gall and gumption

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The King of Siberia

The King of Siberia

Also known as the Barefoot Russian. Some people also called him That Crazy Russian though I must say that he didn't seem much crazier than most Russians I've met -- and I do mean that in the nicest way.

According to court papers, Rodionov, a Russian scientist and businessman, paid a $68,000-to-$100,000 bribe to Alexander Mikhailovich Pokidyshev in 1990-91 to buy the isotopes for $24 million, well below the world market price. Pokidyshev was director of the Centre for Stable Isotopes, a government-owned facility in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

The isotopes were transferred to Horos Inc., a Soviet-Swedish venture under Rodionov's control, and eventually shipped to suburban Toronto, where Rodionov operated several companies, court papers said.

Rodionov left Russia on a business trip in May 1991 and never returned. In June 1994, Russian authorities asked Canada for help in recovering the isotopes.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided Rodionov's offices in suburban Toronto in January 1995. Although the Mounties didn't find the isotopes, they discovered paperwork indicating the isotopes had been shipped to High Technology in Southgate.

The Canadians turned to U.S. Customs, which raided the company the next month and seized most of the missing isotopes.

Much of the delay since then resulted from difficulties Canadian authorities encountered trying to extradite Rodionov from St. Kitts, where he had purchased citizenship for $145,000 and moved with his wife and child in 1994, court papers said.

He arrived there just ahead of the Canadian RCMP, from which he has been a fugitive (as well as an Interpol fugitive) there these many years. He managed to secure a decent income for himself which he has managed prudently, living much more modestly there than the money would require. When I met him his wife and son were in Canada and he had not seen them for seven years. Closer to 10 years now.

I don't quite understand -- and this article doesn't make clear -- just what the Canadian government's beef is with him. He maintains that they simply want to have the isotopes and are enraged that he managed to spirit them South out of their reach.

At one point the Canadian authorities frightened the Kittitian police into putting him in prison. He was there for about eight months and I met him really just days after he came out. He looked terrible and he was, understandably, furious and disgusted. Our first conversation was about the prison. He was, I hardly need add, the only white man in the place. He taught several of the men to play chess and he seems to have survived by his wits. A very very smart man. I do remember him sputtering with indignation and incredulity at one prison practice: in the morning they had prayers and handed out hymn books. "They gave us this book and told us to sing out of it!" The food was appalling was another thing he told me. I believe he secured better food for himself as some prisoners do if they can manage it.

Later in our acquaintance he told me that although he was trained as a physicist the job he wished he could have had was that of "Sexopotologist," a man who helps restore women to their full orgasmic capacity. He told me of some great successes he had had in Russia, turning unhappy women on to huge and multiple orgasms. I didn't know whether he was offering me his services. Anyway the stupidest woman in St. Kitts showed up one evening after I had given him another ride home. I guess that was the time he showed me the pictures of his isotopes. She was all dressed up and wearing a shawl. Later they were very much a couple. Her husband was in Canada and she had a little boy who was even creepier than she was. I'm not sure what broke it up, I imagine she was too stupid even for his loneliness.

He was lonely a lot of the time and so was I. And I listened to him, I had some curiosity which a lot of people didn't have. I am indebted to him for a Sunday afternoon I spent, nearly a year later, at his apartment where he insisted that I come and watch Russian music videos. This invitation came after I gave him a ride home from Friar's beach. He never owned a car there. He showed me photos of his isotopes and a great mountain of newspaper articles about himself from all over the world. The music videos were dated from before he arrived in St. Kitts, they were what he brought with him. He got sentimental watching them; they were one of the few comforts for the most awful homesickness that must have beset him in that little place. The first music video struck me speechless: it featured a man singing and dancing around a tiny sort of 1940s New-York-looking apartment while ironing a pair of pants. It was magnificent. Then there was a band that looked like it was entirely composed of midgets with combovers wearing pinstriped suits. Another one was set apparently in a nursing home with all these patients dancing in their pajamas, half of them crutches. Many, many of them were old-movie-gangster themed which had a certain currency and relevance, given the last 10 years of Russian history, that didn't escape me. Almost all of them had a sort of reckless energy to them that was partly at least what made them so watchable. It was a drowsy afternoon and I remember sort of beginning to fall asleep as this hour or so of these videos played. He took this opportunity to sidle up next to me on the couch and bite me on the boob. Whereupon I boxed his ears and stood up and told him I had to go.

