Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Greetings from around the world

In the middle of all the craziness of these days, my friends' Holiday greetings are trickling in. I couldn't be happier. Regardless of the fact that this year I am not in a celebrating mood, each of these cards, emails and annual letters makes my day when they arrive.

They are not only coming with news from dear friends and their families, their good and not so good news, but they bring the feel of lands faraway: from Ann in Genoa, Lucy in Paris, Emily in Haarlem (The Netherlands), Irene in Lucca, Eva in Monaco, Terri in Aarhus (Denmark) to Anna Clara in Curacao, from Vicki in New York and Leslie in Missouri to Mary in Cairo and Vera in Malta... and that is not even half of them! Every message gives me a warm feeling. Things that were maybe commonplace or everyday occurrences when they happened, become important, interesting and so welcome by the time they appear in these messages.

In these days when people are so stressed and so busy, it is a wonderful to know that my friends take the time to keep in touch. Some of them keep in touch during the year, but others only touch base at this Joyous time. Never mind, all the news are important, all the messages answered, good news celebrated and sympathy goes out to the ones with not so good news...these are few and far between. Everyone sees the good side of things at this time of the year! and that is as it should be.

Remnants of a previous life, of years spent abroad when your friends are your family and ties are formed that will always be there. The life of an expatriate, never forgotten, comes to life when we get these messages... I am sure each of my friends feels the same.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

New attitude for the Holidays

One week to Christmas Eve and somehow I have managed not to be too involved this year. I did decorate a bit, lots of red candles, a small Norfolk Island pine with new ornaments, a red and gold bow on our front door. It feels so much better because it is all new, no nostalgia attached to any of these things. The boxes marked Christmas are still in the storage cages in the basement!

I don't think I am alone in this. Women tend to get all worked up during the Holidays. We want everything to be perfect for everyone we love. We twist ourselves in knots, bend over backwards and stress ourselves to exhaustion. Forgetting one very important thing: US!! Don't we deserve all those things we wish for our loved ones? and why do the Holidays have to be perfect? why does everything have to be planned with such precision? Why this change you might ask? well, I heard something today on PBS (a source of wisdom, if there ever was one!): LET GO OF PERFECT!! It made so much I am trying.

With the rhythm of the Holidays all around me, Christmas carols, Christmas specials, decorations everywhere I go or visit; I haven't had an emotional moment yet! I think this is something to celebrate. ...or not. My sisters will both be here and after the year we had, I am looking forward to celebrating with them too. Also I am looking forward to visiting Camille! Yes! I decided... why not? Spend Christmas here and New Year's with her. Fear of flying...out the window!

One week before Christmas indeed, I will buy some presents and plan my Christmas Eve with loved ones. All will be well, and New Year's Eve looks like fun. I'll spend time with everyone, sort of compartmentalized Holidays; and sooner than I will be January 5th!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Complicated Holidays!

In this time and age, when everything has become so complicated...the Holidays take the prize! What happened to the simple pleasures of family celebrations? Remember the careful selection of our gifts? the wrapping and the hiding of said gifts? How about the real Christmas tree, the time spent in decorating with the family, the ornaments that had some meaning or history attached to them? Let's not forget the plans to spend the Holidays together. These things were almost as wonderful as the Holidays themselves.

Where has all this gone? Lost in the swirls of massive shopping, theme decorating, outjonesing (my new word of the week!) the Joneses and other stressful endeavours. Have you been out in a mall lately? A veritable stampede of shoppers, lines to end all lines at any register and obnoxious people looking for the latest gadget to give....not the best or the most appropriate mind you, but the must have present!

For my family, spending Christmas and New Year's together has always been priority. Everything else was just icing on the cake. As the children grew up, we had no trouble at all. They lived at home and we bought their presents, we had our family dinner on Christmas Eve, opened our presents and went to bed late. Christmas morning was even nicer.... beach day!

Through the years, this pattern was satisfying and welcome. When they left home to go away to school, the Holidays became even more important. It was the time of the year when they came home, spent time with us, saw their friends, slipped back into their island lives. Parties were added to the routine at some point, but decorations were still the same and their trips home were my best present every year.

With our move to Miami, things continued quite the same, we even managed a trip back to Curaçao last year. Ah, the good old days! I would say....Ah, she is whining friends would think! So be it. This time of the year is sacred, with its traditions and its pleasures. I didn't want that to change, but it has.

Frank is working in North Carolina, so he'll have to travel back and forth for a couple of days at Christmas and then a couple for New Year's. Camille is in London, and traveling back and forth is not a option. Since we got married and had the children, our family has spent the Holidays together....with two exceptions: the year Camille was born on December 28th, I was in the hospital on New Year's Eve and the year we moved to Miami, Frank and Frankie did not make it to celebrate Christmas in Curaçao.

So this year, I am caught in the middle, not knowing what to do. It is amazing, isn't it.? When you have done something for so many years, stopping is difficult. I am caught between decorating (don't feel like it), going to visit Camille since she is the one by herself (feel a bit selfish by leaving the men in the family by themselves) or just ignoring the whole thing! Now, really, is that possible? Maybe not, but I wish it was January 5th!!!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The other side of my trip

I enjoyed my trip so much, but don't want anyone to think all is rose-colored. It is not. As in many places around the world, life in Curaçao has changed, become more dangerous. People have become more cautious and not everyone I spoke to sounded happy. Crime is high, criminals are more daring and everyone sort of look over their shoulder when they go out. I was told of robberies, government corruption and a poor economy.

Some things I noticed, when people approach a street light, they slow down and don't stop next to any car. When coming out of a restaurant, they go out in groups and not too late. Everyone tries to park as close to the place they are going to as possible. If you live far from the city center, you try not to drive back too late, or you ask someone to follow you.

There are guards outside private schools and banks and in many homes. Not too many gated communities yet, but they are a few more than last year. There are bars on windows and security companies are doing very well........Still...

Everyone is out for dinner or drinks, so restaurants and bars are doing very well. There are art exhibitions, school presentations, the movies, celebrations of all sorts. I saw many convertibles carrying Sinterklas and his helpers going from one place to another. Stores are open late for the Holidays and people are visiting at night. Everyone just adapts to new circumstances, like everywhere else in the world; and in Curaçao you still have the laid-back lifestyle, the gorgeous weather, the beaches and the closeness of living in a small community!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

As expected....

I am back from Curaçao, and the trip was wonderful. As expected, I visited friends, drove around, played bridge and went to the beach. There is so much construction going on: hotels, homes, even apartment buildings! Hotels are full, thanks to the exchange rate with the Euro. Retirees are flocking to the island, finally discovering this corner of the Caribbean. There is a new mall.... yes, enclosed and air conditioned with expensive stores, an ice cream parlor and two restaurants. It is located in an old landhuis (plantation house).

Went there on Thursday for drinks with my friend Joan and her daughter, I have missed that! After that, dinner by the beach at a local landmark: a trailer/restaurant featuring the best seafood and fish on the island. You sit outdoors, by the water, so informal, so tropical. The food was excellent, the company as well, Tony and Sandra sharing news of their daughter's wedding in Rosslyn Chapel! I had lunch with Monique and Clark and sat there reminiscing and exchanging news of our children.

The day before was bridge. It was so nice to see my friends, talk about everything, laugh, even the sound of Dutch was welcome! Kitty and Marja B are both becoming grandmothers of twins! We were graced by the visit of one of our friends going through a difficult time: cancer, chemo, a new wig. Nicoline was gracious and so glad to see us, as we were to see her. She looked fragile, but had a golden tan and looked beautiful. She's the one that once described us as a warm blanket.... and she was so right. At night, sushi with our old friends Tony and Valerie, and I know Fred, the restaurant owner, he was part of my theater group.

Tuesday I had time to go out at night to visit friends, to have dinner with Kathy. Loved it! Everywhere you go, you meet someone you know, so in four days, I did get to see most of my friends. On Tuesday and Thursday, I had time to go to the beach for a few hours. Clear waters, white sand and warm sun, perfect! The sea is life, nothing else feels like it. I took naps, read, floated happily and made sure I put my head under water for as long as I could!

