A Christmas 2015 Letter from Roseau Dominica

Season's Greetings to you from my home in Dominica, West Indies!

Season’s Greetings to you from my home in Dominica, West Indies!

Dear Readers of Ti Domnik Tales:

Merry Christmas from the Nature Isle!  I know it’s been a while since I have posted a note. Please accept my apologies for the delay.  I have been concentrating on preparing for an advanced level French exam here at Alliance Francaise for the past couple of months.  I only completed it just before Christmas.  You might also be curious to know that following Tropical Storm Erika and its devastating aftermath, I was not inclined to venture far from my home, for safety’s sake, as the ground was unstable and hiking trails (and roads) had to be cleared of storm debris.

However, I have recently traversed the island to spend a few wonderful

I appreciated a little 'dwon-time' in a lovely cottage opposite this one at Beau Rive, near Castle Bruce, Dominica.

I appreciated a little ‘down-time’ in a lovely cottage opposite this one at Beau Rive, near Castle Bruce, Dominica.

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This gorgeous angel adorned the top of the Christmas tree at the Beau Rive boutique hotel near Castle Bruce, Dominica.

days and nights at the charming Beau Rive boutique hotel near Castle Bruce on the east coast.   I am delighted to report that the roads are in good condition, and it was an easy journey through the mountains of the island’s interior. I will certainly be venturing further afield in the New Year, as bailey bridges have been erected across rivers where the previous structures had been washed away and most of the roads are motorable.

But life has not completely returned to normal here, as dozens of people who lost homes and properties as a result of the storm are being temporarily housed as they await new homes, which are presently being built by the Government of Dominica in safer areas.  Repairs to infrastructure are ongoing, and it is possible to completely enjoy the offerings of the Nature Island.  However,  it is important to remember that the destructive effects of global warming/climate change are leaving their marks, as evidenced in vulnerable countries and small island states such as Dominica.

This spectacular ocean view and teh crashing waves in Richmond provided the perfect back-drop for my year-end contemplation.

This spectacular ocean view and the crashing waves in Richmond Bay below Beau Rive provided the perfect back-drop for my year-end contemplation.

My recent break at Beau Rive was, in effect, a mini-retreat and pause for reflection over the past year, as well as an opportunity to document intentions for 2016. In this peaceful setting, I was able to look back on 2015, and recognize that my life in Dominica had changed to some degree, as I  actually spent more than four months abroad – some of it in Paris to attend the wedding of my wonderful French friends Carole and Gildas in January, followed by an extended ‘vacation’ in Canada as a result of Tropical Strom Erika.  That summer sojourn lasted from mid-June until the end of September. My delay resulted from the destruction  of the Douglas-Charles airport, which was quickly repaired within one month, thanks to the generous assistance and technical support of several caring countries.

While visiting with Mark, the Managing Director at Beau Rive and Angela, one of his repeat guests (17 times!), I paid close attention to our conversations.  In my quest for inspiration about the forthcoming year, I listened attentively to what was said that particularly resonated with me.  Suffice to say that our discussions centred on thinking of others who are less fortunate and being mindful of what we can do to make the world a better place in which to live. I also admired Angela’s personal strength and determination to have a fulfilling and rewarding life, and to not let any type of obstacle prevent her from living out her dreams.  Above all, I felt surrounded by kindness, consideration and good will.  I returned home with uplifted spirits and hope for a brighter future by  setting intentions to consciously spread good cheer (in any form)all year round.

I have much to be thankful for and I wish to express gratitude to all those who have  touched my life in very meaningful ways this past year.  In particular, I am grateful to my family in Canada for their support and encouragement, and for hosting me for an extended period when I was ‘storm-stayed’ in Canada.  I also appreciate the generous gesture of my niece Mara and my nephew Dallin, who willingly offered their usual Christmas present from me to help those in need in Dominica. I also wish to thank Canadian-Caribbean writer and friend Susan M. Toy, who included my blogs (Ti Domnik Tales and Canary Gal) on her list of notable authors for 2015.  She is the perfect example of someone who thinks of others with a giving heart while  happily pursuing her own career.

DSCF6281In the past couple of months, I was also profoundly moved by the positive results arising from the COP 21 climate action accord in Paris.  As well, I enthusiastically participated in Dominica’s week of thoughtful international documentaries about climate change, which was organized by Alliance Francaise. These sessions culminated in

During Dominica's 'Day of Action' , I was surrounded by new friends and old friends of like mind with respect to environmental responsibilities. From Left: new friends Dan and Maria and old friends Wendy and Liz.

During Dominica’s ‘Day of Action’ , I was surrounded by new friends and old friends of like mind with respect to environmental responsibilities. From left: new friends Dan and Maria and old friends Wendy and Liz.

