Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Novel Racers

I'm not a 'joiner' usually, but this is the exception to that rule. I've just been accepted as a member of a really cool group of writers based in England, the Novel Racers. You can read my introductory post here.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Food from the yard

A couple months ago I posted about my mother's garden when she went off on vacation and left me in charge of it. Here are some pictures taken by my son earlier this year. We refer to these, the results of my mother's agricultural forays, as her 'crops'.

The tomatoes, grown in her 'grow box', were beautiful and bountiful.

So were the patchoi, a kind of Asian greens similar to the bok choy. It's great fresh from the garden, sauted in some oil with garlic and a dash of salt and pepper, or mixed with other vegetables.

These flowers are from the pigeon peas trees. The peas have been picked and eaten, and the last of the trees were consigned to the fire weeks ago. We picked bushels of those things.

She also has bananas, two kinds of mangoes, five kinds of peppers, plantains, a tiny breadfruit tree, a dwarf golden apple, a young avocado tree, a plum tree, ochroes (okra), coconuts, dasheen and eddoes (root vegetables), and lots of herbs: parsley, basil, celery, rosemary, mint, thyme, chive, chadon bene (Mexican cilantro) and oregano. She's got ginger, too, and sorrel. Also pineapples that have never borne fruit, thus far.

The cabbages have been eaten, and she's about to plant another set. We tease her about her affinity for the soil, but we're actually proud of her produce when it reaches the kitchen - healthful, organically grown food with no toxic compounds. And as I've mentioned before, things grow in this valley with an almost frightening zeal.

Writer of the month: Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid asserts that "I was always being told I should be something, and then my whole upbringing was something I was not: it was English." Our education system here in the English-speaking Caribbean is based on the English system, and many of our sensibilities are linked to that culture. As a child I was more familiar with imaginary crows and jackdaws than with the local bananaquits and kiskadees; my mental landscape consisted of bogs, heaths, and the grimy streets of Victorian London; tulips, daffodils and primroses populated the gardens of my imagination, rather than the heliconias and hibiscus in the hedges all around me.

I fully understand Ms. Kincaid's ideological dilemma.

Jamaica Kincaid was born in 1949 as Elaine Potter Richardson on the island of Antigua. In 1965 she migrated to New York, and attended Franconia College in New Hampshire for a year. Her first writing was a series of articles for Ingenue magazine. In 1973, she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid because her family disapproved of her writing. For twenty years (1976 - 1995) she was a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine.

In the novel A Small Place Kincaid expresses her anger both at the colonists (England) and at the Antiguans for failing to fully achieve their independence. In many ways, the identity Kincaid has developed is a result of English upbringing and the lack of a native culture due to colonialism.

In her other novels, Kincaid explores the mother-daughter relationship and the phenomenon of female bonding. Annie John, Autobiography of My Mother, and At the Bottom of the River provide the opportunity to explore Kincaid's relationship with her own mother as well as her development of identity.

A visiting professor and teacher of creative writing at Harvard University, Jamaica Kincaid has this to say about writing: "I'm someone who writes to save her life. I mean, I can't imagine what I would do if I didn't write. I would be dead or I would be in jail because - what else could I do? I can't really do anything but write. All the things that were available to someone in my position involved being a subject person. And I'm very bad at being a subject person."

What I'm reading right now...

My sister brought Angela's Ashes home some time last year but I did not read it for one very good reason: I wasn't in the mood to read about anyone's miserable childhood in Ireland. At the time I did not know several important things, such as that the author had written the book in his sixties after teaching high school in New York for 30 years, nor that he had won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for the book, his first. I also haven't read 'Tis, Frank McCourt's account of his early years in the USA. Now that I'm reading Teacher Man, however, I can't wait to get my hands on everything he has written, to fill in the rest of this remarkable man's life - or rather, to enjoy his masterful recounting of it.

I know that Teacher Man will remain my favourite, though. Having taught high school English for twenty-two years, there isn't a single character, situation or emotion with which I cannot identify. This book should be essential reading for every teacher - maybe for everyone. I think it's the most honest and penetrating, unsentimental and profound analysis of the teaching life that I've ever read.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

September 11 - Belated observance

My computer was down and I was sick, so I'm late with this. But I'm going to do it anyway. I just left a comment on anti-wife's blog in response to her post on 911, and I'll repeat it here.

I was in Miami when it happened, visiting a friend at his office. A patient called, and I could hear my friend going, "What? What? Really!" I realized he was trying to calm the caller. Then he put down the phone and laughed - an uncertain laugh. It was one of his patients, he said, ranting about planes crashing into buildings all over the country. He'd have to check the old man's meds. Then another call came, from someone sane and reliable, and when he put down the phone and told me what was going on, there was just shock. Disbelief.

Well, the phone began to go crazy. By midday the Florida authorities were telling everyone to get home, that the turnpikes were open, just get home. My friend closed up his office and took me home. When I got in and turned on the TV I saw my first images, and I sat there, tears pouring down my face, until the small hours of the morning. I've seen those images hundreds of times, and they are still so incredible that I doubt my eyes.

