29 July 2009

Two new books to consider!

Gearing up for inventory at the bookstore, both the intense behind-the-scenes prep work and the actual counting of every item for sale in the store, has taken up a lot of my time this month. So I'm abandoning the Anguilla trip report for now and telling y'all about a couple of new books that are just published that I hope will enjoy a wide readership.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK IN THE WORLD by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a new paperback original from Europa Editions, the good folks who brought us The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I don't read very much short fiction, as I prefer to really sink my teeth into a book and get absorbed by its world. However, if all short stories were as good as this collection, I would have to change my reading habits. These stories are exquisite, elegant, and enchanting--perfect little gems of literature that explore the nature of happiness across age, gender, and class boundaries. Each story left me with a sigh of satisfaction and contenment.

LABOR DAY by Joyce Maynard. Imagine, if you will, the loneliness and alienation of an unconventional and withdrawn single mother, and then picture her 13 year-old son who will try anything to make her smile. Over the course of a holiday weekend their lives change irrevocably when they meet an injured man who turns out to be an escaped convict. Part coming-of-age, part love story, this moving tale is about learning how to trust yourself and others and about the devastating consequences even the most seemingly harmless actions can have. This title was selected as the top August publication by independent bookstores across America and featured in the most recent IndieNext List.

09 July 2009

Anguilla Day 1

View from breakfast table at Straw Hat

Pic of me on balcony at Meads Bay

Despite our best intentions to arise early and walk the beach, we dozed until 8:30 am. Instead of nibbling on the provisions we bought the night before, we opted to walk up to Straw Hat at Frangipani to break our fast. Our first mistake was to walk along the road, which was hot and stifling with very little breeze, punctuated occasionally by the odors of decay and sewage (presumably coming from the saltpond, but I could be wrong). Ugh!
Straw Hat was cool and inviting, though, and we enjoyed our two Continental breakfasts (some of the best croissants I’ve ever eaten), with coffee, juice, and a side order of bacon and fruit. Breakfast came to US $30 and we lingered there until 9:45, just enjoying the view and the quiet of each other’s company.

We walked back to Carimar via the beach and claimed two chairs & umbrellas for the rest of the day. I must say that at first I was a little dismayed to see twenty chairs & umbrellas set up there—I think staff must put out one set for every guest—as we had just come from Grenada where the most crowded beach had half a dozen people on it. Also, it looked like guests here had no problem playing the “grab & go” game, where they put a towel down to claim the best chair locations early in the day, and may or may not return before sunset to actually use them. That’s one reason I really dislike resorts and I didn’t like the way things were beginning to pan out. After all, I had purposely chosen Anguilla as being a place where we could get away from it all, and Carimar as being an unprentious place on quiet Meads Bay (as opposed to Shoal Bay East) where we could live the dream, as least for a week.

Still, it’s hard to argue with the beauty that is Meads Bay—a long swathe of nearly-white sand with some of the most gorgeous turquoise water I’ve ever seen. The water gets surprisingly deep quite quickly and I was just floating about in the gentle surf when a nice sized yacht pulled up to anchor for the day. About a dozen or so preteen girls and a handful of adults came ashore and at first it was fun just to watch them—we imagined that some very lucky girl had had a birthday and was able to invite 11 other very lucky girls to celebrate with her on a yacht in Anguilla. My amused tolerance, however, was tried when the yacht began blasting music from its prodigious speakers so that the folks on shore wouldn’t be bereft of their techno-pop for a few hours. How tragic that would have been for them. I’m not sure if it was a case of just being oblivious (since they were, in fact, preteens) or unspeakably rude. Then things really started getting busy when they started water skiing and tube rides up and down the length of Meads Bay. Honestly, I must not have done enough research because I didn’t think motorized sports were allowed on this beach, or at least that close to shore. If we had been in St. Maarten or Aruba I wouldn’t have batted an eye, but I confess I was a little resentful with all of the hullabaloo. I’m probably coming across as a total grump-ass, and I realized it, too. So I tried to hunker down with my very good book and enjoy the day for what it was—a thing of beauty and relaxation. So what if I was unable to swim more than 10 meters off shore for fear of being run over by a water skier or the boat pulling her?

Around 3:30 we headed back to the room to clean up for an excursion into town to procure those items that we couldn’t get at Christine’s. we stopped at the open air market to buy produce and then went to three other stores to find some natural peanut butter (if it’s for sale anywhere on Anguilla, we sure missed it) and some gin that was neither Gordon’s, Bombay, nor swill. Heading back to Carimar we poked down a sideroad or two to explore a bit and then we settled in once more with our books and a cocktail before dinner.

LaVerne’s eyes lit up when we told her we were considering E’s Oven for dinner that night, and she enthusiastically made reservations for us. What can I say, other than it was fantastic? We had three appetizers, one entrée, and three cocktails. DH ordered the grilled shrimp with mango and then the coconut encrusted grouper, while I started with the vegetable napoleon and finished with the crayfish. The amuse-bouche was a tender morsel of just-seared grouper. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our meals and our server was so charming and funny. It was the perfect way to end our day.

