- Port Notes
- Reading List
- Notes from GK
- Your Stories
Follow along with our cruise journal for photos, videos, and notes from on board the Westerdam
Jump to a day: March 14 | March 15 | March 16 | March 17 | March 18 | March 19 | March 20
Photos by Ellen Burkhardt, Alan Frechtman, Dan Johnson, Rich MacDonald, Ben Miller, Jeff Peabody, Bunky Runser, and Thomas Scheuzger.
Day 1 — Ft. Lauderdale and the Caribbean Sea
Day 2 — At Sea
Day 3 — Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
The ocean is blue, the air is humid, and the sun is hot: Welcome to the 2015 Eastern Caribbean Cruise. This is the ninth installment in our world-wandering cruise series and the first aboard the ms Westerdam. While each of us have gotten turned around a time or two (or three or seven), the ship is finally starting to feel like home, thanks in large part to the always-smiling crew members—our extended family on these trips. We hope you’re feeling settled in and refreshed from the extra dose of vitamin D and never-ending snack supply.
Our first 24 hours onboard have been full of introductions and every activity imaginable: knitting, botany lessons, duet singing, line dancing, tea tasting. The party kicked off Saturday afternoon on the Lido Aft with bagpipes and beverages, and soon the sounds of guests singing in unison mingled with the ship’s horn, signaling that vacation had officially begun and we were on our way to Grand Turk.
Days at sea provide ample time to meet all the talent we have cruising with us. Just like our weekly broadcasts, musicians abound, from jazz singers to brother-and-sister duos, young singer-songwriters to bands who have been together longer than they care to admit. Experts are also plentiful, educating us on things about the Caribbean we’d never think about if not for them. These water-bound days are also the perfect time to escape from it all and recharge with fresh air and cat naps.
We arrive in Grand Turk this morning and will have six hours to enjoy our time in this one-time salt-mining Mecca. The island is the largest of the 40 Turks and Caicos Islands and is also the British territory’s historical and political center. Enjoy some snorkeling, picture what the island might have been like when Christopher Columbus first arrived (or when astronaut John Glenn landed here after the 1962 Mercury space mission), and if you see donkeys and horses wandering around freely, don’t panic—they’re just part of the local charm.
Lecture Notes by Natalie Springuel
You want me to learn on vacation?
This Caribbean cruise may be just the respite you need after a record breaking North American winter, but you aren’t here just for the sun, right? APHC passengers are inquisitive, passionate explorers. You’d like to learn something about the Caribbean too; be armed with a little knowledge to help you immerse in the culture, politics, and natural history of our route. That is where we come in.
On behalf of the lecturers and naturalists on board, welcome to the Caribbean!
Want to understand the political geography of our travel region and dive into the complex relations between Caribbean nations and the US? Find retired Ambassador Frank Almaguer, a font of local geopolitical knowledge.
Looking for James Bond-esque intrigue? Cuban — US cover ups (uncovered)? Stories of Caribbean contraband trafficking? Then Jon Wiant, the Spy Guy, is your guy.
The tropical ecology of the Caribbean region is a feast of color, sound, and motion. Lytton Musselman, our resident plant expert, will explore the botany, history, and use of Caribbean plants.
Ornithologist Rich MacDonald will help you identify the avian species flapping above blue water at sea or through forest canopy on land.
And finally, to explore the mysteries of the tropical sea, including dolphins, courting humpback whales, and coral reefs, come find me, your on-board ocean gal.
Between us, we’ll be offering lectures, lots of naturalist on deck, coastal and cultural conversation, and of course, we are all happy to engage in an impromptu chat on the elevator or in a hallway!
Enjoy your cruise,
Natalie Springuel (On behalf of your lecture and naturalist team)
An Interview with Sara Watkins
Music fans used to think of Sara Watkins as one-third of Nickel Creek, the Grammy-winning acoustic trio with Chris Thile and her brother, Sean Watkins. Some still do. She was with Nickel Creek for 18 years. But since she struck out on her own a few years ago, she has stepped into the spotlight in her own right as a singer, songwriter, and fiddle player. Her family loved — and played — music. She grew up in Vista, California, about an hour north of San Diego, depending on traffic. In addition to appearing as a musical guest on A Prairie Home Companion many times over the years, she has also served as a guest host.
Do you have any favorite memories of singing/hosting on PHC?
My favorite moments are walking through the audience with Garrison when we’re singing American standards with the audience. It’s so special and has reminded me what sacred experience it is to sing with people in a group. It very quickly turns into a congregation regardless of where you are or what you’re singing. And when I was given the chance to host the show a few years back, I gained an even deeper respect for what Garrison does. Wow — when he hosts he stops time and you just listen.
Who were your influences growing up?
My very early influences were the bluegrass bands I saw at festivals in California. Bluegrass Etc, Byron Berline, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Laurie Lewis and The Desert Rose Band.
What’s your process like? Do lyrics come before the melody?
It can go anyway. Sometimes I’m practicing guitar or fiddle and come across an idea that’s exciting — something I want to pursue and develop, sometimes I’m working through my thoughts and lyrics start to form. Sometimes I have the desire to sing a certain song, and I can’t figure out what that song is, so I try to write it.
