Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dominica, Paradise?

This flag of the Commonwealth of Dominica features one of two parrots that live in the rain forests of this tree clad mountainous island.  We are staying here at Soufriere, the southern village on the leeward (west) side.  
 There are sulphur springs with pools to bath in and on the shore there are hot springs seeping into the sea on the edge of the beach. Bubble Beach just below the church has a small natural spa by damning up the hot water coming out of these springs and letting it mix with the sea water where you can sit and soak. The nearer you sit to the spring the hotter the soak.  Too hot, just ease toward the sea.  We went snorkeling and found out why it's called Bubble Beach. Pea sized bubbles wobble their way to the surface as the gases are released from the ocean floor sparkling like liquid diamonds.  

Bubble Beach Spa

View from our veranda
We had a lovely Valentine's dinner last night at Cocoyeah! Fried Red Snapper with pan sauce ( to die for ) and rice/veggies, provisions finished off with fancy icy cream dish.  Wine selection wasn't great so I had a good glass of local guava juice.  It was romantic, al fresco dining inside the stone walls of an old fort or colonial structure. After dinner we went to 'hang' with some fellow visitors we had met on the island: Michael a mycologist/botanist/sustainable farmer from northern Florida, who sold me his travel binoculars cheap since he is leaving tomorrow after a month backpacking around this island; Bjorn and Laura, Danish backpackers sharing a house with a couple of young travelling German women. And also at the gathering were Derek the twenty something Dive master, Jayni, also a Dominican diver and finally John, a Brit who is managing a small eco-resort here and who is a Free Diver.  I picked his brain about that after folks talked about his death wish.  He does seem to be attracted to risky occupations as he worked on a snake farm in Africa with many poisonous snakes including the Black Mambo. Trivia: you can swallow the venom and if you have no ulcers , the venom won't harm you.  Free Diving is the sport of diving to depths while holding your breath, without dive tanks etc.  John can hold his breath for over three minutes and has dove to 240 feet of depth.  He talked about the body's challenges and how to do it. He said that when you relax and push past the initial urge to draw a breath, the urge subsides and if you can equalize under the pressure of the depth, you can stay down longer.  My only exposure to Free Diving was an article many years ago about a competitive Free Diver who died by pushing beyond what is reasonable.  John said her practises of assisted submersion (with weights or a motorized device) are no longer used.  In some ways it is safer than scuba because there is no need for decompression stops on the way up and no build up of nitrogen. 

The jam last night was pretty funny as Bjorn and Yata made lyrics about John the Deathwish Diver and Derek the 3D diver; Derek the Dominican Diver.

Roseau is the capital of the island and only about fifteen minutes away, up the coast.  We took a bus/van in on Monday to stock up on groceries and get the lay of the land.  It's classic small, old Caribbean style with some of the older structures draped with hundreds of electric cables.  We found
 a nice little lunch place after asking a local young man for his recommenations. Gouyae, a lunch counter that was serving Corn-crusted Mahi Mahi with rice and provisions.  Excellent!  So good we ordered an extra serving of Mahi for only $3!  Groceries here are quite high priced.  While Antigua had subsidized chicken, this island doesn't seem to offer that but it has more access to seafood. So we've already had great fresh from the sea meals.  No great meals from our home kitchen. Although the pictures on the AirBnB listing made the kitchen look as if it was going to be a chef's dream, instead it is one of the most poorly equipped kitchens I've ever used. No blender, masher; bad pans, etc.   Oh well, that forces some creativity.  While in Roseau we found the local vegetable market and bought amongst other things, a bunch of passion fruit.  This yellow/red fruit opens to find an orange tangy pulp surrounding small edible seeds.  It's tart and needs a bit of sweetening but is a great flavor.  I'll have to see what more I can do with it other than putting some on our yogurt for breakfast.

We plan on doing more snorkeling while we are here and some hiking. There is a hiking trail that traverses the island from this southwest corner to the northeast corner and goes through the Kalinago Territory which is where the last living native Caribbeans live.  Bjorn hiked through that area and said what should have taken six hours took two days because 'people kept giving  us things'. They were very friendly and generous apparently. Derek said they are friendly to tourists but don't like the native Dominicans.  Hmmm, I'm sure there is some history behind that.  I'd like to hike this area and meet these people.  Apparently they look more like south and central Americans indigenous people, the Maya, Aztec, and such.

