3 Dollar Bill

Hummingbird Hill

I last traveled to Jamaica for Reggae Sunsplash back in the summer of 1991
and hung out backstage for an amazing week with the likes of Rita Marley and
South African superstar Lucky Dube. But back home I told my late grandfather
(a political Robin Hood from the African island of Mauritius, who flew to the
West Indies in 1964 to visit future Jamaican PM Michael Manley after my
family was forced into exile by their British colonial masters) that I would
never return. That’s because the island nation is hands-down the most
homophobic in the Caribbean. I have lost count of the “batty
bwoys” and “chi chi men” lynched in Jamaica the last few
years, many set afire by orthodox Boboshanti Rastas (called “Bobo
Dreads”) chanting, “Fiya burn!” Still, earlier this month,
I could not stay away from beautiful Jamaica, especially since I stayed in
the majestic mountaintop home of my friend, Montreal radio legend Angus
Mackay. His home, Hummingbird Hill, is located high above the quiet town of
Oracabessa and overlooks James Bond Beach and Goldeneye (the home of Ian
Fleming) and Blue Harbour (the home of Noël Coward). In neighbouring
Ocho Rios are the homes of music legends Justin Hinds, Keith Richards and
Burning Spear. I swore to my travel buddies Vinnie, Seb and her husband Ron
that I would not flirt on this trip because I did not want to return to
Canada in a coffin. In fact, the most TLC I got was swimming with an amazing
27-year-old dolphin called Cometta in Ocho Rios. And Cometta was a she, to
boot! The story that dominated the news while we were there, though, happened
the same day we traveled to Port Antonio to raft the Rio Grande and visit
Frenchman’s Cove Beach: boatloads of Haitian refugees, following the
lead of exiled Montreal-educated Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
arrived in Port Antonio, seeking a better life in a nation that’s
almost as poor as Haiti. Another time, on our almost-daily trek to our
secluded white-sand Reggae Beach in Oracabessa, Seb read me a story in the
Daily Observer about a new Dutch ban on bestiality to protect the rights of
pets and livestock. “So much for the argument that same-sex marriage
will lead to the legalization of bestiality,” she quipped. The dailies
also went nuts over Jamaican reggae superstar Buju Banton, who was fined
$9,000 (JA) April 5 for possession and cultivation of ganja. Banton
complained his sentence was excessive but it was hard to muster any sympathy
for Banton whose hit song “Boom Bye Bye” advocates gunning down
batty boys with Uzis. (“‘Boom Bye Bye’ means judgment, do
you understand?” Buju once scolded me. “Nothing don’t
change because my feelings about family don’t change. And the song has
a good message.”) It wasn’t always like this, at least not for
ex-pats in Noël Coward’s day. Coward, the Oscar Wilde of the 20th
century, built his second retreat, Firefly, just up the hill from Blue
Harbour in 1948. Over the next quarter-century he entertained everybody
there: Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud,
Ian Fleming and Sean Connery (during the filming of Dr. No), Charlie Chaplin,
“Larry” Olivier, Marlene Dietrich and Blanche Blackwell, mother
of Chris Blackwell, the man who founded Island Records and made Bob Marley an
international superstar. Morris Cargill, a lawyer-turned-journalist from an
old and established Jamaican family who owned a nearby banana plantation,
once adroitly noted, “I remember [Fleming’s wife] Annie saying to
me that Ian and herself and my wife and I were the only heterosexual family
in the whole area. I don’t think that was quite true but it was
virtually true…. [Noël] had quite a few wild parties. The wild ones I
didn’t go to.” I was thrilled to visit Firefly, which is almost
as beautiful a home as Hummingbird Hill. But, quite frankly, I was more
thrilled when I caught a grocery boy staring at me at a grocery store in Ocho
Rios. When the handsome young man walked past, he rubbed up against me. When
Vinnie and I brought our grocery bags to the car in the parking lot, I told
Vinnie I was going back in. “Don’t go there,” Vinnie warned
me, just like he did another night in a packed outdoor dancehall when Boney
M’s “Rivers of Babylon” blasted on the sound system:
“Keep your arms down!” he told me as I danced up a storm. So, no,
I didn’t go back inside the grocery store. But something in me wishes I
had. V

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