Category Archives: travel

The Places She Goes … a travel blog

Yesterday I discovered a new-to-me travel blog, because the recent post that drew my attention was about Bequia and Moonhole. With Dorothy Adele’s kind permission, I am posting the intro, the cover photo, and a link here to the post. Other visitors to Bequia and readers of my novels will be very interested to learn more about this island. Please follow the link through to Dorothy’s blog, “like” the post after you read it, make a comment (tell Dorothy you found her through my blog!) and consider following her blog for more informative posts on her travels. Thanks, Dorothy!

You Can Still Stay in Moonhole Bequia, SVG

Johnston Moonhole Home – photo posted with permission, D. Adele

Moonhole Bequia

When Tom Johnston drew his plans in the sand to build his home in Moonhole on Bequia (Beck-way), did he know that magazines and newspapers from afar would send journalists for the story? Did he know that his decision to build his unstructured home in a dangerous location would have a lasting impact on the people of Bequia and those who visited?

In the early 1960’s, untrained in architecture or design, Tom Johnston had used what was available to build his home on the undeveloped island of Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It was and still is, an icon that represents the Johnston’s tie to nature. Unfortunately, today the house is condemned due to falling rocks and other hazards, and the only way for you to see it is by boat.

(Read the rest of the post by clicking here.)

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Zika is the new Chikungunya … an update

Not to be alarmist or anything, but …

NO! I DO WANT TO BE ALARMIST WITH THIS BLOG!!!

I’m reblogging a post I wrote in June 2015, part of my series about the virus Chikungunya that so many of us suffered from in 2014, and that some are still suffering from today, if the number of hits those posts continue to receive is any indication.

Last June, a brand new mosquito-borne virus named Zika was beginning to enter the Caribbean. At that time, we were told that it was a “Chikungunya or Dengue Fever-like” virus, but we had no idea then of the long term effects this particular virus would have on pregnant women who contracted it and the babies they subsequently gave birth to.

Here’s a report from Barbados of their first documented case.

And a more recent report: Three Zika virus cases confirmed In Barbados

And an absolutely alarming video of what’s been happening with babies born since last June … It’s reported that there have been over 3500 such births in Brazil alone!!

And finally, a report released today by the CDC that the first cases have been reported in the US.

Following is the blog post I wrote back in June 2014, and in all this time not one word has come from the St. Vincent Government by way of warning to citizens and tourists, and there have been no plans discussed as to how we will be better prepared this time to combat these blasted mosquitoes that are carrying the new virus. Other than the NGO Rise Up Bequia posting to its Facebook site, I have seen nothing at all about this virus. You’d think they would have learned from Chikungunya, right?

Perhaps now that the US has reported cases, our local Caribbean governments will begin to take this new virus much more seriously and we won’t be caught as we were with Chikungunya, essentially closing the barn door after the horses had already escaped.

And a word of advice to the authorities … fogging with chemicals has never, ever worked to eradicate mosquitoes in the past. All it does is kill off the honey bees and poison the rest of us on the island. We need to clean up all standing water and any places where mosquitoes breed. And every citizen must become vigilant about this. We can’t afford to wait for the government to do this for us. We also can’t hide our heads in the sand again, claiming that this will scare away the tourists. We owe it to those tourists to be honest, to warn them of the dangers involved should they contract any virus, and let them decide whether they want to take the risk. Really, there would be little risk involved, if they are made aware of the need to always use insect repellent – and (a BIG if here) if the people of the Caribbean do as much as they can to clean up the environment and diminish the number of mosquitoes.

So, yes, alarmist, but I believe the alarm is necessary. I would not want anyone to have to go through what I did with Chikungunya. I still have problems with pain in my shoulder, a full year-and-a-half after I first contracted the virus. NO ONE needs to be unnecessarily exposed to any virus, since we really do have the means to rid our islands of mosquitoes.

Here’s my blog post from last June:

At the very least, this new virus has a name that’s easier to spell and pronounce. But it’s still yet-another virus the Caribbean region must contend with, and only a short while after declaring that ChikV was over and done with in most islands.

12-year-old girl first in the Caribbean to contract the Zika virus 

It was less than a year ago I contracted ChikV when I returned to Bequia for a few weeks to spell Dennis while he paid a visit to Canada. Throughout the months of suffering … and yes, I do not use the word “suffering” lightly! … I wrote about the virus in a number of blog posts (collected here) that received a great deal of attention from around the world and comments written by others who had also contracted the virus while they were visiting, or living in, the Caribbean region, and who now took comfort in the knowledge they were not alone, that they were likely not going to die, and that they would eventually, eventually recover and feel “normal” again.

Well, here I am, writing this 11 months later, and I can honestly say I am feeling about 96% recovered, the only lingering pain being that soreness that seems to be inside the very bones of my right shoulder. That still bothers me every once in a while (just last night, again), but is not excruciating or debilitating, just annoying.

So you may understand my trepidation with the announcement of this new easier-to-spell-and-pronounce virus, Zika. I am gun-shy about travelling to the Caribbean again any time soon. While I currently sit in the woods of Ontario, surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes, I at least know these are the non-virus-bearing variety. Besides, they’re also large enough to carry away a small dog and move so slowly I have a fair chance of actually swatting and killing them before they can manage to bite. It seems like more of a fair fight to me. The mosquitoes on Bequia are sneaky and have a way of beating all our attempts to eradicate them – especially the fogging with poisonous chemicals, which was the only attempt made by the government to deal with Chikungunya last year, and instead resulted in the kill-off of part of the bee population. The mosquitoes themselves somehow managed to dodge that bullet. What stopped the further spread of the virus was that nearly everyone on the island contracted it and, since the virus could not be spread from human to human, it eventually died out, naturally. This is what’s called “herd immunity”.

Let’s hope Caribbean health authorities and governments learned from their mistakes last year in dealing with ChikV and, instead of hiding their heads in the sand (believing that by doing so they were somehow protecting their tourist industry), they take immediate action to stop the spread of Zika, the new kid on the beach, before it gets a foothold. No one … NO ONE! should be made to suffer again as we all did last year with Chikungunya. Bad enough already we have to contend with the constant threat of Dengue (which I have had), Malaria, West Nile, and all the other mosquito-borne diseases, fevers, threats, than to be worried about Zika, as well.

And we can begin eradicating viruses such as Zika by educating the people! This blog post, and the other earlier posts I wrote about ChikV, are my attempt to spread the word to help stop the spread of the virus. Please share this, and my other posts, wherever possible so that many more people read and hear about these mosquito-borne viruses and learn to take proper precautions.

SPREAD THE WORD TO STOP THE SPREAD OF ZIKA!
(How’s that for a slogan?)

I want to hear from you, if you contracted Chikungunya last year and have been following my blog posts abut the virus. How are you doing? Have you now recovered? Please post a comment below and let me and my readers know of your experience. I really do want to hear from you!

Guest Post: How to Write Travel Memoirs by Gordon Cope – Part 3

Gordon Cope was previously featured on Reading Recommendations and offered to write this new 3-part series about writing travel memoirs.

How to Write Travel Memoirs

I recently attended the San Miguel de Allende Writer’s Conference, held each February. In addition to fantastic speakers (Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Scott Turow this year), the conference runs over 50 seminars on everything from ePublishing to poetry. When an instructor asks for a raise-of-hands to show who is working on what genre, the memoir always wins.

The memoir genre is not held in high regard; I once heard it described as the bastard son of non-fiction. But for aspiring writers, it is an enjoyable, accessible vehicle; the travel memoir, especially, inspires nascent authors to grasp their digital mice and let their imaginations flow.

Having read many travel memoirs (and written three), I recently sat down and pondered exactly what makes a travel memoir a success, which I measure by the ability of the author to include me as a companion in their exploration of fascinating and exotic lands.