What are you most looking forward to these next few weeks?
I’m in a band with Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan. I’m really excited for our tour in April. We’re calling it the I’m With Her Tour and over three weeks we’re going to Sweden, Barcelona, the UK and Ireland. It’s going to be ridiculously fun.
Sara’s latest recording, Sun Midnight Sun, came out in 2012 — on the Nonesuch label. It is her second solo album.
View from the Bow by Rich MacDonald
“Rich, I saw a bird! What could it be?” Okay, I haven’t had that question yet this year, but it’s one of those anecdotes kept in my naturalist bag of tricks as a point of conversation when sightings are scarce.
Naturalists sometimes have to steer curiosity toward the arcane. When it is dark: See that constellation that looks like a crossbow? That is Sagittarius. And see that star moving as a slow-motion arrow? That is actually a satellite.
Sometimes I talk about what we have seen: Yesterday, while we were still docked in Fort Lauderdale, a steady procession of Brown Pelicans filed by on the river of wind riding over the Lido. That glowing white bird soaring out over the ocean: a Northern Gannet cruising for food; wait for it to plunge dive.
Then again, it may not be a bird at all. Flying fish have been steadily materializing from the water, sometimes flying hundreds of feet as they flee the frighteningly enormous maw of the predatory profile of the ms Westerdam.
And to dispel any notion of naturalists being infallible: Over breakfast I was shown a picture of a Brown Booby (a cousin of the gannet) that had been loafing in the superstructure as we searched the horizon for signs of life. It stayed for hours, preening.
As we explore the West Indies, the best way to see wildlife is to spend time outside.
Sally Van Nostrand is a spontaneous woman. She once read a poem in Reader’s Digest ending with the words, “Grab the brass ring when it comes around.” And that’s exactly what she does. Born in Oklahoma, Sally is from a lot of places. She now lives in Albuquerque and loves to travel. She has two grown, married sons and three grandchildren whom she’s taken to the Amazon where she visits yearly with a service project delivering school supplies and teaching kids about the environment. For her second APHC cruise, she’s traveling with her cousin, Elaine Martin, from Ann Arbor.
Back in the ‘70s, a therapist told Sally she didn’t have to burn any bras. “You’re liberated when the rest of the world isn’t.” That was about when Sally earned a degree in math from the University of Oklahoma and, later, a USC Master’s in Systems Management through the Pentagon. Her most important work after that was doing analysis for the chief of staff of the US Army and running war games with army generals.
When not on the road or at sea, Sally takes her two Pomeranians, Star and Louie, on visits to a daycare for the elderly, dances in a weekly Zumba class, and rides a tandem bike on occasion with her life partner, Bill. “I do whatever I’m in the mood for,” she says. “I make beauty out of chaos.”
Pirate Joke of the Day
What is a pirate’s favorite type of pie?
Overheard On Board
“I have walked over 10,800 steps! Half of them in the wrong direction.”
Day 4 — San Juan, Puerto Rico
Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
White-sand beaches and hot sunshine greeted us yesterday in Grand Turk, and the turquoise water seemed too perfect to be real. The thing to do on this idyllic beach haven was snorkel, and snorkel many people did. Whether you took an excursion or rented equipment, we hope you were able to see some of the incredible fish and coral that call the Turks and Caicos Islands home.
While it’s never possible to get a full picture of a location in six hours, the few snapshots of Grand Turk we got to see painted the island as a friendly, relaxing, and welcoming place that offered world-class beaches and plenty of flavor. If you didn’t get to sample the local beer and fried fish with a side of plantains, start planning your trip back now—they’re too good to be missed.
Historic downtown was a short taxi ride from the cruise port. There, a handful of one-way streets served as remainders of days gone by when horse-and-mule-drawn carts dominated the island, weaving through early 20th century-era homes and once-active naval buildings, charming beachside hotels and souvenir shacks. Locals riding bikes and playing cards mingled with tourists browsing giant conch shells and other trinkets, while the salty aroma of the ocean and fried food mingled in such a way that you wished you could bottle it up and save it for a bitterly cold winter morning.
More such experiences await us in San Juan tomorrow, where the world’s wealthiest men and women own breathtaking condos. Cafes serve coffee that’s been harvested from generations-old family plantations, roasted in house, and served by the same hands that plucked the berries from the bush. Although technically a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico has its own distinct sense of place, and we’re eager to peel back the layers of this cultural melting pot.
Slather on the aloe, chug a few extra bottles of water, and get ready for a day of fortresses and café con leche — with a side of the best rum in the world.
Lecture Notes by Frank Almaguer
Why Are The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Separate Countries?
The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and the Bahamas seem to fit naturally as one country. The TCI its at the southeast tip of the Bahaman chain of islands and its small population of 32,000 shares with the Bahamas the same culture, ethnic composition and language.
In 1678, British settlers from Bermuda, along with their slaves, established a salt industry in today’s TCI. In 1799, the TCI was annexed by the Bahamas, at the time a British colony. But in 1848, Britain placed the TCI under the authority of the British Governor in Jamaica. The TCI remained a dependency of Jamaica until 1959, just before that country’s independence in 1962.
