Right Steps & Poui Trees


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Reading, I’d Rather Be Reading: Weekly Photo Challenge – I’d Rather Be…

“You’ve likely seen a bumper sticker or a sign that reads “I’d rather be…” How would you fill in the blank? Golfing? Running? Fishing? Something else entirely? What activity do you enjoy most?”

This week’s challenge was an easy one for me. Reading. I’d rather be reading.IMG_20180315_073056

Weekly Photo Challenge – I’d Rather Be…

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8 Books I Plan To Reread This Year

three-booksWhen I think about it, there are not that many books that I have reread over the years, though there have always been some books that I have intended to reread. So this year, I’m going to do some intentional rereading and here are eight books on my list.

1. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

I read this when I was 12 or 13 and it consumed me for a couple of weeks. I squeezed it into every spare moment. I remember a few times being so engrossed reading it on the bus from school that I missed my usual bus stop and had a longer walk home than usual. I cried when I finished it, as I wanted the fantastical journey to go on forever. My older brother was surprised to find out recently that I had never reread Lord of the Rings, as he says he rereads it every few years.

2. Augustown by Kei Miller

As soon as I finished reading Augustown a few weeks ago, I had an immediate impulse to go to the beginning and start reading it again. As though there was some seamless way in which this story could (should) keep playing out. I can’t remember ever having had that impulse with another book. There is a compelling mix of the historical story of Bedward, the groundedness of people and communities dealing with real life in the 80s and the mythical and fabulous running through it all. Cutting of hair was revived in Jamaican public discourse last year, demonstrating that things past are still present and things fictional are often not fictional at all.

3. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is the first of Adichie’s books that I read and I felt its impact for a long time after I read it. There is something monumental about the novel, which captures brilliantly that sense of people living their lives into and through a major historical event or period. As the reader, you may know to some degree the outcome of the event or the details of the period, but what you don’t know is what will happen to the fictional characters. When I read this time,  I will already know what happens in this novel about the Nigeria-Biafra war. And I want to see what difference that makes to how I experience this amazing story.

 

young-warriors4. Young Warriors by V.S. Reid

A childhood favourite. My brothers and I went through multiple copies of this children’s novel. Maroon boys helping to defeat Red Coats was good fun. I have read it to younger siblings and cousins and my own children as well, but I’d like to reread it myself one more time, just for fun.

 

5. 1984 by George Orwell

Because of Donald Trump.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Also because of Donald Trump. By chance, I was reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower at the time of the US election last November and then read Parable of the Talents soon after, both about people trying to survive in a dystopian America. Which was rather eerie. A time for dystopian novels?

the-middle-passage7. The Middle Passage: The Caribbean revisited by V. S. Naipaul

When I was eighteen I read and enjoyed Naipaul’s The Mystic Masseur and Miguel Street. On a Naipaul streak, I then read The Middle Passage. I disliked the book so intensely that it put me off Naipaul for life. Seriously, I have never read any of Naipaul’s other books, fiction or non-fiction. It is a rather shameful admission to make! I have bought a number of his books since then and have long intended to give him another try, but haven’t. So I intend to reread The Middle Passage to see how (if) decades more of living have changed my reaction. Then, perhaps, more Naipaul….

8. Summer Lightning and Other Stories by Olive Senior

This is one of my favourite collections of short stories; I still remember how much I enjoyed it when I first read it back in the late 80s. I have reread individual stories since, but not the entire volume. One story has  perhaps the most intriguing story title I have encountered – “Do Angels Wear Brassieres?” I will have to buy a new copy of the book , as I can’t find my old copy. (Trying to remember if I lent it to someone….)

There are some books I read and enjoyed decades ago that I wouldn’t attempt to read again, as I know that I wouldn’t enjoy them as much now. But it will be interesting to revisit the books on my list as a different reader and to see how that and the passage of time affects the experience. The two books that I read most recently will both stand rereading – Half of a Yellow Sun ( a few years ago) and Augustown (a few weeks ago) – and I  look forward to going beyond the experience of first reading to something more.

(This also makes me think of looking at the books I have reread in the past and my reasons for doing so. Another blog post.)