As part of the Tenth Anniversary of the publishing of A Paris Moment, I offer some tips and advice on how to write a travel memoir.

Moraine Lake Alberta

PART 3

MARKETING YOUR TRAVEL MEMOIR
FINDING A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER

Now that you have finished your travel memoir, it is time for the public to enjoy it.

Traditionally, authors approach publishers with query letters. If you wish to go this route, find a number of publishers that have put out books similar to your work, outline the highlights of your manuscript and ask if they would like to consider it for publication.

I should note that, in almost 30 years of writing and sending query letters, I have never had a positive response. Publishers receive thousands of unsolicited queries every year, and unless you are a celebrity or prominent expert, they will not seriously consider your work. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but they are exceedingly rare.

How, then, do you interest a publisher? I have had three travel memoirs and one mystery thriller published by four different houses. Here’s how I did it:

Step 1. Make friends with published authors. When I had completed A Paris Moment, I approached an old friend, Brian Brennan, who had several books of non-fiction published. I asked if he would recommend me to his publisher, and he agreed. Charlene Dobmeier, head of Fifth House in Calgary, read my work and agreed to publish it in hard cover. Once you are an established author, publishers are much more willing to consider your work.

Step 2. Don’t know any authors? Join a guild, and you will soon meet some. Most provinces and states have some form of writer’s guild. The Writer’s Guild of Alberta, for instance, offers unpublished authors the opportunity to join; for a very modest annual fee, you will be invited to social events, readings, conferences and workshops where you will be rubbing shoulders with aspiring writers and veterans.

Authors, even very famous ones, are generally very approachable and pleased when you show interest in their work. I recently had the opportunity to ask Lawrence Hill to sign my copy of The Book of Negroes, and he was as happy as a kid in a candy store to do so. Writing is a solitary occupation, and authors appreciate the opportunity to socialize and meet new people. Simply asking for advice or opinions is an excellent way to start building rapport.

As you make friends and learn more about the profession of writing, you will eventually reach the point where asking for help in seeking a publisher will be a natural extension of your relationships. Most publishers will gladly give serious attention to a manuscript from an unknown writer if an author in their stable gives a recommendation. sphynx in Egypt

SELF PUBLISHING

Self-publishing has become a viable alternative to traditional publishing. In fact, if you do not currently have a track record in traditional publishing, I recommend you devote time and effort to learning more about the nuts and bolts of being your own publisher. It’s not easy, and you can waste a lot of money, but if done right, you can have the reward of seeing your own name in print.

Learn as much as you can. Every year, I attend the San Miguel de Allende Writer’s Conference in Mexico. It’s a lot of fun, and there are many workshops devoted to self-publishing. I also have the opportunity to talk to authors who have already gone down that route, and they are a wealth of information.

Come up with a plan. As an author, you are responsible for creating the manuscript, but as a publisher, you are responsible for editing the manuscript, creating a cover and layout, producing the book, marketing, distributing and collecting payment. Each step is unique and necessary in order to be successful. You have to decide what parts you are going to do, and when it will be necessary to hire a professional. If you don’t sort that out, you can waste a lot of time and/or money. Once again, learn everything you can before you begin.

Some Nuts & Bolts Advice. The publishing rights for A Paris Moment recently reverted to me after the publisher stopped printing it. In order to learn more about self-publishing, I decided to launch the 10th anniversary edition in eBook form as a test case. I had the benefit of already having a manuscript that had been professionally edited and a cover that had been professionally designed.

I hired Human Powered Design (HPD), a Calgary-based eBook company, to convert my manuscript to the proper eBook files. It cost me around $200, but the money was well spent, as they created files for Kindle and Apple readers that looks very professional. You can do it yourself, of course, but if you have ever purchased a book where there are missing pages, changes in type settings, etc., you know how annoying it is to a reader.

HPD also obtained my ISBN, distributed my files to Amazon and the Apple store, and aggregates my royalties for a monthly payment. Note that I went with the eBook version only. If you wish to publish hard or soft cover, you have to create a PDF file and either print off a set amount, like 1000 copies, or do print-on-demand.

Keeping Costs Down. You can spend thousands of dollars having your manuscript turned into a book at sites like CreateSpace, Amazon’s online book publishing service. Depending on what package you purchase, they edit and format your manuscript and devise a cover, then distribute it and collect royalties. The downside is that you don’t really learn much about how it’s all done, and you have to sell a lot of books to recoup your losses. You can produce an eBook or have hard copies printed out.

My advice is to stick to the eBook format for your first project. Spend money to have a professional edit your book, and a professional to design your cover (check around on the internet to find specialists). These two steps will cost around $500 each, but they will catapult your work over most of the competition.

Build Your Marketing Platform. Go to WordPress and purchase a website template. They look very professional and are easy to manage. Learn to link Facebook, Twitter and other social media to your website. Start your own blog, and contribute to others. Build an email list of friends and acquaintances who will be interested in hearing that your book is available in eBook form.

As a final reminder, the best way to learn is to find other authors who have blazed a trail before you. As I mentioned earlier, joining guilds, taking courses and attending conferences are excellent ways of meeting people and discovering resources. You are about to set out on a journey that is going to take several years to complete; enjoy every step of the way!

One last excerpt from A Paris Moment:

They are performing Mozart at Sainte-Chapelle tonight. The 12th century church, built by Saint-Louis, has to be one of my favorite buildings in the world. Nestled into the courtyard of the Palais du Justice on the Ile de la Cité, the church is appealing not only for its architectural splendor, but also for its story. In 1239, Beaudoin, Emperor of Constantinople, needed money for a military venture, and hocked the crown of thorns to the Venetians. When Beaudoin couldn’t repay the debt, the Venetians contacted the King of France. Louis knew a celestial bargain when he saw one and redeemed the crown, along with a few handy sacred nails and slivers of wood that had been thrown in to sweeten the bargain.

Naturally, Louis needed a suitable space to house the holy relics, and he commissioned Pierre of Montreuil to build the chapel, which the architect knocked out in three years, the exterior walls being composed solely of stained glass and delicate, almost ethereal stone columns.

Henley on Thames bluebells The effect is truly amazing. Sitting in the main chapel, my eyes follow colorful biblical scenes as they ascend the walls to the immense roof, which is painted blue and covered with gold fleurs-de-lys that sparkle like stars in the night sky. The notes from the string quartet float through the air and fill this magical place with perfect music, no doubt pleasing the spirits of Jesus, Saint-Louis and Mozart.

Curiously, the earthly whereabouts of all three men share a similar dispersal; Christ, of course, got up and left the tomb for points celestial under his own steam; the remnants of Saint-Louis were exhumed from their resting spot in Saint-Denis during the Revolution and scattered to the four winds; and Mozart, who ended up in a pauper’s grave, had his bones dispersed by scavenging dogs. May they all rest peacefully tonight in Sainte-Chapelle.

Part One
Part Two

Gordon Cope was also a guest blogger of a 3-part series about the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Here’s Part One. As well, he also contributed a 3-part series on the Femmes Fatales of Paris. Here’s Part One of that.

Guest Post: How to Write Travel Memoirs by Gordon Cope – Part 2

Gordon Cope was previously featured on Reading Recommendations and offered to write this new 3-part series about writing travel memoirs.

How to Write Travel Memoirs

I recently attended the San Miguel de Allende Writer’s Conference, held each February. In addition to fantastic speakers (Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Scott Turow this year), the conference runs over 50 seminars on everything from ePublishing to poetry. When an instructor asks for a raise-of-hands to show who is working on what genre, the memoir always wins.

The memoir genre is not held in high regard; I once heard it described as the bastard son of non-fiction. But for aspiring writers, it is an enjoyable, accessible vehicle; the travel memoir, especially, inspires nascent authors to grasp their digital mice and let their imaginations flow.

