Barbidoesmiami

How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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Is it Me?

Stupid Model illustrations_

I’ve been a bit blue.

And I haven’t been very nice.

The agent of our house texted me this – you aren’t being very nice – after I asked him whether he leaves his car running in his driveway overnight. He had just told me that the AC is like my car and if I don’t keep it running all the time it breaks. (The AC had broken.)

Then a friend asked in an e-mail if I was OK, because I wasn’t usually like this. This was after I got upset that a book launch party for the latest book I’d created had been planned when I’m elsewhere (she’d also described me to the party planner as “the … wife”).  I answered that, yes, I am usually like this – Barbara de Vries, the designer and producer, who would like to attend the book’s party. She wrote back that she didn’t need my resume. Then she asked me if I was OK.

There were two other friends in the last month who didn’t like my reaction to, what I perceived as, their unsupportive behavior.

When it adds up to four in four weeks, that’s one a week, maybe I need to take a look at myself. Maybe I’m really not usually like this. Maybe I’m usually like whatever. Like happy. Like smiling. Like loving. Maybe I’m becoming different from how I’m perceived or maybe I’m really not very nice. Maybe I have just been pretending that I’m nice. Maybe I just want to be liked, but in the end I’m not likable at all. And so it goes in my head. And thus I’m a bit blue.

 I think I’m blue because, by thinking all those thoughts, I’m not being supportive of myself. And then my Dutch Calvinist voice says, who gives a fuck what you think of yourself, stop being indulgent.

 I’m gonna ignore him for a minute. Because I’m on to something. As a mother and a wife and a partner in our studio, I expect from myself that I’m 100% supportive in all those roles. I support my daughters and my husband emotionally, physically and nutrionally. I support the company creatively and intellectually. I expect from myself that I can solve everyone’s problems as well as make the oceans free from plastic pollution.

But I’ve forgotten about leaving just a tiny bit of support for myself. And maybe thats where it all starts. But what does this support look like? There are women who go shopping, have their hair and nails done, have massages and meditate as part of their inner support system. I actually get irritable doing these things. Some take vacations or go running. I like swimming, but not really yoga, although I should do it. It would be very supportive if I could get into yoga and also self -hypnotizing. Like just an hour a day. I love being with a bestie girlfriend, talking women’s stuff, hanging in the knowledge that I’m not so unique in trying to do it all and getting pissy in the process. Sometimes we bitch about the women in our lives who are not supportive of other women. Even the press picked up on that concept after Hillary lost.

 “It’s all because white women do not support each other.”

 I can go there…

 But maybe I should support myself first.

 Maybe we should all support ourselves first.

 And we’d all be a bit nicer…

… to each other.

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Here is an excerpt from Stupid Model when at age 17, I first came across a misconception and the surprise of the unsupportive female:

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STUPID MODEL – Chapter 18

He led me to a softly lit room that smelled of baby powder, diapers, and milk. The windows were open and gauze curtains blew gently in the warm evening air. The drone of steady traffic drifted up from the boulevard below. Collin’s wife sat on a narrow bed next to a sleeping boy. She held out her hand and whispered, “I’m Heather, how do you do? Collin told me so much about you.”

She was not at all as I’d imagined. She was pale with small features and her dark, almost black hair was cut in a Vidal Sassoon bob that made her look a bit intimidating. She gave me a quick smile before she turned to Collin and asked if he could bring her a glass of that delicious-looking Champagne we were both drinking. Her eyes flashed brightly with something I couldn’t quite place. Was it defiance? Sarcasm? Or some inside joke she shared with her husband?

“I heard a lot about you too.” I reached to shake her hand.

I was a bit afraid of Heather and I didn’t say much over dinner. Instead I ate my chicken, mashers and green beans, drank Champagne and red wine, and listened to them chat about his work and her day with the kids. When she told him that she’d been approached by the Herald Tribune to produce a reportage piece with photographer Martine Franck, I took the opportunity to tell them that I’d been booked for my first couture show.

“It’s kinda why I brought the Champagne.”

“Well, cheers to us,” Heather said raising her empty glass at Collin, showing him that she needed another drink.

It didn’t dawn on me till later that Heather’s job offer may have been a really big deal, and that maybe I’d stolen her thunder, especially when Collin reacted by bringing a second bottle of Champagne from the kitchen and I was left at the table with Heather. After an awkward silence she said, “So, do you enjoy this business of fashion?”

It was an odd question. I hadn’t expected her to be so, well, I’d hoped for another kind of conversation, like where are you from, oh, I love Amsterdam, what does your father do? Do you have brothers and sisters? Instead I felt that she’d put me on the spot and I’d better have the right answer.

“I like the travel,” I said, “and the freedom, and it pays good money when I finally get to work…”

“Sure, but that’s not what I meant.” She sounded annoyed. ”Do you feel that it’s a good industry to be part of?”

I didn’t get what she was driving at, and sensed that she was ready to be mad at me. Luckily, Collin returned with the Champagne and three bowls of chocolate mousse.

