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A Pleasant Sunday in Paradise

The gecko is in his usual place, clinging to the slanted wooden ceiling twelve feet above my head. The living room of our cottage is open in front, and I’m looking out into a blackness filled with the sound of the sea. People who live next to it probably get used to it; I don’t think I ever would.

I’m thinking the gecko could be a bit more proactive in his hunting; I’ve been gnawed by mosquitoes the last two days, and I see them now, tiny things casually floating around, pretending to be bits of dust. Our charming hostess has given me a bottle of oil of citronella, though, and this seems to help, though I don’t know whether the scent puts them off (luckily my husband finds it attractive; also luckily, he has nothing whatever in common with a mosquito), or whether they find the oil impenetrable.

If oil gums up their little probosces, so much the better. I had a massage this afternoon, in the massage hut—a small, circular stone hut, open to the sea (which is about fifteen feet away, crashing

(A big black cat has just leapt silently into the living room and set about eating a bag of CheeseZillas (a cross between your ordinary cheesy-poof and a styrofoam packing peanut) someone left on the coffee table. He’s welcome to them. Most of the Jamaican delicacies we’ve tried have been marvelous, from the ubiquitous jerk chicken—sold everywhere from upscale restaurants to the equally ubiquitous road-side grills, these being independent enterprises consisting of a proprietor with an oil-drum sawed in half and converted to a smoker/grill—to the grilled lobster tail soused in garlic butter I had for dinner tonight—but CheeseZillas are not among the marvelous)

…crashing on the rocks. This isn’t a beach resort; the ocean laps at the foot of limestone cliffs, and you drop into the water (turquoise over the inshore reef, a dark blue further out) from a blue iron ladder. There are places where one could climb up or down the rocks into the water—save that the underwater rocks are a) sharp coral/limestone rock, b) the surge of the surf scrapes you across said rocks, and c) said rocks are covered with an interesting variety of sea-life, including assorted tunicates, anemones, chitons…and an immense population of sea urchins. Ask me how I know this.

(If one happens to set foot or hand unwarily on a sea-urchin—no, I didn’t; my poor husband was not so fortunate—a goodly number of its sharp little spines penetrate your flesh AND BREAK OFF. They do eventually emerge again, encouraged by regular applications of spirits of ammonia (or urine. Everyone urged my husband—and another male guest who’d been much more severely punctured—to pee on the site). Luckily one does not pee on abrasions—I have three or four small ones on my lower legs—as women are really not constructed for logistical peeing.)

Anyway, being rubbed while lying face-down on a towel-covered massage table, looking down (when one can be bothered to open one’s eyes) at a charmingly artistic arrangement of green leaves, bougainvillaea flowers (pink, red, white, and orange) and small bits of white coral (along with a bleached sea-urchin skeleton) lying on the ground under the headrest and listening to the regular thud of the surf is pretty relaxing—even when the massage involves “Deep Tissue” manipulations by the redoubtable Nadine, a lovely (and muscular) Jamaican lady who told me assorted things in such a strong accent that I only understood two of them: “That de pectoralis muscle. It’s always tender in a wooman, stronger in a man,” (this in response to a high-pitched noise that emerged involuntarily when she drove her entire weight, centered on the edge of her hand, through said pectoralis), and “You got a lotta tension in you eye-sockets.” (Oddly enough, I don’t believe I have ever had my eye-sockets massaged before.) I emerged from this sensual experience pureed and covered thickly in aromatic oils, which I doubt that even the most intrepid mosquito could penetrate. I can also move my neck, which is a Good Thing.

(The cat has given up on the CheezeZillas and leapt silently back into the blackness from whence it came, a part of the night once more.)

It’s been a relaxing day, all in all. This morning we went, with our hosts and another couple, to church. St.Paul’s, an old plantation church, out in the middle of a sugar-cane field, surrounded by the bleached white bones of its graveyard, with monuments and stones carved from the local limestone. (Houses here are built on the basis of one of two strategies: solid limestone and mortar, basic bunker construction—or shacks made of such flimsy wood that you could push them over with a good shove. Both strategies are a response to hurricanes. It’s perhaps worth noting that many of the seaside bunker-type houses and inns are deserted, while the brightly-painted shacks are all inhabited and thriving.)

St. Paul’s is an Anglican church (Jamaica must have Catholic churches here and there, but none in close proximity to Negril), whose very small congregation (about 25 elderly black gentlemen and ladies—the ladies all dignified by large, proper church hats) welcomed us warmly to worship with them.

It’s a big, lovely church, airy and well-proportioned, with evidence of the donations of wealthy past parishioners—a beautiful old (the church was built in 1863) stained-glass window behind the altar, mahogany paneling in the sanctuary, and a clay-tiled ornamental panel inset into the aisle, reading, “Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me,” in gothic lettering. (Two little children were in fact present, a boy and a girl, obviously lugged in by their grandparents.)