Having read many travel memoirs (and written three), I recently sat down and pondered exactly what makes a travel memoir a success, which I measure by the ability of the author to include me as a companion in their exploration of fascinating and exotic lands.

As part of the Tenth Anniversary of the publishing of A Paris Moment, I offer some tips and advice on how to write a travel memoir.

Window box in the Dordogne

PART 2

CHOOSING A STRUCTURE
WHERE TO START, WHERE TO FINISH

Like all journeys, the travel memoir has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. This sounds obvious, but most manuscripts that get mired down and never finished suffer from this basic lack of structure.

Clearly, an actual physical excursion, like a cruise to Alaska, has a point of embarkation, a voyage to geographical destinations, and an eventual return to port. Simple. But a journey of spiritual discovery, say to an Ashram, doesn’t begin with the narrator getting on a plane to India, it begins when the narrator realizes that there is a need for a spiritual awakening, either through an actual event or the reckoning that something is missing from the moral compass. And the memoir doesn’t end with the return to normal life, but rather when the instigating event is internally resolved.

By sorting out your beginning, middle and end prior to writing, you make your journey clear enough in your own mind that communicating it to the reader becomes far easier, and thus easier to finish the manuscript.

THE SKELETON

Just like every animal needs a skeleton to hang its flesh upon, every memoir needs a structure to give continuity to your observations. You don’t have to be an English major to understand how a book is constructed however; all you need to do is devote a little time to analyse what is sitting right under your nose.

A Paris Moment arose from observations I had been making while living in Paris. While my wife Linda worked, I would spend my days out in the streets of Paris, shopping, visiting tourist sites and interacting with my neighbours and the general population. I would then write emails to friends, describing my experiences. My friends insisted that I should string them together into a full manuscript.

When I decided to write A Paris Moment, I conducted this exercise on Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. I purchased a used paperback edition and pencilled in my observations right into the text. Here is what I discovered:

• The book is divided into 12 chapters, starting in January and running through to December. Each chapter is around 5000 words long, leading to a total length of approximately 60,000 words.
• Each chapter is broken down into a dozen anecdotes. They include the following topics; food, local cultural event, personally embarrassing moment, interaction with local citizens, tourist destination, flora, fauna, description of weather, regional quirks social quirks, artistic expression (theatre, music, etc.), and wine.

FORMING A CHAPTER OUT OF ANECDOTES

Reading a book that was simply an anthology of anecdotes would be quite boring, however. Mayle used several techniques to create continuity, flow and a sense of narrative. The first was the simple procedure of chronological progression; each chapter is a month sequentially presented, in order. This allowed him to sort his anecdotes based on seasonality; the emergence in spring of the first wild flowers, summer fetes, fall hunting season and winter storms.

The flow of one anecdote to another is guided by a sophisticated use of bridging. It can be relatively simple; if Anecdote A describes a sudden blizzard, Anecdote B can be introduced as “When I emerged from our home the following day, half the snow had already melted, forming rivulets of water that cheerfully uprooted carrots from my garden.”

You can juxtapose two diametrically opposite anecdotes (an encounter with a surly French waiter, then a very helpful neighbour), have the narrator walk from point A to point B, describe visual or auditory impressions that allow the narrator to segue from one topic to the next, etc.

Here is an anecdote bridge from A Paris Moment. It takes place shortly after the 9/11 attack in New York. I bridge between the French response to the terrorist attack, and buying coffee.

By the beginning of October, the cylindrical metal garbage cans that dot every corner of the city have been replaced by translucent green plastic bags with Vigipirate! scrawled across the front, no doubt to encourage mad bombers into safely discarding any unwanted explosives. Paratroopers in black berets and semi-automatic rifles lounge stylishly in the Metro stations. A portable canteen on rue des Rosiers has been set up to serve boeuf bourguignon to the platoons of federal police that patrol the Jewish quarter. Parisians, it seems, have already adapted to the terrorist threat. I take my shopping cart and try to do the same.

As I cross rue des Archives in search of fresh courgettes, the smell of fresh ground coffee grips me firmly by the nose. I jerk to a stop and peer through a window at a huge pile of burlap bags from Brazil and surmise that this is the source of the olfactory adhesive. I enter. The tiny shop is dominated by an immense, stainless-steel coffee roaster. A very tall man with wisps of hair emanating randomly from his scalp is bent over the roaster, stirring the beans with rapt attention.

I stand for several moments being comprehensively ignored. Finally, I cough. The coffee man rotates his head around like an owl and stares at me. “What do you want?”

Like a good Canadian, I stifle a wisecrack and stick to the script. “I’d like to buy some coffee, please.”

“What kind of machine do you have?”

“A flat-bottomed drip filter.”

The coffee man shrugs as though my machine isn’t fit to strain pigeon droppings, but he momentarily abandons his ministrations to lift down a package of beans marked Spécial Fort and grind them to specification. “Anything else?”

Linda and I both enjoy the thick, heady taste of espresso in the morning, so I pick up a pack sitting on the counter. “I’d like some of this espresso.”

“Do you own an espresso machine?”

“No, I’ll just run it through my drip machine.”

The coffee man reaches over the counter and snatches the bag out of my hand. “Espresso is for espresso machines.” He sticks the bag out of sight and reach.

You don’t argue with a man who keeps a hot roaster behind the till. I take my Spécial Fort home and brew it up and find it to be surprisingly good. I can’t help but imagine how nice the espresso would taste, however. I return the next week, again asking for some espresso.

The coffee man shakes his head. “You said you don’t own an espresso machine.”

I fall back on my innate knack for improvisation. “Um, I just bought one.”

“Oh?” The coffee man arches one eyebrow. “What kind — the Ducati 750 with dual injectors?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

The coffee man smiles in triumph. “And how do you brew coffee with a motorcycle, Monsieur?”

Busted. I take my Special Fort and flee Inspector Poirot’s lair. Sacre Coeur

Finally, Mayle has local characters, including the local plumber, a grouchy neighbour, a friendly restauranteur and a local official, who periodically interact with the narrator in order to give a story-like flow to the book. This particular technique is best achieved when your travel memoir is set in one place over an extended period of time, but other devices can also be used, such as a pet or acquaintance traveling along or, in the case of Tom Hanks stranded alone in the film Cast Away, a volleyball named Wilson.

Part One
Part Three

Gordon Cope was also a guest blogger of a 3-part series about the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Here’s Part One. As well, he also contributed a 3-part series on the Femmes Fatales of Paris. Here’s Part One of that.

Guest Post: How to Write Travel Memoirs by Gordon Cope – Part 1

Gordon Cope was previously featured on Reading Recommendations and offered to write this new 3-part series about writing travel memoirs.

How to Write Travel Memoirs

I recently attended the San Miguel de Allende Writer’s Conference, held each February. In addition to fantastic speakers (Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Scott Turow this year), the conference runs over 50 seminars on everything from ePublishing to poetry. When an instructor asks for a raise-of-hands to show who is working on what genre, the memoir always wins.

The memoir genre is not held in high regard; I once heard it described as the bastard son of non-fiction. But for aspiring writers, it is an enjoyable, accessible vehicle; the travel memoir, especially, inspires nascent authors to grasp their digital mice and let their imaginations flow.

Having read many travel memoirs (and written three), I recently sat down and pondered exactly what makes a travel memoir a success, which I measure by the ability of the author to include me as a companion in their exploration of fascinating and exotic lands.

As part of the Tenth Anniversary of the publishing of A Paris Moment, I offer some tips and advice on how to write a travel memoir.

Cafe in France

PART ONE

WHAT KIND OF TRAVEL MEMOIR SHOULD YOU WRITE?

