Tuesday, January 29, 2013

And this is where we stayed: Emerald View Resort Villa

When Jade and I planned our trip to Jamaica, the first and most-important thing was to decide that we were actually going to do it--and book the time off work, and then the flights. JetBlue made it easy; I could fly to New York from Sacramento, have a day or so in the city, and then together take the flight from JFK to Montego Bay.

We booked the flight; but what about a hotel?

We've both travelled a lot, and stayed in places ranging from scary, low-cost hostels in the Middle East, to high-class, impersonal hotels on corporate business trips. Neither extreme was going to work for us this time. And we both wanted to know more of Jamaica than a gated, multinational-owned beach resort with private beaches and locked gates.

So we both researched places to stay online: Jade from New York, me from Sacramento, looking for somewhere that seemed cosy and friendly and Jamaican. We kept coming back to the same place: Emerald View Resort Villa, in Greenwood, east of Montego Bay, west of Falmouth. We read the reviews on Trip Advisor and other places, and thought: this sounds like the place for us.

Still: booking a room in a country that you've never been to before, when the majority of the people you know who come to Jamaica zoom straight from the airport to a Hilton or a Sandals or some other stuccoed-and-secured resort, and lock the gate behind them, you wonder: have I chosen the right place?

Big smile. Happy faces. Yes, we had!

Miss Jennifer and her staff made us very very welcome. We didn't take a rental car: I'm glad we didn't. While driving on the left is how I learned to drive, (it's English, of course!), not knowing where to park and trying to negotiate the traffic in busy, narrow town streets would have left my nerves a tad frayed, more importantly we would have missed the friendship of Duran, who drove us here-there-and-everywhere, checked on us to make sure we were OK, and who became our friend during our week's stay.

Emerald View is perched on a hill, overlooking the tropical blue sea, and surrounded by lush greenery. The garden is full of flowers: in January, the bougainvillea was in full bloom, hibiscus were showy, and the garden was very pretty.

Our room had a balcony with a view down the hill to the water.

Several times, we had our evening meal at a place by the water: the Chill Out Hut; a very restful place with a bar and restaurant right on the beach. Driving back up the hill, we'd often see a local donkey, running away before us, before turning into one of the properties, off the road. Free-roaming donkey. One evening we walked back from Chill Out, up the hill in the dark. A friendly guy on a bicycle saw us struggling to brave a dash across the main road, and guided us across. Construction workers (still working in the dark? or staying in the part-built houses overnight?) called greetings as we passed. Local dogs ran away and watched from a distance. It took about 30 minutes to climb the hill back to the hotel, and it felt good.

We heard the dogs in the night. Sometimes they sing, sometimes they fight and snarl, sometimes just a yap to let you know they are there. And then, the sound of an owl.

Breakfast in the morning, on the balcony overlooking the pool: eggs and bacon, or Jamaican? Oh don't forget the coffee... Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee, with a little Jamaican sugar. It's perfect. Truly. Perfection in a cup. Most of Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee is exported to Japan. You can find it in the USA, and elsewhere, if you look hard or search online, but it's darn expensive. So guess what I brought back home in my suitcase?

(A holiday, a vacation, is an investment; you save hard to make it happen, to have spending money, to have the time away from work, and finding a place to stay where you feel at home makes it all worth while.)

A little further up the hill from Emerald View is the Greenwood Great House. More to come about that in another posting.

More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alisontoon/sets/72157632674230688/

Elizabeth Somerville's house. Her own property. In 1836.

In 1836, very few women owned property, or land, or built their own homes. No matter how rich, or where in the world they lived, nor how "advanced" their civilization, nor how liberal their culture.

Elizabeth Somerville did. This was in Jamaica, just two years after emancipation. Two years after the end of slavery. Elizabeth Somerville was, "a free woman of colour", and she owned her own home.

Prior to emancipation, Falmouth did have both free, and enslaved, people "of colour": only ten percent of the population was white. But the timing of her purchase suggests that she was a recently-freed slave. What a step: to go from slavery to property owner. There were very few women, of any creed or colour, who owned their own property or home, anywhere in the world. I hope she had many years of happiness in this, her home.

(While single women could own freehold property in Victorian England, they lost all rights to their own property once they married. They were less likely to inherit real estate than their brothers. They were not considered "autonomous persons" until the 20th century. Falmouth, Jamaica, also had it's own municipal water system, developed from 1799, earlier than that of New York.)

For more information about the history and restoration of Falmouth, see http://www.falmouthjamaica.org/Home.html 

Thank you to Duran for taking us to the house!

More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alisontoon/sets/72157632674230688/

Doctor's cave beach, Montego Bay, Jamaica

(So much to write about Jamaica... it will come little-by-little as I go through the photos and arrange my thoughts. It was a truly wonderful holiday, and I'm so glad to have been able to visit Jamaica with Jade. It was not so much a vacation, as an introduction to a new way of life, to new friends, and to the future. One blood, one love.)

