Archive | March, 2011

O Spring!

29 Mar

The island has awoken from its winter slumber. Hibiscus buds have started to uncurl, stretching their petals in the sunlight. The feral chickens (yes, we have wild chickens here!) now have a trail of fluffy feral chicks cheeping behind them. Tree frogs have started to sing their squeaky chorus at dusk. Days are warmer, and evenings lighter. And bare white knees have started to appear, which can only mean that tourist season has officially opened.

When we moved to Bermuda we arrived at the start of winter. It was beautiful then, but we knew we were seeing the island at its worst. Now it’s becoming warmer, lighter and more colourful.

A sleepy looking tree frog in one of our flowerpots (he's as big as your thumbnail, but his squeak is very, very loud!)

With the arrival of spring, Rich and I have started cultivating our garden area. We have two patios and a patch of grass to make pretty. We’ve cleared away the cobwebs and the weeds, put down mulch and begun potting plants. There’s something very satisfying about plunging your hands into soil and pulling back the earth to make a space for new flowers to thrive. And tropical weather means we can grow tropical flowers! Once we’d carefully removed the family of tree frogs and the baby lizard that had been hanging out in our flowerpots, we planted begonias and snapdragons, osteospermums (coloured daisies) and the most gorgeous peachy-yellow hibiscus, which makes me stop and stare at its beauty every time I walk past the patio doors.

Our beautiful new hibiscus plant

Soon we will add Butterfly Milkweed and Amaryllis and a planter of herbs which will become our ready-made seasoning for our summer diet of barbecued meats and fish. In a rented condo, you are limited in ways of making the space your own, but planting and nurturing a garden, albeit a potted one, is truly ours.

Spring in Bermuda is stunning, not only for its current beauty but for its promises of summer – balmy nights eating al fresco; sunsets over the harbour; flying through the turquoise ocean on jet skis… I can’t wait to see what the next few months will bring!

A Week of Culture

25 Mar

I’ve been a little quiet on my blog recently due to what has been a busy week of culture! We’ve just had the Bermuda International Film Festival – a week of independent and foreign language films. The opportunity to see international or “off-beat” films in London is frequent; so frequent that I’ve never actually been. Living in Bermuda has taught me how spoilt for choice I was growing up, and later working, in the Big Smoke of England. Ironically because it was on offer all the time, I never went at all. But now, as these cultural opportunities are harder to come by here on this small island, I’m embracing every one.

We’ve seen films in French and Arabic, stories set in South Africa and Lebanon, as well as interesting and thought-provoking tales from the USA, untarnished by Hollywood schmaltz. Some of the films have made me laugh, others – cry, and one made me squirm very uncomfortably in my seat. All of them have made me think.

I feel like I’ve just discovered I’ve only been reading one genre of book all of my life. Apart from the occasional French film, everything I’ve seen has been a “blockbuster”. I was vaguely aware that other films – probably more interesting ones – were out there, but it never occurred to me to seek them out.

I’d highly recommend every film we’ve seen:

Themba (South Africa) – a tale of a boy growing up in South Africa who wishes for two things: a career in football and for his father to return home. Despite his experiences of poverty, rape and HIV, the film is about hope, and it’s wonderful to watch. I’ve included the trailer below:

Barney’s Version (USA) – a journey through Barney’s life, swinging from hilarity to tragedy, captured beautifully and with Dustin Hoffman as a brilliant Barney’s dad.

Incendies (Canada) – twins travel from Canada to Lebanon to find their father and brother, and learn about their mother’s political and poignant life in the Middle East. I don’t know very much about filmmaking, but even I could see the cinematography was stunning; the use of a swimming pool to capture key moments in the characters’ journeys was incredibly powerful. This film was nominated for Best Foreign Feature Film in this year’s Oscars. The trailer is a great taster:

Trust (USA) – a harrowing tale of a teenage girl who meets a boy online… who turns out to be a 35 year old man. The family breakdown is horrible to watch but poignant to see. Directed by David Schwimmer (Ross from Friends!)

Somewhere (USA) – An intimate film directed by Sofia Coppola with Stephen Dorff as a film actor getting to know his daughter, and himself as a result.

