Water Wise

Bermuda MapWater Wise Bermuda

by Mary Jo

Anne Gracie found this interesting article from Atlas Obscura which describes how the island of Bermuda has managed to survive and flourish with absolutely NO natural sources of fresh water: no streams, lakes or rivers.   Since the Mayhem Consultant and I spent a brief honeymoon there, Anne suggested that I might revise the original travel blog with an emphasis on how how the island has managed with no natural sources of drinking water.

Except one: Rainwater. 

On our previous visit, our guide pointed out the white limestone roofs of all the buildings and explained that they caught rainwater and Limestone Rooftopschanneled it into cisterns under the houses.  At the time, that was just one more interesting fact about the island, but the AtlasObscura article explains a good deal more about this brilliant but simple architectural feature that made it possible to support one of the greatest population densities in the world.  (About 65,000 people on a mere 21 square miles of land pieced together from 181 islets.) 

All roofs on the island are required to be made of limestone and designed for rain catch.  The island is actually made of limestone so when erecting a new building, the stone taken from the ground can be used for the inch thick roofs. And those roof are TOUGH.   Some island roofs have lasted since the 17th century. 


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Basking in Bermuda

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Getting married was a lot of fun, but we knew it would be seriously exhausting.  So where would be good to escape for a few days?  Something romantic, but easy.  We considered a lovely B&B we’d visited in West Virginia, but that didn’t seem quite right.

Then inspiration struck:  Bermuda!  It’s a two hour direct flight from Baltimore, suitably exotic and romantic, and I’ve always wanted to visit.  However, Bermuda mapit’s too far north (the same latitude as North Carolina) to be really warm for those winter breaks one takes when in dire need of a dose of sunshine, so I’d never made it there. 

April would be a perfect time to visit, and the Mayhem Consultant agreed.  Bermuda is as beautiful as its reputation, with pink sand beaches (well, not THAT pink) and turquoise seas.  It’s really an archipelago of 181 islands (more or less), some connected by bridges to form the mainland.  There are less than 21 square miles of area, so this is a small place. 

IMG_0997But Bermuda had a LOT of history.  There was no indigenous population.  The first known European to land was the Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez, whose name was given to the island.  Ten years later he came by the island again and released a dozen pigs and sows, for the benefit of future shipwrecked mariners.

It worked, too!  The first British settlers came in 1609, when the Sea Venture, part of a flotilla of supply ships heading toward the struggling Virginia colony, was run aground on the reefs during a storm to save it from sinking.  All 150 passengers and a dog made it safely to shore.  Most later went on to Virginia, but while on Bermuda, they were grateful for the pigs!  And Britain claimed Bermuda for the Empire.

The Gentleman PoetHonorary Word Wench Kathryn Johnson wrote a wonderful, werll-researched book inspired by the wreck of the SEA VENTURE called The Gentleman Poet. 

With little land for agriculture. Bermuda became a shipbuilding and sailing center, and for quite some time controlled much of the world’s salt trade.  After the American Revolution and the loss of British military bases in the new USA, the Royal Navy began building forts and defenses on Bermuda. 

Situated midway between the British colonies in Canada and the Caribbean, the island became Britain’s primary naval installation guarding the western Atlantic shipping lanes.  The attacks on Washington and Baltimore during the War of 1812 were launched from Bermuda.  The Royal Dockyards were the hub of all this naval activity, and are now a very pleasant tourist destination with shops, museums. and a dolphin pool. 

Fort St. CatherineBermuda also had masses of forts: 90 have been built since 1609! My favorite was Fort St. Catherine, which looks modest above ground, but has many levels of tunnels and arsenals below.  It’s a great museum,.  Plus, hidden behind a pillar between artillery placements was a metal tray with cat food.  <g>  We saw two cats, and I suspect there were more. 

IMG_1034No shots were ever fired in anger from these forts, but in 1941, there was an invasion of sorts when the American military arrived to update and fortify the artillery for the duration of WWII.  Most of the military installations are gone now, but their artifacts remain.

Because of its small size, Bermuda has always had to husband its resources carefully.  For example, the only source of fresh water is rainfall, so there are reservoirs under just about every building on the island.  Roofs are not only designed to channel rain into the reservoirs, but they’re painted with a lime mixture that helps purify the water.

It’s almost impossible for outsiders to buy land in Bermuda unless they’re in the Bermuda rooftopsmega-rich category, like Mayor Micheal Bloomberg.  Tourists can’t rent cars, either.  Instead, there is a delightful bus system consisting of pink buses with blue trim.  (The colors of Bermuda.) 

Bus stops are painted pink for buses heading toward Hamilton, the capital, or blue for buses heading away from Hamilton.  There are also plenty of taxis that include a site seeing rate on their rate cards.

