Barbidoesmiami

How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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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….


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Make Beautiful

“You can make beautiful with garbage?”

The little girl asks.

Her eyes, barely reaching over the edge of my desk, flash white with excitement. She seems transfixed by the colored beach plastic, silver rings and wire, nylon rope, ribbon, tools, earrings, pins and bracelets that are spread in front of her.

“yes,” I say,  “I can.”

“You make beautiful with garbage?”, she asks again, like she doesn’t quite believe me.

“Would you like to make a bracelet?” I ask.

She looks at me and nods. Barely. Still not convinced.

I point at the bench with my tees and jewelry and the wall behind it where a long stretch of orange rope, found two days ago on the local beach, is stapled against the studio wall. Hooked on it are earrings, bracelets, necklaces long and short, from simple white crosses to clusters of multicolored pieces of beach plastic. Twenty-three in all.

I get up and take her by the hand.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

I think she whispers Latitia.

“See all these pieces, Latitia?”

She nods.

“They were  made by girls just like you. How old are you?”

“Seven.”

“OK, so yesterday two schools came here, to this studio, girls and boys, some were seven and a few were older, like  ten and one was eleven. And together we went to the beach and we all picked up the prettiest beach plastic, as much we could carry, and brought it back. Then I helped  them make the jewelry, all these things here.”

She tiptoes and cranes her neck to see each piece. I pick her up, and carry her slowly along the wall.

“These earrings were made by a boy for his mother,” I explain, ” and this bracelet was done by a girl just like you.”

She squirms out of my arms and runs back to the work bench.

“I want to make a bracelet, now!” she calls back at me.

We pick the stretchy string, she wants pink, and I pass her the box of  beach plastic with pre-drilled holes. I show her how to string them and I cut a heart from a piece of Barbie-pink beach plastic. When she is finished stringing I knot the ends, add the heart and slip it over her wrist. She holds her arm away and admires her work like she’s Holly Golightly at Tiffany’s, then she smiles up at me and says,

” I want to make earrings for my mother.”

I arrived in Abaco (North Eastern Bahamas) Thursday morning aboard (the most delicious shade of pale blue) twin-engine plane, courtesy of Schooner Baya new, green and self-sustainable village of which I will tell more later.

Schooner Bay private plane - love !

I had been flown in by Clint (of community development) who jokes that he met me on the internet. Clint, an avid beach plastic collector with a special attraction to the beach bobbles from girl’s elastic hair ties (“They find me, I don’t find them”) introduced me to  well-known Bahamian artist  Antonius Roberts (his gallery/workshop is in Nassau) who graciously invited me to use his Schooner Bay studio and teach local children where/how to collect beach plastic and turn it into art or jewelry. My wampum fee, with which Clint (a fly fisherman) lured me in, was a wealth of weathered beach plastic bobbles.

Antonius explained that his vision for the Schooner Bay studio is to build a far-reaching community through workshops by visiting artists and designers, and I’d be the debutant-artist-in-residence….

Saturday was the first ever Schooner Bay Spring Festival, with music, a bike rally, an arts and crafts market, a barbeque, open houses, and an exhibition of the work created the day before by the students from the All Age School at Sandy Point and the Cross Rocks School alongside my jewelry, tees and scarves (as the original inspiration pieces) and the powerful work, sculpture/furniture by Antonius that is made from trees, which he reclaims after they’ve been cut down to make way for land development.

I spent Thursday afternoon collecting Abaco beach plastic and setting up the studio for the kids.

  

At 9 am the next day about twenty boys and girls, two teachers  and a principal filed into the studio and crowded around Antonius and I as we explained the project before we all piled into three cars and drove along the sandy coastal road till we reached the part where  beach plastic collects in shameful mounds just over the dune.

my new beachcombing buddy

We talked about all the things that belong on the beach, like sand and shells and seaweed and dune grass, but not plastic.

I had no idea how I was going to coral the eager, lively mob into a focussed jewelry making class.

I was scared that I’d fail. That I wouldn’t be able to reach them and capture the ideas I wanted to pass on….

So I told them to sit on the floor and spread out their beach plastic. To find a favorite piece. Something that had color or shape, which was special.

