~ Totally Undeserving of the James Beard Award

~ Completely Undeserving of the James Beard Award ~

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Old Man and the Sea Salt...

The old man lifted the heavy stiff sack of wet sea salt onto his shoulder as he has done countless times before; so many times they say his right shoulder is 6 centimeters lower than his left. His shirt, not yet sweat stained from the hot Caribbean sun as it was still early, has patches to repair the wear of the canvas sacks have made over time…only a few dogs were up roaming the streets while the roosters darted about announcing the beginning of a new day. The old man adjusted his straw hat and set off with the burdening sack down the well-worn path between the office and the fence to the street, ducking under the divi-divi tree he turned left into town. As he walked past the tank-like Chevy coups and pickups with all their chrome glistening in the morning sun at the dealership along Kaya Grandi, he could see the sea and he thought of his days of fishing, fishing for albacore or perhaps marlin if he was lucky, buying fresh sardines for bait, rowing out early after the morning coffee with his “amigus” or friends. He remembered working his small boat with the current and wind...he has not to worry about tides, as there are none to speak of in the Caribbean.
He remembered how he carefully set the hooks into the sardines as not to expose anything but the sweet smell of the bait, lowering down three or four at a time at different depths, he waited until the telltale bumps and tugs of the line through his brown wrinkled fingers told him one was on a line. He remembers how he could set the hook fast and was able to land the fish without much effort due to his long experience.

But now it's 1951 and those days are long gone. He sold his boat, lines, harpoon and all the tackle 12 long years ago to send his sick wife to Venezuela for a specialist, it cost all of his possessions but it did not matter to him, this was his bride, his love of his life where they built a good home and life together. He called her "mi chikitu pára" or “my little birdy”.  She never fished with him, as that was a man’s job.  She would tend to the house and had odd jobs for the tourist bureau.  They were happy how things turned out, their life, working on their dreams, their happiness. But even after selling the boat they could not afford to have both of them to go to the Venezuelan mainland, so...his little birdy went by herself by sea to the hospital. She never came back. He received word she died a week later and he had no choice but to have her body buried there on the mainland through the government program. He was sick of remorse for not going along, but what could he have done? He never talks about it and no one asks. They say that is when he turned old and wrinkled and sunken and quiet.

He arrived with his sack of salt to its destination, a local restaurant.

“Halo?...Wiki are you here?...halo?”…” mi tin bo salu komandá!” ( I have your salt order!). The local Bonaire language is papiamentu, which is a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and a bit of African, English, French and Italian tossed in.

Wiki comes from the back to receive the order and checks to make sure the crystal size is what she ordered, not too big, no chunks but flakes. Perfect for her fried plantains and kabritu (goat) stew. She pays the old man plus a 0.15 guilder tip. Perhaps he will buy a paper today with it to see the American baseball scores and maybe a beer. But at times after work from the Bonaire Salt Works, he sits across the street from the old lighthouse in Kralendijk at the pier, he sits and stares blankly into the sea for hours watching the scurrying little sandpipers with their pointed beaks probing for food along the shore, smiling, maybe a laugh…his amigus know where he is…he is with his little birdy again.

Although purely fictional I suppose this scenario could have been a reality. Since the slave days in the 1600's, sea salt has been processed on Bonaire in salt flats, now run by a giant international food conglomerate.

Huge salt pyramids on the south east edge of Bonaire taken from the Westerdam Christmas Eve 2011.