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Jamaica Kincaids Antigua



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A rock bridge at Rendezvous Bay. Credit Robert Rausch for The New York Times

An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist ... a piece of rubbish pausing here
and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the
place in which you have just paused cannot stand you, that behind their closed doors they laugh at
your strangeness Jamaica Kincaid in A Small Place

The air was heavy with mist when the lights were finally trained on the stage, illuminating a set that
looked as if it had been transported from a low-frills scuba diving resort. Dancers wearing short
shorts known locally as batty-riders ground their hips with mechanical precision. Typical
Carnival fare. Until Dennis Roberts entered stage right in a wet suit, jutting out his rotund belly to
emphasize his seal-like silhouette.

Mr. Roberts, known as Menace, glanced at the crowd through a snorkel mask, mouthpiece in place.
The mere sight of this character the clueless tourist brought out howls of laughter. Soon he
broke into his monster hit Sand to the Beach, a song about people who are as clueless as many of
the Americans and Europeans who come to this island every year. There was no better way to
explain it than to evoke the type of supremely confident yet flawed interloper whom Jamaica
Kincaid scolds in A Small Place, a slender work of nonfiction about her native country, Antigua
and Barbuda.

The book, released in 1988, a mere seven years after the nations independence, positioned
Antiguas tourism industry as a vestige of colonial rule. The 100-square-mile island has seen waves
of settlers, from the Arawaks to the Caribs to the English, who brought kidnapped Africans to work
the sugar cane fields. In Ms. Kincaids book, the Lebanese and Syrians were moving in. Now a new
wave is sweeping through: developers and hospitality companies from China, the United States and


The author Jamaica Kincaid is a native of Antigua. Credit Ann Summa for The New York Times

I explored Antigua last summer with my husband, whose family roots lie there, and my daughter,
curious to get a sense of the humanity in Ms. Kincaids books that is largely absent in Antiguas
tourism marketing.

When you arrive in Antigua, Ms. Kincaid wrote, The road on which you are traveling is a very bad
road ... You are feeling wonderful, so you say, Oh, what a marvelous change these bad roads are
from the splendid highways I am used to in North America. (Or, worse, Europe.)


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But anyone traveling from New York City to St. Ma chiunque abbia viaggiato da New York a
Johns, Antigua, knows that some of the rutted roads Sant John, Antigua, sa bene che molte delle
to Kennedy Airport these days are worse than those strade tutte solcate/segnate per il Kennedy
in even the most sparsely populated corners of Airport oggigiorno/ormai sono peggiori
Antigua. persino di quelle degli angoli pi
scarsamente popolati di Antigua.

La prima cosa che si nota non sono le

The first thing youll notice arent the roads, which strade, che sono pavimentate/lastricate in
are evenly paved, but the hulking cream stucco modo uniforme, ma lingombrante/enorme
structure beyond the roundabout near the airport exit. struttura stuccata color crema dietro la
This is the former headquarters of the Stanford rotonda vicino alluscita dellaeroporto.
International Bank, named for its American founder, lex sede centrale della Stanford
R. Allen Stanford, who is serving time for running International Bank, chiamata cos per il suo
the bank as a Ponzi scheme. Just down the road, to fondatore americano, R. Allen Stanford, che
use an Antiguan directional, is a cricket stadium also al fresco per aver applicato nella sua
erected by Mr. Stanford that overlooks a dusty gray banca lo Schema Ponzi. Usando un modo di
field that was empty each time we passed it. indicare la strada tipico di Antigua, just
down the road/giusto in fondo alla strada si
trova lo stadio - costruito sempre da Mr.
Stanford - che d/guarda su un campo grigio
polveroso, sempre vuoto tutte le volte che ci
siamo passati davanti.

Lo stadio l come una grande rovina su

The stadium stands like a great ruin on an island unisola tutta butterata di detriti di sogni
pock-marked with the detritus of abandoned dreams. abbandonati
There are crumbling sugar mills, rusted cars and
buildings subsumed by growth that was lush even
during a drought. I glimpsed one man who had
transformed a piece of rolling luggage into a stroller
that held a napping child, and motorcycle riders who
had wrapped their heads in scarves, presumably as
protection against the dust.