Like many churches these days, St. Paul’s has a circuit-riding parson—a minister who tends several churches, and therefore isn’t able to preside over every service. Today was the 5th Sunday of the month, so the service was a modest “Matins and Sermon,” according to the notice-board out front, rather than the “Sung Eucharist and Sermon” that one gets on the 2nd or 4th Sunday, when the priest is there.

Both service and sermon were conducted with great conviction by the ladies of the parish, supported intermittently by a very elderly cassocked gentleman on the organ, who appeared to have a slight difficulty in coordinating the manual and pedal keyboards, but grimly pursued each hymn through its many verses, hunting it to a triumphant conclusion as the congregation at last managed to sync with him in time to come down hard on the last three notes.

You definitely get value for money at St. Paul’s; services ran two hours, including a rousing sermon on the Sermon on the Mount, and a blessing of the 50th anniversary of Brother and Sister Lynch’s wedding vows, wherein the Lynches came down the aisle to the strains of “Here Comes the Bride,” the bride beaming over a lovely bouquet of small palm fronds and deep blue flowers.

It wasn’t our usual ritual, of course, but it was both soothing—with a gentle breeze sweeping through the open doors, rustling the pages of the open hymnals and sweeping small leaves and dried blossoms across the “Suffer the Little Children” tiles—and uplifting, and we were most grateful to the congregation for their welcome of us to their worship.

The gecko has worked its way up to the topmost rafters and is hiding in the shadows, and the black cat is likely out having acute indigestion in the shrubbery, so it’s probably time for bed. I hope you all had a pleasant Sunday, too!

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61 Responses »

  1. Sounds wonderful! I read this during a stressful Monday morning at work and it was nice to “escape” for a moment into your stay in Jamaica. I actually smiled while reading and though this normally tells my coworkers I’m not working, this also means my stress-level has reduced some and I can get back to work a bit more focused. They should thank you. ;)

  2. Just one question so I can bemoan the cold damp weather that my community is living with – what is the temperature in Jamaica today? I hope it’s very warm! :-)

    • Dear Laurie–

      It was probably in the mid-70′s most of the time. We got off the plane in PHOENIX to find a temp of 38 F.!! All the irrigation hoses froze. It’s come back up to normal springtime temps in Scottsdale, though–it’s probably about 65 at the moment.


  3. Diana,

    Enjoy Negril! We honeymooned there 20 years ago at the Sandals resort. They’ve got 7 miles of white sand beach there which should be less painful for you! Go find it! (Although, my husband also stepped on an urchin while stepping off his jetski…..the nurse on the resort pulled all the spines out.) Plus, make sure you get to see the cliff-diving and sunset at Rick’s Cafe (I hope it’s still there). I know they’ve improved the road to Negril from Montego Bay since we were there. Just getting to the resort was the scariest part of our Jamaican adventure!

    Amy in Atlanta

    • Dear Amy–

      We stayed at Tensing Pen, just down the road from Rick’s. Beautiful place!


      • As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica, I read your post and KNEW it was Tensing Pen. (They gave us volunteers a good rate in the off season years ago.)

        It is the best place EVER to stay. I hope to take my husband and children someday. Enjoying the idea of you writing in that setting!

  4. Your massage sounded wonderful. Never thought of eye sockets as having tension!

  5. Diana,
    You’ve made me long for my days in Jamaica. I can feel the tropical air, hear the waves, see the bougainvillaea, cat, coral reef, and mosquistoes, smell the citronella and massage oils, and taste the jerk chicken. Oh to be in Negril in January!

  6. Diana:

    Thanks for the travelogue! Sounds like you’re having a good time. I do hope Doug’s encounter with the sea urchin hasn’t prevented him from enjoying the rest of the trip.

    Tension in the eye-sockets….hmm, have you been doing an unusual amount of eye-rolling in recent weeks?


  7. Oh Diana I hope you are enjoying your trip! it is -30 here today in Edmonton,AB and suppose to go down to -40 over night!!!! brrrrrrr
    So you have an open living room there? that is different.
    So when you say black cat is it a domestic cat or something a little bigger?
    If bigger than you are lucky it is only deciding to take the cheese zilla’s! haha
    well enjoy your holiday you sure deserve it!!!
    Enjoy the warm weather as well!!!

    • Dear Rhonda–

      Looked pretty domestic to me. If it had been a lot bigger, I tell you what, I think I’da gone inside and left the CheeseZillas to their fate.


  8. Felt like I’m there with you for a few minutes. Could almost hear the sea.

    Thanks for this peek into your vacation.

  9. I’m sitting here dying of envy. The weather man is very clear about tomorrow’s forecast: blizzard


  10. Hi Diana,

    ahhhhh blissss ?? :) sounds close :)

    Only 47 days ( not that I am counting or anything ) till I get 2 weeks in the sun. No where as exotic as Jamica, but there will be sand, sun, fishing and boating …… Sunny Forster for me, hubby and the dog. Foster is a coastal and salt water lake holiday town on the Mid North Coast of NSW Australia for those out of Australia.

    till then… I will recall my last holiday, Singapore and Penang for 10 days.. hot, humid and amazing cheap food… and a massage in a hut on the beach :)

    I think I can see some of your holiday popping up in futuer books.. the church sounds like a great inspiration.

