As many of you might know, last week Renata and I flew to Jamaica to attend the wedding ceremony of two close friends, David and Martha. It was not at all one of those “destination weddings” because Martha is from Jamaica and has family there, so it was a pretty formal occasion that warranted suits and ties in spite of 80 degree plus weather – piece of cake for me since I have attended numerous weddings in Fortaleza, which has similar climate and people do dress formally there for such events.
This was our second trip to Jamaica. Back in 2008, we took advantage of former President Bush’s tax rebate (it was a failed attempt to stimulate this country’s economy – most people used the money to pay bills). Back then we stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay and only ventured out for a day-long visit to the surrounding farms, a nearby village and a waterfall. During mealtime, the hotel offered a variety of dishes which also featured a small “local” menu that included staples like jerk chicken, curried goat, rice and peas and spicy diced potatoes (if memory serves right).
It was a delightful experience, but as with any AI resort, you don’t really get to experience the “real” country – you are pretty much shielded from the outside world save for the occasional wandering salesperson hawking sculptures, souvenirs or other goods.
This time around we stayed in New Kingston, which is basically – as I could gather from speaking with locals – the business district of Jamaica’s capital. We flew in on Thursday via Miami – where we had a lovely Asian meal at terminal D – and went straight to the Knutsford Hotel, where the ceremony would take place in two days’ time. As we left the airport, we ran into Martha, who was there to pick up two friends who were coincidentally on the same flight we had come in (I had made transportation arrangements two weeks before – yes, I am that anal when it comes to planning things).
The Knutsford is not a luxury hotel – it has amenities like cable TV, a swimming pool, a small bar and restaurant, a gym and free Wi-Fi (which I was happy to make lots of use as I followed the news back home, checked my e-mail and social media). The room is comfortable enough, but the mattresses were a bit too soft for our taste. Breakfast is included, and the menu is basic but filling – fruit, cold cuts, eggs, sausages, coffee, yogurt and juice.
As we settled into our room, Martha and her two friends arrived so we spent some time drinking Red Stripes at the hotel bar near the swimming pool. Her friends had just spent 17 hours flying from England to Miami and then into Kingston, so they were obviously tired and jet lagged, so they went straight to sleep and so the Martha, Renata and I chatted for a few more minutes and retired to our respective rooms – David was arriving the next morning on a red-eye flight, so the Martha had a very early start the next morning.
On Friday we basically had the day to ourselves – in the morning we had breakfast and then spent some time at the pool where we chatted a bit with the two English guests who were also taking advantage of the sun. When it became too hot to tan we ventured around the neighborhood and walked to The New Kingston Business Centre, which is an open-air building that has a mix of shops and offices about five minutes from our hotel. According to an article I found on the Jamaica Observer, the venue used to be a shopping mall but in 2012 it was converted into more of an office space with a few stores after some ‘anchor’ retail stores moved to different locations.
At the center there are a few shops, two restaurants specializing in local cuisine, a 24-hour gym, a barber shop and a sports bar named Cuddy’z (http://cuddyzsportsbar.com) – the rest of the space is occupied by different offices. We browsed the stores for a few minutes, bought some souvenirs and then Renata went to do her nails. I didn’t want to sit around so I went over to the bar and nursed a bottle of Red Stripe while watching a soccer game on the big screen. After she was done, we were both very hungry but the restaurants were no longer serving lunch. Luckily Cuddy’z had a nice menu so we settled there.
Cuddy’z is owned by retired cricket star Courtney Walsh, and the place is filled with memorabilia of various other sports, including baseball, football and basketball. The doors are tinted to keep the heat out, and there is the choice of sitting at the bar, booths or tables. There are large TVs everywhere showing a variety of sports – one screen was showing a documentary on the different host cities for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. We sat, ordered a round of Red Stripes and checked out the menu, which has dished named after different kind of sports maneuvers. Renata chose a fish sandwich while I went with the jerk chicken I had been dreaming about all day.
Both dishes were delicious – the chicken (served with a side salad and rice and peas) was juicy and spicy, and Renata said her fish tasted really fresh – her side of fries was, as she described, “absolutely perfect.”
Filled and satisfied, we proceeded to walk to the local supermarket (about a fifteen-minute walk on the main avenue) to get a few basic necessities. New Kingston reminded me a bit of downtown Fortaleza a few years back – the streets were crowded with people getting out of work and taking their buses home. There were many stores around, including many fast-food restaurants. There seemed to be many homeless people, and a lone saxophonist played for tips near a bank.
