Friday, February 17, 2012

The True Meaning of Valentine's Day...

…may have been lost on the orphans of Queen Elizabeth Monday afternoon.  Frankly, its meaning is lost on me as well.  I know the truly pessimistic label Valentine’s Day as another victim of consumerism, represented by roses and doves and pastel hearts printed with cryptic sentiments.  The romantics and idealists, meanwhile, glorify the holiday, which would not be complete without fairytale passion and roses and doves and pastel hearts printed with cryptic sentiments.  Being too pragmatic for either viewpoint, Ivan and I prefer to spend the day together, neither buried in chocolate truffles, diamonds and bouquets, nor withholding our sentiments in defiance of the holiday.  We consider it a shade more important than the day it’s preceding, yet a shade less significant than our anniversary.
Whatever the true meaning, it may or may not include traces of the lesson being taught to the children on Monday.  In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the Significant Others (SOs) planned a visit packed with activities.  First, a stack of pale pink, rosy red and violet construction paper emerged from a pack of supplies.  Then bags of scissors, glue sticks, crayons and markers delivered themselves to the children’s outstretched hands.  Valentines were created up and down the two tables as centerpieces of paper scraps accumulated.  Each child was encouraged to convey their affection and appreciation to teachers, caretakers and SOs by offering handmade valentines in celebration of this holiday.  For many children, this was a special reminder of who they hold dear.

But the craft supplies were whisked away and replaced with tubs of frosting and heart-shaped sugar cookies.  Whatever thoughtful lesson still lingered from the heartfelt valentines was forgotten in the ensuing pandemonium.  Both tables transformed into maelstroms of icing gels and gobs of frosting and sprinkles galore!  Some of the kids tediously decorated their cookies with moderate layers of sweetness and color.  Others forsook all restraint in favor of fist-sized mounds of creamy white frosting and great crumbling peaks of vivid sprinkles.  Vaguely I remember decorating cookies and cupcakes on special occasions in grade school.  Ah how I miss the fun!  Almost I asked to decorate my own cookie.  Almost.  Then one of the boys ran his tongue along the frosting knife before plunging it back into the tub and the urge left me.  I did not create my own Valentine’s Day cookie, but I enjoyed every moment of the children making theirs.

One of the most popular versions of sprinkles was the miniature metallic orbs, which were more often being popped into open mouths than situated on cookies.  Showers of beady rainbow sprinkles rained on the floors.  And brown oblong sprinkles covered the workstations.  Amidst the exciting colors and shapes, I wondered why I didn’t keep sprinkles stocked at home.  Then I remembered: sprinkles, while fun to look at, taste awful.  Their flavor (or lack thereof) is not typically apparent since they’re usually embedded in a fluffy layer of sugary frosting.  But they have no standalone value.

After the tubes of icing, tubs of frosting and near-empty bottles of sprinkles were removed from the sticky grasps of children, a cookie feast was underway.  As if their sickly sweet towers of decorated cookies were not enough, an SO proceeded to pass out frosted rice crispy treats.  As an added bonus, the children were all given bags of candy, which most tore into immediately.
As all of this unfolded before me, I couldn’t help but imagine watching two cars heading straight for each other, and me powerless to stop the imminent collision.  In one hour, twelve children had consumed enough sugar to power Candy Land for a year.  One boy was frenetic in his attempt to devour anything edible within his reach.  Between sloppy mouthfuls of sugar cookie, he shot out his hand to snatch individual sprinkles on the table, like a frog’s tongue snagging evasive flies.  So preoccupied was he with eating every last piece of candy from his bag, he tried to eat a colorful rubber bouncy ball (also included in the bag of goodies) at least five times.  Although their caretaker made the responsible decision to confiscate what was left of the bags of candy for the children to enjoy later, I felt a little guilty as we left the orphanage, a dozen strung-out children running laps in our absence.  Hopefully the plethora of valentines she received will coerce her forgiveness of us and the terror we undoubtedly released.
All hopped up on sugar!

Ivan and I spent our Valentine’s Day very much as we would have at home.  We had a special dessert, compliments of the SO bake sale; we exchanged sappy remarks over dinner; we enjoyed each other’s company while simultaneously enjoying Jon Stewart’s.  Without my scrapping supplies to make a card, I had to improvise.  My improvisation ended up being cornier than any store-bought card; it was just perfect for us.  After all, “anyone can be passionate.  It takes real lovers to be silly” (Rose Franken).
The marker board of love!

Bake sale sweet treat.

I tried my hand at frying plantains on Valentine’s Day also.  In retrospect, I should probably never attempt a new recipe on a holiday.  It sounds like a good way to sour the special day if the recipe fails.  Luckily, this one did not.  Some of them turned out a little crunchier than we would have preferred, but otherwise they were really pretty tasty.  Frying anything is quite a feat for me since I have an irrational fear of disfiguring oil burns.  But considering how prolific the island’s plantain trees seem to be, I imagine I will be facing my fear again in the near future.
Ripe plantains

I did not taste them raw

Fried in olive oil

With a pinch of salt. Mmmm.

Having a soft spot for dogs isn’t one of my secrets.  So I’m doubly repulsed at their treatment in Grenada.  Sure, plenty of Americans go overboard “caring for” their pets.  I myself am guilty of baking canine treats, dressing up my pit bull in pink hoodies and booties, and letting the dogs sleep under the covers with us.  But basic needs can be met without all the bells and whistles (and booties).  Maybe microchipping your pet is viewed as an unnecessary extravagance to underdeveloped nations, but how about having the common decency to pluck off the parasites boring into your dog’s flesh?  Is that too much?
Brandy is just a little lovebug.  She is living proof that you don’t need a Shar-Pei to acquire that sought after so-ugly-she’s-cute look.  I don’t know much about her, not even her age.  She’s a mix of maybe Corgi or American Eskimo or Shiba Inu or Maltese… I really don’t know.  I do know that she is overly friendly, takes treats nicely, wags when she’s picked up and is also burdened with countless mats, knotted fur and ticks.  So the other day I scooped her up and attempted to clean her up a bit on my balcony.  I cut away most of the mats from her ears and brushed out the fur on her back and neck.  I removed a number of ticks, but only half as many as I found on her.  Unfortunately, the things really bury their heads and it was impossible not to pinch Brandy with each removal.  That made her unwilling to hold still while I attempted to tweeze the ones on her chest and eyebrow.  I also wasn’t able to remove the horrendous mats hanging from her haunches.  They must have been exceedingly painful because Brandy bit at the scissors every time I tried to clip them.  And Brandy is not the biting kind of dog.  I let her go with the satisfaction that I had at least made a little difference in her comfort.  I’ll try to work on the other mats later.
Before, with the ear dreads.

No more ear dreads! Yay Brandy!

That's what I cut off...

...and that's what I tweezed off.

As Ivan and I were being dropped off in front of the nightclub, Bananas, after visiting the orphanage on Monday (yes, Ivan came too), we were met by a horde of goats.  (That’s right, the once gaggle of goats has been promoted to a full scale horde.)  Ivan counted twenty-four before giving up.  They lined the sidewalk, packed into a little field on the corner and leaked into a gated lot next to the nightclub.  I’ve come to realize that country and city in Grenada are not antithetical terms as they are back home.  I’d suggest that a very fine line divides the two, but I don’t think anyone’s bothering with lines here.

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