Published: Friday, August 16, 2013

Travel

St Vincent’s Remedy

The view across the channel to Bequia, SVG.

The view across the channel to Bequia, SVG.

It’s not the cure-all for the deficiencies of mankind but it does its best. There are island choices, whether to read a book or sit on the balcony in the sun and surrender, sublimely, to the translucent waters of Indian Bay. Beyond, aqua fading to deep blue is the channel before Bequia, the first island in the Grenadine chain. There exists no obstacle that can obstruct beauty: it’s a reminder. The view can hypnotise, there.

St Vincent brought beauty to the walls of the slave built tunnel with the help of lichens.

St Vincent brought beauty to the walls of the slave built tunnel with the help of lichens.

When inactivity becomes entirely too inactive the beach is just a few strides away, to swim or with flippers and snorkel to greet the fish, multicoloured, striped, with long snouts or googly eyes. It’s to be observed that the postcard paradise continues underwater. Lucelle, meanwhile, might be taking her husband for a dip; but there’ll be no crowds to contend with, there.
Things to think of are not absolutely absent, don’t misunderstand: it’s best not to swim out too far lest Bequia’s currents sweep you away, and don’t get caught up, irretrievably, in the dreamy pink palette of the Caribbean sunset, either. But it’s not much to worry about. There’s a lot of goodness in St Vincent to find you. Life won’t bother you much, there.
Lucelle doesn’t have guests. It’s one of the first things she says, that at her laid back hotel she only has friends. Even if you’re new friends, arriving at her little patch of Indian Bay fresh from the airport, just in from Grenada, you’ll understand it easily that she’s not only saying that. When she learns you have no car it’s unimportant because in her older model, brown car she takes enjoyment from showing her friends a lot of the little main island. Lucelle is proud of her West Indian nation, independent since 1979 and homeland to 120,000 people, her SVG.
St Vincent and the Grenadines: she sees so much goodness in it.
You’ll wonder if it was Lucelle who added the final touches to island calm or if the island brought its kindly disposition to bear on her. There’s an inkling of the sound of the waves in her demeanour and the soft crunch of beach sand in her pace. Or perhaps it’s merely the sort of gentleness to be expected from a diplomat’s wife.
By narrow road into the green hills away from the coast she took us to the gardens of Mesopotamia. We strolled and chatted among a bounty of fruit, patterned leaf and orchid flower; and the conversation flowed as simply as the stream, there.

The hills of Mesopotamia, St Vincent.

The hills of Mesopotamia, St Vincent.

Yet it’s no cure-all. Wherever there are humans there are problems and we can see this by the black sand beaches of the east coast. Lucelle wanted to show us the tunnel dug under the hillside by African-origin slaves, at the time when the British engaged the island in sugar production. There aren’t natural harbours on the east side so the tunnel was a convenience through which trolleys of cane could be hauled and loaded aboard small boats and anchored ships. The British ordered the landscape altered, there.
But there exists no obstacle that can obstruct beauty, according to St Vincent, and what should have been a morbid site of slavery’s remodelling, wasn’t. A melange of colour and shade, the walls of whitish rock were covered in lichen in bright red and fluorescent green, turning a horrific history toward art. Over time St Vincent’s remedy had done its best, making new beauty with a little weathering. We should remember people’s goodness and struggle, and not only their suffering: it’s a reminder.
She drove on, north, to colonial looking Georgetown, which seemed to be trying to be more of a town than it really was. Beyond was the light forest of tall palms among the cane fields, the banana and guava orchards. It was an inching lane of warped bitumen that raised us to the shady turnaround at the start of the volcano trail.
Above the clouds, Soufrière’s active bellybutton peak in the island’s north is out of view; it’s the skyward tip of the painted parasol of an island and it can erupt, and disrupt, again. Yet it’s true, St Vincent would over time remodel any catastrophe, to make new beauty, with a little weathering.

A set from the film, Pirates of the Caribbean.

A set from the film, Pirates of the Caribbean.

Wherever there are humans there are struggles and Lucelle tells us of youth unemployment and the fear that her SVG could fall into the trap of drugs and crime that has already beset some of the neighbouring island nations. But she shows us the new schools the Vincentian government has built and the site of a proposed larger airport that could accommodate larger planes to help the tourism industry to bloom. She considers if her SVG couldn’t become the IT hub of the Windies. She sees a bright future, there.
Meanwhile beyond the capital Kingstown on the west coast and another day the older model brown car drove to the little bay of the Hollywood treasure chest, where the movie Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. Swashbuckling sets, warehouses and coffins are still, there. And in the small town of Barrouallie we stopped to meet her relatives; because although they’d never know it, you can’t simply drive on. SVG is not that sort of a country.

Lucelle doesn't have guests, only friends.

Lucelle doesn’t have guests, only friends.

Sometimes Lucelle would come to us and we’d sit in lazy chairs on the balcony overlooking Indian Bay’s deep blue. She spoke of her life in easy, palm frond sentences, about her own troubles of the sort that can be found wherever there are humans.
She remembers the parties of Europe back in the diplomat days and smiles, and I won’t tell the whole of it but I did want to mention about her husband, who suffers from dementia. She helps him to the beach and back twice a day, for a swim; and he needs a lot of care, not always knowing who she is. Sometimes in the not-knowing he can act with violence.
So when Lucelle worries about his safety, when she worries he might wander off and finds it hard to speak of these things; when she says ‘He was very good to me,’ it’s really something to respect. That there’s a kind of entwining in this world that can overcome any obstacle: it’s a reminder. Sometimes we need reminders and Lucelle was an exceptional one: we saw so much goodness in her.
One day, she said, she walked into a bank in Kingstown and was shocked: there was no movement, as though time had stopped, customer and staff silent and frozen. It was the final stages of a cricket match, it turned out to be, and all those Vincentian eyes were glued to the TV set and Lucelle willingly did the same, more than willingly. For the several final minutes breaths were held, stomachs in throat until suddenly there were screams: in the bank the customers jumped about, she said, they woke up in spontaneous cheers and applause. Hurrah! The Windies had triumphed!
SVG is not the cure-all for the deficiencies of mankind but it does its best.

A black sand beach on the east coast of St Vincent.

A black sand beach on the east coast of St Vincent.