Feeling Blue From Gray

DSC_1806Another Fascinating Island Note…

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The Troupial, a tropical oriole.

One of the wonderful things about Bonaire is the splendid variety of colors on the island.  Color is who we are.  Just look off shore to that lovely sapphire blue water.  Below it are crimson squirrelfish, multihued octopi and totally tubular soft coral pipes in vibrant purple.  And the rainbow display continues on shore.  Flamingos strut their stuff in proper pink.  Troupials sing away the day in bright orange tuxedos.  And the loras, our endangered parrots, boast a vivid feather collage in green, red, yellow and turquoise.

This explosion of chroma has a strong effect on the people of the island.  Just look at how folks adorn themselves for events like Karnival or Maskarada.  But color displays can be witnessed every day just by looking at island houses.  Bonaire is historically famous for its mustard yellow that graces many of the older homes. Plus, households of today have broadened the palette to include happy blues, reds, and greens—just about any hue one can imagine.  I like the personal statement.  It reflects our culture and it is, oh so Caribbean.

The Maskarada

The Maskarada

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DSC_1811However, there has been a disturbing development lately that has caught my eye.  I call it the graying of Bonaire.  No, I am not referring to the aging of our population.  Rather, this deals with many of the new buildings that are now painted in bland gray.  From the bustling boulevard of Gobernador DeBrot to the shady lane of Kaya Pos Di Amor (the Well of Love street) this monochrome menace, this architectural impetigo if you will,appears to be increasing.  Lighter shades of pale are on the rise and boy, is it ever boring.

Gray is a non-color, a mixologist’s compromise between black and white.  It is considered by scientists to be an achromatic color, which literally means a ‘color without color’.  As color historian Eva Heller, an author of numerous scholarly books about the effects of color on humans explains, “Gray is too weak to be considered masculine, but too menacing to be considered a feminine color. It is neither warm nor cold, neither material nor spiritual. With gray, nothing seems to be decided.”

But some people on Boniare have decided to make gray their ‘color’ of choice and I am baffled by this.  Why paint something in a somber tone on an island that celebrates color?  Gray reminds me of oppressive Rembrandt skies or monochrome pillbox bunkers that still line the North Sea coastline in anticipation of D-Day, not the sun-drenched Caribbean.  Geographical misplacement comes to mind.

More of the Bland

More of the Bland

Psychologists have long pondered the interface between color and environmental stimuli and its significance. Research suggests that color selection can influence mood and behavior, stimulate the brain and body, and even affect one’s health. A recent study published in the journal, BMC Medical Research Methodology found that people with depression or anxiety were more likely to associate their mood with the color gray while happier people preferred yellow.  And Dr. Emanuel Bubl of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Albert-Ludwigs University of Frieburg in Germany showed that the retinas of depressed patients were less sensitive to contrast (eg. color variation).  Bubl’s findings are intriguing in that they suggest a scientific basis to a cultural association between depression and a lack of color.

But I really needed some local perspective beyond Freud and the state-of-the-art psycho-babble about color.  So I asked Arnold de Jong, owner of Krioyo Paints, if he has seen an increase in the purchase of gray at his store.  Arnold came to the island twelve years ago so he has a long-term perspective on what color paint people prefer.  “Yes, it started about 3 or 4 years ago when the Dutch designer, Piet Boon, started building a lot on Bonaire.  His choice was gray for the exterior of many of his houses.  Now people come to me and simply ask for “Boon grijs” (Boon gray).  It is very popular.”DSC_1817DSC_1816

Ah, so I have discovered that gray has become a trendy color for some.  This relatively new lack of color on our island really stands out due to where we live.  I reminds me of a palm tree sans coconuts, a rum drink minus the punch, Mylie Cyrus without her now infamous, oversized rubber hand.  Hmmmm.

Perhaps it is best that I conclude this tropical tirade with a quote about color and why it is important to our souls and well being.  Georgia O’Keefe, a renowned American painter who paradoxically was married to Alfred Stieglitz, a pioneering black and white photographer, once said  “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.

I say let the discussion begin.  Let us keep our island colorful, vibrant and true to Bonaire’s culture and where we live, the Caribbean.  Yes, let the sun shine in.

Old Bonaire

Old Bonaire

Seaside in Yellow

Seaside in Yellow

Kanti Awa, my local pub.

Kanti Awa, my local pub.

Down Island Winter

coverAnother Island Note Adventure

You cannot smell it in the air.  There is no apple cider to be had and alas, the leaves have not fallen.  To the contrary, it is in the rainy season when everything on Bonaire bursts into green after summer’s incendiary fury.  But there are changes down island that start now, the same time of year when folks in those big digit latitudes to the north begin to shiver.  The weather here begins to turn too, but it is a delightful dip into blissful temperatures.