If you do a web search of the ‘top ten travel memoirs’, you will find an immense gamut of books that have been catalogued by sales, polls, critical reviews and columnist choices. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert goes on a year-long tour of Italy, India and Indonesia in her search for the meaning of life.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Strayed creates a candid and funny autobiography wrapped in her solo mountain hike.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Bryson has written a score of travel memoirs, mostly based on geography; Notes covers his journey through the UK.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Mayes purchases and renovates an ancient home in Tuscany.

My Life in France by Julia Child
Child describes how she became a chef in Paris.

McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy
An hilarious account of a British writer’s search for his ancestral roots in Ireland.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Mayle and his wife purchase a dilapidated home in rural Provence and spend a year renovating it.

I recommend that, while writing, you seek out and read several travel memoirs; not only do they serve as inspiration for your own efforts, they will also offer insights into how you will eventually structure your own tome.

TRAVEL WRITING VS TRAVEL MEMOIRS

If you were simply writing a travel book, you would generally concentrate on describing museums, restaurants, historical buildings and other tourism-related activities and destinations.

A travel memoir, on the other hand, has the added dimension of your unique interpretation of what you are seeing and experiencing – your inner space. By doing so, you move beyond the superficial facts and evoke a much greater experience for the reader; they join you as a companion and journey along.

How do you incorporate your inner space? Describing your emotional reactions to entering Notre Dame, say, or memories evoked by the smell of lilies in the flower market near the Hotel Dieu hospital on Ile de la Cité, add a personal touch.

But most of your inner space is revealed through personal revelations that pertain to your memoir subject. When the opportunity to spend a year in Paris arose, one of my chief concerns was my woeful lack of facility with the French language. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of A Paris Moment, when we are contemplating moving to Paris:

I grew up in a town where children were arbitrarily punished with compulsory French lessons. Madame Trussler was a hatchet-faced woman who would order us to conjugate verbs for a half-hour every morning until she could stand it no more, and would harangue us in a salty French that we were never able to locate in our primers.

After two years of sufferance, I was released from Madame Trussler’s ministrations and fled to senior high school where, through the kind of luck experienced by passengers on the Titanic, I was assigned to her husband, Monsieur Trussler. Although he struggled manfully to pound the niceties of French into my thick skull, the highlight of five years of lessons was my ability to order a peanut-butter and banana sandwich.

Not that I was afraid of going to a country where I did not comprehend the language – I once spent a year in Australia — but there are strict laws in France against abusing the language. My version of French went way past abuse, more in the area of aggravated assault. I envisioned the language police pulling me over to the curb and forcing me to speak into a voice analyzer to confirm that I was well over the limit of tolerance. I would then be cuffed and hauled before a magistrate who would sentence me to four years with Madame Trussler. Would I risk going to Paris for that?

CHOOSING A VEHICLE

The obvious, and clearly favourite, vehicle for a travel memoir is a journey, preferably extended, in which the author covers considerable ground. This has several advantages; it delineates the book into the start of a journey, the middle, and the end, and it also gives the opportunity to record a large amount of description. River Seine

But a travel memoir can also take place in one location, such as A Year in Provence. The advantage with one location is that the author can incorporate local neighbours and acquaintances as characters in the narrative. If the author is in one place for at least a year, then they can record seasonal variations, annual events and other occasions that make up the fabric of a community. I personally prefer this type of memoir, as it offers the opportunity to explore a much wider palette of experiences, and creates a rich, colorful texture for the reader.

In some cases, a travel memoir doesn’t really have to be about travel at all. It can be a journey through an experience; such as an illness, an educational session or a spiritual awakening. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love takes place in Italy, India and Bali, but the exotic locations are really a subtext to her journey toward self-respect and enlightenment.

GENERATING CONTENT

The advantage of a travel memoir over a novel or a screenplay is that you do not have to invent characters, plot or physical locations. The bulk of your manuscript can be observations on many different topics; food, local cultural events, personally embarrassing moments, interaction with local citizens, tourist destinations, flora, fauna, descriptions of weather, regional social quirks, and artistic expression (theatre, music, etc.). Each observation can be written in the form of an anecdote. Here is a description of a restaurant in Paris, taken from A Paris Moment:

Exploring for a new place to eat in Paris is a joy; shall it be mouth-watering lamb roasted in rosemary, or perhaps duck in orange liqueur sauce? Who cares? Just walk into the nearest brasserie and order the special of the day and a bottle of the house red and prepare to be amazed.

We no sooner round the corner onto rue Vieille du Temple when we spot Restaurant Robert & Louise amid the swirling mist. I had passed along this stretch of road countless times but had never made much note of its presence. A tiny signboard decorated with leaping flames of fire juts out from a thicket of ivy over the doorway. The windows, covered with red and white checked curtains, obscure the business within. The menu in the window is short on details. A notice forewarns “no credit cards are accepted.” The only indication that the restaurant is open for business is the tiny square of white cardboard, labeled fermé, which has been turned to its blank side. I can hardly imagine a more cavalier attitude to self-promotion in all of Paris. We immediately decide to give it a try.

We are met at the door by the head waitress who shakes her head gravely when we reveal we have no dinner reservations. She escorts us to a table for two, a tiny, semi-circular affair designed for circus performers. We squeeze past the adjacent patrons and make ourselves as comfortable as is possible in the Spartan cane chairs.
I look around the room and conclude that only the French can make decrepitude so charming. The oak beams holding up the roof are in such parlous condition that even the woodworms have decamped; the furniture appears to have been hewn from logs by unemployed catapult builders.

The proprietors are similarly antique. Robert, with a shock of white hair and stooped shoulders, holds court at a dining table at the back of the restaurant near a roaring fireplace. A large, raw rib roast rests upon the table along with a cutting board and knife. When a patron orders an entrecote, Robert cuts the requisite amount then hands it to the chef, who salts and peppers the meat before placing it in the cheminée, a flat, iron griddle in the fireplace.

Louise shuffles around the restaurant in her house slippers placing wooden plates and razor sharp cutlery on the tables. When she comes to take our order, she explains that they have run the restaurant for the last 40 years in the manner of the original establishment, built shortly after 1650. The only significant changes over the interceding centuries appeared to be a large fridge and the table fork.

We choose the tantalizingly-labeled entrecote for three. I also request an assortment of escargots and veal head, but Louise ignores my entreaties for appetizers. “The entrecote will be sufficient,” she explains, and promptly commands Robert to open a Brouilly for our table.

Gladly abandoning his butchery duties, Robert advances to the bar at the front of the restaurant and pours himself a restorative glass of red wine before engaging in the laborious task. He relishes his duties, carefully removing the lead wrapper then examining the top of the cork for signs of ignoble mold, before extracting the cork with a spindly screw.

The entrecote arrives shortly thereafter, accompanied by a salad, a large plate of pan-fried potatoes and a small black Poodle named Isaiah, who positions himself strategically below the roast beef. Unfortunately for Isaiah, the meat has been seared to perfection on the outside while still retaining a pink, tender juiciness on the inside, and we selfishly reduce the roast to its component rib.

After the main course, Louise returns to ask us if we would like a cheese plate or a dessert plate.

“What is in the cheese plate?” I ask.

Louise ponders for a moment. “Cheese.”

“And the dessert plate?”

“Why, dessert, of course.”

Thus clarified, we order the cheese plate which, as promised, contains cheese, in this case slices of Brie, Camembert and a delicious moldy something in the fashion of Gorgonzola. By the end of the meal, we are too full to even find room for coffee. Amid hearty praise for the meal, we pay the bill and make our way back out into the swirling mists, glad for the umpteenth time that we are living in the greatest culinary city in the world.