On Friday I even had time to chat with Vicki (that had been traveling) on my way to the airport. So never mind that we had to wait for 8 hours at the airport...the plane was having mechanical difficulties... that dreaded phrase. Never mind that we had to wait for a plane to arrive from Miami to pick up us, even there I found friends I haven't seen in years! We had some local delicacies and talked, talked and talked. Yes, it might be true that you cannot go back, but when you visit everything is as expected!

Now I am back home, with recharged batteries and full of energy. I can do this again soon!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Recharging Batteries....

Tomorrow I am going to Curaçao! I can see everyone smiling. What else is new, she is going off into another tirade (too strong a word, maybe?) about her island paradise. Well, that might be so, but it's my first trip back this year and a welcome one. Since my mother's stroke last December, all I have done is travel back and forth to Panama. Necessary, for sure, but so stressful.

This time it's only for fun! My husband is going for work and I am tagging along. Go to the beach... a real beach.... Sit by the water and relax, have a couple of exotic drinks, watch the sunset. It will be heaven. I'll see my friends, play bridge on Wednesday again and hear all about the latest news: weddings, babies, trips. Even the sad news will be exchanged and it will seem like I never left. Can't wait!

I will make time to walk at least once along the path where I used to walk every day. See who's still walking, the new houses in the area, the gorgeous sunsets, the riot of color of the bougainvillea hedges. The air will be cool and the smell of salt; everything will be green because of the rains....

There will be the night out for drinks on Thursday, to see everyone I have not time to visit. What can I say. Just before the hectic Holiday Season, this trip will be perfect to recharge my batteries. When I get back, a bit sad and nostalgic, I'll have the energy to tackle what's coming.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The weather has turned...

Yes, I know it sounds a bit funny, but it is true. After months of humidity, heat and occasional rain, the weather has improved...or turned. The days are clear and significantly cooler. The sky can be so blue and there are no clouds.. or hardly any. It is so nice to walk around my small island...the breeze is delightful.

Now other things have happened too, like the iguanas are not as visible. Now when you approach their bougainvillea bush, you don't hear their chirping, or see them sunning themselves. Do iguanas hibernate? and does this milder weather count as winter? Really, it can be confusing.

Another sign is that you encounter so many more people walking and they seem so much friendlier.... or am I imagining things? Young couples, young women with their dogs, nannies with their charges, older couples just meandering, men jogging, everyone listening to their iPods, bigger dogs playing frisbee with their owners, children playing in the sandbox. People say hello, and smile... definitely this time of the year Miami is so much nicer!

Of course, this is the time that can bring water rationing..... as much rain as we had not much fell over Lake Ockeechobee, which is where we need it! Having lived in a desert-like island, I am not much bothered by all that. Besides, I have no garden or a yard that needs taken care of.... condo living has its advantages, especially this time of the year.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Someone just reminded me of SNOA!! how appropriate since this weekend I could have been there celebrating with the granddaughter of a dear friend. Where? I can hear that question. Let's start by telling everyone what is SNOA. The word is believed to be a contraction of esnoga a word used for the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. To the MikveIsrael-Emanuel Congregation, SNOA is the place of worship of a Sephardic Jewish congregation that has lived on the island of Curaçao for more than 350 years! It is the oldest synagogue in use in the Western Hemisphere. In April of this year, the present building was 275 years. It is absolutely beautiful and can inspire awe to people of any religion.

The building that you see now in Punda in a very aptly named street, Hanchi di Snoa or Synagogue Alley, is the fourth to be built on the site. Starting in 1674 when the congregation living in Punda was becoming too numerous and was living too far from the original place of worship outside the city. In 1690, it was necessary to built an even larger one and just 13 years later, in 1703, still another. The final building is similar to the great Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam that is only 57 years older.

First let's go back to the congregation. The first Jews came to the island from Holland. Actually, the first Jew came with Johan van Walbeeck, who conquered the island from the Spaniards in 1634. Before we get confused....... ancestors of the Sephardic Jews from Curaçao lived centuries ago in Spain and Portugal. There is proof that there were Jews there as early as the year 800 C.E. For centuries they lived and prospered and contributed to the glorious Golden Age when Spain was under Moor occupation.

All this came to an end when Isabella and Ferdinand won the lands and cities back from the Moors and unified the country in 1492. The Inquisition came into existence and it was ordered that all Jews and Muslims should convert to Catholicism. We know very well what that meant: convert or be burned at the stake! The great majority of Jews decided to leave and found refuge in distant lands: from Portugal to Muslims countries like Turkey, North Africa and also Italy. They went looking for freedom of religion. Some stayed in Spain and paid a high price. Called marranos by the Spaniards because they converted to survive, but secretly kept their customs, many were burned in Autos de Fe.

The ones that concern us here went to Portugal first. For more than a hundred years they lived and prospered there. The inquisition was not as well established then. By the end of the 16th century it was and they fled to Protestant Holland. The Netherlands had just become independent from Catholic Spain, and were very welcoming for these refugees. Amsterdam became the most important center of European Judaism. The congregation of Portuguese and Spanish Jews became a rich and influential part of the country.

Once independent of Spain, Holland had little use for Curaçao, but didn't want to abandon the island completely. Dutch subjects were offered lands, tax exemptions and other incentives to come and establish an agricultural colony on the island. In 1651 the first group of Jews arrived to try to do just that. How? I cannot understand...Curaçao has no sources of fresh water, so planting was not going to be easy. Still, they came. The second group came in 1659.... my husband's paternal side of the family came in this group. So the family has been there for almost 350 years!! How many people can say that?

The congregation grew and prospered in Curaçao. At one point, the Jewish community made up for more than half the white population of the island. Most of the buildings in Punda, now a UN World Heritage site, were built by them. In the countryside they also built landhuizen (plantation homes) some of which are still standing. Their contribution to the financial and commercial life on the island was very important.... remember they had family and religious connections all over Europe and the United States.

Their influence also was felt in the development of Papiamentu, the local language. It seems that because their mother tongue was Portuguese, or Spanish, the Jews of Curaçao had a great input. Many words still used are of Portuguese or Spanish origin, or even from the Hebrew! Besides, the Jews spoke Papiamentu as their language of choice long before it was recognized as a language!

Finally, the Jewish congregation of Mikve Israel-Emanuel has been the mother synagogue of the Western Hemisphere. This congregation gave financial assistance to other congregations from Newport, RI to New York City, from Kingston, Jamaica to Philadelphia, from Charleston, N.C., to Caracas,Venezuela, from Rio Hacha, Colombia to Paramaribo, Surinam, from Colon, Panama to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Some still pray for the congregation of Curaçao every year on Yom Kipur. How wonderful!

Now that I have told you as much as I know about the Jewish community on the island, I should tell you about SNOA. I have to use capital letters for this. This synagogue is 2/3 of the size of the one in Amsterdam, but just as magnificent. This is such a beautiful place, serene and warm and very welcoming. It has a yard and a sala where important documents are signed and where worshipers get together for kiddush after services. There is also a museum with important pieces of the life of this remarkable community, including the Torah given by the Portuguese congregation in Amsterdam to the first Jews to come to the island.

Inside of the synagogue itself, the high ceilings and blue glass windows give the building an airy look that can only serve to put you in touch with the Almighty....whichever your religion. The interior is all polished mahogany, dark and warm against the white walls. Four huge pillars sustain the women's galleries and are engraved with the names of four Matriarchs of the Old Testament: Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. I love that: after all, women are the pillars of family and community. The brass 18th century chandeliers gleam in the Tropical light that comes into the enclosure. The floor is covered with white sand. It is said to be in remembrance of the Jews that lived secret lives in Spain and Portugal. You had to be very quiet if you were defying the Inquisition!! The huge organ covers the passageway between the two upper galleries and it sounds magnificently during services.