Dominica’s Day of Action, coordinated by the Waitukubuli Ecological Foundation. While the attendees were small in number, the spirit of the movement was very big, and I congratulate all participants who are leading by example in Dominica.

During Dominca's Day of Action, children and adults created a waterfall from plastic bottles in the Botannical Gardens. The irony is not lost on me!

During Dominica’s ‘Day of Action’, children and adults created a waterfall from plastic bottles in the Botanical Gardens. The irony is not lost on me!

During this event, I made friends with two young people, Maria and Dan. Although we were just becoming acquainted, I really admired their passion, determination and dedication to eliminating and reducing environmental concerns on the Nature Island and of course, globally.

As the sun sets on 2015, I welcome the New Year with joy, hope, peace and love!

As the sun sets on 2015, I welcome the New Year with joy, hope, peace and love!

Despite the ravages of Tropical Storm Erika, Dominica’s resilience is apparent everywhere.

As 2015 draws to a close, I will send off this post to you, with warmest wishes for a peaceful, loving and caring New Year.  I hope that your adventures will be fruitful, and that you will give careful consideration to how you can make the world a better place now – and for the future!

The joy of life is the adventure! Photo taken in Montmartre, Paris in January 2015.

The joy of life is the adventure! Photo taken in Montmartre, Paris, France in January 2015.

I’ll be in touch in 2016, as I share my journey on the sensational Nature Island – and elsewhere!

Sincerely,

Gwendominica

 

 

 

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Jazz and Creole in Dominica: a Musical High on the Nature Isle!

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CineJazz at Alliance Francaise was a wonderful event that formed part of the 2015 Jazz n Creole season on Dominica.

For the past six years, the season of Jazz ‘n Creole has made itself well-known on Dominica.  This fine fusion of traditional and contemporary musical styles can be seen and heard at various venues around the Nature Island and culminates with a feature event that takes place at the Cabrits National Park on the Pentecost Sunday of that annual long holiday weekend. You can read about my earlier enjoyment of  a fringe event at River Stone Bar & Grill here.

While I have yet to attend the main event, I have enjoyed the variety of shows in the evenings before the main event. They are referred to as Fringe Events.  These are smaller affairs, but no less entertaining than the big day!

This shot is taken from the movie, biguine, which vividly portrays the origins of  Creole Jazz - in dance and song.  Photo taken from Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Online, May 31, 2013.

This still appears in the French movie, Biguine (2004).  It vividly portrays the origins of Creole Jazz – in dance and song, during the late 19th/early 20th century in Martinique, FWI. Photo taken from Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Online, May 31, 2013.

As part of my 2015 selection, I got completely caught up in the first  session, called CINÉJAZZ, which was hosted by the Alliance Française de la Dominique.

Director of the Alliance Francaise de la Dominique, Stanislas Riener welcomed the audience to  the free CINEJAZZ fringe event of Jazz 'n Creole 2015.

Director of the Alliance Francaise de la Dominique, Stanislas Riener welcomed the audience to the free CINEJAZZ fringe event of Jazz ‘n Creole 2015.

Director Stanislas Riener  had organized a film showing of Biguine (in French, with English subtitles), which was directed by Guy Deslaurier and written by Martinican Patrick Chamoiseau (He is a prominent French Caribbean author who created Texaco, which won the notable Prix Concourt in 1992.  It is available in English at the Roseau Public Library. I highly recommend this historical novel for its fascinating details and insights into the plight of the people in this same-named shantytown near Fort-De-France Martinique in the 19th and 20th centuries).

I was particularly excited about viewing the Biguine movie, because I had studied the origins of French West Indian/Creole-Jazz music in my French language classes with Monsieur Stanislas around the time of Dominica’s  World Creole Music Festival 2014.   To see the film only added to my enjoyment and appreciation of Creole-Jazz music and its roots.

From the start, I was drawn into this visual/auditory tale, which was set in St. Pierre, Martinique, once known as the ‘Paris of the Antilles’ in the 19th century.  The imminent eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, and its  massive destruction of all but one or  two (sources vary) of its inhabitants during that catastrophe only added to the intrigue of the story as it evolved on the screen.  After the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century,  a musician couple  abandon their no-longer popular traditional African instruments, such as the wooden (bamboo) flute, which was originally accompanied by drums. With strong encouragement from his lady, the gentleman takes up the clarinet, and infuses the woodwind with a sound reminiscent of a mixture of traditional African and then-contemporary European-influenced styles.  Their music further evolves as a result of their experiences at the opera, and the lady (chanteuse) again incorporates classical ‘colonial’ styles with Creole lyrics that told stories of personal and current events through song. They formed a band that delighted large crowds in the nightclubs where they played.  The exchanges between the rich woody tones of the  clarinet and the darker brassy resonance of the trombone pleased my ears tremendously and I wished I could have heard more.

