Tuesday, 29 May 2012

My Kitchen in the Tropics

I’ve had a home on the small Dutch island of St. Eustatius (Statia) for forty years. It is the setting for my novel, Delighting In Your Company.

When my husband and I built our house here, there was no power and no water on or even near the property. We had to build a working cistern to have water for construction and we used a small generator on those few occasions when  electricity was needed. This was not often since the local workers were accustomed to building without power. Electricity was available in the town only from 6 pm to 10 pm and wasn’t anyplace else on the island except in the town.  We were building “way out in de bush.”

Blair's house on Statia
I built my house in the style of old Caribbean houses, with no glass anyplace. We have walls of seven foot windows, all framed in wood louvers that let the trade winds enter my house year round. And there are louvered doors to the veranda from every room. 

But my favorite room is the kitchen. It isn’t in the main house at all. It’s a separate building across the veranda from the rest of the house, as it was in Caribbean houses of the eighteenth century.

Last year we realized that we needed to replace the kitchen roof.  My nephew Dan and niece Amy were deeply involved in the project since after my husband’s death some years ago I made them co-owners of the property with me. This was a piece of marvelous luck or foresight on my part. Dan’s a civil engineer who knows EVERYTHING about cement construction and Amy’s an architect. 

Blair in her tropical kitchen
What was to have been a simple roof replacement suffered almost immediately from the “MAHSWELLS”.  Of course all new plumbing and wiring were an obvious necessity.  But the rest was a case of the mahswells. “While we’re putting on a new roof we ‘mahswell’ raise the ceiling 10 feet or so and put on and old fashioned Caribbean hip roof. We ‘mahswell’ move the utility room around to the back of the house and thereby enlarge the kitchen. We ‘mahswell’ get some beautiful custom-made cherry cabinets and a marble topped pastry table. And an old fashioned cast iron porcelain sink with beautiful pewter fixtures. And maybe we could fix up Amy’s father’s old gun cabinet with the pressed tin front as a broom closet. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a ceiling fan in there? And  special lighting fixtures? Italian ceramic tile floors and counters are a must, of course.  And windows. With all the extra wall space we “mahswell” put in some more. Where there were once two, there are now four, all with wooden shutters custom made and exact copies of ones on old Caribbean houses, right down to their custom made wrought-iron closures.

The realization of all these flights of fancy was left to our wonderful Dutch builder, Wim and his long-time partner in construction, Statian, Rusty. What they came up with working with engineer, Dan, and architect, Amy, wasn’t a building, it was a work of art.

Amy and I often joke about the difference in our tastes. Hers, while     impeccable, is definitely of the twenty-first century, while mine, in both architecture and music is firmly rooted in the eighteenth.  Somehow, in our kitchen, this works. Things look old fashioned, but they work with twenty-first century efficiency.

It’s no accident that in all my books, kitchens and food preparation play a large part. In The Memory of Roses, Brit thinks the kitchen in the house on Corfu is the most beautiful she’s ever seen. In Delighting in your Company, Elvirna, Josephina’s cook, whips up Caribbean specialties, and in Sonata, my police detective, Michael Donovan, is a master chef who delights in cooking unusual dishes for his sweetheart, Sayuri, in the unusual kitchen he himself designed.
For my part, there is nothing like the pleasure of whipping up a guava pie, using fruit off our own trees, in our glorious new kitchen.

Purchase Blair's books today by clicking on the covers below.  You can then select the vendor of your choice.

The Memory of RosesDelighting In Your Company
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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A Love That Crosses the Boundaries of Time

Delighting In Your Company was released by Rebel Ink on April 17, 2012. The title is taken from a song, Greensleeves, attributed to Henry VIII, but the story takes place much later, in two time periods, the present and the early eighteen hundreds. Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance with time travel.

The idea for this story had its origins many years ago. I was building a house on the small Dutch island of St. Eustatius, in the Caribbean. I had no electricity and no running water. I had to dip water for cooking and bathing by bucket from an outdoor cistern. I was, as the locals put it, “Out in de bush.”

A friend who lived some distance up the hill from me, a local black woman named Mrs. Belle, asked me if I wasn’t afraid at night, staying way out in the country by myself. Since the crime rate on this tiny piece of paradise was zero, I asked her what I should be afraid of. “The jumbies,” she answered. I didn’t know the meaning of the word. “The jumbies,” she repeated, “The dead who walk.”

I was to hear that word many times in succeeding years. Belief in the occult is alive and well in the Caribbean. I heard stories about the mysterious crack in the steeple of the Methodist Church, about the woman who was buried standing up in the Anglican cemetery, and about the ghost who walks White Wall Road. I heard these legends not once, but many times and from many people.

I heard also about the practice of Obeah, an ancient religion based on a belief in black magic, brought from Africa to the Caribbean by the slaves. Although people speak about it in hushed tones and infrequently, its practices have definitely survived into the twenty-first century in the Caribbean.

When I decided to write a book placed on my beloved island, these stories all came flooding back to me. So I made my hero, Jonathan, the ghost of an eighteenth century planter who was mysteriously murdered, and has walked White Wall Road ever since.  My heroine, Amalie, is a twenty-first century descendant of Jonathan’s betrothed, who has the misfortune of falling in love with a jumbie.

In the following scene, Amalie has recently arrived on the island, and her cousin, Josephina, is showing her through the local Historical Society Museum.

Josephina hesitated. “There’s one further thing I want you to see. It’s why I brought you here this morning.”
Puzzled, Amalie followed her into a drawing room furnished in eighteenth century style with a camelback sofa and wing chairs. Portraits lined the walls.
“Our past Administrators and their wives,” Josephina commented as she walked across the room and looked up at one particular picture.
Amalie followed her gaze and gasped. She was looking at a portrait of herself.
“Amalie Ansett Benstone.”
Amalie studied the image. The woman’s clothing was different, and that other Amalie’s ash blond hair was arranged formally in the long soft curls popular in that day rather than in the simple casual style today’s Amalie preferred. But the portrait could have been her own. 
The woman in the picture appeared to be younger than Amalie by nine or ten years. She was perhaps eighteen. There was a softness about her face. It was gentle and sweet where Amalie’s own features were a bit sharper, more defined. That was probably due to the fact that she was older.  However, there was one marked difference. Amalie Ansett Benstone’s eyes were brown like hers, but they held no life. They were eyes that saw nothing.
“What happened to her? Why are her eyes so dead?”
“I’ll tell you her story when we get back to the house. But first, perhaps you should look at the portrait of her husband, Charles Benstone. He was Island Administrator at the time.”
Amalie looked at the picture beside her ancestor’s. An involuntary shudder passed through her. It wasn’t that Charles Benstone was unattractive. He was, in fact, extraordinarily handsome. High cheekbones accented an angular face. He was broad shouldered and powerful looking.  His long black curly hair was carefully coiffed. However his mouth was shaped into a sardonic smile and his expression was arrogant, almost cruel. Looking at him, Amalie shivered again. How could a mere oil painting, and not very good one at that, make her feel such revulsion?

Buy Blair's books today by clicking on the covers below  which allows you to select the vendor of your choice.

The Memory of RosesDelighting In Your Company