The Adults’ Parade

The parade, a word and a touch

The Parade, a Word, a Touch -- 2011

These are two of a series of images from the Adults’ Parade — the culmination of the Christmas festival on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you enjoy a party, can find the shade, drink beer in the afternoon, and move to the earsplitting sounds of reggae, soca and calypso, you will like the Adults’ Parade and its genuine atmosphere of a community celebration.

But with all that, there is still something mysterious and inaccessible about it. Perhaps it is how the powerful family and community bonds and shared unspoken values manifest themselves in the heat and dust, the colors and sounds of the parade. And the setting — the ramshackle remains of an old colonial-era town — speaks to a shared past for those whose families have lived there for generations. Whatever it is, no matter how long one from the continent lives in the islands, there will always be a part of the culture that remains foreign and a mystery that demands respect.

St. Croix beauty queen

Beauty Queen -- 2011

A Blood-Red Sea

blood red sea

A Blood-Red Sea

Living so close to and surrounded by the sea, one develops a relationship with it — probably not unlike the relationship desert dwellers have with the desert, or forest dwellers with the forest.

This awareness of place can help us be more attuned to messages from the world around us, and sometimes even feel its joys and pains.

Shoreline moods

the calm

The Calm - 2009

“The Calm” looks west in the protected lee of a point during the calm following a squall. The sun had just broken through, illuminating a single cloud and the shallow water at my feet.

“Ocean Energy” looks east into a brisk prevailing wind on a sunny afternoon, with only the rocky outcrop to protect the shallow pool from the brunt of the ocean waves.

Even when the shoreline palette is so similar as in these two images, the ocean’s moods can be very different.

ocean energy

Ocean Energy - 2010


Quadrille dancers

Quadrille dancers - 2010

The quadrille, a precursor to the modern square dance, is a part of St. Croix’s cultural heritage. It was brought here from England and became a part of plantation life well before the end of slavery. Like the square dance, it is formal, with dancers changing partners regularly throughout the dance. The traditional costume includes madras plaid shirts for the men and large head scarves for the women.

In this case, the St. Croix Heritage Dancers were performing accompanied by one of the street bands at an evening festival in Christiansted. The light, the mid-street venue, and the music made for a surreal mixture of the old and the new.

quadrille, the music

The Music - 2010

Pictures from the Fair

Ag-Fair Yellow

Ag-Fair Yellow - 2010

St. Croix’s annual agricultural fair held in February is an eagerly anticipated and well attended event. And then there is the color.

There is a small village of food booths in one area all painted the same slightly greenish yellow. Vendors sell pates (vaguely like a fried turnover), johnnycakes, fried chicken and fish, a variety of fruit drinks and other local delicacies out of these booths.

One of the routes from the food booths to the animal, fruit and vegetable displays leads down a narrow street lined with vendors selling everything from t-shirts to honey to art and jewelry — and even a few local politicians hawking their wares to the sound of reggae in the background. Come early in the day to beat the crowds and the heat of the sun!

Vendors at the Fair

Vendors' Row -- 2010

Everybody loves a parade

dancer in Christmas festival parade

Parade dancer -- 2010

These images are part of a larger series from this year’s festival parade in Frederiksted. Fortunately, we arrived in Frederiksted about two hours after the parade was scheduled to begin, and only had to wait an additional hour. When we left some time later, people were still arriving with their chairs and coolers. I understand the festivities went well into the night. You would think I would eventually learn the rhythm of the place. By the time I do, I’ll probably no longer have the stamina to participate!

The first image is from a dance troupe celebrating their African heritage. While the costumes may not have been as large or colorful as some of the more traditional carnival-like troupes to come later, I thought the group’s costumes and dance were especially interesting and heartfelt. The bottom image is of one of the several groups of young majorettes on the island. The blue velveteen uniforms glowing in the sun formed a striking band of blue as the young women lined up to march further down the street.

Blue majorettes in Frederiksted

Blue Majorettes -- 2010

Faded places

reflections on an abandoned building

Reflections - 2010

Every community has its empty places, faded and overgrown. Some of these, when there had been no design or charm to begin with, become a blight on the landscape. But others have personality and become a part of the character of a place, in their decline adding a patina of charm and history.

How do the well-intentioned and civic-minded learn to tell the difference, so they can carve away the decay and blight while leaving the history and charm in place?

red gate to overgrown courtyard

Red gate - 2010

For a Jumbie-free New Year!

Mocko Jumbie Dance - 2009

St. Croix’s celebration of the holidays continues through the week, ending with the adult’s festival parade (a loud, long, and sometimes lewd extravaganza) on January 2. In keeping with the celebratory spirit, these two night-time mocko jumbies may help keep the bad spirits away throughout the New Year.

May 2010 bring the best to all.

Mocko Jumbie with Holiday Lights - 2009

Holiday Spirits

Mocko Jumbie - 2009

Colorfully costumed stilt dancers — or mocko jumbies — appear at many island festivals. Cultural icons and entertainers today, the mocko jumbies have ancient African origins. “Jumbies” are mischevious or evil spirits and ghosts, and one interpretation is that the mocko jumbies scare them away by mocking them. Their height allows them to see the spirits before they arrive to cause trouble. While there are other interpretations, they all relate to protection from the spirit world.

Now just imagine if it were a jumbie that had become manifest in the form of the young woman below…

I wish a happy holiday and good spirits to all!

(Learn more about the origin and cultural significance of the mocko jumbies.)

Elfin Dream-Girl - 2009

Rising Stars Steel Band and Grilled Meats in Red

Rising Stars Steel Band - 2009

Some of the best steel pan music in the world can be heard from the large orchestras that compete at Carnival time on the island of Trinidad in the southern Caribbean. This seems appropriate since Trinidad is the birthplace of the instrument. While perhaps not the best in the world, we are fortunate on St. Croix to have several steel pan orchestras of our own, including the “Rising Stars”. The dedication of these young people and their leaders to create such stirring music must be admired.

The original photograph for the image above was taken at night under the glare of orange sodium street lights, with just a hint of flash to create the specular highlights on the pan in the foreground. Post-processing focused on enhancing the moody atmospheric qualities of the scene.

While the image below was captured under similar conditions, its focus is more on social commentary than atmosphere. This was a street vendor selling grilled meats set up in front of a perfume and beauty product store window, creating the contrasts between the pattern of the vendor’s dress, the poster in the background, and the condiment bottles in the foreground.

Grilled Meats in Red - 2009

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