Monday, September 7, 2009

Irony in the Islands - Caribbean Maps Come Alive

It’s an eccentric view, to be sure, but I have often imagined the Caribbean islands as an animal skeleton. It sits, looking left, perched at Jamaica, its body Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and its head and neck, Cuba, stretching out towards Mexico. Balanced by its tail, the many island vertebrae of the Eastern Caribbean, the western end of Cuba might be about to peck Cancun.

I wonder what animal it might be. It could be an iguana perhaps, or a tree-dwelling cat. But then its tail is prehensile - Trinidad is embedded, holding firm onto Venezuela in South America – so perhaps it is a tree porcupine or a pangolin – though it looks too ready to leap. It might even be a chameleon or a dinosaur. The Bahamas, which admittedly stand ceremonious on the fact that they are not actually part of the Caribbean, do look like one of those brightly coloured fan-shaped backplates.

Individual islands have their ironies too. Jamaica looks like a turtle, languishing calmly in the sea, momentarily surfacing to breathe – and it’s an image about as inappropriate as it is possible to be for the frenetic, ever-lively Jamaicans. Guadeloupe is well known as a butterfly (and there are nautical confusions there too), but its compatriot Martinique looks more like a flea in mid-leap. Or is that a skiing glove? And St Kitts and Nevis, in true form, are like bat and ball. All it would take is for St Kitts to pivot around its handle and it would knock Nevis into the mid-Atlantic.

But my favourite image is that of Cuba, which from the perspective of the rest of the Caribbean looks like an alligator hovering over them, threatening. It’s true, Cuba could be scary – as soon as it opens up fully it will threaten to swallow their livelihood by taking all their tourism. With one switch of its tail it could descend on them and gobble them all up. But then step back a bit and you will see the incisor of Florida hanging over Cuba, poised to chomp onto the Yucatan and bite it in half. And suddenly Cuba looks like a wriggling tiddler. And so it has been for the past 50 years. Thing is, looking at the map, Cuba might just manage to get away.

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