Barbidoesmiami

How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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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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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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The Lady Who Said “HI” (to a burglar) ….

oh, thats only Iain, son, coming back from an evening run...

I know this title kinda ruins  my story.

I may change it.

I often do. I start a blog with one title just to get in the mood and then use something completely different.

I try to be like Penelope Trunk with my titles.

But I cant. I just cant be that deliberately controversial only to lure readers into yet another story of a fight with my husband.

Anyway.

We are finally, years after buying a piece of land in Eleuthera, thinking of putting in the driveway, so I met with Mr. Sands (yes, he of making sandy driveways) to discuss topography, mature trees and boundary lines.

Serious stuff.

But Neville (Sands) is also chatty. He likes to sit in his windowless air-conditioned office and shoot the breeze.

So I told him one of my favorite Eleuthera (there are many) stories. One that involved me directly.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The year before we had rented an old house in the town of Governor’s Harbour over Christmas. Tamarind is a big, stone sea captain’s house with four big bedrooms upstairs, a large wooden central staircase, porches, etc. A little run-down, but perfect for all six of us.

In those days I was already collecting beach plastic like crazy, the yard was full of it, and I used the kitchen table for making my “jewelry”. My tool kit stood open. A small amount of silver and even less gold wire lay amongst the beach debris.

I don’t know if somehow the word got out that I was a “jeweler”.

And we were careful, Eleuthera is very safe, but still we were in town and so we checked doors and windows every night before going to bed.

That night I got up at 3 am to pee.

I never pee in the night.

I go to sleep at night and I wake up in the morning.

I do not pee.

I am also blind.

I am legally blind when my contacts sit in their little blue box in the bathroom and when I shut my eyes its about the same as having them open only darker (I am   -7.25 in both eyes for those in the know).

So I get up and walk onto the landing (which is the only way from our bedroom to the upstairs bathroom.)

There….

Running up the stairs, not more than 4 feet from me, is a kid (I can tell) in a black hoodie (pulled up).

So what do I do?

I say:

HI!

What does he do?

He says:

HI!

Then he realizes that this is not quite how these situations are supposed to go (I was a little slower and still thinking that if this guy was in my house at 3 in the morning I probably knew him and ought to be polite), he turned and ran.

Raced like Jackass down the stairs and out.

OK. So now am awake, like fully and I think.

SHIT! That was a burglar!

I still have to pee so I pee and I think.

I decide that the last thing I want is husband running through the bushes with a very blunt (rental homes never have sharp knives) kitchen knife after a kid 30 years younger than he (give or take, he was at a disadvantage.)

Next I check on the girls – they are all three fast asleep.

Fate had me at their door like a sentry just in time, and when I realized this I did get shaky.

So I woke husband. Or tried.

“I just saw a burglar on the stairs, honey.”

No response.

I considered going back to bed but this would not look good in the morning. Like my story’s credibility would be diminished.

So I woke him up hard and together we found the window in the front parlor that been pried open.

the merry window access

Then we called the police.

Governor’s Harbour has one policeman on duty, at night, and he arrived about ten minutes later, looking sleepy and, well, very relaxed.

He sat down at my kitchen table, I cleared some of my beach plastic to make room for his paper work, and we filed our case.

Was anything stolen?

I hadn’t checked.

So I looked around and found that my wallet had been emptied (about six dollars,I never have cash), and that one of my bling flip-flops was missing.

One!

The chief sent me upstairs to get my passport and when I came down he was playing with my plyers and wearing my super over-magnifying glasses that are made to make tiny detailed work easier . They also make eyes look like this:

how the policeman looked up at me

He asked if I would be able to identify the kid and I said no way. I am blind. I wouldnt even be able to tell you if he was black or white.

He thought this was funny.

SO.

Now back to Neville Sands, a year plus later.

I tell him the story. Just like above, only when I get to the bit where I say:

HI! To the burglar.

Neville sits up, slaps his hand on his desk (I jump), and shouts:

“So YOU are the lady that says HI to burglars.”

WTF? I think (one does not say this in Eleuthera.)

“How do you know?” I ask.

“You are famous, man!” He says. (the man-thing one does say to women in Eleuthera). “Like everyone knows.”

“Everyone?”

“Like that stupid kid tells all his friends that he’s doing this house in town, and this lady sees him on the stairs, and she’s so crazy – she says HI to him, and he’s even more stupid and he says HI back and this makes all his friends laugh and they think its the funniest thing thats happened all year!”

How do you know this? I ask.

