Tuesday, June 30, 2009

From the Headlines

Everyone’s heard the news about Michael Jackson by now, dead from apparent cardiac arrest at 50-years-old. Bermuda’s heard it too. For a small island nation in the middle of the Atlantic, it sure does love its MJ. Just the other day fans gathered at Camden Grounds to sign photos of the pop star that will be sent to the Jackson family on behalf of the island. It was a sight to behold. Hundreds of people showed up, all offering warm thoughts and calm prayer for a man they most likely never met. Locally Jackson made a splash when he visited the Hamilton Princess with then, child star Macaulay Culkin in 1991. In photos of the trip Jackson looked serene and cheerful—although that’s a common reaction for most visitors to Bermuda’s pink shores. It’s a shame he’ll never be back, but local deejays are ensuring the King of Pop will not be forgotten. Yesterday I tuned into a hits-of-the-past station when on came a twenty-minute mashup of Michael Jackson tunes. Each song blended into the next, one barely ending before the next one began. As a casual fan it was both entertaining and frustrating (just play the whole darn song already!) but it did underscore the pop singer's reach. “That one was for all you Michael fans out there,” the deejay said when it was done. Based upon the recent outpouring of island love, I think she was talking to all of us. 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Eats of the Week

I suppose it comes with the territory, but in order to do my job right I’m expected to try lots of things. Whether it’s searching for Bermuda’s best beach (Horseshoe, anyone?), popping in cozy shops (try the Book Cellar in St. George’s), or sampling local cuisine, which admittedly is my favorite assignment of all. My culinary quest most recently took me to the Ocean Club, a waterfront restaurant on the shores of Southampton, run by the Fairmont Hotel. It’s a wonderful spot for a meal; when the weather’s nice you can eat outside on its open-air deck perched right above the water. Unfortunately however, Bermuda has been experiencing some “unsettled” weather—daily rainfests that make enjoying such luxuries impossible. Faced with yet another storm we sat inside, a slightly tired white-walled room with lofted ceilings and bright blue wall-to-wall carpet (I’m still not sure why restaurants in the tropics, and on the water no less, use carpeting. Haven’t they noticed that it smells musty after awhile? Sigh). The good news is the food was excellent. Predictably the Ocean Club specializes in seafood, featuring varied preparations of fish of all kinds. For starters the Bermuda tuna tartar was near perfect, seasoned with harissa—a North African hot sauce made from chili peppers—and served with toasted flatbread. Equally enjoyable was the Vietnamese lobster summer roll, delicately presented with sweet chili and daikon vinaigrette. The entrees didn’t disappoint either: The seared sea scallops were light and silky, served alongside plump lobster ravioli and a rich brandy cream sauce. Even the blackened mahi mahi was a standout—a fish that’s so frequently overcooked came expertly prepared with grilled vegetables, jasmine rice, and kaffir lime and ginger vinaigrette. There was little room for dessert so we shared an exotic  trio of crème brulee with Tahitian vanilla, candied ginger, and coconut macaroons—a lovely end to a lovely meal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Facts of Life

There are certain truths that one must come to accept when living on a tropical island. Like how table salt stops shaking smoothly from its container because of the high humidity. Or how those trails of ants keep coming back no matter how much bug spray you use. Or how the local milk is sold undated. Both good and bad, I’m calling them the Facts of Life from here on in. Here’s one: I was in St. George’s the other day, doing some reporting at Fort St. Catherine (see above) when suddenly it started pouring rain. I had anticipated a drop or two but a raging downpour I was not expecting. For those not familiar with Bermuda, St. George’s is about as far east as you can go—at least a good 45 minutes by scooter to my home in Southampton on the south shore. Faced with impending dinner plans the only choice was to hit the road and motor on. In the pouring rain. On a scooter. Thank goodness I’d just bought a new helmet with a clear face visor because every time I lifted the thing up it was as if tiny knives were stabbing my cheeks. By the time I’d reached Hamilton I was soaked—denim jeans sopping, leather flip-flops drenched, and my shirt somewhat spared by my rain jacket but still damp nonetheless. I was a mess. Rather than cancel my dinner plans however, I did what many before me have done when faced with the same rainy situation here in Bermuda: I bought new clothes at Gibbons, a department store in town that luckily stays open until 7:30pm. The helpful saleswomen got their giggles in for sure, but who could blame them? If I stood in one spot for more than thirty seconds I’d leave a small pool of water behind. One pair of Levi’s and a snazzy new shirt later I was all set, just in time for dinner and a thankfully sunny ride to the restaurant.  It all turned out for the best, but of course that’s another fact of Bermuda life: It always does. 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Here Comes the Rain Again (Part Deux)