Of course, dance is part of the Biguine and the renowned Compagnie Pomme Cannelle  from Martinique vividly displayed this mix of African rhythms with  formal ballroom steps,bringing the movie to life.  The beautiful traditional Creole wear also complemented the musical action that took place in the bars and taverns of this once-famous French-Caribbean city.  I was on the edge of my seat as the music, song and dance hypnotized me.  I was increasingly jilted out of my revery when the rumblings of the background volcano became more prominent and persistent.  I won’t give away the earth-shattering conclusion (although you probably can guess some of what happened). But did the music die too?

After having seen Biguine, I have a better sense that the Caribbean origins of jazz have often been overlooked.  While Cole Porter did give this Creole genre some prominence in the 1930’s with his enduring ‘Begin the Beguine’, this movie will convince you that there is a magical, musical, mystery that originally unfolded on a French Caribbean island in the late 1800’s.  If one is lucky (as I feel I have been), it can still can be occasionally heard today in countries that honour their Creole heritage – and that includes Dominica!

The audience who stayed a little late on a Tuesday night to enjoy Dekalaj certainly thrilled to their wonderful sounds.

The audience who stayed a little late at Alliance Francaise on a Tuesday night to enjoy Dekalaj certainly loved their wonderful sounds.

Frantz Laurac and Jussi Paavola are a fabulous musical duo known as Dekalaj.

Frantz Laurac and Jussi Paavola are a fabulous musical duo known as Dekalaj.

After a break for some delicious refreshments, the evening continued with  another treat: entertainment from two superb musicians who call themselves Dékalaj. Saxophonist/flautist Jussi Paavola from Dominica was accompanied by keyboardist Frantz  Laurac   from Martinique. This dynamic musical duo has also performed in Paris and the Dominican audience was privileged to hear their wonderful Jazz-Creole offerings that night.

Frantz Laurac from Martinique is a well known international musician who has graced Dominica with his performance  talent recently.

Frantz Laurac from Martinique is a well-known international musician who has graced Dominica with his performance talent recently.

Again, I feel blessed to have experienced the tremendous artistry of both of these musicians before this evening, and because of their high standards, I appreciated the opportunity to hear them again.  I was initially ‘wowed’ by Frantz Laurac when I heard him accompany fellow Martinican, SLAM poet Black Kalagan in March at the Alliance Française de la Dominique.  The rhythmical mix between the beat of the poet’s  emphatic words, interspersed with  percussive electronic piano interludes impressed me to the max!

And then there is Jussi – I was ‘blown away’ the first time I ever heard him play a few years ago with BREVE, a very popular and versatile  local band of highly talented musicians. (More on them shortly). I am in awe of his ability to switch easily between flute and saxophone, add percussive accents with tambourine, cow bell, etc. and even sing!  At this writing, he draws an enthusiastic crowd every Thursday night at 8 Castle Street wine bar and café in Roseau for ‘Sax and the City’.

Jussi on flute at Allaince Francaise.  Apparently this is his first instrument, but he certainly plays sax just as well!

Jussi on flute at Alliance Francaise. Apparently this is his first instrument, but he certainly plays sax equally well!

Jussi on Alto Saxophone at the Alliance Francaise's Jazz 'n Creole fringe event 2015.

Jussi on Alto Saxophone at the Alliance Francaise’s Jazz ‘n Creole fringe event 2015.

As the two musicians offered up a variety of Creole-Jazz and even some Reggae fusions, the small crowd hung on to every note until 10 p.m.  I certainly left the Alliance Française with a huge smile on my face, as the high calibre film and superb live performance assured me that life on a small island is NOT void of cultural activities of an international standard.

Jenny and Gwendominica jazzed it up for Fort Young Hotel's Jazz 'n Creole 2015 fringe event.

Jenny and Gwendominica jazzed it up for Fort Young Hotel’s Jazz ‘n Creole 2015 fringe event.

Friday was a big night out for me.  I was eager to attend the ‘Tis the Season to be Jazzy’ Happy Hour at the Fort Young Hotel in Roseau.  Friend Jenny came along with me, and we arrived early to see the sunset and secure a table in the bar area.  While

Singer Asher Thomas and his band 'Mac & Cheese' offered up easy-listening R+B to the early crowd at the Fort Young Hotel's Jazz 'n Creole fringe event 2015.

