Letters from Hispaniola…

It looks like there is at least a small glimmer of hope in getting Trump out of the White House before 2020. At very least he likely won’t be re-elected.

Here’s hoping he gets thrown out of office if not thrown in jail.

Things have been slow down here. We found a great new cafe — it’s always been here but it’s new to us. And we may get a gig there. I’m working on it but things are going slow. I am going slow. Just haven’t been very inspired lately and been kind of dizzy-minded — out of sorts. Adrift, not making any progress but not too worried about it either.

Probably just need a break from thinking or trying.

Tomorrow we’re going on a road trip to Santiago with our friends Lisa and Tony. That ought to be a nice break and change.

The weather’s been phenomenally beautiful, and we’ve been getting some rejuvenating hikes in the mornings and afternoons.

Well, since I didn’t get this message off to you yesterday we went to Santiago today and had a nice time checking out the town and taking in the fantastically exotic Caribbean island sights along the way.

It turns out that Santiago basically has everything one could want or need. The DR has two huge shops that are very similar to Walmart — without the employee abuse. One is called Jumbo and the other is Sirena. There are also a couple of malls that have all kinds of clothes, household items, garden furniture, barbecue grills, electronic gadgetry, and all the other things that American malls have. There are also all the fast food joints and American restaurants from McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s to KFC, and TGI Fridays.

There are some really neat thatched-roof and rustic cafes all along the way. Some along the wilder sections of the roadsides and others situated inconceivably stuffed in among the other storefronts along sidewalks in the beachside towns. These very local cafes and open-air diners are a very cool aspect of the DR.

We bought a small hand cart for portaging our water and groceries, a sink drain filter and stopper, some bargain-priced tuna, a shirt for Melinda, and some popcorn for tonight’s tv session. Just a few small tidbits that we haven’t been able to find around here.

We don’t tend to need much, and the things that we do get serve practical and functional purposes.

The sun is setting, its golden-silvery glow illuminating the green-yellow palms like some kind of giant surrealistic tiki lamps. The trade winds are cool and assertively fluttering through the trees which are rustling and swaying in the breezes. The temperature is a perfectly comfortable 26°C (80°F), 74% humidity and 14 mph winds.

Various tropical birds are singing — their songs can be heard clearly above the rainlike sounds of the sizzling palms.

A freakishly large glaring red-orange sun just sank over the western horizon far to the north of the haze-flanked dark purple silhouette of Mount Isabel de Torres looming above Puerto Plata which we passed through a mere 2.5 hours ago.

Evening birds and crickets are beginning to add their voices to the shifting chorus of sounds in the winds.

It’s another incredibly beautiful and serene night. Writing can come when it comes.

Bliss rules the moment.

All Music Guide Reviewer Tim Sendra Needs a Latitude Adjustment!

Vetiver’s Complete Strangers

I think that our right honorable and official AMG music critic Tim Sendra might need a bit of a latitude adjustment on this one because I feel he’s gotten this breathtakingly grooving and relaxing mellifluous classic of an album all wrong!

Perhaps it is because I experienced Complete Strangers in the hot afternoon mellow gold of my balcony overlooking the tropical island splendor of the Dominican Republic — but I love this recording! It seems a perfectly natural progression as Complete Strangers has worked past some of the slightly more neurotic moments of The Errant Charm for an altogether smoother listen.

Acoustic guitars strum whimsically breezy jazz chords evoking achingly beautiful faraway places with rhythms reminiscent of America’s most exceptional work (“Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “Riverside…”). There are hints of Latin percussion, electric guitars waft, chiming arpeggios wavering like shimmering seas, and windswept steel guitars add an exotic seabird ambiance to the proceedings.

Far from being emotionless, Andy Cabic’s somewhere between Paul Simon and Gerry Beckley (America) vocals ideally suit the warm, laid-back lilt of the songs and recall the warm, hazy vocals of the great ’70s singer-songwriters and folk-rock bands.

Indeed, Cabic’s approach may be “drowsy,” but it’s the kind of drowsy that makes for a comfortable, pleasant listen: Adele it ain’t! Contrary to what many critics mistakenly believe — music doesn’t need to shout, scream, rage or offend to keep one engaged or to have worth.