I am Catholic, and my husband was not brought up Jewish, but Catholic.. still I don't let my children forget who they are and where they come from..... and to be proud of their heritage. History and Tradition are very important to me. When we lived in Curaçao, SNOA was as much a part of our lives as it was for their ancestors. I was once told by the Rabbi that he would start charging us dues because our family was always there!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Holidays in the Tropics!

This time of the year, I miss Dushi Korsow more than ever. Not that it is not a good time of the year here in is just different. From Halloween to New Year's the island is on a party mood that is difficult to ignore. I mean, island wide, celebrating mood.

Come Halloween, even if it is not a local tradition, many people celebrate. From the American Women's Club children's party complete with trick or treat, to private costume parties, to celebrations at the different night spots, Curaçao starts the holiday season in style. I know, you are thinking it's an exaggeration, but it's not.

As in any part of the world where there is an American Women's Club, Halloween is celebrated with relish. It's one more way to keep in touch with traditions from home. These parties are well organized and so much fun. I remember making costumes for my children every year, baking cupcakes or making savory snacks for the parents. If you were coming to the States before the party, you were asked to bring candy or decorations. The committee will make sure that the houses around the party site were supplied with candy for our children to got trick or treating. This provided fun for our children and for the neighborhood... great public relations! Parents participate as well, even members without children attend the festivities.

We cannot forget the celebrations going on in the schools; not only the International School, but other private schools get into the spirit as do some local schools. This is a children's holiday, but adults also fall under the spell of the day. Many people hold private parties. If you have a birthday, anniversary or whatever reason to celebrate....why not have a costume party? For a people so involved in Carnival, another such party is a piece of cake.

Then there are the night spots around the island. Drinks are offered at special prices, snacks are free for customers and the places are decorated with all sorts of scary things: ghosts, spiderwebs, witches and brooms. Remember, everyone on the island sees no problem in going out for drinks during the week! Miss that too.....

As soon as Halloween is over, we get ready for Thanksgiving! Another American (and Canadian) tradition that has found a home in Curaçao. As I said, any reason for celebrating is a welcome thing in the Tropics! Once again, the American Women's Club holds the biggest party. Through the years, the members have organized this holiday as a club only affair or as a fundraiser involving the community. Either way, Thanksgiving has become part of island end of the year celebrations. Since it is not skipped by the merchants either, it gets more time than in the States where people are in such hurry to get to Christmas!

Now we are ready for Sinterklas. The Dutch St Nicholas is a big favorite of children and grown ups alike; the fact that he is a Christian saint doesn't seem to bother anyone. Everyone celebrates no matter their religion. I find this acceptance so refreshing! Anyway, some time by the middle of November, he appears on the island. His tall, stately figure can be seen standing on every sort of convertible vehicle available. He comes with his faithful helpers the Zwarte Pieten (literally Black Petes). For weeks until his actual birthday, December 6th, he can be seen everywhere. Each nigh children will put out water and grass for his horse, and the grateful saint will leave a small present in the child's shoe. On the night of the 5th, children get as many presents as their parents can afford, sort of like Christmas in other countries. My children loved it from the beginning.

Part of all this celebration is another very Dutch tradition: an exchange of chocolate letters. Just around the time that the saint appears on the island, supermarkets bring out these treats. You can get them in milk or dark chocolate flavors. Everyone gets them and they are exchanged as part of the celebrations of Sinterklas birthday. My husband and children looked forward to this every years. Even when my son and daughter went away to school in the States, I would buy the letters and mailed these treats to them! Never thought I was going to get sentimental about chocolate letters...

Once Sinterklas fades until next year, Christmas preparations start in earnest. Christmas in the Tropics is so much fun... and we shouldn't forget that the first Christmas was in the Middle East and not in the frigid lands of Europe or North America. Children don't get as many presents from Santa Claus, but they celebrate with gusto. The American Women's Club, again, goes all out to give the members and their children a grand party. The man playing Santa has been doing it for more than 50 years! It is part of the club's lore that he could fool his own children. I know my children never thought of accepting anyone else as Santa, and sat on his lap until they were teenagers! How is that for tradition?

The island dresses in Christmas decorations from colored lights to Nativity scenes, from Christmas trees to Santas. Everyone participate. There are whole neighborhoods that get together to decorate their homes; downtown Willemstad and the Queen Emma Bridge get decked in fairy lights. Big parties are organized. I don't mean private parties only, but huge affairs everyone wants to attend. Tickets are sold like hotcakes, well in advance. Anyone wanting to attend better be quick. These parties take place once the private parties and family reunions disperse after midnight. They last until well into Christmas Day. Then it's beach time!

Finally, before the year ends, New Year's Eve comes along. From about 12 o'clock everyone follows the pagaras. These are a Chinese tradition. Huge rolls of firecrackers packed into wooden crates are bought by business and by private citizens alike. The size depends on how much you are willing to spend. They are unrolled in front of the business or home and lit. The noise and smoke fill the air. People get as close to it as they dare, it is good luck. Food and drinks are offered to the guests and a good time is have by all. This continues until well into the late afternoon when we all go back home to rest.

The second part of the celebration is even better. You either go to a friend's home, or organize a party at your home. Either way, the ritual is the same. Everyone eats and drinks, and there are fireworks until midnight. At this time a canon shot from an old Dutch fort in the center of the city marks the arrival of the New Year. The island, literally, erupts into a frenzy of noise. The sky fills with beautiful multicolored lights, the air fills with smoke, everyone runs outside to receive the New Year in the open air. Champagne is served and we all drink to a prosperous and happy New Year. We continue to celebrate until the early hours....

The ones in the know, have purchased tickets for THE party. As in Christmas, this party has been planned for months, tickets are all sold out and after the last pagara everyone leaves for the party. Usually parents see their children go and then go home. Amazingly enough, we all sleep through the celebration. We figure that the children will be safe having been blessed by the gods with smoke and noise. Once the party is finished, the celebrants go to have breakfast at some restaurant or at someone's home. They then come home to change to hit the beach!

As I said, this is the time of the year when I really miss Curaçao. Celebrations already started. Halloween was a success again and everyone is planning Thanksgiving. There is not stopping now!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Indonesian food and other delicacies I miss

Today I met my friend Aimee for lunch. It was her treat and she picked the restaurant: Indonesian food!!! For both of us, it was a no-brainer.... it's one of our island's favorites. As the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean, Indonesia was once part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. While England was in India, France in Vietnam...Holland was in the thousand islands of the Indonesian Archipelago. The country's cuisine is an important part of Holland's culinary history......and of Curaçao's too! If you have never tried it, make an effort; you'll be hooked

Anyway, we savored delicious dishes, familiar tastes and got absolutely in the right mood for reminiscing. She is returning to the island, albeit part-time, and I so envy her. Once again, she'll be able to sample all that the island has to offer, and food will be amongst the nicest.

When we moved to the island, one of our favorite things was discovering the variety of food you are offered. Every immigrant group brought its traditions and....its food. The Spanish, the first to arrive, stayed for 135 years. They left goats and oranges. The former ares still a delicacy prepare in so many ways: from stews, to barbecues. The latter is used to make the famous Curaçao liquor. Oh yes, this is where that great drink comes from! The original an authentic Curaçao liquor, in any shade or flavor, is made on the island with a small bitter orange. Believe it or not, this is a variation of the sweet Valencia orange brought by the Spaniards, but turned bitter by the dry climate.. how about that? On the island we use it for many things, like topping for vanilla ice cream, in drinks and desserts.

Someone had brought corn, maybe the pre-Colombian inhabitants, and funchi was born. What is that you're asking.... it's a dish similar to polenta and made of cornmeal. It can be served as soft mush or cut in pieces and fried. It makes the most wonderful side dish for fish, goat or beef stew, any dish you serve or alone. It is addictive! I have learned to eat it with anything and still make it at home.