In order to create enough content for a travel memoir, you will need approximately 100 anecdotes ranging from 500-1000 words. Writing one anecdote a day would take slightly over three months, but you are unlikely to have an experience, research it and write an anecdote every 24 hours. It took me approximately one year to generate 100 anecdotes for A Paris Moment.

A NOTE ON REAL LIFE VS REALITY

There is a spectrum in a travel memoir that stretches from the absolute truth to absolute fiction. You can actually visit the geographical locations in Bill Bryson’s books, and, with a little work, find the people he meets. In the early 1960s, John Steinbeck set out on a solo journey around the US in a camper van with his dog. Travels with Charley was published as a travel memoir, and achieved great acclaim. Later, journalists following in his footsteps concluded that much of the book was fiction (not a great shock, considering he was, first and foremost, an novelist). When the 50th anniversary edition was published in 2012, his biographer, Jay Parina, noted the following in the introduction:

“It would be a mistake to take this travelogue too literally, as Steinbeck was at heart a novelist, and he added countless touches – changing the sequence of events, elaborating on scenes, inventing dialogue – that one associates more with fiction than nonfiction.

“It should be kept in mind, when reading this travelogue, that Steinbeck took liberties with the facts, inventing freely when it served his purposes, using everything in the arsenal of the novelist to make this book a readable, vivid narrative. The book remains ‘true’ in the way all good novels or narratives are true. That is, it provides an aesthetic vision of America at a certain time. The evocation of its people and places stay forever in the mind, and Steinbeck’s understanding of his country at this tipping point in its history was nothing short of extraordinary. It reflects his decades of observation and the years spent in honing his craft.”

For your travel memoir, I recommend you record the sights, smells, images, sounds, social and cultural interactions and tactical sensations of each geographical location you encounter as accurately as you can. Your impressions of all these sensations, on the other hand, is your own personal journey and you can explore whatever interpretation that grabs your fancy.

In Part 2, we will explore how to structure a travel memoir.

Part Two
Part Three

Gordon Cope was also a guest blogger of a 3-part series about the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Here’s Part One. As well, he also contributed a 3-part series on the Femmes Fatales of Paris. Here’s Part One of that.

Guest Post: Reflections on Bequia by Nat Warren-White – Part 3

I first met Nat and Betsy last year when they were vcationing on Bequia. Robin Coles, an author I promoted on my blog Reading Recommendation, had put us together on Facebook, so I invited Nat and Betsy to visit my house when they arrived on the island and we have been in contact since that time. Nat posts many photos to Facebook and that’s what led me to ask if he’d like to write about Bequia in this series of guest posts. Besides, he also brought a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to reread – definitely an author serious about his writing!

Reflections on Callaloo Soup

All right, I admit it! There’s a big part of me that adheres to the latter half of the old question: “Do you eat to live or live to eat?” Much as I’d like to say I don’t really care, that I’d just as soon take a pill or drink some one of those disgusting green slime protein punches people on-line are always swearing by, the deeper more honest part of me can’t wait for the next good meal . . . or, dare I say it, snack!

"Elephantear reduced". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elephantear_reduced.jpg#/media/File:Elephantear_reduced.jpg

“Elephantear reduced”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elephantear_reduced.jpg#/media/File:Elephantear_reduced.jpg

This confession leads me to want to share what I consider a best kept secret about Bequia – the food! From the first time I stumbled on a bowl of hot zesty callaloo soup to the day I discovered smoked fish salad or that plate of poisson cru, I simply can’t wait until I find the next tempting dish in some unexpected corner of this ever-surprising island of treats.

The first time we ate callaloo soup was at the Sugar Reef in Industry. I think the sign out front said Dawn’s Creole Café at the time and we stopped there on our first tour of the island by taxi thanks to Blinks, or the Fat Man, who introduced us to Dawn. Her callaloo soup had some meat in it and was seasoned perfectly. It was simply fantastically delicious, savory, spicy, thick and memorable.

Next time we went back there almost 5 years later on the way home via Bequia, the place had changed hands, been all gussied-up, and Dawn was gone! We were shocked and severely disappointed. When we asked what had happened to her the new owner told us he had tried to get her to stay on and continue cooking for him but for some reason they couldn’t get along and she left. He didn’t know where she’d gone.

photo(3) It took us two years but we finally found her again. She’d opened her own little 10 x 12’ sunny airy brightly colored little building down at the very end of Lower Bay Beach. I think she told us her son built it for her. God, we were happy to find her again! Just today we went back there for lunch and I ordered a bowl of callaloo soup and a plate of smoked fish salad and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The soup was just as good as I remembered/imagined it to be, filled with chunks of ham and thick with savory vegetables, spices, and, of course, callaloo galore. Thank heavens Dawn is still cooking. I hope she never dies and if she does I sure hope she leaves her recipe for callaloo soup for someone else to cook, though I can’t imagine it could ever be quite the same. And her fresh fish cakes are Betsy’s favorite…not to be missed! Very crunchy and s-picey…..mmmmmmmm!!

My other favorite Bequian eatery is Fernando’s, or ‘Nando’s as it’s often called. We discovered Nando thanks to some sailing friends who we first met when we returned here by boat in 2011. On his chalk-board menu Nando has written “To our sailing friends on 2015, Fair Winds!” Those words ring true; only the date changes. In the WC the walls are covered with drawings from his school-kid friends extolling the wonder of Nando’s cooking. Our cruising pals told us we couldn’t miss an evening with Nando and how right they were. Now, whenever we arrive in Bequia the very first place we go out to eat is Nando’s, high on the hill at the inner end of Lower Bay.

Fernando is the owner and chef and his specialty is fresh fish. There is no menu although usually there are a couple of offerings written on the chalk-board which one of his two sisters, who wait on us with grace and style and care, will recite eloquently for you while your mouth waters at the mere sound of the words rolling off her tongue. Saturday night you can count on finding a bowl of goat-water soup in addition to whatever fish Nando happened to catch that day. You see, he goes out in the morning or late at night and drops a hook over the side of his boat and whatever happens to bite, be it snapper or mahi-mahi or blue crevalle or jack or maybe some sweet tuna or any number of other finned species; it doesn’t matter, that’s what we eat! Whatever Nando catches will be prepared to perfection; you can bet on it. And the goat water soup is succulent even though it sounds terrible. When I looked for a recipe on-line it talks about goat head, organs, and feet plus lots of water, maybe some bananas or yams, some taro root, some carrots, scallions, and habaneros with thyme…I don’t know, probably, like the callaloo, whatever strikes your fancy and I’m sure there are as many variations as there are Caribbean chefs who prepare it but all I can say is, at Nando’s it’s something special. You don’t want to miss it! And Nando always features the next on my list of hotspots as his dessert offering.

photo(2) Maranne’s Ice Cream at the Gingerbread Café! If you are an ice cream fanatic, and Betsy and I are for sure, this is a spot you won’t be able to pass by without stopping and sampling a flavor or two then settling in by the harbor front with a double espresso and a small cup or a cone of this delicacy. My current favorite is the ginger spice. As the sign says: Not for the faint of heart! OMG, it’s a sweet-treat you won’t soon forget! So’s the lime, the nutmeg, the vanilla, the passion fruit….all good, you can’t miss at Maranne’s!

Upstairs at the Gingerbread you can count on a good spicy tuna rollup and their soups are pretty darn good too. It’s a lovely breezy spot to eat overlooking the harbor.

Up the hill in Spring sits the Firefly Café in the beautiful old sugar plantation house. We’ve had some wonderful curried roti there, fish, chicken, goat, your choice. And the pumpkin soup I sampled there the other day was the best I’ve had anywhere! We also had some good cold fruit soup there one day . . . I think it was watermelon and passion fruit . . . wicked good.

photo(1) Even though Dawn is no longer there, you can get a good meal at the Sugar Reef. Whatever fresh fish is on the menu will be nicely prepared and the presentation is always special. Sitting there under the high-pitched white roof with your feet on the beach, surf rolling in, and the driftwood chandeliers overhead is always a treat.