There are many small signs of the change.  When we go diving now, the water temp is no longer 84º.  I read 82º on my dive computer this week and soon that will creep down into the upper 70s.  Brrrrrr.  It is difficult to explain, but those few degrees make all the difference in the world when you are down under at 60 feet for an hour.  Soon it will be time to exchange my one millimeter wetsuit for a much thicker 3 mm and I shall do that pronto.

Above water, the air temperature is also changing.  By 10 am it is delightfully comfortable in the full sun.  That is a far cry from a typical August morning when dogs and donkeys are desperately seeking shade.  No more.  Everyone is out and about.  And the nights laced with light tropical breezes are so pleasant that sleep comes easy like a sloe gin fizz.

08DecBON 12But wait.  What is that monstrous maritime shape on the horizon?  Why that is the first cruise ship of the season.  It is that time of year again when northerners from Canada, the USA, Germany and Holland book vacation cruises to the Caribbean.  They flee the cold just like ruddy turnstones, those pint-sized birds that inhabit our shores during the wintertime after completing their arduous migration from Artic breeding grounds.  The late comers are easy to pick out.  Often they hobble on one solitary leg, the other being lost from the north’s unforgiving big chill.  These hardy beach bums lime away the months before heading back in the spring to frolic once again in the land of the midnight sun.  After a summer of mating, they return again to revel in the moist of our autumn rainy season.

rainWhen the rains began this year, we had five straight days of showers.  That day-after-day deluge is kind of unusual, and with the sun blotted out by cloudy skies, there was a bit of a chill in the air.  Before you start laughing, this weather stuff is all relative.  We rarely get down to 72º Fahrenheit in the evenings, but we had that this year for days.  Add a bit of wind chill in that mix and yeah!  It was cooooool.

Sweet Pea gets contemplative during the rainy season.

Sweet Pea gets contemplative during the rainy season.

The rainy season also brings rainbows.

The rainy season also brings rainbows.

That dip started me thinking about warm comfort food.  Our meals here usually revolve around crisp, cold salads and perhaps a light piece of grilled fish.  But with this drastic drop in the mercury, dreamy thoughts of soups and stews swirled in my head.  I was even contemplating heavy Dutch meat and potato dishes that some Hollanders eat here all year long.  But hold on!  No need to be so rash.  My good friend from New Mexico, Tom, who was down here last year, had graced me with a bag of posole, those corn-kernelled hominy delights from near south of the border.  I had tossed this precious gift in the freezer, but now it was time to unlock its Mexican mojo.

dishThe dish, posole, comes in many forms, but I wanted to replicate a recipe from Oaxaca  (pronounced Wa-hahk-ah), a southern Mexico state deep in the heart of mañana.  This particular dish called for avocados, among a number of other ingredients.  When I went to the store the next day, I found a new shipment of the green globes just in from California.  Unfortunately, they were as hard as hand grenades.  I bought two anyway and set them outside to ripen.  Five days later the avocados were nearly black and ready to eat.  But by this time the chilly, cool rains that had me hankering for hefty food had stopped.  The sun was now shining and the temperatures rose like another tequila sunrise.  It was warm again, but way too late to stop my gastronomic gallop to the kitchen.  I planned to make Oaxacan posole the very next day.  Game on.

Stirrin' de posole

Stirrin’ de posole

This dish, posole rojo, consists of white hominy, pork, red chile, garlic, bay leaves, cumin and oregano.  Ample garnishes added to the dish when served include white cabbage, cilantro, onion, radishes, avocados, and limes.  I threw in some arugula and warmed flour tortillas to the mix.

The fixins

The fixins

After dicing, chopping, mincing, sautéing, boiling and simmering for four hours, my Mexican masterpiece was ready for the table.  Our good friend, Suus, from the Netherlands joined us.  It was her first posole encounter.  Having spent time in Southeast Asia as a dive instructor, Suus found the dish similar to some of the Vietnamese food that she had experienced.  That makes sense.  It is all part of the grand chile belt, that unofficial, hot climate territory that snakes around the middle of our big, blue marble.

The ladies dine on posole.

The ladies dine on posole.

By the time we each devoured two bowls of posole, the tropical night was in deep purple.  A drunken, yellow crescent moon hung lazily upside-down above Klein Bonaire.  Its golden glow bounced off the water, expressly back to our table.  The coolness of the evening set in and made me realize that it is definitely that time of year again.  It is the start of another delightful down island winter.dinner