Singer Asher Thomas and his band ‘Mac & Cheese’ offered up easy-listening R+B to the early crowd at the Fort Young Hotel’s Jazz ‘n Creole fringe event 2015.

Asher Thomas and his band ‘Mac & Cheese” serenaded the drinkers and diners with easy-listening tunes, Jenny and I made short work of our  substantial, reasonably priced, delicious fish dinners.  We appreciated the prompt and friendly service of the efficient wait-staff, which definitely added to our enjoyment of the evening.

I really did not know in advance about the featured band, but I can assure you when I heard the familiar sounds of the saxophone, well, it just had to be BREVE!  No more sitting at a table from that moment, as Jenny and I situated ourselves in close proximity to the music-makers.  While all the tables in that area were filled with keen patrons, we were content to stand and take in the abundant Jazz, Creole and Reggae tunes. Of course, I could not be still – impossible in that setting, so I moved my body to the beat.  This group really knows how to entertain a diverse crowd – they engaged the audience with every song.  It was also fun to watch them interact with each other through constant smiles and eye contact, as well as their delightful playing of improvised duets and solos ( it’s jazz!).   You can read a recent rave review about them right here.

There's Jussi on soprano sax with BREVE.  This man is musically amazing!

There’s Jussi on sax with BREVE. This man is musically amazing!

Part of the audience at the Fort Young Hotels' Jazz 'n Creole fringe event 2015 savor the sweet sounds of BREVE.

The audience at the Fort Young Hotel’s Jazz ‘n Creole fringe event 2015 savored the sweet sounds of BREVE.

BREVE in action - they definitely have great musical vibes!

BREVE in action – they definitely have great musical vibes!

Although all of these competent musicians sang well while playing their respective instruments, I was particularly impressed

BREVE vocalist Jade Leatham sang some roots Raggae with her acoustic guitar beautifully.

BREVE vocalist Jade Leatham beautifully  sang some roots Reggae with her acoustic guitar.

with a young lady named Jade Leatham.  Her rich, resonant contralto voice complemented the harmonious qualities of the other instruments.  I also enjoyed her stint on acoustic guitar, which brought back memories of my glory days on that six-stringed non-electronic instrument.

Dominican Music Icon Gordon Henderson graced the stage for one Cadence-lypso song at Fort Young's Hotel's Jazz 'n Creole fringe event 2015.  he is backed up by BREVE.

Dominican Music Icon Gordon Henderson graced the stage for one Cadence-lypso song at Fort Young’s Hotel’s Jazz ‘n Creole fringe event 2015. He is backed up by BREVE.

When the night was almost over, renowned Dominican music icon Gordon Henderson, the ‘God-Father’ of Cadence-lypso music graced the stage for one Creole song in the genre that he created.  The audience was ecstatic and I could tell that this particular tune took them down memory lane.

By the time we left, it was almost midnight.  BREVE had played a very long set – about 2 1/2 hours non-stop. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to get high on  fabulous Jazz and Creole on the Nature Isle!

The BREVE band is good at giving an audience a sensational musical high!

Dominica’s BREVE band is very good at giving an audience a sensational musical high!

Saying Au Revoir to Special French Friends in Dominica

The Alliance Francaise is located on the Elmshall Road near the intersection with the Valley Road, on the eastern side of Roseau's Botannical Gardens.

The Alliance Francaise is located on the Elmshall Road near the intersection with the Valley Road, on the eastern side of Roseau’s Botanical Gardens.

Some of my most enjoyable experiences in Dominica have arisen from the events and programs offered at the Alliance Française de la Dominique.This French cultural institution has played a significant part in my life on the Nature Island – and I am very grateful for its presence here.

Gemma is the warm and welcoming Administrative Assistant at the Alliance Francaise de la Dominique. She can assist you with any questions about classes or events - in both English and French!

Gemma is the warm and welcoming Administrative Assistant at the Alliance Francaise de la Dominique. She can help you with any questions about classes or events – in both English and French!

During the past one and a half years, I have gotten to know a very special French couple through the Alliance Française:  Carole Bogdanovscky and Gildas Lefèvre.  Carole took up her duties as Director in September 2012 and taught the most advanced course that is offered at this time:  the ‘C1’ as per the Ministry of Education in France.  As I had previously completed all the courses leading up to this one, I decided to take it, knowing very well that it would be a challenge!

We worked through  a number of very in-depth and sometimes scholarly articles, which were rife with new vocabulary and unfamiliar terminology. I also learned an incredible amount about the Republic of France, its lengthy and fascinating history, as well as many items of great interest to me in terms of its rich and renowned culture.  Sometimes I really struggled to understand the topics and to communicate well, but Carole was always encouraging and completely dedicated to helping me and my classmate understand so much about her exceptional country and its beautiful language in a short span of time.

