Delighted to have my review of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Iranian born author, Shokoofeh Azar, published in the outstanding literary journal, Backstory.
A Dreadly Rockin’ Morning in Trench Town, Jamaica, was written after an inspiring visit to the iconic urban ghetto in Kingston, Jamaica. The story was first published on The Expeditioner travel website on the 20th of February, 2016.
Reggae music pulses from inside the compound as wafts of marijuana smoke float skywards under the blazing morning sun. The enormous sign, painted in the Rastafarian colors red, green and gold outside the gate at 6-8 Lower First Street reads, “Welcome. Trench Town Culture Yard. Birthplace of Jamaica’s Legacies.” It stands alongside a huge black and white portrait of the late Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley O.M., the acclaimed Jamaican-born rock star who took reggae to the world.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect the morning I ventured into the heart of Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica. Since the late 1960’s (in the aftermath of Jamaica gaining independence from Britain in 1962), this poverty-stricken area of West Kingston has maintained a reputation as a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood. For much of the last half of the 20th Century, politically motivated violence between militant gangs aligned to rival parties — the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) and the PNP (People’s National Party) — left urban Kingston reeling. Some guidebooks still warn against visiting. Though things have improved and shootings are less common, it’s still one of the Jamaican capital’s poorest neighborhoods, worlds away from the beachfront resorts that lure most visitors to the tropical Caribbean island.
But lured I was on a recent odyssey through spellbinding Jamaica, compelled to pay tribute to the place that inspired many of the world’s great reggae artists. In the bleak, violent reality of ghetto life, the Trench Town community fostered pockets of incredible creativity and spirituality. And it was here, in this hotspot of humanity, where opportunities to lift oneself out of the zinc-fenced yards were almost non-existent, that reggae and its musical predecessors rocksteady and ska were born.
To read the full story go to http://www.theexpeditioner.com/feature-articles/A-Dreadly-Rockin-Morning-in-Trench-Town-Jamaica.
A few weeks after my beloved grandmother’s funeral, I found myself staying at a hut in Norway in the middle of the mild northern European summer of 2015. By mid-morning when the sun had gained some strength, most days I made my way out to the large veranda to sit amidst the birch trees and wild summer flowers. Quiet days followed, often alone in contemplation, overlooking the glassy waters of the Oslo Fjord.
For many years my grandmother Gigi’s life and mine had been closely intertwined, bound in a relationship born out of deep love and respect and an element of duty. Her final breathe came half way through her 102nd year as the cycle of her long life found its end. Immersed in the magical long days of the Scandinavian summer, I allowed myself time to reflect upon the tapestry of memories embedded in my heart of the fiercely intelligent, kind-hearted woman who had been an ever-present figure in my life since the day I was born.
Sometimes I curled up and dozed in the sun, my body unravelling from the state of vigilance that had built up over the years I cared for my grandmother whilst my two little boys were still very young. Sometimes I took long silent walks through the forest while bright sunlight filtered through the tall canopy of pine trees. I passed hundreds of wild blueberry and raspberry patches and ate delicious berries straight from the bush.
Even this simple act flooded me with memories and transported me back to a happy weekly childhood ritual. While my two younger siblings and I piled on to my grandparent’s bed to watch the Muppet Show, my grandmother would bring in a big bowl of fruit and sit peeling and cutting up different fruits for us. Often she patiently peeled grapes for her treasured grandchildren long past the age we were old enough to eat the skins.
There were many things I admired about my grandmother. She considered herself a fortunate soul, despite having seen and endured much sadness and tragedy throughout her lifetime. She was curious and thoughtful, warm and loving and made deep friendships wherever she went. She lived a love-filled life as a result of the care she had always bestowed upon her family and friends.
The natural mystic in me takes solace knowing she died on the same date in the Hebrew calendar, the 2nd of Tammuz, that her cherished husband, my wonderful Papa also passed away twenty-four years earlier.
And so finally I returned. On a pilgrimage of sorts. To the small Caribbean island nation of Barbados. I wondered whether the sense of belonging that overwhelmed me sixteen years ago, the first time I visited, would again take hold. For years I had carried within my heart incredible memories of my first trip to Barbados, when I was twenty-six and alone in the world. Inexplicably back then it felt like I’d come home.