He escorted me to the door and said, "Thank you for your cooperation."

Next time he saw me he apologized. I hadn't really been angry at him, I mean it just seemed like he couldn't help but try and really called for no more indignation than you would feel at seeing the dog sneaking onto the new couch.

"I can't believe it's finally over," a lawyer who has been involved in the dispute said Tuesday. The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the case, added: "I should be pinching myself."

The other lawyers declined to discuss the case or didn't return repeated phone calls.

Well imagine his St. Kitts lawyer (and I think I do) is not pinching himself either, he is in a waking dream -- himself as Scrooge MacDuck splashing about in that vault full of whatever his cut of 35 percent of $350 million comes to. And all those people who didn't have any time for Alex, I'm sure it's another story now.

Friday, March 25, 2005

A Weakness

I must say I like it when politics gets grotesque. If I had a student in a writing class who handed a story in with a character like Tom DeLay in it, I'd probably say that this character was too clownishly vicious to be believable. Ah well I'm older now.

So I have been enjoying the Terry Schiavo repub theatrics as much as I enjoyed the Gannon/Guckert disclosures. I did feast on those. I know that some little bit of thrill will subside out of my life when these ghouls finish howling over this poor woman's remains.

Has this sort of bizarritude occurred regularly all along and I was just not paying attention all these years, or are we in a new era of freaks? I just don't know. I seem to remember long dull stretches when nothing very interesting happend. But then I have read books of the history of, say, the 70s and 80s in Los Angeles, a time when I was in Santa Barbara, and I know that a lot of weirdness was taking place there but I wasn't paying attention even though I read the Los Angeles Times every day. And the Times did a pretty good job of delivering the news.

I remember there was a fuss about school busing in Los Angeles. I had a roommate from Beverly Hills who was against busing, and we would have long arguments about it. I remember that when I arrived in California in 1977 the big discussion was Proposition 13, for which California's schoolchildren, public libraries and public services are still paying and paying. What I lacked then, being so newly arrived in the U.S., was a sense of what was behind the arguments against school segregation and a lot of smaller battles that were being fought in California that did a lot to transform its economic culture. I certainly wasn't in a position to see all that. At that time I didn't know who was a liberal and who wasn't; these intramural distinctions meant nothing to me. I think a lot of the difficulty I had was owing to this complete ignorance and indifference to the cultural tensions that were already dividing the students at UCSB in my first year there. When I look back at all that it seems that everybody was pretty horrible -- including me.

I'd say it took me much longer to get used to American social attitudes than I would ever have anticipated. A good 15 years at least. I mean I was lucky in having fallen very early into this rather sheltered enclave of very serious literary and creative people who were not terribly interested in mass culture or its political content. We were too busy with our own interests, really. Even when I hung out with Jervey in South Central Los Angeles I did so feeling very much a sense of my own foreignness. Jervey had grown up there, his brothers' friends were still hanging out on the corner and getting stoned on various substances, but he was sort of becoming a foreigner in that world because he was determined to get out of it and not to live on its terms. So even when we would sit on Mrs. Tervalon's porch in the middle of the night with Googie and various other characters we weren't IN it in the same way.

So it was slow, learning American language, by which I mean what people mean when they say things but they don't say the thing they mean they say something else and they know you'll get it. For most of my life here, I didn't get it. Now, sometimes, I get it. Get what? Well I guess something called the culture. I don't speak the lingo exactly, but then I don't speak any Caribbean dialects either even though I grew up there. But I do understand them, even the thickest ones, as long as they are based in English that is, I'm lost with the various French Creoles and Papamento but if it is an English dialect I can follow it just fine. With American dialects (American Euphemism) I have only learned in the last 10 years or so and to tell you the truth a lot of the time I would rather not know.

