Saturday, December 29, 2007

Boxing Day

Negril, Jamaica:

Boxing Day, Dec 26

The morning sun polishes a smooth sea to a metallic sheen, a gorgeous but blinding sight, which is why the early diners take shelter under the thatched roof of the LTU Pub, the runway between the kitchen and the bar. The family straggles in.

Jamaica Bill, who does his best to keep the rest of us from running amok, arrives with a brick of the smoked marlin left from last night’s Christmas dinner and we polish this off with bagels, cream cheese and a fruit plate of pineapple, papaya, and, wonder of wonder, bananas. A hand of bananas arrived this morning by bearer, and so young Luke promptly orders LTU’s famous banana pancakes. We’ve been here a week now, and it has been Yes We Have No Bananas until this morning. Hurricane Dean earlier in the fall has been hard on the crop.

The smoked marlin has a delicate flavor all its own, by the way, and is as good an excuse as any to sojourn in Negril. Another excuse is coconut water, sucked right out of a green cocoanut via means of a straw. Coconut water is the only juice that goes straight to the heart. As any Jamaican will tell you, a glass—or a nut-full of coconut water, mon, it’s good for the blood pressure and the heart.

The Williams clan is in a triumphant mood. Yes we managed to pull off a tropical Christmas dinner at Jamaica Bill’s place, despite the fact that his beach house perched on the sea cliffs took a few hits from Dean. At least the roof stayed on the place this time, and most of the crockery remained intact. The light fixtures in the kitchen, however, were defunct, due to salt water intrusion, leaving us to cook by lamp and candle light.

There’s a tense moment early in the afternoon when the gas stove that was supposed to be roasting the oven coughed and quit. Jamaica Bill ordered everything off, all top burners. A sniff test ensued, some dials were twiddled and yes the chicken was roasted to a perfect skin crunching crisp.

Louisiana gumbo was supposed to be the main course, but had to be scratched due to the absence of a viable quantity of okra. We found a bud or two along the fence on the property at LTU Villas, but that wouldn’t do for twenty guests. Mama Nanin stepped in with a new plan. Shrimp in marinara sauce, so we chopped onion, garlic, and green pepper, but not the celery, a delicacy which Jamaica Bill had ordered for the now-defunct gumbo project, but Mama Nanin sniffed and informed us that in the wider culinary world—beyond the States—celery is a nonentity. The Parisians wouldn’t touch the stuff.

Mama Nanin brought all the makings for her famous champagne punch and then some, which is how she managed to pour a bottle of vodka into the mix, rather than triple sec, intended to substitute for peach schnapps. Oh well, the brew proved to be as powerful as it was popular.

Jamaica Bill made his famous pesto pasta, the one with the artichoke hearts. Jamaica Bill’s pesto is fresh made and he supplies it in bulk to the rest of the West End, at least the tonier establishments.

At one point a strange round object lined with what appeared to be lightening bolts appeared on the TV screen. This proved to be the interior of young Luke’s eyeball. He was trying out one of his Christmas presents, an electronic microscope, an Eyeclops, which you hook into the TV screen. The inside of an eyeball is an eerie sight indeed, especially if you’d had more than a few sips of the champagne and vodka punch.

A day which began with snorkeling, the exploration of sea caves, the sighting of jelly fish, dolphins, a thing that was probably a sea snake, and the discovery of baby coral growing in a tide pool meant an early end to the festivities.

The party ended when young Luke asked Jamaica Bill to produce the bottle containing a famous relic, the two-foot centipede. After fifteen years in a jar, the centipede has shrunk to a shadow of its vicious self. Jamaica Bill, who is six feet four inches tall, told how he managed to battle to the death this aggressive creature by standing on a kitchen stool and spraying it with an entire can of bug spray, the fumes of which nearly poisoned Jamaica Bill himself before the centipede expired.

At that point, those of us who were about to expire from the ravages of the champagne punch were driven back to our rooms at The LTU Villas, while the heartier souls retired to the pub bar to toast in Christmas.

The Twenty Somethings arrived late, wolfed their breakfast, and sped off. It’s going to be a tough day for them, what with a catamaran cruise on the Wild Thing in the morning followed by a reggae party tonight on Seven Miles beach and so they left their back-to-the States gift shopping to be done by cooler heads. Three bags of Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee and two rum creams ought to do it, Mom. Or is it two bags of the coffee and three of the rum cream? Oh dear, leave it to Mom to get it wrong.

Young Luke is off to scuba class followed by a trip to the beach, leaving his grandparents Bill Senior and Mama Nanin free to reminisce about the good old days in Havana, New Orleans, Houston, Paris, Vermont, Bloomington, and places like that.

Our friend Janice from Boston has arrived with a late bulletin: the water system has been switched over to backup so don’t drink the tap stuff, but I’m already tapped out and so far am feeling very fine, except my left leg is a bit stiff from yesterdays climb up and down the steep steps cut into the side of the West End cliffs. The stairs wind through a lava tube and end at a shelf carved into the cliffs, where we dive into the sea for a cool down before slathering on the sun oil and settle into some serious sunbathing. Nevertheless, when Janice proposes a trip to Mayfield Falls where we’ll explore a mountain spring, I’m all for it.

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