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“I retreated to the landlocked La Hipica Restaurante, a tapas bar carved out of the palm forest in western New Providence, near the old village of Gambier. Overseen by Miguel Coello, a transplant from Madrid, La Hipica offers flawless Spanish tapas on a covered porch with an Australian outback vibe. Coello’s wife, Erika, runs a riding school here and the property includes a five-mile trail that happens to be on a migration route of monarch butterflies. It’s paradise.

My dad, stepmother and I sat at picnic tables and guzzled the local brew, Kalik, as Coello presented us with a spectacular array of tapas: garbanzos fritos, gambas, lomo and salchichon sausages. It was hands-down the best meal I’ve ever had in The Bahamas.”

It often seems as if I would never know anything about the place that I live in if I were not an avid reader of travel magazines, guidebooks and such. There are things here that operate almost totally underground, or that function primarily for tourists, or for a certain socioeconomic bracket, and so one never hears about them. Take for instance this tapas bar, La Hipica. The preceding paragraph about La Hipica is from a Financial Times article about recession vacationing. The article ends without giving a number or address for the tapas bar. So it seems as if you have to be very much in the know to find the place, since all you’re going to get is that it is “carved out of the palm forest in western New Providence, near the old village of Gambier.” That could be almost anywhere (how near is near?). Initial internet searches for the restaurant turn up nothing, and it is only after very diligent searching through all the equestrian schools that you are able to figure out roughly where this place might be. (It is nowhere near Gambier, really. It is actually near Mt Pleasant, or near to Lyford Cay). Anyhow, all of this is a challenge to me. Last weekend, I decided to drive out there for lunch. It is seriously in the middle of nowhere. You turn onto a dirt path and you drive and drive until the space opens up and there are stables and the signs for a restaurant. I was excited about finding the place and the prospect of eating there ( I had to drive all the way from the east coast to get there, which is far by local standards) but they had had a special horse showing, and so the actual restaurant was closed. But I am determined to return…

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Public transportation is anarchic in and around  Nassau, but I think it is one of the best features of life.  When they eventually standardize it (as I am certain they must, sooner or later) I will be sad.  This entry is in homage to the buses here, called jitneys.

I love trains, metro-lines, trams, streetcars. When I first went to NYC as a young adult, I had been warned by a lot of island people that the city was dangerous, that I would be mugged in Times Square, that I should avoid making eye-contact on the subway because I would get mugged and most important, that the city was disorienting, crazy, too busy. I was never mugged, and I never found the city disorienting, because Manhattan in built like a grid, and if you can get to a subway, the city becomes even more known along the very fixed underground routes of the metro. Now in this list of public transportation, you note that I have left out buses. I hate American buses. I associate them with tiring six hour drives through central NY state,  a smell of exhaust and formaldehyde that nauseates me, being crammed in too tight with too many sweating bodies, depressing bus terminals, too much herky jerky stopping and starting, too much anxiety over the bus schedule and too many hours walking blocks and blocks from the bus route to this or that house in suburban NJ, depending on where my sister is living.

But the point of all this is that I love Bahamian buses. They are cheap (1.25 per ride, no matter the distance). They drop you off anywhere on the route, (you just yell out “Bus Stop!” when you want to stop).  They are fast (most of the drivers are speed demon young men) and they are interesting (they are filled with a cast of characters it is hard to imagine, they just have to be believed).

The last jitney I was on had a very loud, crass woman who made funny running commentary on everyone who entered and exited the bus. On seeing a pregnant girl leave, she shouted out “Did yall see that girl? Walk it out girl! Show your belly! You so neat and cute! Go girl” and then when another pregnant woman exited, she shouted out “Y’all see how big that woman is? Her man, he done do her right in; she could only be carrying twins in there! He put all his backbone into that, all of his spine-juice! Y’all see what this rainy weather causes? Horniness! Pregnancy! Damn, I’m horny right now, I have to go home for me and my man to work it out!” Things went along in this vein until she reached her stop and bounced off.

