Checking It Twice: A Caribbean Christmas List

Christmas is a time for giving — yes, giving to Nola Powers. The little girl who Santa Claus forgot makes up for lost time with the Christmas list to end all Christmas lists.

Audi — the brand-new, super-sexy Audi A4 Cabriolet. A great Christmas gift — any volunteers?El Dorado 21-Year-Old — this marvellous dark-coloured rum has an ultra-smooth aftertaste and extremely well balanced flavour — you can taste both light and strong elementsHong Wing Caribbean Select Coffees — the purchase of four bags of this fine range via online retail entitles you to two bags free! www.hongwingcoffee.comKapok Hotel’s Starlight Package — a romantic dinner at Tiki Village, cocktails at Bois Cano, and a luxurious room overlooking the Queen’s Park Savannah — the perfect romantic weekend escapeKing’s Jewellery — each exquisite piece is unique; designed and crafted in-house by this family-run businessMont Blanc- the age-old tradition of creating masterpieces through great care and painstaking attention to detail has been revived. Available at StechersThe Trinidad Crowne Plaza Hotel’s special Christmas Gift Package — three days and two nights at the premier choice for the savvy traveller

A poverty-stricken childhood is one of those things that’s much funnier in retrospect than in the actual living, but what a rich vein of humour it can be. At a gathering I recently attended, a man who’d clearly missed his calling as a stand-up comic prefaced  an otherwise quite sober speech with a sequence of side-splitting jokes centred around his boyhood in the American South. Every Christmas, said the budding Bob Hope, his father used to take them on a trip to the cemetery. Why? To see where Santa Claus was buried.

Now, I’m not even going to try competing with a guy whose family’s idea of a seven-course dinner was a possum and a six-pack, but I do remember pleading with my parents — in an effort to halt the decline in gift-quality that set in once presents started coming via methods other than reindeer — to reinstate Santa. My parents didn’t buy it. (They said a 17-year-sold should know better.) And as the years have gone by — and with all due respect to my friends and family — the gifts have got worse and worse. I don’t mean to sound like an ingrate, but I can buy my own shower gel, darlings! And stationery, in this day and age? (For a notable exception to this rule, see “Fine Writing Instruments” below.)

Which is why this year I’ve decided to take the bull by the horns and make this list. To some of my poorer friends it might seem like I’m going out on a bit of a limb here and there, but I do cater for all depths of pocket, and as somebody in the Bible once said: “ask and it shall be given unto you”, or something to that effect. So, the next person who shows up on my doorstep bearing shower gel — don’t say you weren’t warned. Here goes:

 

Wheels: Top choice: the Audi A8, with the A4 Cabriolet running a close second. But I’m not picky — any high-end luxury sedan will do.

Yacht: The kind with sails, not the luxury kind. I had the pleasure of stepping aboard one of these babies during the Angostura Tobago Sail Week this year and I was hooked. Soca Sailboats is based in Trinidad and you could probably get them to custom-build one fairly easily. Since I know nothing about sailing — and since for me it’s never going to be about pulling ropes and trimming sails — I’ll need a hunky all-male crew as well.

Piece of Prime Real Estate: Preferably beachfront (any Caribbean island except Montserrat).

Spa Vacation: I was thinking one of my wealthy pals or an ensemble of my less well-heeled cohorts could spring for the vacation you all know your frazzled gal truly deserves — you know, the one which incorporates a variety of stress-busting spa therapies as well as adequate beach time and (limited) outdoor eco-type activity. Note that to achieve the right mix it may in fact need to incorporate several different islands. For instance — and not to influence you overly — LaSource in Grenada and LeSport in St Lucia, being sister properties, should be able to throw together a sweet little package. Then, since I’ll already be in St Lucia, you could probably round it off with a few days at Anse Chastenet’s Kai Belté spa. A suitable alternative would be Jamaica, starting, say, at Strawberry Hill, followed by a stint at the Grand Lido Sans Souci and a weekend at The Caves in Negril (NB: remember to ask the Caves people if the price includes the helicopter shuttle from Kingston). Just think of how much kinder and gentler I’ll be afterwards.

Non-spa vacation: Being wrapped in seaweed and pampered and kneaded by brawny young hotties is great, but sometimes a gal just wants to lie on the beach. So I’m also going to need some down-time at a nice all-inclusive like Antigua’s Jolly Beach Resort. And since I don’t always have the time to do the airport thing, you should probably also throw in some Trinidad options: both The Kapok and Crowne Plaza have delightful packages for locals.

Golf equipment: All of my friends are playing this infernal game all of a sudden (damn you, Tiger Woods!), so my back’s against the wall. I’ll spring for the lessons — how about if you folks organise a nice set of clubs (do they make them in Titanium? If so, that would be your safest bet, I think) and a couple of junkets at some of the Caribbean’s top courses? Tobago Plantations (I could hone my skills on the 9-hole Sugar Mill Course before taking on the full 18 holes of the Plantations Course), or the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall’s White Witch (the name alone intrigues!) in Montego Bay would be among my top picks, but I wouldn’t refuse a few rounds at Sandy Lane in Barbados.

Diving lessons: I’ll need a wetsuit and gear too, and a plane ticket to a choice dive destination, plus hotel. How about Tobago? A stint with Tobago Dive Masters and a few days at Blue Waters Inn in Speyside would work.