If, like me, you’ve stuck to your comfort zone of the local Vue Cinema for your film fix, I’d really recommend venturing out to other places to see the wealth of incredible filmmaking that’s going on outside the studios of Hollywood and Pinewood. Or perhaps next time you get a DVD, just browse the International section first rather than making a beeline for the New Releases aisle. There may be some great stories there just waiting to be told.

Goodbye Old Friend

15 Mar

Yesterday I parted with a friend. It was the end of an era. My friend had been with me at my happiest and saddest moments; had seen me as an awkward teenager, a wide-eyed undergrad, a shiny new career girl and a married woman. My friend had been by my side every day for 13 years. Literally by my side. My friend had lived in my handbag.

Yesterday I cancelled my UK mobile phone contract. Over the years the handsets had come and gone, but my number had stayed the same. I’d had that number back when BT Cellnet existed and O2 was a just a chemical symbol.

My first phone at age 15 had an external aerial, and a green screen with pixelated letters. Using it to make calls was an absolute novelty, but as hardly any of my friends yet had mobiles (how times change – I believe kids now get a mobile when they enroll at Tumble Tots) I’d end up calling my mum to see how she’d been since I left the house five minutes ago to go to the bus stop.

At 17 I upgraded my Ericsson (I think the model name was Brick 2.0) to a comparatively sleek Nokia 3210, which had rounded corners! It still had the sicky-green screen and pixelated letters but it also had games! A game on a mobile! Who’d have thought! In fact everyone in our school sixth form had a Nokia, so we could all compare our scores on the dreadful but addictive Snake game – essentially a moving line which got longer as it “ate” the dots. For a generation that was used to PlayStation graphics, we were strangely hypnotized by something which could have been drawn by a blindfolded 3 year old.

Dates with my boyfriend (now husband) were arranged by text and I would always hastily scroll to the bottom of the message to check for the all-important inclusion of an “x”, which then evolved to analyzing how many “x”s there were, whether they were “x” or “X” and whether there was a positive or negative correlation between number of “x”s and the number of previous texts. (Yes, I’m lucky he didn’t just have me committed for severe pedantry.)

At university my mobile was the centre of my social life (this was B.F. – Before Facebook). By then everyone had a mobile phone, and calling someone on their landline was the action of a sociopath. And, in my final year of studying, my mobile was my gateway to graduate jobs, as most of my first-round interviews were over the telephone.

It perhaps seems overly sentimental to feel a tinge of sadness over the loss of a mobile phone number, but over the years I’ve become quite attached to it. When I think about the conversations and messages that set of digits has been privy to… well, it must have listened in to an incredible journey of learning and discovery – of people, of culture and of myself. I wish I could call that awkward 15 year old now on her big Ericsson brick phone, with the sicky-green screen and the pixelated letters and tell her not to worry, the next 13 years are going to be a huge adventure… 🙂

Everyday

10 Mar

When I go on holiday I love learning about the history of my destination, but I also love going to the local supermarket, looking through the launderette window, and watching people at the petrol station. I like to imagine what their “everyday” looks like – what they make for dinner; where they spend their weekend; what “normal” is to the people that live there.

When I recently spoke with a good friend, she too wanted to know about my everyday in Bermuda.

Food and Drink
Food is a big part of our everyday. With the exception of milk, eggs, and some vegetables, everything else is imported. The ship comes in on a Monday afternoon, so we shop on a Tuesday evening to get the freshest produce. This can be limiting; during December there was a huge shortage of carrots (!!) so if you didn’t get to the supermarket quick enough, you would have to wait for next week’s shipment and hope carrots were included! But the advantage of importation is that we can get our home comforts – Robinson’s Squash, Cadbury’s chocolate – as well as more exotic items such as Kiwano fruit, which look like puffer fish!

Almost every building in Bermuda has a white stepped roof to collect water

Water
Our water comes from rainwater which is collected and filtered by our limestone-treated roofs, and stored in enormous tanks. When it rains heavily, people call this “tank rain” as it fills up their water tanks! It’s a great way to put a positive spin on grotty weather!

