Archives For St Croix USVI

Cherry Picking

June 10, 2018 — 3 Comments

Prunus avium are those delicious sweet cherries that show up in our grocery stores in about July. There are many varieties of which the leader is Bing, so named over a 100 years ago by an Oregon grower for one of his Chinese workmen. Prunus cerasus, is the name given to the tart or sour cherry, the most widely known being the Montmorency.

Now this might surprise you but cherries do not grow in the US Virgin Islands. Whatever the type, they prefer the northern climes of continental USA, Turkey, Chile and the southern states of Australia.

But we do have on our lovely island of St Croix a cadre of tart and sour individuals who seem to think that human rights can be divided into different categories and that one is able to cherry pick which to support and which to denigrate.

June is Gay Pride month. Sadly homophobia is alive and kicking in many parts of the Caribbean though hope is on the horizon when places like Cuba, closed so long to modernity, is proud to have held for the last four years a Day Against Homophobia, spearheaded by Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro. Puerto Rico and Curaçao are also proud to hold parades supporting Gay Pride.

Yesterday it was St Croix’s turn to be rainbow proud. A first for this island which, on the whole, tends to delight in its diversity. But the Pride Parade could easily have been soured by the vitriol emitted, anonymously of course, across social media. I am not going to give print space to the crassness of comments, though a couple were almost humorous in their stupidity. But there was one circulating on the ubiquitous FaceBook calling for violence against any and all taking part or supporting the Parade. 

It was serious enough to involve the FBI, with the St Croix Police Chief, Winsbut McFarlande being heard on various radio shows in the days leading up to the Pride Parade, assuring listeners that the organizers had the requisite permits and that, “The police department will do all within its resources to monitor and attempt to minimize the threat.”

And they did. There was a strong, polite and friendly police presence. There had been an attempt to block the parade route with debris, probably left over from the hurricanes which did their best to destroy the island last year, but all was cleared by the time the marchers made their colourful way along the seafront at Frederiksted to Dorsch Beach. Rainbow flags were vivid against the cerulean waters and all that was needed to complete the postcard was a rainbow in the sky.IMG_6286

There was a mingling of signs. Repent of your Sins and you will be Forgiven waved next to Love is Love! One has to wonder what is sinful about loving someone, anyone. There was though an upbeat and friendly mood with little actual engagement from those picketing. I wondered whether indeed they were becoming bemused at the mingling of gay and straight. Perhaps the tee-shirt proclaiming, I Can’t Even Think Straight added to their Cruzan confusion.

I am not gay but count amongst my friends from around the world, some who are. By the same token I have never had to face the dreadful dilemma about whether to proceed with an abortion. I have friends who have. I have never been racially profiled despite having spent much of my life in Africa and Asia, unless you count comments called from market vendors along the lines of “Hola, Blanca….” or a shakedown from a policeman who hasn’t been paid for months. I consider myself fortunate to have friends of all colours and creeds – not because they are all colours and creeds but because they are good company and have proven their friendship over years and continents, as I hope I have to them.

Because ‘human rights’ should be across the board. If they are not, the early work of suffragettes has been in vain. If they are not, then the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa and desegregation in the United States has been in vain. Or the death of Harvey Milk and the Stonewall riots. If they are not, then the work of people like Maryan Abdulle Hassan, a 26-old-Somalian woman fighting female genital mutilation is irrelevant.

Or people like Audre Lorde – who championed the rights of gay, black women and who spent her last years on St Croix and helped found, along with Gloria I Joseph, The St Croix Women’s Coalition.

So when I read a post written by someone, without even the courage to use his or her own name, urging others to wield AK-47s and shoot those holding rainbow flags and marching peacefully, and joyfully, it really pisses me off. It makes me go out in the hot sun and proudly join the parade.

LGBTQ rights, women’s right, every variation of colour rights – they all matter because they are human rights. 100 years ago that Oregon farmer named a sweet cherry after his Chinese cherry picker. Let’s lessen the prunus cerasus variety on St Croix and remember human rights are not up for cherry picking.

Advertisements

Why Here?

