Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Views from the verandah at Rainbow Tree villa, Treasure Beach, Jamaica (all photos by Peggy Harrison,

I am just back from my fourth annual trip to Treasure Beach (see last year's posts in the archive for more background information and photos) and this year Peggy Harrison, official Collected Traveler photographer, joined us with her husband, Rich. Peggy referred to the trip as "most relaxing vacation ever" and that is exactly why we keep going back. Not much has changed in Treasure Beach (also why we keep going back) but I thought it was great that a French family was staying at Rainbow Point (the smaller house that sleeps six at the other end of Billy's Bay) and another French family was staying at the house next to Rainbow Tree. Clearly, word of this special place is definitely spreading!

I read for the second time The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson (Random House, 2009) -- my companion reading always has to relate to the places I'm traveling to -- and I quickly remembered how beautifully written this book is. Though you can't tell from the title, the book is about Jamaica (and Cezair-Thompson is Jamaica-born), but it is a novel that features historical events and dates and weaves together members of many generations of Jean Landing's family, as well as friends and lovers (there is also, helpfully, a glossary of Jamaican dialect at the back of the book). Cezair-Thompson is also the author of The Pirate's Daughter (2008, also Random House, also about Jamaica) which I haven't read yet but I'm going to seek it out very soon; but True History has been deservedly acclaimed: "...marvelously evocative...[conveys] a vivid sense of many worlds folded into one" (The Washington Post Book World); "Cezair-Thompson writes with such talent, grace, and confidence" (The New York Times Book Review) and "...the colorful and dramatic history of Jamaica is stunningly encapsulated" (Kirkus Reviews). I love so many passages in this book, but one in particular, a few pages from the very end, really sticks with me:

"She is the descendant, not of runaway Africans, but of African slaves. And not only of Africans but of English, Irish, Spanish, Jewish, Germans, and Chinese. Does this motley ancestry make her spirit a less able traveler? Does confusion of the blood cause the spirits to flounder and lose their sense of direction?" The character of Jean continues on by noting that her Cuban friend, Senor Rodriguez, of African descent, told her about something called egun iponri, meaning ancestors coming and going, living in and around a person. "He showed her an altar in his house dedicated to Yoruba gods and Catholic saints -- Shango, Ogun, St. Christopher. "No conflict," he told Jean. "It's all the same, all one spirit world." But they're not all the same, Jean thought, that's the glory. She realized then that she had always believed in egun iponri. The vastly differing voices are not a floundering but a steadying influence."

And now that I read that again I see that while it is a passage unique to Jamaica, it is also one for all travelers to keep in mind, as probably nowhere on earth do issues of race, religion, and culture fit easily into a neat and tidy box.

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