Real music lovers have more depth and range than that, and Complete Strangers will reward listeners who are willing to give it half a chance.

Too much music these days is filled with empty plastic blips, bleeps, beeps, and spuriously over-emotional pseudo-soulful vocals.

Despite the artful use of electropop flourishes, this album has an intensely organic feel with intricately subtle grooves and alluring winsome melodies that draw the listener along on a dreamy wave of electro-folk tropical psychedelia.

In perfect harmony with the geography of the band’s home state, it’s the ideal accompaniment for any mountain or desert campfire cookout, BBQ or hanging out on a deck, balcony, poolside or beachside cocktail session.

Complete Strangers is a beautiful, memorable masterpiece of California magic by a quintessentially Californian band — one of very the best out there!

Exquisite.

Like a Personal Guided Tour of Key West Given by a Local Friend Who Knows His Stuff

Time Traveler Cover

Key West Chris Rehm is the epitome of the town which he so obviously loves and knows so well.

Rehm is a songwriter and singer of songs. On any given day or evening he can be seen somewhere around Key West performing with his partner singer-songwriter Dani Hoy in their band the Shanty Hounds.

He is an author and a bar owner. Moreover, his knowledge and love of his tropical island village are significant highlights of this highly entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking book.

Since I know him as a friend, I can detect a fair amount of him in this book and story. I can just hear Rehm himself spouting his gems of beer-enhanced wisdom, facts, figures, and tidbits of trivia and history vicariously through his characters.

As a friend, I am doubly surprised to feel that I am reading the work of a classic author and not someone I know so well. However, that is Chris’s talent.

The characters are alluring and well-developed — one gets to feel like Mark Straight, Glades, and Blackheart are friends that one has known for years.

The descriptions and informative narrative asides paint such vividly detailed and enlightening pictures that one becomes transported to the many street scenes, clubs, and sights of Key West past and present.

There is a strong sense of the effects of the passage of time and readers will wistfully imagine the lives of the hamlet’s previous inhabitants while being curious as to where the protagonist will end up next.

Where does it all lead? Who is this Arthur character and why does he know so much about time travel? How will Mark manage his temporally-challenged relationship with Glades? Rehm even draws legendary Key West resident Hemingway into the story in such a way that one can feel the great man’s presence.

As educational as it is entertaining Time Traveler is a compelling read for anyone who is curious about, has a love for or a history with Key West.

Pick up a copy and then just try to put it down!

George’s Oasis Bar – the Heart of Sosúa

George’s Oasis Bar
Casa Manana George’s Oasis Bar First Floor

A short distance up a hill southeast from the Super Pola food market in the town of Sosúa located on Hispañola’s storied and postcard-picturesque northern coast you’ll find George’s Oasis Bar – a place where his sign so aptly declares: “local people meet.”

 Catty-cornered adjacent to our newfound home in the Trade Winds apartments and on the ground floor of the Casa Mañana apartments George’s Oasis Bar is a small, unassuming open-air, sunlit, casual easy-going venue. A locale which feels much less like an impersonal bar and more like your best friend’s patio or covered porch – if that patio or porch was in the Heart of the Caribbean on an island where the air still rings with a vague, distant threat of hurricanes and is alive with ghosts of infamous pirates and shipwrecks.

 As any experienced drinker worth their weight in top-shelf sauce knows; it is in just such a bar one meets the most interesting if not entertaining people. George’s Oasis Bar features a solidly sordid and enticing cross-section and collection of, as a sign behind the bar proclaims; “schemers, dreamers, losers, boozers, misfits, and all assorted fleeing felons.” All of whom not only compose its clientele but are also entirely welcome here – so long as they can handle their alcohol and pay their tabs.

 From former truck-driving hooligans of the far-off frozen north to guitar-strummin’ tropical golf cart suicide jockeys in the Heart of the Caribbean.