The Dutch brought cheese and it didn't take long for whoever was there to make keshi yena (literally stuffed cheese). It has to be the greatest way to stuff an Edam cheese. Seriously!! They also brought bitterballen... croquettes to all of you, but so much better! Speculaas, a thin and crisp spiced cookie pressed with tableau images of old-time Holland, delicious with your tea or coffee or with your curaçao-liquor covered ice cream! I already mentioned Indonesian food, but I have to point out pinda saus (peanut sauce). Not the watery kind in Thai cuisine, but thick and rich and so smooth. In your French fries is heaven!

Chinese immigrants made their contribution, but this is a whole new kind: with a hint of Indian and Indonesian food. Fantastic! and could it get better? Of course! Latin immigrants from South America brought cheese fritters: tequeños and arepas, both a most in any island celebration. And what about ayacas? A dish of cornmeal, beef or chicken and other goodies wrapped in banana leaves. Superb!

If you have a sweet tooth, you have come to the right place. Again every nationality is represented, every dessert known to man can be found on the island. Anything with chocolate being the favorite, of course! At any given celebration, there is at least one table of desserts. I have never seen such selection; I don't eat sweets but have been so tempted throughout the years. You are not allowed to leave without tasting a bit of something or of everything.

Now you would ask, who makes all those desserts?.... your friends, of course! They know the dessert table is the most important in the celebration and they want to make you look good..... well there is also another reason. Recipes are not shared! they will make the dishes for you, but recipes are family secrets. Someone missed an opportunity. The secret service could have learned a thing or two from these ladies.

Of course, all this is more than culinary commentary. This is the area in which the island is truly blind to race, religion and nationality. Food is the mortar that holds us together. So in any street you can find a place to sample a taste of the local cuisine. I discovered to my delight that it is safe to eat almost anywhere, and everyone does! There are great restaurants offering anything from fast food to gourmet cuisine from every country. Everywhere you go and whoever you visit will offer you food!!! You can't ignore that, trust me. On our island paradise, food brings us together!!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is Curaçao getting dangerous?

Since I did say this was not going to be about whining, or complaining about my new home.... I have to talk about everything about my old one: good and bad. This weekend I had a long phone chat with my good friend Kathy, still living in Curaçao. After our usual ramblings about what have we been up to... we came to the part where I asked how are things back on the island. This usually it still safe? are there any new threats to personal security? Well, there are the usual: robberies, break-ins, people don't just go walking alone, or go out at night alone. There are the sprinkle of murders and rapes, drug busts and fatal car accidents. None of this is peculiar to this island.... look around where you live....

In the few years since I left, people seem to have discover Curaçao. Can't believe it took them so long. Unfortunately, this interest has come from all sorts of people. Not everyone that arrives is a desirable expat...isn't that something?... but expected. In the meantime, Holland has diminished the help it once gave Antilleans moving there...many have moved back and there are not enough jobs or services to keep up with this returning population. Curaçao is after all..... a third world country. Can't get used to the developing country bit.

There is a great program for retired people or pensionados that give them tax breaks and other incentives. This has attracted many Europeans and Americans looking for their spot in the sun. Property prices still seem great to them, so there is a construction boom. New hotels are popping up and that can only be good... if the developers keep them as hotels.... not all inclusive resorts. Or maybe that is only my wishful thinking. Individual hotels and secluded beaches are more my style.

Because the Antillean Guilder is attached to the dollar, your money can be safe there. Don't forget that the island is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, so indirectly you'll be in an EU country..... with a beach! Talking of which.. the weather is gorgeous, dry and breezy and outside the hurricane belt.. could it get better? Yes, the people are friendly and would go to lengths to be helpful. Finally, there are the year-round activities: Carnival, Queen's Birthday, Sinterklas (Dutch St. Nicholas), New Year's Eve island-wide in the Tropics is a party. At least part of the time.

If you are looking for a new home.... why not Curaçao? You'll be able to afford a better life, probably. All depends if you are willing to go native: learn the language...not Dutch but Papiamentu...the musical language of the island, mix with the locals and make friends, get to understand the culture, get involved. Unfortunately, not everyone does happens in any country with an expat community, but do I think Curaçao is more of a melting pot than other places.... or it was when I lived there. There is more acceptance too.

So, those looking for a spot in the sun, could do a lot worse than Curaç me! If you are one of those free spirits that can adjust and enjoy... this can be for you. Do your homework and you'll see. And is Curaçao getting dangerous? maybe, but isn't that called progress? It was last time I checked!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back from the Rainforest

Literally! I don't remember so much rain in Panama, or is it that after those years in dry Curaçao my mind has erased that? Anything is possible, and we do put unpleasant things out of our minds all the time. In any case, let me tell you........ it rains in Panama!!!! And it rains everyday in October. It comes down in sheets and everything turns damp and mildew grows everywhere. If you do laundry, you better have a drier.... if not clothes and linens take days to dry, and they never feel quite dry...ugh!

Now, if the sun shines after the rain..... the humidity rises along with the temperature. It's suffocating! On overcast days, though, when it seems like rain...but it doesn't, the temperature drops and there is some relief from the humidity. Those are my favorite days. Didn't have that many this time around!!!

In all this, there are bugs! If I thought Curaçao had them.... I had forgotten about Panama! From mosquitoes to flies to flying ants to sandflies, every bug in the world has a specie in the country. I was not safe from any of them: new blood, I guess.

On the good side, everything is green and lush, so many shades of green you can't imagine. That's it. Panama is a rainforest, maybe not as big as the Amazon's, but a rainforest none the less. So many crops, the abundance that the soil produces is amazing. Every piece of land along the country roads and highways is cultivated: corn, rice, fruits of all sorts. We could argue that all this is due to globalization...... that this is has been good because certain fruits and vegetables are grown for export only, and the quality is phenomenal....or that it has been bad because not everything good produced in the countryside stays in Panama for local consumption. What to do?

Comparing Panama to Curaçao, with no sources of fresh water, the rivers are a wonderful sight in the dry season: clear and clean running. They surprised me this time of the year, they were swollen and muddy. This is, amazingly enough, the time to go to the beach! Because of the Humboldt Current coming up from the South Pole, the ocean is clear and calmed. The temperature of the water is cooler than in the dry season and more pleasant. So if it's not raining, it's beach weather! Strange....

I was expecting more flowering plants, but didn't see many. Maybe I was in the wrong part of the country. Close to Panama City, I vaguely remember these plants on the side of the road in what used to be the Canal Zone..... a lifetime away. There were ginger plants, birds of paradise, orchids, and hundreds of other plants that flower in that humid climate with names I never learned. Too late now? not if I have to keep traveling there several times a year! an idea for my next trip....

Friday, September 28, 2007

Book Reading!!!!!

Well, I did it! Last night I had my book reading at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Friends and family came and patiently listened to my ramblings.... I picked different passages, the parts I truly like and remind me so much of Curaçao. Needless to say than more than once I was a bit emotional and had a hard time with while reading about some event or another.... but nothing happened, no crying or hysterical laugh! That would have been something in front of so many people. Some of them do not know me well. Others know me too well and would not have been surprised!

These were my fifteen minutes , and I have to say I throughly enjoyed them! Regardless of my reservations, I can speak in public without making a fool of myself. Of course, I now wish I did things differently.....more pictures with my friends and family, more details to send to my children who were not there, too much of the book given away, wrong refreshments, who knows, I can always find something wrong in hindsight. What to do now....... Such is Life in the Tropics!!!!! Everyone was extremely nice and considered, praising my book, my presentation. I signed some books and I hope Books & Books is pleased with the sales. All that's left now is see how the book continues to sell, and isn't it the reason I did this?

When I was in Curaçao in December, I had a book signing event. My friends that know me well were there, I even sold a couple of books that day; but mostly it was a relatively lonely affair. I sat in my friend Alicia's store and waited for people to come to me. I think I am much better when I can communicate....or how my husband puts it: drive everyone crazy with my chat! Is that so bad? In this modern world we are losing the art of conversation, of exchanging ideas. We have even lost the art of writing properly with all that texting going back and forth! Oops! I am showing my age here.....

So for everyone that tells me that I only find faults with Miami, here it is: this was a much successful event than the one I had back home!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Where is HOME?