Our first full day in Jamaica, and we spent it on the beach: Doctor's Cave beach, in Montego Bay. So named, because it was opened as a public beach in 1906, donated by Dr. Alexander James McCatty for use by a "bathing club". At that time, the beach could only be reached through a cave!

Now, you approach the beach by a few steps down from the road--the "Hip Strip", full of souvenir shops and taxi drivers offering to take you wherever you want to go.

The water is incredibly clear. Turquoise and blue. The sand is almost white. Fishes swim close to shore; there's coral and snorkelling to see the fish and other sea-creatures.

We arrived mid-morning, and the beach was almost empty. Beautiful, quiet, calm and oh-so-tranquil. This didn't last for long: two cruise ships in Falmouth, and many of the passengers arrived by bus or taxi to spend some of their seven on-shore hours at Doctor's Cave beach. And as the beach filled with sunbeds and parasols and sunbathing bodies, so it filled with vendors of beads and braiding. 

(We returned to spend all of our last day on Doctor's Cave beach, and it was a day without cruise ships; the others on the beach were either staying in local hotels, or were locals. And that was a beautiful, beautiful day.)

There will be more about these "boat people" later...  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

First day in Jamaica... and it really is this beautiful

Probably won't be uploading many photos before the end of the trip; the internet connection is erratic, and there's more important stuff to be doing. Like seeing places and people and taking more photos.

This is where we spent most of yesterday: on the beach, Doctor's Cave, Montego Bay.

More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alisontoon/sets/72157632674230688/ 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jamaica, via Jamaica?

Graffiti on rolling shutter
Graffiti on shutter, New York
Weekend stop-over in New York, before Jade and I hop onboard a flight to Montego Bay, tomorrow. Did you know that there's a Jamaica in New York? Imfamously-cold Long Island Railroad station.. en route to JFK airport. As I was brought by taxi-cab to Jade, we drove along Jamaica Avenue. Really!

When I see those signs, I can't quite believe that we are heading for the real Jamaica. But yes, we are!!

Yesterday, still fighting a cold, (it had better be gone within the next 24 hours!) I wandered around the Lower East Side. It was the colours and textures, rather than the touristy-scenes-and-famous-landmarks of the city that attracted my attention.

Peeling paint and graffiti. Bricks and stone. Boards and hoarding. Painted metal shutters and cobbled streets.

More colour and texture photos here: http://www.alisontoon.com/-/galleries/life/graffiti-and-rust

And then Sunday; a walk up 6th Avenue, Bryant Park, reflections in the windows, a blue sky with scudding clouds.

More midtown photos here: http://www.alisontoon.com/-/galleries/places/usa/new-york/manhattan

A cold, chill breeze is rising. Snow flurries are forecast for tomorrow. We will be flying away from all that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reggae rehearsal

(Rehearsal for my holiday, or vacation if you'd rather, that is.)  (Did I mention that I'm going to Jamaica???)

Since the show on Saturday night, I've had a horrid cold (fighting with vitamins, zinc, honey, tea, and Hall's MenthoLyptus) and a heck of a lot of stuff to do, so sorry for the delay.

We were treated to very soothing, gentle, surfer-dude reggae on Saturday night. Stick Figure in particular: the music seemed to flow with gentle ocean waves.

Why has reggae in California become synonymous with surfers? In England, back in the day, it wasn't just us old hippies but also skinheads who loved reggae. And the Saturday-night crowd at the Ace of Spades really did reflect the diversity of reggae fans; young kids, guys arguing about whether-or-not it was OK to smoke dope indoors, guys with dreads and a sprinkling of middle-aged hard boys.

It's not quite the same as Trojan reggae though, or nor Marley.

I'm off to find some of that.

Did I mention that I'm going to Jamaica????

Pictures: Eazy Dub, Simple Creation and the Maad T-Ray: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alisontoon/sets/72157632543075090/

Stick Figure:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/alisontoon/sets/72157632514809995/

Tribal Seeds:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/alisontoon/sets/72157632514427919/

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tribal Seeds, Ace of Spades Sacramento, 12th January 2013


Tribal Seeds performing at Sacramento's Ace of Spades. San Diego surfer reggae! Very enjoyable evening of music. House was full. Everyone dancing, everyone moving with the music.

Warm, summertime music on one of the coldest nights of this winter--cold by Sacramento standards, that is.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Everything I Own

There are some songs, ageless, which will transport you to another place in time, another place in the world, another home, another life, no matter when or where you hear them again. Just seeing the name of the song or the artist triggers instant replay in your head.

Today, my inner radio is playing Everything I Own. Not the soft-and--romantically-gentle original version by Bread, which almost-maybe-reached the top thirty in the UK in the early 70's, but the gentle reggae version sung by Ken Boothe, which topped the UK charts for several weeks in 1974.

It takes me back to England, to school, to the youth centre and discos and all-grown-up-teenage-angst in Syston; to my ever-young school friends, lost loves, warm summer, still-a-child-really, to home. I see us dancing (and you all know who you are when I say that).

It really is a timeless song; note how many people have sung and recorded it. Bread of course; Boy George, Rod Stewart, Chrissie Hynde to name just a few. Boy George's version in particular was a further progression from Ken Boothe's reggae version; others pulled more from the original Bread/David Gate's work.

