There are a lot of reasons to go on vacation. Maybe you’ve finally decided to use that hard-earned PTO. Or maybe your anxiety has been getting the best of you and you’re hoping some sunshine will do you good. Or maybe, you’ve been burnt out for three years (2020 messed us all up, amirite?) and laying on the beach ignoring your responsibilities for a week seems like the only thing that could ease the fraying edges of your burning brain. Plus, when the world is also on fire, escapism is a tempting reprieve. (Just me?) When the Bermuda Tourism Authority invited me to experience Art Month (which runs every October) it seemed like the perfect chance to post up in a nice hotel, look at some pretty paintings, relax in a tropical environment, and chill the eff out for a few days. In other words, I didn’t want to do a whole lot. I also had no idea what to expect from a place I didn’t know much about. What I wasn’t expecting was a jam-packed few days that weren’t exactly relaxing, but they were rejuvenating. Turns out, staying booked and busy during your vacation might just be better for your burnout than just lazing around.
Before this trip, my knowledge of Bermuda was relegated to conspiracy theories about triangles and photos of clear-blue beaches and pink sand. Well, the beaches were stunning, I made it back in one piece, and I learned so much more about the Bermuda islands and its people. From an exclusive intimate concert, to a historic walking tour, to a paint and sip in a scenic cave, I was stunned by every activity and every Bermudian I got to meet. I think you can tell a lot about a group of people and their culture by their art, and the Bermudian people — and their art — are vibrant, bold, and community-focused. Being surrounded by folks who take such pride in their small town vibe (yes, Bermuda is a whole ass self-governing territory, but it’s so small it feels like Stars Hollow) and their culture was inspiring. It also reminded me that above everything else, it’s both the simple stuff (like drinking a rum swizzle, Bermuda’s signature drink, on the beach) and the big moments (like standing in the same room as the first Black woman to publish an autobiography of her experience being enslaved) that can put everything else into perspective. Work stress doesn’t seem all that important anymore when you’re soaking in the sights and story of a place as beautiful and historic as Bermuda. With all that in mind, here are some highlights from my trip.
After my husband and Iwe settled into our hotel in Hamilton, Bermuda, aptly titled The Hamilton Princess, and I took a quick tour of the incredible art stored throughout the sprawling venue (the hotel houses an impressive collection that includes work from Picasso, Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, and Banksy), we headed out for the evening. Our first stop was the Taste Of Bermuda festival’s Set The Bar: Cocktail Competition, and event that featured specialty Bacardi products, local bartenders showing off their skills, and delicious creations set to a backdrop of a sunset happy hour on the harbor.
From there, we headed to Art Month’s Bermuda Live Sessions at the Bermuda National Gallery (BNG) at the City Hall & Arts Centre, which I was told was modeled after NPR’s Tiny Desk sessions. It was in a small room at BNG tucked away in the back corner of the gallery through a corridor filled with Black art. The intimate setting was perfect for the group Icarus (made up of the duo Yesha Townsend and KASE), who wowed the crowd with a subdued rap performance backed by a live band. Yesha delivered a stunning spoken word poem about the intricacies of Bermudian life and the community in which she repeated the refrain “who’s your people?” while recounting childhood memories and making references only people from the islands would understand. Being in that room felt like getting invited into a secret club of best friends who rarely let anyone else in. The warmth and familiarity in that space was something you could never get from just staying in a fancy all-inclusive resort, or staying within the confines of your bougie hotel. Yes, those luxury digs are great, but on this trip, I made a point to connect with locals and leave the comforts of a touristy bubble to experience all the sights and sounds that Bermuda really had to offer, and it did not disappoint.
On day two, we met Kristin White, the woman responsible for educating copious amounts of tourists on the full story of people of African descent and their impact on Bermuda — the one you won’t traditionally find in textbooks. For 20 years, White has lived in St. George’s, a place with over 400 years of history that was granted a UNESCO World Heritage Site Status in 2000, including a spot on the African Diaspora Heritage Trail. St George’s is a picturesque waterfront town brimming with history and charm. On our walking tour, White detailed the origins of Bermuda, from its discovery by the Spanish (it was previously uninhabited but they didn’t stick around since there was no fresh water, leaving it as a provisioning island) to its settlement by the English officially in 1612 making St. George’s Bermuda’s first capital (it’s now Hamilton).
It’s a sweltering, sunny afternoon when we take Kristin’s famous walking tour (the writer and entrepreneur runs a book shop and is a bit of a local celeb) of St. George’s, and I’m finding it hard not to trip over my own feet as I gaze up in awe at the brightly-colored historic buildings and landmarks that tell the rich story of Bermuda. On the tour, White tells us about the Tuckers, the pseudo-royal family of Bermuda who can trace their lineage all the way back to 1616 when Daniel Tucker, the first governor of Bermuda, arrived. Bermuda became a British colony, and the first enslaved Africans arrived in 1612. As you can imagine, the Tuckers owned slaves. And, as expected, there are multiple tributes to the colonizing family throughout the town. I asked White about whether there has been pushback to the monuments or to memorializing the Tuckers and other enslavers throughout St. Georges. Have they thought of renaming buildings? She chuckled and said, “Not really. They’d have to rename everything.”