A good friend gave me food for thought today. Terri read this blog and wondered.... where is home? I am no expert, but I think it has to do with the way expats see themselves. In olden times, they always referred to their native countries as home; maybe because it gave them a sense of security while living in a place completely different from what they were used to. Still, in many cases, once they went back home readjusting was hard and many never felt they did.

This still happens. When you live abroad for many years, you don't belong anywhere anymore..... but the thought of a place called home is reassuring, isn't it? On the other hand, a lot of expats do adjust to their new homes and happily live there forever.

Anywhere you go, there are the expats that never stop calling they native country home, look forward to the annual visits and would love to move back. Ah, don't know about that. Readjusting to life back home may not be as easy as we think. When you live abroad, you move on, you change in ways too subtle to even notice, but you do... and not everyone understand this back home. So going back is not always possible and one is forever at odds with family and friends one left behind.... that hasn't changed.

So, where is home? My friend is sure Denmark is her home now. She learned the language, raised her children there, feels accepted and has contributed to her community....home is where you hang up your hat, she said. I couldn't agree more! Home is where you hang up your hat or more important where your heart is.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Aerial Plants

I was in Boston this past week with my husband and daughter. It has changed so much, and it is beautiful! The air was crisp, the sky blue and there was a hint of Fall. One night we visited the North End, Boston's version of Little Italy....walked around, had an excellent dinner. With us was the daughter of friends, I have known her all her life. She is engaged , her fiance is from Boston, she from Miami. We talked about choosing where to live, where to raise children. Not an easy decision to make. In my time, there was no doubt about following your husband.... nowadays both partners have equal saying. When I married, I moved to Curacao, to Puerto Rico, to Miami and finally back to Curaçao. I did it and thought little of it, even when I had some qualms about raising my children away from my side of the family.

One thing I have discovered, mutual respect for each other's ways is very important. Embrace your differences and appreciate your similarities. Then you will discover that you can do it, you can thrive, make a life and build friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime. Your children will grow up open-minded, independent and accepting, at least that has been my experience. You make your own family traditions, your own ways. It is liberating sometimes!

More often than not, when you move from place to place or to a place that is not HOME, you become self-sustaining, like an aerial plant. You remember those? beautiful and lush without the need to put roots on the ground! It continues to be hard to keep moving on, but you learn to belong everywhere and nowhere. You only have to let go and adapt, the world is indeed a village!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Close Call......again!

OK, this is getting scary, not even a month has passed since hurricane DEAN came calling to Curaçao's doorstep, and now FELIX. As I said, the storms are getting closer and closer and I don't I like it. This time it was a real close call and even though Aruba got the worst of the it all, Curacao got its share of rain and wind.

During the years I lived in Curaçao, (1982 to 2003) I remember two storms that actually made a small threat to the island. First it was Tropical Storm JOAN in 1988. The amount of rain that we had was the most I had ever seen. We even had a small waterfall formed on the highest elevation: Christoffelberg. This was unique because there are NO rivers on the island. Still, we all made our pilgrimage to the site and were dutifully impressed. The island was green and lush (another unique occurrence in this dry country) for several months. Of course we had roofs blown away, beaches ruined by the surge and flooding in different parts of the city. The Queen Emma Bridge, that spans the entrance of St. Anna Bay, was damaged and it took a while for the pontoons to be repaired. Now, if there is anything coming remotely close, the bridge is moved further into the secluded bay.

In 1999, hurricane LENNY, not a major storm but a strange one came calling. It had started in the Western Caribbean and moved Eastward..... first to do that since someone decided to keep track of the storms. That time we had rain and winds, and the surge really did a number on the beaches. It took months to replenish the sand, years to get them back to normal. I remember there was a regatta scheduled for that weekend and had to be canceled. After that it rained almost everyday until March! There was water everywhere and because there is no good drainage on the island, flooding was a part of our lives all those months. I thought I was going to go crazy.

Then there was calm. For years, every storm just went somewhere else. That was fine with me and I didn't think of it at all. Hadn't I been told that the island was outside the hurricane belt? and wasn't that true? only two storms in 17 years and no major damage. There were other storms, not necessarily ones with names, that passed through. After all, this is the Tropics, but nothing to alarm the population or make anyone be on the alert. Suddenly, that has changed. Since I moved away there has been IVAN, DEAN and now FELIX. Whoever is in charge, STOP IT!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

On August 28th, before sunrise, we were treated to a spectacular show: a lunar eclipse. Strange hour, I thought, to see such phenomenon, but I made sure I was awake.... not easy!

The moon had been full and bright, and from our balcony overlooking Biscayne Bay, it was magnificent. The ocean reflected the light, it was so bright and round. Once it started, the shadow of the Earth moved slowly across the surface of the moon. The sky looked so clear, like a mantel in the background. At some point the moon turned reddish. Of course I have no idea why or how this happened... but the sight was worth having left my cozy bed at such ungodly hour.

I stayed up until the moon moved behind one of the many tall buildings now dotting the edge of the canal separating our small key from the mainland. As I went back to bed, I thought of another such phenomenon, years ago in Curaçao. Not a lunar eclipse then, but solar. On February 26, 1998, our small island was one of the best sites to observe this. Reporters and scientists from around the world descended on the island and everyone talked about it for weeks on end. Preparations were made for the day; newspapers, television and radio stations organized play by play reporting. Friends planned parties, families planned getting together by the beach, at someone's home. Nobody was immune to the fascination of this event and the fifteen minutes of fame conferred to our island.

Once the Oohhs and Aahhs faded, we had weeks more of comparing photos, videos and accounts of where and with whom did we watch the eclipse. Enterprising photographers made money with beautiful pictures made into postcards or with videos that were much better than what most of us could produce. T-shirts were sold as souvenirs. A small eclipse industry flourished for a while. After all, we needed to send these mementos to our children, family or friends living abroad.

In contrast, looking out into our small island on the mouth of the Miami River, I could see that my enthusiasm for this event, was not shared by many....or by anyone! Like the sunsets I so much admire, this was ignored. I don't think anyone has the time to look at the sky anymore. How sad! I do miss the slow pace of the Tropics that allows for a breather now and again to concentrate in something more than what is at eye level.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Only about two weeks ago, I was writing to my friend Vicki about the changes in our bridge group. Three of us have already moved away and a fourth one is on her way. Farewell bridge mornings with lunch and memories, exchanges of addresses, promises to keep in touch and visit when we can, have become too frequent. This has happened before, but now it takes a new meaning. As we grow older our lives change, when we move away and start anew chances are coming back will be harder. Still, I know we will try and succeed.

This weekend it was different. On the Saturday morning, Vicki called and the seriousness of her voice told me it was not to ask me how I was. Her voice broke when she told me that Hilde, one of our friends, had passed away! I sat down and tried to grasp the news. What? how was that possible? had she been sick? where? so many questions came to mind. First and foremost, I remembered how she was sensible and no nonsense, straightforward and plain spoken, a good listener and realistic. She was planning our trip to Vermont this Autum. I am sure all arrangements were made to perfection. We will miss her!

There were not many details yet about her passing, but they were not necessary at the moment. A link in our chain has broken and it will never be the same. In our small group, this is going to be very difficult indeed. I have no idea what arrangements will be made, I am sure though, that each one of us will try hard to be there. The need to gather in times of sadness is strong, especially in a small community with an expatriate presence where your friends become your family. In our bridge group, without being each other's best friends, we have been there for each other in good times and bad. As the warm blanket we were once compared with, we will mourn together and offer comfort to her daughters. May she rest in peace!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Curaçao is outside DEAN's path

Hurricane season has peaked with a vengeance! DEAN is cutting a warpath in the Caribbean with high winds, torrential rains and destruction in its wake. Once more, Curaçao will be out of the danger zone. There probably will be a lot of rain and high surf. The authorities will secure the Queen Emma pontoon bridge across St. Anna Bay and everyone will be advised not to go in the ocean. Water will be rushing in the streets and some parts of the city will flood. Thankfully, that will be the extent of this.