So one of the things about American language that I don't quite get is described in the linked piece by Frank Rich, who I now read religiously (if you'll pardon the expression) each week.

Like many Americans, I suspect, I tried to picture how I would have reacted if a bunch of smarmy, camera-seeking politicians came anywhere near a hospital room where my own relative was hooked up to life support. I imagined summoning the Clint Eastwood of "Dirty Harry," not "Million Dollar Baby." But before my fantasy could get very far, star politicians with the most to gain from playing the God card started hatching stunts whose extravagant shamelessness could upstage any humble reverie of my own.

Senator Bill Frist, the Harvard-educated heart surgeon with presidential aspirations, announced that watching videos of Ms. Schiavo had persuaded him that her doctors in Florida were mistaken about her vegetative state - a remarkable diagnosis given that he had not only failed to examine the patient ostensibly under his care but has no expertise in the medical specialty, neurology, relevant to her case. No less audacious was Tom DeLay, last seen on "60 Minutes" a few weeks ago deflecting Lesley Stahl's questions about his proximity to allegedly criminal fund-raising by saying he would talk only about children stranded by the tsunami. Those kids were quickly forgotten as he hitched his own political rehabilitation to a brain-damaged patient's feeding tube. Adopting a prayerful tone, the former exterminator from Sugar Land, Tex., took it upon himself to instruct "millions of people praying around the world this Palm Sunday weekend" to "not be afraid."

A bit more paste...

These theatrics were foretold. Culture is often a more reliable prophecy than religion of where the country is going, and our culture has been screaming its theocratic inclinations for months now. The anti-indecency campaign, already a roaring success, has just yielded a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, who had been endorsed by the Parents Television Council and other avatars of the religious right. The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo's) has led to the banishment of lesbian moms on public television. The Armageddon-fueled worldview of the "Left Behind" books extends its spell by the day, soon to surface in a new NBC prime-time mini-series, "Revelations," being sold with the slogan "The End is Near."

All this is happening while polls consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)

This sort of idiocy is like a recurrent malady of American life. It breaks out large and small. Think of all those teenagers burning their Beatles albums, this combination of hysteria and threatening, of people stomping on other people's faces with hobnailed boots in their mad indecorous scramble for the moral high ground which always turns out to be, in the end, a rather low and boggy place, someplace downhill and downwind of the stables.

I mean, this man who got himself and two of his children arrested for trying to take a drink of water to Terry Schiavo. Wolcott mentioned them. What, does that make the guy moral now? She can't drink the water. She will never drink that water. If he managed to get in there and give her the water his reward would be to watch her choke to death on it. How is it that ALL morality comes to be suddenly focused into this one pointless gesture? And why is it, given all the circumstances that Rich describes in his article (the self-censoring media, the attacks on evolution etc.), so hard to resist such a bunch of zanies. It is as if at some level everybody is afraid to challenge their specious morality. It is a fear of challenging the assertion, "If you are against the feeding tube, you are against life."

Well, my question is this: Why does the majority allow itself to be bullied? How hard can it be to show that this is nonsense, to show, moreover, that it is vicious and destructive nonsense?

These people never come out with all their praying and shivering and placards in behalf of people who can speak for themselves. Their associates propose to kill judges, who have working brains, on behalf of a woman who has no brain. They kill doctors on behalf of fetuses. Why do they favor pathetic insentient lumps of flesh over conscious humans in their so-called morality? There isn't any morality in it. The one good thing about this media sidewhow is that the Culture of Life folks are so sure of their own righteousness that they are not even bothering to hide their true intentions; their scorn for the rule of law, their ignorance of the facts of the case, their duplicity and gullibility are all there on the record. They can be seen for what they are.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Gay Cruise to Nevis Part II

Here's a press release just out of the Prime Minister's office.

From: "Erasmus Williams" Add to Address Book
Date: Thu, 24 Mar 2005 16:38:45 +0000
Subject: Press Release from the Office of the Press Secretary to the Prime Minister

Press Release

St. Kitts and Nevis over the years has developed into an attractive
tourist destination, mainly because of the warm hospitality of our people and
the beautiful nature of the islands of the Federation.