After a brief period under the control of the Bahamas, in 1973 the TCI once again was placed under a British governor at Grand Turk and established as a separate British Overseas Territory.
Why not join the Bahamas? The TCI sits at the entrance of the Windward Passage, a 45-mile wide channel that separates Cuba and Haiti. British ships preferred to sail from and to Jamaica, an important British colony, using that Passage. As a result, Grand Turk became a resupply port on the Jamaica-to-Britain shipping lanes. Nassau, 470 miles to the northeast was out of the way and the distance from Grand Turk to Kingston was almost the same. Hence, the TCI established a closer relationship with Jamaica than with its immediate neighbor.
Talks of merger surface periodically. But history and geography have conspired to keep these two neighbors apart. For now, the TCI remains a separate geographic and political entity under the British Crown.
An Interview with Connie Evingson
Jazz singer Connie Evingson has long been a favorite in the Twin Cities and beyond. Many know her work with the group Moore By Four. She has appeared in theaters, concert halls, and nightclubs across the U.S. — and in Europe and Japan.
In Minnesota, she’s been a guest soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra and the VocalEssence Music Series, and she appears regularly at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. She has created two stage productions devoted to Peggy Lee: One called Fever, A Tribute to Peggy Lee, which she has performed at theaters coast to coast. Her most recent album is All the Cats Join In.
You grew up in Hibbing, MN. Were you exposed to jazz from an early age?
My dad played jazz records non-stop in our Hibbing home. I grew up singing with Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and swinging with the Duke Ellington and Count Basie bands.
Can you tell us a bit about your latest album All the Cats Join In and your collaboration with the John Jorgenson Quintet?
My new CD All the Cats Join In celebrates the gypsy jazz style (aka “hot club” music) popularized by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli in France in the 1930s. John Jorgenson is a Grammy-award winning guitarist, and his Quintet is a world-renowned group in the gypsy jazz genre. The CD has an eclectic selection of songs, including familiar standards, a couple of Beatles songs, a French song (“Jardin d’Hiver”), a John Williams song recorded by Sting (“Moonlight”) and a Brazilian song (“Black Orpheus”).
What kinds of songs can people expect to hear on the cruise?
Pianist Mary Louise Knutson and I will be doing all kinds of songs from my various CDs — a mix of bossa nova, The Beatles, jazz and Broadway standards, songs from the Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks, etc.
Do you have any favorite memories of singing on PHC?
I’ve loved it all! Doing my nightly shows, the Main Stage with Garrison, being part of Tim and Sue’s show―it is all a ball!
Any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
When we return to Minneapolis after the cruise, I’ll be doing the first concert of 2015 in my series “Jazz at the Jungle” at the Jungle Theater, then I’m going to NYC to do an interview on Sirius XM Radio’s “Jazz Inspired” with Judy Carmichael. I may be doing some gigs in NYC while I’m there — we’ll see how it all shakes out!
View from the Bow by Natalie Springuel
Caribbean Romance: Humpback Whale style
Humpback Whales! Tail slapping, fluking, splashing, diving, blowing, sounding humpback whales! This morning, about an hour before the lines were thrown to connect the Westerdam to Grand Turks, the intrepid early morning wildlife watchers (bow deck 4, accessed from the starboard side) watched a pair of very active humpback whales. Their exuberant antics suggest they were likely two males squabbling over a female. We are, after all, in their winter breeding grounds, where males jockey aggressively for the favor of females.
If every there was a spot to see Humpback whales in the winter, THIS is it!
During the tropical winter, thousands of humpback whales congregate along the shallow banks between Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and environs. They come from New England waters, the Bay of Fundy, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland; some even travel here from Greenland. Up north, they scatter into these geographic sub-populations to better target the ample temperate food sources. There, they gorge on tiny prey (mostly krill and small schooling fish). And then they migrate here, to the Caribbean, where they combine en mass, and go about the business of singing, courting, competing, and, if one of this morning’s boys was lucky, breeding. Because, really, who knows what kind of romance is going on beneath the waves?
Until Monday morning, neither Bob Alcorn nor Susan Watkins knew the other existed. Bob lives in Oklahoma City where he’s a risk manager, walks — rain or shine — Oscar, his Schnauzer, and spends time in the woods. What drew him here? He needed to get away, and figured this trip was perfect — beaches and the show he’s listened to his whole life. “We should all have art in our lives,” he says. Susan is the director of an art gallery in Glenview, Illinois. She plays platform tennis and belongs to an international cooking group. She’s traveling with Kathi, her mother, whose friend cancelled last minute. “My mom loves GK. And I love to explore other cultures and meet new people.”
How did Bob and Susan meet? “We were in the line…” he says. She says, “…and he started talking and we realized we were on the same excursion.” Ultimate snorkeling. After which they headed to Jack’s Shack for a lunch of jerk chicken and beer. “It would have been awkward to go there and not sit together,” she says. Back on the boat, they met up again when she got some iced tea, and there he was, eating fruit. It was too nice to go back to their rooms, so they sat down together near a window on the Lido deck.