I had an excellent poisson cru salad made with mahi-mahi on a bed of dark purple cabbage at the Black Pearl the other day and my pal, Ben, had some good fish and chips all washed down with a couple of cold Hairouns, the great lager from St Vincent.

One of our favorite spots to eat was Hendi’s, the four-table sand-floored bistro over in Hamilton half-way up the hill to the venerable stone Gospel Light Baptist Church. Last time we checked, Hendi was no longer serving. He told us his girlfriend, who waited on tables for him, had run off with another guy so he shut down the business. A shame because we really liked Hendi and he was a damn good cook. We’d sit out in his front yard under the sheet iron sun roof and sip on one of his special rhum punches while the chickens ran under the table and Hendi worked in the kitchen singing and preparing whatever struck his fancy. You had to call ahead and let him know what you might like to eat based on what he had available and then just show-up and he’d go to work. There was a little one-room bar out back where some of the locals from Ocar hung-out and the Christmas lights he hung round the place gave it a festive air. We miss this place and hope he finds another partner soon so he can open the restaurant again.

Back to callaloo for a minute. It’s also called amaranth and apparently originated in West Africa. It’s a dark green leaf vegetable akin to spinach. Sometime called taro or tannia or dasheen. Callaloo is the name for both the vegetable and the stew or soups made from it. There are many different variations, some made with coconut milk, crab, conch, lobster, ham, goat, chili peppers, onions, garlic, basically whatever the cook has on hand and whatever suits the palate. We’ve had many versions of it on Bequia, all tasty, but none, in my book, as good as Dawn’s. Now, go check it out for yourself and let me know what you think. Oh yeah, I also had a great conch stew at Da Reef, a favorite hangout just down Lower Bay Beach from Dawn’s.

photo

As Ludwig von Beethoven, that chef among musical chefs once said, “Only the pure of heart can make a good soup.” Bon Appétit, Bequia!

Part 1
Part 2

Nat resting Bequia-style

Nat resting Bequia-style

Nat Warren-White is an actor, drama therapist, writer, and executive coach who first fell in love with Bequia when he and his wife, Betsy, landed there in 2006 at the beginning of a circumnavigation aboard their 43′ South African-built cutter, BAHATI that you may read about here. In 2011, they stopped there again on their way home to Maine and, in fact, Bequia is the spot on earth where they “closed the loop/tied the knot” – joyfully completing their sailing journey round the world. Since then they have been returning every year and are learning to love and understand this special dot in the ocean more and more!

Guest Post: Reflections on Bequia by Nat Warren-White – Part 2

I first met Nat and Betsy last year when they were vacationing on Bequia. Robin Coles, an author I promoted on my blog Reading Recommendation, had put us together on Facebook, so I invited Nat and Betsy to visit my house when they arrived on the island and we have been in contact since that time. Nat posts many photos to Facebook and that’s what led me to ask if he’d like to write about Bequia in this series of guest posts. Besides, he also brought a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to reread – definitely an author serious about his writing!

Reflections on Messing About In Boats

The Friendship Rose, Bequia

The Friendship Rose, Bequia

Bequia holds a special spot in our hearts. It’s the point on earth where we crossed our outgoing path in March of 2011 as we returned to the Caribbean after completing a 5 year circumnavigation aboard our 43’ South African-built cutter, Bahati.

We remember well our first visit to Bequia in January 2007 as we prepared to head west to transit the Panama Canal then cross the Pacific. Returning to Bequia and realizing we’d actually “tied the knot” here, “closed the loop”, now truly heading home to Maine at last, a bittersweet moment for sure.

Our then 25-year-old son, Josh, had been aboard with us in 2007. He and his friend, Gareth Weiss, another able twenty-something from South Africa, carried their surfboards up the long hill to Hope then surfed the Hope Bay waves while we cheered them on from the beach. Josh had also taken photos of the baby leatherbacks at Brother King’s Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary and one of those pictures became the cover image for our boat card which we passed out in every port we visited right the way round the world.

Bequia clearly has become a touchstone for us and we’ve been returning every year, now by air and ferry rather than our own boat, since we last sailed here in 2011 to relive some of those precious memories and create new ones as well.

5 One of those memories includes the moment we first saw the grand old Caribbean trading schooner Friendship Rose as she lay moored just off the town dock in Port Elizabeth. I remember Gareth exclaiming, “Now there’s a real boat!” She reminded us of the coasting schooners we love and know so well from sailing along our own Coast of Maine. Those relics of Maine’s maritime history now carry tourists on day and week-long cruises up and down Maine’s rock and seaweed bound island-studded coastline, much as the Friendship Rose does in SVG. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until this trip that we learned how she’d been the first ferry boat carrying freight and passengers between St Vincent and Bequia. My knowledgeable “sand bakery guide” explained to me how she’d brought the first car to the island after she was launched in 1969 off the same beach where I met the boy and his sister. 1969, nearly the same year I first landed in this neighborhood after crossing the Atlantic as a deckhand aboard the 70’ staysail ketch, Rakassa. We’d departed from the island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean and forty-plus days later landed on the “Spice Island”, Grenada. That had been my first visit to this part of the world and I’ll never forget smelling the scent of nutmeg and cinnamon from far off shore in the dawn even before we could see the island itself. True magic and a great welcome home.

This visit, for the first time, with guests arriving from Toronto and Maine, we decide to take a day trip aboard the Friendship Rose and pay a return visit to another favorite stop from our world-girdling tour, the Tobago Cays, just off Union Island. We read that the Rose takes sailing/snorkeling trips down there twice a week and nothing about being here could get us more excited than imagining boarding the Rose with a good stiff sea breeze blowing her south with us along for the ride. No worries about navigation, sail handling, or weather watching this time around like we experienced 9 years ago. This time her able crew of 6 will take care of those details while we put our feet up or our heads down and schoon along carefree riding a natural sailing high. 3

Friendship Rose was built by Captain Calvin Lewis and Henry, Eric, and Ernest Adams. The story goes that she was the last of an historic fleet created in Bequia using nothing but hand tools. It took the men four years to finish her and the 100’ schooner-rigged vessel is framed with native Bequia white and Guyana green cedar. She was launched in 1969 without an engine but, according to Capt. Lewis, “After drifting for eight days with no wind on a trip to St Lucia, we added the diesel.” She is still driven by this original “iron mainsail” but her current crew tells me they are getting ready to set her up with a new and more modern power train. This is only one of many upgrades her current owners, Alan and Meg Whitaker, are offering the old girl to keep her up to snuff so she can continue sailing these waters with the kind of grandeur she is accustomed to. (Video: Weighing Anchor)

1Capt. Lewis retired 4 years ago, in his mid-80’s, though he still sails an occasional daytrip to keep his hand in. The current crew consists of a capable young British captain assisted by four stalwart deckhands, one of whom looks like he could’ve been part of her original crew, and one who is deaf. It’s a real treat to watch them work her sails and mooring gear as seamlessly as if they’ve been a team for 50 years, communicating mostly in sign language, sideways glances, and simple smiles and nods. (Video: Hoisting sails)

We are welcomed aboard and our every need is answered by the delightful galley crew and dive guides, one of whom is French, arriving here by boat four years ago, and the other a student on holiday from a UK university. The food is delicious, plentiful, and local, prepared on-board by our talented ship’s chef and served on white bone china with beverages offered in actual glassware including champagne flutes brought out on the ride home to help celebrate the marriage of a young American couple who had been hitched on Princess Margaret Beach the day before.

