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This Is the Job

Collecting island driftwoodThis is the job: a boutique hotel on Bequia, an island in the Grenadines, the southern tail of the Caribbean. Make mirrors. Make chandeliers. My mom moved to this island seven years ago. She’s shown a scrapbook of my work to anyone and everyone who showed the slightest bit of interest. Finally, there is a bite. Heather Evans, a homeowner on the island, has an opportunity to upgrade a three-room stone hotel just spitting distance from a lapping, turquoise bay. I know this hotel. I spent one night of my honeymoon there. I ate lunch in this hotel’s dining room 35 years ago when I was 13. I have a panoramic photo of the view from beach tucked under the driver’s side visor on my truck. This is a job I’ve worked towards my whole life.

Of course, there must be negotiations. The budget is small. Heather wants to trade my work for a stay at the hotel itself. I counter with a certain number of round trip tickets figuring that some who travels frequently will have amassed extra miles. We settle on a price that is essentially wholesale or 50% of the original estimate. She also covers travel expenses to and from the island, most material costs, a small per diem for food and a place to stay while working. She also allows me use of a car. I want to be sure that I am not spending much or any of my profit while I’m there. It is hard enough to sell a five-week trip to the Caribbean to your wife and five-year-old, even if it is a “working vacation.” In the end, the cost to Heather is somewhere between wholesale and the 20% discount I give interior designers.

In fact, there is a designer and he must be won over. Happily, he has a house in Santa Fe and though I’ve moved to Michigan in the last year, our visits to New Mexico will coincide.  We meet at the Range Cafe. It’s my first visit there in six months. I used to come in five times in a day. My shop was in the same building. I’m greeted like a dignitary as I lead Jonathan Berger through the restaurant, showing him the work that I’ve made over the last 15 years, my largest job to date. In the bar I show him the wall-size mirror that took 8 people to hang. In front of it swings a 14-arm chandelier, the “Don’t Fence Me In” made from rusty barbed wire and copper mesh, a perfect consideration of place and function. The owner of the restaurant passes by us and says, when he’s introduced to this designer from New York City, “Ben, he can create anything you want.” And with that, I pretty much got the job.Island driftwood

I am writing, now, from a king-size, mahogany four-poster bed. The mosquito net billows from breeze coming off the surf a quarter mile below. I’ve been here almost two weeks. My gathering is done for the time being. Tomorrow the work will begin. I have collected over 1,000 pieces of driftwood from seven beaches across two islands and probably an equal number of shells and sea glass from two other beaches.

I think that part of what makes my driftwood work appealing is an understanding that I must gather the material in some beautiful place. Usually the wood collects somewhere forgotten or avoided. Here is no exception. Even most Bequians have not been to Shark Bay. It is rocky and slippery to get to, no one lives on this end of the Island. There is an eddy in the bay where a large pile of driftwood and flotsam and jetsam washes up. When I take a look up from my search, I see stratified lava cliffs and a tidal pool: a possible place to bring Anna and Jasper for a secret dip one day. Overhead, the harbor birds that usually stay busy diving for fish are flipping and rolling on the happy breeze.

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