Friday, 30 January 2009

Maraval in the rain

An old photo of the Saddle, a narrow pass connecting the Maraval and Santa Cruz valleys. (Photo courtesy the Trinidad Guardian archives)

If you've read Café au Lait you might recall mention of the Maraval Valley. The novel is a work of fiction, but this valley isn't, and I drove through it today to pick up my nephew from school. I lived there once, right after I separated from my husband, and for years I traversed this valley every day on my way to work. It was a longer drive than going through Port of Spain and taking the highway, but there was no traffic and the drive through valleys and over hills was lovely. My son was just five during the months that we lived in Maraval, yet he has vivid memories of the birds hopping around on the windowsill of his bedroom, of playing with the children who lived on the ground floor, of listening to music with his mom.

That was a weird time in my life. My ailing marriage was finally over; I had to come to terms with the prospect of raising my child alone; I was living on my own for the first time in my life. I surrounded myself with beauty as an antidote to all that I had suffered through: the special brand of coffee that I liked, music, my plants, a perfume I'd always wanted, long visits from an old friend whom I'd neglected during the tortured years of my marriage. He'd visit and we'd talk far into the night, catching up, drinking wine, playing Scrabble. After work each day I'd pick up my son and we'd go on an 'adventure' before going home. Some days we went to the mall, others we'd stop by the Queen's Park Savannah and I'd buy fruits from the roadside vendors while he ran around and climbed the trees. Or we'd drive to the marina in Chaguaramas, or to the back of West Mall (this was before all the high-rise condos went up) and sit and watch the sea. It was a shadowed yet strangely happy era. My son still loves the music of the 80s best of all; he says it takes him back to the Maraval time.

The Maraval Valley in the rain today. Photos taken above the golf course at Moka.

My son grew up. I left the teaching behind, lived abroad for awhile, came back. I haven't driven through Maraval in years - until today. It was raining. I like the rain. It was cool and lovely, the hills misty and shrouded, lush, green. Naturally, time has not stood still in the intervening years. The channel of the river that runs alongside the road is wider. There are large supermarkets and pharmacies higher up the valley where before there were only small shops and minimarts. Entire high-end developments have sprung up, and many others are under construction. Enormous brown gashes wound the hillsides which have been bulldozed for even more 'development'. The house with the tall rose bushes that I admired every day on my way to and from work is now indistinguishable from the numerous other houses flanking it. The house is there; the roses aren't.

So much has changed. The narrow bridges have been widened, and the road too in places, but the traffic jams, they tell me, begin way up in the valley where the road begins to rise sharply into the hills. They also tell me that the Saddle, that pass into the Santa Cruz Valley pictured above, is itself unrecognizable, bulldozed and widened, no longer the dark, one-lane tunnel with the sharp blind curve at the Santa Cruz end where I drove for so many years on my way to work, horn blaring to warn any unseen oncoming vehicle.

Those were different times; the Saddle Road was practically deserted then, and if the thought of being blocked and held up at gunpoint ever entered my head, it was for a fleeting moment. My solitary drive through Maraval, into the Saddle, then the descent into Santa Cruz where scarlet immortelles blazed over cocoa trees and pouis splashed the valley with riotous colour, was a daily adventure. It was spiritually refreshing, buoying me for the struggle ahead, and soothing me as I made the return trip when the battles had been lost and won for one more day.

I didn't get as far as the Saddle today, and I dread the day when I'll see for myself the mutilation of this lovely spot. Despite all the change, though, the valley retains its charm, its essence. But for how long? The prognosis, in view of what I saw today, is not hopeful.

Monday, 19 January 2009


Happy Martin Luther King Day, American friends.

From Kevin over at It Only Seems Random: Remembering Martin Luther King.

From Nyc/Caribbean Ragazza: Happy Birthday MLK.

"He had a dream. For everyone, not just his own people." - Stephe

Saturday, 17 January 2009


The rainy season should have tapered off last month but - it didn't. It poured over the holidays. It poured yesterday; on the way home from work after the deluge the upper air was clearing up but the side valleys were crammed with white cotton. Today it poured again. Great weather for writing or editing, one would think, but did I spend the cosy hours constructively? Nah. My son made the mistake of sharing a website that has links to all the TV shows and I've been pigging out on Desperate Housewives. Yes, you read that correctly.

Since I started the day job a little over a year ago my writing has suffered. I finally finished the edits to romance #2 in December but did I spruce up the digital copy and send it off to the agent? Nope. I asked my sister to read it through and tell me her thoughts. She brought it back today and she likes it a lot, much more so than Café au Lait. She did not like one character's story arc, however. I told her I'd actually written him differently in the first draft but changed it after some feedback from the agent. My sis preferred the first version. I thought it was too predictable; the current one adds a bit of a twist to the end, and I think it trumps the first. I'm leaving it as is.

She doesn't see the story as romantic suspense, though. It's romance, but on the dark side, with a compelling subplot that she loved. (She's not a fan of romance novels generally, and would love to see me get back to work on my other projects, the ones that do not fall into the genre. And the truth is, so would I.) My present quandary is: what is this novel? It's romance, but one of the subplots is pretty strong, probably more so than the lovey-dovey stuff. The other subplot falls right into the suspense arena, but it's not enough to make the story romantic suspense. So where does it fit? Where will it fall in the marketing scheme of things? I know - I should send it off to Susan and let her do the worrying. I will, I will. Soon.