In fact, in the past, the Federation has welcomed persons of the gay, lesbian and straight community.

The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis has always respected the beliefs and
customs of all persons and has never become involved in matters pertaining
to people’s sexuality especially when it involves visitors who are not
attempting to impose their sexuality on others and are not contravening the
laws of the land.

The Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Dr. the Hon. Denzil L. Douglas
has expressed alarm to the reports which surround the premature departure of
the MV Polynesia out of the waters of Nevis on Wednesday 23rd March and is
awaiting reports from the Departments of Immigration and Customs as the matter is being investigated.

Press Secretary
Office of the Prime Minister
Government Headquarters
St. Kitts

24th March 2005

This turning the ship away was, I am sure, a purely Nevis initiative. Now what do you bet the Nevisians will set up a great howl at the presumption of the Federation's government in interfering with their right to keep homosexual perverts away from their shores. The cry of Secession! will start up again, because this is one of those instances where Nevis, in pretending to rule itself, has embarrassed the whole Federation and the Prime Minister has now had to come out and tell them that they have been stupid. This is very hard for them to bear. For many of them it will be proof incontrovertible that they must secede in order to govern themselves. Oh what a lot of nonsense will be shouted at the beach bars this week. And this is how most of the world will hear of the existence of Nevis. Silly silly people.

Making Asses of Themselves Again

This bit of news, as you can see, reached all the way to San Francisco.

The truth is that gay cruises have been going to Nevis for some time -- they regularly showed up when I was living there last year, and a little buzz would go around the island. There would be men dancing with men at Sunshine's. So what is interesting to me is why all of a sudden they take this action now.

On beaches in Nevis and in St. Kitts one of the strange things is that a lot of local women will not wear less than shorts, a t-shirt and a shower cap to go in the water. None of them will go far out into the water either. On big public holidays when everyone goes to Friar's Bay in St. Kitts, all the local women are usually found sort of paddling and flopping about in the shallows, in their T-shirts and shorts and shower caps. Women who have lived overseas seem not to have this level of apprehension of exposing themselves.

Nevis also has at least one nude beach. I myself have swum nude at that one and at one of the unfrequented ones on the Windward side of the island, and at one other beach, Sand Dollar, just north of Four Seasons and near the village of Jessups where my other favorite horribly sordid rum shop was located. The one nude beach, Lover's Lane, is not far from the airport. It is unofficially nude you might say.

I note that Erasmus, the Prime Minister's press secretary, makes a point of saying that all are welcome. There is a law against nudity but it is not really enforced as no one tests it on the popular beaches where locals might comment. The Douglas government is pragmatic enough and mostly aware enough of international opinion on a point like this to want to let things be. I mean, they would go after a foreigner who was gay/swam nude and criticized the government publicly. If they thought they could quietly get away with it. Well, some of them would.

St. Kitts and Nevis, the Federation, is the most xenophobic place in the Caribbean. It is really shocking as it dawns on a fellow West Indian, especially to a Jamaican, as Jamaicans pride themselves on a tradition of expansive and recklessly generous hospitality. Certainly that was true in my family, where we would entertain visitors for months at a stretch. Like these two incredibly nice Americans my father met sailing. Nevis is actually culturally distinct from St. Kitts in some subtle ways and in one not-so-subtle way: they are ten times less hospitable then the Kittitians. Their attitude to foreigners takes a mad veer into paranoia, resentment, bigotry and unbelievable petty malice every couple months or so.

This sort of thing is what I was referring to in my last post when I alluded to the trials of Deborah LaLouche. In July 2003 a group of parents opened a Waldorf-type school in Nevis and hired a Waldorf-certified teacher to teach it. This group was a mix of expats and some of the more prosperous locals. The teacher, a man named Bob, came down to teach it and lasted there about three months before they ran him out of the place. (By the way, he was gay and this was not a problem for anybody). They ran him out because the school was doing well, the children were loving it, it was an apparent success. He had shipped down about US$40,000 worth of educational materials and quite simply, one or two parents who happened to be on the board saw all this wealth of prestige and importance, and they could not stand the idea that some gay white man from overseas should be in control of it in their little kingdom of Nevis. So they hounded and terrorized the man right out of the job. They were horrible to him. He was a nice man, and he really had made a beautiful little school. He left after three months, packed up all his supplies and his dogs and everything and just got the hell out of the place.

