Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nassau, Bahamas 21.5.1993 (2): First Morns of Creation, Fragrant Jasmine

After lunch, to the beach, this time a private beach off Cable Beach, a posh area of resorts, well-kept manors, luxury hotels. All this of course in striking contrast to the black-belt area of the city in which Reggie’s parish is, and through which we drove to get to the beach.

The beach is attached to a large house that seems to be used as a guesthouse for well-heeled tourists. A Maria someone owns it, and lets clergy use it. We got the key from the caretaker, a short Eastern European or German woman named Tanya who apologized for her muumuu, and who stumped about in heavy shoes misshapen by her thick ankles. Even though the dress was designed to drape loosely, it caught across her breasts and under her arms to trap rolls of fat.

She had hooded, heavy-lidded brown eyes, dyed red hair, a hook nose, and pretensions to culture. She bemoaned crime, and said the best protection is awareness and caution. She was actually rather nice, and I’m being a bitch in writing this description of her.

The water—indescribably blue and limpid. Where it meets the horizon it gives the deeply blue and clear sky just the faintest blush of pink, as if this scene, this sea and this sky, still recall the first morns of creation.

And one can float so easily in it, because of its salinity. And float and paddle we did for several hours.

Then Reggie drove us back through the black belt at rush hour. At one point, to avoid a parade, we detoured back in little lanes barely large enough for a car, let alone the St. Bede’s band.

One sees all the squalor of the third-world city, or the American inner city: half-finished, one-room houses with dirty sofas filling up their interior, tattered and soiled lace curtains at their one window. Everywhere Pepsi cans, broken concrete, paper, pools of dirty water, a few scraggly trees trying to survive in the muck, neglect, and smog, which is shockingly thick.

Yet at one moment, as we had stopped at a light, I looked up at the clear sky with its just-falling light of afternoon and saw a tree ready to leaf, and thought, “I’ll never see a sky just this shade, a tree just this shape against it, again.” A rare moment of feeling here, unhalved, not the observer, but the belonger . . . .

Evening, a stroll. We picked jasmine of intense—partly cinnamon, partly anise—fragrance. We met Mel, the prior, who told us of trees soon to bloom—frangipani, which he says if of intense fragrance and is thus planted in groves around temples in India, a “poor man’s orchid” tree. He pointed out an African tulip tree that had bloomed in January, and showed us papaya, grapefruit, tamarind, and mango trees, none of which bears in this season. Maybe some of the tawdriness of life in the city is mitigated by the tropical flowers. We’re here at the tail end of the dry season.

Reggie used a few interesting dialect words yesterday—She’s docking me (which he said means avoiding, pronouncing the v Cockney fashion as w, where he pronounces w’s with a slight v sound, as American black folks sometimes do); conchy Joe (white Bahamians); reds (black Bahamians with considerable white blood).

I’ve tried to sketch a poinciana tree in full bloom, just below the unfinished bell-tower of the church, but can’t get it right. The top of the tree is much flatter, so that the blooms appear as it were in a flat circle wide out from the tree’s trunk. The tree has the general shape—and leaf—of a mimosa in the South, though far fewer leaves, at least when in blossom.

No comments: