenage mood she either wiggles my toe or mumbles a sullen “wake up Mom”. Sometimes I’m already awake and, waiting for her to open the door, I’ll call “I’m up” before she enters the room. Occasionally she has to search and finds me on the sofa because there are times when a queen is just not big enough for her fretful viking parents.
After sliding my contacts sideways into sleepy eyes I pull an outfit from the closet that could attract the attention of roadside assistance on the Alice Tuttle Parkway. I don’t brush my teeth until after my first cup of tea, two bags of English PG Tips, super strong, lots of sugar and milk, and sipped as I make the next three lunch boxes out of the 4982 lunch boxes made thus far and the 2400 or so left to go. I like making lunch boxes. I refuse to iron, I hate washing pots, I’m not strong at patiently explaining home work but I do get into assembling lunch boxes. First the sandwich and its variations: white bread, whole wheat bread, cesar rolls, ciabatta rolls, bagels and wraps, turkey and cheese, ham and cheese, tuna, cream cheese, egg salad, hummus tomato lettuce, and occasionally for the unexpected and I’m out of everything, peanut butter. An apple or satsuma or grapes or melon. A large chocolate chip cookie from the Fresh Market and finally the salty element; chips or pretzels, crackers or Pirate Booty. Iced tea in the three canteens. Its the first creative act of my day.
By 7.15 Iona and I are in the car. By 7.30 I drop her off at the railroad tracks that run along DASH – her high school. We talk along the way. We catch up. There’s always something. A teacher. A test. A pesky text from an ex-boyfriend demanding back some gift bestowed in the early days of his mad passion. I curse and scream at the Miami drivers, justified in my agro by a recent report that Miami drivers REALLY are the worst in the country. Its not me. It’s been proven and I attest: They don’t move at a green light, they slow down for orange so they can check messages, but do run every red light, they change lanes randomly, pull out of parking spots without looking, never use a blinker, speed in a slow zone and do 25 miles in the outer lane of the highway. They drive around speed humps as if that’s actually an option and mothers make u-turns on the school crossing almost running over the carpool of kids they just unloaded, all while texting.
Once I’ve dropped off Iona I have 12 minutes to make it back home. 7.42. The school bus for the twins arrives around 7.50. They are never ready and always in a wardrobe-induced flap. Amber hops impatiently through the hall, hyper at the knowledge that she’s next on my roster. The three of us run to the light, press the may-pedestrians-cross-soon button, ensure we don’t get run over by a red-light jumper and wait on the opposite corner. Alton Road rush-hour traffic zooms by. The same thousand cars every morning. The same yellow Fiat with the redhead, the same black mini Cooper with the fat woman, the same tan man on his bicycle, the same white Range Rover turning onto Allison Island. I wait with my girls until they get on. Ever since a black Cherokee almost slammed into the back of their school bus I make sure they do not enter until all cars behind have stopped. I wave at the driver, a friendly grey haired woman, the girls hiss back at me “she only speaks Spanish, Mom!” as if I waved in English.
I press the pedestrian light again, check the traffic exiting from our community gates for the black Porsche Cayenne that came so close to hitting me a month ago that I actually screamed FUCK and saw my life flashing while the driver, her face a few feet from mine, remained unimpressed and did not even mouth “sorry”, something I would definitely have done had I almost run her over, just in case I’d meet her by the pool later.
By eight I’m home. I thank God for sparing me and my family yet again, clip the leash on Amber, grab a poopie bag and am dragged around Aqua for the next ten minutes, fresh on the trail of the Airedale terrier – Zoe from Zoe Way (coincidental or intentional one wonders.) Amber, who ignores all dogs, has decided Zoe is da meanest bitch of Miami Beach and needs to be taken out. We pee, we shit, we pick up the shit because cameras are trained everywhere (in the last condo meeting there was even talk of D & A testing un-bagged left-behind turds in order for appropriate fines to be imposed.) Not I. I am proud of my own goodness every time I pick up, and when the security guard passes in his golf cart moments after a shit has been taken I hold up my baggie and call out “I got it” as if he’s driving by just to check on me, which is not altogether unlikely.
studio aka garage
I return a disappointed Amber home and grab my swimsuit that hangs from the doorknob in my studio, also known as the garage. I change, wrap the mandatory Aqua towel around my waist and ride my bike along Indian Creek to our pool. It’s invariably a gorgeous morning. We’ve been in Miami two years and four months and I still notice the luxury of the weather. It is sunny, warm and the air has a hint of salt from the ocean two blocks away. I look for dolphins or manatee in the creek. A heron flies close to me, checking for fish. I admire the tall palm trees on the other side of the water and the mansions with their tropical gardens and jetties with million dollar yachts. There is no one at the pool except for the Aqua grounds keeper preening for the day ahead. I wade into the Olympic sized body of turquoise water and start my thirty laps. The water is warm. Too warm. A ridiculous waste I think every morning as I pull a bunch of bougainvilla flowers from the filter. I start to think as I swim through more fuchsia bougainvilla. The sun is just coming around the tall apartment blocks of Millionaire Row along Collins, the avenue that separates the creek from the beach. I think of the day ahead. I lay it out like the lane I’m lapping up, with each stroke I run my list: Finish taxes, call Blue Cross Blue Shield, balance my check book, mark up the next BHS folder, send e-mail to John about the wine sponsorship, order 200 tee shirts, did the Botanical gardens respond yet? And why not? I think of the BIG list. The list of things to do with the rest of my life. My ambition list. I think of how I felt those first few months I was doing laps here. How I was unsure, insecure and off-kilter. How in the second year so much turned around, how doors opened and how I passed through them. I imagine I am exactly in the middle of my entire life. Its been eventful so far and I look forward to what’s coming. I think of the 120 or so pieces I have to make for my new collection. I anticipate what it will be like when my routine goes upside down and inside out when I’m leaving all this behind for three whole weeks.
I’ll be alone for the first time in 16 years. Alone in a house. No actually, a castle. I shall make dinners just for me and 45 less lunch boxes in the big scheme of things on my to do list.