Under The Sea Grape Tree
Under The Sea Grape Tree
by: Will Johnson
It seems like yesterday when I would be sitting under the sea grape tree reflecting on
A young teenager just finished with high school on Curacao and holding down a job in
It was not quiet meditation mind you. The future looked bleak and it required a lot of
imagination to think positive.
How the world has changed since then. Just like Jean Rhys on her only return to her
native Dominica in “I lived here once”, I too have the same feeling when I try to retrieve
that once secluded and quiet spot on the Great Bay.
The Daily Herald seems to think that I am back under the sea grape tree and that I now
have enough time for a column.
When I sat under the sea grape tree I used to write a column “News & Views” for the
Windwards Islands Opinion of my friend the late Joseph H.Lake Sr.
My calling card which proclaimed that I was a columnist was ridiculed by all as a
misspelling. Of course being always dressed like Fidel one had to wonder indeed if I had
misspelled the word. The wording of this card was used against me by the Democrat
Party in the l969 elections when I was opposing them for the Senators seat of the
Windward Islands. Various speakers on the Democrat party podium got very emotional
about the various services offered on my card. Among them “uprisings quelled,
governments overthrown, governments run, revolutions organized and even orgies
organized. And me! Well I did not even know what an orgy was. And still don’t.
Anyway the Democrat Party obviously felt that I was offering services which had led to
the May 30th, l969 uprising on Curacao which was cause for the election in the first
Some people still question whether or not I have strayed from my orginal beliefs and
especially get upset when I give a list of my third world heroes.Ayatollah Khomeni and
Fidel are not easy to digest for some folks.
Anyway The Herald has asked me ( at least Wim Hart has done so) to contribute a
column to people I have known in my long political career.
I have been considering it. I am sure there are people who would like to read about the
time I crashed the Lt. Governor’s car into a wall on St.John’s while serving as a host for
Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her two children, or how I introduced Forbes Burnham to Le
Pirate, or when Benny Goodman gave Busby the wrong tip and so on.
Coming from a small island like Saba and growing up in a time which seems world’s
away, I have been privileged to meet many celebrities as well as many “small people”
who also deserve to be highlighted.
I have always felt the need for a literary magazine for these islands. Not a BIM of
course. There are only so many Frank Collymore’s to go around. But I appluad the effort
of the Daily Herald’s Weekender to try and combine journalism with literature. Charles
Borromeo Hodge told me once that he had a lively correspondence with Frank from New
York. To his dismay he found out as he said to me “That Frank turned out to be a
Caucasian”.Anyway since he liked me too he must have had a soft spot for Caucasians.
The Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramirez was Vice President under the Sandanistas. He
claimed that a revolution had crossed his path and that politics had interupted his career
as a writer.
Ramirez had the following to say about literature and journalism. To the question by the
OAS Magazine, AMERICAS, “You’re a political scientist and analyst who writes for
many publications. What do you think is the connection between journalism and
“The kind of journalism that I prefer and that I like to see practiced – the journalism that
I teach my students in the journalism workshops at the Ibero American Foundation for
new journalism in Cartagena – is what is called literary journalism. It’s journalism with
the gripping style of literary writing, the kind of writing where you reel in the reader little
by little – where you set out the bait, create suspense, and keep the reader connected to
the story. Literary journalism is storytelling, stories written with literary language. It’s a
big challenge, especially when the written newspapers no longer have the capacity to
inform, to really give the news.
These days before you open the newspaper you already know everything that has
occurred, so for newspapers to be able to compete, they are going to have to get into
descriptive articles, a more in-depth recounting of the event. And they should go back to
the kind of old journalism practiced in the early twentieth century, when LA NACION in
Buenos Aires used to devote an entire article to Reuben Dario that started on the front
page. That’s the journalism I aspire to.”
I will refrain from my old style journalism though. A New York newspaper after
reading the Saba Herald questioned the authorities as to how I could be walking around
free. That sort of style is reserved for other papers, not for literary journalism which I
now advocate and aspire to. That syle of journalism will be dealt with in Saba News
People I would like to inform readers about vary from Stella SloterdijkRichardson, who wrote the most wonderful poem ever written about Saba,to the famous
and infamous people I have met. From Fidel Castro to David Frederick, and from the
fisherman on his lonely craft to the preacher on his high pulpit.
I will try from time to time to educate our people to look out so they can move up. I
want to share the joys of reading and pass on information to our young people and hope
that something I write can serve to educate them to look at life from a different
perspective. To be realistic and as Sergio Ramirez says: “Societies don’t change because
of a single administration during a period of five or six years. They change little by little
in a process of accumulation. Change happens when society decides to take ownership of
a single project and move it forward with various nuances until it’s consolidated.”
The single most important project of our times is that the youth, the custodians of our
future, need real life examples of local pioneers who did what seemed the impossible. I
want to highlight some of those native peoples so that our young people can look to their
lives for guidance.
Life has changed. I am no longer under the sea grape tree looking out to the future.
High on the hill looking back on the past is where I am at now. Pablo Neruda, (whose
former home, now a museum, I have visited in Valparaiso, Chile) in ” A Dream of
Trains”, best describes where I am at now, in my final stage of reflection and
“I was alone in the solitary train,
but not only was I alone –
a host of solitudes were gathered
around the hope of the journey,
like peasants on the platforms.
And I, in the train, like stale smoke,
with so many shiftless souls,
burdened by so many deaths,
felt myself on a journey
in which nothing was moving
but my exhausted heart.”