Thursday, 26 March 2009

Photos In Thirds

Sister Evs has been teaching me about the rule of thirds in photography so I tried to put it into practice today at Deshaies - how did I do Evs and what would you do differently?
These boys were having a great time trying to drown each other all the time we were there

Not strictly taken in thirds but I thought this was a beautiful boat and a great picture!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Out And About In Basse-Terre

Today we headed off to Sofaia which is known for its thermal springs, great for those with arthritis and rheumatism (for readers with a map, it is just a bit below Sainte-Rose on the northern part of Basse-Terre). It was very exciting as the route there was one that not even Bertie had ever taken before. We were expecting a basin to bathe in but on arrival we discovered that this has been replaced by a communal shower! Okaaaay....we decided to leave that for a day when the water goes off and headed off to the beach instead.

[I was going to photograph the shower but there was a lady taking a shower - in her bikini I hasten to add - so I didn't quite like to!]
On the way down we got to enjoy the most marvellous views of the Grand Cul Sac Marin (the big bit of sea to the north of Guadeloupe) and Anse-Bertrand over to the right. Unfortunately the photo can't convey how wonderfully fresh the air was too, bliss!
We decided on the beach at Deshaies - Mum and Evs will recognise from our photos that this is the second beach we stopped on with them on our whistlestop tour around Basse-Terre.

The sea along this side of the island is very rough and though it was a bit calmer here, we still had to hold tightly to JoJo to stop him being swept away and the girls kept close by. At one point all five of us stood in a row holding hands and being battered by the waves! JoJo was esctatic each time he got smashed by a wave (strange boy!) and kept going back for more!

After drying off we wandered around the town of Deshaies (two streets) which is very pretty - I like the way you get a glimpse of the sea between each house, it reminded me of Mousehole in Cornwall.
Since Sunday, JoJo has been more on his feet than his knees - much less wobbly and not always with his hands out front like a zombie! So today I decided to get him walking and dug out a pair of ... sandals! He was so cute tripping over them at first but then got the hang of it.
In any case there were plenty of folk on hand to keep him upright!
Our next stop for lunch was another beach visited previously - Plage des Amandiers near Ste Rose. There are great picnic huts here - though it has to be said the kids spent more time wandering around than sitting and most of JoJo's lunch ended up covered in sand.
Here is the inspiration for the name of the beach - one of many amandier pays on the beach with leaves in glorious shades of red right now. The girls helped Bertie collect the amandes and then he broke them open with a stone - closely watched and imitated by JoJo. A tiny but tasty amande is the resultThis is probably the nearest we will see to autumn here - just look at all these leaves from the overhead amandiers!
The nearest the girls will get to sledging here!

Enjoying a rare moment sitting
I am quite pleased with this one - that was the view from our picnic table. Since I didn't have my camera last time we came it was nice to make up for it todayYou may remember that last time we were here, LissaLou's sandal got swept away (we reckon it is over in New Zealand now visiting Esther!) so we learnt from our experience and all removed our shoes before enjoying a game of How Close Can You Get To The Sea Without Getting Wet! The huge waves swept in and had us dashing up to shore, which had JoJo in fits! LissaLou loved the game but CassCass (remembering our past experience perhaps) kept a safe distanceThe world is a safe place when Daddy is holding your hand

We got home to discover....the water has gone off! (And remained all day and night, meaning cold showers for those poor girls). Hmm, we should have stopped by Sofaia after all!


Just when you thought the Carnival was over...back it comes again! A couple of groups came out for a parade around the town, this time wearing black and red. The girls were very excited to see them again but this time it really is over - until Christmas when it all starts again!

In the meantime, we celebrated the bank holiday with an impromptu party at Pika. One of those pleasant occasions when you say in passing to someone "why don't we pop along to Pika...hey we could even have a BBQ...." and suddenly half the family and many friends have come along for a feast!
As ever, the men sorted the BBQ under Bertie's close supervision, the women prepared all the food, I spent my time pushing the girls on the swings and keeping JoJo out of mud and mess, our nephew's name was bellowed constantly as he got into everything, trod on everything and swung a machete left lying around...
Bertie headed off to his dry dry garden and managed to construct this dinky little cover from the coconut leaves he collected recently propped up with sticks from another plant.

JoJo was pleased to give him a hand in his endeavours
Our great discovery of the day was our cucumber. Here it was on the 12 March - can you see the wee thing?