“Never mind her,” he said, “she’s into women’s lib nowadays, and gets quite passionate.”

I wished he hadn’t said this. It was nice of him to put her question in perspective, but I just knew that it would piss her off.

“Wow,” she said. “What a put down! I just want to find out if Bee is aware that she’s being exploited by a system that objectifies women into sex symbols.”

“I know what you mean,” I blurted out, as if I finally understood the right answer. “And I agree, modeling is shitty that way, like today we all had to strip for a creep. But I’m going to study design as soon as I’ve earned enough money for college… in London.”

Heather glared at me like I’d made things worse, which made my head swim, or maybe that was the entire glass of Champagne I’d nervously finished in one big gulp.

“I don’t mean that YOU are the victim!” she said, now fuming. “I mean that you’re responsible, in the same way that if men didn’t volunteer to be soldiers there’d be no war! Without models women could be happier with themselves—their looks, their bodies—gettit?!”

“I make women unhappy?” I was stunned. How could she accuse me like that? She didn’t even know me.

“Heather, STOP!” Collin said. ”Skinny girls have feelings too!”

“You shut up,” she shouted back. She filled her glass with the remaining Champagne and drank it all.

“You and your fucking ads that are designed to manipulate and make us insecure. This bra for sexier tits, that cream for younger skin, this diet margarine to get thin… you make me sick.”

Shit, she really was drunk! I knew what she was trying to say. My mother was becoming a feminist, and I totally wanted to be an independent woman, but Heather was so mad at Collin, the only person in all of Paris who’d been kind to me. I wanted to defend him, but Collin spoke first.

“My job pays for this nice apartment, and your principles don’t seem to stop you from living here.”

“If I could work, instead of being the unpaid nanny, I wouldn’t be living here.”

I got up and took our dishes to the kitchen. This wasn’t my fight and maybe if I left them alone they’d stop. But Heather wasn’t finished. Once I was out of the room, she ripped into Collin loud enough for me to hear.

“ What the fuck did you bring her here for? Do you fancy her? Are you screwing her?”

“Please,” he begged. ”Don’t you get it? I thought you two could be friends. You seem lonely and blame me. Bee is lonely too. You need some friends here, Heather.”

“With her?” she screamed, like I was Linda Lovelace herself. “That self-centered, dumb creature? Don’t you know me at all?”

What the fuck now? Ever since I’d left home, ever since I’d been here, women had become the enemy; no, I had become the enemy to other women, and I didn’t have to do a thing to deserve it. Just being a model and tall and skinny seemed to be all it took to receive blanket coverage for abuse. Had I missed some critical clues growing up? Like my mother’s best friend who had no problem screwing and stealing my mom’s husband? Had that been a warning sign? And was advertising really so different in Holland? I couldn’t remember ever feeling offended or unhappy with myself because of some ad. The popular girls in school were the only thing that made me miserable and I always thought that was my own fault, because I wasn’t cool enough. But now they hated me for seeming too cool. Or whatever it was. When did this change? I needed my mother. She’d help me out. She was so attractive herself and I’d never heard her bitch about any of her friends, she was even grateful to her friend for taking her difficult husband off her hands and getting her independence back. Perhaps Dutch women were just different.

I finished cleaning the dishes and left them by the sink to dry. It was quiet and I wondered if Collin had split and Heather had gone to bed. The door to the dining room was ajar and I peeked inside. It was empty, one of the chairs had fallen over and our napkins were scattered on the floor. As I withdrew I heard muffled giggling and I pushed the door open just a bit further. I wasn’t exactly planning to say goodbye and thank you for a lovely evening, but maybe I expected a friendly word from them, like thanks for bringing Champagne and doing the dishes, or sorry for being such assholes.

What I hadn’t expected was seeing the two of them on the floor, screwing. Collin was on top with his pants halfway down his legs, his dimply ass staring me right in the face like a final farewell.

On my way out I noticed the bunch of lavender and my two prettily wrapped presents, still lying where Collin had left them on the hallway counter. I scooped them up and carefully placed them on the antique chair by the door, where the kids were bound to see them in the morning. The dried flowers I kept for myself as a souvenir of Heather and her belief that girls like me made her unhappy. Whenever I got a whiff of lavender after that memorable night, I felt grateful that, soon after, my time in Paris had come to an abrupt end.

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Waiting for Obama

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EARTH DAY IN THE EVERGLADES

“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

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Why am I Such an Oxy Moron?

Nothing kills a conversation faster than my introduction at a Miami bling party

Meet barbara, she makes beautiful jewelry from trash she finds on the beach…

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…

Its OK

Its Miami

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.”

WTF?

FEAR?

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


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Away Is Where It’s At…

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.

Hmm.

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.

But.

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.

Hmm.

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.

 

  

 

Eleanor Phillips from the Bahama chapter of  The Nature Conservancy welcomed the crowd, Shaun Ingraham and Michele Johnson introduced  the One Eleuthera Foundation.

I spoke about how Away is Here.

waiting my turn

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….


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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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HALLELUJAH

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

But

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.