IMG_1062We were fortunate to be referred to a driver by friends who’d been escorted around the island by him.  He was a lovely fellow, and each day he’d come at 10:00 am and take us to a different area, then drop us off for lunch and take us back to our hotel later. (As an overseas British territory, the fish and chips were excellent!)

Bermuda is a rich tapestry of an island, both beautiful and sophisticated.  My favorite place was the oldest city, St. George’s, founded in 1612 under the name New IMG_1046London.  It’s charming and historical, with the beautiful church of St. George on a hill overlooking the town and the harbor.

The vital location has always made Bermuda busy and prosperous.  These days, the most profitable business is off-shore banking, with tourism in second place.  I had no money to launder, but the tourism side of the island is great.  <G>

Bermuda is as expensive as its reputation, though!  A saying we heard a couple of times was, “Know how to become a millionaire in Bermuda?  Go there as a multi-millionaire.” <G>

 IMG_1064But it was a lovely place for a honeymoon, a delicious blend of Britishness and history and island culture. 

Have you ever visited Bermuda?  If so, how did you like it?  And if not—would you like to??

Mary Jo, who wants to go back!

Kathryn Johnson: Honorary Word Wench!

Cat 243 Dover

 by Mary Jo    

Kathryn, thanks so much for visiting and discussing The Gentleman Poet, your wonderful blend of history, fiction, and poetry!  You are now inducted into the prestigious ranks of Honorary Word Wenches, and given this gift: a virtual cottage in Bermuda:

Bermuda Cottage
This lovely, private cottage at Mazarine by the Sea is always available when you need peace and quiet and the sea to spin new tales, and since story creation takes place in the mind, retreat to a a virtual cottage doesn't require airline tickets or TSA or any of the complications of actual travel!

Enjoy your cottage, and thanks so much for visiting Word Wenches, Kathryn–

Mary Jo


The Gentleman Poet: a Chat with Kathryn Johnson

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

Today Kathryn Johnson, author of over forty books in several genres, is stopping by for a chat.  I’ve known Kathryn for years through Washington Romance Writers and knew that she was a thoroughly versatile pro, but it was her most recent book, The Gentleman Poet, that brings her to the Word Wenches today.

I got an early read of The Gentleman Poet when Kathryn asked if I could KathrynJohnson look at the manuscript for a possible quote. Talk about getting lucky!  Her book isn't a romance, but it's romantic and has a fascinating blend of fact, fiction, and speculation.  The story is built around a real seventeenth century shipwreck in Bermuda—a wreck that might have been the inspiration for William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  (Plus, she has recipes!)

The real and the fictional threads are woven together into such a complex tapestry that I can’t do it justice, so I’ll turn the pixels over to Kathryn. 

MJP: Welcome to the Word Wenches, Kathryn!  You said once that this was a book of your heart that you’d been wanting to write for a long time.  What inspired you?  Tell us about your research!  How did you blend fact and fiction?  What intriguing tidbits did you learn about the Bard?  And where did you find out how to cook a turtle when stranded on a desert island?  <G>

TheGentlemanPoet_jpg250 KJ:  Wow! Lots of great questions! Let’s start with “book of my heart.” The thing is, I was a history major in college, so you’d think I’d immediately gravitate toward writing historical fiction. Right!

My first manuscript completed was a novel set in Constantinople in the 12th century. It was heavily researched and I was totally into the period. I was sure it would sell. It didn’t. No agent, no editor wanted it. Now granted, maybe my writing wasn’t ready to be published. But it might have sold if publishers were hungry for realistic historical fiction at the time. They weren’t. Historical romances were selling well, but the romance in this was way too thin and the research way too heavy.

So I gave up on that idea and went on to write other things—contemporary romances, juvenile and young-adult novels. But I kept thinking about using history somehow. I did write two mystery novels for young readers with historical settings: Secret of the Red Flame (set in post Civil War Chicago) and The Star-Spangled Secret (during the War of 1812).

But I had to wait a while longer before readers’ tastes shifted to welcoming the type of historical I wanted to write—lots of juicy historical details, a touch of fantasy and suspense, and a touching love story.

Map of Bermuda When people ask what inspired me to write The Gentleman Poet, I say, “My husband.” In a way, it’s true, because the germ of the plot occurred to me on our honeymoon in Bermuda.

Ours was a later-in-life romance and so the expense of a wedding would be shouldered by us, not by parents. We just couldn’t afford a big wedding and reception, so we looked for ways to do it as inexpensively as possible while still making it special.

We found a cruise line that would plan a very private wedding for us (just 8 guests allowed) and include our honeymoon cruise to Bermuda. So we were married in the ship’s library (perfect for a writer) and the cruise line supplied a gorgeous cake, champagne, and a lot of little extras that made the trip special.