We reached John R. Wong supermarket quite quickly – it was a rather large place with a good variety of food – a lot of it imported from the US. We got some cold cuts, bread, fruit and of course got a good stock of beer and rum (the latter to bring home with us) and took the long walk back to the hotel. After we arrived, we stored our stuff and then worked out at the gym. Upon leaving it, we ran into the Martha and David, who had just arrived at the hotel (they had been doing some final shopping during the day). After that we retired to our rooms, ate and rested for the big wedding day.
We woke up early on Saturday and basically ate breakfast, lounged by the pool and worked out. Around noon we went to our room, ate and started getting ready for the wedding. I bought a suit especially for the occasion and then headed to David’s room to do the ‘getting ready’ pictures. I had my ukulele with me, so the mood was playful – Martha’s dad and brother were there, so as the pictures were taken we improvised around Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
Close to the time of the ceremony, it began to rain, so the idea of having it outside was immediately scrapped and everything was hastily moved to an event hall inside the hotel. Renata and I could not help but sing some of the lines of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” at that time (“It’s like rain on your wedding day”) We sat there as David spoke to the minister, who was reportedly a bit annoyed because of the delay caused by the weather.
Everyone was ready and then the wedding was under way. The music – played by a DJ – began and the bridesmaids and bride of honor walked in, and they were followed by the bride, who was wearing a beautiful off-white dress she’d purchased in New York. David was wearing a full tux (“I don’t know what I was thinking,” he commented to me when I asked him why he insisted on wearing one), and almost everyone was formally dressed (I had a suit and tie on). It was a very religious ceremony, and the minister spoke of the responsibility of marriage from a Christian point of view, which got a lot of “amen” from those present. David and Martha said their vows – it was curious to hear that she had to repeat that she would “obey” her husband – something you do not hear in American weddings anymore.
As we got ready for the cocktail hour, David told me there would – for reasons he has yet to fully disclose – be no alcohol during the reception. I looked at him with puzzlement in my eyes, since this was definitely a first for me. Since we were on hotel grounds, we simply walked over to the bar and had a few rum and cokes (Renata stuck to Red Stripe) as we waited for the reception to begin.
About an hour later, we moved to the reception room – there was an MC who led the party in a very interesting manner, cracking playful jokes and a few pranks during the party – which included the newlyweds “painting” each other with icing to look older and a make out session from the married couples in the room to “teach David and Martha” how it was done – quite different from similar parties I have attended in the US and Brazil over the years.
But seriously now – When David told me he was dating a girl who lived across the ocean, I thought it was a nutty idea – I mean, how can you really have a relationship with someone who lives and works in another continent and who probably has worked out a life for herself over there. As it turns out, I was wrong, because they found a way to work this out and thanks to their perseverance and willingness to be together is the reason we are here today.
However, David and Martha – now the real hurdle begins, because now you are one – and it must stay this way, even when you become three, four or five. There are challenges ahead, and I am sure I speak for all here today – we are all rooting for you. And I leave you with the words of Lennon and McCartney, who wrote a song about thinking about the past and the baggage we all carry. But when we find the one… nothing really matters.”
Following that, I picked up my uke and sang a slow version of “In My Life” that was somewhere between the Beatles and Keali I Reichel version. I chose the tune because I felt the lyrics were quite appropriate for the occasion. As I finished the song, I called Martha’s father to the stand, and together – plus David, Martha’s brother and the entire crowd – sang “Three Little Birds.”
We were all supposed to head to a nightclub following the reception, but everyone was so tired that we just sat by the hotel pool and chatted until it was time to go to sleep.
This was definitely an interesting trip, because for the first time we were actually exposed to the island’s culture – how they do weddings and receptions, and also we got to see the ‘real’ Jamaica – not the touristy side, but the one that the locals see every day. Also, it was a great chance to just relax and enjoy the beautiful weather after such a horrible, cold winter we went through here in New York.
Recipe: Jamaican Rice and Peas
• 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
• 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• 2 cups long-grain rice
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
• 1 cup water
• 1 cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
• 2 cups coconut milk
• 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
• 2 teaspoons dried thyme
• 1 whole Scotch bonnet chile
1 Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until they begin to brown on the edges.
2 Add the garlic and rice, stir well and cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring often.
3 Add the grated ginger, salt, water, stock and coconut milk and stir well. Add the kidney beans and sprinkle the thyme over everything. Add the whole Scotch bonnet chile (or habanero); it will season the rice much like a bay leaf would. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and cover.
4 The rice should be done in about 15-20 minutes, depending on the type of rice you are using (some long grained rice takes longer to cook). Check after 15 minutes. Once done, remove from heat and cover for 10 minutes. To serve, fluff with a fork. Sprinkle with a little lime juice if you want. Discard the chile.