And just why did this song come up today? Why has it been playing in the back of my head, ever since I opened my email at 5.45am this morning?

Because Jamaica Jazz and Blues released the full lineup for day one of the festival, and Ken Boothe will be performing!
Opening night (the reggae night) lineup includes Third World, Ken Boothe, Coco Tea, Chaka Demus and Pliers... I am so looking forwards to this! It's going to be a huge event... thrilled to be going!

(If you want to know more about Ken Boothe, listen to Artibella too, as a starting point. You can find his music on Amazon and your usual music-buying site. One example is Everything I own: The Best of Ken Boothe)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Oh, Jamaica! I can hear you calling!

I am going on holiday. In January. Somewhere where there's a beach, and sunshine, and happy people, and good food, and ocean sunsets and really good music. Somewhere that I've always wanted to visit. But which required an explicit decision, and not an opportune business trip, or a family visit. Yes... we're going to Jamaica! For a week, and it's coming soon.


Jade and I plotted and planned and then just made it happen, like you have to: don't keep talking about it, just do it, otherwise it'll be six years from now and your still sitting there in the same place, overworking, and one day you'll regret the things you never did. So our tickets are booked, a non-resort, bed-and-breakfast-like, not-a-package-touristy-hotel has been reserved, travel guidebooks have been given as Christmas gits and are being avidly studied during these dark damp winter evenings.

Friends have told me that their Jamaica vacations have been the most beautiful, most restful times ever. One of my team, who grew up in Jamaica but now lives in the UK, has been back home for Christmas/New Year and has strict instructions to email me all the best places to visit and see and swim and just to watch the world go by. And I have several family members who are just green, or maybe green-yellow-and-red, with envy...

Learning about Jamaica's history; thinking about warm sand; marvelling at the English placenames, like Manchester and Westmoreland and Trelawny and Cornwall and Middlesex and Surrey (will there be cricket???): planning visits to where Bob Marley once lived and played, thinking about sampling jerk chicken and fish curry and pineapple upside-down cake and really-good Blue Mountain coffee, and wondering, wondering how we'll find the best music we can, because you can't go to this country of music without listening. Can I learn a warm-island Jamaica accent, to bring back home with me? What will I have to write about, what pictures to show, on my return?

Thinking about reggae and steel drums and wondering if it's just a coincidence that I've been hearing a lot of ska and reggae recently? Thinks... The English Beat and Street Urchinz... and after my holiday in Jamaica, the Wailers are coming to town, to Sacramento, in February. There's really something Jamaican going on in my life right now.

"There's a blues festival", said the guidebook, "At the end of January".

Oh!!! While we are there? Surely that's not possible... but yes, it is, it really is!

Tickets are on sale now: get yours!

2013 Jazz and Blues festival. Mary J. Blige! (I love her.) Third World! (Smooth reggae soundtrack of remembered, midsummer-late nights back in England, 96° in the Shade, it was a long, hot summer...) Dionne Warwick ("Walk on by" or "Heartbreaker"? Which is my favourite? I have never yet seen her live...) And more. And more! Oh this is very exciting.

Third World, who will be one of the great set of artists performing at Jamaica Jazz and Blues 2013

What more could I wish for. Maybe I'll walk down the beach, and Denzel Washington or Martin Shaw or some other hunk will appear at my side. Well you never know, do you?

I'm counting down the days...

Ever thought of going to Jamaica? This may be your best excuse yet: http://jamaicajazzandblues.com/

(I'll no doubt have more to say about this in the coming days...) 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Twanna Turner, 1-4-5, New Year's Eve



Twanna Turner performing at the 1-4-5 in Rio Linda, near Sacramento, California.

We were there to see my friend's dad's band; I'd promised to take photos. After their set was finished, Twanna Turner and her band took the floor (definitely the floor, not the stage; there is no stage). What a chance! A little like the time that Jade and I happened upon Sean Lennon and his band doing a sound check at the watery edge of Manhattan: a random meeting of music and location bring together something special.

Rio Linda, not Sacramento's most prestigious area.  The 1-4-5 Club, a cosy bar-restaurant hosting live music, tucked away on the far side of Elkhorn Boulevard between Citrus Heights and Sacramento's airport. And Twanna Turner; tiny lady with a huge voice. And what a voice!

She was singing as the happy crowd danced around her; everyone smiling.

I want to hear her sing again.

Twanna is the daughter of the late Ike Turner. Her voice is all her own.

I don't believe the band who played last night were the same band as on her website, but I didn't catch all the names. If you know them, please let me know so that I can credit the musicians.

(Photographers note: very very little light at this venue, just a couple of recessed lights located behind the performers. These pictures shot with Canon 5D Mk II and mostly with Canon 50mm 1:1.8 lens, at 3200 ASA...)

Twanna Turner: www.twannaturner.com/

1-4-5 Club, 6750 Front St, Rio Linda: www.yelp.com/biz/145-club-rio-linda

Photographer: alisontoon.com