Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Found While Cleaning House

The physical counterpart (i.e. dredging the bottoms of our storage spaces to clear out superfluous craps) to the emotional work I'm currently doing recently uncovered some gems from my trip to Kenya in 1996. Where one of the two national languages is English (the other is Swahili).

From various menus:

OXTAIL SOUP: Made from Oxtail power, wheat Flour, fine salt, vegetable fat, herb and spices, milk powder, yeast, beef cubes, etc. (what is the "etc", after all that? For that matter, why just the power from the oxtail? Why not the meat, too? I know there is some . . .)

LUMB STEAK: Goes with dee Todi Sauce vegetable and tarnished with tomato onion (15 min) (what is ANY of this???)

MINESTONE: Italian Soup made from vegetables, Macoroni Cubes of the Beef, little Gravy—intercontinental (No, it's MINE STONE! Hands off!)

CREAM CHICKEN SOUP: Made from Stocks of Chicken Fresh, Celery cubes of chicken, pepper, plus cream, salf, flour, very nice Try it. (I said TRY IT.)

Also this information: there were both old and new 1 Kenyan shilling pieces. They were completely dissimilar. In Nairobi, you needed the new ones to operate the pay phones. In Mombasa, the second largest city in the country, you needed the old ones.

And one morning I had coffee that was so black it turned gray when I added milk.

And on our last morning there (I was traveling with a friend from Lewis and Clark, although we'd both graduated by that time), we were awoken by banging sounds. Looking out our window we saw two men straddling the top of storefront of an almost-demolished building, hitting at it with hammers. Well, it's a way to keep employment numbers up.

Ian and I are planning a trip back to Kenya this fall. I wonder how it's changed. And I hope parts of it have stayed the same.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Okay, So What Was the Whole “Necker Experience” REALLY Like?

Well, the truth is, it was pretty fantastic from start to finish. I was sort of expecting that 3 days would be quite enough—the ratio of help to guests is better than 2 to 1 and I thought that could seem stifling—but I must have grown more accustomed to being treated like a princess in the past six years since my experience at the Four Seasons Wailea on Maui—because I felt like I could quite happily stay for at least another, oh, week. There is a distinct lack of horses on Necker (although the dog department was ably filled by Field Spaniel Sumo), and, latte upon request or no, that is just completely unacceptable in the long-term.

I was one of the 24 attendant guests not because K and I are the kind of bosom buddies who gossip on the phone with any frequency or even email all that often—I hadn't known he'd met a woman until I received the Evite on New Year's Day (more reason to think it was a hoax)—but because we've been, since high school, the kind of friends who can pick up wherever/whenever and continue on with a level of warmth and intimacy that many day-to-day friendships lack. And, his half-sister in Egypt couldn't make it (she and the rest of the family there are doing okay, as of a couple days ago).

There really were two equally phenomenal aspects to this particular event weekend—the people, and the location. I'll start with the people.

First of all, French, Russian, and English were all spoken pretty equally amongst the attendees (not all spoke all three, but several did). Someone asked me at dinner one evening if I spoke any languages other than English and I was pleased to be able to answer that, yes, I knew a little Swahili and a little more Portuguese. I was just as pleased to have no one there able to test my abilities.

As I've said, my roommates were Sophie Barthes and her daughter. There are drawbacks to sharing a beautifully appointed but relatively small room with a 17-month-old, including that she goes to bed at 7, which means I go to bed entirely in the dark, trying not to kick the Pack-n-Play . . . but I have to admit, there are drawbacks to sharing a beautifully appointed but relatively small room with me, the walking easy-access pharmacy, if you have a precocious toddler. And the little toddler-sized mosquito net was the cutest thing ever. C, the toddler, talks all the time in some language or another. I think my French is just about as good as hers. Note: French was not one of the languages I claimed to have any knowledge of.

Other guests with notable accomplishments include the bride's father, who invented a black body and thus emigrated with his family to the US on an "Einstein visa"; the bride's sister-in-law, Courtney Hansen (who was as sweet as she is lovely); the groom's daughter's after school activities director—who also seems to own the TriBeCa pier where the activities take place; and any number of international business/culture people. For the most part, people knew and/or were related to each other and were there having a fun weekend together—the environment was as laid-back and welcoming to me, a complete stranger to all but three people when I first arrived, as it could possibly have been.

As for Sir Richard Branson himself, he also seemed to be an easy-going guy, and has an amazing deal going on here: he invites the rich and famous to pay an insane amount of money to stay at his home—for which they feel privileged—and then he comes and hobnobs with them—for which they feel privileged—and he gets to network with the rich and famous of the world. Of course, some of them he may not like, but he always has the option to stay away from those—and he can do some pretty brilliant networking with those who he does get along with. He also has a keen sense of the environment, and while he's trying to develop private space travel, he's also reintroducing flamingos to Necker Island, and is developing a non-governmental, international coalition for ocean health and global fish sustainability. He was disappointed Ian wasn't there to chat with; me too. But, if he needs Ian, there are ways to find him.

Nevertheless . . . I get the feeling Sir Richard might be a little lonely. He has a wife and kids, but the kids (both in their 20s) are in London, I'm not sure his wife comes to Necker whenever he's there, and I'm pretty sure I would be lonely (and may just be projecting). He leads such an extreme life—far less "normal" than mine—I don't know. As much as the island was virtually perfection, I wouldn't want to live there.

And, going on to the second part of this weekend, the actual "hotel" part of the island, it was virtually perfection. The food was invariably delicious (quail; sushi served from a kayak in the main pool; beach barbecue; etc), and, at the request of the bride, was 100% sustainable and organic and all of the meat, as well as the wedding cake, was kosher (her family is Jewish, and some of them keep kosher). There were bars all over the island and, if they were empty, you were invited to just go and serve yourself. Coconut palms grew thickly around the main swimming pool at the main beach, and several of the (male—females were in sun dresses, usually) employees would climb up the trees to retrieve young coconuts, carve them open with machetes, and serve the coconut water with a straw.

The place was decorated Balinese-style, and unlike the house we rented in Kona in January, the wooden furniture and artwork probably was actually from Bali. Certainly, there was no scrimping on comfort—all sofas, chairs, and beach-side pavilions were richly restful, scattered liberally with pillows, and blindingly white and clean. In the main lodge, for guests' entertainment, was a pool table, a computer (WiFi if you had your own computer), several chess boards, a collection of international rhythm instruments, a giant TV (never on during our stay), and a spinet piano—far the worse for living in an open, humid environment. I played a scale and it was barely recognizable.

There was also a loft library with a drum set and a guitar (we managed to keep the 9-year-old and the 6-year-old from trying to play those) and a ton of books.

Each room was equipped with a light, batik robe and a heavy spa one for each guest; laundry service was free; phone calls—local or international—were included; the postcards in the lacquered wooden box on the desk were stamped. When asked, by the groom, if the amount was the same to Egypt, the girl serving us at breakfast the last morning said that the office manager would check each address to make sure before the cards were placed in the mail.

Sun creams, in 4 strengths (Tourist: 30; Traveler: 15; Islander: 6; Local: 0 [dark tanning oil]) could be found in numerous locations, as well as bottles of aftersun recovery sprays and Off.

Activities at the main beach included sailing in Hobie Cats, kayaking, snorkeling, kite boarding, and any number of other things (I was mostly chatting with people).

Of all the people I know, I think my mother-in-law would appreciate the Necker Island experience the most. Bali themes; snorkeling; shelling (there was a good beach with a gentle surf and lots of miniature shells to dive for); sailing; warm, gentle air; food whenever you ask for it. I would love to get her there sometime.

As for myself, I'm calling this trip not the "trip of a lifetime," but rather "the FIRST trip there of this lifetime." You never know!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What Clinched It Was the Valentine’s Day Buffet

Two days ago I left the low-key, easy-going, laid-back opulence of Necker Island and returned to reality. It was still Gleaming, Glinting, Tropical Island reality, but it was a jarringly long step down from where I had been.

I was on Necker until the last boat out, which I shared with the bride and groom, because they, too, were not leaving for home but rather going to adjacent Virgin Gorda for several days. They were staying at posh Little Dix Bay for a honeymoon week, and that's where the Necker boat took us. I was put into a taxi for Fischer's Cove Beach Resort, just down the road, which is a lovely, vintage, beachside, garishly Caribbean-colored establishment. Did I say vintage?

