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BOOK REVIEW: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy & The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Rachel Joyce’s The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is a beautiful book and a companion piece to the The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry. Joyce writes with an impressive economy of words, yet surprises the reader regularly with bursts of poetry as sweet as the best of impressionist paintings. However, what I most admire about Joyce’s writing is the connection she makes with the human heart.
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Last month I visited a lesser known corner of Jamaica with my wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. We flew into Montego Bay on Jamaica’s northwest coast and from there rode in a van two-and-a-half hours south to the small community of Treasure Beach. It’s a town which really has no centre, more a collection of small villages spread along the shore.
It quickly became clear this was to be no resort holiday and that was all for the best. Treasure Beach has some small guest houses, cottages, B&B’s, but nothing resembling an all-inclusive resort. Instead we rented the lower suite of a home owned by an American couple Jeff & Evelyn who were wonderfully hospitable.
Our daily routine consisted of waking up with the sun (thanks to our 15-month-old granddaughter), having coffee and fruit (the bananas and pineapple were in season and wonderful) and then walking twenty minutes down to the beach. Below is the view from our deck.
First we would pass by a dozen or so goats grazing on the hill, then pass by a pond thick with egrets, ibises and ducks, straddle along the edge of a cricket field, pet a donkey tied to a tree with a hemp rope and, five minutes later, finally join a paved road which followed close along the shore.
There is a choice of beaches. Frenchmen’s Cove (A) is the most northerly and from there one can hire a boat to take one as far as Black River or Pelican Bar. Here the beach is wide and mostly sandy and quite good for swimming.
Just south of this beach is what we took to calling Jack Spratt Beach (B) but one could easily see it as simply an extension of Frenchmen’s Cove. Here the beach extends right up to the Jack Spratt’s restaurant which is a very popular spot. The food is good, reasonably priced and there is dependable Wifi and an ATM. You would have to work very hard not to relax and unwind at Jack Spratt’s
The beach here is quite narrow in width but picturesque. The swimming is quite safe and the area marked by buoys. Not far out you encounter rocks and quite weathered coral formations. The snorkelling is surprisingly good, particularly at the north end just before Frenchmen’s Cove.
Going further south and a little more distant is Old Wharf Beach (D). There are warnings here of a strong current but again a safe area is marked off by buoys. This beach does not seem much visited by tourists and provides a little more of a private bathing experience. Walking to its most southerly end you meet some impressive sand dunes and, rounding the corner, there is a great view of the coast looking all the way Pedro Bluffs.
The last beach we visited was at Great Bay (E). It took us nearly an hour to walk there but it was worth it. It is the longest, widest and least used of the ones we visited. In many respects it is probably the best. At the far south end are fishing boats and a few small restaurants. Walking to its northern extreme you come upon many lovely coral formations and tidal pools which can serve as your personal little jacuzzi. What fun to let the ocean water stream over the lip of a coral bank and into the chest-high pool of water you’re standing in.
The best thing about our stay in Treasure Beach was simply the laid back ambience. People were friendly. Almost always locals returned our smiles and greetings. There was no evidence of the “crime scare” which the media had made so much of recently. At no time did we feel threatened or even stressed. Mind you, we were far away from Montego Bay which was said to be the centre of the troubles.
I remember speaking to a man who was the local cricket coach for the under-17 team. He spoke proudly of what he and his boys had accomplished. He emphasized the importance of the community having activities to keep young men occupied and away from the temptations of crime. He was in the business, he said, of creating community leaders.
My wife and I also attended a local church service. Here too we heard references to the crime problem in Jamaica. Even in remote Treasure Beach it is a concern, on people’s minds, a source, perhaps, of some shame.
Even so, at least in this one tiny corner of Jamaica, I sensed there was a pride among the people and the culture. I had to admire how so many had found contentment without the need for extensive material possessions. Fresh fish, lobster, and fruit were widely available. Families tended to be large and close. The climate was gorgeous. The pace of life was sane, human and life-affirming. I could easily imagine falling in love with such a place.
If you are looking for a Caribbean experience that is not resort-centred, where you can feel part of a community (admittedly only briefly and superficially), Treasure Beach might be worth exploring. It is not easy to get to which may explain how it has avoided the perils of over-development. It is a sleepy little town compared to many with a limited night life. For me, however, the“treasure” part of its name is not misplaced. From the deck of our suite I could see hummingbirds (including the amazing "doctor bird"), banana quits and anis. Here I was able to befriend all manner of goats and donkeys. The oceans waters were warm and the fish (including schools of thousands of sardines swirling around me) were a delight to the eye.
the amazing male "Doctor Bird", Jamaica's national bird
And at night—what stars! The sky here is as dark and clear as any I have known back in Canada. This was a surprise. Most tropical places I have visited suffer from very humid and murky night skies—not so in the semi-arid climate of Treasure Bay where cacti are regular sights.
Gazing at sparkling Orion straight overhead on a February night was a sight I shall indeed “treasure” for a long time.
Follow this link for my favourite Jamaica photos
Brian d'Eon, fiction writer: whose work modulates between speculative, historical and magical realism.