As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

On the Way to Joseph and Janet Jones’ Exhibit at Harmony Hall

The trip to Harmony Hall was picturesque.

The trip to Harmony Hall was picturesque.

Today I went to Harmony Hall which is Antigua’s most prestigious art gallery. Built on the ruins of an old plantation, its structure is a stunning work of stone nestled on a cliff, giving it a picturesque view. The gallery is a little out of the way, but the drive passes a really scenic lookout that’s worth stopping off at. The gallery also has a great restaurant overlooking that cliff so that patrons can enjoy lunch and a visit to the gallery together as a relaxing and stimulating day trip.

Joseph Jones and myself looking at some of his photographs that I especially liked.

Joseph Jones and myself looking at some of his photographs that I especially liked (photo courtesy of Sara Jones).

The exhibit “Oh Antigua and Barbuda” being launched today was a collection of works by noted local photographers Joseph and Janet Jones. It was a candid and insightful glimpse into local life in Antigua and Barbuda as captured through the lenses of this talented husband and wife team. Photos such as “Sunday Morning at the Standpipe”, “A New Take on an Old Tradition”, and “The Pageant I” showed exactly what is unique about Antigua and Barbuda, while capturing people just going about the course of living life here. I appreciated this rare opportunity to see such an honest and sympathetic portrayal of local life … which was also somewhat of a time capsule since the aspects of life that it so touchingly captures, are also aspects of life that are rapidly changing here.

Kites Interspersed by Clouds

As a boy in Antigua I used to fly kites in the cow pasture near our home on Browns Avenue. I believe the cow pasture is now gone as in front of the land where it was there is currently a Chinese take-out restaurant. The restaurant seems to me like a bird that has been blown so far off course it has no hope of returning; but having reconciled itself with where it is it’s come to love its new home. The restaurant seems to do good business.

I rarely see any kites in the air these days. Yet driving back to St. Johns from English Harbour today I looked up and was surprised to see the same six sided kites that a Rastaman taught me how to make when I was young. I pulled down the road the kites seemed to be flying above and saw a bunch of young boys gathered loosely around a snack stall at the entrance to a school yard. The kite strings seemed to emanate from the yard itself. One of the boys smiled and said very politely “good afternoon sir”. I returned the greeting, very impressed with his politeness.

I took a couple of photos of the kites lolling about in the sky and contemplated this pace of life enjoyed by some here, where a break in the day is plenty of time for the most enjoyable pursuit of nothing at all … like flying a kite.

Tales of Eating Tarpon from Locals Fishing at Darkwood

Antigua is currently experiencing a bit of a drought so the brackish water pond beside Darkwood beach is definitely getting much shallower so the tarpon and small fish named callie in that pond are unusually concentrated and likely much easier to catch than normal. On my trip to beautiful Darkwood beach today for my daily swim I saw some young men in the distance fishing in that pond. Curious to see what they were fishing for I made my way over.

I said my greetings and soon got to chatting with them. I’ve seen many tarpon jumping there so I asked if they ever caught any with the hand lines they were using. “No man” one answered. “The tarpon when they get big you can’t catch them on the line. You have to net them”. I wondered why they would net them. I’ve always heard that tarpon are inedible. In fact if you Google “are tarpon edible”, among the hundreds of articles telling you that they are too bony to be edible, you may not find a single article that telling you that they are. This never quite made sense to me. Especially in the West Indies, picking through bones was just always part of eating fish as far as I knew. Bone-free fillets is one way of preparing fish …  but in these days of ecological awareness restricting oneself to just this mode of preparation would seem to be far too wasteful of precious natural resources (the fish) to be conscionable.

Speaking to the young men I was delighted to learn that tarpon is used to make a local dish called shad which I was told is often served with a polenta-like local dish called fungi, and a mix of cooked greens called chop-up. Chop-up they said is made from eggpland, spinach, okra, and a type of cactus (which they called cassie), all mashed up together. “A man meal deh” the young man commented. “Strong!” one of the other ones added for emphasis. Being a big fan of healthy eating through the consumption of diets richer in vegetables (particularly local vegetables), I made a mental note to learn more.

