Thursday, 23 April 2015



Green Monkey Tales: The Paradoxes of Paradise


Barbados in a coconut shell is a Third World country with WiFi. While not exactly backward, there are troubling indicators that progress is as abstract a concept as a level sidewalk. Tourism has fallen off which means unemployment and crime have risen. Disease threatens the island’s citrus trees and the minister of agriculture has suggested that every single one may need to be destroyed. Barbados became an independent country in 1966; the lasting legacy of British imperialism is bureaucracy: imagine untangling red tape with the adhesive side overly sticky in the shuffling heat. If a citizen gets sick, it’s best if they’re well enough and well off enough to board a Miami-bound plane for treatment. Perhaps worst of all was the poor performance of the West Indian cricket side in the 2015 World Cup. According to the Nation, one of the island’s two newspapers, the other is the Advocate and both are tabloids, prospects for 2019 aren’t so great either.


Beyond the fields of sugarcane and sea island cotton are positive signs of stability and recovery. Most of those arrows point to offshore banking. KPMG, PWC, and Ernst and Young each sport an imposing presence. Scotiabank’s You’re Richer Than You Think tag carries over well in Barbados minus the sentimental Saturday night hockey hook Canadians are used to; CIBC is in the country, branded as First Caribbean International. Montreal-based garment manufacturer Gildan is ensconced in a new and modern building near the airport. Co-operators General Insurance is the titular sponsor of the Barbados Amateur Basketball Association (BABA) Premier League. There is talk of exploiting what may be significant oil and natural gas deposits on or around the island for the sake of self-sufficiency. Solar power is an established utility; most homes’ hot water heaters are up on their peaked roofs. And, provided the required changes are made in a timely manner, the 2019 World Cup cricket side could be a contender.


There are ruins amid the beauty or beauty amid the ruins. While the vegetation is incredibly lush, bananas and breadfruit hang heavily, the salty air and humidity quickly combine to devastate poorly maintained or abandoned structures. Stone and cement turn black. Wood rots. Paint and stucco fade. Corrugated tin roofs and fences rust. The number of derelict buildings is staggering and these hulks, once a simple chattel home, once a resort hotel, once a colonial office, are not tucked away in hidden and forgotten places; no, they crumble and rot overgrown, spooky with gorgeous bougainvillea on prime real estate. The most intriguing and mysterious wreckage never even had a chance to have a history. The hoarding along the South Coast Boardwalk reads: HARLEQUIN BARBADOS: REDEFINING LUXURY IN THE CARIBBEAN. According to the various logos, partners include Gary Player Design and Trader Vic’s. OPENING 2013. Behind and above the screen of marketing promises stands a half-hearted skeleton of blackening concrete and rusting rebar. The ocean views would have been postcard-spectacular but for the 2008 economic downturn.


The Crane in St. Philip and originally opened in 1867 seems to have weathered not only hurricanes but the flighty fancies of tourists too. Renovated and revitalized and so over the five-star top with its central artificial village that a Canadian can only imagine Banff fully recreated in the West Edmonton Mall or vice versa. However, an Aston Martin DB5 with a white on black BMT 216A license plate would not be out of place in the Crane’s parking lot either. The discerning eye must necessarily appreciate the genuine survivors of this country’s history and climate: Codrington College, an Anglican seminary whose construction began in 1714 and took 20 years to complete, still stands on manicured grounds complete with a lily pond; the fifth incarnation of St. John’s Parish church was erected beginning in 1835, it is blackened, island Gothic, its churchyard on the precipice of an ocean cliff, a maze of mossy sunken crypts and tilted headstones. Do the dead look out to sea?


Development generally costs less as other people’s money (provided they actually have it) is spent and eventually taxed. The price of preservation is greyer, what heritage totem is worth making a nation’s people pay for? Tourism is valuable, but what’s to become of the ghosts that attract tourists?

(Part 4 and end of a series)

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