When I told people I was going to Jamaica for the weekend the following conversation inevitably ensued;
Me: “I am going to Jamaica for the weekend”
Person: “Really, how cool, be careful”
And then, depending on who it was, they continued to tell about the time they went to Jamaica and it looked dangerous with all those “ghettos or shanti towns”, or they stayed in Jamaica “in a compound with guards”, or never left the resort because they were told not too or simply that their friend visited Jamaica once and said it was a pretty ‘hairy’ place!
“Thanks” I simply replied.
“Are you going to Montego Bay, or Negril” They would continue. It was almost too obvious.
“Actually, I am flying in to Kingston and will be staying there. I am visiting my friend who lives there”
“Oh, Kingston, well I have heard about that place, you really should be careful.”
“Thanks”. I’ll be sure to pack my bullet proof vest.
JetBlue fly daily, non-stop from New York to either Kingston or Montego Bay. Booked enough time in advance (about 6weeks) you can really get a good deal. I took an 8am $300 JetBlue flight from JFK straight to Kingston on a Friday morning. The flight was seamless. It takes roughly 3 ½ hours of flying time and traveling on JetBlue is always a treat. The extra leg room and friendly staff always make them the preferred airline where possible.
Kingston Manly airport is small but it took over an hour to get through immigration and customs, and while I only had carry-on luggage I was still asked to open my bags and check to see if I was importing things for my friends. Since duty is a huge source of revenue, and so many people from the Islands have their friends purchase goods from the US due to their affordability, customs agents are well versed in what they are looking for. Jamaican’s (a lot like Australians actually) are pretty quick to get to the point and they don’t waste time with niceties. “Why are you here?” the customs lady immediately asked, to which I answered “for business and to visit friends” to which she replied “what are you bringing over for your friends?” To which I replied……”um…a jar of almond butter”! She looked at me perplexed. Not the kind of tax revenue she was thinking of. I did omit the fact that I also had a blackberry for my friend.
Jamaica is considered the land of wood and water……and I have to add….. The most amazing ladies hairstyles! I have curly hair. I get out of the shower, scrunch in some frizz ease, occasionally take a hairdryer to my locks, run out the door and still I look for ways to shorten this ritual. Jamaican women on the other hand take their appearance seriously, particularly their hair. I mean, I saw one woman who fashioned her mane to resemble the Sydney Opera House (or the Guggenheim building in New York - I wasn’t quite sure!) How they sleep with these head pieces I don’t know, but if I was in a game of word association my word would be: Respect.
Driving out of the airport and into Kingston you can’t help but look up and be awed by the beautiful mountain range in the distance. In contrast to this, Kingston sits in the foreground and feels like it is built entirely by concrete and metal (no wood and water here). I have to say I was surprised. It’s not easy to feel like you are in paradise in Kingston, it has a hard edge but there is such a beauty to it that I couldn’t help but be intrigued.
My friend didn’t waste any time in showing me around, we drove through some of the slums and ghetto’s that the rest of the world seems so afraid of. I wasn’t afraid, I don’t know that I would get warm hugs and beers bought for me at the local bar, but I didn’t feel like I’d get a knife to my neck either. What I really loved about it was the color. A lot of buildings are in disrepair but they are painted in vivid colors, bright hues of orange and reds and green and yellow and pinks.
The people in Kingston seemed more curious than threatening. I got a lot of stares and not a lot of smiles! But that doesn’t mean I felt uncomfortable either. You just have to know that you’re not in your own country. Jamaicans are quick to the point, straight forward and don’t waste time with a whole lot of niceties….but I love that they are honest and funny. They have a great sense of humor.
My friend was particularly keen to have me experience real Jamaican food the entire time I was there; Jerk Chicken, fried chicken, festival, ackee and salt fish, fried dumplings and Jamaican patties and I have to say, none of it disappointed. I don’t have a huge appetite but I do love to eat and particularly when I travel I love to taste the local flavors.