 

 


Add Kei Miller’s “Augustown” to Your To-Read List

I am currently in that temporary space that I sometimes occupy having just finished a book that has captured my imagination for days or weeks, depending on how long it has taken me to read it. The book is finished but I am still inhabiting its world, unwilling or unable to let its time, its place, its people go. This time the book that I have finished but have not yet left is Kei Miller’s novel “Augustown”.augustown

The novel is set in the fictional community of Augustown, geographically located at 17° 59′ 0″ North, 76° 44′ 0″ West, we are told, “a community that bears an uncanny resemblance to and shares a parallel history with a very real place: August Town, Jamaica.” The novel moves between the 1920s and the 1980s and as the narrator says:

“When the past takes hold of us, it does not let go easily. We find ourselves, miraculously, in two places at once.”

Every character in the novel feels as though s/he has been well-seasoned and simmered long. You learn more about some than others, savour some more than others, which is the way with any book. “Irie Tafari, otherwise known as Ma Taffy” is the blind, old woman who bridges the two places in time, telling the story of Alexander Bedward, the flying preacherman, even as we are shepherded towards the autoclaps that takes place in the 1980s. Because when young Kaia runs home crying and tells Ma Taffy “Is the teacher, Grandma. Is Mr Saint-Josephs who cut off my dreadlocks”, you know it can’t end just so. You know, as Ma Taffy knows before she even knows what was done to Kaia, that it can’t end just so:

Ma Taffy lifts the spliff back to her mouth. She is growing nervous. Another coming autoclaps. ‘Steady your heart, Taffy, ‘she whispers to herself. ‘Steady.’

So you journey through time and place, walking into the lives of the characters – Bongo Moody, Mrs G, Miss G, Mr Saint-Josephs, his wife Mary, Governor Leslie Probyn, Sister Gilzene, Soft-Paw and others – and whether you walk with a character for a mile or only a few fleeting steps, you feel you have glimpsed someone real, or someone who could have been real. (Brief note – the only one that feels undone to me is Richard Azaar, the “brash businessman”, who could have done with a pinch more seasoning and half-an-hour more on the stove.)

The novel is an exercise in story-telling, quite explicitly, and has the feel of a fable, of folklore. The story of Bedward, from one perspective or another, is part of both Jamaican history and Jamaican folklore. The story of Rastas having their locks trimmed is also part of Jamaican history and a legendary image of abuse. Kei Miller easily mixes mythical threads with excerpts from Gleaner archives, as he tells a deeply moving story of individual lives and of divisions – class, colour, race, religion, culture –  and the impact on people and communities. Things that are past but are still present.

If you haven’t already, you might want to read “Augustown”.


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The Old Sangster’s Book Store Building: A Liguanea Landmark Comes Down

Driving past the old Sangster’s Book Store building in Liguanea last week, I noticed how derelict it was looking and thought briefly about the fact that it had been a Liguanea landmark since my childhood. Then yesterday I saw this tweet:old-sangsters-tweet-11-12-16I sent a quick replyold-sangsters-tweet-reply-11-12-16and then grabbed my camera and headed for the location to see if I could capture something of the demolition of this old building.

The Sangster’s Bookstores website  has a brief history of the business, which indicates that the Liguanea branch was established in 1951.sangsters-history-re-liguanea-branch

It was located at one end of the island that sits at the intersection of Old Hope Road and Mona Road, sandwiched between the Standpipe community and what is now the US Embassy, which used to be the Bamboo Pen property.google-map-location-of-old-sangsters-bookstore-buildingThis was the first bookstore that I actually remember spending time at and over the years I spent many happy hours browsing there. It was also a convenient place to buy school books or supplies. During the 1970s, the supply of books became rather sparse, with the difficulties in importing things during those years. Later on I bought my first art book ever at Sangster’s, the most expensive book I’d bought till that point. A beautiful book about René Magritte, the surrealist painter whose work I loved. It cost J$61.65, which was an extremely extravagant purchase for a young teacher whose monthly take home pay at the time was less than J$400.

I still remember the closing down sale held before the store  was relocated to Sovereign Centre in the early 1990s; all of the Penguin paperbacks were on sale at sharply discounted prices and I bought a lot of them, some of which I still have.