That doesn’t mean White and her fellow Black Bermudian artists and activists aren’t doing their part to contextualize this history. Last summer as a part of the biannual Bermuda National Gallery exhibit, White and some friends staged a guerilla art demonstration.
“In the middle of the night, we went around the island and put up markers where enslaved people were harmed, tortured, or executed for fighting back against enslavement,” White said. She described how they used poems, passages from books, and lists of names of people to show the real history of certain monuments around St. George’s, complete with a QR code to indicate where the other markers were. On what used to be known as The Gallows Island, there are replicas of torture devices used on enslaved people — including a whipping post — that are now a tourist destination. Tourists literally stick their heads in the gallows to take photos. White has tried to get the site removed. During the guerilla project, they hung metal street signs with the names of enslaved people who were tortured there and their age, their crime, and their “punishment” (like trying to escape their enslavement). Most of the markers have since been taken down. “There was never meant to be a permanence to it because that’s the point, that we are choosing to not give permanence to these stories,” White said. “Even the places where the markers are still up have faded. This is exactly what happens when you don’t tell the story, if you only tell one story and the full truth is not in the fabric of our education system, it will fade from memory.”
So much of Black Bermudian history is forgotten, White says, like the fact that Bermuda was an epicenter of the Black Power Movement in the Caribbean during the civil rights era. “What we don’t know about ourselves has impacted how we feel about ourselves and our place as Black Bermudians,” she explained. “Things are getting better in an artistic and creative sense and I think that’s the first step. Once more artists and creatives know this history and are incorporating it into their work then I think that’s where a lot of the shift comes as well as the corporate work.”
One shift White is making sure happens is that more people know about Mary Prince. I was shocked I hadn’t heard of her story until that day on the streets of St. George’s. Prince was born into slavery in Bermuda and was sold numerous times to various places around the Caribbean, including Turks and Caicos and Antigua, until her last enslaver John Adams Wood Jr. traveled to London, England and brought Mary with them. In 1828 England, slavery was not supported by the British legal system, though it was still allowed in Britain’s colonies, so she was able to leave the Woods’ house as a free woman while she was there. But Prince wanted her freedom so she could return to Antigua to her waiting husband. Wood refused to free her, so Prince worked with other abolitionists to fight for her freedom. Together, they wrote her story, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, and it became the first ever autobiographical account from an enslaved Black woman to be published. The book sparked controversy but was also a key text in the case for the Abolition of Slavery Act; it pushed back against the idea that enslaved people didn’t want to be free, or that their enslavement wasn’t brutal and inhumane. Mary Prince was a storyteller and a rebel, and without her life and work, the truth of the brutality and horrors of slavery would have continued to be sanitized.
“I didn’t learn about her in high school,” White told us. “There were no markers about her, no story, and meanwhile she [wrote] one of the most enduring slave narratives in existence,” White said. Now, Bermuda celebrates Mary Prince Day on Emancipation weekend in August and is officially the only country in the world to have a public national holiday named after a Black woman. Learning about Mary Prince’s story was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. As a writer, her existence is inspiring and a testament to the power of words and the change that storytelling can bring. And as a Black woman, I know I owe so much to Mary Prince and her legacy. Her story is proof that holding up a mirror to injustice is not only necessary, it’s imperative in our quest for liberation. Freedom and truth go hand in hand, and the oppression of an entire group of people is always barbaric and never justified. I think the world needs that reminder right now. I left our tour with Kristin feeling rejuvenated and motivated to continue the work of telling Black women’s stories.
I’ll admit I may have put too much pressure on this vacation. Not only was I convinced it would be the cure to my burnout, I also needed it to take my mind off of the debilitating grief I’d been dealing with since the loss of my beloved cousin, Connie. Since we lost her, grief has been a silent companion that follows me everywhere. Sometimes, its presence hits me with a wave of emotion that feels unbearable, and other times, it’s just there, hanging on to my heart and making its presence known in my bones like a nagging cold I can’t shake. And sometimes, the grief manifests in feeling like Connie is actually there, a moment in a room where I swear I can feel her smile. At the National Museum of Bermuda, my mind was not taken off my grief. Instead, I had one of those moments when my cousin showed up, and I felt her presence in the room with us, during an exhibit that was modeled after a family funeral.
FAMILY (FAM, I Love You), An Exhibition By Jayde Gibbons at the National Museum of Bermuda was a moving, stunning ode to the people we lose and the celebrations we have to honor them. We were fortunate enough to attend a talk by Gibbons about her exhibit in a room of the gallery that looked just like every Caribbean auntie’s house, complete with framed and loose photos sitting on a dark wood dresser, lined up like they would be in the living room of your relative’s house, not a historic museum. Gibbons took photos at the funerals of people she knew personally. The result is a collection of raw, intimate moments that are not staged or contrived. Each photograph is a snapshot of grief – the beauty and pain in it — and the reality of Bermudian loss and life.