Tourism is the Bahamas’ bread and butter, and so hospitality and culinary studies are rather important. There is a restaurant training school here called Choices that has $35 five course menus. All and sundry do not seem to know about the place, and so you can go there and be served without too much waiting or hustle and bustle. I’ve been twice now, and both times the food has been very good – even excellent in spots, and the student waitstaff are very charming–such a refreshing change from waitstaff who are surly and rude. Tonight’s menu was:

Smoke Shrimp Cocktail

Drizzled with lemon lime vinaigrette

Leek and Potato Soup

With parsley and garlic croutons

Grilled Quail with a Molasses Glaze

Served with a corn and arugula salad

Dover Sole Almandine

Dover Sole sautéed in butter & herbs

Or

Seared Pork Loin

Served with a flavorful apple & ginger sauce

Entrees are served with:  Dill Potatoes &

Assorted Glaze Vegetables

Crème Caramel

Truly a classic; creamy custard with a caramelized sugar glaze


Sunningridge - near Entrance

Sunningridge - near Entrance

I had to go downtown today to do some business and while I was there I stopped in at one of my favorite places, West Hill St. Nowadays, no one lives in the center of downtown except the Governor-General, who resides at his Government House, but this was not always so. The two streets that lead to Government House are West Hill St and East Hill St, and they are lined by houses built in the nineteenth century. Some of these houses have been turned into restaurants or offices, but sadly, some of the houses are falling into ruin. My favorite derelict mansion is called Sunningridge. As I was taking pictures of it today, a middle aged white Bahamian passed me, shaking his head, and kept saying “Beautiful Nassau is gone! Beautiful Nassau is gone!”

Sunningridge - Looking out into Court, ground floor

Sunningridge - Looking out into Court, ground floor

It’s not gone, but what remains is often (too often?)  a decadent beauty, the beauty of something riddled with decay, parasite plagued, rotting. Sunningridge is a part of that decadence.  Many years ago, a Canadian developer, Jeffrey Waterous, bought the property, and vowed to restore it. He gutted the building, then left it vulnerable to the elements. So it has been swept by hurricanes, encroached upon by the gardens that must have made it delightful, once, and it is probably totally structurally unsound, waiting to fall apart. I go there and wonder who lived there, who died there, who played in the backyard, who had sex there (maybe who has sex there, abandoned buildings attract sex) who was a servant there, who loved the house, and what they would think of it now. I would love to live there, but aside from not having the money to buy such a place, the rot has probably gotten into its bones…it is probably past any kind of restoration, no matter how radical. For this I am sorry.

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Sunningridge - Vestibule East

Sunningridge - Vestibule East

 

Cabbage Beach, Paradise Island

Cabbage Beach, Paradise Island

One of the things that is consuming my life is the search for a fantastic beach that is different from the fantastic beach I usually frequent.  The spectacular familiar beach is on Paradise Island, which is actually opposite to Nassau (Nassau proper, the city). To get there, you drive over a bridge, paying a toll of a dollar, and then you try to find parking. Then you find one of the designated public access points (you can’t walk through the hotels to the beach) and you are on one of the country’s most stunning strands of white white sand and clear turquoise water (sans seaweed). This is Cabbage Beach, or depending how far west you enter, Paradise Beach.  Because of the trouble it takes to get there, (parking is a bitch) although the beach is populated by tourists, it is never crowded, and it is never dirty. Compare my neighborhood beach, Yamacraw, which lies in front of an area of overgrown bush where people have dumped all sorts of things like washing machines. We will not even speak of Montague Beach, which surrounds the old Fort Montague at the eastern edge of Nassau.

 

But I want variety, and so I have been looking for Love Beach, which is allegedly beautiful, but extremely difficult to get to. It is bordered by a string of private houses and establishments, but by law there has to be an access point somewhere. But the point is hidden. Last week, a friend and I went to find the place, but we are not so sure we did. We found Jaws Beach, where a young woman was energetically and awkwardly  impaling herself on her lover in the shallows. We found  Orange Hill Beach, which was too near the road. We drove past Goodman’s Bay, where the tide was abnormally high. But when we got to the beach which was surrounded by a lot of apartments named after Love, when we walked through a very overgrown path with a lot of beer bottles, we discovered water brown with weed, and a shore that was rocky and littered.  My friend, always reluctant to leave Paradise, swears that this is the place we were searching for. But I hope not, and desire to continue my search for Love.

After living in the United States for the last 11 years, I moved back to New Providence in the Bahamas. Now, if you’ve heard about the Bahamas, that “New Providence” may sound strange to you.  No one who lives on the island of New Providence actually refers to living there. Instead, we say that we live in Nassau, but practically no one lives in Nassau proper. Nassau, the capital of the country and only city on this island, really has fixed boundaries around the harbour, but we all have expanded those boundaries to the entire island. By local standards, we’re all city dwellers, even though many of us would die if we actually had to live under urban rather than coastal suburban conditions. But by comparison with our countrymen in the dozens of rural islands, known as the “Out Islands,” we’re all urbane sophisticates. Or so the story goes…So I think my posts have to do with being a citizen of this strange island city. (Something like Singapore or Hong Kong, I guess)…