Bob and Susan have separate dinner times. This does not seem to pose a problem. “We may have dinner at any time… if she will.” She smiles at him. “We’ll have lunch,” she says. And he nods. And they both smile.
Pirate Joke of the Day
How much did the pirate pay for his peg leg and hook?
An arm and a leg.
Overheard on Board
APHC Staff Member: “Are you looking for the lecture?”
Male Guest: “No, I just had one in my room.”
Day 5 — Philipsburg, St. Maarten
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Candy-colored buildings, cobblestone streets, clear skies, refreshing rum: the Isla Del Encanto (island of enchantment) more than lived up to its name yesterday.
Old San Juan’s key attractions — Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal — bookended the west and east ends of Puerto Rico’s capital city. Perched atop a well-groomed hill and surrounded by the equally famous 250-year-old wall, San Felipe Del Morro provided stunning views of land and sea, as well as interesting insight into the history of the U.S. territory.
Spain controlled Puerto Rico from 1508–1898. In order to protect the city’s impressive supply of gold, silver, gems, spices, and furs from Mexico and Central and South America, Spain built the fortress, starting in 1539 and finishing in 1790. They added the wall in 1634, and retained control of the island until 1898, when the United States won it in the Spanish-American War. Today, Spain’s presence is still seen in the Burgundy Cross flag that’s flying alongside the flags of the United States and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Much of Old San Juan feels more European than American, thanks to Spain’s long reign there. The narrow streets, lined with buildings so colorful they make Minnesota Lutherans blush, and aromas of frying plantains and coffee added to the vibe, calling for lazy afternoons spent sipping local Ron Barrilito rum.
Today we’ll be treated to another taste of Europe in the Caribbean in St. Maarten, the Dutch side of the island shared by Holland and France. Expect more pristine beaches and a variety of local shops in Philipsburg. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to Maho Beach, next to Princess Juliana Airport, where airplanes land so close to your head you have to hold on the the fence so as not to fly away.
Lecture Notes by Jon Wiant
Cruising with the Spy Novel
She was sitting alone. I could tell she was in the full embrace of her book. It was Olen Steinhauer’s The Cairo Affair. Damn good read. I wonder whether she has a copy of his Liberation Movements. I just downloaded it in Ft. Lauderdale.
A lot of folk on cruise ships read spy novels. I am often asked whether I read spy stories. Of course I do! I read spy fiction for a variety of reasons. It’s my tutorial on contemporary tradecraft. There is nothing better in print than Jason Matthew’s Red Sparrow if you need a textbook on recruiting spies. How Matthews got it through CIA review puzzles me because this is straight from The Farm.
In April I lead the New York Times tour on Cold War espionage. I’ve been rereading the classic Berlin spy novels. John le Carré and Len Deighton help me re-imagine the time of The Berlin Wall. I become Bernard Sampson waiting at Checkpoint Charlie waiting for my asset to come through the Wall. Now I am Herbie Kruger in John Gardner’s Garden of Weapons, wondering what has happened to my Brahms net.
“Jump Alec!”, yells George Smiley. Lemas looks in anguish at him, then drops back down to the other side of the Wall. The Spy who Came in from the Cold makes the Cold War real though it ended 25 years ago.
The horn shatters this reverie. The ms Westerdam is sailing for her next port of call. Time to start the new Steinhauer. Colleagues tell me it is good. Perfect for a cruise.
An Interview with Stephanie Davis
Stephanie Davis is a singer, songwriter, and fourth-generation Montanan. Her most recent album is called Western Bling (on Recluse Records).
You grew up in Bridger, Montana, in a county that had just one radio station. How did you become interested in writing music? Who were your early influences?
I’ve been singing and rhyming words as long as I can remember. One of my biggest influences was a huge box of old 45s my dad, an electrician, brought home in payment for repairing the jukebox in a local tavern. For a kid like me, this box was a gold mine. I literally wore the grooves off everything from Ferlin Husky’s “Wings of a Dove” to Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” to Ray Charles’ “Mess Around.” Though I listened for the pure joy of it, looking back, I was unwittingly learning to tell a story in three minutes or less. In addition, the records themselves were fantastic — a master class in singing, groove, instrumentation, signature licks, etc. I will always be grateful to my dad and Duffy’s Tavern for this priceless musical education.
What’s your approach to songwriting?
I try not to have an “approach.” For me, the fun of songwriting is to sift through the cosmic rubble — a phrase overheard at the laundromat, a haunting new guitar riff, running into an old love, etc., until an idea bites me on the leg. Lately I’m working on something really different (for me) and having a ball: Motown-type love songs. Watch out, Smokey Robinson!
You left Montana for a time and headed to Nashville, where you wrote popular country songs for Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, and others. Is it a different process to write a song for another person, versus one you would write for yourself?
Well, considering most of the songs I’ve tried to write “for” someone failed miserably (I once wrote a song aimed at Stevie Wonder that ended up being recorded by Roger Whitaker, if that tells you anything), I may not be the person to answer that question! Things seem to go better when I just write from my heart and let the songs find their homes.