April 28, 2018 — 3 Comments

‘Here’ is St Croix, the largest and, to my biased view, the best of the US Virgin Islands. We have for five years been restoring an old West Indian home up a steep hill in Christiansted. It has been a labour of love and which, as most love affairs, has had moments of great joy and moments of deep despair.

A web, not of lies, but of wires criss-crossing the walls, with appliances daisy-chained into the front of the fuse box. A gas pipe suspended below a low ceiling. Fans that would decapitate anyone over 5’6”. Termite eggs sounding like sand trickling into a pail whenever furniture was moved. Shutters which creaked in un-oiled anger with each gust of the Trade Winds that make this island such a cool place to live. A dishwasher which had been home to small furry critters with long tails. An oven that belched gas at the threat of a flame. And baths upon which no bottom should ever sit. The list was longer.

But the views! Ribbons of blue as the Caribbean filters through azure, to aquamarine to emerald, and back to kingfisher navy glisten in iridescent invitation. Yachts dot the bays in bobbing abandon. And the one thing that makes any place a pleasure to be. The people.

No conversation, no matter how short, starts without ‘good mahnin’ or a pleasantry about whatever the time of day. If the acquaintance is more than a passing hello, then inquiry after the health of the family, or a comment about the day, or maybe an upcoming event is the norm before diving into the purpose of the meeting. It is the most delightful way in which to conduct one’s life and a reminder that courtesy is still alive in certain parts of this great land, despite the lack of civility in the political sphere.

Why here? 

St Croix might be an American territory but she most definitely has a West Indian vibe. The hustle of the mainland is missing. “When will you be here?” is answered by “Soon come.” People are warm and welcoming, and like to laugh. The market is full of fresh produce and stall holders eager to impart their knowledge of how to cook that strange looking leaf.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not Utopia. There are social issues, as there are anywhere. Gun violence has taken a nasty upturn – fueled by drugs and unemployment. Domestic abuse, probably for the same reasons, runs like a fetid stream through society. Last year’s hurricanes rudely destroyed homes, schools and the hospital – the aftermath of which is still being felt by many, though power has been restored islandwide.

IMG_3926

For someone like me, who has lived and worked in many places – 12 countries, as diverse as Papua New Guinea and the Netherlands – there is a charm to St Croix that appealed from the outset. I couldn’t care less about the possible health hazards of sparrows flying around the supermarket. And whilst religion is taken seriously, no matter what the denomination, there is still space for humour – the sign, since blown away, affixed to the gates of the Presbyterian Church, admonished, “Thou Shalt Not Park Here”.

IMG_3927

Or another propped up in a window offering three directions – the lab, the morgue or the X-ray – take your pick.

Where I sit and write, often on our gallery looking out at the aforementioned view, I am privy to many amusing discussions taking place in the street below, though I am not part of them. I was though part of a conversation last night. Let me set the scene. 

The plough was glistening in an ebony sky. The channel lights were blinking red and green to guide cruisers into safe harbour should they be so foolish as to attempt a night-time arrival through the narrow channel. The breeze rustled coconut fronds and clac-clacked tan-tan pods as cicadas harmonised in accompaniment. The roosters were blessedly silent – no doubt preparing for their pre-dawn chorus of ‘funky blackbird’! Jazz in the Park and a glass of Bourbon had left me mellow. 

The idyll was broken by the violent gunning of an engine followed by a desperate screech of brakes, the rattling of pebbles on our galvanized roof, and a flurry of curses. I rushed out to see what was going on.

“Good night,” I said, showing remarkable sang-froid in the face of a long-base ute very close to tipping down onto our roof. “Everything okay?” Which in the face of it was rather a silly question, but very British.

“Good night.” A man, with large glasses and trousers slipping below his butt, responded politely before shouting further instructions to the driver. “Wappen de road? De road it go where?” He asked, turning back to me.

This was a fair question. There is no warning that the road behind our house leads not downhill in tar macadamed smoothness but into a series of steep and very rutted steps. If urban legend is to be believed, a number of vehicles have taken the plunge over the years. A little disconcerting to know as such an event would surely disturb my slumber.

