Monday, April 21, 2014

Bahamian Baskets - Part 1

As of April 11th the first draft of Hot Springs Island is done. Like all first drafts it's an ugly thing, but with a chainsaw, straight razor and bucket of Dapper Dan it may clean up ok. Updates to come.

This post is unrelated. Sort of.

Two days after finishing the draft, the wife and I went on a late honeymoon cruise. We left from Galveston, and hit Key West and The Bahamas before returning home.

The ocean is magic. These monstrous ships are obscene. And the world needs more six toed cats and suicidal authors. But this isn't about that. This is about the baskets of the Bahamas.

First though, some context. Let's start with the flag of the Bahamas.

It's a beautiful flag and has strong post-colonial symbolism. From

The symbolism of the flag is as follows: Black, a strong colour, represents the vigour and force of a united people, the triangle pointing towards the body of the flag represents the enterprise and determination of The Bahamian people to develop and possess the rich resources of sun and sea symbolized by gold and aquamarine respectively. (emphasis added)

A popular saying about this natural richness is "money on the ground", and nothing really represents this better to me than the Silver Top Palm and the straw goods made from it. This palm grows throughout the Bahamas, Keys, and Caribbean, and looks like this:

The leaves are harvested (or perhaps "collected" is more accurate), soaked in the ocean for a bit, dried and then plaited and woven into baskets, hats, fans, purses, wallets and more. All the tour guides and cruise ship guides (when not busy sucking the cock of Diamonds International, Del Sol and their ilk) call Bahamian straw goods a "must buy" on your vacation. Partially because I like plants so much, and partially because of the hype, I was looking forward to stopping by the straw markets in Lucaya and Nassau.

I was not prepared.

Now you see, I've worked in cruise ship port towns before up in Alaska. I've done my fair share of hustling and bamboozling the tourists and playing the "this is a special unique snowflake of a deal for a one time unique snowflake of a customer" bullshit. Lowest price. Final offer. Cash discount. The whole shebang. But in the end I was just a snobby cunt selling multi-thousand dollar dead animals to snobby cunts getting off of private yachts (and novelty rabbit skin jockstraps with raccoon tails. Can't forget those). I wasn't in the trinket business, and I certainly wasn't in the Caribbean (do the Bahamas _really_ count?) straw market trinket business.

Stalls full of crap. Conch shells and dried starfish piled up with knock off bags and the "made-in-china-just-add-local-name" assortment. It was like bad thrift store vomit. And these things. Fuck these things.

In the straw markets, all the tricks were in play. Like "throw toys on the ground in front of children and pied piper the little bastards into the deep dark recesses of the stall". Or how about, "Have 8 year old girls act like they're giving you a seashell bracelet as a gift and then demand payment if you take it". Fairy tales of course have taught us that touching things and taking things offered is dangerous (especially in a marketplace), and this is all pretty standard lotion kiosk in the mall level stuff, so I'm probably just being a snobby cunt again. I did find the "put anklets on old women without them noticing and then chase them after they leave your stall" strategy to be a bit of an escalation from the norm, but I may simply be rusty on my bazaar etiquette.

The things that utterly slew me about the experience though were twofold:
  • Sustained anger in the face of rejection
  • The perversion of hospitality
Sales is rejection. Fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and win and fail some more. Search "overcoming objections" and you too can gaze upon the belly of an entire cottage industry based on this fact. In the straw markets the stall tenders got furious in the face of no. Pissed. Arm crossing, under the breath cussing, eye burning anger. Yes I stopped walking for 15 seconds. No I don't want you to put that wiggly carved wooden shark into my hands. Yes, please get offended that I *didn't* step on the toy turtle on a string you threw into my path as I walked in front of your stall. Just another tourist piece of shit not buying anything. Huzzah.

Once upon a time, in Venice, I watched a short guy in nice pants, nice shoes, and a striped lavender button up with copious amounts of visible chest hair go from knock-off seller to knock-off seller and pick up wads of cash. But here in Freeport and Nassau I saw no little sharks, or big sharks swimming around for a 4:00 pick up. True, there may have been someone lurking in the shadows with pointy teeth, mirrored aviators, and a check list of hourly sales expectations, but I couldn't spot them no matter how hard I looked. All I saw were angry mothers yelling at angry children because some white bitch didn't check her privilege enough to buy a coconut bead bracelet at each stall she passed.

Now, I probably have exceptionally delicate sensibilities, and stretch too far by basing distasteful judgments on vague concepts tangentially associated with hospitality, but I'm on a roll and far off course of the original intent, so instead of scrapping all this, I shall valiantly careen on through the brush.

Let us think of the sundew. The sundew operates by perverting hospitality. It says to the fly "Oh Mr. Fly, so weary and far from the shit pile of your birth, come! I have what you need. Rest and enjoy what I offer." Now imagine that when the fly declines the invitation, the sundew becomes incensed and yells to all the other swamp plants how rude and ungrateful the fly is for spurning its kind invitation. If you can imagine this wonderland, then it is but a small jump to imagining the straw markets of these islands.

The wife and I walked through the market looking for straw goods (actually discussion of straw to occur in part 2 of this since I done got so long winded), and every stall we passed we were met with a slight variant of "Oh darling! Come in come in! Look around my shop. I have what you're looking for, see [this]?" Sometimes we were beautiful or gorgeous instead of darling, but the "come come look around" order persisted throughout.

If you ignore the hawker straight up (especially here), I found that it just nets loud commentary on the fact they have been ignored. So I went with the 6 step anti cell phone kiosk salesman process:

  1. eye contact
  2. smile
  3. slight head shake
  4. palm up (facing the speaker, but kept in the low chest region so as to not be confrontationally in their face, but still clearly within their eyesight)
  5. slight wave of said upright palm (mirroring the head shake, and sometimes jedi mind trick style)
  6. "No, thank you. Just looking right now."

 This is supposed to communicate the following:

  1. "I acknowledge your presence"
  2. "I AM NICE!"
  3. "But I am not interested at this time"
  4. "Let's establish some distance between us"
  5. "Let me reinforce that I am not interested with a second, mirrored, visual clue"
  6. "Let me vocalize that I am not interested at this time, but am polite about it"

This appeared to be successful. The wife and I walked down a row, checked out a few stalls, came to a dead end, turned around and began the trek back up the row. Things seemed to be going alright when we were hit with:

"I can't believe it. I invited you into my stall. I have what you need. What do I not have? You went into her stall and her stall and here I invited you into mine, and you didn't come in!"

There was no joke. No easy smile or belly laugh. Not even a giggle or twinkle in the eye. Only a shaking hand and pointing finger of indignant remonstration. Followed by arms akimbo, a jutting jaw, furrowed brow, squinting eyes, and a reiteration of the fact that we had been invited and she had been spurned for others.

Fuck all that.

And it was, unfortunately, everywhere. "Oh, you don't want to pay me $50 to take a tour in my motorboat? Fuck you." "Oh, you don't want to get something to eat at my conch shack? Fuck you." The whole dynamic was poisonous (but may make for some exceptional gaming fodder when paired up with The Rogue's Lexicon).

Not me, or my picture, but an excellent capture of the whole clusterfuck.
Up next, success, dying handcrafts and a copyright extravaganza!

1 comment: