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Chasing the light in St Lucia
“To set out for rehearsals in that quivering quarter-hour is to engage conclusions, not beginnings, for one walks past the gilded hallucinations of poverty with a corrupt resignation touched by details, as if the destitute, in their orange-tinted back yards, under their dusty trees, or climbing to their favelas, were all natural scene designers and poverty were not a condition but an art. Deprivation is made lyrical, and twilight, with the patience of alchemy, almost transmutes despair into virtue. In the tropics nothing is lovelier than the allotments of the poor, no theatre is as vivid, voluble, and cheap.”
—Derek Walcott, What the Twilight Says: Essays
I’ve been in St Lucia, the loveliest island in the Caribbean, this past week, feeling suspended in time. It would be so easy to think like a tourist here, I thought, in those five days watching an artist at his easel at the shore. The artist was chasing skylight, from morning to dusk. I could see that even as he captured a peacock blue sea on his canvas, it could treacherously turn a mangy grey. He was chasing rainbows.
He was chasing the arc of the wave, its eternal rhythm, its froth, its foam, and its relentless collision with rocks. So all his watercolours were hung with a sadness, something dark.
It was so easy to be a tourist here, to say “wow” to the long shadows dappled through heavy trees in the morning. To feel disbelief upon climbing up its Pitons, to find yourself in a cool churning mist that for an instant banished the tropics and transported you to the Himalayas. To feel about in your cluttered, bright bag for the camera, eyes peeled at the surprise of the Atlantic Ocean, its lurid sunset palette (even the most vulgar of women wouldn’t mix colours like these in a dress) burnt orange, shocking pink.
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