 There is Ed the Canadian truck-driver, who with his sweet, fun-loving, occasionally dog-stomping (utterly unintentional by the way!) wife Dawn, are the textbook definitions of endearing, welcoming, warm, and gracious. I don’t know how many times Ed has driven the lot of us around town in his island cart, to the beach or an ever-revolving lineup of various restaurants in search of food, fun or adventure. And I’ll tell you with the sort of ultra-creative, thrill-seeking, adrenaline-junkie-like tactics the Dominicans employ when they drive one could do no better than to have a former truck-driver who has driven from Saskatoon to El Paso. Those 4 million road miles over 37 years come in more than handy in a land where traffic signs, turn signals, and driving etiquette of any kind are routinely ignored, and glowing red stop lights are a mere suggestion at intersections! Ed’s wife Dawn truly knows how to appreciate every sunset in its full tranquil sky-painting glory. One gets the sense that bathed in the aureate glow of the beach sunset she’s in the realm of spirits in silent, rapt communication with a particular angel.  

 Fittingly, owner George Knaskov is one of the most storied and fascinating denizens in his establishment. Born in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, his parents walked to Austria in 1944. From there they were relocated to Brazil in 1949 where George spent his formative years, fell in love with his adopted home, and pursued an education in engineering.

 For the next 43 years, George worked as a consulting engineer for numerous breweries traveling the world installing breweries as part of the job.

 Within a few hours, one gets the impression that nearly every expat in the area, and other bar owners, stop into George’s for ice-cold beers, wines, mixed drinks of various intoxicants blended with conversations about our fair village, local events, other towns, and regions around the island. They talk about the faraway places they called home and the people who still matter to them no matter how distant they may be. There is much discussion of the travels, adventures, mishaps, and misfortunes that defined and made them into the hapless wondrous creatures they now are at this point. Not that they won’t evolve into even more refined and improved versions of themselves – it’s just that I am very content with the versions I have met here in the now at George’s.

We are all brimming with faults and imperfections mirroring the alcoholically-enhanced libations we hoist to our life-baked hearts and parched souls. It’s our faults that most characterize us. Our faults announce most clearly and loudly proclaim who we genuinely are. It is our faults that we can never seem to leave behind no matter how hard we may try. It is our faults that give us eternal purpose in trying to overcome them and develop our characters beyond them.

 And that’s the thing; there is a continually rotating cavalcade of bars, restaurants, cafes, grills, colmados (Dominican markets that double as bars), and other similar establishments all throughout the fascinatingly warped and debauched adult wonderland of Sosúa. But there are precious few with the heart, soul, and character of George’s — the bar being an extension of the fascinating man himself.

 If you’re just looking for a drink, go anywhere. But if you’re looking for a very local experience with people who will likely become your friends,

George’s Oasis Bar is most definitely the place where local people meet.

Our Caribbean Odyssey Notes from Hispanñola Aug – Oct 2017

Our Caribbean odyssey began quite unexpectedly entirely out of the blue in June. Brian, an acquaintance from my then-recent days spent on the Trop Rock circuit, contacted me with a proposal to manage and program an FM radio station in the north coast town of Sosúa on the Island of Hispañola in the Dominican Republic. Melinda and I had been planning to make a move to Arizona or San Marcos, Mexico where we intended to work on photojournalistic blogs, travelogues, and lifestyle articles. I also had musician friends in both places and figured I would occasionally join them for some gigs to supplement our income.

We were leaning toward Arizona because I had loved living there in the past and we love the state. Then again – the call of the sea and tropics was nearly overwhelming – and the thought of living abroad had an extra appeal as America had become an unrecognizable madhouse brimming with highly divided quarrelsome bickering people and blatantly open racial tensions that recalled the pre-Civil Rights era.

It didn’t take us long to decide on making a move to the Dominican Republic. The Island’s Heart of the Caribbean proximity to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica made the choice that much more appealing.

We began the long, arduous process of preparing for the move abroad. Getting passports in order, storing our van and RV, making sure all our animals had their paperwork up to date, and sorting through towering stacks of clothes and bags full of electronics and other gear to choose less than 50 pounds of possessions with which to start a new life.

However, as our departure date drew near Brian’s schedule began to change, and his plans became more erratic to the point where I decided we needed to make arrangements to be independent of him. I started to regard Brian merely as the catalyst that set us on our path to the D.R. rather than as a legitimate employment possibility. Good thing I did, too, because he ultimately bailed out and left us stranded – if one can call being stranded in paradise stranded?

