Saturday, March 31, 2007

One bite wonders...

The heat is stifling in Antigua; the walk down the dock from the boat to the coffee shop and my face is already bright red, and of course, I never remember to put on sunscreen. Unlike St. Martin, with its never-ending traffic jam that stretches around the island and last from 9am to 9pm, and its rush of cruise ship tourists, Antigua is quiet and laid-back. The background music to life here are birds chirping, the rustle of palm trees from the breeze, the broadcasts on television at the cafĂ© and two bars of the cricket match drifting from the open windows, and the occasional car. I walk down the quiet road to English Harbour, a man walks in front of me, lanky and tall and with long dreads stretching down his back, I can see every muscle, tendon and vain in his long, sinewy body. His dirty shorts, 3 sizes too big, held up by a piece of rope are a reminder of the poverty that plagues much of the Caribbean. It seems almost sinister against the backdrop of, literally, hundreds of millions of dollars of yachts in the harbour less than 1/4 mile away. He reaches down to look through a garbage bag on the side of the road, scrounging for liquor, or perhaps something valuable, I don’t know. True to the New Yorker that still lives in me, I walk around him and continue on my way… How easily we become disaffected by the world around us.

I find Aubrey, in English Harbour, the local fruit man with the miniature Antiguan pineapples that I’ve been told I simply must try. I greet him with a big hello and jokingly inquisition him to make sure he’s the Aubrey I’ve been told about. He is, but nothing breaks his matter-of-fact, business like demeanour and until he knows exactly what I want his hands don’t stop moving – cutting ripe galleon melons and pineapples into chunks and bagging them up for his customers. I look longingly at the perfectly ripe fruit he’s cutting, “can I try? can I try?”, I plead with my eyes but don’t dare say it out loud. I admit, I’m slightly intimidated by his stoic persona. I pick up a tiny pineapple, not much bigger than my palm and I ask him, “are these sweet?”, “yah mon” he replies in his thick island accent, “very sweet, very good, how many you need?”. I tell him I don’t need them until Monday or Tuesday, will they last that long or can I buy them tomorrow or Saturday? “No ma’am, maybe no more after today. Pick out what you want now, I hold for you and you come back again”. Someone else asks for papaya – he says tomorrow, I’ll have to come back again tomorrow for those too. In the meantime I pick out 10 little pineapples, perfect for serving underway, 3 of the most beautiful galleon melons; bright gold, and smelling sweet and ripe. He holds them for me, and as I walk away he says, “here miss” and hands me one of the tiny pineapples, peeled except for its leafy top, which I grip like a popsicle. I take a bite, core and all, juice rolls down my chin and fingers– it’s as sweet as honey. An “mmmmmm” escapes my lips between bites (they’re really only about 2 or 3 bites big) and Aubrey looks pleased. “See you tomorrow miss”, and without skipping a beat he returns to his task of peeling and chopping fruit.

I head back out to the main road, this time to catch a taxi to the big grocery store in St. John – 30 minutes and a $50 taxi ride away. My feet melt into the pavement, an all-too-gentle breeze teases the air, not enough bring relief, but more of a reminder of just how hot it is…

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