Or take last year when this poor old American woman died in her house. She lived up near the Hermitage. Her house had been pointed out to me as having been broken into at least once. Well last fall she was found dead in her kitchen from a blow to the head. The police did not to a very good job of communicating the fruits of their investigation to her family. They were in the States and all they knew was that their mother was mysteriously dead, apparently by violence, in Nevis. They wrote to the SKN mailiing list their complaint about the way the police had behaved to them and they asked for help in solving what they assumed was a crime. Because, as happens throughout the Caribbean, foreigners do occasionally get attacked in their homes. It happened to me. The people on the SKN mailing list threw a fit. Their island was being slandered by these Jews, etc. etc. It's all posted on the Yahoo St. Kitts Nevis mailing list. It would make your hair stand on end if you didn't understand that they are all pretty much a set of bootoo. It doesn't excuse them but you understand that they are backward people. Now they are attacking James Gaskell, an Englishman who has lived there for more than 40 years, helped more than any one person to bring Nevis as a tourism destination to the world's attention. Why? Because the government wants to put a road through his property and he objects. How dare he? Nothing is really considered to belong to a foreigner in Nevis. Not the fruits of their own work, no right. At any moment they will go off in one of these fits of xenophobia and you will hear all about how this person or that person stole something from the Nevisian people. Gaskell bought his land when Nevisians were practically walking away from it. In the 1950s and 1960s, nearly half the population of Nevis moved overseas, to England and Canada. All they asked from their land was the price of the ticket to get them there. Now you have these people down there claiming Gaskell stole their land from them by buying it at fire sale prices when they themselves were practically giving it away and haven't ever gone back there to live as it turns out.

Of course the really strange thing is that Nevis's economy depends absolutely on foreigners. It has two main sources of income: tourism and what remains of the offshore industry. So you would think that there would be some concern there to cultivate good will and to keep abreast of public opinion in two such capricious markets. But this is the level of pigheadedness you see.

Just as periodically they will suddenly decide that all the poor Guyanese that they have working there illegally at starvation wages are threatening their livelihoods. So they threaten to deport a few and these few go off to spend a few days or weeks in Antigua or St. Maarten and come back.

My father, who is well-traveled, lives in Indiana. He has lived in Saudi Arabia, traveled all over the world, had meals with Bedouins and driven across the Middle East and he has barely a good word to say for the culture of St. Kitts-Nevis. Because this is what this topic is about, it's not that there are no good people there, I knew many many wonderful people there who I still think of fondly and with admiration, people I am grateful to have known. But there is also culture, you know, social norms and manners and sort of traditional ways of doing things, things like a tradition of generous hospitality or what you do on New Year's Eve or what you do on Sunday (church or the beach?). And in Nevis those cultural norms and institutions are narrow-minded, and the hysterical, belligerent-short-man xenophobia is one of them. It has been the cause of unhappiness to many good people who have come among them wishing them nothing but good and exerting themeslves to give good things to Nevis.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Long Absence

I can't believe I'm already this far into March without having posted anything here since January. Well, I mean, I can believe it, as there have been reasons. My computer was down for two weeks with a busted power cord. And then there was a feeling I had in weeks before that of self-doubt of the value of what I do here. Plus other personal things boring to relate. Also I've been writing a lot offline, way offline. With a ball point pen in a cheap composition notebook to be precise. I really like the feel of how the written-on pages physically just fill up. But it's there and then it has to be brought here.

I feel pretty sure it also has something to do with my recent addiction to the current affairs blogs. I gotta tell you, today Wolcott was just magnificent again. One thing about his blog I take some sort of perverse comfort from is that he misses the odd day or two.

I wish someone would explain to me how to use the blogroll so I could keep handy links to my favorite writers in this medium. Tom, are you there? Tom is one of them. Also not a daily poster.

