Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Caribbean, Part 2

The place we visited most often on our trip to Virgin Gorda was a bar/sandwich shop called Mad Dogs. It is a small, wooden one-room structure with a wrap-around porch, situated on a grassy, rock-strewn yard home to chickens and roosters. The porch overlooks the rounded humps of the Baths and Drake Chanel and Tortola beyond. A retired New York woman named Edith bought the joint after the previous owner died. She is a thin, pale, white-haired woman, frequently dressed in black. Her daughter, who was visiting, is from New Jersey. It was interesting listening to the New York accent bantering with the Jersey accent over the counter of a bar in the BVI.

Edith is what’s known down here as a belonger. A belonger is someone who visits the BVI decides that they belong there, so they become a permanent resident.

She had a few locals, by which I mean generational inhabitants, helping her in the kitchen (which was just the counters, sink and refrigerator behind the counter). Lilia, a tall dark-skinned woman is her main partner. They are infamous on the island for their witty repartee and odd-couple sensibility. We passed many hours drinking Red Stripe while sitting on deck chairs, watching the boats come and go from the Baths, listening these two and their customers.

One customer was there most of the times we were. On out last night, we struck up a conversation. He was from South Carolina. His family owned a house on the island, and he came down a couple times a year. There seems to be a lot of Southerners in the BVI—its just easier to get here from there, as our all-day air travel from Newark proves.

Of course he loved the islands, but he talked about the expense of having property here. The walls need to be re-painted frequently because the salt in the air gets into the paint and causes it to corrode. He was in the process of retiling the bathroom floor because the moisture caused the tiles to expand and crack. He said the cheapest option is to have the building supplies shipped from Home Depot in Miami.

When we drive across the island we see little construction projects on almost every property, but practically no evidence of construction taking place. There are piles of bricks, and bags of concrete, and dusty lots, and half finished cinderblock frames and unconnected pipes sticking up out of the ground and out of roofs where walls should be. It is as if the entire island is under a continual state of repair and rebuilding that never quiet gets done. The expense of bringing in material is restrictive.

Same with agriculture. The only thing we saw being cultivated on Virgin Gorda was goat. This may be why our search for a traditional Caribbean meal came up short. Does the fact that the island doesn’t produce its own food stuffs limit the inhabitant’s ability to develop an original cuisine? It would be arrogant to answer this question after being on the island for only four days. We ate a lot of very tasty sandwiches, washed down with Jamaican beer. But a sandwich is a sandwich.

We closed out Mad Dogs around 9pm, with a recommendation to have our last dinner at Chez Bamboo. This turned out to be an excellent choice. It had one of my tell-tale signs of a restaurant with great food—they make their own desert and ice cream. The homemade ice cream is no mean feat in the islands, and I believe Chez Bamboo is the only establishment on Virgin Gorda that does so. When we got there a guitar player was playing and singing classic 1950s and 60s pop songs in the outside dining patio. He told stories of playing with famous musicians who visited the Caribbean and happened to come into whatever bar or restaurant he was working in, including John Denver. He was fond of Richie Valens tunes. The food was great and the ice cream smooth and sweet.

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