“It’s been like this for many years. Certainly since before you were born,” I replied.

“How old you think I be?”

“Younger than these steps.” I told him. “Have the brakes failed?”

The driver, his lips firmly pursed around a cigarette, bade me good night and replied in the younger man’s stead. The brakes were fine. It was turning around in a confined area and the steepness of the gravel road causing the problem. That and no power in the engine. It took another five or six attempts before, with sparks and stones flying, the pick-up made it’s wailing way up the hill. Brake lights flashed on – amazingly both worked – and a cheer went up from the flatbed filled with three young, and perhaps a little inebriated, men before they went on their way – the driver waving goodbye.

And that’s ‘why here’ – it’s fun!
Continue Reading…

It was a Honey of a Day

February 14, 2018 — 3 Comments

I had plans. Planting the cuttings people have so generously given me – two, what I hope will be one day be glorious shooting star (Clerodendrum) bushes, and two Danish flag vines (I don’t know its grown-up name), except instead of red and white my clippings are red and pink. Don’t know why. Then I was going to write, write, write.

Instead what did I do? I sat. First at a chair positioned just so at our dining room window, then on the barstool in the kitchen, then upstairs at the hall window. All overlooking our neighbour’s garden. I had become a voyeur.

It was the men that did it. Two husky men with dreads and beards shoving their legs into white coveralls at the bottom of our drive. A young woman covered from head to foot in all manner of garb, including a tee-shirt draped artfully around her head, completed the trio. Her job, seemingly, was to shove greenery into a kettle-like contraption which was then lit by one of the men. She then pumped and primed it until smoke blew off in satisfying curlicues to dissipate on the omnipresent north-easterly winds battering St Croix this month.

Now you must remember I was not in close proximity and so I could be forgiven for thinking, when the masks came out, that the trio were heading to a fencing tournament. And then I twigged.

Bees!

I am rather fond of bees and we are planting a garden to attract them and hummingbirds and bananaquits, the rather charming and cheeky little yellow-breasted birds – smaller than a British robin – who twitter around any flowers. I have though in the last few months been bitten twice by bees – not something that has ever happened before. I can report that they hurt like hell, then itch, then swell into an unattractive lump before disappearing. I am obviously not prone to anaphylactic shock.

But I digress. We had searched our property but could find no evidence of bees, neither had we noticed a great deal of buzzing next door. And so I was intrigued. Hence, the various watch locations stationed in my house.

Rather a lot of toing and froing took place. Boxes. Empty frames. Ladders. The kettle. And, I was pleased to see, long gloves. Clambering up the ladder in his ungainly gear went one of the men and with a puff of smoke the first surge of bees were evicted from the underside of the eaves. Plywood was ripped down and another flurry of activity showed the bees’ displeasure.

It was at this stage the attendant woman beat a hasty retreat and spent the rest of the morning lying in the sunshine. I can’t say I blame her.

I was though a little disconcerted to see, as the first wadge of bee-blackened honeycomb was torn from its sticky home, the second bee man remove his gloves and poke his finger along the dripping piece before dropping into a box and hastily pushing the lid back over.

“No, no,” I muttered from behind my glass seraglio. “Put your gloves back on.” But he didn’t hear me.

Smoke, swarming bees, intense studying of each piece of saturated honeycomb was the order of the morning. More plywood was removed, security lights were rudely displaced to hang like giant testicles, and a thousand bees tried to attack the men who dared take their home.

One section of honeycomb must have been eighteen inches long and it was then the larger of the two men clambered down, settled onto a step, took up one of the empty frames and began, after first shaking off more bees, to push honeycomb into the frame. Snapping off any bits outside the frame, he then tossed them into a bucket, and repeated the process five times. Each filled frame was carefully slotted into the box by the shorter of the men. (I admit my description of the apiarists is not full but you try describing men in white jumpsuits tucked into socks and boots, wearing full head masks and long gloves – well one of them anyway. I can tell you the gloveless man had black hands.)