Oh, and is this paradise? Pretty close. Perfect climate if you like mostly warm and sunny (we do). Lush land with an abundance of free food; plants and seafood. Little or no mosquitoes!  No poisonous or dangerous animals or reptiles.

We are here for a few more weeks and should experience Carnival here. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Villa Dysfuncion

Week five Antigua. Feb 5th-12th

This is our last week on Antigua. Sunday we fly to the country/island of Dominica.  Sounds quite different than this island, a tired money-laundering (historically) over used tourism country.
Out for an evening walk

Do I sound a bit jaded.  I know it may sound like all our travels are fun and games, lying in a hammock strumming a guitar or cooking up some gourmet creation but one must take the bad with the good.  We love this style of travel;  booking rooms, apartments, cottages and all the unique travelers and hosts that we meet from around the world.  But of course once in a while you get the bad that I mention.

This home we are staying in is lovely, on the internet, on AirBnb's website. It shows a swimming pool through a pair of palm trees, a large bedroom and modern bathroom en suite as well as a large open plan living room, kitchen.  It is surrounded entirely by a ten foot wide veranda and it is up the hill a ways and has a nice view out to sea as well as sea breezes most of the time.  But, it should be called Villa Disfunction.  I recall my first impressions as we came in, walked up the unswept stairs, saw the dog foot prints all over the deck and chewed up cardboard scraps lying around the deck that I thought....hmmmm.  Then inside, the white painted cupboards all finger printed and in need of scrubbing.  Our bedroom though, has always been an oasis. We have a very comfortable king size bed with good linens which Yata launders at least once a week.  And we have pretty good wifi so we can take care of work and communications handily.  And even watch a Netflix movie once in a while. (The Art of Cia Qhoung, sp?) was an inspiring one.

Twice in the last three weeks the water quit and it takes nearly 24 hours for someone to come and repair it; apparently air gets into the line and then needs to be bled and the host, Adrienne hasn't learned how to do this.  So we use water from the swimming pool to flush the toilets and we have bottled water for drinking and cooking. But one of the most annoying things are the two stray dogs Adrienne has adopted who are mostly starving for attention, left chained on the deck and when released run and wrestle and harass each other and us. They are completely untrained and bark at all hours, often waking us from a deep sleep.

There is more, but I'll save that for the AirBnb review.  That's the thing, you can usually depend on the reviews in AirBnB and Adrienne had at least four top rating reviews. But in hindsight, they look as if they were young travelers who wouldn't notice the lack of cleanliness and were just out to party. Like Adrienne said, 'when I pick them up at the airport, they want to go to the bars before they even head to the house.'

Besides meeting CJ the Aussie who took us to a Cricket game and taught us the rules, we've also had Filip and Anna as fellow guests.  Filip, about thirty years old, is a salesman for a Heating and Cooling business from Prague, Czech Republic and Anna is his Russian girlfriend.  They were diligent about practicing their English and going to the beaches, everyday, of which there are many on this island that boasts 365, one for each day of the year.  We shared a driver to the beach a couple times and enjoyed meeting them and the driver, Denzel.

Denzel is probably the best driver we've ever had, in any of our eighteen years of travel. Nice van, slow pace, and very punctual. Often times, he would come even earlier than we said, 'just to be sure'.

Let's finish this blog with a recipe:

Kohl Crop Salad with Turkey Bacon:
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon spice (either Garam Masala, Cajun, West Indies curry, take your choice)
Broccoli  1cup cut into florets
Cauliflower 1cup cut to same size
Kale leaves, 3 cups, destemmed and ripped
1 cup of cooked garbanzo beans
Six strips of turkey bacon, cooked and torn into 1 inch pieces

1 large clove of garlic, in the skin, slightly crushed
2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Plain Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1- 2 Tablespoons fresh Lemon Juice

In a bowl combine olive oil, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower and spices
Mix to coat, pour onto baking sheet
Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 min, turning periodically.
Add kale leaves, stir and continue to roast five minutes more.
Remove from oven set aside. Remove garlic clove and add to the dressing ingredients.

