Monday, October 25, 2010

An island of wonder

It wasn't long after I'd posted to my blog yesterday that the power went off. We weren't too surprised. It had been happening on and off for the past few days for short periods of time, intermittently through the day. But this outage lasted longer.

Tammy waited, hoping to get the TV to work so we could do our yoga work-out. C.C. held off on cooking breakfast, hoping the power could come back. Jack sat at the laptop, fingers poised mid-sentence of an email, wondering how long he should wait. I stood by the coffee maker, finger poised to press, Brew.

The bells had called worshippers to the 9am service. The organ pounded and then halted. No more bells. No more music, just wisps of voices singing.

We waited for the power to come back.

And nothing happened.

It was the house staff's day off, we didn't know who to ask about the outage. The watchman walked through the yard, we asked him.

"It's the whole area," he informed us. "I saw workmen pulling wires. I'm sure it will be back soon."

And still it didn't come back.

We went for a swim. C.C. cooked his 'world famous' Finish pancakes' on the gas stove. Boiled water on the stove-top for tea and we ate a delightful breakfast on the deck. The only thing missing was the fan spinning over-head creating a much welcome breeze.

We decided to go for another swim.

"Let's do something adventuresome," Jack suggested.

We checked out the map. Decided on The Caves. Lia and Andy wanted to spend a day reading and relaxing. We four got dressed and headed into town to find a cab. We couldn't very well call one as the phones were out too.

Church service was over but C.C. hadn't yet seen the inside of the church so we decided to take a look. We followed an Asian couple into the quiet, shadowy interior. The fans were still. A young girl laughed and sang as her parents wandered through the pews. At the centre of the church, where the two arms of the building meet in a cruciform, a man stood over-seeing what was going on in Barbados' oldest church.

We stopped to chat and asked him if he knew anything about the power outage.

"It's off from 9am to 4pm throughout the town," he told us. They're connecting Limegrove, a multi-million dollar mall that's being built at the edge of downtown, to the electrical grid.

Mystery solved. No power today. We walked towards city centre.

At the corner of the bridge over the lagoon where the white birds rest at night, there was a hum of activity. Across the street the new mall sits in massive pastel hues of pale lemony yellow, soft dusky pink and creamy tan. Workers in hard-hats and steel-toed boots, bare chests and cut-off shorts, pulled wires and climbed poles. As we crossed the bridge, a man carrying a STOP sign wandered into the middle of the street, held up his sign and ordered traffic to stop. Horns honked, drivers-waved at passersby and the workmen.

There was a sense of festivity to it all. Several workers ripped a long black wire from the electrical poles that lined the street. It fell to earth, no sparks flew. They dragged it across the street towards where we walked, it's long sinuous line a black snake writhing in the sun. We stepped aside. They kept pulling. They smiled at us as we stepped over the wire and kept walking to the taxi-stand in city centre.

The day was hot and bright. Stumbling in the dark of a cave didn't feel as appealing as it had earlier when a grey cloud had blocked the sun. We decided to take a trip up to St. Nicolas Abbey, a working sugar cane plantation that was established in 1658 in the hills of St. Peter's Parish. Never an 'abbey' or connected to any religious order, the Jacobean Mansion was originally built to house the family of real-estate speculator and British aristocrat, Benjamin Berringer.

The plantation and its graceful home is steeped in island lore and intrique. It's rumoured Berringer's business partner, John Yeamans, yearned after his land and his wife and had Berringer poisoned so he could marry the lovely Margaret. Which he did, ten weeks after Berringer's death. Yeamans was eventually knighted by King Charles II and appointed Governor of Carolina, which was a single colony at the time. From there, the Yeamans travelled to America, bringing what is thought to be the first slaves to their newly adopted lands. As Yeamans health failed and his reputation plummeted in Carolina, the couple returned to their island paradise to live out their days.

For the next three centuries, the plantation, which was renamed to Nicholas Plantation to rid it of its connection to the tarnished pedigree of the Yeamans name, with the St. and the Abbey portion added later as a 'commemoration of their love', or as some suggest, a stab at pretentiousness', would pass hands, moving from family to family either through marriage, or, as eventually happened, bankruptcy sale. For 200 years the home and lands would be held in the Cave family who acted primarily as absentee landlords until the 1960s when Lt. Colonel Stephen Cave inherited the lands to become the first owner to live full-time on the plantation since the 1800s. Col Cave died in 2003, and in 2006 local architect Larry Warren and his wife, Anna, purchased the Abbey to become the first native born Barbadians to own the land.

Under the Warren's tender care, St. Nicolas Abbey is being meticulously restored to its original splendour as an operating sugar plantation. And along the way, they're intent on making first class Rum and turning the plantation mansion and grounds into a cultural centre for all to enjoy.

And enjoy it we did. From the spectacular road lined with mahogany trees that leads up to the triple arcaded portico of the mansion standing amidst a garden of flowering local plants to the huge slab of mahogany that forms the tasting table placed beneath the well worn timbers of the former stables, visiting St. Nicholas Abbey was a delightful journey into the past of this storied island.

At one point, I wandered alone in the hill behind the home where the sugar cane press sits in a massive stone building. Beside it, the enormous base of the former windmill that used to power the plantation for centuries, stands in majestic silence, green foliage streaming from its crown where once the massive canvas covered sails of the windmill's arms turned.

The air was stirred by an offshore breeze, the massive palms and fern trees of the lush forest swayed in dreamy unison. I sat on a stone wall where, judging by its state of decomposition, someone had carelessly left a bright blue sweater sometime ago. The lands whispered all around me. Bare feet rustled amidst the cane. Bodies moved in wraithlike form slipping in and out of the buildings and equipment and the rusting implements lying on the ground. Their voices whispering, whispering. Of lives born under the yoke of slavery passing into the hands of freed man. Of lives indentured to a culture where they were the working class, artisans, craftsmen, carpenters and hoers who toiled beneath the tropical sun for the white masters who came from far away.

These dark and lyrical voices whispered of times past, times moving on, moving through the centuries, moving through the land. And in the breeze, voices singing. Calling out. Bodies dripping in sweat, toiling under the hot tropical sun to produce the rum that would be pulled by oxen hauling heavily burdened carts loaded with barrels destined for the docks. There was the sound of horses whinnying and donkey's braying as they pulled sugar cane laden carts to the mill for crushing. Roosters crowing and young children scurrying to and fro helping where ever they could to bring in the harvest.

I sat in the hot tropical sun, the breeze stirring the air around me and felt myself moved by this stories place.

I took a breath, felt the past subside and walked back to join the group in the gardens where bees buzzed and toads hunkered down in a lily laden pond.

All was well. Beauty all around in an island of wonder.


Kathleen Overby said...

Seeing the cane press would have been a treat. Fun day.

Maureen said...

When the power goes, being adventuresome wins.

I visited a working sugar cane mill in Florida many years ago; it was fascinating. I've also been to a very old sugar plantation in Jamaica. It seems these island plantations all have some story of romance gone bad. In the image you posted, that house looks quite grand.