And all the while bees dive bombed them. Outrage thrumming with every wing beat. The clumps of comb became smaller, chiselled away from the roof, and bees began to settle on the outside of the eaves. A crawling black mass to be swept into a Tupperware container and unceremoniously tipped into their new hive.

The entertainment was over and deciding prudence would be the order of the day I sat down to write – why risk planting when stray, and discombobulated, bees might still be at large? But I was restless and decided to go and run errands.

Sitting by the roadside were two men with beards and dreads and a woman in all manner of garb but without a tee-shirt wrapped around her head.

“Good morning,” I said through the car window, because no conversation on this island is started without a pleasantry. “Thank you. I’ve had a wonderful time watching you work. And you,” I accused the shorter chap, “you weren’t even wearing gloves!”

He smiled – his eyes were topaz by the way.

“Good mahnin’. Hey mon, we got de queen!”

“Great,” I said, “does that mean those bees still buzzing around will go away?”

“Yeah. It called ‘driftin’ – the workers will look for another hive,” said the main man, who I have since learned is Roniel Allembert, aka the VI Honey Man. And now his mesh face covering was removed, I can report his beard was greying, and plaited. His eyes were a muddy brown and his smile was as wide as Niagara.

“You want the best honey on the island?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Thank you.”

Languidly he rose, delved in the flatbed of his battered truck and returned to my car. Leaning through the window he gave me a piece of dripping honeycomb.

It was good. And I had a honey of a day!

This article was published in St Croix This Week – February / March 2018

Despite Hurricanes IrMaria trying to destroy these Virgin Islands, trying to dampen spirits, and black-out homes, perseverance and resilience are winning and life is returning to normal.
Much has been made of the destruction of the mahogany trees on St Croix – both by hurricane and chain saw. With the heightened awareness of their value as shade, beauty and utility, perhaps we should look to a viable long-term use of the timber now lying discarded.
It was a theme taken up by Sergio Fox, an environmental and sustainable resource engineer, when speaking at a recent symposium in Christiansted. Why not use it in the proposed conservation of the Old Army Barracks?
Hosted by Gerville Larsen, a Crucian architect well known for his vision for a Christiansted Town Plan, and Ulla Lunn, a Danish preservation architect representing BYFO, the Association of Historical Houses in Denmark, I learnt of the progress made on The Legacy Project, which plans to stabilize, conserve and bring new life to the current eyesore on Hospital Street. It is a dramatic vision that will benefit all who live on these islands, and beyond.
A school where Virgin Islanders could earn an associate’s degree in architecture before transferring to accredited institutions in Puerto Rico, the mainland, or Denmark. In keeping with its ideal of serving all segments of society, this venue would also teach building crafts – carpentry, metal work, brick building and so on using the old techniques that have proven, through many years and numerous hurricanes, to withstand harsh conditions. At the same time recognizing and incorporating modern methods and materials.
The provisional name, The Center for Architecture and Built Heritage, will also (provisionally) have an auditorium, an archive room, a cafeteria and gardens – all open to the public. A true venue for the preservation of Crucian culture.
Visions don’t come cheap but with the $150,000 seed money from BYFO, matched by the VI Government, this joint venture can now start raising the $20M required to see both this project, and one on St Thomas, realised. Full funding must come from foundations, organizations and government in the US and Denmark.
Some might remember the exhibition at The Blue Mutt in January 2017 showing designs drawn by students from Aarhus University after their visit to St Croix – and all of which inspired those interested in the conservation and restoration of Christiansted.
A couple of weeks ago at the symposium, first held at Balter (thank you, for the delicious appetizers), and subsequently at the Florence Williams Public Library, we were treated to a presentation of three designs drawn up by two young architects – Crucian, Felicia Farrante and Norwegian, Hildegunn Gronningssaeter. Their enthusiasm was contagious as they talked us through ideas ranging from safe traditional, to an elegant compromise of old converging into new, to a thrilling modern design that, to my layman’s eyes, made the most of the remains of the army barracks whilst giving Christiansted a brave new look. For a brave new enterprise. All the concepts, as Ulla Lunn commented, “cherish the ruins”.
Describing the history of this decaying relic, from the time it was the Danish army barracks to a military hospital in 1835, to 1961 when it became a high school and finally a police substation before being abandoned to asbestos and bush, Farrante said, “You can touch the life in every single brick in these buildings”. Gronningssaeter continued, “We cannot preserve all values at once. We have to have a focus. Something that makes you reflect on time and history.”
But why, when so many things need funding, particularly after the devastation left by the 2017 hurricane season, should we put time, energy and money into, again in Hildegunn Gronningssaeter’s words, “a beautiful decaying structure returning to nature” ?
Because to not conserve and preserve the culture is to disown the heritage – the good and the bad. By moving forward with a project like this, which must be community driven and in collaboration with BYFO in Denmark, we are valuing the past, present and future – a true Legacy Project.
More prosaically, a well preserved St Croix would help tap into an international market geared to heritage travel, and therefore tourism dollars.
As the symposium came to an end, I was reminded of Gerville Larsen’s opening words, “People are the heart of the town.” By taking a decrepit ruin and turning it into a grand design built by Crucians for Crucians and any who would like to visit St Croix we acknowledge, as Senator Myron Jackson said, “Arts and culture are the framework of a community.”
Let’s put the mahogany trees to good use. Store them, let them cure properly, then by the time funds have been raised for this exciting venture, those stately old trees will have come full circle – creating shade, beauty and utility.