Beverages: During the season folks do drop in and it’s most un-festive not to be able to offer them a glass of premium something or the other from the liquor cabinet. A few of you could probably put together a massive hamper containing fine Caribbean spirits. Nola’s dream basket would contain the following: 1 bottle Angostura 1824 and/or Royal Oak; 1 bottle Demerara Distillers El Dorado Millennium 25 year-old Special Reserve; 1 bottle El Dorado 15 year-old Reserve; 1 bottle Rhum Clément from Martinique; 1 bottle La Grenade liqueur from Grenada; 1 bottle Wild Sint Maarten Guavaberry Island Folk Liqueur; a selection of premium single malt whiskies and fine wines; 2 bottles each premium gin, vodka, vermouth. With my hectic schedule I never have time to make ponche-à-crème, so why not throw in a few bottles of Rum Cream as well? Angostura and Wray & Nephew make admirable blends.

Comestibles: Friends don’t let friends drink on an empty stomach. Here are a few suggestions:

• Gift basket from Walkerswood or Busha Browne.

• Side of smoked marlin from Jamaica (does it comes in sides? If not, just get a whole fish).

• Case (large) of Guyanese prawns.

• La Grenade nutmeg syrup, jams and jellies.

• Tortuga Rum Cakes (all flavours).

• Coffee (beans, please!). Hong Wing from Trinidad is my daily staple, so make it several sacks. And a few pounds of Jamaica Blue Mountain (the pure stuff, not the blend. Tell the Japanese it’s for Nola and they’ll let you have from their stock).

• And don’t you get bored with eating in all the time during the season? That situation could be easily remedied, in my case, with a selection of restaurant gift certificates (4-star and up).

Toiletries: I take back what I said earlier about the shower gel — some of you are just never going to be able to afford anything but soap. Approved brands: Starfish Oils, Blue Mountain Aromatics, Arawak Islands, Tobago, Tobago Sensations, Ligne St Barth. Gift baskets especially welcome.

Clothing: So what if my body’s starting to look less like Britney Spears’s and more like Burning Spear’s? Nola’s going down fighting, so bring on the threads. My Trini friends, I’d like a couple of sarongs and sundresses by e.t.c., something from Meiling, the Cloth, and Claudia Pegus, and I wouldn’t be averse to having a few of Antiguan designer Noreen Phillips’s creations. And I’m sure there’re scads of lesser-known couturiers all over the Caribbean whose works will be right at home in my wardrobe. (NB My dress size will only be given out on a need-to-know basis, so drop me an e-mail if you’re serious.) Hats are all the rage again, so I’d need to have some of those as well.

Accessories: And in keeping with my motto, “accessorise or die”, I do require a selection of choice doodads to complete my new outfits. For the days I feel rootsy, a set of straw bags from Manzanare Design Solutions and calabash baubles from John-John would be good. Some jewellery by Jamaican designer Jasmine Girvan would complement my dressier outfits, as would some Guyanese gold trinkets from King’s Jewellery. Galt has some fine belts that would go nicely with my Radical Designs jeans (in fact, add those to the “Clothing” list while we’re at it). And I need to replace my leather sandals by Jamaican designer Bridgette (size 7 1/2) — get a selection of colours, I always have problems matching them. And does the Bob Marley footwear line do women’s shoes? As you know, Nola tries to support the arts wherever she can.

Art: And speaking of the arts, have you seen the walls of Nola’s living room lately? Lots of empty spaces just crying out for artwork to be hung upon them. (Consult with me first, to make sure it goes with the décor.) Some galleries to check: Trinidad — CCA7, 101 Tragarete Road, Art Creators, Gallery 1.2.3.4; Barbados — The Art Foundry, The Kirby Gallery; Jamaica — Harmony Hall, The Mutual Gallery, Gallery Pegasus.

Furniture: There’s weathered, and there’s weather-beaten: my porch furniture falls into the latter category. A set of Guyanese courbaril chairs and a nice oval table from Precision Woodworking would make a sweet replacement (remember to include lounger and umbrella). And since new stuff on the porch is just going to make the indoor furniture look frowsy, that’ll need changing too — a dining room set from Cupboard Love would be great. Liana Cane in Guyana also makes fabulous occasional pieces out of indigenous  materials, plus I think it benefits Amerindians. And I’ll need a few bibelots to scatter around too — I’m thinking along the lines of a few Swarovski crystal somethings.

Fine writing instruments: Excessive computer – and Palm Pilot -use (also need a new one of those, by the way — the Palm i705 is cute) has sent my writing to the dogs, or that’s what I think the note I scribbled to myself the other day said. I’m told a Mont Blanc fountain pen can restore one’s handwriting to penmanship-class condition: it would be nice if one of you could help me test that theory. (If not a Mont Blanc, a high-end Waterman or Lamy will do.) Don’t forget to include some quality writing paper. And ink. Mont Blanc makes watches too, by the way.

Travel: And here’s one for you, BWIA. How about a stack of travel vouchers? Or a million Frequent Flyer miles? And while you’re at it, why not throw in a lifetime subscription to Caribbean Beat, the world’s best in-flight magazine?