Midway through May, 2015, I found my way back. To the same little strip of beach on the south coast of the island, at a place called Worthing, in the parish of Christchurch. From my balcony I stood mesmerized by the sparkling Atlantic. Ever-changing shades of turquoise and blue like a colour swatch card made purely of water. Overtaken by a strong magnetic pull to be submerged beneath the warm tropical water; akin to the pull of an infant to the breast. An energy source crucial for survival.
If I listen closely to my heart’s desire, time and again it leads me to the water’s edge. In his landmark book, Blue Mind: the Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, the American marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols, describes the human – water connection as, “A mildly meditative state characterised by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”
There are many other things that bond me to Barbados. For a start we both share a deep love of cricket. And though the West Indies team is not the great cricketing force they once were, cricket is still a popular national pass-time. Historically cricket represents so more than just a sport. As the great Antiguan cricketer Sir Vivian Richards once told me, “…cricket is more like a religion than a sport.” When West Indies teams of the past were unbeatable, the spirits of the entire region lifted. (more…)
Inspired by a visit one morning to the Frida Kahlo Museum in the colossal metropolis of Mexico City.
Palpable magic permeates the air moment you enter La Casa Azul, the house built in 1904 by Frida Kahlo’s German born father, Karl Wilhelm Kahlo. Now home to El Museo Frida Kahlo, the museum is dedicated to the life and legacy of the legendary Mexican artist.
Painted a luminous shade of cobalt blue, the Casa Azul stands proudly on a corner block between Calle de Londres and Allende in the suburb of Coyoacan, Mexico City. Built to overlook an internal courtyard and garden, this is the house where Frida Kahlo lived much of her life. The immaculately preserved rooms feel like giant still life installations. The day I visited dappled sunlight bounced around inside and out adding to the magical feeling.
In the kitchen, dining room and large artist’s studio, Kahlo’s objects, furniture and personal items have been left untouched allowing an intimate glimpse into the private world of the remarkable much loved daughter of Mexico. Of the two bedrooms on display, one is upstairs directly off the large studio where she painted. Incredibly the other bedroom was the room used at different times by Leon Trotsky during his two year exile in Mexico, and later by the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Frida’s tempestuous husband. Throughout the house countless original Frida Kahlo paintings, and a few by Diego Rivera hang on the walls.
As I wandered around Casa Azul taking in the decorative aesthetic symmetry of the rooms, from the lovely kitchen with its traditional yellow and blue tiled Mexican hearth, to the large fastidiously organised art studio where Kahlo’s 1940’s wheelchair rests in front of her easel, I wondered about the woman behind the carefully constructed image she presented to the world. (more…)
Reflections on the summer of 2014/15
The tragic death of Phillip Hughes on November 27th, 2014, was a devastating start to the summer of 2014/15. The twenty-five year old was struck by a bouncer and collapsed during a Sheffield Shield match at my beloved Sydney Cricket Ground. Phillip Hughes failed to regain consciousness and passed away in hospital three days later. As a mother of two cricket obsessed young boys, this horrific fatal accident left me pondering some of life’s big questions.
How do you explain the inexplicable? That sometimes life makes little sense. How do you reconcile the fact that dissecting the vertebral artery as a result of being hit by a cricket ball at the base of the neck is so rare it’s virtually unheard of? People just don’t die playing cricket. And yet it happened to this prodigiously talented boy from the country who fulfilled his dream of wearing the Baggy Green cap and representing Australia. That he died playing a game that doesn’t pose the huge risks of head injuries like some football codes leaves me stumbling for words. (more…)
‘Are There Toys In Heaven, Mummy?’ is about ways we can talk to children about death and the family members they never got to meet. This piece was first published on iVillage.com.au on 24th March 2014. “Are there toys in heaven mummy?”, came the question from my four year old in the back seat of the car. While I desperately tried to think quickly how best to answer, his slightly older brother asked, “How about hot chocolate mummy? Do they have hot chocolate in heaven?”. We’ve been talking about heaven a lot lately in our house. These two beautiful little boys have become quite obsessed by the idea of heaven. At the ages of four-and- a-half and six, they understand enough to know many of the important people in their mummy’s life died before they were born. Read the full story here on iVillage