Meanwhile blend in food processor: all the dressing ingredients adding the de-skinned roasted garlic clove.

Salt and pepper to taste.   Pour dressing over vegetables add garbanzos and bacon pieces and mix.
Serves 2 as a main course, four as a side dish.

Self Portrait, watercolor

Just above our rental here on Buckley Heights of Antigua is a large home of grey unstained wood. Its large veranda overlooks the island to the north and out to sea. This is the home of Jan Farara and her husband David.  I looked her up online and was impressed with her strong colorful acrylic paintings depicting island life. I gave her a call and she invited us up the same day to meet.

She grew up in England, sailed the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to work in the Charter Sailing business of the Caribbean. Eventually she settled on this island, ran a restaurant for years and in the last decade or so has gone to art as a career.

Jan is an attractive woman in her seventh decade with the energy of a thirty year old. She is outgoing and generous.  Her husband, a gentle quiet man, David is a few years younger than Jan, as she often reminds us and seems dedicated to making Jan and her art become a success.

Jan sells most of her work to the 1% crowd that lives on the Jumby Bay Island,  a high end resort and villa  packed islet just off the north coast of Antigua.  As she says, "it's just chump change to them".
We've learned that many of these people are temporary as many of them are in exile from legal states. In fact financially people on this island are in a banking purgatory where they can't make many financial transactions due to the offshore gambling and money laundering that occurred here in the past and was shut down by the US government.  So often one will hear of a person who came to the island, invested or enticed others to invest and began a large scale project only to be stalled when they ended up in prison.  Unfortunately an far too common occurence.

But life goes on amongst us 99% and we enjoy life regardless of the mechanations of the economic elite.  Tonight we had a most wonderful time and fabulous food and wine on Jan and David's veranda. A rain storm passed over the island creating a double rainbow and

We had walked up to Jan and David's since it is literally just above our home.  Teddy the little white fluff ball of a dog like young cheerleader, all bouncy and bright greeted us at the door.  Yata entertained us with some songs while Jan sang a few as well. A bit later Carol and her husband Arthur joined us. They've had a winter home here for decades.  These Americans talk about what this island was like twenty eight years ago, how people still transported goods on donkeys and women carried baskets on their heads.  There were very few cars. On the other hand, this year alone has seen a 40% increase in the number of cars on the poor quality roads.   

Jan set a lovely table. 
The main entree was an amazing bowl of Seafood chowder. I picked Jan's brain to learn about her process after they mentioned a number of times how difficult and how much time it took to make the base.  Apparently they take the lobster carcass, pound it into pieces, oil it and roast it with onions and garlic. Then on the stove top cover the roast lobster with broth is, sherry, white wine wine, mirapoix and whatever and then simmered  with fish broth until it is quite concentrated and strong.    Strain it through a sieve squeezing out juices. This can be frozen for future use.
To make the chowder, simmer this concentrate with cream, fish broth, fried bacon, potatoes, mussels, sauted garlic and onion, brandy, salt and pepper. 

Jan served this fabulous dish with french bread. I contributed a salad and fresh baked coconut macaroons. 

I have finally broken my art slump and have been busy painting the last week.  Here area  a few examples:
Bougainvilla, acrylic and watercolor on paper

Bouganvilla and Fern, watercolor and acrylic on paper

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Goat Water? Banana Soup?

Goat Water
I know it doesn't look great and sounds even worse, but it was fabulous with a hint of clove and cinnamon.  Goat water is similar to beef stew but instead of beef broth and meat you would use goat meat and broth with Caribbean spices as I mentioned earlier.  They also offered Conch Water. Maybe next time.  This was at Dan's our closest commercial establishment here in Buckley Heights.

That was our first local fare. I'd heard of Goat Water but not sure if this is strictly Antiguan or Caribbean. Other than that I haven't found many restaurants offering local fare, instead we've gone to some great entertainment venues with high end menus in the harbors which serve the boating tourists.  So we've enjoyed the great sounds of Asher Otto and ItchyFeet while sipping on Chilean wine and savouring a brick oven pizza, for example.
Yata, Adrienne, Jean and CJ

But I have been enjoying the use of a good kitchen in our AirBnB lodging.  In the back yard we have a papaya tree and some banana plants. The bananas are quite green but green bananas are used here for savory dishes and I made a banana soup.