But there was also abundance. Mangoes too ripe for

trees to hold rotted in the gutters near a village called
John Hughes. (When my nephew Amir, an Antiguan
expat, told a friend that wed bought some from a
market, she said it pained her that wed actually paid
for them and then presented him with two dozen.)
And brightly painted homes of concrete a
material Ms. Kincaid associated with Lebanese and
Syrian property owners now outnumber the
modest clapboard houses in many parts of the island.

Another round of change is on its way. The Yida International Investment Group, a Chinese
company, plans to open a $740 million resort on the main islands northeast corner and nearby
islands. A $400 million Royalton property is slated to open in Deep Bay. And Robert De Niro and a
partner are building a $250 million resort on Antiguas sister island, Barbuda. Those projects will
add 3,000 hotel rooms within the next five years, the government estimates.

Luxury, of course, is nothing new here. The moneyed set stays at places like the private Mill Reef
Club. (In her book, she reserves a particularly sharp wrath for the place, which is effectively a
stand-in for colonial rulers.) Mill Reef is so exclusive that its managers refused to give a tour during
its off-season. So to sample the luxury on offer I went to Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort, known as
much for its celebrity roster (Paul McCartney, Kevin Spacey and Hilary Swank) as its old-money

A starfish on the beach at Jumby Bay resort. Credit Robert Rausch for The New York Times

To get there, skip the road and land your private jet near Beachcomber Dock, where you can board a
ferry to a private island off Antiguas northeast coast.

Rather than taking a jet, I got a ride with Amir, who left for the United States two decades before
our trip and had not returned until our visit. He dropped me off with his wife, Amma, and my sister-
in-law, Katherine. After the brief ferry ride, we were greeted by a smiling, cat-eyed woman named
Melanie Fletcher, the guest relations manager at the resort. As we walked toward the covered bar, I
saw a flash of color: a lush green lawn beneath the spray of a sprinkler.


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Jumby Bay, which started as a villa owners collective, takes up just over a quarter of the 300-acre
Long Island. Though the capacity of the resort is about 400 guests and it was 98 percent full,
according to Ms. Fletcher, all we felt was a stillness in the air. There are no cars, only bikes and golf
carts, and villas with enough space between them that you could have a conversation without being
overheard by your neighbors.

Its literature says that jumby means playful spirit, but some Antiguans say it really means an
evil one. The sugar mill in the middle of the resort was a reminder that the inhabitants had once
been slaves and left us wondering about the spirits who roamed there.
Jumby Bay
St. Johns
Mill Reef Club
John Hughes
S T. C R O I X
S T. K I T T S
Caribbean Sea

JULY 12, 2016

By The New York Times

After lunch, we talked about family history and lost track of time and place. What do you think
about the history of this place? Katherine asked, eyeing a beautiful tree whose limbs seemed sturdy
enough to hold the weight borne by a noose. There is no record of lynchings on Long Island, and
Jumby does not market itself as a plantation resort. Yet there was the inescapable fact that the staff
was largely brown-skinned and the guests werent, a vestige of slavery throughout the Americas and
a reminder of the system of apartheid that Ms. Kincaid derides in A Small Place. There, as
elsewhere on the island, though, I saw something I hadnt seen in A Small Place: upward
mobility. Some of the 500 people who worked there had managed to trade up jobs. They seemed
less interested in laughing at tourists than in simply having a stable means of supporting themselves
and their families.

In the resorts boutique we fingered pricey coverups. Somehow we managed to miss the ferry
though we were a five-minute walk away. We settled in near the bar, staring at the water three
shades of blue, Ms. Kincaid writes in the novel Lucy and nearly missed the next ferry. The
tension that wed accumulated in our daily lives seemed to float into the distance. We could have
stayed forever.