Over the next days, I would go outside at night and stare at the sky. The long string of aircraft on the flight path to Fort Lauderdale Airport had disappeared. The sky was empty. It was very uncanny.

I didn't suffer a personal loss, or a connection to a personal loss like you did, but I know what you feel. I remember. I was there. Fourteen Trinidadians died in those towers. The tragedy of those days reached everywhere, and touched everyone.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Things that creep and things that crawl

Trust me, the photo does not do it justice. You really need to meet a centipede face to face to understand the eww factor involved.

A few nights ago I was lying across my bed copying out a recipe on an index card when I noticed movement at the edge of my range of vision. I looked down and there it was, a centipede, coolly scuttling across the floor. Of my bedroom.

I'd be the first to admit I'm not good with these things. Innocent earthworms elicit an extreme revulsion reflex in me. It's something about that awful wriggling. The centipede is different, and worse, its movement a cross between a glide and a scuttle, with all those legs moving in waves, and the antennae swinging from side to side... Resisting the impulse to take to the hills, where in T&T these days I'm sure to stumble across much more dangerous creatures of the two-footed variety, I grabbed a slipper and squashed the thing flat.

I've seen them in the house before, but not for a long while, and never further inside than the living room - there's a small gap under the front door that's probably the entry point.

The raging fecundity of this place is not restricted to the flora but extends to the fauna as well. When we first moved to another house in this valley thirteen years ago we were taken aback at the sheer numbers and variety of birds - birds which were fatter and far more raucous than their suburban cousins. Then there were the frogs, especially at this time of year when the rains are here. The centipedes appear at this time as well as the ground becomes saturated. They start looking for higher ground, higher ground being the house.

The pale whitish house lizards are more numerous than ever, gulping happily at the rainflies and conducting their strange tail-grabbing and quickly-consummated courtship rituals on the kitchen walls, or falling off the rafters with an unnerving SPLAT! then running off none the worse for wear.

There's a bumper crop of slugs in the dead, sodden leaves under the julie mango tree, and the manicou (opossum) family in the empty lot next door seems to be thriving, despite what I imagine to be their frequent violent family disputes. (Our common types are not grey like in the shot above, but brown.) The bats are in their glory, and the snakes... well, to be honest I haven't seen any in the yard this year, but the valley teems with them. I'll recount my snake encounters in another post. Right now I'm too busy shuddering at the mere recall of my battle to the death with that [ugh] centipede.

Pass the bottle

I'm sitting here spooning this cough medicine into my face when my eyes alight on these words on the bottle, right up there in front, in big red letters: Alcohol free. I do a double take and almost spill the sticky stuff. No alcohol? What kind of sick, sadistic sod would take the alcohol out of cough medicine?

I don't need this. When I'm feeling like I've been run over several times by a truck, I need to see stuff like: "50% more alcohol than the other leading brand!" and "More alcohol added!" Given the choice between suffering with a little buzz on and suffering stone cold sober, I'd take the buzz any day. A hangover might actually be an improvement on the general state of things.

Pharmaceutical companies, don't make me start a campaign. Put the damned alcohol back in the cough medicine where it belongs, please. Put the fun back into having a cold, for the love of Mike, whoever he is.

Friday, 14 September 2007

It never rains but it pours...

It's almost two weeks since the last storm pounced on us in the small hours of the morning. The thunder was so close that I cowered under the sheets, waiting for the next deafening clap, while the lightning blazed even through my tightly closed lids and the rain pelted on to the roof like rockfalls. As the storm moved away I drifted back to sleep.

By daylight there was no sign of the bad weather. The sun shone and the earth steamed. The mountains were clear and the valley cool and fresh.

I walked across to the computer and switched it on. The power was there, all right, but the thing refused to start, although I could hear the disk whirring in the drive. The light, normally a friendly green, remained a stubborn amber.

So, that storm did not just blast me out of sleep with its violence - it ruined my brand new (well, three month old) computer. I always turn off the power from the strip when I shut down, but now I'm hearing that lightning can damage the system through the modem. I never disconnect the phone line.

I trot my ole self down to the library to check mail and the blog, and the attendant tells me the Internet is down. Shuffle upstairs to the Internet cafe, check mail... No word re contract, grit teeth, move to the blog... Can't sign in. Google mail checks out as usual, but the Blogger sign-in page won't even load. Attendant scratches head, as mystified as I am. Trudge home wearily - and proceed to come down with the worst bug I've had in seven years.

I'm back on my feet, barely. Shaky but alive, pecking away at my son's laptop. He's surfing (waves, not the 'net) all weekend, so he won't need it, right? That was an easy sell.

I missed you guys. Terribly. Now I have something else to worry about: Am I a fanatic about this blogging business, perchance? Whatever. I'm just so !@#$%-ing happy to be back. Well, sort of back. I await the diagnosis re my own computer.