Do you think it’s easier to be creative in a rural environment than it is in the city?
Sadly, no. I’ve written equally well and wretchedly in both. Over the years, I’ve learned to write anywhere — provided, of course, I’m wearing my magical writing beanie and wielding my lucky purple writing pen.
Can you tell us about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering?
It’s an annual event in late January in Elko, Nevada, that is dear to my heart, both for the incredible poetry and music, as well as decades-long friendships forged with the cowboys and performers. It was started by folklorist Hal Cannon, and is now in its 32nd year. There’s nothing else like it, and if you enjoy great storytelling, I highly recommend it.
Residents of the Westerdam
Ever wonder where your fellow cruisers hail from? Check out these numbers — some may surprise you!
View from the Bow by Lytton Musselman
Grand Turk and Turbans
Europeans who first came to the Caribbean in the 1600s were aware of the Ottomans (precursor of modern Turkey) on their eastern borders through frequent wars and border skirmishes. Ottomans were caricaturized by their colorful turbans; the tulip got its name from the Turkish word for turban because of the fanciful resemblance of the flower to the turban, a familiarity lost with modern tulips but still evident in the many wild tulips of Anatolia and the Western Caucasus.
What has this to do with Grand Turk? When Europeans arrived, the island was covered with thousands of Melocactus intortus plants referred to as the Turk’s head cactus because of the red turban-like structure crowning the plant. This specialized structure, the cephalium, bears small red flowers in a circular pattern. So different are the body and top of the cactus that it resembles a graft. In most Turk’s head plants the cephalium is bright red, produces red flowers among the numerous woolly hairs, and yields small red fruits that are edible but insipid.
Turk’s head cactus is a popular garden and houseplant. Unlike so many cacti, this species is not endangered and is widespread and often abundant throughout the Caribbean and parts of Central America.
Plant-conscious visitors to Grand Turk may also have seen the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia stricta. The architecture of this cactus is very different. Instead of being barrel shaped with accordion-like pleats that allow the stem to expand or contract in different water regimes, prickly pear cacti consist of specialized stems flattened to maximize photosynthesis. Although native to the region it has aggressively invaded waste areas and spread beyond its range.
“Each of us has a story,” says Jeff Miller. “When I was growing up I was interminably shy and bashful,” he says. “After Toastmasters, I learned that I have stories, and I enjoy interacting with people.”
Jeff has been involved with Toastmasters for 25 years, and he is always observing people, learning new communication techniques for his speeches. He says he’s learned a thing or two by observing Garrison on this cruise, seeing how he interweaves his observations of society with humor.
This is his first Prairie Home cruise. But after this week’s crash course, he’ll be conversant in all things Prairie Home, and he loves the music that’s playing in venues all over the boat. Among Jeff’s many interests, music ranks high. He and traveling companion Linda love to participate in folk dancing like Contra and English Country dances.
Jeff was volunteering as president of an adult learning club at Montgomery College in Maryland, which led him to ask the college to turn the club into a class, which led to his being hired to manage the program, now called Adults Seeking Knowledge (ASK).
After a few minutes of talking to Jeff, you realize that he is the kind of guy to ask about anything. His curiosity and sense of adventure are boundless.
Overheard on Board
Pulling into Grand Turk: “This morning’s commute is above average.”
Day 6 — At Sea
Philipsburg, St. Maarten — Island Living
A common, often undiagnosed risk factor of cruising is the blurring together of port cities to the point of anonymity. You get off the ship, stroll into town, meander in and out of shops stocked with tropical trinkets, drink a rum-filled smoothie, get back on the ship, and off we go. By the time you get home and sort through your photos, stories from one island get transferred to another, and souvenirs from that one colorful vendor you swore was impossible to forget suddenly become orphans. It’s a sad but true reality, Misplaced Memory Syndrome, but fortunately we have a cure: the vibrant personality of St. Maarten.
The two strips of downtown Philipsburg— Front Street with its tight clusters of shops, and the beach boardwalk with its dozens of umbrella vendors and restaurants — each offered their own flavor of the Dutch side of this unique island. From high-end jewelry to guava berry-infused everything, window-shopping options abounded. On the beach, it was impossible to walk five feet without seeing a different food special or catching a waft of grilled fish. Given the excellent people-watching opportunities along the boardwalk, if you spent yesterday afternoon sitting, sipping, and observing the action, then you had an afternoon well spent.
Amidst the chaos of vendors calling out deals and streams of people coming in and out of shops was an eye in the storm: Maximiliaan’s Art in the Garden. Tucked just off Front Street, the art gallery-slash-secret garden featured the work of Curacao-born artist Maximiliaan Phelipa. Phelipa has lived in St. Maarten since 1973 and has shown his work locally as well as in Cuba and the United States. Stepping into his little oasis provided not only shelter from the noise and heat of the Philipsburg streets, but also a lesson in beauty: bright flowers and birds, carefully painted portraits, and bold abstract designs lined the walls, while shade trees, bird cages, and myriad plants created private corners in which to sit and relax.
We’ll have more opportunities to sit back and take a moment to just breathe as we make our way to Half Moon Cay today. Enjoy the ride and we’ll see you at the beach.
Lecture Notes by Jon Wiant
War Comes to the Caribbean
Werner Hartenstein looked through the periscope of U Boat -156, flagship of Wolfpack Neuland — four other German U boats and two Italian subs. He took U-156 into Aruba’s St. Nicholas Harbor, home of one of the largest refineries in the world. Venezuelan oil was refined here into aviation gas for Allied air forces. It was the Western Hemisphere’s most strategic petroleum target.
It was 0116 on February 16, 1942. Hartenstein was astounded by the lack of defenses; the lights of Oranjestad, capital of the Dutch colony, silhouetted two large petroleum tankers. Hartenstein ordered the forward tubes armed. At 0131 four torpedoes slammed into the hulls of two British owned tankers. Other tankers suffered secondary explosions. A Dutch scout plane dropped small bombs on the sub but all missed.
Hartenstein navigated the sub to Aruba’s east coast where he spotted the SS Arkansas loading at the Eagle refinery. He surfaced the U Boat and ordered his crew to fire the 105mm deck gun at the Arkansas The well-trained crew slammed a round into the chamber, fired — and the gun blew up. In the excitement a crewman forgot to remove the gun’s water cap. Hartenstein quickly directed his antiaircraft gun to shoot up the ship and refinery with the automatic 37mm canon but its rounds merely dimpled the ship but it caught fire. With the casualties from the gun crew safely down below, he submerged and set course for Martinique. Here the Vichy government permitted him to off load the wounded and dead.
It was a significant attack. Six tankers sunk; two damaged and 47 killed. It would be several more months before the US and its allies established an effective security net. For the time being, these were happy days for Hartenstein and his wolf pack.
An Interview with Sarah Jarosz
Sarah Jarosz was born in Austin, Texas, and moved with her family to Wimberley, Texas, south of Austin when she was two.
She remembers hearing Shawn Colvin, Nancy Griffith and Bill Staines when she was four and started playing bluegrass at 10.
As an only child, she attended music festivals all over the country with her folks, who, as school teachers also had the summers off. “I hardly ever had a babysitter. We’d go see live music in Austin and they just took me everywhere.”
When her dad heard mandolinist Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers), her family went to hear him at the Rocky Grass festival in Colorado. Sarah was 11 and remembers a time when she stood in line for Thile to autograph his CD for her, and told him she’d like to play music with him sometime.
“Because I started so young, people wonder if I was pushed on stage by my parents but my career has grown organically”, says Jarosz. “We’d go to a festival and I’d get invited to do a show and it grew from there.”
Two years ago she graduated from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she studied contemporary improvisation with a focus on original music.
“The majority of the curriculum is classical and jazz, but learning Billy Holiday songs and other styles helped me get outside my comfort zone. It expanded my ears, the way reading a book will influence the way you write or the way you perceive the world.”
She has 3 CDs to her name and has recently collaborated with The Milk Carton Kids, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins among others.
This past February, when Chris Thile guest-hosted A Prairie Home Companion he called Sarah and asked her to join him as a guest on the broadcast.’
In April she’s touring with Aoife and Sara, and will appear live on A Prairie Home Companion at Wolftrap on May 23, her 24th birthday.
View from the Bow by Rich MacDonald
The Birds of St. Maarten
The birds don’t care whether you call it St. Maarten or St.-Martin or St. Martin; they acknowledge no political border. Instead, their borders are natural: those delineated by mountains or forests or seas. And in a hybrid island originating with both plate tectonics and volcanism, those boundaries are clear … at least to a bird.
So it was that I was invited to join a group of passengers and their bird guides on an avian tour of St. Martin. In four hours we tallied 43 species of birds, plus the non-native Green Iguana (which has a story of intrigue worthy of Jon Wiant). We visited salt ponds, salt lagoons, a fresh water pool, and a butterfly garden. Of course, a number of the more common birds were observed at 35 mph as we drove from site to site.
And in our peregrinations, we observed the Magnificent Frigatebird (which is indeed magnificent), Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (despite its name, we do not think less of it), the Caribbean endemic White-cheeked Pintail (not to be confused with the white-cheeked Ruddy Duck, which we also saw), Yellow Warblers (just like those that can be found in Minnesota, except the male of this subspecies has a russet cap), an American Kestrel tearing into a delicious lizard, and two hummingbirds: Green-throated Carib and Antillean Crested Hummingbird.
Well into my third decade of guiding bird tours, I was once again reminded why it pays to go with professionals. Top-notch guides, good company, and excellent conversation made for the best tour I have had in years.
John MacMillan lives in Toronto, where he is Director of Communications and Marketing at University of Ontario Institute of Technology. This is his third Caribbean cruise but his first time sailing with A Prairie Home Companion. John and his wife Gabriella thought of flying to Rome to celebrate her retirement but they changed their travel plans when they heard an ad for the APHC cruise. John, a former journalist, is a performer in his spare time. As a comedian, he does what he describes as “a dirty version of A Prairie Home Companion.”