Antigua can do that, Ms. Kincaid wrote. For all the drama of its history, she writes that the beauty
of the place, the very thing that bewitches its tourists, renders it a time capsule to its residents.
They have nothing to compare this incredible constant with, no big historical moment to compare
the way they are now to the way they used to be, she wrote, and in a later passage: The unreal
way in which it is beautiful now is the unreal way in which it was always beautiful.

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Her characters often flee the idyll for places where seasons change and there is hope of
transformation, following the path of Ms. Kincaid and countless other immigrants from the

Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Credit Robert Rausch for The New York Times

Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson in 1949 in St. Johns. Her novels detail
her biography: that her mother is an Afro-Indian from Dominica (The Autobiography of My
Mother); that her father, an Antiguan cabdriver, abandoned the family (Mr. Potter); that Ms.
Kincaid left Antigua in 1965 to work as a nanny (Annie John, Lucy).

After establishing a successful literary career in the States, Ms. Kincaid returned home in 1986 for
her first visit in two decades. But her tone in A Small Place led to the banning of the book there,
and a self-exile as she feared for her safety.


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Now, though, Ms. Kincaid is enough of an expat to long for her childhood home. She regularly took
her two children, Annie and Harold, to Antigua I like them to see normal, boring black people
going about their normal, boring lives, she said in an interview with The New York Times in 1996
and was there last summer for an academic conference that coincided with Carnival.

She was part of what has become an exodus of Antiguans to the United States, Britain and Canada.
Every summer, many return for Carnival. And that is where I caught my best glimpses of Ms.
Kincaids Antigua.

A candlelit dinner at Jumby Bay resort. Credit Robert Rausch for The New York Times

A family friend had been enlisted to park his truck alongside the road where the procession would
walk. We sat in back. Before the floats and dance troupes and steel-band drummers went through,
yet another friend, parked nearby, mentioned that shed known my husbands paternal grandmother,
affectionately called Aunt Vic. I peppered her with questions, and she smiled. This sort of thing
wasnt surprising to her. Meanwhile, my daughter spotted cousins dancing on the road, others
marching and greeting friends of cousins, cousins of friends. It was a family reunion, made up of
Antiguans and Antiguan expats returning for a dose of that small place. February is for tourists. Off-
season is the time for the real Antigua.

One day, I finally found the potholed road to paradise. Rendezvous Bay was one of the closest
beaches to our Airbnb in Falmouth. My husband, daughter and I set off in one car, and my nephew
and his martial arts instructor in another. Our rented sedan couldnt make it over the final hill, so we
piled into the instructors truck. Rendezvous is my favorite beach, he said. We could see why. A
pristine beach that sloped into a gentle crescent was all ours save for a single local family. We
splashed in the turquoise water and considered a sign promising a resort on the site, which falls
within a national park.

It seemed nonsensical. Until I realized that immigration to Antigua isnt only for Antiguan retirees
descended from the West Africans and Europeans who lived on the island for centuries. The country
recently launched a program allowing people who buy properties of $400,000 or more to become
citizens. It seems that Ms. Kincaids description of Antigua, of a nation run by foreign landed
gentry, may not be so dated after all.

If you want to find her country, her vibrant characters, here is how you do it:

Book a trip for Carnival, in late July, hurricane season. Find a place that is not on a beach. Keep an
eye out for holes in the yard where tarantulas burrow, and if you find them, close your windows
when it rains. Rent a car, which you will quickly learn to drive on the wrong side of the road, and
head to a little bakery for a bun-butter-and-cheese sandwich. Then drive to St. Johns during
Carnival for a battle of the bands. Press to the front of the line. Dont worry about anybody stealing
your wallet; you left your credit cards and trappings of being a tourist back in that home that you
(thank God) remembered to seal off from the spiders as rain begins to fall. You laugh when the
emcee peppers her monologue with words like stush for stuck-up and when someone onstage
apes a tourist, because thats not you.

Look around you wont find many examples of Lucy or Annie John here because they werent
allowed to come they are at home sneaking a chance to read books after bedtime. But you will
find the world that they, and Jamaica Kincaids characters, left, the one that keeps pulling her back
to revisit in her elusive fictional universe.

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