Our first stop was for patties. Fried food is not my go to food but I was in another country and I was keen to say yes to all of it (ok – I said no to the oxtail and pig foot stew). Jamaican patties or, after I had finished my first one, Jamaican pockets of heaven! Warm, delicious pockets of soft goodness inside (we had soy and vegetables, but most common is beef) with a toasty outside, I was hooked.
However, the best was yet to come for me. For dinner we drove to the newly opened Kingston outpost of a popular restaurant in the north part of the country called Scotchies. As I entered from the gravel parking lot, down a pathway lined with lush trees, the smell of smoking meat, the warm air on my skin and the sight of the dimly lit open air dining area it occurred to me that I might just be in paradise.
I let my friend do the ordering, trusting he knew what I would like, and I was right. It’s a casual affair at Scotchies; you order and pay at a small window, get your tickets and then wait for your number to be called. All the while, you can stand along a counter to watch all the meat being……..jerked?!! Ok, cooked…but I had to say it (for the sake of keeping interest, I won’t go into the reason it’s called jerk chicken but you can find out a few theories here.) Once your number is called, you take your food (in a bag) and find a place to sit in the garden.
With a red stripe beer and enough meat to usually last me a week, I took my first bite. The smoked chicken fell off the bone and into my stomach in what seemed like one seamless movement. I proceeded to continue to eat until I couldn’t eat anymore, and then continued to eat some more. It wasn’t a pretty sight, (my friend was entertained) but every little morsel that entered my appreciative lips was savored or devoured – I couldn’t tell which. I was happy, that I knew.
Saturday morning, after a lunch of fried chicken and rice and beans at Sonia’s Home-style cooking we were off to the country. Ocho Rios, for the day.
We headed to the well-known tourist spot, Dunn’s River Falls where it’s popular to don some very unflattering plastic shoes and climb a whole heap of rocks against the force of nature. We were there just after some heavy rainfall so the velocity of the water coming at us was a little intimidating. Ever seen that hyena chase in the Disney film ‘The Lion King’? It felt like that. But, I had on ridiculously looking plastic shoes so what was there to be afraid of? Actually, just the very cold water.
Climbing the falls was fun. I felt quite brave and strong climbing against the ferocious tumbling water, until I saw a 5 year old ahead of me doing the same. The falls climb might not be something you would do with your grandmother, and it doesn’t exactly feel hidden and local (if you can buy plastic shoes at the ‘entrance’ and there are tickets you have to purchase, you can be certain it’s not an ‘undiscovered local spot’). By the way, they charge you almost double if you are not from Jamaica.
We had Scotchies for dinner that night too – at the Ocho Rios outpost – I might have been a little more dignified with my eating.
We kicked off our Sunday with a traditional breakfast of ackee and salt fish from Sonia’s (my friend had 2 plates!). Again, I loved it. It’s an unusual dish to be honest. Salt fish is essentially salted cod and the ackee part of the dish is a national fruit. Ackee didn’t seem to have a strong flavor to me, but since the salt fish does it helped to balance the flavors. It looked a lot like scrambled eggs, and tasted very similar to lox.
An afternoon trip to Devon house for fresh, hand-made ice-cream topped my weekend off.
It’s with much disappointment that I arrived back to the States sans any threats to my life. I didn’t encounter a mugging, I didn’t have to hide in a compound and best of all I wasn’t limited to all the ‘local’ food that would have been offered if I had in fact, stayed in a resort. I think the only crime committed in Kingston was how cheap it was to eat such good food.
So, truth be told, Jamaica is a scary place if choose to listen to those who tell you it is. As one who likes to understand the local culture there is always an element of risk in stepping off a well-travelled path, but there are richer rewards when you step on to a well lived path. It’s in doing this that we start to break down barriers, and pull apart prejudices. It’s great to hear other people’s stories of their travels, but it’s important to form your own. You don’t know anything about a country if you spent most of it inside a resort. So, listen to what others want to tell you (you’ll probably have no other choice), but don’t be governed by their experience. Step off the beaten path and you might just find you make deeper connections and have a great time, and then you can go back and tell others about that.