In addition, her husband Gildas, who is a computer software engineer by profession freely offered a conversation class every Friday afternoon. In this setting, we covered a range of topics, including Québec and the  Mayor of Toronto (2013-14) – en franςais, bien sûr!  I don’t think Gildas realized at the time that he has a penchant for teaching, but those of us in the class who have spent time in front of students agree that he definitely has a knack for this fine profession!  We really had a lot of fun – the word games increased our vocabulary and as we had a collective interest in cuisine, we also had opportunities to savour fine foods with a French flair – not only from France, but from other Francophone countries too!  You can read about some of my experiences with la gastronomie franςaise here and here!

With Carole’s contract in Dominica completed as of January 31, 2014, I await the new director and continue with revision classes in a course I have already  successfully passed with another exceptional instructor, Julien St. Jean.  He is a Dominican teacher who studied in France.  And yes, the review is certainly helpful too!

I am very sad to see Carole and Gildas leave the Nature Island, but I do understand that this young couple has plenty of  other plans to undertake immediately.

Before they left, I queried them about their somewhat short stay in Dominica with a few questions.  It seems to me that we will likely see them on the Nature Island again someday!  Here is what they had to say en anglais:

Gwendominica:   How do you feel about leaving Dominica after 1 1/2 years?
Carole: I would say that we have mixed feelings about leaving Dominica. On one hand, we are heart-broken to leave this beautiful country and above all, all the wonderful the people we’ve met here. On the other hand, we feel like we have made the most of our short stay and we are excited about the future and our upcoming projects
    Gildas: I would say the same, it is a mixed feeling. I am really happy about our next adventure but I am so sad to leave this beautiful island and all the amazing people we met and are going to miss.
Gwendominica: What did you like most about Dominica?
Carole and Gildas: Its lushness and its loudness! The rugged landscapes, fabulous sunsets, gorgeous waterfalls and lakes, rejuvenating hot springs, and above all the truly wonderful people we met here.
Gwendominica: What was your greatest challenge in Dominica?
Carole: From a professional point of view, adapting to  “Island Time” was a challenge: things can take more time in Dominica than what I’m used to. But I will mainly remember all the positive things when I think of Dominica in the future.

Gildas prepared two French Favourites: Boeuf Bourgingnon and Chicken Colombo for the Francophone Food Fair in March 2013.  He certainly does love to cook!

Gildas prepared two French Favourites: Boeuf Bourgingnon and Chicken Colombo for the Francophone Food Fair in March 2013. He certainly does love to cook!

   Gildas: My main challenge when I arrived was to learn how to cook new vegetables! I am really fond of cooking and it was a real pleasure to try new recipes.

Carole organized a Francophone Food Fair in March.  I and many others devoured the food that Gildas prepared for this event!

Carole organized a Francophone Food Fair in March 2013, which included a number of Francophone countries, including Dominica and Canada!

 Gwendominica: What were some of the things that you did for fun in Dominica?
Carole and Gildas: All types of outdoors activities: we went hiking, canyoning, diving, snorkeling, kayaking… Dominica is a nature-lover’s paradise, and I think we were very lucky to enjoy so much of what the country has to offer.
Gwendominica: Did you make any personal accomplishments in Dominica?

Gildas got to take a break from cooking as I hosted a Christmas lunch for him and Carole and my cla

Gildas got to take a break from cooking as I hosted a Christmas lunch for him and Carole and my classmates.

Carole and Gildas: We eventually completed the Waitukubuli National Trail! We are extremely proud of that, even if it took us one year.  We’ve met tourists doing it in 10 days…  Carole also started diving, and I could not dream of a better environment than Dominica to do so. Gildas also became a true Creole cuisine chef!
Gwendominica: Where are you going now and what will you be doing?
Carole: I will be going to India where I will work as deputy director of a Linguistic center. Then after a few months in Paris, we will move to New York, where Gildas will start a new job.
Gwendominica: Do you think you will ever return to Dominica?
  Carole: We do hope so!
Gwendominica: Is there anything else you would like to say about your experiences in Dominica?
Carole and Gildas: We would like to thank all our French students for their motivation and dedication throughout the year!

Carole and Gildas came for a Canadian Christmas lunch at my home on December 17, 2013.

Carole and Gildas came for a Canadian Christmas lunch at my home on December 27, 2013.