Out on the Boardwalk….

January 15, 2018 — 1 Comment

Out on the Boardwalk we were having some fun! Saturday night saw “Patrick and the Swayzees” perform at Shupes on Christiansted’s Boardwalk, and St Croix came out to listen. Styled as rockabilly, soul, rock ’n’ roll, they played everything from Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis to James Brown, and many others, as well as a couple of original numbers. The joint was jumping to such an extent it did cross my mind the Boardwalk, a little hurricane weary, might not withstand the sheer joy of hundreds of people having fun. But it held up. And so did the band.

Hailing from Key West, Florida, though its members are all imports from northern states, the band is young. Only three years old and founded by Jerrod Isaman, guitarist and vocalist. There is though a Patrick in the band – Patrick Stecher, by day a wire artist by night a cool dude playing bass. But rather than a group of lads playing around at music, this is a group of lads who live music. And it shows. The band is tight, professional and, in true musical parlance, utterly awesome!

Keyboardist, River Seine, the youngest member of the group, has spent part of his 20 years on another island, Hawaii, where his mother sang. His fingers danced along the keys with such fluidity and speed I have no idea how he managed to stay on his feet, and his vocals, both as a soloist and backing singer hit every note. Elvis came alive.

Tyler ‘T-Bone’ McHone as drummer has the oh-too-cool-look-to-be-enjoying-himself down pat, but handles the sticks with verve and speed keeping the beat and energy  flowing from number to number, and as the crowd howled for more I saw a smile flicker.

Shout, Johnny Be Good, Love My Baby, Runaround Sue and many more rocked Shupes as patrons, young and not-so-young sang, danced and made merry. An evening of sheer entertainment which backed up vocalist Les Greene’s assertion in an interview with Angel Melendez of the Broward Palm Beach New Times when he said, “These songs are songs that need to go back into the world.”

Greene is a great ball of fire and energy. His stage persona is electric with vocals to match. His soaring rendition of Leela James’ Change is Going to Come brought the rafters close to crashing and the floor boards trembling. And his moves. My God, his moves were a combination of Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson, with a little bit of Louis Armstrong thrown in with his frequent brow mopping from a cloth tucked into his back pocket. He engages the audience with verve and the audience responds, “I want you to sing after me. Baby, baby, baby.” And we did. Repeat after me, “Shout!” And we did. If he’d suggested we all followed him into the crystal clear waters off the Boardwalk of Christiansted harbour, we just might have.

It is hard to imagine this young man suffering the agonies of stage fright but he did, and still does, but has found ways to manage it. From cruise ship massage therapist to high-octane performer is quite a leap.

“Patrick and the Swayzees”, not it must be mentioned because of any great affinity to Dirty Dancing but because Isaman, McHone and Stecher – the original members – were playing around with ‘swayzee’ as an adjective, are part of the Saturday Sunset Series sponsored by Shupes and the Caravelle Hotel. Kudos to both for bringing light relief to St Croix after the torrid times of 2017.

I do hope “Patrick and the Swayzees” soon come again to the Boardwalk to have some fun! Because after a non-stop two-hour set, with Greene breaking from his powerful vocals and fabulous moves only occasionally to sip water whilst the rest of the band continued playing their hearts out, it was an evening of not only brilliant stars but brilliant entertainment.

Cherish the Ruins

December 31, 2017 — 2 Comments

The flurry of Christmas is over, and it’s that time of year. Time to reflect, but not linger, on the past.

It is a theme that has been much on my mind lately as I have been writing an article on an exciting joint USVI / Danish proposal, known as The Legacy Project, for St Croix This Week – which, as a Caribbean quirk, is produced bi-monthly. It is on the conservation of the past, the restoration of the present and the transformation for the future.

I am referring to the old Danish army barracks which, after their final iteration in the 1960s as a high school then police substation, were abandoned to asbestos and bush. It is a project dear to my heart and not only because it is IMBY (In My Back Yard) but, and this is a direct quote from the piece which I thought quite good even if I do say so myself, “Because to not conserve and preserve the culture is to disown the heritage – the good and the bad.”

The history of these aged barracks is etched into the walls built from ballast bricks and coral stone. The bricks were used to stabilise empty ships arriving from Denmark ready to load up with sugar and rum for eager consumers in Europe. The coral stone was cut by slaves, hauled ashore and used not only to be aesthetically pleasing but to help cool the buildings.

But this isn’t a blog about buildings – you’ll have to read SCTW for that.

No, I’m talking about me. In May 2018 I will reach the 60 milestone or, as miles were counted in Nigeria, the 60th pole – the telegraph poles strung along the dusty roads crisscrossing the country when I was a child.

It’s a bit of a shock. In my mind I am 35 but my mirror says, “Add 25 years, ducky”. 49 stitches down my back is a good start for counting the scars. My husband did suggest I get a zip tattooed over that one. And my face is running out of room for stitches, no matter how adept the plastic surgeons. But as I reflect on the past I comfort myself that the physical flaws are part of my heritage – the good and the bad. I’m sure I have mental flaws but can’t think of any at the moment!

I have been inordinately fortunate in my life. I come from a happy, if slightly unusual and nomadic background. I met a man in Papua New Guinea 40 years ago and still adore him, and our children and grandchildren bring great joy. Of course there have been tears, disappointments, frightening times and moments of ‘what the fuck’ but those are events that have etched themselves into my psyche and made me stronger, if not more patient. There’s a flaw!

I have wiffle-waffled around in various jobs in various countries – all of which have been great fun but none could have been called a career. Perhaps it is the fault of my Zodiacal sign. Geminis are notoriously fickle. That question, so often asked of me around the world, ‘what do you do?’ has invariably caused a seconds conundrum.

However the last ten years have seen me knuckle down. Expat Life Slice by Slice (Summertime Publishing 2012) was a memoir and, much as I enjoyed writing it, did not to my mind give me the right to call myself a writer. The words did not come from rigid discipline, interviews and research as non-fiction does – they came from my memory nudged by diaries and photographs. Or as in fiction, from allowing the imagination to float freely backed up by discipline and research.

But with the publication of Fireburn (OC Publishing 2017) – an historical novel set in the Danish West Indies of the 1870s, I have a label. No longer will those little tags at conferences, cocktails or coffee mornings merely give my name – I have, at the ripe old nearly age of 60, a bona fide career. Writer.

Oh yes, another mental flaw – procrastination!

As we head into the New Year, I’m going to stop dithering and write the sequel, Transfer of the Crown. And I’m not going to linger on birthdays and scars. Instead I’m going to return to those decaying army barracks and think of the words spoken by Danish architect, Ulla Lunn, as she passionately called for their restoration – “cherish the ruins”.

May 2018 bring you health and happiness – and wonderful stories to share.