Banana Soup
serves 4


4 T butter
3-4 cups of pealed and chopped green bananas
2 cups of chopped sweet potato or carrots
1 medium onion diced
2 bay leaves
6 peeled cloves of garlic
8 cups of water or stock (vegetable)
1T  Caribbean curry (turmeric, ginger,cinnamon, cardamon, etc.)
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion, garlic, sweet potato, banana for 7-10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer until bananas and potatoes are soft (about 20 minutes). Let cool, and then blend until smooth. Return to low heat.  
Salt and pepper to taste. 
Sprinkle with dash of fresh grated nutmeg and serve.

(2-3 cups of cheddar cheese can also be added in the final reheat to melt.)

Antiguan History

Nelson's Dockyard
In the Southeast corner of the island is a UNESCO Historic site, Nelson's Dockyard, a compound of buildings built in the 18th century by the British to serve the nautical industry, commercial as well as military. It was named in memory of Horatio Nelson of the Battle of Trafalgar. He had spent some time in the area and had married a woman from the nearby island of Nevis.  The Dockyards have been restored and maintained to impeccable standards. Many of the buildings have been converted to hotel, restaurants, and shops.
The pillars
This photo shows one side of a row of pillars. With the other row these twelve foot high erections held up the roof of the boathouse in Nelson's Dockyard.  The concrete cap on top was added to prevent erosion of the pillars. We found a tiny beach between the rows where we spent a few hours reading and relaxing.
Interior of the Officer's Quarters, now an office space at Nelson's Dockyard

Shirley Heights Outpost
High above Nelson's Dockyard Shirley Heights has a stellar view of the bay and harbors below.

A bit of history:
The island was settled over 4000 years ago by Archaic Age fisher/forgers. They are believed to have originated in South America. During the first millennium BC they were displaced by the Arawak also from South America. Europeans arrived in 1493 with settlers arriving in 1632. Most historians credit Edward Warner as the first successful colonizer of the island. African slaves were introduced to build the structures  such as Nelson's Dockyard and Shirley Heights. The main resource that was treasured by Europeans and eventually North Americans, was sugar. The first large scale sugar plantation was established in 1674 causing a vast forest to be eliminated. There were slave uprisings in 1728 and 1736. Slavery was abolished in 1834 but slaves were still economically enslaved to the plantation owners. In 1846 two thousand Portuguese were imported to work the plantations and in the early 1900's Lebanese arrived as 'peddlers'. 
Due to a change in how payment for labor was rewarded in the cane business, the Riot of 9 March 1918 ensued. Many died and the cane planter's decision was reversed. 
The Antigua Trades and Labor Union was instigated in 1938/9 and many workers joined and ushered in better working conditions for the workers. VC Bird, the second president of the union made great strides. The Antigua airport is named in his honor. 
The US Military base opened in 1941 as sugar was declining in importance for the island. 
The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) with its trade union base won nearly all elections and under Bird's administration, Antigua gained independence in association with Great Britain in 1967 and full independence in 1981. 

Don't forget Barbuda!
This smaller island with a population of around 2000 lies thirty miles north of Antigua. With European colonists it was held privately by the Codrington family then as a Crown colony and later as a dependency of Antigua. 

Antigua West Indies: CJ & Adrienne

English Harbor from Shirley Heights
We arrived on Antigua island this last Wednesday, it being Saturday morning now.  Antigua is typical of other Caribbean islands that we've visitied, sunny, colorful and warm.  We're staying at a home in Buckley Heights in the center of this fairly small island about ten miles from all the beaches.  We have a pool and a large comfortable bed where we've been sleeping soundly each night since we arrived. We share this home surrounded by a large verandah overlooking the island and sea with CJ and Adrienne. CJ is a physical therapist for the world champion West Indies Cricket Team.