I'm reading Clarissa again, got all the way through the first 400 pages without skipping. I do remember that towards the end the last time I read it I began to hate it or her or Richardson or possibly all three.

My mother did not join the big march against the war today. She usually does, which is interesting because my mother is not a marching and sign carrying kind of person. Today she opted to go have lunch with some friends who live in a thatched cottage somewhere in the country. She did, however, wear her "Stop Bush" hat which was a present from my friend Joey. Joey is a self-described "Yellow Dog Democrat" who is richer than God. I told him about my mother's first march against the war and he sent her the hat, even though he had never met her. They still haven't met even though they both live in London. My mother is not a slogan-hat wearing person but she wears that hat from time to time, today, for instance, as a sort of in lieu of marching gesture. At lunch, she tells me, an American woman was present and my mother had to explain the story of the hat. The woman turned out to be a founder of Democrats abroad or some such organization, but I guess my mother regarded it as a close call and thinks maybe the hat is safest in a box in the basement. I know, I know, it doesn't make any sense. She must have left out a few details. Got home and found herself with a case of hat hair, possibly.

When I was in Nevis there was a very nice American woman named Deborah LaLouche. She was from Virginia, married to a black retired merchant seaman from Nevis with the wonderful first name Auretius. With a first name like that you can see how I forgot his last name. Deborah was, as they say, a joiner. Joined things, did good works. She had Auretius hired an old stone mason to build them a stone wall around their property in the hills above Charlestown. It was a magnificent wall, really a thing of beauty, made without mortar. It took the old man two years, I think she told me. They kept sheep. Anyway she had helped start a number of organizations in Nevis for good works and for improving relations among Nevisians and expats -- one of them was a choir, even. And they had all gone rather sour, the inevitable spite and envy that overtakes anything successful there. It is a story you hear over and over. I could tell you my own version but it would be boring. Anyway one evening we were at a wedding together. The bride was Nevisian, from, technically speaking, the lower orders. The mother of the bride was a woman with social ambitions who was romantically involved with an Englishman who was the best chef on the island, a man who had cooked for Princess Diana and played hide and seek with the children of the Ducchess of York. Regular, nice guy, into boats. The mother was appalling is all I can say. Another long story. But Deborah was invited to this thing and came very elegantly dressed in a linen suit and a magnificent hat and all her kindness aboard. She and I sat confidentially chatting and in the course of chatting, she revealed to me that she was a member of Republicans abroad. It was a shock to the system I can tell you.

Now that I am on the subject of the wedding I do remember these details. The groom wore a white suit of some sort of watered satin with gigantic lapels that reached down somewhere near his fly. He owned a little van out of which he sold items of haberdashery at the side of the road. It was called Claxton's Mobile Mall. Mark, the wonderful chef boyfriend of the mother of the bride (who was boring), supplied a roast pig which is a famous specialty of the very expensive plantation inn where he is employed. They raise their own pigs there and slaughter them and Mark is the artiste of pig on Nevis, sans peur. My date, the mad Englishman Lee, and I stayed after all the guests left and helped with the cleanup. Then we drove everybody home, mother of bride, various younger siblings and the amazing Barford.

Barford was this big jolly man who owned the rum shop across the street from where MOB lived. His place was simply called Barford's. It was one of the two most squalid looking rumshops in Nevis, but it was sometimes fun to go there with Lee. Barford, also wearing a splendid white suit, was staggering blind incoherent drunk after the wedding, drunker than I had ever seen him before, and I had seen him quite drunk enough before. An enormous man with a big goofy face. Lee got him into his car and placed in his lap a plate full of leftover wedding favors which we were transporting to the house of the MOB where we would have a sort of small after party party. These wedding favors consisted of a handful of M & M's wrapped in a bit of fabric netting and tied with a ribbon. By the time we got to the MOB's house, less than a mile from the wedding reception, Barford had consumed the entire plate full of these things, without bothering to take off the wrapper. He just stuck the whole thing in his mouth, chewed on it until the chocolate could be sort of sucked through the wrapper and then tossed the wrapper out the window of the car. On arrival he divested himself of the jacket of his suit and his shirt and sat in a chair in front of the house with the rest of us. Someone gave him the pig's head, which he sat gnawing on and occasionally waving it at us while he said something totally unintelligible with his mouth full. Then he fell asleep still holding the pig's head. Oh, and the other thing about Barford is that he really really liked to dance.

