Thursday, January 28, 2010

St. Croix: an Island of History


In Jeopardy parlance, the answer is: A place in the United States where we drive on the left.

Or try this: A place in the U.S. that has flown the flags of 6 other nations before flying the stars and stripes.

Question: What is St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands?

I'm on my eighth visit to St. Croix, the largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is for shoppers, St. John is for nature buffs, and St. Croix is for real. There's a whiff of history everywhere you turn. Ruined sugar mills-- tall pale cones crafted of coral block and white mortar--dot the landscape, from the days when sugar and rum went to Europe and the Americas by the boatload.

Christiansted, hosting a harbor on the North coast, echoes old Denmark, with stately plastered buildings in egg-yolk yellow, narrow streets and arcaded sidewalks. Frederiksted, anchored with a 1760 fort, is all peeling gingerbread trim, having been entirely rebuilt following the violent slave rebellion in 1878. Gracious great houses preside over the landscape. A few old houses are open for tourists, but more of them are still just home to somebody. And some are just home to geckos and tangled vines as they crumble into time.

We often walk a long dirt road to swim at a remote beach. Sometimes I find a worn fragment of china, relic of the plantation that once governed the property. The history here is like that--right under your feet--just keep your eyes open and there it is.