It was such a pleasure to get to know Carole and Gildas.  They helped me so much to improve my French and learn more about their country. At the same time, they enjoyed Dominica and some other countries in the region to the max!  They’ve kept a blog of their adventures and experiences.   It is called: Two Froggies in Dominica.You can read it here.  It is written in French, but even if you need to take a few lessons to understand all of it, you can enjoy their amazing photos in the mean time.
Until I meet  them again, and I just know that I will, be it France, New York, Toronto, Montreal or Dominica, I would like to  sincerely thank Carole and Gildas for adding another incredible experience to my life in Dominica.  Bonne chance et au revoir!

A Christmas 2013 Memoir from Roseau Dominica: Part 2

This beautiful rainbow appeared over Roseau at about midday on Saturday January 11, 2014. Since then, the weather has been brighter and drier (fingers crossed!).

This beautiful rainbow appeared over Roseau at about midday on Saturday January 11, 2014. Since then, the weather has been generally brighter and drier (fingers crossed!).

Happy New Year to one and all!

Although the holiday season may by now seem to most people a distant memory, I only just finished celebrating last night! As you know from Part 1 of this memoir, Dominica was one of a number of islands in the  southern end of the eastern Caribbean severely pummeled by an intense rain storm on the morning of Christmas Eve.  In case you missed my descriptions from the day after (Christmas, in fact), you can read about them here.

Since then, there has been much discussion internationally about the apparent  adverse impact of climate change on small tropical islands.  Two thought-provoking and informative articles were written on this subject recently by Sir Ronald Sanders, a former Caribbean diplomat and Senior Research Fellow at London University .  You can review his insightful commentaries at: www.sirronaldsanders.com. 

While I remained storm-stayed for a few days over Christmas, my French conversation class had Christmas lunch with me on Friday December 27th.  While fresh vegetables were in short supply, I was reminded of winter days in my Canadian childhood when one “made do” with whatever was in the larder.  Fortunately, I was well stocked with other provisions.  As I had planned the menu in advance, I did not panic without salad greens at hand.  In fact, my offerings added to the authenticity of my festive Canadian meal – which emphasized both traditional English and French specialties that had been served up by my parents to family and guests  in days gone by.

My French conversation class was small, but we the amount we learned was very large!  Fom left: Gijs, Georgie, Carole (Director) and Gildas (instructor).

My French conversation class was small, but we the amount we learned was very large! From left: Gijs, Georgie, Carole (Director) and Gildas(Instructor).

The ‘plat du jour,‘ which was a curiosity to my European/Caribbean classmates had been previously described and  discussed.  Now it was time to sample it: La Tourtiere!  (French Canadian meat pie).  This savory mixture of pork and beef, with vegetables and seasonings was always served up on Christmas Eve at my childhood home.  I continue to do it here on the Nature Island and my brother Marc and family do the same thing ‘up north.’  I guess we really do love it and I am glad my niece and nephew are experiencing this tradition – even if they do live in an English-speaking part of Canada.  (But they do go to French immersion schools – so the meal complemented their studies too!).

Although I am always worried about how my dishes would be received, I was definitely reassured when Gildas (French) and Gijs (Dutch) went back for second helpings of the

My French teachers from Alliance Francaise de la Dominique are ready to taste the Christmas tourtiere (French Canadian meat pie).

My French teachers from Alliance Francaise de la Dominique (Carole and Gildas) are ready to taste the Christmas tourtiere (French Canadian meat pie).

Tourtiere.

From that moment on, I relaxed completely into the joie de vivre of Christmas 2013, even if it was a bit delayed!  So while we ate and enjoyed the view of Roseau from my porch on a momentarily fine day, we discussed climate change, and odd weather patterns in North America, Europe and the Caribbean, among other things.  But we didn’t speak much French.  Instead, our instructors Carole and Gildas freely spoke English.  They didn’t really mind, as they will be relocating from Paris to New York City in about a year’s time!  Unfortunately, Carole’s term  as Directrice at Alliance Francaise was up and they would be returning to France for a while.  There’s much more to the adventures of my exceptional young French teachers – and I’ll explain it all in an upcoming post!

Gwendominica describes the plate of sweets as serves up Canadian Christmas cakes made according to her late mother's recipes. Photo taken by Gijs.

Gwendominica describes the plate of sweets as she serves up Christmas cakes made according to Canadian/family recipes. Photo taken by Gijs.

When we got to dessert, I presented my Canadian-inspired assemblage of sweets – most of which were prepared according to my mother’s recipes and  her added annotations to make them taste the best.

Then we got a very special present from Gildas.

Gildas pours a very special drink for a very festive occasion.

Gildas pours a very special drink for a very festive occasion. Photo taken by Gijs.

He had recently returned from job interviews in France and he brought back champagne!!!  We toasted to health, happiness and a hopeful new year, with many good things to come in 2014.

By now, my Christmas celebrations were in high gear!  Even though I was not able to hike, I put on my boots and walked on slick roads, while negotiating broken pavements, muddy walkways and persistent puddles.  While infrastructure in my neighbourhood is presently being assessed for damages and (hopefully) repairs, I limit my drives to roads that are free of landslides and have only a few potholes!

The 'In A Chord' vocal ensemble 2014. From back left: Leng (Director/Accompanist), Caren, Celia. Front: Daria, Gwendominica

The ‘In A Chord’ vocal ensemble 2014. From back left: Leng (Director/Accompanist), Caren, Celia. Front: Daria, Gwendominica. Photo taken by Christopher.

Of course, wonderful music continued towards the close of the Yuletide season, culminating with a communal concert at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Goodwill ( a northern ‘suburb’ of Roseau) on Sunday January 5th.  Choirs, ensembles, soloists, instrumentalists and even some dancers came together to acknowledge Epiphany (that is actually January 6th, the 12th day of Christmas when the Wise Men brought their gifts to the Christ child).  As a member of the In A Chord vocal ensemble, I and my colleagues gave thanks through our gift of song  for this wondrous occasion.

With help from friends, I was able to attend other congenial feasts and good times – some  in homes in mountainous areas that had endured various hardships due to that now infamous storm.

I sincerely hope that you felt the  seasonal spirit of peace and goodwill as much as I did, despite the challenges imposed by Mother Nature in many parts of the world.

Thanks to my friends, neighbours and colleagues for making Christmas 2013 the most memorable one I have ever experienced in Dominica – regardless of the weather!

Savouring Fine Flavours at the Francophone Food Fair in Dominica

As a long-time French  language student of the Alliance Française in Dominica, I  enjoy participating in the various cultural activities that are offered to the public by this active institution.

The Francophone Food Fair at the Alliance Francaise  formed part of the activities held during International Francophonie Month.

The Francophone Food Fair at the Alliance Francaise formed part of the activities held during International Francophonie Month.

During March, much of the world observes International Francophonie Month and Dominica is no exception.  Apart from special French  performances in dance, theatre, poetry and a Mademoiselle Francophonie pageant, one of the highlights for me was the opportunity to taste foods from several countries who are members of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. Of course, Canada as a nation and the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick  form part of this group of 75  states and governments  comprising 56 members and 19 observers.

I happily prepared some

Gwendominica baked goodies from well tested Canadian recipes.  She tempted customers with oatmeal almond cookies; coconut/chocolate brownies; dark fruit cake; and Aunt Vivian's carrot-banana bread.

Gwendominica baked goodies from well-tested Canadian recipes. She tempted customers with oatmeal-almond cookies; coconut/chocolate brownies; dark fruit cake; and Aunt Vivian’s carrot-banana bread.  Photo taken by my French conversation professor, Gildas.

desserts for the occasion, as a proud Canadian who is Québécoise by birth.  Although I was the only table out of seven that offered sweets, they seemed to go down well after about 100 customers had consumed delectable main courses from six other countries:  Congo; Côte d’Ivoire; Dominica; Haiti; France; and Lebanon.  I can assure you that all the dishes were definitely more than delicious!  And the prices for the exquisite offerings were very reasonable too.

Proceeds from this event helped to off-set the costs of hosting  performers Catherine Denecy, a contemporary dancer from Guadeloupe and French actor Jacques Martial, who appeared in  a theatrical piece called  “Notebook of a Return to my Native Land” (Cahier d`un retour au pays natal). It was created by the late Martiniquais playwright Aimé Césaire.  I immensely enjoyed both shows and appreciated the opportunities to experience the high-calibre productions of these renowned  foreign artistes.

As for the culinary arts (and sciences), I already knew what one of my main courses would be before I entered the Food Fair. The instructor of my French conversation course, Gildas Lefèvre, had told the class a few days earlier about his chosen recipes for the event: Boeuf Bourguignon and Chicken Colombo.  I sampled the exotic chicken dish.  It was divine.  The French people seem to have a flair for creating and cooking flavourful foods  (la gastronomie).  I guess it was my lucky day!

Gwendominica student at the Alliance Francaise  posed during a quiet moment with her French conversation professor, Gildas. Photo taken by fellow classmate, Geis.

Gwendominica, student at the Alliance Francaise posed during a quiet moment with her French conversation professor, Gildas. Photo taken by fellow French conversation classmate, Gys.

Gildas represented France well with his exotic preparations of Boeuf Bourguignon with potatoes and Chicken Colombo with rice. 'Colombo' is a combination of spices with a curry-like flavour that orginates in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Gildas represented France well with his exotic preparations of Boeuf Bourguignon with potatoes and Chicken Colombo with rice. ‘Colombo’ is a combination of spices with a curry-like flavour that originated in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Carole Bogdanovscky, Director of the Alliance Francaise sold tickets and drinks to eager customers, such as my classmate, Geis.

Carole Bogdanovscky, Director of the Alliance Francaise sold food tickets and drinks to eager customers, such as my French conversation classmate, Gys.

Gildas serves dishes from France to his French conversation students husband and wife Geis and Georgie.

Gildas serves dishes from France to his French conversation students husband and wife Gys and Georgie.

Mr. Raffoul (right) served up his delectable Lebanese dishes to enthusiastic customers.

Mr. Raffoul (right) served up his delectable Lebanese dishes to enthusiastic customers.

The delegation representing Lebanon offered numerous dishes to many interested people.  Mr.  Raffoul, a superb chef, has a reputation around Roseau for the delectable dishes that he serves up at special

events and private parties.  It had been a several years since I savoured such  mouth-watering hummus and tasty taboulleh, which perfectly satisfied my vegetarian side.

Yann, propietor of Le Petit Paris Bakery and Monsieur Agpa, a professor at the Alliance Francaise offered hungry customers a taste of Cote d'Ivoire.

Yann (right), proprietor of the delectable Le Petit Paris Bakery and Monsieur Akpa, a professor at the Alliance Francaise offered hungry customers a taste of Cote d’Ivoire.

I was curious to try the chicken in a flavourful peanut sauce from a Côte d’Ivoire, French West Africa recipe, but unfortunately my pre-existing nut allergy prevented that.

Ronnie, representing Congo preapred teh savoury Sakasaka. Yann, proprietor of Le Petit Paris Bakery, assisted with preparations at the Cote d'Ivoire table.  It was pleasure for participants to sample these unfamiliar foreign flavours!

Ronnie (left), representing Congo prepared the savoury Sakasaka. Yann, proprietor of Le Petit Paris Bakery, assisted with preparations at the Cote d’Ivoire table. It was pleasure for participants to sample these unfamiliar foreign flavours!

About 100 people came to the Alliance Francaise to experience different tastes from seven different Francophone countries.

About 100 people came to the Alliance Francaise to experience different tastes from seven different Francophone countries over 3 hours on Sunday March 17, 2013.

However, from all accounts, it was definitely delicious!  Fortunately, I was able to indulge in another French-African dish from the Congo, called Sakasaka.  It was made from finely chopped  manioc (cassava) leaves and a delicately seasoned fish (tuna, I think).  I really liked it!

The dishes on the Haitian table were all labelled in Creole.  I didn't have to understand the words in order to enjoy the tastes!

The dishes on the Haitian table were all labelled in the  Creole language. I didn’t have to understand the words to enjoy the tastes!

I was busy at my Canadian table until almost the end of the event.  Finally, I had a

Lovely Anaila, who represented Haiti, welcomed everyone to the Food Fair and introduced a group of young Haitian-Dominican dancers.

Lovely Anaila, who represented Haiti, welcomed everyone to the Food Fair and introduced a group of young Haitian-Dominican dancers.

chance to go to the Haitian table, where I was acquainted with some of the servers, but not their foods.  There, the lovely and friendly ladies ladled out  complimentary samples of all their  vegetarian dishes for me.  My recyclable containers were filled to the top!

At 3 p.m., the Food Fair was ready to close down. I had a few pieces of Carrot-Banana Bread left-over, but I wished to share them before I departed. With the permission of Carole Bogdanovscky, Director of the Alliance Française, her husband Gildas Lefèvre took the plate of sweet-bread around the room.  It came back empty within minutes.

Carole, Director and professor at the Alliance Francaise and her husband Gildas, who teaches French conversation smile with satisfaction at the successful conclusion of the International Francophone Food Fair.

Carole Bogdanovscky, Director and professor at the Alliance Francaise and her husband Gildas Lefevre, who teaches a French conversation class smile with satisfaction at the successful conclusion of the International Francophone Food Fair.

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Some young Haitian dancers entertained the diners and servers at the Francophone Food Fair.

Both consumers and servers were satisfied with the results of this culinary international francophone event. The Alliance Française was delighted to have had the opportunity to present various Francophone cultures that exist in Dominica.

And  I was also happy to have a few delicious ready-to-serve exotic meals in my fridge for the next couple of days!

*With special thanks to Carole Bogdanovscky, Director of Alliance Française de la Dominique for reviewing this draft.  Her tremendous  efforts to promote the French language and culture  in Dominica are very much appreciated. I am also grateful as a student to benefit from her dedicated and patient  instruction in the classroom!