It was funny, when I lived in St. Kitts I didn't like visiting Nevis, and when I had to go there I couldn't wait to get back on the boat. But when I lived there, after the first few months when I was working too hard to even be lonely, it really grew on me. When I moved up into Gingerland it got even nicer after a while. I had this rather ugly little house to live in but downstairs I had my neighbor Mike and just around the corner was Quentin the Bee Man, and up the road was Elmo. They were good neighbors and good allies to have. Across the street and two doors up was a little rum shop called Rino's. Rino's was owned by a man named Rino. It had started out as an ice chest on the steps of a shed. It moved into the shed and then Rino had done so well that he had built a big solid cement shop, painted that blue that they love in the Caribbean. It was ugly but it was impressive in its way. On Sunday afternoons all sorts of men would gather there and games of dominoes and simply mind boggling amounts of drinking would go on throughout the day. I could hear the noise from my house. Late at night they would gamble in a back room. I never went to Rino's by myself except to pick up a couple of beers to take back home, or buy some matches or dish soap or corned beef when I had let myself run out of dog food. But I would go there with Quentin or Mike or Lee or Elmo. Rino and his daughter, who looked exactly like him, were sort of slow and shrewd and decent.

From my back porch I could see Montserrat. My landlord, Mr. Manners, had planted a big mango tree in the middle of the back yard, blocking the view so that in order to see Montserrat I had to stand up and peer around the tree. But there it was, and also the sea with the constant clouds sweeping high above it. This was on the windward side of the island and the sea was deep and rough, not what people think of when they think of Caribbean shores. But every island has its windward side and it's like that, rougher and wilder. The sunlight on it made the sea go through these changes of color, pale blue-grey to violet to silver, patches of it. The prevailing wind was always blowing, it kept the house cool. My bedroom windows faced the sea and I could sit up in bed with that wind blowing through the windows and blustering about the house, and see all that sea over the tops of trees. It was really very lovely, though the house was sort of ugly and inconvenient. You could see a plume of smoke or steam from the volcano on Montserrat. At night you could see Antigua as well, a line of lights low to the water. Elmo told me that on a few days a year, when the weather was unusually clear, you could even make out a peak or two on Guadeloupe. A little higher up, a half-hour's walk further up the hill past Quentin's little house, you could see other islands, you could see St. Bart's and St. Maarten. All that from there.

I really liked taking my little hops, too -- to Antigua, to St. Maarten, to Dominica. To travel such a short distance and come into such different geographies and cultures was marvelous. St. Maarten was all built up and cosmopolitan. You could get on a bus in St. Maarten and find 20 people on it and hear 12 different dialects or accents or languages. Dominica was the complete opposite, hardly built up at all, and lush and mountainous with no beaches, just this unfathomable green, the people there very sort of slow of speech and movement. And Antigua, a place full of blatant secrets, shadiness in the sun.

But I learned that you can't really live simply in those places. Well, I can't. Not as in work and try to make a life there. Not a person like me, anyway. I don't feel after the two years there that the Caribbean is any less my home -- rather more so in fact and I think that's partly what I went there for, to feel that again. Little things spoke to me there. Like once when I was in Dominica I noticed this grotty little Portugese grocery store. I mean, once upon a time in the Caribbean there were a lot of those and that is what people thought of when they thought of Poteegee people. Long before my time, more in my grandparents' time. On Daddy's side there were such people belonging to both his parents.