And now here it is just one week later! We are looking forward to enjoying it very soon. Our friend also gave us a lesson in picking sweetcorn - get it when it is very pale yellow and it won't be hard and chewy like ours was! I took a bunch and found a massive caterpillar (or two or three) in each, so my new lesson is if it doesn't have a caterpillar it is probably too dry!

Monday, 23 March 2009

From My Balcony Sunday Morning

Who wouldn't be inspired by such sights?

I am not sure if it was just by chance or good planning, but how well designed to have a balcony from which you can see sunrise on the right and sunset on the left!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Peeking At Pika: Fruit A Pain

No D's and E for Epinards didn't inspire me so let's move on to

F is for Fruit a pain Fouyapen Breadfruit

You may recall from an earlier post that breadfruit is a very close relation to the chataignier, with the difference that it doesn't have seeds (and has smaller leaves and a smoother skin)

A bit of history - breadfruit plants were in fact on the HMS Bounty at the time of the famous mutiny. Whilst all the crops were thrown overboard, Captain Bligh returned to Tahiti and succesfsully took a crop over to the West Indies in 1791. It was intended as an excellent (and cheap) nutritious food for slaves; ironically, when it finally made it to them they disliked the taste and refused to eat it!
Breadfruit is known as the poor man's food here and there are trees literally all over the island. In these days of MacDonalds and pasta, it is not particularly appreciated by the young generation and so you can find the fruit in abundance rotting under trees. Not so at Pika! Mamie and Papy being very fond of it will use (or sell) just about every fruit that emerges.

Apparently it got its name because when baked or roasted, it tastes and smells like freshly baked bread. I have to say that this has not been my experience - must be used to a different kind of bread!The breadfruit is ripe when it has little white latex marks on the skin, and Bertie tells me that it is only good to eat when it is picked rather than fallen on the ground (either it is unripe or it is over ripe and will explode!).Enjoying it

Breadfruit can be used in tons of different ways:

The most common way in Mamie's kitchen is simply boiled. She peels off the green skin and the inside seedy part (a bit like the inside of an apple, I shall put a photo on next time we eat one!) and boils for a bit. It is then served with a meat or fish dish and other racines.
Her other favourite use for it is in bebele, a traditional soup from Marie-Galante, for which it is diced into tiny cubes.
It can also be baked, boiled, roasted or steamed - now that breadfruit season is back on I would like to try some of these out myself.
I tried mashing it with potato for a shepherd's pie once but you really could tell the difference and I am not sure I liked it!
Bertie tells me we ate a souffle - gratin made with breadfruit but I don't remember that one amongst all my experience of Caribbean cuisine!
One way of getting the new generation to eat breadfruit is making it into chips.

Nor is it restricted to savoury dishes:
A new use of breadfruit is in cakes and in a traditional Guadeloupean drink, chaudo. This is a (very delicious!) hot milky drink usually made with eggs, condensed milk and spices but breadfruit can replace the eggs. It is traditionally served with a plain cake that you dip in it at the party after a child's First Communion, but now it is found at all sorts of occasions.
Before the fruit comes out, the long spongy male flower is known as the popote and this can also be used to make a sweet snack.

We had a go at this, firstly soaking the popote
then scratching off the outer fluffy layer
Next step was to boil them in a syrup made with spices and then leave to cristallise in the sun, but we didn't quite make it that far! I look forwad to tasting the outcome one day...Good for you

Breadfruit is a great source of energy with low levels of protein and fat and a moderate glycemic index. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium with small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron. Some varieties contain small amounts of folic acid.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Our Room

I do love my room here - it is already a vast improvement to go from three children in with us to a mere one (hidden away too!) but on top of that, it is large and airy, has a balcony and there is not a hint of damp! Nor have I seen any cockroaches in months, so my cup overfloweth!
Here is the entrance from the balcony - our third and final little hallway which has become JoJo's area. We have a handy screen to block the light out for him - unfortunately now he is up and around he has a tendency to pull that and the fan over. See the junk area next to his cot, complete with Bertie's golf clubs!
The view of the room from next to JoJo's bed- all that lovely space!The window looks out on to the mountains in the distance and gets fine views of the sun settingThe door leads to the hallway and the rest of the flat, but watch out not to knock your head on that low bit!Our bed with its Most Useless Mosquito Net Ever Designed - 13 gaps for them to fly in through! Now I just use a sheet and keep it for its aesthetic value.And here is possibly the Most Useless Cupboard Design Ever! Lovely how it fits in the corner and it is huge, but with the tiny door in the front you can't actually access all that space! We have just put his sister's stuff in there. This is supposed to be our changing mat but there is always stuff heaped there and now JoJo tends to cause too much damage to the pictures and things anyway.