I sat down on the floor.

Then I just started.

I started with the girl closest to me.

The next girl watched us and started cutting her own beach plastic. Then the following girl copied her. Three boys stood behind me. They watched and went to find pliers. At some point our creative resonance morphed and suddenly every kid was busy making a piece. They were calling back and forth for scissors, cutters, wire and string. Some stood around the table, others were splayed on the floor yet others sat on Antonius’ benches.

“Miss – Miss -MISS!!!”

Wire strung with clusters of beach plastic were dangled impatiently in front of my face, almost poking my eye.

“Help Miss. What next? What do I do now?”

The girls made things for themselves. Boys made things for their mothers, but the girls teased them asking whether it was really for their girlfriends…

Some copied my pieces exactly, some did their own thing, but no one sat around waiting for someone to tell her/him what to do.

The principal sat off to the side, she’d already finished one set of white earrings for herself and would make three more and a choker.

Coco, Clint’s assistant, was the allocated Dremel drill operator and kids lined up to have holes made in their beach plastic pieces.

Three o’clock came as a surprise, we’d all been swept into a timeless, creative vortex, and they all needed to finish “one more thing.”

“Please Miss. A pin, a bracelet, just this one earring.”

It took more effort to stop them and tidy up than anything else, but finally everyone stood in a neat row and one by one I made them hang their work on the orange rope. Reluctantly most of them gave up one piece for the art show the next day, but I’m sure quite a few pieces were tucked away to go straight home and be proudly shown-off.

Antonius  whispered in my ear, “I think you’re changing some lives here.”

Maybe.

But what I do know is that together we Made Beautiful – a common thread that connects our lives and, like the beach plastic, will be forever…

Students’ work:

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writing and plastic…

photo: iona gordon

There’s definitely too much to read.

Oh for the predicament of writers, as per Facebook, where 99.9 % of my friends seem to be professional authors. Writers get a bum rap. We all agree. Publishers are dying while writers are multiplying. Nobody gets paid. No one who’s not somewhat famous gets published into a real hardcover book. And surely there are more words on the internet than have been written in the history of mankind.

Still.

I like to write. Its like giving those voices in my head a clothes line where they can flap about in the sun rather than be cooped up in my dark and dank head all day long. I never have writer’s block, unless you call what the fuck is the point of being a writer a block. Like those voices, even if I give them plenty of sun and air, still want better. They want to be heard, they want to be read, they want to be seen, they want to make an impact, they have big ego’s, and they always want more more more.

Writing is lonely, but blogging is not entirely. Lonely. Well, at least I get to see my daily stats (the chart that shows how many people have been on my blog). My daily stats are my ego mood meter. When it goes up my voices are pleased, but when it goes down they are pissed. My agent is lucky that I have stats. If I didn’t have stats, which tell me two hundred people read my latest blog within the first hour, I’d be on the phone with my agent all the time. Love me, love me, tell me you love me. Tell me I’m good. Tell me that my last novel is funny, will be published, will make me famous. Oh shut up already. Go work with the homeless. Go save the oceans. Those are my other voices. My who the fuck do you think you are? voices. Do you have those? I think they’re Dutch. The Dutch are not supposed to desire much. I’m Dutch. But I left Holland. I think I left because occasionally I take myself seriously. I have ambition, a really dirty word in Holland when I grew up, in the sixties, those I’m gonna be a social worker and save humanity sixties. That’s why, apart from writing, I also need to save the world from plastic pollution.

Yes.

I collect old plastic trash from the beach, bring it home to my garage, where I forge jewelry from this trash. I sell the jewelry and I’m just adding bikinis with ocean trash plastic embellishment to the collection, just so the plastic can get back to the beach and lie in the sand, only now on the sexy tan bottom of some Miami babe who paid (a lot) for the trash that she left behind a year ago.

That’s just the kind of thing I like. It makes me laugh and gives me something to write about, because even though I do take my creative ambition seriously, it makes me feel like I actually do not take myself quite so seriously.

Thus the conflict inside my head, my murky voices, my modus operandus, my reasons for writing.

the collection at Las Tias, the Miami store