    If you ever go to Fiji, I can recommend going to a church service there… very special!!! The one we attended in a village nearby started only 3/4 hr late and finished over 1 hr late.. Fiji Time ha ha ha :).. no organ or instrument played, just a bible being slapped as the rythm to the hymes…. the singing and harmonies had to be heard to be believed… we had goose bumps. The entire service was in Fiji but we picked up a number of common prayers just by the cadence. Fijians are very religious and the entire village attends.

    Cheers Jo-Anne

  11. Thank you for that lovely descrption of your time in Jamaica! You made me alternately smile (“wherein the Lynches came down the aisle to the strains of “Here Comes the Bride,” the bride beaming over a lovely bouquet of small palm fronds and deep blue flowers”), sigh (“I emerged from this sensual experience pureed and covered thickly in aromatic oils”), and laugh out loud (“Luckily one does not pee on abrasions—I have three or four small ones on my lower legs—as women are really not constructed for logistical peeing.”) – I felt like I was reading a new book excerpt. :-)

  12. Hopefully the cat and the gecko will not cross paths. Bats would probably make more of a dent in the mosquito population than geckos. The urchin encounter reminds me of the scene in Dr. No where James Bond sucks the spines from Honey Ryder’s foot and says something about girls being quite tasty. Urchin roe used as an ingredient in Japanese treats is also quite tasty. Maybe Lord John will have adventures on the beach… Has anyone taken pictures that can be shared? Stained glass window, masseuse, cheesezillas, etc.

  13. Hi Diana, what a gorgeous post, lanquid and laid back, just like I imagine Jamaica to be.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Jamaica, Negril, the Blue Mountains, Kingston, cheese sandwiches from sidewalk vendors, offerings of ganja in payment for giving a hitchhikder a life (Yeah, I know this dates me back to when you COULD pick up a hitchhiker LOL). I studied the history and lore of Jamaica years ago in preparation for a dig at Port Royale where I had hoped to spend an off campus semester. The dig didn’t materialize for me but a vacation did a few years later. Needless to say, I picked up fast on Geillis as the witch of Rose Hall <>and enjoyed your use of the Maroons. Reading your blog yesterday, other memories of my younger years returned, having my own encounter with a sea urchin – not in Jamaica but Freeport. Never ever step on a sea urchin especially when you’re skinny dipping in the Caribbean. Very embarrassing. I did have five bahama mamas in anticipation of the removal of the spines while waiting for the ship’s doctor to open his office…sea urchins, peppermint body cream…to this day, almost thirty years later, I still can’t look at a York peppermint patty without blushing. Kate (BajaBeachie) in rainy, snowy, sleety (is that a word?) Baltimore

  14. Thanks for your blog entry Diana.
    It made my smile.

  15. Diana, Your words paint such vivid pictures~
    Thank You! & Enjoy your me time :)

  16. Your imagery, as usual, is outstanding. I can feel the breezes and see the poor organist trying to keep up with the congregation. Glad you enjoyed your time and got to relax.

    I finally got time to explore your site. I really loved the Arizona essay! It sounds like it could be the beginning of another novel (should you need another.) But then, the way your write, I think even your grocery list would probably be another interesting read!

  17. Vacations and time away is not in my husband’s vocabulary and although I use to vacation alone from time to time…but I don’t lose hope and since our 30th anniversary is this year,we will be taking a weekend…I would like a week…but so it goes! It will be the first time since our son was a baby (he is 28) that we have gone somewhere without kids or family.
    Glad you had fun and therapeutic massage is the best my best friend, is a massotherapist. Her specialty is Craino-sacreal work…bliss.
    We spent our Sunday at a food show as one of our businesses is a donut shop!

    Its hard to decide whether a massage or food is more satisfying. :)
    Bright Blessings,

  18. The images your words create are a great gift. Thank you for sharing that gift with us.

    Especially, as I sit at the car dealer watching more snow fall (another 14-18 inches expected today and tomorrow).

    Thank you,

  19. Diana,
    I’ve been transported in mind, if not body. Jamaica sounds divine.
    Lethbridge, Alberta currently has blue skies, bright sun, a crisp feel to the air, and a brutally frigid temperature of -26c, and a windchill of -36c.
    Come on spring!

  20. Sounds really nice. Just relax and enjoy… :)

    We are getting lots of unexpected snow here in Albuquerque. No one here knows how to drive in it either.

    • My In-Laws lived in Rio Rancho, and when it snowed (whenever) we were there, they jokingly blamed it on me, ’cause I love snow. It happened so often when I was there that the neighbours and friends blamed me for the snow too. All I can say is that “it’s not my fault this time!”

      We got a chuckle out of our neighbours trying to “spin” themselves out of snowdrifts…nothing that a shovel and some sand couldn’t fix, but they didn’t think of that. At least the snow will be gone before long, whereas, here it’ll be around till April. Enjoy it while it lasts.


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