I was already feeling a bit sad to be off on my own, after a gorgeous weekend of luxury and romance and fascinating interaction, and I was also feeling that I'd sunned enough for the cold season what with the southern hemisphere in the fall and Hawaii just a few weeks ago (I do have a lovely tan, though), and my blood sugar level happened to be low, making me tend slightly toward weepiness—which the sight of my Pepto-pink, ancient, pilly, polyester bedspread did nothing to assuage.

When I had checked in at Fischer's Cove, the nice lady had given me a stack of information, including a flier for the Valentine's Day buffet ("Special Drink: Sunset Kiss By The Sea!") that their seaside restaurant was going to be hosting the following night, complete with live band, and that would I please make a reservation if I was going to attend. I thought, with a tinge of hysteria, about attending, solo, a romantic dinner on The Romantic Holiday in one of the classic locales—the British Virgin Islands—of honeymoons and couples getaways. I would get all dressed up in one of the nicer outfits I'd brought, wear my leather sandals instead of my rubber ones, maybe even use my tinted Burt's Bees lip balm instead of just the normal one. And I would be the poor, alone, crazy lady with the wildly unmanageable hair who made everyone else's romantic dinners uncomfortable. The image kept making me laugh.

At the same time, it made me think—who is keeping me here? And the answer was unequivocally ME. I was. And I could change that! And so, using the remaining minutes on the roaming program I'd bought for my cell phone, I called American Airlines and changed my return trip from the 17th to the 14th. I'd be able to see my very own sweetie-pie on Valentine's Day!

I instantly felt better about my whole existence, ate my last stale food bar, and went down to the beach for a last swim and lounge. The ladies in the office kindly employed their behind-the-scenes networking and got me a place on the next morning's "guests only" shuttle boat from Little Dix to Tortola so that I could catch my plane. Even though I had BOTH my carryon and checked bags "randomly" searched at the Tortola/Beef Island airport, and my third flight (itinerary was 1: Tortola-Puerto Rico; 2: Puerto Rico-Dallas; 3: Dallas-Seattle) ended up being Dallas to Dallas instead of Dallas to Seattle, meaning that I got to have a fourth flight—this one successful—Valentine's Day was a good day for me, because at the very tail end of it, 21 hours after awaking in my pilly pink bed, I was hugging my shocked husband. I somehow managed to not let him know I was coming home, which was a profound achievement considering my superpower of Full Disclosure, and due largely, I'm sure, to Ian's superpower of Credulity and Trust. Yay Seattle!

more pictures posted, and captions added here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

first pics from Necker



Here's a picture from the dinner the night after the wedding--we're all--well, only some of us currently pictured--wearing "tribal" attire. In turbans are my high school friend K and his new bride A, then her father, then Sir Richard Branson himself. Second from the right is one of my roommates (the other was her 17-month-old ADORABLE daughter), Sophie Barthes.

Um, wow.
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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Is This A Hoax???

On New Year's Day I received an Evite to my high school friend K's wedding . . . on Necker Island in the BVIs . . . which is the private island home of Sir Richard Branson of Virgins Music, Atlantic, America, Blue, etc etc fame. Ian and I discussed and postulated how this could possibly be and decided that, knowing K, it was equally likely that on one hand he had come upon enough money to rent the island for the event, or on the other hand that he had met Sir Rick himself and had been invited as a family guest.

In the event, it seems that K and his lovely fiancée A (whom we met in a flying visit to Seattle in mid-January; they are currently New Yorkers) are, in fact, renting the island, although the man who introduced them to each other does, unrelatedly, work for Branson in some capacity.

Anyway, I'm leaving tomorrow morning at 4:30am (when I ordered my taxi just now the agent said "and you're still out of BED?!?"), and flying in multiple legs to Tortola. A ferry to Necker Island on the 10th, in the afternoon, has been mentioned, but true to many private events of the rich and famous, who are trying to avoid contamination by the riff-raff, I as yet don't have any more information than that.

Will someone pick me up at my hotel on Thursday afternoon? Will I be blindfolded, or put into the back of a windowless van and driven . . . somewhere? Will a note appear at my hotel telling me where to go? Or will it simply mock me for taking the bait and flying myself all the way to the Caribbean for nothing?

If it does turn out to have been a hoax, and I find myself without 2.14 employees dedicated to me and me alone for three whole days, I suppose I'll just have to make the best of it. At my second tropical paradise in two months. Sigh.