NYT Talks Grenada & I Talk Back

Posted on: Monday, February 9th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 4th Stop: Grenada, Latest Trip | 3 comments

On Saturday, February 7, the New York Times published a lengthy and insightful travel article, “In Grenada, Leaving the Past Behind,” by Ned Martel.  After digging into Grenada for the past 2+ weeks (and exploring the West Indies for nearly two months) I must say he’s mostly spot-on.  Yet a “conversation” with this big-time write-up is too tempting to pass up.  First, his quotes; then my replies…

Leaving the past behind…”  
Yes, they’re working on building a brighter future.  But the past is omnipresent too, in ongoing hurricane repairs, print, street paintings, and conversations. In a bar where I killed an hour today, four locals debated 1974 and 1979 events the entire time.  Who in America can discuss politics circa the 70s? And would 95% of Americans wear the national colors the whole weekend during Independence celebrations?  No way.      
What I get is the feeling that folks are happy to see me, even if they see me on occasion as a human dollar sign.”  
True dat!  But folks here may have mastered the art of be happy, don’t worry.  And a dollar can buy a lot of happy down here.  An EC buck costs about US$.40, and seems more appreciated than in typical tourist economies—maybe because tourists are still rare on most of the island.  Mercifully, guests are rarely “horossed.”  What I’ve more noted is the generosity:  I couldn’t quantify the poundage of perfect produce that’s been cheerfully given to us.  And in Grenville, a kind vegetable vendor gifted my children two bags of cheesy chips after I’d refused to buy them.  She wins, my kids win, I smile and wag my finger at her coy smirk.  
The intervention.”  
Guidebooks may have clued me in.  But I’ve heard it called everything from “the invasion” to “the intervention” to “the liberation.”  Of course, politics run thicker than callaloo stew down here; I’ve seen people this weekend (their Independence Day) wearing Bishop t-shirts.  He was the one assassinated in ’83, shortly before “the intervention.” 
Islanders have savored relaxation so heartily…”  
No exaggeration:  I hear that word used many times a day by locals.  Like a mantra.  Not only are they selling it, they’re practicing the discipline themselves.  Loitering. Chilling. Hanging out. Grenadians have made it an art form.  They also say “rest” a lot.  If you ask if that’s the restaurant owner sitting at a corner table alone, they’ll just say, “Ya mon, he restin’.”  Nobody would question it if he sat there all night.  
An air of gratitude that suggests they couldn’t have enjoyed the freedoms of today without the despairs of yesterday.”  
Indeed, freedom rules.  Yet the customs and manners here are eerily old school, the people reverent and demure.  Not only do they say thank you, they always say you’re welcome.  As for the mentioned despairs, my guess is a gutsy, national pride has grown from all they’ve been through:  slavery, revolution, US invasion, huge hurricanes.  They work hard and take little for granted, including the fruits of their labor and the ease of feeling free.        
We stop half a dozen times.  
Yep.  At least.  Mr. Welcome Cummings is obviously a classy, high-end driver.  We’ve used recommended renegade drivers, who charge less but don’t have a taxi license, AC, or seatbelts, and who will stop dozens of times.  In the middle of the road.  The authenticity is priceless, and we meet local folks and gain instant insight into real-life Grenada.  Cell phones may be common, but Grenadians still communicate in person and on the move. 
More hypocrisy in the churches than in the rum shops.”  
Ha!  Perhaps, but there’s more macho, booming BS in the rum shops than all the churches combined.  Grenada is uncannily spiritual.  “All family belongs to a church,” I was told yesterday.  “Even the Roman Catholic dance in the aisles,” I was told today.  People paint inspirational messages—not graffiti—all over.  The public-transportation “reggae buses” have names like “Bless Up,” “Always Decent,” and “Yes Jah.”  The back windshield will boast verses as simple as, “God is Love” to “The sky is wide enough for a million stars.”  Like billboards in an American city, you can’t escape these messages—of positivity and faith.    
From the hilltop jail, convicts enjoy the best view of the island.”  
For real.  Methinks they could convert that hoosegow with a view into a chic S&M resort called “Incarceration,” except this conservative island has a dress code and doesn’t even allow cleavage (never mind that men carry knives and machetes).  The harborside hospital also has a stunning location, and has the rep of being full of new equipment—that no one knows how to use.  That, too, could make a nice fantasy resort…for wealthy hypochondriacs?
I could spend all night at Patrick’s, and with Patrick himself.”   

Put simply:  We had the exact opposite experience.  The worst night, worst food, worst encounter with a Grenadian.  Maybe it’s because I don’t write for The Times?  Or perhaps it was just fate. It matters not.  Travel teaches us that bliss comes in 555 forms.  And letdowns happen.  Even his waitress couldn’t handle Patrick that night, and our cabbie (nobody special) was embarrassed upon hearing our story.  We were the only table in the joint that evening.  But were also told that the previous night had been packed with naughty yachties.  Hmmm.  I’m glad the NYT writer had a good experience; that gives me simultaneous skepticism, hope, and—maybe—a reason to try again.

…endure a lot of stares and the occasional shout of ‘White man!’ even as I sit safely in One Dog’s passenger seat.”  
Yep.  My posse is a white man, woman, boy, and girl—all Scandinavian blonde and blue.  Been there, heard that–though we may have looked less “outsider” when traveling in the rusty jalopies of locals.  I prefer to think that we were novelties, not targets.  You know, like a donkey in the Mall of America, where everyone would no doubt yell, “Donkey!”  
We reach a spooky town…  
For sure, if you tour the many neighbohorhoods, villages and towns of Grenada, at least one will strike you as spooky.  Or your driver will tell you it is.  Or a “local lunatic” or “half-brained crackhead” will come at your car.  Spooky, or just predictable island drama?  Still, the worst vibe I felt and mischief I saw was PG compared to a drive through many ‘hoods in Minneapolis.  For fear management, I’ll take Grenada.  (Yet that cemetery at Carib Leap in Sauteurs was sorta creepy…) 
For now, Americans are cool.  The Caribbean glows with the pride that the USA chose a Black man to be president.  His face appears on bumper stickers, gallery artworks, and roadside paintings—where he sitteth alongside the likes of Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela, MLK, and Fidel Castro.  
  • In conclusion:  Great story, Ned.  Come back before February ends, and we’ll compare notes and local rums–on me.  And just for some extra theater, let’s have our last supper at Patrick’s. 
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3 Responses to “NYT Talks Grenada & I Talk Back”

  1. scott Says:

    i feel as if i am there… tanks

  2. Don Ball Says:

    Kirk, another wonderful, nuanced write up of your experience. Hey, are you sure the guy in the above photo isn’t Bin Laden? He doesn’t have Fidel’s trademark glasses.

  3. kirk Says:

    Good question! But I don’t think they’ve gone so far as to dig Bin down here. Anyway, didn’t Fidel try contacts for a while???

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