In reality, Brian’s abandonment of the masterplan was less a stranding than it was a financial inconvenience which merely required a readjustment of our budget as well as our plans.

The original plan was for us to share rent and expenses with Brian in a three-bedroom house. Sharing lodging would have brought our lease down to around $200 per month. The radio station was to be our primary source of additional income and would have made life in the D.R. much more affordable and feasible.

We had envisioned a thriving and dynamic radio station that was intended to be the voice of the community and a gathering place for the expatriate community and Dominican locals alike which we would actively serve with weather reports, local news, restaurant deals announcements, and bar reports. I had planned to have a few special programs as well and feature some local Spanish-speaking local DJs alongside English-speaking DJs for bilingual broadcasts. I also reckoned that as the only English broadcast we would become an essential resource for all prospective international tourists through our Internet simulcast as well as all the expatriates living in the country by way of our FM broadcast carried nationally via the state’s radio relays. There was also the added possibility of tie-ins with the cruise ships.

The music program was to feature primarily fresh, new artists and some tropic-friendly classics in the mix. Though my intention was to emphasize a broad spectrum of island music and rock artists whose styles evoked warm, sunny vibes, there were also a few Conch Rock artists from Key West such as Dani Hoy and Key West Chris Rehm that we’d hoped to promote to the masses of tropically-oriented tourists and tropic-zone-wandering expats whose orbits include the Dominican Republic.

Brian had also proposed that Melinda could help with and be part of his product line sales at Amazon. All such possibilities, hopes, and opportunities were dashed and lost in his departure from the plan.

It was a pretty grand vision with lots of potential but that all fell through and we were instead set adrift with no plan other than to start over in the Dominican Republic.

When Brian abandoned the project, it ended up adding an unanticipated $300 – $500 per month to our overall expenses.

That’s $300 more than we had left in our budget which had been further decreased by our van needing four new tires, alignment, and an oil change for the thousand mile journey to the airport in Miami. There was also the hotel for one night and baggage charges. Our budget was well-tapped.

I’d made a 4-day booking at the Mary Rose condo hotel on Dr. Alejo Martinez, Sosúa because Brian was supposed to arrive on Aug 15th. That soon changed to the 18th. We couldn’t afford to stay at a hotel and have money left over for a long-term rent for the rest of the month or the next month, so I made arrangements with the manager of the Mary Rose to move to long-term lodging figuring we could relocate when or if Brian finally showed up.

In the meantime, we were both writing and calling Brian to ask him what was going on. We could see on his Facebook page that he’d bought some lakeside property in Wisconsin and was building a cabin there.

Brian’s last message was that he’d be down around the 28th — and that was the last we heard from him. We tried to find his Tiki Island Radio bar or Gordito’s restaurant, and neither any longer existed. There were just empty spaces where the bar and restaurant had very previously been. Further investigation into the matter with newly-acquired local friends revealed that there was no connection whatsoever between Brian and Gordito’s either. It didn’t look like Brian was going to be coming down. We were on our own in an entirely new land, 2000 miles away from home with no budget and no prospects for income or any local support network as would have been the case with the promised bar, restaurant, and radio station.

We would not be living the future we had been offered or were planning on — though we had planned on being independent of Brian just-in-case. And now just-in-case had become the case.

In retrospect, there were one or two conversations with Brian that had given me pause. He’d blathered on nonsensically too much a time or two and when someone does that it usually means there is some degree of deception. After that call, I began making plans to be completely independent of Brian, able to survive on our own. I’d run quick calculations and crunched some numbers and found that we could, conceivably, live a much better quality of life on the tropical island of Hispaniola for 30%-40% less than what we’d been paying to live in the flat wetlands and bayou country of Lake Charles.  

As a result, it’s taken us two months even to begin to regain our financial footing somewhat and recover slowly but not quite so surely! Our recovery has also required an assiduously unwavering focus and drive to succeed here in the Dominican Republic where it is an entirely foreign “third world” developing nation – and a Spanish-speaking one at that!