When I got to the location , the excavator was busy at work, with a couple of trucks being filled with debris.p1050480

Much of the building was already gone.p1050428The intersection will certainly look very different when it’s all cleared.P1050441.JPGA young woman there asked me if I liked what I saw; I said I had known the building for a long time, but that it had been in a bad condition. She said yes, it had been condemned and it was time it was torn down. One of the workmen asked me if I was the client, as he had seen me taking a lot of photos. I explained that I was just taking pictures because I remembered the building from childhood. He said they had asked an old man from the community how old the building was. The man was in his seventies and said he had known it since he was a little boy. The workman then wondered what would be built in its place and we agreed that we hoped it would be something that would be a good development in the area.

I’ve spent a little time trying online to find a photo of the building in its heyday, but with no luck. If anyone has one, I hope they might share it. An old building, a Liguanea landmark. I wonder what its full history was.

 

 

 

 

 


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Hurricane Flora, 1963: Another Devastating October Hurricane

I have two memories of Hurricane Flora, which brought torrential rains to Jamaica between October 5-7 in 1963; neither memory has to do with the actual rain, but instead are of the aftermath. Perhaps staying home because of rain wasn’t particularly memorable to a 6-year-old, and memory is a strange thing anyway.

Hurricane Flora developed to the east of Trinidad on September 30, 1963 and it is interesting to note the difference in the technical data available for forecasting and tracking a hurricane at that time. This can be seen, for example, in a Preliminary Report on Hurricane “Flora”, September 30 – October 12, 1963 done by the US Weather Bureau:

Hurricane “Flora” was one of the most destructive in recent history in Haiti and Cuba. It was unusually violent when it crossed Haiti during the night of October 3-4. Then it remained nearly stationary for more than four days (October 4-8) over eastern Cuba and produced unprecedented amounts of rainfall, which in turn resulted in devastating floods. Although final figures are not yet available, it appears likely that the death toll will number in the thousands and property losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hurricane “Flora” appears to have formed and intensified rapidly about 150 miles east of Trinidad on September 30, 1963. It seems possible that the original disturbance that eventually developed into “Flora” moved off the African coast on September 23. Later a TIROS VII photograph at 0942Z September 26 (Orbit 1464) showed a large cloud mass in the area between 10 and 15N and 35 and 40W. No additional information was received until a KLM jet airliner bound from Lisbon, Portugal to Paramaribo, Surinam reported a disturbed area near 12.4N 47.2W at approximately 2230Z September 28. On the basis of the KLM report, the San Juan Weather Bureau requested special ship reports in the area east of the Lesser Antilles.

Following ship reports and US Navy reconnaissance aircraft flying to the area on September 30, the first advisory for Hurricane Flora was issued, with hurricane warnings for Trinidad, Tobago and the Grenadines.

Flora followed a long and circuitous track through the Caribbean, part of which is clearly shown on this map:

A map from the current Weather Underground site indicates the strength of Hurricane Flora as it traveled on its path of destruction:wu-hurricane-flora-track-1963

When Flora eventually moved away from the region, it left behind devastating death and damage:

The effects on Jamaica were substantial, though nothing near the catastrophic effects on Haiti and Cuba.

Rainfall levels for Jamaica were record breaking, with the highest amount of 60 inches recorded at Spring Hill in Portland. (The highest amount recorded in the region was 100.39 inches in Santiago de Cuba.)

us-weather-bureau-monthly-review-october-1963-hurricane-flora-jamaica

US Weather Bureau Monthly Review Vol 9 No 3, p. 136

The Gleaner headlines give an indication of the news in Jamaica at the time:

gleaner-oct-3-1963-flora

Daily Gleaner, Thursday, Oct 3, 1963

gleaner-oct-4-1963-flora

Daily Gleaner, Friday, Oct 4, 1963

gleaner-oct-6-1963-flora

Sunday Gleaner, Oct 6, 1963

gleaner-oct-7-1963-flora

Daily Gleaner, Monday, Oct 7, 1963

gleaner-oct-8-1963-flora

Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, Oct 8, 1963

gleaner-oct-1963-flora

Daily Gleaner, Wednesday, Oct 9, 1963

As a 6-year-old, I wasn’t aware of any of this news, the deaths, the destruction and the severe hardships being faced by so many. Children nowadays see images on television and the internet, bringing them far closer to the news of things that don’t touch their lives directly. I do remember that when we went back to school, we had to take boiled water with us and we had strict instructions not to drink water from the pipes, as it would make us sick. I carried my water in a regular glass jam jar, with its metal screw-on lid. All the water bottles were lined up on a shelf in the classroom, with our names labelling them.