“Well, meanwhile the policeman on duty that night is also telling all his friends. They also think its hilarious, so everyone is telling everyone and then the “bad” guys are telling the “good” guys the story, you know the kids name and all, and now they have him cause he’s telling everyone bout you sayin’ Hi and all.”

“So they got him?”

“Yeah man! He went to Juvie for six months, he’d done some other stuff too, so don’t feel bad, it wasn’t really you.”

Then Neville told me the story of another kid who stole a Princeton (bright orange with Princeton logo) sweat shirt during a burglary and decided to wear it right away, around town. What ensued needs no further explanation.

Its a small, very small island.

And we love it.


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Barbi goes native…

Vogue.com: – “While vacationing on Eleuthera in the Bahamas, artist Barbara de Vries began collecting colorful bits of plastic she found on the island’s powder-soft beaches. Having been smoothed and contoured by the elements, the synthetic material more resembled small, precious gems. So once she returned home, the Miami native …”

Miami native?

What the fuck?

Barbi? … Miami Native?

Me, a Miami native artist?

I bristled. I bristled good. Like hackles all the way up. As I read the much anticipated Vogue article in postage size on my BB.

While walking through the Lynn University campus where I had just spoken to about 70 lethargic fashion merchandising students (I was told they were designers) but from the show of hands – I speak to the out-of-the-box part of brain – there appeared to be none. And all my “be unique follow your creative genius rara, jokes and digs” fell like dusty hat pins on the well-worn blue and crested gold carpet. Soundless. Echoless.

Oh well.

But out in the parking lot the combination of the dulled crowd and “Miami native” got my goat. Like got my goat by the balls (or teets?)

Was I not Dutch born?  A former Paris model? A fashion designer from London? Former director of design @ Calvin Klein in NYC?

My ego was pretzelling out of control.

Then my sobering alter-ego said: “But weren’t you last seen as mother, wife and housefrau in Milford PA?” Huh? You think you are so hot? You should be so lucky! To be in Vogue! Huh? Who do you think you are?

(Do you have that who-do-you-think-you-are voice? I don’t think everyone has that voice, as in *Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen or Sarah Palin?)

I have a big ego and then this who-do-you-think-you-are-voice which makes me rather schizo, inside my head, and sometimes it comes out, and I lash out and then feel guilty, and confuse the hell out of everyone.

Like who’s that  guilty nice bitch?

So, as I’m driving back to Miami, I’m arguing with myself. And, as usual, my ego loses and I listen to the alter one.

And I’m starting to like the idea of Miami artist. Like could I be an artist from Miami?

Go native…?

I’m used to shape shifting. I’ve had my incarnations from painfully shy school girl to cosmo model to young London designer to Senior Veepee to country mom of three…

And…

Wasn’t I looking for that new life? That new me? Was I not sick of  feeling invisible as a mother?

So.

It took Rickie at Vogue to make me see. To open my eyes to more and endless possibilities of me.

It also took embellishing 750 tees with beach plastic to drive me almost insane.

thank you Vogue

I spent the last four months doing little else, as my husband, daughters, dog, friends and hairdresser will attest, but, while doing my manual labor, I had  time to think.

About beach plastic. About plastic pollution, About its impact, about solutions, about re-purposing some of the plastic that is already out there. How we buy the product within; the laundry detergent, the water, the toothpaste, but do not feel we own its container. Nobody owns the container. Its not our problem. And therein lies the problem. We have come to treat plastic as a cheap, throw-away material. We forget that it was heralded as the substance that would stop us from plundering earth’s natural resources like wood, tortoise, ivory etc.

Remember Mr. Maguire to young Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate?

“I have one word for you young man”

?   (Dustin looking dumb)

PLASTICS!

That was forty years ago and now we’re sinking in the stuff and don’t know how to get rid of it!

Fuck Mr. Robinson and his plastics!

So now its my problem? I thought. As I slowed down  to a place of understanding.

And this what I would say to young Dustin:

“Slow Down”

Stop.

Dustin, take ten minutes to really scroll through this (art by native artist?) and you will notice that every piece of beach plastic has a mysterious story. How did the barrette, the crate, the tooth brush, the toy soldier, the bead end up on that faraway Bahamian beach? Who owned it? What did they do with it and why did it get into the ocean? Did it come from a cruise ship? A seaside garbage dump, was it casually tossed away or accidentally lost?

And if you slow down enough to think  then maybe you can stop just long enough to change the effect of disposable plastic and realize that you can reinvent plastic’s destiny  by making it desirable and yes, maybe even beautiful.

black and white, ying and yang, ego and alter ego, there's always the other way

Interviews about the process, (thank you Viv and Christine) courtesy of Loomstate: