Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Kingston: land of multi-tasking

In the 90's, the sketch comedy show In Living Color  had a recurring sketch about a Jamaican family. The central premise was that they all had upwards of a dozen jobs and would loudly deride any lazy lima bean who had the nerve to only have one job.

This skit came back to me this week during a visit to Kingston. I was staying at the Eden Gardens Wellness Resort and Spa, which as the name suggests had a gym, sauna and all those other healthy things I hear exist. It was a rambling complex that eschewed room numbers for names, meaning if anyone had asked me what room I was in, my response would have been Sage. Having no room numbers to guide you makes locating your room a bit challenging so as I roamed around trying to find an herb, I instead came across a family counselor, a bridal salon, a clothing store, a nutritionist's office, 2 restaurants, a pool bar and an erotic toy shop. No, for real. It would appear that even my hotel had multiple jobs!

For those times when you just stopped by the lobby sex shop...

This theme continued to repeat itself.  My first stop (second if you count running to a supermarket to buy all the hot sauce) was the Bob Marley museum. It is located in the home that he got Chris Blackwell of Island Records to sell him in exchange for his first album.

The house can be visited via an 80 minute guided tour, where you learn a lot about both the property and the man himself.  For example, did you know that his father was a 60 year old white British naval officer who impregnated an 18 year old Jamaican girl.  Yeah, that's not skeevy.

After some historical background on Bob Marley, we were introduced to Bongo Herman, the Wailer's percussion player. He talked about their time playing together, demonstrated a couple percussion instruments- complete with audience participation- and tried in vain to sell off his collection of used books and records.  Can't just have one job.

The museum, which is Kington's top tourist attraction was pretty busy, with tour groups crowding the small house. We tried to avoid them by beginning our tour in the rear of the house, in the shot room, which got its name from a 1976 assassination attempt. In the midst of warring political factions, it was believed that Bob had chosen the side of the Prime Minister. The other side rushed his home one evening, shooting Bob in the arm and his wife, Rita, in the head. Miraculously, Rita survived because her thick dreads prevented the bullet from penetrating her skull. Just goes to show kevlar ain't got nothing on dreads. Today, you can still see two of the bullet holes in the shot room.

No recounting of the life of Bob Marley would be complete without tales of his love for the "puff puff" and to our guide's credit she mentioned it often.  My favorite story was about his next door neighbor calling the police to complain about Bob smoking under a mango tree that was right by the fence dividing the properties. The fact that no recording of this call exists is a true tragedy.  I can only imagine it going something like this:

Neighbor: Yes, I am calling to report that my neighbor is smoking weed.
Police: Uh huh, go on...
Neighbor: Uh, it's a lot of weed. It's like Bob Marley level of weed smoking.
Police: Sir, could you please get to the reason for your call.
Neighbor: The weed!! I'm calling about the weed!!And now, he is singing "Legalize it!" I'm being mocked, mon.
Neighbor: Hello?? (Dejectedly turns to his wife: "I think they hung up on me.")

But in actuality, the police did come out to the property, causing Bob to write a couple of protest songs. The reason that I loved this story was that the neighbor's family still owns the house next door. As an ode to history, the museum has designated the mango tree as a smoking zone, meaning that every other visitor to the Bob Marley Museum is now smoking the puff puff 24/7 under the most stoned mango tree in the history of mango trees.

Photography is not allowed in the house itself. The closest you can get with a camera is the famous front stoop where Bob would receive his visitors and often give interviews.

Once inside, you realize this was not merely his house. It was also his recording studio, the headquarters of his label Tuff Gong records and a temple to all things Rastafari.  Today it is a museum, active recording studio, a record shop, gift shop, radio station, restaurant and seller of a male potency potion marketed under the slogan "Get up, stand up. Stand up all the night".

Stealth selfie.
The visit to the museum culminates with a 20 minute film about his impact on the world. Even without seeing the film, I would have to agree. I remember sitting with a friend in a small bar in Coffee Bay, South Africa when he pointed out "Have you noticed that you hear Bob Marley in every country in the world?"  Some time later, as I was in Mongolia listening to "No Woman, No Cry", I was reminded of this conversation. He was right. Bob Marley has to be the most global artist there is. His music is a balm to the soul which instantly elevates the listeners' mood. Imagine how much more he could have written had he not passed at the young age of 36.

From the Marley Museum, I walked over to the Devon House. This was the home of George Stiebel, the first black millionaire in the Caribbean. I'm sure it is a lovely house only nobody really talks about it.  Mention the Devon House and people want to talk about the ice cream shop. Or the pizza place. Maybe the Grogg Shoppe restaurant. Or the Devon bakery. Or the clothing store. Or the art gallery. Perhaps the store selling essential oils. What anywhere else would be a simple museum in Jamaica becomes a veritable shopping and entertainment complex. I think I may have even seen a mortgage office on site!

I finished off my day with a visit to Usain Bolt's Tracks and Records sports bar. The menu, which is a mix of typical fried bar food and Jamaican specialties, should be called "Things Usain himself has probably never eaten" but the bar is cool and the rum punch kicking. My one complaint is that other than a small gift shop, heavy on Nike running gear. it is just what it purports to be. It is- plain and simple- a bar/ restaurant. No laundromat. No tire repair. Not even a sex toy shop. It pains me to say this, but it turns out that Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth,  is one lazy lima bean.

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