Is it just me?


 … or couldn’t we all use a vacation right about now?  I am battling both a bad cold and a serious jones for Jamaica today. 

This is Ray, a lovely older man I met my first day in Negril.  I was staying at a fabulously rustic and homey place called “Roots Bamboo” right on the beach.  My first night there, I walked out to the bar/restaurant and there was Ray, playing his guitar and singing a blues song. Later, he sang what I learned was his signature song: The Big Bamboo. Yeah. It means what you think it means.

She likes the big bamboo, big and tall.
Big bamboo, she said, not small …

You get the idea. It’s a very funny, very bawdy song, all the verses full of thinly-thinly veiled references to said bamboo.

Later that night, after seeing a stage show down the beach, I was walking back to Roots and there was Ray, sitting outside a shop on the sand, playing his guitar. I was walking with Jacko, the man who painted the pictures behind Ray. We sat with Ray for a while, listening to his songs, talking. Ray was nice enough to let me take a couple of pictures of him, and I was glad to get Jacko’s paintings in the shot, too.

I can’t believe it’s more than a year since my last trip to JA.  Clearly something’s gone awry with my planning and priorities.  Time to get to work on that!

Caribbean Crown Heights

I live in Crown Heights, and it’s very Caribbean.  I walk into my grocery and see so many of the products I find in the shops when I’m in Jamaica: Ting, Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce, Verdé sparkling wine, whole shelves of Grace goods.  It’s great.  When I’m feeling ‘homesick’ for Jamaica (in quotes because I am not from Jamaica, but there’s no other word to describe the feeling) I just have to walk down the street to get a mini-fix.  I can find pattie places, sorrel drinks and saltfish ready to be soaked and sauteed.

A week or so ago I thought I saw something even more a balm to homesickness than the availability of Ting.  But I was in a hurry and didn’t stop to look more closely.

Then, two days ago on the bus I had that quick glimpse confirmed.  We were passing a house and out front, tucked up against the stairs, were two jerk cookers: steel drums on their sides set into frames and cut length-wise so they can open like barbeque grills.  (That is really a terrible description!  Look here to see a nice, clean and pretty version of what they look like.)

Mmm … jerk has become one of my favorite food preparations: shrimp, chicken, pork … all are delicious.  Best, though, is lobster.  Jerk lobster transcends a word like ‘delicious.’  In Jamaica, you see the split-open oil drums everywhere — big, official jerk joints and tiny, roadside stands.  And everyone’s jerk is different.  all are spicy, but the choice of spices for the marinade varies, the consistency runs from gravy-like to stew to thick, chunky paste to near-dry rub.  All the versions I’ve tried have been delicious.

Seeing those cookers made me think about Harry outside his “Gold Coast” restaurant chopping up chickens, getting them ready for his thick, dark marinade … and down the road from Harry’s there’s a little grocery where, on a Friday, there’s excellent jerk chicken and conch soup being served up … and a little further down the road there’s the beautiful, mosaic-covered grill at the resort where I stayed on my first trip … Mmm … jerk.

And now I’m seeing the cookers everywhere!  Come summer, I think there’s going to be a whole lot of grilling going on.  Those cookers are just a style of barbeque grills, so they don’t necessarily mean jerk, but in this neighborhood they kind of must mean jerk, I think.  Yesterday I noticed they have one on the side of the house two doors down.  I think I, um, need to go make friends with my neighbors …