Christmas Treats

December 24, 2017 — Leave a comment

For many years my treat at this time of year was The Nutcracker, either performed by whoever my daughter was dancing with, and latterly, The Houston Ballet. This Christmas, I’m on St Croix and despite living opposite a dance studio, Tchaikovsky’s ballet is not on the dance card. And so I’ve found something else to satisfy my cultural thirst – and not just one performance.

There’s something about Sundays and music that goes together – whether it’s a church organ or, as has been my pleasure a couple of times lately, an afternoon of Colombian Cumbia, Brazilian Choro (street music), jazz compositions from the greats and original pieces inspired oftentimes by this remarkable music duo’s mode of transport. Their 43’ sloop – S/V Catherine.

This treat has been on offer for the last month at the Caribbean Museum of Culture and Arts in Frederiksted on the western end of St Croix. The venue is perfect for an afternoon of sometimes fierce, sometimes haunting, sometimes lyrical music – none of which it is possible to sit through without moving, at the very least, your toes. The music adds another layer to this elegant building exuding history through the thick walls which surround an inner courtyard. Art covers the walls of the upstairs gallery – at the moment a fascinating exhibition celebrating gay pride.

Through the open windows the hulking outline of the cruise ship housing FEMA, Red Cross officials and others who have responded to the call of St Croix’s need after the devastation of Hurricanes IrMaria, sits at the end of Frederiksted pier. Palm fronds, slowly straightening and growing back, sway in time to the music it seems, with the occasional bird flitting by as if curious to hear the freely floating melodies.

The current artists-in residence at CMCA are a husband and wife team, who play the piano until the historic walls positively quake, and who make a flute sing so sweetly as to bring tears. I believe their daughters are also musically-minded but I haven’t heard them perform yet. They are sometimes joined by local musicians – this last week by Junie Bomba on the conga drums.

Jarad and Christel Astin, aka Stell & Snuggs, met at the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts over twenty years ago and, until relatively recently, followed individual musical careers. Their life changed, dramatically, just as so many Virgin Islander’s lives have changed recently – due to mother nature. It was Hurricane Sandy who tore into the fabric of their existence but rather than bemoaning their misfortune, this intrepid couple turned their back on conformity and began their nomadic lives, making music wherever they happen to moor.

Their daughters are homeschooled afloat – and I’d hazard a guess, are getting an education that will stand them in wonderful stead. Resilience and adaptability being two traits that will get them through any number of adventures as they find their own feet, or maybe fins.

As I watched Jarad, so at one with the grand piano in the upstairs gallery, his fingers skimming, pounding or fluttering along the keys, I wondered whether he missed having access to such an instrument as he sails from gig to gig. And I would think traveling with an accordion has issues all of their own. Christel’s work tools would seem far more portable – a flute, a ukulele and her voice.

What did traveling minstrels do before iPads? A quick swipe and notes appeared – maybe Wayne Shorter’s Little Waltz – slow and haunting, or a lively salsa straight from Santiago de Cuba. “Music,” Jarad said when describing the Afro-Caribbean beat, “ which all came out of a trip taken on a boat that they didn’t want to take.”

The power might have fluctuated and then gone off but there was no fluctuation in the power of the music. An original composition, Love Piece, soared up then thundered down – perhaps a description of a brief but intense affair or maybe a long marriage.

Jarad’s comments between pieces continued to be thought provoking – “Jazz brings people together from all over the world, regardless of colour or race or creed” – if at times as odds with his slightly rakish look of shaggy hair cut and porkpie hat!

The final composition was another original written as he sailed across that notoriously rough stretch water along the west coast of France, without Christel. Called Sans Romance de Bay de Biscay, it brought to mind loneliness and longing, before moving into a lilting crescendo as presumably he neared home.

The Astins are not only talented musicians but actively involved in encouraging youth to express themselves through music. I truly hope they continue to moor up at St Croix both for what they can teach and for the pleasure they bring.

I might not have listened to Tchaikovsky or watched The Nutcracker this Christmas but I certainly didn’t miss out on a cultural musical tour.
Merry Christmas, and may 2018 bring magic and treats to you and yours, in all its forms!