John has been enjoying the music on the ship, and has also been amused by the occasional double take he gets from passengers who mistake him for a certain famous performer. On the ship, he’s been told by dozens of people that he could be a close relative of Garrison Keillor. “It’s a Scots thing,” he says, and promptly breaks into a nearly unintelligible impression of his grandmother’s Scottish accent.
John first listened to the show in the 1980s when he was at university in Kingston, Ontario, picking up the radio signal from Watertown, New York 50 miles away.
Pirate Joke of the Day
What do you call a good-looking pirate lady?
Overheard on Board
“I am being spoiled rotten with great entertainment!”
Day 7 — Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Sailing Toward Home: Day at Sea
After a rocking and rolling night — both literally and musically — the ocean finally calmed down yesterday and its nonchalant attitude matched the relaxed mood of our final full day at sea. We’ve learned the ways of the Westerdam after calling it home the last six days, and each passenger seemed content to retreat to his or her favorite spot to savor these final sun-soaked hours of bliss. For some, that meant Scrabble and beer by the pool. For others, it called for a book in the shade or a walk around the observation deck, after-lunch ice cream cone in hand. Whatever your pleasure, we hope you enjoyed the Thursday of your ideal design.
Wednesday night’s songwriting contest highlighted the talent on board, as well as many of the communal experiences we’ve shared this week — although we hope you were able to avoid Stephanie Davis’s fate of being “Tethered to the Throne.” Wednesday was also the last chance we had to catch some of the acts, musical and otherwise, we’ve had on board, reminding us that although it’s gone by quickly, our week together is coming to a close.
But amid all the endings, we also had a memorable beginning: the one-time-only, world premiere of “A Merry Prairie Caribbean.” Lyrics were learned and lines were perfected at a speedy early morning rehearsal Thursday, and by evening everyone was ready to debut the only musical featuring opera singers, Americana stars, a Hollywood drummer, and a two-time United States Poet Laureate. Who knows what Rodgers and Hammerstein would think of the best hits mash-up musical, but we thoroughly enjoyed it and hope you did too.
As we dock at Half Moon Cay today and wrap-up our week in the Caribbean with one last beach day, we want to thank you again for a fantastic cruise and remind you one more time: your skin has been hibernating all winter long — don’t forget the sunscreen.
Lecture Notes by Frank Almaguer
Little Known Facts About the Caribbean
When you get home, impress your friends with little known facts about this region.
Royalty of the Caribbean: Sint Maarten is one of four countries that form the “Kingdom of the Netherlands,” along with the Netherlands itself plus Aruba and Curacao. Thus, King Willem-Alexander reigns over three Caribbean islands.
Queen Elizabeth reigns over 14 British Overseas Territories. Of these, six are in or near the Caribbean: Turks & Caicos, Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands.
Largest islands under U.S. jurisdiction: The largest island in the U.S. is the “Big Island” of Hawaii, at 4,021 sq. mi. The second largest is Alaska’s Kodiak Island. Puerto Rico is the US’s third largest island, at 3,435 sq. mi.
Small is beautiful: The Vatican and Monaco are the smallest independent countries. Several in Europe and the South Pacific make the list of 20 smallest countries. Seven are in the Caribbean: The smallest (and 8th smallest in the world) is St. Kitts & Nevis, with 104 sq. mi. and a population of 46,000. The other six Caribbean nations on the list are Grenada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, and Dominica.
Coral Reefs: The Caribbean region is home to three of the world’s 10 largest reefs: the Belize Barrier Reef, the Florida Reef near the Florida Keys, and the Andros Reef in the Bahamas.
Seas: The magic of the Internet allows us to find listings on almost anything that suits our fancy, from longest peninsula (surprise — it’s Europe, a peninsula of the Eurasia landmass) to the biggest seas (a large body of saline water that may or may not be connected to an ocean). The three largest seas are the South China Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea.
Enjoy the rest of the cruise!
An Interview with Joe Newberry
Joe Newberry was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and everyone on his Dad’s side of the family sang — on his mom’s side they sang and danced.
“My mother’s brother, Tom, was a great tap dancer and well into his seventies he could take a big napkin and tap dance on it and not mess it up.”
Joe is a dancer, too. When he was a young boy his mother taught him to dance the box step and waltz. “At some point you’ll be at a dance and none of the other boys will know how to dance but you will, she told him.”
He later learned to clog and now claims to be a “recovering clogger” in a 12-step program.
Surrounded by music, Joe was drawn to it for the same reason a lot of young men are. “I liked this girl who was taking guitar lessons, so I thought I could get some favor with her if I took lessons, too.”
He remembers getting his first guitar. “It was all I wanted for Christmas and my mother told me they couldn’t afford it. On our way to visit family, mom feigned ill and asked if she could lie down on the back seat. When they pulled back the blankets there was the guitar for me.”
Joe has written a lot of classic songs including “Singing As We Rise,” which drew the attention of the pastor at Joe’s former hometown church.
“I got an email from him and he didn’t know that I went to that church and asked permission to sing my song in church. I told him, “If you look in the third pew on the left from the pulpit, that’s where everybody in this song sat.”
Music makes the world small according to Joe. “My songs are being sung by friends and strangers, and in churches and at funerals and that’s the highest honor there is.