Consider this an open letter of apology to my cable company. On Wednesday I wrote about a sudden storm that showered the island and supposedly knocked out my television. It seemed like a perfectly good assumption at the time. After all, when I was shopping for a cable television provider I’d been told a number of times how the rain affects WOW signals across Bermuda. However after a quick call to the company—and a surprisingly pain free house call—they determined that the workers renovating the upstairs apartment unplugged my antennae booster. That’s it. I now know this is true because we’ve woken up to yet another wild storm—a thick blanket of rain that has engulfed the entire island. It’s pouring here and yet I still have TV. Remember those S and Q meters I blustered about? Well, they’re at 94 and 98, respectively. Good news all around, especially since I’ve been watching a shaggy palm tree blow in the breeze for the past thirty minutes (see above). It’s almost like I’m a character in Homer’s painting, Hurricane, which is fine by me as long as I can watch the news later on tonight.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Bermuda!

In 1609 Sir George Somers and his ship, the Sea Venture shipwrecked on Bermuda en route to feed the Jamestown colonists in America—a historical mishap that inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest and eventually created a vibrant island nation. Exactly 400 years later Bermuda is in full celebration mode with sporting events, music festivals, and regattas planned throughout the year, like the Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge, a whopper of an event that reached our shores last week. On April 30, a fleet of 21 high-masted monohull sailboats—including Marlon Brando’s famed S.S. Bounty—departed Vigo, Spain for what would be a 7,000-nautical-mile journey through Tenerife, Bermuda, Charleston, Boston, Halifax, and Belfast, Ireland. The tall ships sailed into Hamilton last Thursday, each one entering the harbor with a mighty canon boom. To our delight, the sailboats were open to the public, a courtesy we took full advantage of. Our favorites were the Capitán Miranda, a gorgeous three-masted schooner from Uruguay (see above), the aforementioned S.S. Bounty (that’s Joy at the helm), and the Pride of Baltimore, which flew a giant American flag on loan from Maryland’s Fort McHenry. After a week of festivities celebrating their arrival, the ships sailed from Hamilton on Tuesday, leaving Bermuda the same way they arrived—with flags flying, sails billowing, and the sounds of booming cannon shots ringing in the air. Looks like we got here just in time for the party.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Here Comes the Rain Again

A string of cloudy days has finally culminated into a much-needed storm—one that battered our windows and soaked our patio while we were sleeping last night. It’s fine by me, although I wish someone would do something about the television. Call it another island quirk. There are two cable TV operators here in Bermuda, Cablevision and WOW (World on Wireless). When we first got here, I did my due diligence to determine which service was best. I learned that WOW offered more channels for less money and that Cablevision bundled its service with an Internet connection. And on it went, until I finally learned that I could only use WOW due to our home’s location. Decision made, however there’s one small problem: The rain. Apparently our cable television provider doesn’t get along with it. In fact the two hate each other, evidenced by the nagging S and Q meters on my TV screen that read 1% during a storm. For those non-islanders out there, S and Q stand for sound and quality. When it’s sunny, there’s a red bar next to each one that usually reads 95%-100%. Last night they were at a dismal one. That’s one percent sound and quality for all you keeping score. Needless to say Joy and I fell asleep to the DVD version of Rudy last night. Of course the rain is not all bad. For folks whose cisterns went dry weeks ago, it’s the answer to their prayers. For the yellowed palm trees perched on my hillside, it’s a much-needed drink. And of course, the rain makes for an interesting photograph, especially when its droplets bubble up on the patches of thorny aloe that surround my house (see above). I’m not sure when my TV will be working again, but I suspect I’ll be dipping into my DVD collection yet again tonight. Just call it island intuition. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It’s a Small World