A wonderful thing about being an expat is that you are exempt from certain obligations, like big family gatherings (if that isn’t your thing, being an expat is definitely for you!).You’re excused from elaborate gift giving (the postage!), and best of all you avoid being given gifts you don’t need (Elizabeth Arden ‘Red Door’ fragrance package…on special).
However, we all know that life is always seeking balance and where you’re exempt from one responsibility, another is sure to take its place.
During the last week of August, and first week of September, my responsibility fell upon me…that of host and tour guide. For 10 days straight it felt as if half of my family tree (and I do include my very close friends in that tree) descended on New York City. I am exaggerating of course (for all those who visited – if you’re reading – I loved it!), but it was literally 10 days of navigating schedules, fielding text messages to organize meetings (which, after 3 texts back and forth, becomes extremely inefficient.) maintaining my amended work schedule and working to keep it all fresh and interesting…..for me!
It pays that my culture is pretty laid back when it comes to travel. I knew, when in doubt, to plant a beer or two in front of an Australian, tell them it’s a local brew and my work is done.
However, I have a great love for New York City and I am always happy when people come to town and I get to share, with the people I love, its beauty. I get to play tour guide and tourist police - no tourists in my camp!
Hosting guests here in New York used to create a little emotional quandary for me - to play tourist guide or not? When people are in town for the first time and, as the host, am I really obliged to see the Statue of Liberty for 5th time? Do I have to pay the money and walk up to see the view from the Empire State Building? And, quite frankly how do I break it to them that while under my care, under no circumstances, that they are absolutely forbidden to hop on board a red tour bus, to be herded around like……?.....well….like tourist cattle?!
Quite frankly, I have no tolerance for politeness when it comes to the red bus thing – it just simply won’t work. Listen, I get it….well sort of – actually, not really. Ok, I did it once when I showed up in London at 19 years old, and it seemed like the most efficient way to get things checked off the list and leave the rest of the time for drinking in pubs….and it’s LONDON! It’s normal for me to be on a red bus (and I was 19). Not in New York City though. Give yourself a day and you’ll realize that you can see so many things on foot, or in a taxi at some many different angles.
Therein lies the beauty of New York City, it’s best experienced on the ground, underground and the from a birds eye view – no-where in between, and if you want to have a view it’s always fun to have a cocktail in hand.
Hello 230 Fifth! This is my go-to touristy, non-touristy place….which has actually turned out to be a pretty touristy place, particularly during the earlier part of the evening (confused?). Quite simply, it has a killer view of the Empire State Building, and that’s the ONLY reason to go….unless you feel at home in Vegas, wear really tight white mini dresses and feel comfortable surrounded in gold plated décor and imported palm trees. Oh and you don’t mind bouncers who have just enough low self- worth that they inflate their ego to compensate by playing the Velvet rope game.
But this isn’t a review about 230 fifth.
To play tourist or not? It’s true, there are iconic sights in your home town that every visitor should see but are you really obliged to have to see them with your visitors?
I once had to spend half a week with close family in L.A. They flew in from Australia and I flew in from New York to meet them. Now, I am no local to the west coast but I used to travel there quite frequently in my last incarnation as an executive, so I had an extensive inventory of local spots to fill a few days. AND I own a travel website with dozens of information written by locals on how to spend a day in their town!!! However, while I don’t travel like a tourist, my family does. I am talking fanny packs, cameras as neck ties and trainers and……you guessed it; Disneyland, the sunset strip star walk and the celebrity house tour - think Griswalds family vacations (complete with walkie talkies….clearly my family was NOT my target audience!).
For a brief moment I never thought I would have in my adult life, I was flanked in the back seat of a minivan by two ‘tweens’ as I was driven through the hills of L.A., with a host of people whose sole purpose was to see where celebrities lived, and died (Sorry Michael RIP is only reserved for the less fortunate). A concept I have never understood. And, for a brief moment (another moment I thought I would not have in my adult life) I regressed back to being a petulant teenager who refused to take part in the family holiday; ears stuffed with headphones, dark sunglasses and absolutely would not look out of the window in a steadfast moral protest.