Transport
Cars are crazily expensive; on average it’s $30,000 for a new car and, unlike England, they do not depreciate significantly in value, so second-hand options are often pricey too. This is why expats such as Rich and I buzz around on a comparatively cheaper scooter! I also take the (distinctively pastel pink) bus which is regular and cheap, though there are no timetables at bus stops (it arrives when it arrives!) Bus stops are marked by poles sticking up from the ground – pink ones signify that the bus will be going towards Hamilton, and blue ones will travel away from Hamilton!

Television
There are a few local television channels, but in general it’s US programmes and US advertisements that clog up the TV. The local advertisements are just that – local! You will know at least one person who knows someone in an advert, and they tend to have their own unique style! Here’s a fabulous example, courtesy of Bermuda Post Office, which uses the power of hip-hop and a rapping postman to remind you to use the postcode!

Sundays
Bermuda is a very Christian country and so Sundays really are the Sabbath here. Until about 1pm the capital is absolutely deserted as everyone goes to church. And there are more churches per capita here than any other nation in the world! The sale of alcohol from supermarkets is prohibited on a Sunday, something we still find ourselves forgetting as we start to head out to get a bottle of Pinot Noir to accompany our roast dinner. It’s also illegal to carry a bottle of alcohol out of the supermarket without it being in a bag as I learnt when I popped in to pick up some Bailey’s for Christmas!

But, for all of Bermuda’s quirks and unique charms, there are frequent reminders of its outstanding beauty, even on the work commute. As my bus pulls into Hamilton, just past the wonderful Johnny Barnes, I see this:

And it takes my breath away. Everyday.

The Lodger

3 Mar

Rustle. Tap. Rustle. The clock says it’s 7am. Too early for the gardeners. What is that noise? I lie and listen. It sounds like the crackles of a plastic bag being crumpled. It’s coming from the bathroom.

As I drag myself out of my duvet cocoon I hear a cheep, followed by the unmistakable call of a kiskadee coming from the vent for the extractor fan. I look around the bathroom for props and settle on a deodorant can to tap the vent with. I wait. Silence. The bird has gone.

Rustle. Rustle. Cheep. It’s 7.15am the following day. Sigh! The kiskadee is back. And it sounds like she is setting up home with us.

A kiskadee where it should be: outside of my bathroom

For the last week, Rich and I have become like parents to a newborn baby. She wakes us like clockwork at ungodly hours. Bleary eyed we stumble out of bed to shush her. Twenty minutes later she is squeaking again.

We wondered how the pesky thing had got in. We stopped wondering after about one minute when we went outside and found a large hole in the wall. Apparently the builders didn’t feel it was necessary to put a cover on the vent opening, despite it being big enough for mammals to saunter through. Yes, saunter through. They don’t need to squash their feathers or flatten their fur. It’s like The Plaza in there.

I tried playing Mariah Carey in the bathroom to see whether that would get rid of her. Instead she began cheeping in an even higher octave, as if trying to emulate the diva! I feared I’d created a monster – a bird that was a Mariah Carey fan. I half expected her to stick her beak through the vent grate and present me with a rider, demanding the vent be repainted lilac and filled with earthworms exactly 3.5mm in diameter.

At the weekend I headed out to do some volunteering and left Rich to try to get the kiskadee out before the kiskadiddies arrived. How would he attempt to achieve this feat? By er… shining a torch around for a bit. Did he expect Mama Bird to emerge to see what the fuss was at her front door, so he could cordially ask her to fly along to another nesting place? Unsurprisingly the bird stayed put.

It seemed we were stuck with her – until Sunday morning. We awoke at a much more palatable 8am to…quiet. No rustle. No tap. No cheep. Had he really done it? Was my husband a super talented negotiator? If he’d managed to get that stubborn bird out, clearly he could be a serious contender for coaxing bin Laden out of his mountain cave.

Alas, on Monday morning we were awoken by the familiar noises. Mama Bird had apparently just chosen to have a lie-in and, like us, was back to work on Monday. It looks like we are going to be parents for the foreseeable future! Still, at least there are no nappy changes.