Started and finished J. Maarten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals, based on the recommendation of a book soulmate over on the Anguilla Trip Advisor forum. It was just wonderful and my only regret is that I didn’t also bring Troost’s second book on the trip. I love reading travelogues when I’m on vacation, and this one was very funny indeed. I liked him almost as much as I like Bill Bryson.

Rainbow over Meads Bay

06 July 2009

Goodbye, Grenada. Hello, Anguilla!

Our first Anguillian sunset

DH on balcony at Carimar.

Grounds at Carimar

Grenada Day Five:

Breakfast in the villa again, this time a light one in preparation for lunch out. So we had toast, coffee, and fruit and spend the morning swimming and reading at the villa. Around noon we moseyed down to Spice Island Beach Resort, which is quite possibly our favorite place to lunch on the island. We got there a little early so we sat at the bar to sip a couple of Tings until they were seating. I had a chicken dish served with rice & peas and DH had the octopus and squid salad. Mine was very good, his was marvelous. We shared some sorbet. Two Tings, a gin & tonic, a frozen fruit punch, plus tax & tip brought our total to about US $55.

We had originally planned to go back to Morne Rouge for the afternoon but decided that it wouldn’t be worth it to rent beach chairs for just two and a half hours. So we headed back to Turtleback instead. I swear, we usually get out and explore a LOT more than we did on this trip, but this time the siren call of the villa was just too strong for us to resist. We were acutely aware that this was our last day in Grenada, and despite having our time in Anguilla to look forward to, we were sad about leaving. Because of the awful schedule from American Eagle, 6 nights in Grenada is really only 5 days and in retrospect I should have just planned a longer stay there.

That night we gussied up a bit and headed to the Aquarium for dinner. Service was just lovely, the setting is beautiful, and the food was excellent. For only the second time on the island I ordered an entrée instead of 1-2 appetizers and it was delicious—mahi mahi prepared with garlic & butter and served with a variety of veggies. DH started with the crab claws and then moved to the seared tuna, both appetizers. We shared a wonderful brandied banana crepe for dessert. Three cocktails and one fizzy water brought the total to EC $191.

This trip we noticed that overall, ordering 1-2 appetizers per person is a more economical way to dine out, with the bonus of having just the right amount of food. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve strained to consume larger entrée portions in the past and came away from the table feeling bloated and heavy. Yeah, I know. You’d think it would be common sense not to overeat, but it’s a constant struggle, I’m afraid.

Started and nearly finished Beowulf on the Beach.

Travel Day 2: Grenada to Anguilla

We had to ask the villa owners for a wake up call because there is no alarm clock in the villa—unfortunately, because of the awful American Eagle timetable, this meant that Sharon had to wake up at 4:45 a.m. just so she could wake us up. But when your flight is at 6:45, what are you gonna do?

Our flight left Grenada on time, leaving us with about 3.5 hours in SJU to cool our heels. The food situation has only slightly improved with the addition of a Cinnabon. So we settled in to share a pecan roll and then alternately read or watched folks come & go in the terminal.

Our flight to Anguilla was delayed by over an hour, so we grabbed a personal pan pizza from Domino’s to share before the flight. Once we were in the air, minor disaster struck. An old man in the row across from us passed out and had to be administered oxygen immediately. Apparently he was diabetic and had very low blood sugar and the flight attendants made a panicked inquiry for a doctor or nurse on board, but eventually he came to. Fortunately he was recovered sufficiently to leave the airplane under his own steam by the time we landed.

We rented a car from Avis online and requested picking the car up at the airport, but when our confirmation came back by email there was no mention that we’d have to take a taxi to the car rental facility. So US $20 poorer (!), we struck out on our own in a new looking Hyundai. At the car rental place we were given a map that reminded us of our time on Vieques: in the upper corner it read, “Not to be used for navigational purposes.” Thus, between the map and the lack of street signs we took two wrong turns finding our way to Carimar. Still, it was fun getting the scenic tour of the island, and almost 12 hours exactly from the time we woke up that morning, we found ourselves at Carimar to check in.

The two LaVernes at check in couldn’t have been more warm or welcoming and soon we were settled into #603, an upper beachfront unit. It was open and airy and larger than it looked online. They considerately start you out with one large bottle water, two cans of Coca Cola, and a small bottle of rum. We couldn’t have been more pleased, especially knowing that our rooms were larger, closer to the beach, and about half the cost of those at the neighboring Malliouhana.

For dinner that night we made our way to B&D’s BBQ where we gorged ourselves on ribs, chicken, slaw, fries, and rice & peas. One beer, one water, and one Ting brought the total to US $24, not including tip. It was a real treat and one of our favorite ways to dine—food was being prepared at someone’s home, with a few tables & chairs set up around the food. Grab your beverages from the cooler, make small talk with the local folks who’ve come for takeaway, and bliss out to our first meal in Anguilla. We made a brief stop at Christine’s for a couple of provisions and even made it back to Carimar to watch our first Anguillian sunset. It was rather subdued but we were thrilled nonetheless to be able to watch it from our balcony with cocktails in hand.