When I wrote editorials for the paper in St. Kitts one of my recurring themes was that Caribbean history wasn't only about Africa. Or only about colonialism. No, people came there and underwent a sea change. To me, everything interesting and appealing about the Caribbean is that sea change: Chinese people who speak Jamaican patois with Chinese accents. Jews who married black Baptists. Europeans whose children ran wild in the bush. Fishermen going out to sea every day in those little boats. And the emergence of Caribbean character with its peculiar gift of irony. I listen to old calypso, I marvel at someone like Lord Kitchener. Not Lord Kitchener of Sudan fame but the calypsonian who borrowed the name of one of England's great Victorian military heroes, a man whose name was a byword for all the upright male Victorian virtues. When small boys were enjoined not to masturbate they were told that if they did they would never be a great man like Lord Kitchener. And here comes this sly, ribald, winking mischievous mocking black man, singing songs about the galvanic effects he has on white women, and says "Lord Kitchener, that's me." I don't think he was conscious of the irony there, as he got the name because of the sensation he created on his first big professional appearance as a calypsonian in Trinidad. But I think that irony pervaded the culture at the time. Calypso is very very competitive, something that isn't apparent from here, where you think of maybe Harry Belafonte strumming on a beach and that's it. It's very competitive, it's very political (I could tell you stories about that from St. Kitts) and it is serious business.

Kitchener is a really funny writer. His style is literate, but he also moves effortlessly between standard English and a sort of perfectly lucid local idiom. And he is funny. He has a song called PP 99, which, the lyrics tell us promptly, is the license number for his Jaguar. Somehow understanding this doesn't make it any less funny I hear the refrain of the song:

I go park me PP any place..."

Or the song about a dispute between a Trinidadian and a Barbadian. The two of them have pooled funds to cook up a pot of meat and rice but when the meal is cooked the Barbadian insists, in Kitchener's parody of a Bajan accent:

Trini, I'm a baan Bubajan
I don't like to foight
But when it come to the occasian
Man, I die for me roight
You put een a 12 cents meatbone
Man, you think that is nice?
[sorry I can't remember the exact line that goes here I'll get it tomorrow]
Tek you meat out me roice

With each stanza, with a slight variation of this refrain, the Bajan keeps lowering the price of the meatbone. At the end of the song the meatbone is down to eight cents in value and the Bajan is threatening to "squeeze you throat loike a loice."

Or "Handy Man" where Kitch goes to work as a handy man for a white woman and he's sweeping her room, in the dark, it turns out, while she's lying in bed and the broom handle is all over the place...

Part of the reason for his much more than local appeal is that his themes are so broad, as compared with a lot of calypso which is very topical, very much of the moment and very very local. A song like Socrates's "They Pay More That For Cat," which is as literate as anything by Sparrow or Kitchener, which names names and makes a passing reference to a true incident in which the deputy prime minister of St. Kitts, a married man, was caught climbing out of someone's bedroom window, is brilliant but not really meant to last and won't travel far out of the place where everyone knows the references and allusions, i.e., gets the jokes. But so many islands produce these songs and calypsonians frequently find themselves in dogfights with the governments or the officials they make fun of.

And the other thing that has to be mentioned about calypso is that, important as it is -- every island has a calypso competition, or two or three a year and to be named a calypso king is a big deal, even in Nevis. But what gets much bigger press is Soca, which has totally taken over the road march side of things. I mean, in the last 30 years Caribbean music's audience has demanded bigger and bigger sound. Where once you would have road marches behind trucks carrying steel bands (and I don't know anything on earth quite like the effect of a steel band on the march in the Caribbean, words like magical and glorious come to mind) the steel band can't satisfy the demand for sheer noise. So what you have instead is bands that play these very simple tunes usually with maybe one catchphrase that is just about all you can hear with the distortion. The trucks are even bigger, huge flatbed affairs carrying a great tower of speakers you might expect to see at a Who concert. On top of the speakers is a platform with the performers on it and a couple of dancing girls and then the whole crowd of drunken revelers dancing and winding and grinding behind it. It is deafening. Soca also is faster and more percussive than calypso, needless to say. If you go to any music store of a decent size you will find in the Caribbean section possibly a few Alan Lomax recordings from days before Noah's Ark. Folk music really. And what you will find a lot of is these compilations, unbelievably cheesy, of Caribbean music. All Soca. No calypso. You would not know that calypso is still being written and sung and produced and sold. If you are lucky you might find some Kitchener or Sparrow.

I could continue with this but it's almost one in the morning and I have two stories to write for Monday morning oh god oh god what a life...