Brenda Squires - Author Therapist and Artist

February 2022 newsletter

February 2022 newsletter
The end of a long dark tunnel
Dartmoor water. Photo by Sally RandellIt feels as though we are coming to the end of a long, dark tunnel. Covid 19 shows signs of declining, we are dropping our masks more frequently and spring is just around the corner. You can already see the first crocuses and snowdrops. Hurrah!Thanks once again to those of you who have contributed to this newsletter or who have written to me individually. It is always good to hear from you. In this issue I’m going to be sharing some of my reflections of a recent trip to St Lucia, as well as talking about Derek Walcott and the usual reviews on books.
Rodney Bay, St Lucia. Photo by Brenda SquiresOne of the southernmost Windward islands of the Caribbean, closer to Caracas than Cuba, 70% of it is covered by rainforest and 18% under cultivation for tropical fruits, coconuts, bananas. At the last census in 2010 its population was under quarter of a million. Though too far south to be generally affected by hurricanes, they do occur and 1980 and 2010 caused significant damage cost several lives and ruined much of the agriculture. With its pleasant all year round temperature of 26 to 32C in the coastal regions, 13C in the mountainous regions, it is very attractive to those wanting to escape winter in the northern hemisphere. Though it exports bananas and coconuts, its main source of income is from tourism. It draws over a million tourists a year.
Two worlds. photo by Glen PetersWe walked along a beach, virtually guarded by security staff from the Sandals and Landings hotels – though when challenged the guards declared that the beach belonged to Queen Elizabeth, who is still the titular Head of State of the island. They took our names, our temperatures and let us proceed. The town of Gros Islet, with its colourful array of bungalows and modest shacks, borders these plush hotels. Here we saw a young woman drawing water from a standpipe, chickens flapping around the street and young men drinking beer at makeshift stands. Elsewhere we walked an unpaved track behind a bedraggled barefoot man. The mean income of a Saint Lucian is about three thousand pounds, whilst a glass of prosecco costs ten pounds and a five minute taxi drive cost eight pounds. Clearly there is an imbalance here.Yet there is a wealth of natural resources going untapped here.
Caldera, St Lucia.Saint Lucia imports oil for fuel and energy. Yet with virtually constant sunshine it has huge potential for solar energy. Not only that: it has an active Caldera at Soufriere, which we visited. As we watched its bubbling, sulphorous activity our guide explained that it produces 30 gigawatt hours of electricity (1/10 th of the UK’s consumption and certainly enough to meet all their energy needs.) The World Bank is part-funding a development to exploit this energy though this has been put on hold because of Covid and a change of government. Iceland has a similar population to Saint Lucia. Until the oil-price crisis in the Seventies Iceland was totally dependent on imported oil, but it managed to turn its economy around by switching to geo-thermal energy. Hopefully this project, when it goes ahead, will bring many benefits to the people of Saint Lucia.
Street in Castries photo by Brenda SquiresThe legacy of slavery runs deep here. Over 80 percent of the population are of African descent. France and Britain squabbled and fought battles for more than a hundred years to win the island, especially when it was seen as fruitful terrain for sugar plantations. The island ping-ponged between them fourteen times. At the time of the French Revolution the slaves were declared free. Plantation owners fled or were guillotined. But then Napoleon reinstated slavery. A Brigand army, made up of former slaves and poor whites, fought back. Finally, in 1835, slavery was abolished. It is a largely Catholic island with many French place names and 95 percent of the people speak a French Creole, Patwa; yet English is the official language, they drive on the left-hand side and have the Queen’s image on their currency. The French finally ceded the island to Britain in 1814 but it only gained its full independence in 1979. Now it is a constitutional democracy within the Commonwealth. A recent election returned a Labour government under Prime Minister, Philip Pierre.
Inside Castries cathedral. photo by Brenda SquiresI asked myself what the colonial powers put in place to help the people build up their own country? Certainly one can point to the political framework and the judiciary, which is based on the British legal system. A Frenchman is commemorated in the Castries cathedral for the elementary schools he introduced to the island. But was that enough? The people are charming, laugh easily and gave us the warmest welcome at our hotel. Yet I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable at the posh restaurants frequented solely by European and North American tourists. The virtually all-white clientele of the luxury 5 star Sandals and Landings did not sit well with me. I’m not saying there is any exclusion policy at work here, rather a financial one. At least in our hotel, the Harbor Club, there was a healthy mix of races, generations and nationalities.
Saint Lucia has produced two Nobel Prize winners: Sir Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979 and Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.Derek Walcott was born and raised in Castries, the Capital of St Lucia. His family was of English, Dutch and African descent, reflecting the complex colonial history of the island. He trained as a painter and exhibited as late as 2007 in New York at The Writer’s Brush: Paintings and Drawing by writers.