We lived on Gore Terrace at the time, which is near to the Sandy Gully and one day, my father walked with my older brother and me out to the Sandy Gully Bridge on Constant Spring Road. It wasn’t raining , and there were many other people standing on the bridge looking at the water roaring through the gully and under the bridge. I don’t remember the sound, but the image of the rough torrents of brown water rushing through the gully is seared into my memory. When we crossed the road to the other side of the bridge, the water churned even more violently as it went down the slope in the gully. I clung to Daddy’s hand and that provided a measure of security, but I had a terrible sense of the danger of that water, which seemed like a frighteningly live thing.

Hurricane Matthew has battered Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas over the past few days, and is now threatening the eastern coast of the USA. The news reporting is in real time, with non-stop images via cable, the internet and social media, which is vastly different from the type of reporting possible 53 years ago. As a comparison, you might watch these two short videos about Flora, one recent (using archival footage) and the other from 1963.

Jamaica has escaped with little damage, though at times it seemed as if we might experience Matthew’s category 4 strength. Today, as in 1963, we know that an October hurricane has dealt a far harsher blow to our regional neighbours than it has to us.


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A Bucket List of Books?

I remember falling in love with Samuel Beckett’s works in Sixth Form. We were doing “Malone Dies” for A Levels and, in addition to having an excellent teacher, the searing scrutiny of the human condition resonated with something in my adolescent soul. After the three novels, I quickly went on to read “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame” and without hesitation declared the man a genius!

 

 

So taken was I with Beckett, that in a letter to my grandparents (then in their late 60s/early 70s) I exhorted them to read “Malone Dies”, telling them how good it was. I still remember my grandfather’s reply in his next letter. He said that at his age, he preferred to stick with writers he already knew and liked. It was the first time I had thought about having to choose which books to read based on limited time left for reading. I didn’t fully get it, but it seemed sad to the teen-aged me. I am now nearly 60, and I understand a bit better. I realize that I no longer have the time to read all the books I want to or would want to. Maybe I should begin to act my age, and not read with wild abandon.

IMG_9978That was how I read when I was younger. With wild abandon. Whatever I felt like. Whatever caught my interest or fancy. I never considered time to read a diminishing or limited resource. Of course I had time to read! I could read it all! I could read trashy novels, an entire fantasy series, a book about world superstitions, Naipaul (till I decided never again), every book by Jean Plaidy, every book by Beckett, “David Copperfield”, “Anna Karenina”, “Lord of the Rings”, I could read it all! I could sample something by an unknown author, wander off down unbeaten literary tracks, not at all concerned about whether I would like everything I found there or not. I had time, I had interest, how exciting it was! I could always come back to the tried and true when I was ready. Maps or GPS not needed! There were no flights to miss, no deadlines for this kind of journey! If I didn’t like the book, that was just another discovery to be noted. No question of time wasted or a reading opportunity lost.

bookstoreBut is that changing now? Or should it be? I don’t exactly hear time’s winged chariot, but I am aware that it may be only another 20 or 30 good years of reading left (given some family longevity genes). Maybe I should become more cautious in my choices, check out the bone fides of a book before reading it. Maybe I should spend more nights at home with old friends, rather than go for a wild fling, a possible one-night stand with a strange author! Blind dates with a book should perhaps be a thing of the past. Those pick-ups in an airport bookstore, waiting for a flight, may need to come to an end. Should I be drafting a book bucket list?IMG_9997[1]

I haven’t decided. And maybe I won’t change my ways. But what I do know is that I am accepting that I will never be able to read all the books I would like to. That was always the truth, but I am aware of it now. And that’s a little sad.

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