Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Loquat Tree, Part One

The view from Casa Verde

There are Loquat trees all over Bermuda and at a certain time of year they are laden with their fig sized fruit which is the color of an unripe mango. A loquat’s outer skin is not unlike peach skin, it is velvety and the slightly dry meat is spare and it surrounds a pit that seems too large for itself. During this Time of the Loquat, it is common to find groups of school children standing on the side of the various narrow Bermuda roads -- their navy smock-like uniforms slightly askew, their white knee socks making them appear like little birds - picking and eating the sun-colored fruits. School bags filled with homework assignments are piled and forgotten on the ground as the children stand on tip-toes to reach the fruit. They cock their bright heads and eat loquat after loquat until you imagine they are full and slightly sick and maybe even high on the sugar of the strong little fruit. Seeing them hoard about the sweet fruit trees reminded me of sucking on honeysuckle stems with my friends in the early summer days in Connecticut. And then the Time of the Loquat is over, probably just when everybody on the island has had their fill of the free sunny gift.

Casa Verde was the name of our house in Bermuda. Almost every house in Bermuda had a name -- the names could be nautical, botanical, something that evoked where the house was located on the island, whimsical names that said something of the owner’s personality or where they came from...names like Cat’s Pool, Hibiscus Hill, The Long Bird, Frangipani Cottage, Sea Breeze, Shady Palmetto, Kiscadee Cabana, Humdinger, Turtle Nest, Peppercorn Farm, Manchester Manor, Palm Grove, Hurricane Garden, Little Field, Salty Air, Lobster Lair. In our case, the house was mint green, and our Portuguese landlord simply called the house what it was: Casa Verde.

Py found the house with the help of an agent who worked for Gold Finger -- it was the perfect spot for us. Casa Verde was one of a handful of houses on Lolly’s Well Road, one of the last rural neighborhoods on the island. The road wound up from Harrington Sound and was adjacent to the highest point on the island, Watch Hill. There were little farm fields all along the road - one-acre patches that rotated with crops such as broccoli, small red potatoes, carrots, onions, and fennel. Bermuda carrots are the sweetest, fattest, shortest carrots you have ever had -- everyone raves about the Bermuda Onion, which resembles a leek, though much lovelier than any leek I ever knew. But it was the Bermuda Carrots that I would come to miss when we moved back to the States. The fields were maintained by a Portuguese man who visited occasionally to plant and harvest.

The first time I saw my neighbors Malcolm and Riddles they were walking along the edge of the broccoli patch in front of my house. Malcolm was repeatedly throwing a tennis ball for Riddles and as she repeatedly chased it up the road, he made his way into the patch and proceeded to take two bunches of broccoli. Then he and his fine fast lurcher disappeared up the narrow road, he with his green spoils and she with her well-worn tennis ball. I thought it quite brash to Night Farm in the mid-afternoon. I had only lived on the island for a couple of weeks, but I already knew that Night Farming , the stealing of produce and flowers from fields, was common and considered a punishable offense.

Lolly’s Well Road was bucolic with its few houses and its throng of Bermuda cedars, who’s needles spoke with the sea wind and were akin to horse tail. The road may have started way down the hill at ever-rushing Harrington Sound Road, but it ended approximately a mile away, on the other side of the hill with a small dairy farm, which was home to a modest gathering of holsteins, and finally came to intersect with South Shore Road. Lolly’s Well was home to a great population of feral chickens and they would leave their eggs in the same places every day...on top of limestone garden walls and tucked under frangipani and palmettos. But Lolly’s Well was defined by a feature greater than its rare rural nature and its high elevation. The Quarry. The Quarry was a grand hole in the ground that had been exhausted of its limestone for years, yet it was still a center of hyper mechanical activity five days a week. The Quarry teemed with work. Trucks coming and going all day. There was a working garage down in hole that repaired anything from dump trucks to motorbikes to mini cars. The Quarry even had a small training track for trotting ponies tucked into one corner of it. The ponies and their driver would briskly trot up the hill from a stable down on the South Shore and they would blast around the sandy track to prep for Saturday races.

Casa Verde had the mixed fortune of being built directly across the road from The Quarry -- and so day after day, from sun-up to sun-down, we were bombarded by the constant roar of The Rock Crusher. It was down there, like Godzilla, turning truckloads of demolition materials into fine dust. You see old houses and buildings never actually died in Bermuda, they would be recycled. Limestone was a precious commodity and it would return to The Quarry, where it had originally been mined, to begin over again, and take on a new life.

When Py first went to visit the house, he stood in the lovely green front lawn that looked over the little farm field and then stretched out to the road where the cedars created a thin veil that barely concealed the soaring pinkish white walls on the far side of The Quarry. As he stood there with Kim, the sharply dressed real estate girl with the long tan legs and the annoying habit of calling him Bruce, even though his name was not Bruce, and she would apologize and then after a while, he stopped correcting her, and he just became Bruce to her, he heard the deafening teeth rattling Rock Crusher doing its daily bid. “Does it go on like that all day?” he asked her.

“Yes, Bruce, yes it does. And that’s why this house, which would normally go for $10,000 a month because of its quality and size is only going for $5,000 a month. A real bargain!” Her earrings sparkled in the high Bermuda sun and she probably tapped her pointy high-heeled toe while she waited for Bruce to decide.

As Py tried to reconcile this bargain in his head, he looked out to the West, which offered up an astonishing view of the North Shore. The sun would set there every night he thought. And a sail boat drifted like a toy in the distance. Later, we would see Cruise Ships lumber by, so ridiculously big that their being afloat seemed like some trick of the light. The daily ferries would scoot by every day such that you could set your watch by them. It was this view, and the seeming loneliness of the road, combined with the willingness of the landlord to let us bring our 95 pound hound dog and two weird old cats along that sealed the deal.

“We’ll take it.”

“You won’t be sorry Bruce.”

1 comment:

mutt pretty said...

How well i remember sucking on honeysuckle stems, Ms. Bruce!