Next stop (when I have tidied them!) will be the girls' room and finally the bathroom.

On Death

One huge difference between the western way of seeing things and the west indian way of seeing things is the attitude to death. It fascinates me how death, which is treated with euphemisms and silence and delicacy back home, is embraced so noisily here.

A neighbour of ours died on Sunday morning and within hours the whole community was aware of it and chatting about it - the fact that deaths are announced on the radio helps to spread the news! This particular neighbour was notable as she wanted Bertie to marry her granddaughter and used to call him her grandson in law. I often wondered if she was put out when I arrived on the scene!!!

As with many people here, one of her two children was in France so they waited for his return to hold the Veillee (wake). This happened last night and boy was it the social occasion of the month! The street was packed out with cars, Bertie popped in and said that there were groups and groups of people (including many of his family) sitting around chatting and eating - and laughing and joking! See what I mean about a light-hearted approach to death...! Even if you only know the person's brother-in-law or granddaughter or something, there is still a good chance that you will attend out of respect for your friend. It does seem easier for people to attend such events here - unlike at home, life is very quiet and little happens in the evenings (or even the days!) so there is not a full calendar to juggle with in order to fit such an unexpected occasion in.

The family has to provide refreshments and just about anyone can come along so there is quite a feast on hand. Plenty of rum too. Hence plenty of men who like their tipple (especially free) attend the occasion. I have heard on several occasions that there is more cheer and laughter at a wake than a party!

A traditional dish for a wake is soupe de pattes - I thought this meant pasta (pates) but actually it meant beef feet! Not feet, what do we call them? There might also be music, and the wake can carry on well into the early hours - Bertie's sister was an early bird getting in at 1am. It is a great chance to catch up on people you haven't seen for a while. The coffin is in the house and people are supposed to go in and pay their respects, and the food is in a marquee type place outside. Mamie said that on this occasion they had singing and prayers too, but I imagine that depends on how involved in the church the person's family is.

Then the funeral was this afternoon. We went for a final walk by the sea with mum and as we were coming back up to the house we could hear trumpets so I asked Bertie's niece if it was the Carnival. She explained it wasn't, but was in fact the musicians accompanying the coffin to the church. (Not all families choose to have musicians but apparently this lady loved to dance - so they played tango music.) All the people attending (and there were a lot, judging by the number of cars outside again) met outside the house, generally dressed in black and white (though my mother-in-law told me any colour goes, except red she added with a bit of horror at the thought!) and followed the coffin. After a short service they went to the cemetry and then I suspect that there will be more food back at the house after.

The Catholic tradition then involves a week of prayers each evening, which is attended (usually) by good ladies from the church (presumably the lack of rum available reduces its attraction significantly) as well as mass for the person. And the grand finale is another party on the 9th day, again with plentiful refreshments and rum, and a large number of attendees. There is then yet another mass and party on the 40th day All of which sounds rather exhausting! Mamie said that when Bertie's brother died, she was indeed tired out by all the proceedings.

There are also lots of traditions and superstitions tied up with death here, which I would love to know the root of. As with Gwada myths, was there some reason and logic initially to these? I have heard that the body has to leave the house feet first; a parent isn't allowed to follow the hearse to the church if her child has died or she will lose another (I checked with Bertie's Mum and neither she or Papy went to their son's funeral for this reason); it is not good to visit someone after a funeral, and so on.

I have discussed with friends on many occasions the whys and wherefores of the different attitude to death here - is it perhaps to do with the strong Catholic background of the island, that means people are much more comfortable with the idea of the afterlife? Is it the strong community atmosphere (people are far more in contact with death here than we are)? Or just the generally more laid-back, accepting attitude to most things that there seems to be here?

In any case, it seems to me a good thing that a death can bring people together in such a way and that an elderly person dies in the comfort of their home, surrounded by family and friends, and that their life is celebrated by many from the community, rather than being alone, perhaps in a nursing home, their past life unappreciated and their passing barely noticed.

Note: This all relates to the Catholic tradition of celebrating death - the evangelical churches will undoubtedly have a very different way of doing things, but as Catholics are in the vast majority, these traditions are very much a part of life here.