Wreck of the Sea Venture While we were in Bermuda we toured the Maritime Museum and learned about a legend that connected a real ship wreck off the Bermuda coast in 1609 with Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was said that he read an account of the wreck and of the following 9 months when the survivors lived on the deserted island while they built a new ship to sail the rest of the way to Jamestown, Virginia.

What a cool story! I thought. So I got to work imagining, with the help of that account written by William Strachey, what it must have been like for them during those terrifying months so far from England.

You asked about research? Well, some people shy away from the labor of digging up facts and details, but I love, love, love it. It’s like playing detective. The more details I uncovered about the real journey of the Sea Venture and its passengers, the more material I had for my plot.

I returned to Bermuda and holed up in a guest house there to gather more information and start writing. The guest house is the Granaway, and it was built by an 18th century privateer. It’s a wonderful (and reasonably priced) place to stay overlooking the harbor across from Hamilton.

Seaventure I stayed there for two weeks, soaking up the atmosphere. It was off-season, so it was chilly and rainy, just as it would have been for Elizabeth, my heroine, and the 149 others marooned there. I chose to blend fact and fiction, rather than write a historical novel so heavily embedded in fact that I had no freedom to fantasize.

The one big mental leap I asked my readers to make was to imagine the possibility that Shakespeare might have not simply read the account by Strachey; he might Shakespeare have actually been on the ship, eager for one last, great adventure as he moved toward the end of his life.

What tidbits did I learn about the Bard while writing this novel? Lots. Of course, I’ve never been a Shakespearean scholar by any stretch of the imagination, so as I read book after book about him written by people who have been studying him all of their lives, I was learning fresh material.

I was surprised to find as much information as there is about him. Yes, he’s still rather a mystery even to the scholars, but most agree that he was a real person who wrote the plays attributed to him (not a titled person writing under a pseudonym).

There are paper trails—court documents that prove he was in London or in Stratford-upon-Avon at certain times. He had a room in a house in London for several years and apparently went to bat for his landlord’s daughter and apprentice to facilitate their marriage, seemingly at the request of the mother. So this gave me a sense of his willingness to play matchmaker to young lovers.

He also was a good businessman, buying property as an investment and also investing in grain and other things as a hedge against, one can imagine, the economy or his theater being shut down. (As sometimes happened because of politics or an outbreak of plague.)

He was apparently a quiet man who kept to himself much of the time, and wasn’t into drinking and brawling as were other playwrights of the time. All of the little details I was able to dig up I used to create, in my own mind, a man who would be human, vivid, and interesting to the reader.

Bermuda Turtle Turtle Soup! How did I learn how to make it? More research. I decided that since cooking for others changed my heroine’s life, I needed to find out what sorts of foods the English in 1609 might normally eat.

Having researched that through reading good nonfiction accounts of the times, I then found a colonial cookbook that was reprinted for tourists by the Williamsburg Foundation. The trouble with using these recipes (or receipts, as they called them) was that my heroine wouldn’t have had access to many of the ingredients.

Once the crew and passengers on the Sea Venture managed to get themselves to shore safely, they discovered that virtually all of their food supplies had been destroyed. They had no flour, sugar, salt, and very little of anything else including vegetables and meat. So she had to improvise and use whatever was at hand on the island.

The real problem was flour, because a great deal of their normal diet depended upon bread, or its use as a thickener. However, there were wild hogs, a wonderful assortment of fish and wild birds…and sea turtles. The turtles provided meat, eggs, and oil for cooking.

I found a turtle soup recipe in a replica of an early Bermudian cookbook and compared this recipe with the colonial recipe, and ended up using a little from each, adjusting the seasonings to what Elizabeth might have been able to find growing wild. And by the way, the recipes included in the book aren’t likely to produce dishes that would be appealing to our tastes today. In fact, I looked for those that were either humorous or strange sounding, thinking readers would find them that much more fun.

Well, I need to go off and work on a new novel, as well as catch up with my mentoring clients. I’m so proud of the new writers I work with. Such a talented crew they are. I sometimes think I learn as much from them as they learn from me!

Thank you, Word Wenches for inviting me to visit for a few moments. It’s been fun. Now, if I can just buy myself a little pleasure reading time, I’ll dig Mary Jo’s latest out from my to-be-read pile and follow one of her adventures!

Hugs, Kathryn

TheGentlemanPoet_jpg250 Kathryn Johnson will give a signed copy of The Gentleman Poet to one person who comments between now and midnight Thursday.  So feel free to ask about Shakespeare, The Tempest, Bermuda, and turtle soup!

Mary Jo