Barbidoesmiami

How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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Eleutheros – freedom

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.

foot note by MacMillan Hughes

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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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Barbi (so NOT India Hicks) does the Bahamas

sunset from my terrace, soon after I arrived

I went harvesting.

Harvesting beach plastic.

Not a bad job. In fact if you had to write yourself the perfect, anything goes, job description wouldn’t it go something like this?

“I’d like to work on a beach. A perfect soft, pink sand beach somewhere in the Caribbean, but Hawaii or Tahiti would be fine too. This would be a quiet beach, one untouched by development. The water would be perfect shades of turquoise, going from pale to dark, and long waves roll in from the reefs a few miles off the coast. They crash at my feet, their sounds become like my heart beat, regular and reassuring. A light wind blows off the water, carrying a salty smell that sticks in my nostrils, still there later when I lie in bed  listening to the frogs singing in the hurricane shutters. I will sleep well, because I’ve been outside all day with the sun on my back, bent over, scanning for material in the sand at the water’s edge, the ridge further up the beach caused by waves from hurricane Igor a few weeks ago, then I look along the dune, and between the dune’s grasses. My professional dress code is a bikini and a hat, even on casual Fridays. Sunscreen is my only mandatory regulation. Occasionally, when I get too warm or just when I feel like it, I wade into a particularily pretty pool and float, the waves rocking me like I was back in my mother’s womb. Curious fish surround me, a barracuda comes at me fast, but then veers away, just letting me know that he’s keeping his eyes on me. I look at the island from the water, the curve of the cove, the palm trees and casuarina’s, the cliffs, the occasional vacation home painted pink or yellow or green. Maybe my office is in one of those cottages….”

A few years ago, when I first walked the beaches of Eleuthera I became mesmerized by the bits of colorful beach plastic along the surf line, scattered and stuck in the sand. I now wonder if, at  that point (I certainly wasn’t thinking job description), fate took my hand and softly whispered, here, look down, these colored bits should not be there, they are pernicious, like poison, but you can do something, this pollution may be a future for you, a place where  all you have learned and who you are can come together with creativity and purpose…

I listened and every day since then I have used towards repurposing more and more beach plastic.

But like in a romantic dream, reality has turned that corner where the above idyllic job description foreshadows a nightmare.

The melancholy I feel when I take my first steps in the sand this time, is not just the melancholy of my memories.

(Why can memories be so melancholy?  A longing for our family time spent here, when the girls were  too young to worry about what they might be missing, like Facebook, friends, and other artificial stimulation?)

It’s not just me, there’s melancholy in the air. I can feel it all over the island. Tourist season doesn’t start for another six weeks and there is hardly a car on the road. The small shops are deserted, their shelves half-empty. The locals ask me about the American economy.

” No jobs man, when America sneezes we catch a cold,” they tell me.

Sneezing as metaphor feels too exuberant to me, what they mean is that when America holds its breath in fear, they suffocate. But I don’t say this. I just nod and tell them I know what they mean. Times are hard everywhere, I say, but don’t tell them that maybe our golden age is gone forever.

club med beach

My melancholy takes a turn towards despair, when I reach my favorite beach. The three mile long curving stretch of pink sand looks raw, windswept, covered in seaweed and caught in this seaweed is garbage. Plastic bottles, toothbrushes, crates, detergent containers, tops, cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons, barrettes, combs, beads, single sneakers, flip-flops and shoes in every size, pots, cones, hinges, signs, and I wonder, while the ancient Greeks, Romans, Incas, Indians, left us musea full of  ancient pottery, jewelry and tools, will this legacy of our plastic culture, ever be displayed and admired in musea of the future?

museum worthy?

synergy?

mimic nature?

I peel off my backpack, spread my towel and sit down. I’m surrounded by plastic. I pick what I can reach and make a pile. I feel like I’m on the edge, one step away from overwhelmed. Is it too late? Have we lost control? The way I felt when watching the BP oil spilling uncontrolled. I teeter on giving up. Whatever I do, however much of this I pick up, clean up, sort and take home, it won’t make any difference.

Still I get up.

Still I pick up.

Red. Blue. Green. Yellow. White. Black. Grey. Pink. Orange. Funny, there’s never much purple.

Within an hour I have  three bags full. I’m only half way along the beach when I run into Bob and Kathy.

“Not enough plastic here for 900 tees, hey?” Bob jokes.

I’m disoriented, like I came out of deep meditation too fast. What does he mean?

“You should have seen it just after Igor,” he says, “Its all been swept away now!”

“I don’t want to know,” I say. “There’s plenty here.”

Sometimes I find messages in the plastic:

Ironic ones to make me laugh…

if only...

Encouraging ones to keep me going…

One that reminds me to check my messages…

One to make sure I will fly home…

I spent two full eight-hour days on the beaches.

I gathered plenty but I wonder, how much is enough for 900 tees?

When I get back to my house on the cliff I sort it and clean off the sand, seaweed and algae by putting the beach plastic in a colander and using the hose of the outdoor shower.

Then I let it dry in the sun.

I’m alone with my harvest.

It looks pretty all laid out by color.

I’m no longer sad.

I feel at home and I’m happy….

for more of my beach plastic work over the past few years:

http://itsamanmadeworld.wordpress.com/

http://www.itsamanmadeworld.com/home.html


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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