We hoist all sails as we round the wreck at Moonhole and Friendship Rose quickly finds her natural rhythm filling her canvas and gently rolling her way toward the Tobago Cays. Her skipper tells me it takes a good 30 knots of breeze to get her truly up and running like the capable old girl she was built to be but this pace and pitch is fine by us on our sweet day of Grenadine maritime sightseeing. As far as I care we could just keep on sailing into the night until we land in Grenada or Trinidad! For me, this feeling is the essence of why I love being on the water, here or anywhere.

Young Salt with Old Salt

Young Salt with Old Salt

To quote Ratty in Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing, absolute nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing – about – in – boats – or with boats. In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.” (Video: Crew at work)

Too much of a good thing ...

Too much of a good thing …

After a perfect day of snorkeling with rays and turtles and drift diving along the reef that surrounds the pristine waters off the Tobago Cays, we head slowly toward home, occasionally napping in the shade of the giant gaff-rigged mainsail, sipping rum punch, and chilled white wine. Then we’re served tea and warm banana bread fresh from the galley cooker. What more could we ask? This is clearly life on Bequia and around St Vincent and the Grenadines as it was cut-out to be! (Video: Heading Home)
Click here for more information about The Friendship Rose, Bequia.

Part 1
Part 3

Nat resting Bequia-style

Nat resting Bequia-style

Nat Warren-White is an actor, drama therapist, writer, and executive coach who first fell in love with Bequia when he and his wife, Betsy, landed there in 2006 at the beginning of a circumnavigation aboard their 43′ South African-built cutter, BAHATI that you may read about here. In 2011, they stopped there again on their way home to Maine and, in fact, Bequia is the spot on earth where they “closed the loop/tied the knot” – joyfully completing their sailing journey round the world. Since then they have been returning every year and are learning to love and understand this special dot in the ocean more and more!

Guest Post: Reflections on Bequia by Nat Warren-White – Part 1

I first met Nat and Betsy last year when they were vacationing on Bequia. Robin Coles, an author I promoted on my blog Reading Recommendation, had put us together on Facebook, so I invited Nat and Betsy to visit my house when they arrived on the island and we have been in contact since that time. Nat posts many photos to Facebook and that’s what led me to ask if he’d like to write about Bequia in this series of guest posts. Besides, he also brought a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to reread – definitely an author serious about his writing!

Reflections on a Wednesday Morning in Downtown Bequia

Sand Cake As I wait patiently by the beach in the yellow Moke for Betsy to return from shopping this morning, I notice a couple of kids working hard down in the sand. I assume they are building a sand castle but when I move closer for a look I realize it is something else altogether.

“It’s a sand cake,” the boy tells me with a big smile.

“Looks good enough to eat,” I say.

He laughs then quite seriously responds, “It’s not for eating.”

I see another smaller round pile of sand with a hole in the middle next to the cake. “I was trying to make a doughnut,” the boy says.

“Or a bagel” I add.

His sister brings shells and bits of sea glass for cake decorating. I watch as she carefully plucks each piece from the water and balances them on her flip-flops which are floating gently nearby. When the flip-flops are fully loaded she transports them carefully to the cake building site to lay delicately on top.

“How come you’re not in school today?” I ask.

“It’s Easter vacation!” the boy responds. “Two weeks! We don’t go back to class again until April 13.”

“Do you live near here?” I ask.

“We live in Hamilton,” he answers, pointing across the harbor. “Are you from America?”

“Yes, I am. And it’s very cold, ice and snow now, where I come from.”

Children playing at beach
“Do they have beaches as nice as this one in America?”

“Not so many,” I say. “Well, maybe a few.”

“We don’t have many hurricanes or tornadoes here in Bequia. When we do have them they are not as bad as they are in St. Vincent. Because the buildings are not so big.”

“Do you remember a hurricane landing here?” I ask.

“Yes. My sister went outside in it. She wasn’t supposed to but she did and she left the door open.”

“I was much younger then,” his sister adds. “My mother had to come out and get me.”

“All the people in Bequia are very nice. All the business people and the people who live here are nice,” the boy tells me. “My mother and father drive a taxi. My mother has the new one and my father has the old one.” He points toward the taxi lot full of waiting cabs and trucks. “There’s my mother sitting in the new taxi with my grandmother. They are having a little chat.”

Green Ferry - Copy “Looks like a nice taxi,” I say.

“It is. You see that green boat?” he asks, pointing at the ferry boat backed-up to the pier nearby.

“Yup,” I say.

“They are fixing that one right now,” he says.
“When we come here we usually take the red one,” I say.

Red Ferr “That green one is a good stiff boat. It doesn’t roll around as much as the red one. The red ones belong to the Bequia Express and the green ones belong to the Admiral ferries. The green ones are more comfortable.

Both ferries, red and green, at the wharf. Photo taken by Susan Toy from The View.

Both ferries, red and green, at the wharf. Photo taken by Susan Toy from The View.

You see that boat there?” He points at the locally built blue and white schooner, Friendship Rose, anchored just off the beach. “That boat was the ferry before these red and green ones. Only she was lower in the water then. They added more height to her when she stopped being the ferry.”

“She’s a beautiful boat,” I say. “I sailed on her down to the Tobago Cays last week. We had a great sail.”

“Yes, she is a beautiful old boat,” the boy says with pride.

“Do you like to go sailing?” I ask.

“No, I don’t go sailing. But my grandfather did. He was a great fisherman. He is 93. He lives in Paget Farm. Do you know Paget Farm?”

“Yes,” I say. “Out near the airport.”

“Yes. Paget Farm is a good place to live. The people there take good care of each other. When my grandfather was fishing out near Petit Nevis once his boat sank and he had to swim to save his life. Everyone in Paget Farm went out to look for him. Finally they saw some smoke coming from behind Petit Nevis. They found him cooking a fish on the beach.”

“He must’ve been a good swimmer!”

“Yes, but now he is very old and he can’t see very well. He is shrunken. My auntie in America says he can come there to have an operation to make his eyes better but he is afraid to go because he is afraid he will lose his sight completely. He says he can only see the shadow of someone who he is looking at now. Sometimes I go to his house and sneak in while he is sitting there and sometimes he doesn’t hear me so I just sit until he asks, ‘Who’s there?’ Then I use another voice and he doesn’t know it’s me. Sometimes he hears the floors going squeaksqueaksqueak and then he guesses it’s me. My mother cooks him food to bring to his house everyday.”

“But you live in Hamilton?”

“Yes … and he lives in Paget Farm.”

“How old are you?”

“I am 12. My sister is 10.” The girl is bigger than the boy. “I go to school on St Vincent. She goes to school here on Bequia.”

“You take the ferry to St Vincent for school every day?”

“Yes!”

“Do you ever get seasick?”

“Not unless my belly is too full from food but then I get accustomed to the rolling usually. Have you been to the volcano on St Vincent? It’s called Soufriere.”

“No,” I say. “But I saw another one on Montserrat that was exploding once.”

“My class took a field trip to see the Soufriere but I didn’t go.”

“Why not?”

“My auntie said it might be slippery and I could get hurt.”

“Were other children hurt?”

“No, but some slipped.”

“And fell down the volcano?”

“No, just fell down! Do you know any other beaches here? You know Lower Bay?”

“Yes. That’s a nice beach too but I think I like Hope Bay the best.”

“You know Princess Margaret Beach? It was named Princess Margaret beach after the princess who went bathing there. Do you know this harbor was first called The Harbor? Then the queen came to visit and she named it for herself, Port Elizabeth.”

Suddenly a black cloud rolls over us from the east side of the island and it starts raining hard.

“It’s raining!” shouts the boy. “Goodbye! We’re going to sit in the van!” And they run away leaving me standing by the sand bakery which is quickly dissolving back into the beach. All I can think of is the Jimmy Webb song, MacArthur Park, and how happy I am to have met these two young Bequians on a Wednesday vacation morning on the beach in Port Elizabeth.