View from the Bow by Lytton Musselman
I have been developing a collection of cordials and aperitifs prepared from native plants of the Eastern United States. The procedure is simple. Fleshy fruits are placed in a small covered container with several tablespoons of sugar and allowed to stand for a week or so to draw out the flavors of the fruits, then the mixture is covered with vodka. To speed up the process the fruits can be placed directly in the vodka. To date, I have over 150 of these concoctions, several of which have a wonderful flavor, some of which are so bad they would gag a maggot, and the majority are what I would call “interesting” — at least to a botanist.
So I was pleased to add a new cordial plant to my life list in Sint Maarten — guavaberry. It is no relation to the fruit known in English as guava, but was given that name because of a supposed resemblance of the flavor of the guavaberry to true guava. Guavaberry is a member of the myrtle family, a shrub or small tree common on the Antilles and produces a garbanzo-sized fruit, dark-red in color, pleasant in flavor, and containing a lot of vitamin C. The aromatic fruit has a single large seed. There has been some interest in developing guavaberry as a new crop because it is easy to grow.
This indigenous plant of much of the Caribbean is appealing because few native plants produce such an abundance of fruits that are tasty. In Sint Maarten the fruits, or their extract, are placed in rum producing a national drink popular with locals and tourists. I tried it and think I would prefer a more neutral spirit that would not mask the flavor of the guavaberry as much. But perhaps the guavaberry is the excuse for drinking the rum.
Jean Galt Coblentz has a radiant smile. She is traveling with her daughter Kathy and granddaughter Milena, and has listened to the Prairie Home Show since it began. “A missionary’s family knows those songs,” she says. Jean was born on December 27, 1925, in Kiulungkiang, in the Yunan Province of China where her parents, Curtis and Mabel Galt, were medical missionaries — he a doctor, she a dietician — at a Presbyterian mission. To get there, they landed in Siam and took, on unpaved roads, an 8 day trip by horse. Her father founded a leper colony where, as soon as she was old enough for her toes to reach the pedals, Jean learned from the minister’s wife how to play the organ.
Jean and her brother and two sisters were educated by their mother. There was a victrola, and music, and laughter. When Jean was twelve, they moved the US, and eventually settled in Manteca, California, where Jean was valedictorian at sixteen. She attended Stanford University on a scholarship, where she majored in psychology and met Maurice Henry Coblentz, Jr. who was attending Stanford on the G.I. Bill after flying B29s in WWII.
Jean had some lessons in shorthand and typing along the way, and peering into a window at Hewlett Packard led to a job in industrial psychology. Maurice became a businessman, and Jean volunteered for the Scouts and at the Stanford Children’s Hospital where, after their two boys and two girls went off to school, she went to work for the director of fundraising. For 23 years.
Jean comes from a writing family. To celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, her father wrote and had printed a biography of her mother’s life. The couple wasn’t able to be together that day, so her father sent the manuscript to Jean, who — with her brother — delivered it to her mother. And now Jean is writing a memoir that begins where her father’s left off. The questions she asks? “What is important? How do you show it? Whom do you include?” In the span of three years, this woman lost her husband, a child, and a grandchild. “I have suffered but it made life beautiful,” she says. “From the mud grows the lotus.”
The Folks Behind the Scenes
Tony Axtell, Sound Engineer
Debra Beck, Logistics Manager
Todd Behrens, Sound Engineer
Joy Biles, Producer-The Writer’s Almanac, newsletter
Ellen Burkhardt, Researcher, newsletter
Tom Campbell, Production Manager-The Fitzgerald Theater
David Edin, Merchandising
Ken Evans, Tech
Alan Frechtman, Tech
Kay Gornick, Legal-Permissions and Contracts
Kate Gustafson, Managing Director
Holly Harden, Writer/Researcher
Marguerite Harvey, Archivist
Jennifer Howe, Assistant to Garrison Keillor
Sam Hudson, Producer/Tech Director
Mark Humphrey, Piano Technician
Tony Judge, Special Projects Producer
Janis Kaiser, Lighting Designer
Jason Keillor, Audio Engineer
Jon McTaggart, President, American Public Media
Kim Meyer, Production Assistant
Ben Miller, Web and Video Producer, newsletter
David O’Neill, Marketing Director
Chad Pechacek, Tech
Olivia Pelham, Researcher
Russ Ringsak, Truck Driver/Writer
Kathy Roach, Prairie Home Correspondence
Dan Rowles, Director
Bunky Runser, Production Assistant
Thomas Scheuzger, Transmission and Broadcast Engineer
Ella Schovanec, Script Supervisor
Kathryn Slusher, Music Librarian
Noah Smith, Sound Engineer
Ace VanAcker, Tech
Albert Webster, Stage Manager / Touring Manager
Dan Zimmermann, Sound Engineer
Volunteers (those we can’t do without)
Kim Christensen, knitting and host
Tom and Char Nash
Kevan Olesen, office manager, newsletter
Jeff Peabody, photography
John Saucke, bagpipe, whiskey tasting, host
Executive Meetings and Incentives