Celebrating With JoJo

JoJo was delighted with his presents (as were the girls!) when he attempted to open them on Monday morning (luckily his sister was on hand to help....)
(We woke Bertie far too early and he was still coming round!)
Lunch was delicious - Annabel Karmel's Bang Bang Chicken (a real favourite here with children and adults alike!) and Sweet Potato Gratin (maybe a bit sweet for me though) and boiled plantain, yum!
Then came the big occasion - JoJo's cake (you may notice a decided resemblence to LissaLou and CassCass' cake. You would not be mistaken!). He spent his time trying to catch it then the girls kindly blew out the candles for him before we all dug in. This was JoJo's first official slice of chocolate (or any!) cake and he relished every mouthful! Just look at him stuffing it in!

On Tuesday we went to the Dispensaire for his year review. It was a new doctor and I didn't quite get a lot of what she said, so I am hoping it was not important! She did mumble away lots I must say. The important facts were:
weight - 9.65 kilos
height - 77 cm
head - 47 (yes, they faithfully measure this every time in France! But what if there was a problem, how would you know? they asked me incredulously when I said back home this wasn't done after 6 weeks. What indeed?!)
Poor JoJo got his MMR and 2nd Hepatitis B jabs, both in the butt, so he was not a happy bunny. I think that he is up to date on all his jabs except the 2nd Pneumancocchal (Prevanar here) which I want to do back home as here we would have to pay for it.

Monday, 16 March 2009

12 Months - Joyeux Anniversaire!

The big day is here - today Baby JoJo celebrates his first birthday and graduates from being a Baby to a Toddler. In honour of such an occasion, I shall no longer refer to him as Baby JoJo (sniff, I miss my baby!) but quite simply as JoJo.
It seems quite amazing that this time last year we were in London, it was about to snow, I had been waiting and waiting for JoJo to come and finally they set the date for my induction at 16 days overdue. To think that after his birth I was spending my nights on the couch listening to him snuffle and snore away whilst I tried to get a few hours sleep. The next months saw me planning and planning and packing and moving. That in the time it has taken him to go from 3.63 kg and 54.5 cm to 9 or 10 kg and 74 cm (will get the accurate figures on Tuesday for his year check up) we have moved continent and gone through so many changes!
JoJo continues to do well, and be a happy smiley little boy who loves laughing and really gotten into shrieking and screeching ear piercingly (ouch!). Evs would tell him "no!" and he would stop - if I say the same thing with the same voice he just cracks up - no fair!
He loves his mummy so very very much and is very clingy right now, though his daddy comes a very close second. It means I carry him around a lot which is getting rather hard on my back. When he comes to his mummy there is often one thing and one thing only on his mind - milk! He is eating fine but somehow (mostly the strike) I have got into feeding him on demand. Uh oh! I think it is also a comfort for him, as he has never sucked him thumb or a dummy (though he always puts his fingers in my mouth when he feeds). So this month we will be putting an end to that and I have started by cutting his feeds down to three a day - which he is not at all happy about!! I foresee some hard work ahead!
The walking is coming on well - he can go across the patio to get to someone, albeit very wobbly steps, but if he falls down he will generally just crawl rather than get back up again. He is surrounded by family cheering on his progress which is lovely to see.
He loves crawling around or cruising along investigating everything in his path, and particularly likes playing with water (a real no-no here) or mud (ditto!). He is such a happy boy in the sea!
If he sees food, especially that he recognises (fruit and anything sugary now!) he gets so excited and noisy, shouting and grunting till he gets what he wants. He will also put his hand in Papy's bucket from Pika and help himself to a goyave or anything else that takes his fancy! He has 7 teeth now and can eat most things. I always find it funny that today he is not allowed honey and tomorrow he is!
JoJo loves reading books and will sit happily for quite a while looking at pictures and listening to a story, turning some of the pages himself. Unfortunately he is very taken with the tv, which he sees when the girls are watching their daily Dora allowance. He used to try and turn it off but now he prefers to watch it himself!
No words yet but plenty of sounds, mostly mamamama and dadadada and type.
Now when we go to the playpark he will no longer stay in the buggy, but get out and crawl constantly up the slide before sliding joyfully back down again. Time and time again! Great fun to watch but a bit heart-racing keeping him from doing himself too much damage. He has had so many falls and bumps already, I hope he has a very hard head!
I shall try and post a bit more about our birthday celebrations and first year review later in the week.