Walcott had an early sense of vocation for writing. He writes: ‘I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation…’ In the 1984 Midsummer poem he wrote:

Forty years gone, in my island childhood,
I felt that the gift of poetry had made me one of the chosen
that all the experience was kindling to the fire of the muse.

He worked as critic, teacher and journalist in Trinidad and founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959. He was later hired by Boston University, where he worked for twenty years and met other poets such as Seamus Heaney and Joseph Brodsky. In 1990 he published Omeros, which earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. The Nobel committee described his work as ‘a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by historical vision, the outcome of multicultural commitment.’

Walcott’s epic book-length poem Omeros was published in 1990 to critical acclaim. The poem very loosely echoes and references Homer and some of his major characters from The Iliad. Some of the poem’s major characters include the island fishermen Achille and Hector, the retired English officer Major Plunkett and his wife Maud, the housemaid Helen, the blind man Seven Seas (who symbolically represents Homer), and the author himself.Although the main narrative of the poem takes place in St Lucia, Walcott also includes scenes from Brooklyn, Massachusetts and the character Achille imagines a voyage from Africa onto a slave ship that is headed for the Americas.

Also in Book Five of the poem Walcott narrates travel experience from around the world including: Lisbon, London, Dublin, Rome and Toronto.

Reading matters
Good news for books.In January the Booksellers Association (BA) reported that the number of independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland had grown for the fifth consecutive year, with the BA’s figures showing 1,027 shops at the end of 2021, the highest number since 2013.Nielsen BookScan revealed that full-year sales through its UK panel are likely to have broken £1.8bn for the first time, with 10-year highs for fiction and non-fiction, and another record period for the children’s sector. In Ireland sales also reached a new record, with value up by 3% over 2020.The Bookseller Magazine’s survey of Christmas sales among indie bookshops reported that almost 60% of participants said trade was ‘very good’ compared with 2020, with some retailers up by as much as 50%. A wider BA survey has 58% of its 228 respondents up on 2020, with an average increase of 21%.It reported some shift in buying habits, with more customer visits in 2021 than in 2020, and customers tending to shop often rather than in bulk. The BA reports that 47% of its contingent saw footfall rise a little or a lot, albeit with town centres more subdued. Repeat customers did the business for many, with wider support among the community seen as a vital ingredient.
Sally Randell has been reading The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Maja Lunde is a well respected children/ young adult novelist in Norway, and this is her debut into adult fiction and the first of a trilogy of climate change novels. The novel explores our relationship to nature through the bees and imagines climate catastrophe through their species extinction. Perhaps it’s her background in writing children/ young adult novels that has helped her write a story that, whilst it explores ecological disaster/species extinction, is also an immersive read about parents and children, in which we instantly become absorbed with/ invested in the three key characters and their intimate family relationships. She creates characters we feel much compassion for, even for the ones whose behaviour towards their children we may despise.The novel moves back and forth between three storylines – William, a biologist in mid 1800s, in England, working to invent a new type of beehive, George a beekeeper in the Midwest in USA in 2007, during the start of colony collapse disorder, and – the most captivating character and storyline – Tao, in China, 2098, where bees are extinct, crops are depleted, and humans have to labour painstakingly to hand paint pollen on the fruit trees. Tao’s search to find out what has happened to her young son in this dystopian future is haunting. The lives of the characters are mirrored in the life of the bee colony, and the novel explores where self-interest sits with collective interest. In their own ways all three characters fiercely believe they know how whats best for their children’s futures and all have their beliefs tested. These three very different narratives across different continents and timespans gradually and intricately come together through the history of the bees, and the novel ends on a welcome note of hope