I was glad to hear than Antiguan country people had once again nonchalantly jumped decades ahead of the times in making efficient use of the tarpon flesh as a renewable resource that others might have left unused. Still I wondered how they did it where so many others appear to have failed. “You have to pull the tarpon (stretch it) when you just catch it” the first young man told me in answer to that question. “My grandfather taught me to do it. Then when it’s cooked there’s more space between the bones”.

The young men informed me that I could taste tarpon cooked in the local dish “shad” at Antigua’s  National Food Fair in November. But they left me with one word of advice should I try to cook tarpon on my own. “With the tarpon you use the young ones … understand”?

A Little Fishin’ at Devil’s Bridge in Antigua

A little fishing is a good reward for a productive day writing so after having had a couple consecutive such days I figured I was due. Of course I didn’t count the fishing I did yesterday because I didn’t catch anything. Usually in the late afternoon I head out to get some sun therapy (my name for lying in the sun) along with some exercise on the beach. But having convinced myself there was a big wahoo or barracuda close to shore that was waiting for me … I passed up my normal routine for the chance to cash in on my “go fishing in Antigua” card.

I’ve seen Devil’s bridge many times from the water on trips to the offshore islands but visiting it today from shore I got a chance to see how truly alien a landscape it is. The waves there crash against bare jagged rock with fearsome power. Ashton Williams, one of the leaders of the local Environmental Awareness Group, told me the story of how the place got it’s name. He said that in slavery days some black men and women would decide to end their suffering by walking into the sea there where they could never be rescued. Their masters, he said, were horrified at the loss of good stock and so came up with the story that anyone who walked off those cliffs would be leaving slavery only to commit themselves to the endless torment of hell. Thus the name “Devil’s Bridge”. Looking over the edge at the bone crushing surf and marrow splitting rocks, even now with the benefit of all my scientific training I was not certain that they were wrong.

But bridge to the Devil’s lair or not … the dream of catching a wild Antiguan wahoo was still calling me. I baited my hook and cast into the roiling surf … waiting to hook whatever was strong enough to brave those fearful natural forces.

Horse Riding Tours to the Beach in Antigua

Horse riding in Antigua has got to be an adventure and a half.  Isolated trails seem less the norm than trails next to roadways where inexperienced riders have the comfort of knowing that the chase car can come get them if they decide to just stop off at any point. But just about everywhere is scenic in Antigua so a trail next to a road is a trail next to a road in paradise. Definitely a winning choice of excursion for today being Valentines day.

I wasn’t riding with the group today and met them by accident as I was leaving the beach. Seeing them was quite a coincidence as I had just heard a show about a “horse whisperer” on BBC radio and was thinking about how powerful a concept it was to watch a horse’s behavior and to respond to that behavior in a way that builds the horse’s trust and makes it want to do whats desired for it to do. No doubt a powerful concept not just with horses but with all living creatures … including humans.

However the tourists riding those horses today were very entertainingly not horse whisperers. As they tugged on the reins without any clear direction while verbally asking the horse to go that way, I smiled wondering if they knew that horses don’t speak English … or for that matter American. The handler who was on another horse himself gave the tourists patient and knowledgeable instructions. The tourists didn’t seem to hear  him and instead repeated their instructions to the horse more slowly.

Eventually one tourist responded … asking the handler “can you tell him to turn”? By “him” the tourist meant the horse which of course was female. Perhaps it did understand and just took offense, or perhaps it decided that it’s rider wasn’t making any sense, whatever the reason it appeared to tune the tourist out as it noisily relieved itself then began to eat the tasty grass in front of it.

York Island Offshore of Antigua

After a number of great trips with the EAG I got to know Donald (the field excursion leader) as a friend. But as happens sometimes, Donald has moved on to other opportunities. The new field excursion leader is a bright young microbiology PhD graduate named Karron James. Today I went out to York Island with Karron, along with another EAG board of directors member named Ashton Williams, and the field technicians Shawn and Tahambay who are always an integral part of the excursions onto the islands. The purpose of this excursion was to bait and monitor traps to keep rats off the island in order to protect the ecology of the island.

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