Once the tally is taken in the nearby islands in the wake of the storm, the inhabitants of Curaçao will once again heave a sigh of relief. I always felt secure when I lived there. The storms were never something we really fear. We would take precautions and heed warnings issued by the government, of course. In the end, we would remember that the island has not been hit by a hurricane in more than one hundred years!

Now, living in Miami, I have developed this hurricane fear. Not only do I check to see if the storm is heading our way, but I check how close will it be to Curaçao. Four years in South Florida have taught me that no place is safe, and we all have to be aware of what's brewing in the Tropics! Is it my imagination or in recent years the storms are getting closer and closer to the Western most Leeward Islands and the coast of South America? Let's hope not!

Monday, August 13, 2007

So hot......maybe we need a good storm

That is exactly what we need. It's been brutally hot and one can almost touch the humidity...yuck! I know, everyone is now thinking the heat has gone to my brain. Well, not exactly. Rain is the cooling system of Mother Nature. When everything gets hot, temperatures soar and the earth is parched, a good downpour is the answer. It clears the air, everything looks clean and fresh.....remember the phrase "a break in the weather"?

I do miss that from the Tropics. Everything feels brand new after the first storm of the rainy season. All the dust and dirt wash away and the sky looks clear and bright. The earth drinks the moisture and everything comes back to life. I love the smell of wet earth, don't you? It says so many things: life, fertility, gratitude.

At this time of the year when you are coming back to the island after your holidays, as the plane approaches the airport, you can see the landscape, brown and dry. In a couple of weeks, after the break in the weather, everything changes to green and lush and the island looks so beautiful with its fresh cover. So, let's apply the same here: what we need is a good storm that will clear the air, make everything look fresh and new and will usher in the cooler weather!

P.D. It's August 14th now. What did I tell you? Coming out of the Coconut Grove public library this morning, it was raining! Waiting for it to diminish, I stood outside in the veranda that surrounds this very tropical building. The sound of the rain, the sprinkles of water, all felt wonderful! The temperature had cooled down considerably since I had arrived about an hour earlier.

I stayed there enjoying the sound and scent of the rain made even more familiar in this setting: a building that truly belongs in this climate, with shady trees around it and a sense of being suspended in another time. It will probably rain all afternoon, and you can feel everything getting clean and bright. I love it!!!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Holiday Travel

One of my best friends, Kathleen, is rounding up her Summer holiday, not vacation mind you. British that she is, vacation sounds too American, she says. The point is to make the term easily understandable to everyone she knows. An expat peculiarity, I'm sure. Anyway, she has been to the UK for three weeks, Cyprus for two and is now in Holland for one! With no husband or children waiting at home, she is free to roam the world during her Summer break (about six weeks) from her school librarian job. She'll get back with only hours to spare before school starts! She is by far not the only one doing this.

Now, how is it possible to achieve all this in these hard times? It works this way: this time of the year, with school out, a lot of islanders just go on holiday. Sort of a given thing when you are an expat: you visit your home country, your children living abroad, friends that have gone back to their countries or just take a trip to avoid island fever. It is just something you plan and, in a way, expect to do I guess. Everyone that can, will travel.

Can hear rumblings again! These are really spoiled people! Not at all, because some cannot do it every year and save for this purpose. Let me try to expalin. Since prehistoric times, people from the Caribbean have moved from island to island, from the mainland of South and Central America to the islands and viceversa. So, it's no wonder this comes naturally to islanders : traveling within the Caribbean is a given. Nowadays, there are daily flights from every island to every other island, how else can one get by in this vast watery world?

Then, traveling between Curaçao and Holland is easy and one can get great deals. After all, most everyone has family or friends there. Chidren go to study there, marry, get jobs. Traveling to Miami is easy, and again, deals pop up frequently. Some come to the States to study, get marry, find jobs. What is everyone else to do, but visit?

If you just happen to live in Curaçao because of your job, married a local or simply love it and retire there...... you need to travel! As with everything you do and enjoy, the more you do it the more you'd love it. Traveling becomes an important part of your life. So before the Summer holiday season is over, I plan to visit my children. Later on, I will go see my bridge friends when they get together for a weekend in Vermont when the New England landscape turns a glorious riot of rust, red, yellow and orange. Other reasons to travel : a change in the air, crisp and cool days, soft rain and endless shopping! There is a reason to travel, every season of the year!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cool Tiles

For the last two days, I have been without central airconditioning from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Our building needed new cooling towers for the central AC units. What a joy! In the humid and hot Summer weather, this has been difficult.

There are no lack of places one can go in the city to keep cool, but you don't want to spend your day wandering about. Going out without a purpose, doesn't make much sense. As I work from home in different projects, I have a lot to do during the day. So I decided to stay put. Usually, I have our apartment unit on automatic. This means it only turns on at a certain temperature... cools everything and shuts down again. The house is comfortable without getting too cold. I know, why? you might ask. Well, all is a matter of taste, habit or being environmentally responsible.

Back on the island, and Curaçao is hardly an exception in the rest of the world, energy is very expensive. Central airconditioning units are a rare thing. Most everyone has individual units in bedrooms and family rooms. These are turned on at night or when we gather together for some entertaiment or family time. The rest of the day, we go about our lives without the benefit of this modern convenience. It took me a while to get used to that when I moved there, but I adjusted. So much so than when I moved back to the States, I kept turning up the temperature of our unit every morning after getting out of bed. Most of the time it doesn't bother me....... when it is too hot, it starts by itself!

During recent hurricanes, we have been lucky. We never were without power for more than a few hours. Twelve at the time, in the middle of the hottest month...... this is a first. Still, I am coping much better than the rest of the people in my building, who are used to central AC for the whole day. I woke up earlier than usual, closed all the blinds and verticals, keeping the house dark and the coolness of the night inside. Bedrooms doors and windows were kept closed.

In the middle of all this, I remembered something. When things get really hot on the island, and people either can't afford to turn the units on during daylight hours, or simple do not have them....... they have a neat trick. Get your biggest towel, or a pair of old sheets and lay them on the tiles. Yes, the tiles. Haven't you noticed that they never get hot? They can be hard, but they keep you cool; and when your spot turns uncomfortably warm..... move your improvised bedding. Simple and cheap solution. My good friend Jerri once told me that she remembered this trick from her childhood, when the hot Summer days got so oppressive, her mother made a beach on their living room complete with towels, bathing suits and lemonade. It was so much fun in........ Indiana!!!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Amsterdam on the beach, Holland in the Tropics!

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. She told me she and her husband were going to Las Vegas. Bells sounded in my head! It is so hot there now; but, no she said, it would be around 80 degrees and the breeze will be cool. Immediately I could picture it: cacti, dry shrubs, brownish soil, gentle breeze, blue sky. I told her this was just like Curaçao! Is it?...... YES!

That is one of the great things about the island. Located near the Equator and in the Caribbean Sea, the ABC islands, of which Curaçao is the "C", are unique. There are no sources of fresh water: no rivers, lakes or streams not even big rainfall. The landscape is arid and and cacti are the most abundant flora. Reptiles are also everywhere. The persistence of the people have been rewarded: mangoes, bitter oranges, tamarinds among other big trees have taken hold. When it rains, everything turns green and it's beautiful; when it doesn't, it is brownish and still beautiful.

Temperatures average in the 80s and a cool breeze blows all year round from the NE. Most days the sky is an amazing shade of blue and there are no clouds. The sea is a span of clear, turquoise to deep blue waters and you can walk and walk into it and still see the bottom! Sunsets are magnificent and every beach and cove faces SW. Nature biggest show is right there, and no one should miss it. The city, Willemstad, is part of the UN World Heritage and is a picture perfect copy of Dutch buildings...... in every color!

Everyone speaks English and Spanish and the local language: Papiamentu. This is a mixture of old Spanish, Portuguese, African dialects, English and Dutch and is as wonderfully diverse as the people who inhabit the island. Dutch, though, is the official language, and the country is still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The influence of these adventurous people lives on in this corner of the world. Curaçao is not your average Caribbean island: this is Amsterdam on the beach, Holland in the Tropics! Fabulous!!!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Doesn't anyone play bridge in the US anymore? Someone told me the other day that it is an old-fashioned game. Little old ladies play it... that's it; everyone is into poker nowadays. Well, their loss, I can tell them. Bridge is a social grace, what is poker? gaming? that is the latest verb invented to put a spin on the real fact: people gamble, they don't game.

Never mind that. Bridge is very social, bringing people together. Remember? you play with a partner! In expatriate circles, and I guess very old-fashioned ones, it is still played with passion. I did for over 20 years with the greatest group of women you can imagine. Every Wednesday, if I was home in Curaçao, I played bridge. We took turns hosting; each home providing its own details: what was served, where we played, inside or out, the views, the breeze, the drive there and even the music the hostess played or not.

We started early with coffee or tea and something sweet. Lively conversation followed: children, trips, household help, upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, we discussed everything. We were concerned when one of us got sick, divorced or depressed. It was like a visit to a shrink and so much easier and relaxed. In many ways we were each other's best friends, a support system. We were once described as a warm blanket. How appropriate. We truly cared for each other's troubles, even if we only listen to them on Wednesday mornings; most of the time that is all one needs.

Studies recently released say that women that have friends to talk to, confide in and count on, live better and happier lives. They live longer and seldom get depressed. Could that be done gaming? You tell me, sounds like gaming is a pretty individual sport! So, here's is to bridge! May I find some old-fashioned ladies to play again.... SOON!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

It's cool in Curaçao!

Yes, believe it or not that is what I am hearing from different sources. That is great! Here I am sort of broiling in Miami, slow cooking might be more accurate, and there things are cooler than they have been in years this time of the year. If I had any doubts about the craziness of global warming, this can be what changes my mind.

Usually this time of the year, when most everyone that CAN leaves the island for a holiday abroad, the weather is impossible. It is hot and it rains and your AC (airco for all of you in the know!) becomes your best friend. You stay indoors and watch TV or read, take naps, avoid visiting anyone. Remember suspended animation? Even visits to the supermarket and other errands are spaced out as much as you can. You consume gallons of liquids, preferably ice cold water, but drinks of any kind are also welcomed. You dress in cool fabrics, flowy dresses and if you are smart, you'll wear a hat when venturing out in the sun. The beach becomes a magnet, but better be prepared to get sunburned even in the shade! Slather on the sunblock and keep to the shade when not in the cool water. Wear your hat and make sure you drink a lot! Otherwise no one goes out until after sundown. That is the best part: everyone else left on the island comes out as well, and you can meet all your friends in one place.

Sounds just the thing I need at the moment, especially since everyone tells me it's cooler this year! In the meantime, Miami is like a sauna: high temperatures and high humidity. Feels like you don't want to be anywhere outdoors unless they are giving out money....... maybe not even then. Even with central air conditioning at home there is something not quite comfortable with this weather. Maybe is the thought that we are in hurricane season and any calm can precede a storm. So far we have been lucky, let's keep our fingers crossed!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Growing feathers or gills!!

I know I have been talking and talking about the Tropics. Telling everyone I miss the life you can live there: casual, laid-back, relaxed, just about perfect. Well, I forgot one simple thing: RAIN!!!
Yes, not in my island paradise, but in other tropical parts. Visiting my mother in the last couple of weeks in Panama....... I was sure I would be either growing feathers or gills!!!

For the last 20 years or so, I have always visited Panama during the glorious dry season. Extending from November to April, more or less, this Tropical season called summer is absolutely beautiful. Sunny days, breezes that go from a slight breath of air to a full blown North wind. Mornings are cool and at the height of the day there is a pleasant heat that makes you think of the beach, or better yet... a cool river. Everyone takes vacations, mostly within the country, and children are off school. Nights are clear and fresh and the wind sings in the trees. If you are near the ocean, the palm trees rustle like an applause. So beautiful!

Not this time! It rained since I arrived. Panama City, in the middle of a building boom, is a maze of crazy traffic, streets running with mud and humidity ....... like being in a fish bowl. Driving to the small city where my mother lives, I had to stop twice by the side of the road because I couldn't see the cars in front of me. Took me about an hour and a half longer to get there.

Once I settled to my visit, I got thunder and lightning accompanied by torrential rain that lasted for about 12 hours! Water seeped under the doors and through windowsills because of the wind. When the sun came out, shyly from behind dark clouds, the humidity rose to about 100%. My straight hair developed a wave, I started sneezing and sweating. You couldn't stick a BandAid in your skin. After that, it was all down hill. It rained most every day and nights were so hot and sticky. Thank God for air conditioning, the only way to survive in that climate.

So, is this the Tropics I want to have? NEE!! I want dry and cool days, gentle breeze and access to a turquoise blue sea. I want to be able to wash my hair and let it dry.....straight and by itself. Not at all interested in these other Tropics. Unfortunately, my mother is not well and lives there. Visits will continue for the rest of the year, at least. I wonder how I would look with feathers; and would they be dark or fluffy yellow? and gills? would they be uncomfortable? or would they actually help me with my allergies? I must be going crazy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Island Activities

Just received an email from the American Women's Club of Curaçao. It brought back such memories! The club was always there to provide support. Whoever is staying put this Summer will be getting regular messages on what to do for entertaining. This list includes art shows, a classical music recital, and AIDS fundraising with a Dutch artist, a marine biology workshop given by a doctor from Chicago, a dance presentation and a tour of one of the landhuizen (plantation houses) that includes an Antillean buffet. Definitely more than I have planned for the next two weeks! and then they ask me what do I miss about the island.

My involvement in the AWCC was a true lifesaver. My friends urged me to join, after all I had American children. It all started when my son wanted to know if they had Halloween in Curaçao. That seemed an important question when we told him we were moving. The AWCC did, along with Thanksgiving with all the trimmings and a Christmas party that had the best Santa ever. So joining was a given. What I never imagine was how involved I would get. They had me for treasurer (I have no clue why since I can't even balance my checkbook!), president, secretary; I was the unofficial historian and for the last few years, FAWCO rep. What is that, you might ask. I will let you know, don't worry.

First let's talk about our club. American women are everywhere, did you know that? They have been living in every country in the world for generations. For years, it was marriages that took them there, they married a "foreigner" and move to his country or the husbands were transferred by the companies they worked for. Lately is their own jobs that takes them abroad. Once they arrive, these women get involved in their new communities and put their best foot forward to help in any way possible. I mean this, they get there and organized themselves into clubs and get to work. Did you know that American women's clubs all over the world raise thousands of dollars (in every currency imaginable!) every year for charity? that they do it selflessly, having fun at it and without fanfare? These women mean business and making their new countries a better place seems a natural thing for them.

Then there is FAWCO. Did I tell you I was their representative in Curaçao? Of course, I did. I'm very proud of that. The Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas was founded in 1932 in Europe. Nowadays it includes about 17,000 members in 78 clubs in 36 countries! It is a force to be reckoned with and a Non Governmental Organization of the U.N. FAWCO has lobbied, and still does, in Washington D.C. for the right of Americans to vote from overseas, the right to pass American citizenship to children and grandchildren of Americans living abroad and paying taxes in the US. It is involved in environmental and educational issues, women and aging issues and a host of other worthy causes..... and you thought American women only wanted to have fun!

I have yet to find a group that would fill those shoes in my life. Of course there are the ones that return and have to adapt again to life in the States. Difficult, trust me. Especially, because we encounter a bit of a condescending attitude. As if by reminiscing we are somehow....... bragging! What we miss, what we did and what we can't do here are points some don't want to hear about. Better keep to ourselves, nobody is interested, "please get over it, you're back in the States" is a common feeling. What to do?....... get a blog and reminisce away!!!! Here is to the AWCC, may it continue to flourish and help others adapt to island living!