It was something that I discovered very early on here, while first getting a feel for Bermuda during a weekend trip in February. Joy and I were in a taxi on our way from the airport when at a stoplight our driver had a short yet meaningful conversation with a bus driver heading the opposite way. “How’s your bruddah?” asked our bearded driver. “Better!” shouted his pal from the bus window. And then we were off, just like that. Of course most island communities are cozy. When I lived in St. Croix, U.S.V.I., I quickly realized that everyone knew everyone, knowledge I kept in my back pocket as a young reporter for the local newspaper. If I needed an interview from the Governor, I’d look up his cousin who lived down the street. If I were searching for a weekend party, I’d head to the waterfront where a longhaired bartender named Choo would spare no detail. And if my car—a $450, 1980’s era Subaru—blew a tire yet again, I’d wave down oncoming traffic for a can of Fix-a-Flat. I’d never wait more than five minutes before a motorist would pull over. Everyone stops and helps. Everyone lends a hand. Everyone says hello. It’s a very similar situation here in Bermuda. I recently met my neighbor, a chipper gentleman named Colin who during our first conversation asked me where I was from. “New York City,” I said proudly. “Ahhh, New Yawk,” he said, “I love it. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere,” he shouted. It’s a common mantra but one that certainly rings true as I learn the ins and outs of my new home. It’s a small world here in Bermuda and that’s just fine with me. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Maybe it’s the giant toad that greets me at my doorstep each morning or the lizards that scurry across my window every afternoon. Maybe it’s the baby frog I spotted clinging to my patio wall last night (see above). Or maybe it’s the yellow-breasted bird that whistles as if it were a construction worker who’s just spotted an attractive woman. I’m not exactly sure what brought it on, but I’m having a very Charles Darwin moment. Bermuda is positively brimming with life and you don’t have to go very far to see much of it. Take its waters for example. Visibility is remarkable—certainly one of the reasons the islands of Bermuda are so popular with deep sea divers—but if you’re looking for marine life, all it really takes is a swim in the shallows. In my short time here I’ve seen parrotfish, blue angels, and yellowtail snapper, all without even trying. Colonies of Portuguese man-of-war are a common sight as well, their bluish balloon-like bodies bobbing in the water or washed up on the beach. Not as much as fun as spotting a honeycomb cowfish, but interesting nonetheless. On land it’s a bird-lovers paradise with eastern warblers, egrets, morning doves, and literally hundreds of others. Perhaps the most graceful of them all is the white-tailed tropicbird, with its long white tail guiding it through the air. Spittal Pond Nature Reserve in Smith’s Parish is a great place to search for fowl—at nearly 60 acres the reserve is Bermuda’s largest—but I’m happy just to watch it all from right here. You can’t talk fauna without mentioning the peskier pals that call the island home. We’ve got trails of Bermuda ants trolling the front yard, tiny spiders spinning some of the most intricate webs I’ve ever seen, and snails that simply stay put. Worms will come out after a strong rain but we haven’t seen much of that lately. For now I’ll just look forward to seeing that toad tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kudos to…Bungee Cords

There are certain items you need here in Bermuda that quickly become must haves. When planning our move, Joy and I made a list—things like beach chairs, coolers, sunblock. They all come in handy, and we’re glad we planned ahead considering how expensive things can be here, but no one item has been more handy, more clutch, than our trusty bungee cords. I bought them at Masters—what I thought was the Home Depot of Bermuda before I found Gorham’s just down the block—and it was only my second day here. It was after my first trip to the market while riding my Smatt’s rental scooter. Not yet the grocery store veteran that I am now, I didn’t bring a backpack to fill with my daily purchases, so I stuffed them in my scooter’s rear wire basket. I did my best to cram it all in, but sure enough, after driving over one of the island’s ubiquitous speed bumps my stack of paper plates up and popped out. No harm done, really. I was able to safely pull over and retrieve the plates, but had it been my jar of roasted garlic tomato sauce I might be singing a different tune right now. And so, the very next day I sought out my bungee cords. They’re amazing and necessary for pretty much every island errand when you don’t have a car. How else can you bring home a five-foot-tall dust mop? Or a long tube of yet-to-be-framed art to the frame shop? Or your fancy new beach chairs to the beach? It’s all about the bungee. And as for as for those groceries, they’ve stayed put ever since. 