I started and finished Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, which was made into the film the world knows as Slumdog Millionaire, which I quite enjoyed. Though the intricacies of the book’s plot were vastly different from the movie’s, I was happy to note that the spirit of the book was preserved in the film.

View of B&D's BBQ from across the street. We missed dining next to Mr. Ford and Ms. FLockhart by exactly one week, apparently. DH was disappointed, as he had met Mr. Ford at one of his gallery shows in LA a number of years ago, and would have liked to see him again.

Good--you can't tell how much my mouth is watering while I'm waiting for the big ol' platter of food!

02 July 2009

Ahhh, Grenada!

Sweet pooch at La Sagesse

Beautiful, beautiful La Sagesse

Possibly my favorite place in the world.

Grenada Day 3:
We made our way to La Sagesse this morning after having breakfast at the villa. We simply love that place—its seclusion, lushness, its dogs, its waves, its horizon. The staff there is always warm & friendly and the food and rum punches are good. We rented two beach chairs for the day for EC$20 and lunch at the restaurant. One hamburger, one fish burger, two soft drinks, one rum punch and one smoothie came to about EC $120, including tax and tip.

It looked like the hotel had about 5 rooms occupied and there was one other couple besides us who were visiting for the day. The one drawback to this visit was the bug activity. Luckily we had packed our Badger Bug Balm in the beach bag, so after the first couple of nibbles we sprang into action and were thereafter just fine. But woe betide the people there who didn’t have any bug repellant!

That night we dined at Red Crab to make it easy on the driver (me!) after a couple of harrowing close calls on the way back from La Sagesse. I was constantly reminded of a newspaper article I’d read two years when last in Grenada that was lamenting the “vehicular audacity” of its younger drivers. Vehicular audacity, indeed! We always give the Red Crab a try when we’re on the island, partly because of its convenience to our villa and partly because it continues to get raves from other people, and this was the first time where the experience wasn’t disappointing. We shared several appetizers between us: dozen snails, lambi cocktail, shrimp crepe, and a green salad. Meringue Nest (meringue, fruit, ice cream, and a fruity coulis) and three cocktails rounded out our meal.

Today I started and finished Brian Morton’s novel, Starting Out in the Evening.
Grenada Day Four:

We cooked a big breakfast at “home” this morning—coffee, two kinds of juice, fruit, toast, eggs, and bacon. After a leisurely cleanup and dip in the pool we packed our bag and drove down to the Spice Island Craft Centre to do a spot of shopping. We tried to spread our custom around to as many booths as possible—two sarongs, one t shirt, some spices, a necklace, and a bottle of vanilla. From there we made our way to Morne Rouge where we rented two beach chairs for EC$25 and claimed a spot with lots of shade under a huge sea grape tree. It was a pretty quiet beach, very calm, gorgeous water and white sand. It may now be my second favorite beach on the island and one of my favorites in the Caribbean.

We stayed there until about 4:30 and then headed back to the villa to freshen up and change for dinner. Because the sky looked so clear I wanted to head over to Grand Anse to catch the sunset before going for dinner. We pulled into the little park next to the Allamanda to catch the last few minutes before sundown.

Ahh, the piece de resistance: Boots! We’d put off having dinner here because we wanted to end our last two evening meals with a bang. The 5-course prix fixe has increased to EC$75 but is still a wonderful value. The lovely Ruby greeted us and remembered us from our previous visits and welcomed us back to dine. We started with callaloo soup, followed by a sea egg roll, then a green salad. I ordered the stewed chicken that was fantastic, but the grilled lambi that DH ordered was simply out of this world. It was grilled whole like a steak and then brushed in a sauce that was similar to a BBQ sauce. It was as tender as sea scallop and it gave me food envy. Best lambi either of us has ever eaten, hand to God. Dessert was nutmeg ice cream, sweet potato pudding, and a little pineapple.

At dinner there was one other couple from the US staying at La Luna, coincidentally folks I had chatted with on the Fodor’s Caribbean forum before their visit. They seemed to be having a good time on their first visit to Grenada.

I love Boots’ Cuisine. It’s a wonderful experience from start to finish. I don’t think any visit of ours will ever be complete without a visit there, and I would go so far to say that I don’t thing any traveler’s visit to Grenada would be complete without a visit there. With the exception of Fish Friday, all of our best food memories are from Boots—both of the food itself and of our conversations with the owners.

NB: Lest you think that I’m heaping praise indiscriminately , in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that as much as I love the food at Boots, the allure of the drinks is sadly lost on me. Neither the widely acclaimed Big Daddy Special nor the rum punch is my cup of tea.

Started but didn’t finish Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us. Good book but it reads at a discernibly slower pace than the fiction I’ve read so far.

The lovely beach of Morne Rouge

Self portrait on Morne Rouge

Don't you just love this juxtaposition?