As I always say, one of my favorite things about travel is meeting people.  Each person you meet has the potential for such amazing life stories.  The downside is that if you compare your own life to these folks your own life can at times come off as dull. CJ's life ( he's in his forties), started in rural Australia on a family farm. He is very athletic and formerly played semi-pro basketball for an Australian team. He actually started when he was only sixteen and played for ten years. He was a guard with an average of 23 points per game.  Eventually he moved on to become a physical therapist to the king of Sri Lanka. There he met his wife a Brit who was working for Princess Diana's initiative clearing land mines from northern Sri Lanka.  CJ is a modest gentleman, lacking in any sort of bluster and we enjoyed watching the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys last weekend with him. He promises to take us to a cricket match later in our trip and teach us more about that sport. He's also helping Yata write the song "We Speak our Own Lang" contributing colorful Aussie expressions.  For example, referring to something that is ruined, the expression would say it is 'crash'. That confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVoss was crash.

Adrienne, our host, is a high energy African American who grew up in Queens, working in her family business, a restaurant.  She's ambitious and somewhat fearless as she moved here to Antigua after a short vacation, to rent a home and work two jobs.  She's currently renting this home we're in, with three bedrooms. She rents out the other two bedrooms through AirBnB which is how we found it. She loves music and is quite social so she encourages us to go out everyday to hear music or visit the island highlights and drives us there.  English Harbor is an area on the southern coast that has is a tourist and yachter's area. There we found live music in three locations our first night out.  Pretty interesting people watching, trying to imagine people's stories.  Is this angular tan man the owner of one of these yachts in the harbor and the languid young beauties his companions/entertainment?  Or how about the bucktoothed woman in the dowdy attire dancing with the serious faced man; are they on a date? Islanders?  I do like the way people are very diverse here. Color and class seem to be of little concern.  On the other hand, staff in many of the local establishments, not all, but some are so somber and at times downright rude.  We ate in one restaurant where the waitress boldly continued to pick her nose after I caught her eye.  Then when she served the roti with what turned out to be mango chutney which I'm allergic to, and was told, impudently turned and walked away with no concern or possibly disdain. As the saying goes, " You meet all kinds". Again, it's what makes travel interesting. The good with the bad.

A funny story Adrienne tells is how she was driving home from a night of partying, drunk...yes there is no law against driving drunk here, and she had to pee something fierce. Spotting a local cop shop she pulled in, ran in the front door,said, "I have to pee!"  They didn't think it was clean enough for her but she insisted and when she exited, proceeded to befriend the cops in the stations.  She asked them for directions and instead of telling her, gave her a police escort! Later, one of the police officers ran into her socially and told the story of 'how he met Adrienne".  When she goes home to the states, she may need to reacclimate!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Art of Collecting Art

Isn't the whole point of things, beautiful things, that they connect you to some larger beauty. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

I am an art collector and I am an artist. Those are two identities that I claimed with a bit of self doubt at one time in my life. First came the title artist. As a child, being an artist was one of three potential chosen professions. But being an art collector; hadn’t crossed my mind until years after I had begun to collect art. Like calling myself an artist, thinking of myself as an art collector somehow seemed too high blown for someone like myself raised in a working class family from Iowa. Both the title artist and art collector beg the question of definition. Being an artist is easier to define, whether we are talking professional or amatuer, an artist is someone who makes art. But then does it follow that an art collector is someone who collects art? Of course that is the case. But I think what is even more important is to differentiate  an art collector from someone who buys art simply for decoration. An art collector is someone who loves art. Whether it is the beauty or the perfection of design or a myriad of other emotionally and intellectually scintillating effects, the work of art sets the heart afire. The pulse increases, the air you breath somehow seems lighter and more invigorating. As Donna Tartt's character in The Goldfinch says,

A really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles in ways that are unique and very particular, 'yours yours I was painted for you?'