Monday, June 8, 2009

The First Time

Firsts are a funny thing—at least they can be, if you’ve just moved to a new place and you’re ticking off each one on some giant make believe list. The weekend saw it’s fair share of firsts, some expected and some not so expected. We participated in our first official full day of beach tennis at Horseshoe Beach on Saturday—a much longer and sweatier version of our recent Thursday night match. It was great fun, with cold beers from our sponsor (thanks Dos Equis!) and new friends from all over the world. At day’s end we were even invited to a barbeque in Tucker’s Town on the east side of the island, which led to another stunning first: Dinner with the Golden Child. Remember the 1980s movie starring Eddie Murphy? I sure do. In the film the Golden Child was a bald-headed Asian boy, but in actuality that boy is a girl and her name is Jasmine—a perky Californian visiting friends in Bermuda who we shared fish sandwiches with later that night. Dinner with a child movie star? Check. Other firsts came and went in no time at all, like when Batman and Robin ran right past us during the 100th Annual Bermuda Day Marathon Derby (see above). Or when we watched our first Bermudian rain storm which visited us on Sunday afternoon. The quick torrent of rain blanketed the island’s north shore for a solid ten minutes—a welcome douse on an island very much in need of a drink. We watched from our terrace as warm rain filled the air and toasted to our good fortune. I’m sure they’ll be plenty more, of firsts that is, and some that I hope will happen sooner than later. Like getting my first Bermuda driver’s license, which I’m learning will indeed take some time to secure. But such is island life. I’m just glad this isn’t the first time I’ve lived on one.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What I’ve Learned

It’s been just over two weeks since our arrival, with each day since like a master class in social behavior. Every culture has it quirks, but getting to know them is sometimes the hardest part. Take walking for example. I’ve learned that in Hamilton the crosswalk is king. Step into the thick white lines in town and traffic will stop on a dime. Attempt to jaywalk and you’ll be tempting fate and oncoming motorists. You just don’t do it. Same goes for riding a scooter with your mouth open. It sounds silly, but lest you enjoy snacking on bugs you learn to keep your trap shut while on the road. I’ve learned that beyond being a wonderful shade of pink, Bermuda sand is really, really, sticky. Last night we came home from our weekly game of beach tennis—a wonderful sport that’s a cross between beach volleyball and badminton—and it was as if someone had shake-n-baked me. Even a good scrubbing in the shower proved futile. I’ve learned that you can use the Internet for free, for thirty minutes each day by signing up in the library (you hear that tourists?). I’ve learned that my wife gets even prettier when sitting on the bow of a boat (see above). And I’ve learned that if you want one of the best rum swizzles on the island, to go see Charles at the Newstead Hotel in Belmont. Really, it’s just that good. Friday evenings are a blast, so I’ve learned. After work, most everyone goes to the Hamilton Princess in town or the aforementioned Newstead Hotel for a racous, rum-soaked happy hour. Bands play, friends gather, it’s incredibly civilized. Thank God it’s Friday.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Bermudaful Day

People say Bermudaful here, as if it’s a real word. “Have a Bermudaful day,” someone will say, although in all fairness it’s most often the radio deejay or a hotel concierge. I haven’t started saying it yet, but I’d sure have good reason to use the term. Bermuda is one of the prettiest little islands I’ve ever had the pleasure to call home. Undoubtedly during any island travel—and certainly any throughout the lower Caribbean—you’re bound to find pockets of poverty, buildings that need a paint job, potholes. But there’s none of that here. It’s all so, Bermudaful. Take a walk through town and you’ll be wished a pleasant good morning at every turn. Storefronts and homes all have candy-colored coats of paint and just-paved roads are lined with verdant trees, bushes, and plants of all kinds. There are 188 islands here, all surrounded by Bermuda’s famed pink sand beaches. I’m shocked that even in the heat of early June, so many of them go empty. Our home is a five-minute walk from idyllic Church Bay, a crescent sliver of sand with craggy rock formations and some of the best snorkeling on the south shore. I’d have it all to myself if I went right now. It’s what makes this place so intriguing, so different, so Bermudaful. We listen to tree frogs at night and songbirds in the morning. From my new home office, I see palm trees through my windows and the Great South Bay from my desk. Hibiscus plants fill our garden and gentle coastal breezes fill our house. The sailors who shipwrecked on the Sea Venture in 1609 never wanted to leave and I’m quickly understanding why: It’s a nice place to call home.