Thursday, June 7, 2007


We know, I can hear you say...... so what? Bear with me. In Curaçao, this is the day of the week when we GO OUT. Fridays are "happy hour time", as everywhere else in the world, but Thursdays are special. It's the day when everyone goes out for more than just drinks.

Thursdays are the days off of most housekeepers; and , yes, I can hear that too. How spoiled are people over there? Well, let's face it, everybody wants help with dinner, with laundry and other domestic chores. Don't you? I have seen people with all kinds of backgrounds adjusting smoothly to this way of life, believe me! And whatever people think, it does leave you time to enjoy other things. I was grateful and miss it! A good housekeeper is a treasure. Anyway, back to Thursdays. With housekeepers off, the family makes plans for dinner out or visits with friends. The children enjoy these outings in the middle of the week, a break of sorts before the weekend because it involves the whole family. Trust me, it really helps with the dynamics of life in a small community.

Plans are made throughout the week, or during that day. Phone calls, exchanges when picking up your children at school or leaving work in the late afternoon.... everyone gets into it. Of course, if you are not married, have no children or a housekeeper you can join as well. It's expected of you! In most cases plans will be made for drinks in one of the "in" places around the island. Everyone knows where to go and at what time it would be appropriate to show up. In most instances there will be music, food and lively conversation. Depending on your preference, you can stay a couple of hours or until the early hours.

There are, of course, people who do not feel partying on Thursday is the thing to do; but will dine out with the family and the children. Or they can go shopping. Yes, Thursday night is koop avond or shopping night in Dutch. It's one day a week in which stores are open at night. That is what's great! There is something for everyone on Thursdays, not only sitting in front of the television watching one more episode of some boring reality show. Since this is a small place, you are bound to encounter everyone or almost everyone you know, in whatever place you chose. I can tell you, everything on the islands is a social function and you'd love it! Thursdays rock in the Tropics..... why not here?!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Brown lawns?....Hurricane Season

Just in case there was a doubt, Summer is here! As June knocked on our door, Tropical Storm BARRY came calling. Of course we needed the rain. Our lawns were looking awful and our gardens were dying, right? Well, after living in Curaçao for 20 plus years, that doesn't really bother me. I am a firm believer that we should plant what grows in the area, keep the indigenous flora intact. Why fool with Mother Nature with anything else? In Curacao I had bougainvillea, hibiscus, frangipani and aloes in my garden. Here we do plant anything we like, so we need LOTS of water. Personally, I want it to rain over Lake Okeechobee, that's where we need it. Water for our daily life! Anyway, I seem to be alone in this.

When I moved to Curaçao, everyone told me that it never rained there. Famous last words, because when it rained, it rained cats and dogs. I remember one year, a tropical storm passed through the island. High winds and torrential rains made a mess of everything. Streets flooded and there are no draining systems on the roads. School was out for two weeks and there were pools of water all over the countryside. On Christoffelberg, the highest point on the island, a small waterfall sprung and lasted for a while. It became a must-visit site for all of us.

When the rains ceased, and the sun came out for more than a couple of hours a day, we were left with a big problem...... the pools of water became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The Health Department became very worried about dengue fever and other illnesses that this could bring. So, we got guppies! Really, that was the solution: the guppies would eat the larvae, and bye mosquitoes. Isn't that fantastic and environmentally sound? I miss that ingenuity!

Mostly I miss the fact that hurricanes avoid my corner of the Tropics! Rain I can cope with; high winds, crashing waves and mass destruction, don't do anything for me. So one more time since I move to Miami, I am wishing for a mild season!

Friday, June 1, 2007


On my daily walks around Brickell Key, I pass by a beautiful bougainvillea bush. I am surprised there are not more of them in Miami. They flower all year round and come in a rainbow of colors. This one is specially big and covered with blooms. There are usually several people looking at it. NO, is not a rare kind or even an unusual in color. I have seen bigger and lusher and with more flowers in Curacao. This one is home to a whole family of......iguanas!

The biggest one is a dark green and must be a male, they always grow bigger. Several dowdy females and bright green babies move about and seem unafraid. Sunning themselves on the branches hanging close to the water, eating the tender new leaves or the red flowers, these creatures seem perfectly at home. Big difference from the ones in Curaçao that know they should hide when humans approach or become lunch! They are an endangered species back home; people hunt them for...... YES, food.

How did they get here? I don't think they are indigenous of these parts, much less of this small man-made island..... pets let loose when their owners didn't know what to feed them or lost interest in the exotic creatures? Who knows. The fact is that they are attracting more interest than anything else on the small island. People stare, take pictures; parents take their children to watch them and they bring lettuce and pieces of fruits to feed them. Of course nobody gets too close, they look intimidating, and very unfriendly!

Since hurricane season is starting tomorrow, I am beginning to wonder: how would they survive the hurricane season in that bougainvillea bush so close to the water? There is not many trees or bushes around there to run to when wind and rain hit. Back home no matter how hard it rains, it clears rapidly and the sun beats down again. There are no high winds, no hurricanes. The landscape, more Arizona than Hawaii, is ideal for reptiles. Of course there are iguanas in many places in the Tropics, not only on the islands. These ones could be their descendants.

Now, like many other immigrants that have come to Miami, they have adapted and thrived , but keeping to some of their traditions. After all they live in extended families, eat their native food (the bougainvillea bush), stick together in their own neighborhoods and have learned to take advantage of what is offered in their new home.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Am I famous yet?

This past week I was invited to talk to students at NST (National School of Technolody). This is a small school granting Associate Degrees in South Miami-Dade County. It was an oportunity to talk about my book, but also to express views about living abroad, adjusting and adapting to new places, making the best of every move and contributing to your new home. The students were attentive, more or less involved and if I could make one of them a writer, I did well.

BUT, does this mean I am now famous? or at least that people will talk about me? Who knows? I have friend that teaches at NST and she asked me, reinforcing what we all know: is not who you are but who you know.....I am very grateful, don't get me wrong. It is wonderful to be recognized and to be made feel important.

Being famous involves more than one talk, surely. The trick is to stay out there to be talked about, right? In this time and age, everyone is famous for something or another... or just because you're famous. No great achievements are required. I don't know if I want that: fame for the sake of fame. So maybe, I don't care to be famous after all. What I want is to put out there the easy social interactions, the friendships, the way you can truly make a difference in your community, the sunsets, the beaches, the slow pace, the whole lifestyle you find in the Tropics. When I was actually living in there, I took so much for granted. Everything was there for me to enjoy, and I thought it would be forever. It didn't.

This time of the year, for example, Curaçao is getting ready for suspended animation. School is almost out, expats are going home for the Summer, locals are planning vacations.... everything stops: children's after school lessons, adults' club activities, meetings of any organization. The heat and the rhythm of the Tropics is really felt. When I was there, it was annoying and a bit depressing, now I miss it. What to do?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Here I go!

After publishing my book last year, my publisher suggested I get my own website. Wishful thinking! I am not very good at anything technological, you could say I am computer challenged. So after much procrastinating, and then trying and trying, I was unable to get what I wanted. My son suggested this, a simple blog, to start with. So much easier he said... you were right! This was so easy and stress free. Now I have it and all I need to do is sit at my computer and write.... and writing I can do, it's second nature to me. So here I go!

Four years ago, my husband and I moved back to the States after more than twenty years living in Curaçao, a small Caribbean island that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. As you can imagine, this was far from easy. Even though we moved to Miami and everyone told me the lifestyle was similar, the beaches beautiful and the people cosmopolitan. As we say in Dutch: NEE... to all the aforementioned. Not when you have lived in the Tropics. Florida can be beautiful, but it's a far cry from the real thing. I cannot help but miss what I left behind; probably always will.

So this is what the blog is all about. Ramblings on the things I no longer enjoy and a venue to write about them and share them with others like myself. Don't get me wrong! This is not about whining, comparing or complaining, this is about reminiscing. And reminisce I'll do! Hopefully, you will share your memories, experiences and anecdotes of your life in the Tropics.