“FAMILY (FAM, I Love You) is to serve as a visual reminder of the importance of family, and the human connection we all share,” Gibbons says in her artist statement. “Grief is a part of the human experience and despite our personal, cultural, and or economic differences, this exhibit serves as a reminder of how precious life is and how one person can impact many.” Hearing Gibbons talk about the importance of showing the humanity of Bermudians and wanting to show through funerals that families should get together more and cherish that familiar intimacy took me back to my cousin’s funeral where me and my big brothers and her kids sat around reminiscing about our childhoods and laughing until the wee hours of the morning. Gibbons explained that the exhibit was modeled after a family home (complete with a dinner table in the center) and reminded her of her grandmother. There were also audio snippets from the funerals incorporated in the exhibit and listening in on these moments, I could feel my family in the room too. My cousins, brothers and I are the kids of Jamaican immigrants, but in that little room surrounded by Gibbons’ work in Bermuda, I felt so connected to the specificity of the Bermudian experience, and it was beautiful. “I wanted visitors to hear Bermudians and really immerse themselves in our environment and in our culture to see the similarities and the differences in how we all exist – together but separate,” Gibbons said.
We also visited local artist Graham Foster’s grand mural, the Hall of History, at the NMB which tells the island’s story with vibrant detail, irreverent humor and poignant observations. His colorful mural which documents the 400-year history of Bermuda was a very cool reminder that art can be healing and fun.
I also felt both of those emotions when we headed to our Sip & Paint in The Caves Experience at the Grotto Bay Beach Resort & Spa. The resort, which sits on a lush tropical estate, leads you underground to dramatic caves along the water’s edge and slopes down toward two private beaches lined by colorful cottages in traditional Bermudian architecture overlooking clear turquoise waters dotted with small islands. Our Sip & Paint was hosted by local artist Carlos Santana, and set within the mesmerizing Grotto Bay Caves. We got to pick a painting to emulate and of course, I went with a silhouette of a Black girl with an afro. As ‘90s R&B blared in the background, in the midst of incredible caves unlike anything I had ever seen before, we sipped on wine and embraced our inner artists. Painting was cathartic and soothing, and, not to be dramatic, but it was a life-affirming, spiritual, meditative experience that I’ll never forget.
Here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t know. The Bacardi global headquarters are in Bermuda. Originally based in Cuba, the company had to relocate in the wake of the Cuban revolution. The headquarters, which are directly across the street from our hotel, The Hamilton Princess, are so impressive and one of the coolest architectural structures in the city. The building was originally built in 1972 and consists of interior renovations, new offices and meeting rooms with pools and cascading waterfalls.
Thanks to Danielle Paynter, the director of corporate affairs at Bacardi (the company’s highest ranking Black woman), we were treated to a tequila tasting (with some rum and whiskey thrown in because why not?) complete with welcome margaritas (using Patron, a Bacardi-owned brand, of course), and our enthusiastic tour guide Vernon took us through the three S’s when tasting spirits: swirl, sniff, and sip. Overall, it was a really cool experience full of joy and Black excellence (the good kind). Between getting to see Danielle’s corporate baddie office and hearing Vernon recount the intricacies and history of Barcardi’s spirits, I felt fortunate to get to be around Bermudians who are so good at their jobs and who took the time to give us such a unique and fun experience.
Finally, let’s talk food. Aside from downing way too many rum swizzles (and shots of Bacardi’s finest), we also ate our way through Bermuda. We had dinner at Huckleberry, a historic fine-dining restaurant named after Mark Twain who famously loved to visit Bermuda. The menu draws inspiration from Twain’s Southern background, yet remains true to its Bermudian roots. For lunch spots, I recommend checking out Wahoo’s Bistro & Patio Restaurant, located in St. George’s and by the waterfront. (I had a delicious shrimp pasta.) We also couldn’t leave Bermuda without trying one of Woody’s famous fish sandwiches; the local sports bar is a must visit and a Bermudian favorite.
My favorite food moment had to be the Taste of Bermuda weekend finale in the heart of the city. Front Street was transformed into a lively street festival and open-air food market. We got to explore Bermuda’s most beloved food vendors as they showcased mouth-watering dishes. The event also featured a live culinary stage with upbeat cooking demos by local chefs, and DJs playing Beyoncé as the backdrop to our midday feast. The vibe was giving family cookout, but if all your aunties were world class chefs, and instead of just your fam, you invited the whole city.
Overall, visiting Bermuda was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m so grateful to the locals who were so welcoming and so generous with sharing the story and community of Bermuda with me. I wanted to spend most of my time laying on the beach (I did fit some beach time in at Turtle Beach on Cooper’s Island, and it was glorious), but what I got was even better: a comprehensive, illuminating, art-filled and immersive Bermudian experience that (almost) cured my burnout. Sure, I’m still dealing with an onslaught of work and trying to overachieve my way into the new year, but spending a few days in Bermuda gave me the perspective I needed to take a deep breath, try to enjoy every moment, and realize that in creativity and community is where we all thrive.
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