Terry Squires introduces us to Gabriel Marquez.Del Amor y Otros Demonios (Love and other demons) Gabriel Marquez“In the third niche of the high altar, next to the gospel, there was the notice…Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles. Spread out on the floor, her splendid tresses measured twenty two metres and eleven centimetres.” Thus, in October 1949 a young Gabriel Garcia Marquez reported on the emptying of the funerary crypts of the ancient convent of Santa Clara in Cartagena. This experience must have resonated deeply for him, fuelling i1994: his brilliant, enigmatic story: Of Love and other Demons.

Years ago, as an entrée to the Spanish language I rashly tackled this novel rather than sensibly learning from textbooks. It was a slog, as I underlined every third word and referred it to a dictionary. Now, more conversant with the language, I revisited the novel as a holiday read in Colombia and found it richly evocative as Garcia Marquez paints scenes and constructs characters from the colonial era with adept and focussed skill.

Sierva Maria de Todos Los Angeles is the twelve-year-old daughter of the Marquis and his wife Bernarda, a couple who hate each other and ignore the child and her needs. Raised by the slaves, the girl becomes familiar with their customs and fluent in multiple African languages. Her hair is never cut, having been promised to the saints when she survived a traumatic birth. She is bitten by a rabid dog and though showing no signs of rabies, is subjected to severe “healing” methods. She is sent to the convent of Santa Clara to be exorcised by Father Cayetano, who is kind to Sierva Maria and believes she does not need to be exorcised. He falls in love with her and secretly visits her in her cell. They eat, sleep, and recite poetry together, though it appears they are not sexually involved. However, having failed to exorcise her, Cayetano is sent away to a leper hospital., while Sierva Maria is summoned to be exorcised after having her hair cut.

Gabo, Gabriel Marquez, has a filmic style, conjuring evocative scenes with a few deft phrases that transcend time and place. His description of the auction of the beautiful Abyssinian slave girl for her weight in gold is an example. Another is of “Abrenuncio, the most notable and controversial doctor in the city, identical to the King of Clubs. He wore a sombrero with big wings for the sun, riding boots and the black cape of a lettered liberal.” Gabo’s work uses counterpoise and opposition, as with the Marquis and his wife Bernarda whose mutual loathing turns to shared pity for their suffering child. The Archbishop’s support for his protégé Cayetano turns to rejection at his failure to exorcise Sierva Maria’s ‘demons.’ A key exchange is the dialectic debate between Abrenuncio and Cayetano on books and reason and the existence of God.For me, what carries this story along is the enigmatic feeling that we cannot be totally sure about Sierva Maria. Is she is possessed, or in a rabid state, or simply tortured by neglect and abuse? Hints of magic realism occur: the elements and animals and birds behave strangely. Are these just natural events that are conflated and linked by superstitious minds, or are they sinister conjurations of demons?

And what I’ve been reading…The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley
I’m often a bit behind myself, which might account for why I’m reading this book thirty years after everyone else! I was interested in Wesley’s take on the Home Front atmosphere of World War 2 and also how an older writer, who had actually lived through the period, managed to break through and provide such a good read for subsequent generations. The book did not disappoint. It was sharply written, witty and cracked along at an agreeable pace. The ins and outs of the relationships, the peculiar love triangles, the sense of panic and grabbing what you could all seemed feasible to me in a time of crisis and war. Even the blimpish one-legged World War 1veteran, Richard, with his grumbles and penchant for stroking young girls, was not totally unlikeable.Mr Wilder & me by Jonathon CoeNot one of Coe’s best books I’d say. Though highly readable and interesting for the insights it gives into the film director’s life and the early days of Hollywood, the book lacks the urgency of a story which just had to be written. I wouldn’t dismiss it though, I’d just reach for one of his other books first. Coe is a fine writer.
So, folks, that’s it for another month. Keep well. Enjoy the longer, lighter evenings creeping in and the spring flowers making an appearance.
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