Chester Francis-Jackson, Contributor
If the many naysayers around would stop to respect, appreciate, admire and share the beauty and very rich history that is Jamaica's instead of constantly moaning and groaning about that which they think we do not have, then we would be on our way as a people and country in solving our national problems.
As a country, we have a bounty of cultural and historical riches that include architecture, cuisine, sports and other gems, but we have neglected to fully embrace these and put them to work in the nation's interest. This is particularly true of our rich colonial and historical heritage.
The simple fact is, heritage and culture sells. It is the main drawing card for most international cities that earn multimillions in tourism each year to boost their economies. It is also a source of education for 'natives' and 'visitors' alike, as the interactive process does stimulate renewed interest in the practices and traditions of yesteryear.
Last time I checked, there were no beaches in Paris, but they still attract tourists in the millions. The same is true of London proper, New York City, and other leading tourism capitals. What they have done, however, is to manage an artful blend of history and contemporary designs and attractions that keep on pulling visitors in.
We, however, keep relying primarily on sun and sea, and while that is our bedrock, our foundation does include a history of brutish slavery and colonial occupation by both the Spaniards and the British. And that period, as well as the intervening transition, has bequeathed us a very rich and textured legacy that we can and should share.
Well, last Saturday, the Montego Bay Chapter of the Jamaican Georgian Society hosted its third annual Georgian Costumed Garden Soirée over there on the lawns of the infamous Rose Hall Great House. Now, if ever there was a stroke of genius, this event was one such, combining as it did, a costumed theme that embraced a period of our history and on the grounds of a great house made famous by the supposed carrying-ons of its then mistress that included intrigue, infidelity, mayhem and murder.
Indeed, under the auspices of its president, the very charming Mrs Trina de Lisser, the society used its mandate and its annual soirée as a vehicle to raise funds for various St James charities, including funding a number of scholarships and basic schools.
Last Saturday's outing my dears, hosted under the spectre of the ghost of Annie Palmer, and her alleged victims, made for an especial soirée, augmented by guided tours of the Great House, in the dead of night!
Now, almost everyone likes dressing up and the Georgian soirée provided guests with a chance to do just this in fancy period costumes, with the attendant prospect of role-playing while so attired. You know we are talking a fab-fest in the making here!
Well dears, so it was as, indeed, scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., the soirée got under way promptly, but it was closer to midnight from this intoxicatingly bewitching, and fabulous celebration and nothing but!
To be sure, this was not a gathering of fuddy duddies hankering for the return of the supposed good-ol-days, but it simply was not that kind of a party. Indeed, this was a gathering of civic-minded individuals, conscious of the role and import of our history. So y'all know we are talking partying for a cause here and then some!
And so it was, that last Saturday evening, the preferred outing was the Rose Hall Great House, itself a Georgian mansion, and still quite imposing, and made more famous by the novel, The White Witch of Rose Hall, penned by Herbert G. de Lisser. This makes the historical Great House a must-visit for many a school excursion. After its acquisition and restoration by John and Michelle Rollins, it became a prime tourist attraction.
Well, last Saturday night, as patrons dolled up and partied, the Rose Hall Great House - Annie Palmer's ghost and all - never looked more fabulous, as indeed the towering mansion, lit as it was by changing moonlighting, and its grounds ablaze in the splendour of period costumes, mainly designed by Dominican-born fashion and costume designer Ernesto Castro, who was in attendance and resplendently so, he and his party winning for themselves, the prize for being Best Costumed Group before the night was out!
Dears, the evening began with arriving guests being treated to Sangria, as the welcoming cocktail; and from the welcoming Sangria, it was then to a choice of an open bar and a very light supper that had guests singing the praises of the caterers. With a mento band providing background music, you know we are talking fabulously laid-back here. But there was no mistaking the sense of occasion.
Talk about at sixes and nines - this, my dears, was the very essence of revelry. Guests simply basked in their period costumes while sharing bon mots and stories of the latest uprisings on other plantations.
Dears, we are talking one fine outing here, as this was an event punctuated by fine style and eclectic grandeur - which was and by itself a toast to our rich heritage!
But la pièce de résistance was the guided tour conducted by two very able and capable guides - Webster McDonald and Shanae Clarke. Dears, having visited the Rose Hall Great House many moons ago on a school 'outing', this scribe recommends that for the many who took the day tour, a return visit to the famed mansion, for the night tour, with its enhanced props and sound effects is a must for the thrill-seeker. And if the props do not get you, the eerily creaking floors and night shadows will be more than enough to conjure mental images of the reportedly grisly history of the Great House, and luvs, creepily so!
Wondering ghostly spirits or not, however, the Rose Hall Great House, with its history and with that history, the spectre of Annie Palmer's ghost, roaming around, makes for a pretty daunting tour experience and, enhanced as it is, does make for a pretty exciting outing.
And so it was a pretty exciting night, period, as the ladies and gentlemen were out, bedecked in commemoration of the Georgian era, and it all made for a resplendent soirée, with prizes and surprises that made for a fabulously intimate soirée, with among those out were president of the Montego Bay chapter of the Georgian Society of Jamaica, Trina de Lisser and her husband, Robin; president of the National Georgian Society, Ivor Connolly; custos of Trelawny, Paul Muschett and wife, Sheona; James and Manuela Goren; the absolutely and fabulously grande Nerissa Braimbridge; Dr David Lambert Brown; the charmingly lovely Jackie Chance-Byrd; celebrated Montego Bay photographer Roy Graham; Anne Townsend; Courtney and Judy Hamilton; Gerry and Judy Strongman; Alec and Jackie Henderson; Violent Whitfield; Douglas Prout; Diane Girvan; the charming Lena Rose; Jim and Julia Snead; Oscar and Candy Flores; Alton Bailey; and Brendon and Bee Hopkin, visiting from the United Kingdom; plus a number of others, all making it a very charming night.