I've been doing a lot of avoiding and procrastinating, but I've got to get my act together now. I have the day job. I have the writing and promoting. And I made a commitment to my son to help him manage his fledgling business. Yes, he's struck out on his own. So, I either do some serious structuring of my time or I'll (continue to) get very little done. Time to slap myself out of the inertia, which I think is a result of my worrying and obsessing over stuff. In the meantime, it's back to those Housewives. I've got five more episodes to get through, you know. Don't you just love that Longoria girl? And Marcia Cross is awesome. Oh dear. Do I have a problem? I watch episode after episode - me, the one who's always avoided TV. Maybe watching it on the Internet doesn't count? Yeah. Right. Am I obsessive-compulsive or something like that? Or is it just the prolonged rainy season that's bogging me down in all this sticky broodiness, avoidance and self-indulgence?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Have you ever... Trinidad & Tobago style

My blog pal and fellow Trini over at This Beach Called Life has created a new, improved, much funnier version of the Have You Ever meme. It's full of social satire too, if you know my country. So good is it, in fact, that I'm doing it again!

Bold the things you've done or will admit to.

1. Slept under the stars
2. Gotten caught in a flood
3. Seen a real live Manatee
4. Seen turtles lay eggs
5. Eaten turtle meat
6. Watched a meteor shower
7. Gotten involved with a landslide (it didn't last, though)
8. Gone to Mt. St. Benedict (My honeymoon was there. We left early.)
9. Heard a real gunshot
10. Hiked on the Northern Range
11. Held a praying mantis
12. Been held up while praying
13. Sung Calypso
14. Tried to get a passport appointment (the horror! the horror!)
15. Visited Tobago
16. Been robbed in Tobago
17. Watched sparking electricity lines
18. Seen smoke come out the back of your TV
19. Refused KFC
20. Ate doubles at 2 am
21. Had food poisoning
22. Grown your own weed
23. Known any Miss Trinidad and Tobago beauty contestants
24. Had a pillow fight
25. Feted all night
26. Taken a PH taxi
27. Been kidnapped
28. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
29. Held a cock or common fowl
30. Gone skinny dipping
31. Ran a 5K
32. Ridden a pirogue
33. Helped pull seine
34. Been insane (depends who you ask)
35. Watched a sunrise or sunset
36. Hit a six
37. Been on a cruise
38. Seen Maracas Waterfalls in person
39. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
40. Had ancestors
41. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
42. Bought saheena and kachourie in Debe
43. Seen the Lighthouse of Port of Spain
44. Played pan
45. Had the chicken combo at Movietowne
46. Sung karaoke
47. Seen a WASA pipe leak
48. Bought a stranger a roti
49. Eaten a strange roti
50. Visited Rio Claro or Cedros
51. Caught crab on the beach by flambeau light
52. Been transported in an ambulance
53. Driven on the shoulder
54. Had your portrait painted
55. Been arrested
56. Had you photo appear on a website
57. Seen the Pitch Lake in person
58. Been to the top of the Hyatt Hotel in Port of Spain
59. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
60. Kissed a member of the opposite sex in the rain
61. Kissed a member of the opposite sex
62. Cooked at the banks of a river
63. Been held up at gun point
64. Considered a life of crime
65. Visited a family member at Golden Grove
66. Been in a movie (short documentary does not count, does it? Shucks.)
67. Taken a martial arts class
68. Kicked someone’s butt
69. Been transported in the trunk of a car
70. Eaten Crix for lunch
71. Cooked curried duck
72. Gone girl watching on Frederick Street
73. Donated blood, platelets, plasma or body parts
74. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp or a Government Office
75. Bounced a check
76. Visited the Zen Nightclub
77. Bounced out of a nightclub
78. Flown in a helicopter
79. Eaten Smoked Herring
80. Stood in Woodford Square
81. Toured the Caroni Bird Sanctuary
82. Seen dead birds at The Sanctuary
83. Broken a bone
84. Broken someone else’s bone
85. Been on the Bus Route illegally
86. Published a book
87. Read a book
88. Bought a brand new car
89. Fixed a flat in the Beetham
90. Walked in Queen’s Park Savannah
91. Been chased in the Queen’s Park Savannah
92. Had your picture in the newspaper
93. Had dengue fever
94. Been called for jury duty
95. Tried to get parking in Port of Spain
96. Met someone famous
97. Been or are someone famous
98. Lost a car
99. Been on TV
100. Ran out of water with soap on your skin
101. Blogged like no ones looking

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Have you ever...?

I thought I was over memes but then I saw this over at Aine's Life is Beautiful and couldn't resist. The question is “Have you ever…?” [Warning: This is very US oriented.]

Bold the things you’ve done and will admit to.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity (not sure what counts here)
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping (does the time I lost my bikini count?)
27. Run a marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie (Well, a short public service type thing. Without my consent.)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life (does saving my own count?)
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Determinedly cheerful

Everywhere I turn people are writing about how glad they are to see the back of 2008, despite the fact that the predictions of doom and gloom for 2009 show no signs of abating. The outlook for publishing seems particularly grim: the industry has been ailing for years, according to the gurus, and last year ended with falling sales, employee layoffs, cutbacks, threats to further reduce author advances or get rid of them altogether... But despite the clouds roiling on the publishing horizon, I'm determined to be optimistic. Hell, my angst cannot possibly affect the big outcomes, so why not eschew it and be done?

2008 was a good year for me. My first novel was published; I got paid for my writing for the first time; I completed a second novel; went back to working a day job; made new friends. My family is well. I am well. There have been setbacks and disappointments along with the good stuff, but I survived. And the older I get, the more I value the simple fact of survival.

I'm looking forward to 2009. There's more than enough to worry about in almost every sphere of life so, being contrary by nature, I plan to focus on the positives that I have some control over: the fellowship of friends and fellow writers, writing and promoting, sending novel #2 out into the world to fend for itself, reading a few good books, maybe even some great ones. Call me Pollyanna if you like; I don't mind. And, in the very likely event that my resolve wears thin at some point, I've secreted a lovely bottle of asti away in my room. Armed and ready, I am. Cheers!