But now in the late depths of October, we can finally begin to breathe it all in, to take stock of our situation and decipher the readings on the instrument panel of our lives. We can start actually to inhale the island, its culture, vibe, and essence – we can begin to experience it in the slower tempos of island time and the ambling laidback rhythms of Dominican culture. We can now take the proper time to drink it all in; one leisurely luscious sip at a time.

For the same amount that it used to cost us to live in a small 30 foot RV in a campground with few amenities other than a very spotty WiFi, running water, and electricity — we now live in a fully-furnished third-floor apartment in a beautiful complex aptly named the Trade Winds. Each morning we awake to splendid views of lush tropical grounds, a surprisingly attractive swimming pool, laundry, Internet, cable TV, and weekly maid service. We usually share a few pre-noon rum drinks, some new Spanish words, and a couple swaying merengue grooves with her when she comes. Women carrying freshly-picked sweet ripe bananas, papayas, pineapples, and Dominican avocados — whose seeds are grander than the whole avocados we used to buy in Louisiana — deliver these local treasures every morning at the cost of $1.50 for a bunch of bananas and two abnormally large avocados. They are so fresh and tasty that one has to experience them for oneself to fully appreciate the depth and richness of their sun-drenched flavors.

Surrounded by lush, verdant, tropical tree-crested hills, ridges, and emerald gullies we are immediately reminded that we are living in the Dominican Republic on the Island of Hispaniola in the Heart of the Caribbean. Various species of Palm Trees sway in the consistently cooling breezes. The prickly warm sun shines with stark crystal clarity that lends a surreal, otherworldly quality to the air and uncannily bright, stunningly clear light.

To top it all off, we have our very own tropical open-air version of the bar in the TV series Cheers — “where everybody knows our name.” The quietly unassuming quintessential local treasure that is George’s Oasis Bar is located on the ground floor of the Casa Mañana apartment complex a very drinking-friendly one hundred feet to the southeast up the hill and across the road from our flat. Sat in the midst of what looks like a micro version of a Costa Rican jungle replete with bananas, papayas, avocado, and guava trees, bright, open-air, casual, and warmly welcoming it’s the epitome and very essence of what a neighborhood bar in the Dominican Republic should be. And, as its sign so accurately declares; George’s Oasis Bar is most definitely “a place where the locals meet.” And because of owner George’s overt hospitality, acute local knowledge, and highly-developed social networks, we were able to make a group of good friends very quickly. George was Russian-born but was a resident of Brazil for most of his life traveling the world as an engineer designing, upgrading, and building breweries the world over.

When I grow up I would like to have a job like George had.

Another sixty feet up the hill past George’s is our local colmado (mini-mart), De La Cruz, which carries a surprisingly decent variety of basic staples, canned meats, rice, beans, assorted sundries, water, ice-cream, wines, beers, and the ever-essential and thankfully ubiquitous rum.

We had initially planned to get over to Puerto Rico on the ferry and check it all out. But now, as the whole world well knows; there is no Puerto Rico – only the shell of what it once was a mere month ago – before Irma and Maria laid it flat and bare and broken. Our island was more fortunate than most of the Caribbean by far. We were also planning to head over to our nearby neighbor island Cuba as well – and that is still possible. Cuba also escaped the main wrath of the hellish winds that wander these timeless corridors of warm glowing cerulean waters and their imposing emerald specks of terra firma from June to November.

We have ridden out two historically devastating hurricanes here on this magical masterpiece of tropical geography and precipitous geological splendor. This craggy carving of wind and tide born upon warm azure seas.

Now I am ready to write about these enchanted, haunted isles and their peoples. These Caribbean regions are as exotic as can be imagined – and then some. They are as often filled with horror and chaos as they are with dreams and wonder. They are as unknowable and unknown as any place on or part of this Earth. And far more habitable and welcoming than most. There are vast, obscene riches and staggering, wretched poverties – though not of the spirit. There is as much exquisite fetid ugliness as there is a wistful unbridled beauty to be found within the island’s folds and atop the canopies of verdant golden sun-silvered treetops.

And for now, at least, these islands are home.