Apr. 28, 2004 - Issue #445: Rolling Up The Rim
3 Dollar Bill
Hummingbird HillI last traveled to Jamaica for Reggae Sunsplash back in the summer of 1991 and hung out backstage for an amazing week with the likes of Rita Marley and South African superstar Lucky Dube. But back home I told my late grandfather (a political Robin Hood from the African island of Mauritius, who flew to the West Indies in 1964 to visit future Jamaican PM Michael Manley after my family was forced into exile by their British colonial masters) that I would never return. That’s because the island nation is hands-down the most homophobic in the Caribbean. I have lost count of the “batty bwoys” and “chi chi men” lynched in Jamaica the last few years, many set afire by orthodox Boboshanti Rastas (called “Bobo Dreads”) chanting, “Fiya burn!” Still, earlier this month, I could not stay away from beautiful Jamaica, especially since I stayed in the majestic mountaintop home of my friend, Montreal radio legend Angus Mackay. His home, Hummingbird Hill, is located high above the quiet town of Oracabessa and overlooks James Bond Beach and Goldeneye (the home of Ian Fleming) and Blue Harbour (the home of Noël Coward). In neighbouring Ocho Rios are the homes of music legends Justin Hinds, Keith Richards and Burning Spear. I swore to my travel buddies Vinnie, Seb and her husband Ron that I would not flirt on this trip because I did not want to return to Canada in a coffin. In fact, the most TLC I got was swimming with an amazing 27-year-old dolphin called Cometta in Ocho Rios. And Cometta was a she, to boot! The story that dominated the news while we were there, though, happened the same day we traveled to Port Antonio to raft the Rio Grande and visit Frenchman’s Cove Beach: boatloads of Haitian refugees, following the lead of exiled Montreal-educated Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, arrived in Port Antonio, seeking a better life in a nation that’s almost as poor as Haiti. Another time, on our almost-daily trek to our secluded white-sand Reggae Beach in Oracabessa, Seb read me a story in the Daily Observer about a new Dutch ban on bestiality to protect the rights of pets and livestock. “So much for the argument that same-sex marriage will lead to the legalization of bestiality,” she quipped. The dailies also went nuts over Jamaican reggae superstar Buju Banton, who was fined $9,000 (JA) April 5 for possession and cultivation of ganja. Banton complained his sentence was excessive but it was hard to muster any sympathy for Banton whose hit song “Boom Bye Bye” advocates gunning down batty boys with Uzis. (“‘Boom Bye Bye’ means judgment, do you understand?” Buju once scolded me. “Nothing don’t change because my feelings about family don’t change. And the song has a good message.”) It wasn’t always like this, at least not for ex-pats in Noël Coward’s day. Coward, the Oscar Wilde of the 20th century, built his second retreat, Firefly, just up the hill from Blue Harbour in 1948. Over the next quarter-century he entertained everybody there: Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud, Ian Fleming and Sean Connery (during the filming of Dr. No), Charlie Chaplin, “Larry” Olivier, Marlene Dietrich and Blanche Blackwell, mother of Chris Blackwell, the man who founded Island Records and made Bob Marley an international superstar. Morris Cargill, a lawyer-turned-journalist from an old and established Jamaican family who owned a nearby banana plantation, once adroitly noted, “I remember [Fleming’s wife] Annie saying to me that Ian and herself and my wife and I were the only heterosexual family in the whole area. I don’t think that was quite true but it was virtually true.... [Noël] had quite a few wild parties. The wild ones I didn’t go to.” I was thrilled to visit Firefly, which is almost as beautiful a home as Hummingbird Hill. But, quite frankly, I was more thrilled when I caught a grocery boy staring at me at a grocery store in Ocho Rios. When the handsome young man walked past, he rubbed up against me. When Vinnie and I brought our grocery bags to the car in the parking lot, I told Vinnie I was going back in. “Don’t go there,” Vinnie warned me, just like he did another night in a packed outdoor dancehall when Boney M’s “Rivers of Babylon” blasted on the sound system: “Keep your arms down!” he told me as I danced up a storm. So, no, I didn’t go back inside the grocery store. But something in me wishes I had. V
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