Part 2
Part 3

Nat resting Bequia-style

Nat resting Bequia-style

Nat Warren-White is an actor, drama therapist, writer, and executive coach who first fell in love with Bequia when he and his wife, Betsy, landed there in 2006 at the beginning of a circumnavigation aboard their 43′ South African-built cutter, BAHATI that you may read about here. In 2011, they stopped there again on their way home to Maine and, in fact, Bequia is the spot on earth where they “closed the loop/tied the knot” – joyfully completing their sailing journey round the world. Since then they have been returning every year and are learning to love and understand this special dot in the ocean more and more!

Finally!! Warnings and solid information about Chikungunya!

Since I first posted this, Caribbean 360 has published a very informative and comprehensive article about Chikungunya, which everyone who is planning on travelling to the Caribbean should read. Forewarned is forearmed!

Just this morning, a friend in St. Vincent posted a link to a song and video produced in Jamaica that warns and informs Caribbean Nationals, in a way they can all understand, about the threat of the Chikungunya virus that has been wreaking havoc throughout the region since Dec. 2013.

Chikungunya Song from Jamaica by Wayne J

Then, I also received a comment on the post I published yesterday, Chikungunya … and it just keeps on ticking!, from another fellow-sufferer living in the Dominican Republic. (And if you are just discovering this blog of mine, because you too have been researching this virus, you may be interested in reading the 4 previous posts I published: Chikungunya – you cannot begin to imagine …, Papaya Leaf Juice … right under our noses!, Blame it on the Chikungunya …, Stop hiding the problem of Chikungunya!)

I sent an email to Darlene immediately, because in her comment she mentioned taking medications that had helped to alleviate the symptoms. She replied with a very comprehensive and informative description of Chikungunya and the treatment for it that she had gleaned through online research, and that she has been undergoing herself. I have her permission to post that email message for the benefit of all my blog readers and those who are also suffering from this virus. I hope what Darlene has to say will be of help to all of you when seeking medical attention.

Hi Susan, thanks for what you have been writing. I wish I had seen it earlier.

So, here in the Dominican Republic most doctors don’t even speak English and almost all online research is in English. I did all my own research after spending hundreds of dollars on meds that did not work.

Then I cleared everything with an American doctor who continues to help me.

First, swelling of feet or any other part are not connected to long term issues. What is connected is that 3 month window. IF the symptoms are NOT improving then you are LIKELY in for the long haul. In some people, the virus deposits “things” in our joints and near our joints, that is what causes our symptoms, apparently. Until that “clears” which can take up to 2 or 3 years, we are left battling symptoms. There is NO evidence of long term damage in otherwise healthy people.

*** I started on the following meds: 3 times a day for 5 to 7 days:

1. Omeprazol 20 mg. This helps protect the stomach, take this and then eat something.

2. Mefanac – Acido Mefanamico – powerful anti-inflammatory 2 x 500 MG

3. Dexametin – steroid – .5 mg

*** THEN once the symptoms went down (swelling decreased and no pain): 2 times a day – 8 to 10 hours apart for about 2 weeks:

1. Omeprazol 20 mg. This helps protect the stomach, take this and then eat something.

2. Mefanac – Acido Mefanamico 2 x 500 MG

3. Dexametin – steroid – .5 mg

*** ONCE stable:

1. Omeprazol 20 mg. This helps protect the stomach, take this and then eat something.

2. Mefanac – Acido Mefanamico 1 x 500 MG

3. Dexametin – steroid – .5 mg

*** IF all stays stable – no increased swelling or any pain: 2 times a day IF symptoms return go back to previous dosage:

1. Omeprazol 20 mg. This helps protect the stomach, take this and then eat something.

2. Mefanacx – Acido Mefanamico 250 MG

3. Dexametin – steroid – .25 mg

It is important to be monitored by a doctor! Steroids cannot be started and stopped at whim. It will throw other things into havoc.

I am still on 2 times a day at 500MG and .50 mg of meds. IF I miss a dose my feet and hands start to swell. It is anticipated that this can be needed for up to 2 or 3 years as evidenced in some studies. IT WILL GO AWAY.

Please tell people to not waste money on xrays and studies etc. It is not arthritis and not RA. Doctors just want to diagnose with that because they do not know what else to do! Yikes.

Thank you so much for this, Darlene!!

Fellow sufferers, please note that, as Darlene has mentioned, this treatment should always be monitored by a doctor. But at least you now have some solid medical advice as to how to be treated to alleviate these symptoms.

I would love to hear from anyone else currently suffering with this Chikungunya Virus, whether you’ve contacted me previously or have just now happened upon my blog. Please make a comment below and tell us of your experience, what medical treatment you sought that was effective, and any other information you have that might be of interest and help to the readers of my blog. I will be linking this blog post to social media, as I always do, but also ask that readers share this link with their own friends – especially those either living in or visiting the Caribbean. I don’t want to sound an alarm and scare everyone away from visiting the Caribbean, but believe that if you have all this information I’ve been publishing you will be prepared and can take measures to ensure that you not be bitten by mosquitoes. Or, if you do contract the virus, you at least know the symptoms and can seek medical attention immediately, not wasting valuable time through being misdiagnosed.

And to everyone out there who is currently suffering with this virus, I wish you all a speedy recovery!

Reviews of Island in the Clouds!

Wow!! There is no better way to begin a Saturday morning (or any morning!) than by opening not one but two emails in which the senders have notified you of reviews they’ve written of your book!

Many thanks to roughseainthemed for writing and posting to her blog this very thorough review:

Bequia? Where on earth is Bequia?

Thank you as well to A., a UK reader who wishes to remain anonymous. He contacted me after reading Island in the Clouds to tell me he had bought and read the book while on Bequia for a holiday this past spring. He has given me permission to post the full review from his email on my blog:

Island in the clouds is a gripping murder mystery story set on the small Caribbean island of Bequia.

The story isn’t what you expect and is all the better for it!

I loved how Toy doesn’t just portray life on the island as some blissful paradise but goes for life as it is which makes the novel feel very authentic. The characters are drawn from across the full spectrum of island life and Toy expertly develops and blends them as the plot progresses. The twist and turns throughout are managed perfectly and this is a book that you won’t want to put down.

I was on holiday with my family in Bequia whilst I was reading Island in the Clouds. This meant the places quickly resonated and we were able to track most of the locations down during our stay. The book really enhanced our visit to Bequia providing context and a backdrop to our holiday and a narrative from which to explore. Without it we would never have discovered Nando’s restaurant, known about Moonhole or the history behind Frangi’s.

I had this on Kindle and whilst in Bequia purchased a print copy from the bookshop in Port Elizabeth. Not surprisingly this has been top of my friends wish lists since we’ve been back!

In summary a great story in its own right but an absolute must for anyone visiting Bequia to really unlock everything on the island to you.

This review in particular really pleases me because, unlike the concerns voiced by some early readers that my story of murder and incompetent police would scare away potential tourists from the island, A. is telling us that he used my novel as a kind of guidebook and discovered aspects of Bequia he might not otherwise have learned about during his holiday. And he’s recommending the book to his friends!

For me, it doesn’t get any better than that!

So, thank you again to roughseainthemed and A.intheUK for reading and recommending Island in the Clouds, and for making many points in both their reviews that will now assist me while writing the next novel in the Bequia Perspectives Series. I take all comments seriously and know that reviewers help me become a better writer.

While I have your attention, allow me to post links to two interviews that bloggers conducted with me recently:
Allan Hudson on South Branch Scribbler – 4Q Interview with award-winnning author Susan Toy
Tricia Drammeh on Authors to Watch – Interview with Susan M. Toy