Historically when I've purchased art, it was not something I expected to do at that time. In fact when I have gone looking to purchase, intentionally from an artist, I've rarely done so. For example, I was at an art opening of artist Stephanie Molstre-Kotz and had made the circuit around the gallery to see her art. I thought it was very nice but nothing particularly hit me. About a half hour later I was standing talking to another attendee looking over the shoulder of this person and I semi-consciously saw one of the paintings, a nude lying on her side that I had seen earlier. But this time it hit me, wow! That's's great! I have to have it. Another time, I was at an artist’s reception for a group art exhibit. The artists were asked to talk about their work and while Richard Brown, a sculptor, was talking about his work I suddenly realized that I had to have one of his sculptures in the exhibit.  I felt anxious and was concerned that someone else was thinking like me and would purchase it before I could, before he even finished his ten minute talk. Irrational I know, but those are the sorts of impulses that drive my collecting.  Another time I saw one of Derek Davis’s paintings online, on facebook!  It made me feel something...more than simply being impressed with his skill, the image struck me; the way the light of the winter day refracted off the fallen tree so crisply and the cool and warm shadows that were cast onto the snow.  I had to have it.  It was the perfect melding of mind and body response. Entirely positive.  Again, Donna Tartt describes the phenomenon,

Images that strike the heart and set it blooming like a flowers. Images that open up some much larger beauty.

There are many types of art collectors and many different reasons and methods. Some more planned and intentional, others more economically driven and another more driven by emotion. As varied as humans are they can range from the famous art collectors such as J. Paul Getty to the humble art student who trades with her fellow  student for works of art.  Interestingly, a collector like Getty actually manipulates the art market simply through the act of collecting art. A piece of art that finds itself in such a vaulted collection can easily double in value simply by the association with such a highly respected collection. The provenance of the painting is golden!

Provenance is everything when it comes to the economic and sometimes emotional value of a piece of art and provenance includes many things but especially the history of the painting, from its creation through its sales history.  Even the title of the work of art is important in its provenance.  Two paintings being equal; the painting with a title is worth more than the one without.  And too, an interesting history, a unique story associated with the story can also have a positive influence on the value of the work of art; for who doesn’t love a good story. The veracity of a good story is important and of course, proof of provenance includes bills of sale and additional associated records. Below is a list compiled by myself and  Art Business News of recommended documentation to include with an art sale and painting records.

* Receipts, certificates of authenticity and other relevant written or printed materials.
* What the art means or what its significance is, either according to the artist or to the gallery that sold it to you.
* Date and place of creation.
* Any stories the sellers/artist tell you specifically relating to the art.
* Any memorable moments about making the purchases.
* Biographical and career information about the artists.
* How or why or any other information about the ways the artists made them.
* Materials and methods of the work.
* Exhibition history of the work
* Save all related books, exhibit catalogues, gallery brochures, reviews and the like.
* Whenever possible, photograph the artists who you collect, especially photograph the artist with the art. Have them sign or inscribe catalogues or gallery invitations for you.

Another distinguishing feature of a good collection is its intentionality or focus.  Is there a theme or a purpose to the collection. A theme may include such things as winter paintings, a certain subject rendered in various media, such as trees, or marine subjects such as the Minnesota Marine Art Museum is centered around.  Or maybe you are intrigued by a certain school of work such as the Northwest US glass artist’s movement.

A collection can be organized in many ways including by date, artist, style, or region. Or it can also be divided into subtopics. For example:
* Pepin County Wisconsin artists organized by date.
* Still life painting of Pepin County artists.
* Still life painting of Pepin County artists including  native trees, plants and other forms of vegetation.
* Nineteenth century paintings of Pepin County artists.
* Modernist painting by Pepin County artists.
* Small format paintings of Pepin County artists organized by size.
* Watercolors of Pepin County artist.

Collecting art can also be an intellectual exercise.  If you don’t personally know the artist, research the artist and their sales history.  A well organized collection can often be more valuable as a whole than the sum of the individual works.  One new art collector was told by the great collector Chandler Coventry to try and amass as many diverse pieces by an artist as possible, and these include incongruous works, so by the time your collection is mature, you have depth and breadth.

Head and heart. Someone once said that when you look at art that moves you, you see it with your eyes but that it goes directly to the heart, bypassing the brain.  Another says, ‘it’s like falling in love’, which may be the closest to the truth yet.


Donna Tart, (October 2013), The Goldfinch, Little Brown and Company, Art Provenance: What it is and how to verify it. Art Business News, How to Collect & Buy Art, Art Business News