It became blindingly obvious that that I don't travel like my family when, during an afternoon excursion to the 'mall' I decided to separate from the group and with that decision was handed a 'walkie talkie' (not kidding!). Trying on bras in a changing room and, just as I was marveling at the way the lace enhanced my cleavage I hear a crackling announcement come from my bag "Lyn, just checking your whereabouts. Over"
“For the love of family. For the love of family. For the love of family” It became a mantra.
So, when you’re on your own turf, what is considered acceptable when it comes to time spent with visitors?
Personally, I don’t think you’re obliged to have to see popular sites with them and, it’s quite likely, they don’t want you too either. The best you can do is buy them a metro card (or country specific transit card), draw out a map with great places to eat and ways to navigate, and offer little tips to help along the way. Then, meet them out for cocktails later….or cook them a good local meal….and you can peruse the digital flicks on the small screen, courtesy laugh at their observations of your obvious and call it a day.
Obligatory acts of tourism never end well.
What are your thoughts? What are your personal stories?
Family at DisneyLand......AKA The Griswalds on vacation.
Browsing Cocktail menu at 230 Fifth - ESB in the back ground
Cousin (left) and I enjoying a family moment....one of my 'non-tourist' members of the family!
It occurred to me, after I swiped off a plate of French fries, two beers and ½ a dozen oysters, as I made my way down to 20th street to meet Brooklyn based photographer; Anna Moller, that I would be hanging with a gaggle of human beings who look like Giacometti statues. Models. Nothing like stuffing your face, till you want to burst our of your pants and then hanging with models (I am currently on my 2nd latte and devouring a slice of pound cake as I write this....ah! The freedom!)
As a general rule, models really aren’t as striking looking in real life, as they are on camera. Their sharp angles and flawless symmetry tend to reflect the light perfectly toward the lens and make them appear as beautiful and flawless as you see on camera. But, if it weren’t for their height and subsequent anorexia, you probably wouldn’t notice them as their photos suggest if you saw them on the street.
But there is something ethereal about the way they move – like giraffes out of the African Safari. It’s like they all take a sublime pill when backstage….perhaps they need to, to counteract the flurry of activity that surrounds them.
Speaking of a flurry of activity, I was a part of it as I followed Anna backstage at the Proenza Schouler show for NYC fashion week 2010. She has been shooting a week-long series for the online magazine AnOther. This was her last show for the day.
Backstage at these events, the chaos that surrounds the models seems perfectly orchestrated. Photogs swim through a sea of other photogs in the middle and, on the sidelines, the models sit with make-up artists and hair stylists while they are being photographed from every angle. They don’t flinch; they don’t seem fussed…they barely blink. They just sit, nibbling on their feed for the day – an apple, or a grape…..Maybe it’s more like open day at the zoo!
Anna, however, moves through the room just as her photos tell a story – with sublime beauty and ease. She glides, observes, pays attention and finally finds something that no one else is looking at and makes it beautiful. She finds the extraordinary in the ordinary and that’s what makes her pictures so powerful. They are simple in their subjects, they are clean in their presentation but they are layered with story and emotion.
I particularly love the juxtoposition of what was going on in the environment, the big picture of the show, and what she chooses to capture; the quiet moments. The images that we don’t see from other photographers.
I followed Anna around, watching her work and here are the subsequent images and video. Photographing a photographer, photographing.
When paired up, wine and cheese do their part to bring out the best in each other. Pairing wines and cheeses from the same region is a “safe” place to start wine and cheese combinations.
Red wines match best with hard cheeses and milder flavors. The more tannic the red the harder the cheese needs to be.
White wines tend to have more refreshing acidity and therefore match best with soft and creamy cheese and stronger flavors. Sparkling wine and champagne can also help break through the fat in heavier cheeses. In general, fruity and sweet white wines work best with a wider range of cheeses than are dry wines.
Spicy and pungent cheeses require strong wines to back them up. Dessert wines and red wines, packed with fruit and tannins have the best chance with extreme flavors.
When preparing a cheese plate and a wine flight, begin with the mildest flavors and progress to the strongest.